Modernity / 26.01.2008

It is great when a blog can go on autopilot and be taken over by contributions from readers. In response to our request for help on understanding modernity, a reader provided the following quick input:  There are multiple perspectives on 'modernity,' but the word lacks any analytic viability—it doesn't mean much. Rather 'modernity' is a PROJECT, a political project, and the words 'modern/traditional' or 'modernity' have SOCIAL uses (i.e., they get used by people to mean certain things). Academics shouldn't assume that it is an accurate descriptor of something coherent. Putting it crudely, the words 'modern/traditional' are like the word 'stupid' -- people use it all the time (he is stupid, she is stupid) but that doesn't mean anything (and certainly doesn't mean that 'he' is 'in fact' stupid).  What we need to look at is: why people use it, what they think it means, and what are the effects of using...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Leadership, Politics / 25.01.2008

In our last post (More on Dynasties and Modernity) we had made the point that “it was the mass of Peoples Party loyalists in Pakistan who were clamoring for the leadership to be passed on to a Bhutto after Benazir—hence the addition of Bhutto to Bilawal’s name.” As if on cue, an op-ed appeared in The News (January 25, 2008) entitled PPP's succession -- not so flawed. The author, a barrister and human rights activist currently based in the UAE, had the following things to say: You will not meet a PPP supporter who will not tell you exactly this--that they want a Bhutto to lead the party. From the workers to the leaders, be they of any ethnic or religious background, all want a Bhutto as their leader. Contrary to what the critics imply, the Bhutto family has not imposed its leadership upon the PPP, or in...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics / 24.01.2008

We have received more comments from our reader whom we had quoted in the previous post (How Modern is Modern?).  On dynasties and the new generation: A more nuanced argument is required on both sides, either to support or refute the position that the next generation is likely to be less tolerant of dynasties. It is possible that those who benefit from dynasties and also those who do not are not willing or able to protest such practices. What can an individual reasonably do if the son of Benazir Bhutto or Sonia Gandhi is inducted into politics? Sonia herself was a reluctant inductee. So, the absence of protest does not mean such practices are readily accepted by everyone. Indeed, there is some evidence that the younger generation is less willing to accept nepotism in business where it is more common than politics. Perhaps the writer has not taken...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 23.01.2008

In our previous post (The Degeneration of Politics) we picked up a thread on dynastic politics in Ramachandra Guha’s new book (India after Gandhi, 2007) and commented that in India (and, by extension, South Asia) “the modern and the medieval exist at the same time” and that “the future of Indian politics will depend largely on the proportion of people left behind in medieval times.” Amongst other things, this was triggered by Guha’s reference to a remark by Amartya Sen that as “inequalities intensify, half of India will come to look and live like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa.” We have received interesting feedback from a reader that enables us to try and push the argument further: Perhaps the one qualification I would make is that even the small segment one might call modern has never experienced anything like the Enlightenment directly, so that culturally we...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 21.01.2008

Ramachandra Guha’s book (India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, 2007) is a work of pride—pride in the fact that despite all the doomsday predictions, India is still together and still a democracy. The pride is well deserved. But even in a book like this, Guha is forced to observe the steep decline in the nature of Indian politics (page 675): Once, most parties had a coherent ideology and organizational base. Now, they have degenerated into family firms. The process was begun by and within that grand old party, the Indian National Congress. For most of its history, the Congress was a party run by and for democrats, with regular elections to district and state bodies. After splitting the Congress in 1969, Indira Gandhi put an end to elections within the party organization. Henceforth, Congress chief ministers and state unit presidents were to be nominated...