Let me begin with two epiphanies. A few years ago, I visited a book fair held on the seafront in Kochi. The local publishers were represented, as were Indian and foreign firms. In between the stall of Oxford University Press and a shop stocking Malayalam translations of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, I came across a man selling, of all things, pickles from Bikaner. His wares were contained in large open buckets, one containing aam ka murabba, another shalgam ka achar. I asked the young man how he had come from a far northern desert to participate in a book fair in this southern port. “Maine suna ki Keral mein mela lag raha tha,” he answered, “aur maine socha ki wahan ek dukan khol doon (I heard that there was some kind of fair on in Kerala, so I thought I would bid for a stall there).” Thus spoke a pickle-man in a salad bowl nation, adding his charmingly naive logic to an apparently illogical country.
The poet Wallace Stegner once remarked that “the tracing of ideas is a guessing game. We can’t tell who first had an idea—we can only tell who first had it influentially, who formulated it in some form, poem or equation or picture, that others could stumble upon with the shock of recognition”. So it is with the idea of India. Rabindranath Tagore used the phrase in a letter to a friend in 1921, writing that “the idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts”. There may have been others who used the phrase before him. But it was only in 1997, when Sunil Khilnani used it as the title of his wonderful book, that his fellow citizens stumbled with a shock of recognition at what the idea of India represented.
As citizens, we ubiquitously use a humdrum manifestation of the miracle of India—namely, our currency notes, which have a portrait of Gandhi on one side and the national Parliament on the other, and its denomination written in seventeen languages, indeed seventeen different scripts, each encoding a distinct, sophisticated, ancient and proud literary culture. Since rupee notes are an artefact of everyday life, we do not see or sense their significance. However, in its own way, our paper currency is as marvellous and strange as the Bikaneri achar-vendor in Kochi or the signboard of the Southern bank in the Punjab.
The plural, inclusive idea of India has three enemies. The best known is the notion of a Hindu rashtra, as represented in an erratic fashion by the Bharatiya Janata Party and in a more resolute (or more bigoted) manner by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and other associated organisations. When Khilnani published his book in 1997, Hindutva appeared to be the major challenge to the idea of India. To the “theoretically untidy, improvising, pluralist approach” of Gandhi and Nehru, he wrote, the Sangh parivar offered the alternative of “a culturally and ethnically cleaned-up homogeneous community with a singular Indian citizenship, defended by a state that had both God and nuclear warheads on its side”.
Living in north India between 1988 and 1994, I experienced this challenge at first and second hand—by seeing my Muslim friends board trains under assumed Hindu names, by visiting Bhagalpur after the riots provoked by Lal Krishna Advani’s rath yatra, by witnessing a more general polarising of public opinion on religious lines. The poisonous residues of those years carried on well into the next decade, as illustrated by the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.
The threat to India from Hindutva bigotry was at its most intense from about 1989 to about 2004. When judged by political (and social) influence, the threat appears to have receded, although the terrorist activities, recently exposed, of sundry sadhvis and swamis suggests that one should not be too sanguine on this score. At any rate, right-wing religious fundamentalism has now been matched in force and influence by a challenge to the idea of India from the extreme left—that posed by the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Reports and essays in this magazine—by Smita Gupta, Nandini Sundar, Arundhati Roy and others—have documented in detail how the rise of the Maoists is linked to the dispossession of the tribals of central and eastern India. These tribals live in India’s densest forests, along its fastest-flowing rivers, and atop its richest veins of iron ore and bauxite. As the country has industrialised, they have lost their homes and livelihoods to logging projects, dams and mines which are directed by and benefit more powerful social forces.
Even when they are not dispossessed, the tribals are actively discriminated against. Demographically concentrated in a few hill districts, they do not constitute a votebank whose voice can, at least symbolically, be attended to by the political class. There is a contrast here with Dalits (as well as Muslims), who are more evenly distributed across India, and hence have a far greater impact on the outcome of state and national elections. Lacking adequate representation in the higher civil service, and without a political voice anyway, the tribals are subject to contempt and condescension by the officials of the forest, police, revenue, education and health departments, who are obliged by law to serve the adivasis but oriented in practice to harass and exploit them.
