We live in an age that is struggling to interpret its own meaning. The nature of social and political change in India is so rapid and contradictory that naming it is no easy task. Is this India’s Tahrir Square moment? Is this the dawn of India’s Progressive Age? These analogies obscure more than they enlighten. Certainly, urban India is witnessing new forms of mobilisation. But unlike Tahrir Square, no regime change is at stake. There is clamour for a new political imagination. But the elements of this imagination have hardly congealed in any form that can be identified as Progressive. What we are witnessing in India is the unleashing of energies that have long been in the making. There is a sense of a powerful current tearing down an old decrepit system. But will the result be chaos, or a new ordered freedom? In part, the answer to this question will depend upon whether we can diagnose our own predicament.
The architecture of the Indian state is now being seriously contested. Indian practices of exercising power were founded on six principles that are no longer tenable. The first principle was vertical accountability. To be held accountable meant being held accountable by your superiors, not by citizens or other parts of the system. So long as the powers that be did not ask questions, did not prosecute or pursue you, no one else did. This is slowly beginning to change. There are potentially a lot more sites for horizontal accountability within the state. But most importantly, there is a clamour to be held accountable to citizens, not just in some diffuse way through elections, but in terms of the services the state provides. The second principle was relative secrecy. The state had a great informational advantage over citizens in two senses. The state’s own inner workings were relatively secret. And the state was a primary source of information about our well-being. Both those propositions are no longer true. It would be foolish for any state to now assume that its legitimacy can rest on keeping secrets. But perhaps more importantly, citizens craft a sense of well-being through information outside of the state. A couple of decades ago, you may not have known your water or air was poisoned because the state did not tell you. Now an NGO like CSE will. Parents as individuals knew how the public school system was failing them. Now a marvellous institution like Pratham, through the ASER Report, will tell you how catastrophically systematic is the failure in learning outcomes. In short, society is learning to find its own measure. And as it does, it is finding just how seriously the state has shortchanged it.
And finally, the Indian state operated by creating the tyranny of compulsory identities. On this view, India is a federation of communities, by religion, caste or ethnicity. Each citizen has an identity that for political purposes they cannot escape. This ideal was superficially attractive: it recognised India’s diversity and recognised the fact that some identities may need to be taken into account for considerations of justice. But this conception of India is deeply flawed. It failed to recognise that the Idea of India should be about individual freedom. The goal is to let individuals make, remake or shape their identities as they wish. And these identities should have little bearing on questions of citizenship or justice. Instead, our politics reinforced the tyranny of compulsory identities in the name of diversity. As a result, defences of individual freedom always become subordinate to demands of fixed identities. But a new freedom is bubbling from the bottom.
Three factors make our transition to the new order more difficult, painful and slow. The first is the closed character of the political system. In any democracy, the central mechanism by which you produce accountability is political competition. You would assume that an opposition would have an incentive to embarrass the government and offer something new or different. The big shock of the last year was the degree to which the Indian political system is so deeply collusive. What the opposition does is not embarrass the government or offer an alternative. What all parties do is engage in a theatrical, pantomime-like game with a predictable script that has no relation to finding a solution. No party has been genuinely able to commit itself to a serious anti-corruption agenda. Even after the horrendous gangrape in Delhi, no political party could come out and say the simple words: in the states we rule, we will implement police reform. This is compounded by the fact that as the self-identity of politicians becomes that of contractors (both literally and figuratively), their capacity to carry out the task of mediating complex differences will diminish. So extra-political channels have almost become a necessity.
