To Whom Does India Belong?

Some recent comments have made me reflect on this question. I am intrigued by the notion that someone can think of India as belonging to its religious majority. I am going to argue that such thinking is arbitrary, inconsistent, anachronistic, and schizophrenic. It is also a vocabulary that is entirely unhelpful in advancing us to a better and more secure future.

It is arbitrary because there is no logical reason for using religion as the characteristic by which a majority is determined. Why couldn’t one say that India belongs to men because there are more men than women in India? Or that India belongs to Hindi speakers, or to peasants, or to the lower castes? No case can be made that accords primacy to religion over all these other dimensions that can also separate a population into a majority and a minority.

It is inconsistent because if such logic can be applied to India there is no reason that it cannot be applied to a part of India. How can one argue that India belongs to its majority community but Maharashtra does not belong to its majority community? One would be forced to concede the validity of Bal Thackeray’s argument.

It is anachronistic because it belongs to an age when tribes claimed ownership of particular pieces of land and fought over them. If India belongs to a majority, however defined, then by definition the residual group, no matter how long it has resided in India, is a guest at best and an intruder at worst. Such a characterization is not compatible with the norms of our time.

It is schizophrenic because it reflects a mind that has accepted the structure of a modern nation-state on the one hand but continues to exhibit a pre-modern mental frame defined by all sorts of divisions between people who inhabit that nation-state.

I have been consistently arguing the case that South Asia does indeed suffer from this schizophrenia. It has borrowed ‘modern’ forms like the nation-state and democratic governance but both its elites and its masses remain infused with the ethos of a monarchy. The elites continue to think of themselves as above the law and entitled to dynastic rule and the masses continue to look upon the rulers, whoever they may be, as their mata-pitas.

If the countries of South Asia are to be modern nation-states, South Asians would have to abandon such archaic notions as someone owning a country. There are no majorities and minorities in modern, democratic, and secular nation-states. Everyone who is granted citizenship by the Indian state is an Indian with equal rights; an Indian – nothing more, nothing less. This is not to say that Indians stop being Bengalis or Tamils or Brahmins or Sikhs but that these distinctions remain markers of culture and have no bearing on differential ownership of India or privileged entitlement to rights simply by virtue of numerical counts. The fact that there may be more Bengalis than Assamese has no bearing on anything in a modern nation-state.

And if there are people in India who do not wish to be Indian, Indians would have to find a way to resolve that dilemma just as Spain has to find a solution to the dilemma of those Basques who do not wish to be citizens of Spain. This is true not just for India but also for Pakistan and Sri Lanka, at the very least.

How we relate to each other is a function of the vocabulary we employ. We cannot continue to dwell in the past and refer to each other as Aryans and Dravidians, Hindus and Muslims, Mughals and Rajputs, Sinhalese and Tamils, Bengalis and Biharis, etc., etc.  Nor can we undo the past. If we wish to move forward with the times we have to employ the vocabulary of the times. In South Asia, we have to deal with each other as Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Bhutanese, and Maldivians.

The welfare of South Asians will be enhanced by cooperation between the countries of South Asia and will be hurt by conflict among them. This may strike some as fanciful but an essential step towards that cooperation may be the choice of the terms we use for each other. It may be how we converse with each other that would have the most impact on our future.

  • kabir
    Posted at 06:05h, 24 September Reply

    SA: Totally agree with you. In the framework of the modern nation-state, the state belongs to all those who are entitled to claim citizenship, whatever their other identities. These citizens then have responsibilities towards the state, including, at the very least, the responsibility to vote for their representatives.

    To take a non-South Asian example: Whom does the US belong to? European-origin Christians, who as of now, still make up the majority? If one argues the way we are arguing, one would have to say that the US belongs to all those who are either born in the country or immigrate and become naturalized.

    Citizenship and national identity is different from ethnic and cultural identity, though in some cases these may overlap. That is the fundemental point that we need to understand.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 08:11h, 24 September Reply

    It may be how we converse with each other that would have the most impact on our future

    Yes. Gandhi could bring both muslims and Hindus behind him because of the inclusive vocabulary he used. Idealogues will always rely on a set of words, phrases and narratives to win a base.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 12:03h, 25 September Reply

    Indians are the most gullible lot and can be conned repeatedly on religious matters by anyone having a tinge of saffron, long hairs and flowing beard. This is the biggest problem for India to be ready for next level. Anybody having capacity to make noise instantly gathers crowd behind him and media takes little time to feed his ego. The immediate impression is that he has usurped India.