Metropolitan intellectuals have been fascinated by left-wing rebels for a very long time. From Mao through Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, onto Subcomandante Marcos of the Mexican province of Chiapas and Comrade Kishenji of (as the news reports have it) “somewhere on the Jharkhand-West Bengal border”, guerrillas in the forest or highland have attracted admiring comment from writers and poets themselves living in the cities. The contrast, indeed, explains the intensity of their commitment. Because they themselves lead bourgeois lifestyles in a land where so many are so poor, these writers sublimate their guilt by an effusive and excessive endorsement of armed rebels who claim to speak on behalf of the deprived and disadvantaged.
The first roadblock Advani’s rath yatra polarised public opinion. (Photograph by HT)
In the summer of 2006, I travelled through the district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh state, as part of a group of independent citizens studying the tragic fallout of the Salwa Judum, a vigilante army promoted by the state government. We found that the Judum had polarised adivasi society, fuelled very many murders and killings, and displaced at least 60,000 people from their homes. Disgust and revulsion at the policies of the state did not, however, blind us to the errors of the other side. The Maoists had contributed to an escalating cycle of violence by beheading alleged ‘informers’, assassinating village headmen and setting off land mines which killed civilians as well as policemen. They had also blown up schools, transmission lines and railway tracks and stopped paramedics from working in villages under their influence.
No education but Maoist one Abandoned school in Dantewada. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
The remark of the Muria teacher also allowed me to see that Maoist violence was not random or anarchic, but highly focused. Schools were attacked because the revolutionaries did not want children to be exposed to a pedagogy other than their own. The Maoists regularly murdered panchayat members and leaders (including many women) because they saw electoral democracy, even—or perhaps especially—at the village level, as a threat to their vision of a one-party state.
In the short term, the Maoists may sometimes provide the tribal succour against the exactions of the forest guard or moneylender. In the medium and long term, they provide no real solution. For them, the tribals are essentially cannon fodder, a stepping stone in a larger war against the Indian State which will end—or so their ideologues claim—with the Red Flag being planted on the Red Fort in thirty or forty years’ time. In enacting this fantasy, they will further escalate the violence and expose the adivasis to even more suffering and discontent.
The history of post-colonial India, like the history of interwar Europe, is one of an unstable democratic regime in the middle, challenged from the left and right by absolutist ideologies that seek to replace it. In January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu fanatic; six weeks later, under the orders of Moscow, the then undivided Communist Party of India launched an armed insurrection against the Indian State. Through resolute leadership, the threats from left and right were contained, and a democratic Constitution put in place. However, ever since, the Hindu rashtra and the Communist dictatorship have stood as sometimes recessive, sometimes aggressive, alternatives to the democratic idea of India.
Many British imperialists believed that an independent and united India would not survive. These sceptics included the former prime minister Winston Churchill as well as officials serving in the subcontinent at the time of the transfer of power. The Mizo Hills, then known as the Lushai Hills, were governed by a man named A.R.H. MacDonald. In March 1947, MacDonald wrote to his immediate superior that his “advice to the Lushais, since the very beginning of Lushai politics at the end of the war, has been until very recently not to trouble themselves yet about the problem of their future relationship to the rest of India: nobody can possibly foretell what India will be like even two years from now, or even whether there will be an India in the unitary political sense. I would not encourage my small daughter to commit herself to vows of lifelong spinsterhood; but I would regard it as an even worse crime to betroth her in infancy to a boy who was himself still undeveloped.”
Waning influence Sikh separatism is no more a strong force. (Photograph by Corbis)
The Tamils remain quite content to live within the Indian Union, and (the recent reappearance of Bhindranwale posters notwithstanding) the Sikh separatists are no longer active or influential. But the Valley of Kashmir remains on the boil; Manipur is home to dozens of armed insurgent groups; and despite 13 years of ceasefire, no agreement has yet been reached between the Government of India and Muivah’s men.
Those with a detached, long-term view may point out that it took centuries for countries like Spain and the United Kingdom to successfully subdue the ethnic minorities that live on their borders. There is also the example of the American Civil War, and of China’s troubles in Tibet and Xinjiang. These are all illustrations of the pain, the anguish, the bitterness and the brutality that often accompanies the process of nation-building. India, however, claims to be a modern democracy. The standards it sets itself must be different from those acceptable in aristocratic regimes of the 19th century or totalitarian states of the present time. To reconcile the Kashmiris, Manipuris and Nagas to the idea of India must involve methods other than coercion or bribery.