The second factor is the nature of our civil society. Many of the challenges we face, like urbanisation, crime, healthcare are what analysts call wicked problems. They are problems with multiple possible solutions. There is also some uncertainty about how any solution will actually work. But solutions are also extremely path-dependent. Once a large system, let us say public healthcare, is put in place, it is like the Titanic, difficult to steer around to a new direction. We are right now in the process of putting in place these large architectures, whether Right to Education, environmental regulatory systems, universal healthcare, cash transfers, reform of PDS and so forth. It has to be said that civil society is extremely divided over what shape these architectures should take. Often positions are driven by inchoate fears rather than careful or reasoned argument. But perhaps more importantly, the way government responds to these differences is not by saying: we will pick one kind of system and follow through on its logic. In the end, it is perhaps less important what we pick than the fact that what we pick should work well, all things considered. But what we end up doing is combining so many incompatible logics of system design in the name of compromise that policies do not have a chance right from the start. We want independent regulators, but then they are still subject to governmental discretion; we want decentralisation with bureaucrats lording over the political process; we want to give everyone the right to education but prohibit any testing of whether they are in fact getting an education; we are designing health insurance in a way that violates the cardinal principle of an insurance scheme: to spread the risks, all should participate. Our habits of argument are about ticking off all the boxes to our ideological satisfaction, not about thinking through the dynamics of a process.
Political collusion, styles of argumentation and confusing social self-knowledge are going to make institutional channelling of the great churning we are witnessing more difficult. It is often said the middle class will have a central role in mediating this conversation. To a certain extent that is correct. As Partha Mukhopadhyay points out, there are two middle classes in India: the global middle class at the top ten per cent of the income distribution, and what we might call the local middle class, the forty to fifty per cent households whose income is not less than eighty but not more than two hundred per cent of the median income. But what both middle classes have in common is this. The Indian middle class has become one of the most privatised middle classes in the world. Close to eighty per cent of urban kids, including amongst the poor, will be in private school. More than ninety per cent healthcare expenditure is out of pocket. Colonies provide their own security and often captive power. Drinkable water is provided through private means, and so forth. We can debate how the privatisation of the middle class came about. But the fact of its privatisation sets up two competing dynamics. On the one hand, it has responded to state failure by exit. On the other hand, reform of the state needs the powerful to have a stake in it. The horrendous rape case in Delhi may finally have brought home the fact that exit is not entirely an option: a society where even sovereign functions like law and order are dependent on private provision or social control will be a precarious one indeed. But will the vicious circle continue: state failure leading to more exit? Or will the state find a way of incorporating a potentially reformist zeal?
But in the background of this administrative, political and social churning lies one large fact: the necessity of economic growth. Economic growth, with all its limitations, has been a singularly unsettling force in Indian society, largely for the good. It allows the possibility of a new kind of state to be built. It gave India a sense of self-confidence. Per capita incomes rising at five to six per cent a year transformed the horizons of possibility. Sure, it increased the possibility of rent-seeking, produced new forms of inequality, and new environmental hazards, largely as a result of state complicity. But it fundamentally underscored the fact that a brighter future was possible. The single biggest intellectual mistake of the last five years was not recognising just how tremendous a force for change growth was going to be, altering our sense of self in so many ways. If that dynamism does not return to the economy, this restless churning that we are witnessing could turn into a narrative of despair. The single biggest threat facing India is the possibility that its political elites will simply not recognise the transformative possibilities of this moment. They will, like a decrepit ancien regime, cling on to an order whose time has long past.
(The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research.)
In his piece on the 64th year of the Republic, Pratap Bhanu Mehta proved to be spot-on in his analysis of the state of affairs (Tocsin for an Ancien Regime, Feb 4). Alas, analysis does not remove the paralysis. The momentum of the desire for a change in the governance model is at the point at which it must turn into a demand for action. Otherwise the momentum will fade away. The only solution offered by Mehta is extra-political channels. I wonder if he also means alternative political channels. In any event, it seems unlikely we will be able to teach our old political parties how to handle new dem–ands. So new parties—driven by ideologies, not opportunism—must emerge. For this to happen, thinkers and doers must come together.
The idea of corruption only exists, because of the idea of consumption. I mean, those who consume less, are saying that those who do more are corrupt, because of the perception of consumption, but they, being poor, also would like to consume similarly. I mean, if the poor could consume, without corruption, they would do so, and gladly. The idea perhaps relevant, in some manner, is that they have been deprived basic necessities, and this is why the rich are perceived by them to be corrupt. Is it also not corruption, if goods and services are produced not necessary, in quantity? If a poor person eats a lot, people will not feel any corruption, but even some benign sentiment, but this could also be corruption. The only way, it seems, corruption can be met, is when people consume less, being aware that they can consume more, and are secure in this. Then other considerations are met, not in hardship, or difficulty. People are insecure, that tommorrow, I might have nothing, and this is why even the very rich are not very secure, in perception.