    SA, it appears that Ganpat Ram has forced this article. It seems then provocation is as powerful a tool as humiliation to trigger a response. (Good in this case but will it always be so?)

    • Vinod
      Posted at 14:30h, 25 September

      Anil, I think there may be a link between the sense of security that the legal and adminstrative order of a country can provide to the population and the levels of credulity of the population. The need for myths is to assuage the sense of insecurity after all?
      Just a wild hypothesis.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 17:08h, 25 September

      Perhaps you are right Vinod. There are layered interfaces between administration and people. Those who can manipulate it take advantage of it but for the vast majority it is extension of zamindaari. Foreboding, detached and imposing, any contact with it to be avoided therefore question of instilling sense of security does not arise. But what is the remedy? Sixty years haven’t done much to change the interface. Meaningful education perhaps may be able to crack it.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:54h, 25 September

      Anil: It is a remarkable coincidence that I was in the process of adding just the appropriate essay that responds to your suggestion about education. This is a must-read essay for any one even remotely interested in our future. The essay is archived in The Best From Elsewhere section. Unfortunately access is presently restricted unless you have institutional log-in privilege to the Harvard Education Review.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 18:29h, 25 September

      Anil: Provocation is a generic term for something that incites a reaction. The provocation can be in the form of a challenge, an insult, a taunt, or a humiliation – I am sure there are other forms. You are right, Ganpat Ram did inspire the article. I took his provocation as a challenge to come up with a coherent argument that would move the discourse from an unhealthy to a healthy plane. Name calling may yield satisfaction but it is not going to get us anywhere. We have to have a civil conversation no matter what our differences.

      How we react to a provocation is up to us but I still believe there are individual threshholds beyond which something snaps and the laws of rationality cease to hold. I hope we are never put to that test. In the meanwhile, we can work on raising our threshholds.

  • Ganpat Ram
    Posted at 12:04h, 04 October Reply

    SouthAsian asks:

    “Why couldn’t one say that India belongs to men because there are more men than women in India? Or that India belongs to Hindi speakers, or to peasants, or to the lower castes? No case can be made that accords primacy to religion over all these other dimensions that can also separate a population into a majority and a minority.”

    Why can’t we say India belongs to rats, since there are far more of those than human beings in the country?

    You can indeed have any basis for nationalityyopu desire: India could even belong to trees.

    The FACT, my dear fellow, is that nations in the modern world that have any coherence are determined by language and/or religion. There are, of course, many African states lacking either, but these are notoriously unstable precisely because of that.

    It may not be convenient for you to admit it, but India as a nation would be unthinkable without its majority Hindu basis. Without Hinduism, India might as well have broken up into linguistic fragments or u nited with Peru.

    You seem to be an Islamist bent on getting India back?

    No sale.

  • Arun
    Posted at 22:43h, 17 June Reply

    I haven’t heard anyone I’d take seriously say anything other than “India belongs to its citizens”.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:10h, 19 June

      Arun: There are some things that work fine at the macro level but less well at the micro level. There will be very little disagreement on the claim that “India belongs to its citizens” but a lot more contention on the priority of claims re Mumbai, Hyderabad or Assam, for example.

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 11:57h, 29 December Reply

    India belongs to the people of India, but only to those who want to live other Indians and who cherish India’s history, especially one driven by bringing peace to her diverse people, who cherish India’s culture, in fact all of it.

    The Two-Nation Theory lovers do not belong in this group. Islam that wants to impose its judicial structure and its political domination over the Indics do not belong to this group.

    From all people of the Indian Subcontinent, the ones who least belong to this group are the Pakjabis and the Mohajirs.

    Any connectivity which is to be created in “South Asia” should not involve this group, because this group knows only how to divide, and to threaten the Subcontinent with nuclear annihilation.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:57h, 30 December

      Subcontinental: The objective of this post was to ask what the notion of a country belonging to someone actually meant. It does not ‘belong’ in the same sense that an item of private property, say a house, does to which the owners can do pretty much what they want. We can say that India ‘belonged’ to the British when the latter had conquered it and made it the jewel in their crown. But those times are behind us and if we wish to continue thinking in terms of a country belonging to someone, we have to redefine the concept in some way.