Fight squad Muivah supporters blocking the national highway
The state’s reliance on repression, and the rebels’ insistence on full national sovereignty, has led (in Tagore’s phrase) to “ceaseless conflicts”. If the violence is to end, the Government of India must do far more to reach out to the people of Kashmir, Nagaland and Manipur. The notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act must be repealed. Policemen and soldiers guilty of human rights violations must be punished. The constant interference with the functioning of democratically elected state governments must end.
There is also the question of viability. The small, hilly, land-locked independent homelands the radicals dream of will, in an economic and political sense, be unviable. (And an independent Kashmir will most likely become a receptacle for Al Qaeda.) If Tamils and Mizos can live within the Indian Union, there is no reason why the Meiteis and Nagas cannot. Educated, English-speaking and characterised by a high level of gender equality, these communities can access the best jobs in the whole of India (in fact, some of their members already do). Why then restrict oneself to a small, circumscribed piece of turf?
These three conceptual and ideological challenges (Hindu fundamentalism, Communist dictatorship and ethnic separatism) all date to the founding of the nation. To these have more recently been added three more mundane and materialist challenges. These are inequality, corruption and environmental degradation.
I am not a socialist, still less a Marxist. The history of Communism shows that those who seek by force to create a perfectly equal society only end up suppressing citizens, catalysing violence and creating a new class of nomenklatura who enjoy greater privileges and even greater immunity from public scrutiny than did medieval monarchs. The state of North Korea today is perfect proof of the idiocy and barbarity of the search for perfect equality.
As that wise Indian, Andre Beteille, always points out, what we must strive for is reasonable equality of opportunity, not absolute equality of result. This we have plainly not achieved, hence the disparities noted above. The life chances of a Dalit remain grossly inferior to that of a Brahmin; of a Muslim to that of a Hindu; of a tribal to that of a Hindu or Muslim; of a villager to that of a city-dweller; of an Oriya or Jharkhandi to that of a Maharashtrian or Tamil.
These inequalities are intensified by corruption, the diversion of public money meant to generate employment and income, or to provide social services, into the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. In a novel written in the early 1950s, Verrier Elwin noted how homespun khadi, once “the symbol of insurgence against British rule”, had now become “an almost official uniform, the sign of authority and power”. The rebel had become the governor; even so, the association of khadi with decency and honesty stayed on awhile. I am just about old enough to remember a time when Indian politicians were, by and large, not selfish and narrow-minded, and not on the take. As prime minister between 1964 and 1966, Lal Bahadur Shastri presided over a cabinet of largely honest men and women. His colleague, Gulzarilal Nanda, lived out his last days in a dark, poky flat in Ahmedabad, with no car, no fridge, etc. The politicians of the left and right were often as upright as those in the Centre. When, in the 1980s, a robber raided the home of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who had served three terms as the chief minister of Kerala, he found eight hundred rupees and a gold sovereign.
At the close of the last century, my home town, Bangalore, was a showpiece for the virtues of liberalisation. Access to global markets had allowed the skilled workforce of the city to generate vast amounts of wealth, which in turn spawned a new wave of Indian philanthropy. At the beginning of the present decade, my home state, Karnataka, has become a byword for the darker side of globalisation. The loot of minerals and their export to China has wreaked large-scale environmental damage and polluted the political system through the buying and selling of legislators. A state once represented to the country and the world by N.R. Narayana Murthy was now being represented to itself by Janardhan Reddy.
Reddy turf Mining in Bellary, source of all evil in Karnataka. (Photograph by KPN)
The massive profits on mining are in part because of high international prices, but in greater part because the state charges a very low royalty on ore, allows many consignments to proceed to the ports without any royalty payments and does not impose any environmental or labour standards on the mine operators. In October 2010, an attempt was made by the Opposition parties in Karnataka to unseat the government. According to news reports, individual mlas were offered close to Rs 50 crore to change sides. Since many stayed where they were, it can safely be assumed that their party bid higher to retain them. Several thousand crores may have changed hands on this single transaction alone. It is a reasonable assumption that those who were willing to pay that amount were reckoning on making at least ten times as much money in the course of their government’s tenure. One may further, and equally reasonably, assume that the commission paid to politicians by private entrepreneurs was one-tenth of their estimated proceeds. These are crude estimates, but it is clear that illegal and criminal profiteering on mining in Karnataka exceeds tens of thousands of crores annually.