I don't comment on what writers would write. I mean, that what the writer means is significant, not my comment. Democracy is in a way very good, because I don't really want to be reminded by law, that I am considerate and want peace, even when the law does remind me. I wouldn't like to use the court's time. The only problem, it seems, is that of the disparity of income, and perceived wealth. I mean, what if a man was not respected because of his wealth, but respected, nonetheless? The problem is, if soldiers cannot make others soldiers, then soldiery is undermined. That is why there was a system, where occupation was inherited. It had nothing to do with the basic concept of 'religion'. Religion is a term, which is western. People were a society in the west, because they had certain codes of interaction. They decided, that enlightened people would behave in a way, and this was made into a code of interaction. This is very considerable, but Judaism is not a religion, nor is Islam, and perhaps Christianity is not, in Jerusalem. They are faiths, in God. I was aware, that Mr. Sibal had to face not very liberal interaction with people on, I believe, Headlines Today. The fact is, I don't really want to meet him, and I don't want to speak to him, because he is a regarded person, and he must be knowing what he does. The govt. must be seen in the same light, too. It doesn't brook well, for a citizen like me, when people might unexpectedly try to interact with each other, who are like me, because I somehow feel, that as Mr. Sibal seems undermined, according to others, in his interaction, people feel they have no choice to feel undermined, and to somehow concur, that in daily life, they undermine Others.
The idea of wealth, is different in India. But we all concur, that gold is a metal, and the goose that laid the golden egg, wasn't exactly wealth either. If Gold is a standard of wealth, then it is because in India, gold isn't supposed to be a commodity, purchased and sold, to ordinary people. Gold is a commodity seen to be present, and there is a perception of wealth, to it. The term wealth, means the perception. What is manufactured, is either consumed, destroyed, or is treated as junk, sooner or later. The point is, if trees are cut down, there is no vegetation. It appears, that there is a supply of minerals, that is inexhaustible, but like vegetation, if we use too much, we will be without it, for a while. Conservation is also wealth. Conservation makes us feel, we are not in want, and this feeling permeates.
>>> our politics reinforced the tyranny of compulsory identities in the name of diversity. As a result, defences of individual freedom always become subordinate to demands of fixed identities. our politics reinforced the tyranny of compulsory identities in the name of diversity. As a result, defences of individual freedom always become subordinate to demands of fixed identities.
this is what excatly the electoral politics does ... and starts with the party who has been in power for longest which is ???
Just read this in the indian express. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-liberal-dna/1064944/0
Obviously Mr.Pratap Mehta is a genuine liberal.
Well done for not conforming to peer pressure!
//But most importantly, there is a clamour to be held accountable to citizens, not just in some diffuse way through elections, but in terms of the services the state provides.//
1)Direct democracy or pure democracy would keep us poor for much longer. We are a republic. All republics are democracies. We elect chu*hiyas into power and pray and hope that they deliver. I am fine with giving them the power to decide or 5 years as our elected representatives who will rule, and decide policies on various issues.
Now to the other point of state providing services. I hope your point isn't ONLY related to greater efficiency in state providing services. It will never happen. There needs to eb a reduction in the provision of services by the state and lesser state intervention in our lives.
//A couple of decades ago, you may not have known your water or air was poisoned because the state did not tell you. Now an NGO like CSE will.//
2)No they won't. They will just promote agendas as is their wont. The internet on the other hand allows individuals to consider and analyse ALL sides of a story and then decide for himself/herself what makes sense and what is illogical.
//Some of this aspiration was justified in the face of enormous social evil India experienced historically. //
3)It never ceases to amaze me how modern, educated indians are acutely aware of our 'enormous social evils' but now diddly squat about our civilisation's immense contribution to humanity.