      Thinking along these lines also creates some dilemmas that had been highlighted in the post. For example, if India belongs to Indians then why doesn’t Maharashtra belong to Maharashtrians (as the Shiv Sena used to argue) or Assam belong to the Assamese? Your criterion (people who want to live with other Indians, wish to bring peace, cherish India’s history and culture) can also raise problems. Who will certify these attributes? What degree of dissent from the political status quo or accepted versions of history and culture would disqualify a person or group from belonging to the country?

      You have simplified the issue by setting out your list of those who belong and those who don’t. We can confine the discussion to India and not have to worry about Pakjabis and Mohajirs who have already left and since there is no prospect of a South Asian union we can forget about them. But that does not resolve the issue because within every country there are individuals and groups that are out of favor at some point or the other. What ought to be their status, who should decide whether they belong, and what should be done to them if it is determined that they don’t? These are difficult questions that may call for a rethinking of the notion of belonging. The post was intended to facilitate a discussion of such questions.

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 23:27h, 30 December Reply


    There is no such thing as South Asia in history. This is a recent invention. This was all Hind or Bharat or India.

    For a long time, it was also called the Indian Subcontinent. Indian being the cultural term and Subcontinent being a geographic descriptor.

    The term Indian Subcontinent reflects the rooting of the people in a culture and history as well as in geography and its history. It denotes an identity. No other place is so predominantly called Subcontinent. South Asia denotes nothing, except that it is a region, which is a part of some bigger continent called Asia with other powers, etc. South Asia has no culture, it is just a weak geographic descriptor.

    India is just one state in the Indian Subcontinent, and by no means do we Indians contest the right of other states to exist within the Subcontinent. Except for some West-enchanted liberals in India, who do not feel like Indians anyway, only they like to call the region South Asia.

    Secondly you are right, there will never be a South Asian Union, but there can be an Indian Subcontinental Union.

    I do not favor, a loose confederation of nation-states on the lines of EU. That would never work. India is far too big to be balanced by the others, unless it is by means of virulent anti-Indianism, but then it is useless talking about a union at all. All the present countries in the Indian Subcontinent would have to merge into one political union.

    For all the peoples of the Subcontinent to come together in one political union, is to first convince the Pakjabis to let go of their Indian paranoia, and to make themselves ideologically compatible with the rest of the Subcontinent.

    The key to political union lies not with Pakistan. Pakistan can only cause resistance, but never cooperation. So first, the other countries of the Subcontinent would have to merge together into an Indian Subcontinental Union. Once that becomes reality the people of Pakistan would also see the light and join in.

    If Pakistan is brought in into the picture before that, we will only be replaying the debates before Partition all over again. So for Pakistan to become united with India, Pakistan needs to kept out of the equation in the beginning.

    This is exactly the problem. The ‘unionists’ always start at the biggest rift in the Subcontinent: India-Pakistan, and as such they fail. We need to start at the weakest rifts.

    So if Pakistanis are interested in a union, they should encourage other countries in the Indian Subcontinent to bury their differences with India and to merge, knowing that they may be last to join, but they too surely will, and it is the only way to move ahead.

    The problem is the Pakistanis feel, they have something to contribute to this integration process as a leader, possibly of Muslim issues, etc. The truth is Pakistan does not have any leadership role to play in the integration process itself, may be later on, but certainly not in the integration process.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 01:51h, 31 December

      Subcontinental: You have digressed from the issue being discussed. The aim of the post was to explore whether the notion of a country belonging to anyone made sense. It was not about whether South Asia is an appropriate descriptor, whether South Asia would become one, or whether Pakistanis were good people.

      However, since this is an issue of interest to you, I would like to argue that both Indian Subcontinent and South Asia are appropriate descriptors but in different contexts. In discussions of geography or geology or the history of partition, the first is used more often. In the realm of ideas or academic discourse, the latter is more common. If you look at university websites across the world you will find hundreds of departments or centers of South Asian studies and perhaps none of Indian Subcontinent studies. Similarly, if you look at journal titles you will find dozens of journals with South Asia in their names but very few with Indian Subcontinent. As I have mentioned, this is not the issue being discussed in this conversation.