To suppress opposition to these projects, the district authorities routinely impose Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits public gatherings of more than five people. Himself followed (against his will) by a police escort, Gadgil found an atmosphere of terror and intimidation, which, as he recalled, “struck me full in the face as I stood, for the first time in my life, flanked by policemen on three sides talking to Muslim fishermen of Nate village expressing their fear of total destruction of their livelihoods as the nuclear power plant comes up and swallows up their entire estuary as part of its security zone”.
The mining and power sector boom is in part propelled by the fetish of achieving 9 per cent growth, which, it is said in some circles in New Delhi, is necessary for India to achieve superpower status. Those who most actively promote this ambition are a certain kind of cabinet minister, a certain kind of corporate titan, and a certain kind of newspaper editor. They are all, I believe, beset with a deep inferiority complex, whereby they wish desperately to be placed on equal terms in international fora with the politicians, billionaires and editors of the West.
Environment be damned Nuclear power plant site in Jaitapur. (Photograph by Apoorva Salkade
The superpower aspiration is as much a male, macho thing as Naxalism or Hindutva. It is likewise a fantasy, and an equally dangerous one. It has already spawned much conflict in its wake. With public policy overwhelmingly determined by the desire to achieve 9 per cent growth, we have handed over peasant and tribal lands for the most destructive forms of industrial and mining activity. By making that one number the sine qua non of national pride and honour, the central government has encouraged state governments to promote corruption, criminality, social strife and massive, and possibly irreversible, environmental degradation.
The market can promote efficiency and productivity, but not ecological sustainability or social justice. The market does not value the needs of poor people who have no money, it does not value the future, and it does not value the right of other species to exist. It is thus in the rational interest of miners and industrialists to externalise the costs of degradation and pollution. (The laws to prevent this exist on the statute books, but, with a few spectacular exceptions, are not implemented.)
India today is thus an environmental basket-case, characterised by falling water tables, dead rivers, massively high rates of air pollution and soil erosion, the unregulated disposal of toxic wastes, and the decimation of forests and biodiversity. These processes are caused by a combination of inequality and corruption. Politicians at the Centre and the states, acting at the behest of the wealthy, pass on the costs of environmental damage to the poor and to future generations.
Sixty-two years later, the conclusion must be that in our failures to fulfil the constitutional ideals of freedom, fraternity and equality, one kind of man has been particularly vile—the one kind mandated by law to promote these ideals in office. For, the scale and ubiquity of political corruption means that perhaps the most powerful enemy of the idea of India now is the Indian State.
The Congress has played a leading role here. As the party of the freedom movement, it helped define the idea of India. As the party which, after Independence, promoted unity and democracy, it deepened the idea of India. However, over the past three decades, the party and its leaders have worked principally to damage and degrade the idea of India.
Blind honesty Manmohan’s is a corruption-steeped regime. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
One may as well name names. Indira Gandhi, herself a child of the freedom struggle, schooled in the traditions of Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru, converted a decentralised, democratic party with robust district and state committees into a family firm; and destroyed the autonomy and integrity of the civil services by making loyalty to the leader the principal criterion of professional advancement. Rajiv Gandhi, a modern-minded man who said he was going to take India into the 21st century, opened the locks in the Ayodhya shrine and then, to please the bigots on the other side, annulled the progressive Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case, thus catalysing two decades of religious rivalry and rioting that left thousands of Indians dead and many more homeless (and also incidentally opened the space for Hindutva to move from the political margins to centrestage). Manmohan Singh, himself a man of personal integrity, presides over a political regime stinking with corruption, watching as thousands of crores illegally change hands as commission on the sanctioning of special economic zones, infrastructure and communication schemes, and energy projects.
