Politics / 27.09.2008

This is the quintessential ‘What If’ question. It is counterfactual because now we can never know what would have happened if India had not been partitioned. But we can speculate about the possibilities and try and construct plausible scenarios for purposes of understanding and discussion. In this post we argue against the scenario presented by Aakar Patel in his op-ed in The News on September 22, 2008. Aakar Patel’s one-line conclusion is that an unpartitioned India would have been a disaster for both Hindus and Muslims. Let us first list the points we aim to contend: Unpartitioned India would be the word’s largest country (1.4 billion people), the world’s largest Muslim country (500 million) and… the world’s poorest country (over 600 million hungry). In undivided India, religion would have dominated political debate, as it did in the 30s and 40s, and consensus on reform would be hard to build...

Governance, India, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Democracy/Governance, India, Modernity, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Leadership, Politics / 24.07.2008

Ardeshir Cowasjee is the doyen of Pakistani opinion-makers having been around forever as the leading light of Dawn. For many years now, with great regularity, Mr. Cowasjee has been making a seemingly provocative statement on behalf of Mr. Jinnah. For some reason, this statement has sparked no discussion whatsoever. Here is one version of the statement as expressed in his column of May 25, 2008: “That man of great perception (there were no others to follow him) our founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, once prophesied shortly after the making of his country, realising the calibre of men and women around and about him, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than its preceding one. This prediction, made 60 years ago, has been eerily correct, and continues to be so.” Every time I have read this statement I have been plagued with doubts. Does Mr. Cowasjee...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 20.07.2008

The BBC is doing a fine job in India reporting events that compel readers to think about the broader implications of the story. We had earlier picked up a story about the threat by purists to mixed religious communities. The post (Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu?) has become quite popular on the blog suggesting that readers enjoy being engaged by challenging questions. Now the BBC has reported on the goings-on preceding the July 22 vote of confidence in the Indian parliament. This too raises some interesting questions about the nature of democracy in India. The story itself states very clearly: “When India is described as 'the world's biggest democracy' it remains strictly true.” A story like this in Pakistan would most likely have found the reporter on the first plane out of the country. So there is no doubt that in relative terms governance in India has a much better...

Education, Fundamentalism, Ghalib, Politics, Religion / 19.07.2008

Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you. The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God. In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about...

Fundamentalism, Modernity, Politics, Religion, South Asia / 18.07.2008

Our two posts on fundamentalism (1, 2) have only scratched the surface of this phenomenon and revealed many more interesting questions to explore. A useful place to pick up the exploration is a recent article by Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia University, called The Politics of God. Professor Lilla’s point of departure is his sense of amazement that after two centuries when world politics revolved around “eminently political problems,” we seem to be back in the 16th century “entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty.” What happened? Like a good teacher, Professor Lilla has posed an interesting and also a very critical question. Readers can go to Professor Lilla’s article to see how he answers the question with reference to Hobbes and Rousseau. Here we extract some material to rephrase the proposition in our own context and to pose...

India, Politics, Religion / 14.07.2008

The following story reported by the BBC is an intriguing one and we wonder what readers will make of it. Islam and Hinduism's blurred lines By Jyotsna Singh, BBC News, Ajmer, Rajasthan Story from BBC NEWS, Published: 2008/07/11 16:20:24 GMT http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/7473019.stm Forty-two-year-old Sohan Singh is delighted to call himself a "full-fledged" Hindu. Recently he cremated his mother, defying a family tradition of burying their dead. Mr Singh is a member of the Kathat community in Rajasthan and follows what his community believes is a pledge undertaken by their forefathers. Legend has it that the Mehrat, Kathat and Cheeta communities - with a combined total of one million people in four districts of central Rajasthan - are the descendants of the Hindu ruler of the warrior caste, Prithviraj Chauhan. The three communities also have strong Islamic connections, because many centuries ago, their forefathers undertook a pledge to follow three Muslim practices. These include the circumcision...

Fundamentalism, Politics, Religion, South Asia / 05.07.2008

In our last post (On Fundamentalism), a point of view had been advanced that there could be no religious fundamentalism without the existence of a scared text. It was the sacred text, the word of God, which provided the reference for the movement of going back to the ‘fundamentals’. And because there was no one sacred text in Hinduism, Hindutva could not be interpreted in terms of religious fundamentalism. It was speculated that Hindutva was better interpreted as a form of nationalism. We are impressed by the reader who accused us of being fundamentalist (i.e., literalist) about ‘fundamentalism’. He argued that Hindutva was more than nationalism and had a fundamentalist dimension as well because it was attempting to reduce the variability in the interpretation of the Ramayana to create a narrower (purer) consensus. Likewise, he argued, other text-based fundamentalisms have a nationalist dimension as well. Therefore,...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 26.06.2008

There was a music program in Washington, DC recently in which the three performers on stage were of South Asian origin – the vocalist from Bangladesh, the tabla player from Pakistan and the harmonium player from India. All three were young and together they created a beautiful music. The Indians in the audience asked for Faiz, the Pakistanis for Nazrulgeeti, and the vocalist herself sang the verses of poets from India. The program was a huge success lasting over five hours. It was an occasion that was symbolic of what was possible in terms of coexistence. Is that an unrealistic dream for South Asia? The election primary in the U.S. this year is a ready reminder of the transformations that are indeed possible. A mere fifty years after the Civil Rights Act when black Americans were second-class citizens afraid of being lynched and cities were burning with...