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 06:03h, 31 December Reply

    As I mentioned earlier, the country belongs to those who have ITS interests at heart, the interests being the ecology of the region, political maturity of the administration, economic self-sustainability of society in critical areas, human development of all the people across all its various dimensions, security of life, property and thought of the people, but also a culture which promotes scientific and spiritual liberty and respects truthfulness in history.

    Those who try to assert an ideology, which goes contrary to the interests of the country and its people, have no stake in the country, other than in ideology, and the country does not belong to them.

    To the other topic (derived from the name of this blog):
    How old is the term “South Asia” as a means of studying the Indian Subcontinent? It is a term by the ‘Western liberals’ to take away the bonds that unite the region, and supplant them with an understanding of the region through their lens.

    Whenever somebody from the region, say living in the West, is asked where do he comes from, and he answers ‘South Asia’, it is clear, that he comes from Pakistan. No Indian ever says he is ‘South Asian’. India does not associate herself with ‘South Asia’! We are Indian or we are from the Indian Subcontinent, but ‘South Asia’ is a derogatory word for many, and meaningless for others. So whatever South Asia may mean, India does not belong to it.

    Of course one has SAARC etc. based on ‘South Asia’, but in the acronym that too goes under.

    So as long as the West and its friends have dominated the world academic discourse, feel free to use South Asia. Once India regains its economic muscle, the term would land up in the dustbin of history.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 18:03h, 31 December

      Subcontinental: You have articulated a subjective criterion that is widely shared. However, implementing it can lead to a slippery slope. In recent American history such an approach led to the internment of Japanese-Americans, McCarthyism, and the harassing of individuals (like Martin Luther King, Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda) by the FBI. All of these are now considered dark and embarrassing chapters in American history for some of which the US government has formally apologized. The question always boils down to who defines a country’s interests and who determines the truthfulness of history.

      On South Asia, the probability of a conspiracy can never be entirely ruled out. It is possible that the term would fade away. Time will resolve this one way or the other.

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 07:26h, 01 January Reply

    SouthAsian: One needs to change the perspective from the elite to the people. In a democracy, it is the voters that convert a subjective criteria into an assessment standard, a national quality control parameter set.

    Even though the voter’s intuition gives him a good grasp of the above formulation, often he allows other factors to get the better of his judgment. It is the voter, one has to turn to, and to urge him to be more stringent in his decisions.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:12h, 01 January

      Subcontinental: It is not clear to me what you have in mind. Could you elaborate on how voters can convert a subjective criterion into an assessment standard, a national quality control parameter set?

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 20:53h, 01 January Reply

    SouthAsian wrote: You have articulated a subjective criterion that is widely shared. However, implementing it can lead to a slippery slope.

    It is not clear to me what you have in mind. Could you elaborate on how voters can convert a subjective criterion into an assessment standard, a national quality control parameter set?

    SouthAsian: It is really up to voters to demand from their elected representatives what standards they should live by, and what kind of policies and politics is acceptable. So those criteria you called ‘subjective’ can be demanded by the electorate, and the representatives can be assessed by that template, whether they have served according to those criteria.

    If they see, a certain subgroup in their society, which acts contrary to those criteria, then that subgroup can also be brought to heed the demands of wider electorate, through the channels of their representatives.

    That is the fundamental basis of democracy. I am not stating anything new.

    That is how it is to be judged whether the politicians, the elite, and various subgroups are working in favor of the land, of India or against it.

    The voters need however to be informed much better by NGOs, in the schools, what criteria can be considered important, when they go to the ballot boxes to pass judgments.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 03:25h, 02 January Reply

    Subcontinental: I have a number of misgivings about this perspective. Let me just mention one. Up to a quarter to a third of the representatives in a number of state assemblies have criminal records. So what kind of standards are being demanded by the voters that they wish their representatives to uphold? And how can voters bring subgroups to heed through their representatives when the representatives themselves are not paying heed to the basic standards of honesty and integrity?

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 08:32h, 02 January Reply

    In a democracy, the people are the sovereign. They decide who represents them.