Maya memsaab The Buddha Vihar Shanti Upvan in Lucknow. (Photograph by Nirala Tripathi)
The short-sightedness and amoralism of the post-Shastri Congress has permeated the political system. The JD(S), the RJD and the SP were, from the beginning, personal fiefdoms. The Shiv Sena and its splinter, the MNS, cannot be other than narrow-minded and chauvinist. However, some other regional parties, such as the DMK and the Akali Dal, have a history of progressive social reform. Surely, had the Congress not shown the way, there would have been some attempts to deepen that legacy instead of subordinating party and state to the interests of a single family.
The ideology itself is astonishingly archaic. The Nepali Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai says his party wishes to “try out a new model which will incorporate the ideas of Gandhi, Lohia, Marx, Lenin and be a synthesis of all”. His leader, Comrade Prachanda, often speaks of the Buddha with admiration. Their Indian comrades, on the other hand, get all their inspiration from more distant quarters. The annual congresses of the CPI(M) always feature four portraits on the dais. These are of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin—that is to say, two 19th-century German thinkers, and two 20th-century Russian dictators. I do hope that in my lifetime I will see pictures placed at CPI(M) meetings of representative Indian democrats, such as (for example) Gandhi and Ambedkar.
To function moderately well, a democracy needs three sectors to pull their weight—the state, private enterprise and civil society. In the ’50s and ’60s, when entrepreneurs were timid and risk-averse, and civil society was non-existent, the state performed superbly well. In 2011, it appears to be civil society which is performing best of all. There are hundreds of hard-working and selfless social activists, working in the fields of education, health, environment, women’s rights, consumer protection, civil liberties and more. The private sector, on the other hand, is marked by both visionaries and marauders; whereas 10 years ago it was the philanthropists who defined the trends, now it is the crooks and cronies who appear to enjoy more power and influence.
In Rae Bareli Sonia Gandhi on the campaign trail. (Photograph by AP)
The decent instincts of the citizenry were also on display when they rejected, quietly and without any fuss, the campaign launched before the 2004 elections to portray the leader of the Congress party as a foreigner. By speaking of the dangers of a ‘Rome Raj’ led by ‘Antonia Maino Gandhi’, the xenophobes hoped to catalyse the base instincts of Indians in general and Hindus in particular. Outside the Hindutva faithful, the call found no resonance whatsoever. Voters made it clear that they would judge Mrs Gandhi by other criteria. Her birth in Italy and her Catholic upbringing were immaterial. By four decades of continuous residence on Indian soil, she had claimed the right to be an Indian. To be sure, there remain many Indians who are unhappy with the promotion of a family cult, and many others who are critical of the Congress president’s social and economic policies. But her European ancestry does not matter at all. Like the Rajasthani achar-seller in Kochi, she is free, as a citizen of India, to exercise her vocation where she pleases. We will assess her wares as they appear to us—and accept or reject them as we please.
The boys had evidently just come back from a function in their school, where, to mark August 15, they had chosen to play the roles of B.R. Ambedkar, M. Visvesvaraya and M.K. Gandhi respectively. Remarkably, none of their heroes was a native Kannada speaker. Yet all spoke directly to their present and future. The boys knew and revered Ambedkar as the person who gave dignity and hope for the oppressed; knew and revered Visvesvaraya for using modern technology for the social good, as in the canals from the Kaveri that irrigated their own fathers’ fields; and knew and revered Gandhi for promoting religious harmony and leading, non-violently, the country’s fight for freedom.
The vision of those young boys was capaciously inclusive. Ideologists may oppose Ambedkar to Gandhi; historians may know that Gandhi and Visvesvaraya disagreed on the importance of industrialisation in economic development. Yet, the boys understood what partisans and scholars do not—that our country today needs all three, for all were Indians of decency and integrity, all seeking sincerely to mitigate human suffering, all embodying legacies worthy of being deepened in our own age. What I saw that day was a spontaneous, magnificent illustration of the idea of India. To more fully redeem that idea would mean, among other things, matching the pluralism that those schoolboys articulated with the democracy defended so precisely by the Muria school-teacher in Dantewada.
(Ramachandra Guha’s most recent book is Makers of Modern India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
A masterpiece of an essay by Ramachandra Guha (A Nation Consumed by the State, Jan 31). Reading it, I felt sad, angry and bitter. But then I reached his conclusion, drawn in R.K. Narayanesque imagery of three boys in fancy dress, expressing joy and hope. To me, they seemed like my grandson, Dhruva, 10 years old, standing in font of me, who even with all the mess around, is supremely confident of everything, even the future of a 10 per cent gdp!