//And finally, the Indian state operated by creating the tyranny of compulsory identities. On this view, India is a federation of communities, by religion, caste or ethnicity. Each citizen has an identity that for political purposes they cannot escape. This ideal was superficially attractive: it recognised India’s diversity and recognised the fact that some identities may need to be taken into account for considerations of justice. But this conception of India is deeply flawed. It failed to recognise that the Idea of India should be about individual freedom. The goal is to let individuals make, remake or shape their identities as they wish. And these identities should have little bearing on questions of citizenship or justice. Instead, our politics reinforced the tyranny of compulsory identities in the name of diversity. As a result, defences of individual freedom always become subordinate to demands of fixed identities. But a new freedom is bubbling from the bottom.//
4)Holy Hammer & Sickle!! Such profound wisdom in outlook?? Maybe change has come to India! Religion in the classical imposed, unquestioned, uncriticised sense, has to go & so does 'Jati'. Without these two, there can be no 'My god/s are better than your god/s' or 'Jati-Pratha'.
Uniformity in civil law might be a good start. Ex PM Vajpayee talked firmly and politely about this. Good job, my dear author.
//No party has been genuinely able to commit itself to a serious anti-corruption agenda. //
5)Because they all bite off way more than they can chew. We have embedded into the indian individual's mindset the need for a Mai Baap Sarkaar. Lal Badhsaahs and their magazines (like Outlook & their comrades) who have had a disproportionately large influence in the Mainstream Media(TV or Print) will need to change their stance first & stop promoting a large state in size and scope. BTW after reaching a certain economic level the middle class loses the mai baap mentality slightly. Sadly they aren't even aware of their thoughts. They are allergic to thinking. Markandey Katju wasn't completely wrong about 90% Indians being fools. I would call them deliberately blinkered.
//The Indian middle class has become one of the most privatised middle classes in the world. Close to eighty per cent of urban kids, including amongst the poor, will be in private school. More than ninety per cent healthcare expenditure is out of pocket. Colonies provide their own security and often captive power. Drinkable water is provided through private means, and so forth. //
6)And this happens EVEN WITH massive tariffs, taxes and all kinds of bizarre regulations curbing economic freedom. We languish in the bottom 1/3rd of the world when it comes to economic freedom on all major indices & still the middle class is desperate for more privatisation. So obviously the government and the middle classes ACT differently. They(the middle classes) show a lot of faith in large government role through words, for example, How many time have you heard them say-"Sarkaar iske liye kya kar rahi hai". This is a reflex reaction. But they don't show the same faith in the government through actions since they favour greater privatisation. Having studied in central government schools(7 different schools all around India) I am convinced of their irrelevance & morbid stupidity. Yet there is talk of greater investment in education. Same problem with healthcare. No one really wants public healthcare, including the poor, but 'eminent' intellectuals and rubes who think they're being smart(Like Aamir Khan on Satyameva Jayate where 'Satya' is ONLY what he and his daft 'investigating team' believes)
want healthcare for EVERYONE. Yeah, our very own utopian wonderland! Doctoro ki maa kaa! Who cares about them! Or eventual bankruptcy! Or the shockingly low % of individuals who pay income tax, for example, in this country. Lets make everyone 'equally' poor.
//But in the background of this administrative, political and social churning lies one large fact: the necessity of economic growth. Economic growth, with all its limitations, has been a singularly unsettling force in Indian society, largely for the good. It allows the possibility of a new kind of state to be built. It gave India a sense of self-confidence//
7)I am genuinely and pleasantly shocked at Outlook publishing this. It's like Marxists taking a much needed Bath. And a bath WITH soap, not just water. I thought it was impossible. The pragmaticism that growth brings with it is important. It brings many different opportunities, greater professional diversity than ever before & if harnessed properly, leads to large competition.
And I will end exactly how Pratap Bhanu Mehta did-The single biggest threat facing India is the possibility that its political elites will simply not recognise the transformative possibilities of this moment. They will, like a decrepit ancien regime, cling on to an order whose time has long past.
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