    Obviously if the people are sending representatives with criminal records to represent them, to administer the affairs of the state, then the blame ultimately falls on the voters.

    But the voters need to become informed both about the wisdom to use when choosing their representatives, but also about the truth about their representatives, the truth about the situation.

    The first malady, the immaturity of the voter can be remedied by voter awareness programs, by the NGOs, by the schools, etc.

    The second malady, the fog of politics, is the more difficult problem. It is only through hard work over many years, that a society, a state develops a better system of accountability – through judicial process, through parliamentary inquiry, through investigative media, through freedom of communication, through more responsible civil society.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 14:23h, 02 January Reply


    I am a little confused.

    1. You make a subjective declaration ….. India belongs to …….blah blah.

    2. Then you assert, voters can convert subjective into a binding standard.

    3. Then you find fault with the voters for sending criminals as law makers.

    4. Then you say voter’s fault can be remedied by awareness program

    But according to you voters themselves have the right to decide what they want so who are individuals like you and me to find fault with them?

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 15:19h, 02 January Reply

    Anil Kala,

    The voter is supreme. Then there are missionary people who want to convert the voter to a special view point – political propaganda. Political Propaganda is a legitimate activity. There is nothing wrong in approaching the voter and letting him know of one’s wisdom. Every body who has a stake in the political process, wants to influence the voter.

    It is your right to approach the voter and to try to influence his decision, but in the end, the voter makes an independent judgment and takes a sovereign decision.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 16:29h, 02 January

      In that case there can be people who may have a counter view and missionary zeal to influence voters. Do you think a view about who India belongs to has already been frozen or a clear direction to drift visible?

    • Subcontinental
      Posted at 20:36h, 02 January

      We are talking about two different possible messages: One is at a meta level, about how to go about judging a candidate, a policy, a performance. The other is about influencing the voter which candidate to choose. At that level there is a difference. One is education, other propaganda. One also educates the voter on how to use the ballots or the EVMs, or where to go and vote. So education on judgment and assessment falls somewhere in between.

      I was talking about educating the voter on how assess the various pitches made to him at election time.

      I think, it is a closed matter. India would remain a democracy and she belongs to the people, and they are sovereign. The elite will of course try to manipulate the voters in ever more sophisticated ways, so that the hand remains as invisible as possible, but that too is legitimate.

      India belongs to others, the elite, the religious groups, the politicians only indirectly or secondarily, after they’ve been empowered by the people.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:52h, 03 January

      Subcontinental: This line of reasoning will lead us into a number of difficult positions:

      1. You are using the word ‘people’ in two different senses. When you say that India belongs to the people, you mean all the people who are citizens of India whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, religious or irreligious, etc. When you say, India belongs to the ‘others’ only indirectly or secondarily after they have been empowered by the people, you are using the term in a restricted sense referring to some notion of the majority. This concept is problematic. Belonging to the elite is not some kind of disqualification that devalues your status in the country from primary to secondary.

      2. Canvassing voters and educating them are two very different activities. If voters still need to be educated to distinguish criminals from non-criminals after 60 years, over a dozen national elections and countless state elections, there is something to think about. It cannot really be ignorance that is leading to such behavior. Voters have the fate of the country in their hands and if they are so immature, there is cause to worry.

      3. Voters are not really sovereign in who they vote for. It is the political parties that nominate candidates and present the menu to the voters. Usually voters are given the choice to vote for one criminal or the other. Political parties have been increasing the number of tickets given to candidates with criminal records. So there is some pathology in the way the democratic system is working in India and this needs attention.

    • Subcontinental
      Posted at 20:22h, 03 January

      1) Empowerment of the others is not the same thing as empowerment of the people in general. There are various levels of empowerment. As voters, the people have a different level of power and responsibility, and as ‘others’, the level of power and responsibility can vary.

      2) The problem with the criminals is not necessarily due to lack of voter education, but as I mentioned due to the second malady, the political fog, where it is difficult to ascertain which charges against a candidate were true, and which were concocted by his opponents, which crimes he made to enrich himself, and which crimes he made as Robin Hood. Sometimes voters may not even be aware that he has a criminal record. Sometimes they may just vote for the criminal because of peer pressure, or vote bank pressure. Or may be the voter is still making a good judgment based on his own self-interest.