R.S. Krishnaswamy, Bangalore
Stimulating article by Guha, and in the best journalistic tradition too.
D.P. Agrawal, Almora
I’d add one more enemy to the idea of India—a selfish affluent class. All of us have, by and large, a ‘mera to ho gaya’ attitude which allows the worst travesties to happen. There are many of us who no longer have to worry about basic survival. When will the voice against corruption become strong enough to challenge it?
India’s worst enemy is its silent majority—the mute spectators of the Republic of India.
George Olivera, Mysore
If the Centre ever wants to see any positive outcome in Kashmir, Nagaland and Manipur, then it must do away with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. No nation has the right to call itself civilised if it uses such a draconian piece of legislation to maintain law and order. The removal of this act, not mere economic packages, can be the only way to bring the people of these regions into confidence.
Ayoung Konyak, Kohima
Guha’s essay is well-intentioned but is the same old wine in a new bottle. Why does every writer/intellectual ignore the root cause of this social evil within the voters of this nation? Is it not us, with our inherent xenophobia, who find solace in these butchers, promising us the blood of the other community?
Ramon Terence, on e-mail
Guha’s expounded a nice thesis wherein he mentions the multiple divides (in terms of socio-economic achievements) in India along caste, religious and regional lines. But perhaps the three are interlinked? Brahmins and Hindu banias may be better off than Muslims and adivasis, but then Parsis and Jains, both small religious minorities, are on average, better off than Brahmins and Hindu Banias. It is simply a question of being in the right place. India’s economic growth in the last 60 years has concentrated in a few states, districts and regions. So, communities in those places have benefited a lot; those outside it have lagged. If Muslims and adivasis are worse off than the rest, it is because the states where they are present in large numbers—UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, MP, Jharkhand, a lot of the Northeast, Orissa, east Maharashtra et al—have done dismally in terms of social and economic progress for decades. Parsis and Jains, on the other hand, happen to mostly live in the best Indian metro (Mumbai) or in India’s most thriving business/commerce/ trading centres of the west (Gujarat etc). For the same reasons, a Muslim in Kerala is far likely to earn more than a Hindu in Jharkhand. The solution? Nine per cent growth or 1%, we need growth in all regions of India. And how do we get this growth without compromising on forestry, farmland and fisheries? Perhaps, we need a 50:50 approach, not a blanket one.
How else can India eliminate poverty on a macro scale except by a relentless pursuit of 9 per cent growth? A reading of the economic history of other countries, most recently China, would perhaps reveal that such an evolution does lead to an elimination of poverty. But the results are not always clean on a micro-level. The issue is not that mining is being done or that farmland is being acquired for urbanisation. The issue is that inadequate compensation is being paid to owners, that royalties are not charged and that there is crony capitalism.
Puneet, San Francisco
Yet another mind-numbing essay from this shallow writer, with no new thought or insight. There is no re-examination of his Eurocentric thought process, no seeking the causes of inequity in the Mahalanobis model, the track record of the Planning Commission in the last 50 years. Never question Nehruism. Hype the role of Ambedkar. Looks good to fellow liberals, that’s all.
Birju Mahavir, Lucknow
Guha names three polar ideologies—“Hindu nationalism, left radicalism and regional separatism”—as threats to the country. But he lets off the Congress-liberal version of secularism too lightly. This hypocrisy of liberal intellectuals like Guha allows the Congress to get away with murder, the fallout of which the entire country has to live with.
Mihir Samel, Mumbai
Guha says Rajiv opened the locks of Ayodhya and then, to satisfy the bigots on the other side, reversed the Shahbano order. He is reversing the order to suit his theory. For, Rajiv first reversed the Shahbano order and then, to pacify Hindu fundamentalists, opened the gates of Ayodhya.
Nationalist historians try to portray the nation to reflect the ideology of the party in power. And Guha’s is nothing but its postmodern version, which in general tries to justify the capitalist economic model with proper liberal democratic governance.
Arup Keshri, Calcutta
Guha in his piece mentions 17 languages or scripts on the Indian currency note. However, only 15 scripts are actually depicted on our notes.
Sanjiv Kacker, on e-mail
Yes, the idea of India has enemies, but we as a nation are still evolving. The advent of modern communications systems has not only helped in the flow of information to the masses but has also made us more transparent as a nation. The need of the hour is to strengthen the democratic system by empowering common people with rights such as RTI or the Lokpal Bill so that the idea of India gets stronger every day.
Anvi Ananya, Ahmedabad
Surprising that Guha forgets one of the most corrosive elements to the idea of nationhood—casteism. There has been an increase in the number of parties catering only to the needs of specific castes, even in states like Tamil Nadu, held up as an example of a developed and progressive state. All political parties keep an eye on the caste arithmetic when selecting candidates for elections and make adjustments with these caste-based parties fearing they may otherwise lose some seats. There is a race amongst castes to be treated as most backward so as to reap the benefits of reservation.
G. Vijayaraghavan, Chennai
Guha should not, in the process of defining his pantheon of demons, insult the idea of Hinduism—it is Hinduism that has helped all other religions and ideas thrive and survive in India. What India needs is some corruption-free, long-term-thinking leaders who actually care about the poor man. If that day comes, there will be peace for everyone....
Sanjeev Vasishtha, Utica, US
Guha uses many words to state the obvious. A few points need to be made. 1) Every species has a majority and a minority; the majority will dominate. And not only in Israel and Pakistan, but even in China. One can romance with the idea of equality, but a country like America will always be Caucasian-oriented. So will any number of European countries, be they Sweden or Denmark. Developed western nations with full-fledged democratic institutions have started thinking of protecting their dominant religions. 2) The so-called notion of democracy is very recent, experienced over the last 200-odd years. Lest we forget, the Indian subcontinent had always been “ruled”, not governed. That is why we refer to “ruling party”, not “governing party”.
Mystic Frog, Bangalore
The idea of India, Mr Guha, is kept alive by its common citizenry (Jan 31). As for the Communists being the least odious of our political class, I guess Mr Guha is not familiar with those from Kerala, who would put any Congress leader to shame.
Sohan John, Alleppey
Guha makes for interesting reading but makes a terrible omission: the greatest threat to the idea of India is from jehadi terrorism, which seeks to destabilise our polity, disrupt our economy, fracture social cohesion and destroy our culture.
Prakash Singh, Noida
Guha’s list of enemies of the idea of India should have included faulty policies of the government, such as reservation, its ideas on a common civil code and so on. He mentions right-wing religious bigotry but fails to condemn obscurantism and the fact that owing to some diktats by clerics, a lot of Muslims find themselves unable to integrate themselves into a plural society.
Nabarun Dey, Silchar
To the list of enemies of the idea of India proposed by Guha, I’d add the following: the increasing importance being given to achieving one’s ends without any thought to the means adopted; lack of sincerity; the growing tendency to identify persons as belonging to narrower and narrower sectarian groups.
S. Rajagopalan, Bangalore
Guha is wrong in believing that ‘Hindu rashtra’ is a concept that goes against the idea of India. It’s also strange that he only picks up Hindu reactions—the Babri Masjid demolition, the post-Godhra riots etc—and does not name, as enemies of the idea of India, the terror attacks by Islamist groups and appeasement of Muslims that feeds Hindu anger. Is this a balanced approach?
Lt Col Shanti Prakash Karir, on e-mail
Guha should know that Hindus have always been at the receiving end. In fact, we must thank the British, whose timely appearance saved Hinduism.
Jasu Bhupen, on e-mail
Thanks Mr Guha for a brilliant piece. If India isn’t a mirror image of what Pakistan is today, it’s because of people like you.
Nikhila Chaturvedi, Mumbai
Guha’s piece echoes the sentiment that India survives despite its faults, despite its government. Despite everything, India will survive, because the idea of India is a corpus of a billion voices in harmony with our amazingly adaptable Constitution.
Ekyimo Shitirie, Kohima
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Nikhila, Guha must have requsted you to make this comment
Quoting from the scripture.
Thank you for a wonderful article, Mr. Guha. India is not a mirror-image of Pakistan because of people like you. Thank you.
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