      3) I really don’t agree with that assessment. As more areas in India connect to the mainstream economy, the demands and aspirations of people also change. Why is it that in some places in India you cannot just make somebody with a criminal record a candidate; that is because that area has already made the jump to a different level of political awareness and expectation due to development. As more areas become developed, voter demands of their candidates too would change.

      On an average more areas are getting to the economic and political mainstream than those falling into lawlessness.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 22:44h, 04 January Reply


    1. This aspect needs sorting out. In your previous comment you had concluded that “India belongs to others, the elite, the religious groups, the politicians only indirectly or secondarily, after they’ve been empowered by the people.” In this comment you have spoken of the “empowerment of the people.” Who empowers whom? Could you lay out how the process works? Also, the ‘others’ are also people because they vote. So, do they empower and are empowered at the same time?

    2. Do you really believe that voters do not know what kind of history and track record candidates have. This may be true at the national level, but such people are also elected at the local levels where voters have very intimate knowledge. The identities of all elected representatives with criminal records are known –

    For a scrolling list of candidates with criminal records, with map, see:

    3. This claim is easy to dispute. The cleanest set of representatives was the first one after 1947. Since then there has been tremendous development but the number of representatives with criminal records has increased. In his ‘India after Gandhi’ the historian Ramachandra Guha has a whole section on the increasing criminilization of Indian politics. The following is from a Wikipedia entry:

    “In Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections 2002, candidates with criminal records won 206 out of 403 seats in the assembly, i.e. more criminals were elected than regular politicians. In Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections, 2007, 74% more criminal politicians were given tickets by the mainstream parties.”

    For the increasing scope of criminilization, see:

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 10:43h, 05 January Reply

    1) Empowerment of the people means the right to decide who will rule and according to what program. Empowerment of ‘others’ means, that the political system put in place by the representatives of the people, allow the ‘others’ to flourish. It empowers the ‘others’.
    People’s Empowerment –> Representatives Empowerment –> Government Empowerment –> Elite Empowerment.

    2) I don’t think many villagers go and read scribd.

    3) Voters often vote for political parties. Political parties sometimes choose candidates who have the money, the machinery, the man-power, and the will-power to go into the hurly-burly of politics. Political parties prefer if the candidates bring their own resources, rather than claim resources from the parent party. Criminals often have the resources and they are motivated – to cleanse their names, to win respectability, to get influence over the police, to make more money from corruption.

    People often vote for the political parties and their general political direction. Thus they overlook the candidates.

    As India gets richer, the state would be able to support the political process better to a large extent from state coffers. This will bring down the corruption and criminality.
    As I said, the more areas that connect with the economic mainstream, the less will be acceptance of criminals in politics. Some parts of India are not there yet.

    Hope your eagerness for showing selective statistics, etc. to make your as yet undeclared point is not the usual phenomenon that ails all Pakistanis – the desperation to prove that India is going to the dogs just as much as Pakistan.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 16:15h, 05 January Reply


    1. I am curious how this circle is closed. The elite has always been empowered. In fact this is the elite created by the British that survived intact after Independence and is now joined by new segments. The best description is in the chapter on democracy in Sunil Khilnani’s book, The Idea of India. One excerpt (p. 34) is of relevance:

    “Constitutional democracy based on universal suffrage did not emerge from popular pressure for it within Indian society, it was not wrested by the people from the state; it was given to them by the political choice of an intellectual elite.”

    There is nothing wrong with this but that fact is that this mode of rule was not chosen by the people. If they had been given a choice they could well have opted for some other form.

    2. Yes, villagers don’t read scribd but that does not mean villagers are ignorant. They know quite well who is who and what is what because their survival depends on it much more crucially than those of urbanites.

    3. If political parties are increasingly choosing criminal candidates and offering them to voters, isn’t that a cause for concern? Why aren’t other groups intervening and telling the voters about the criminal candidates?

    4. I have already mentioned that the claim that development will make politics clean is not borne out by the historical evidence (refer to Ramachandra Guha). There could be a turning point in the future but it has certainly not been reached yet.

    5. This not a country-specific issue; it is common to the region. Pakistan would in all likelihood be worse but there is much less data available. I am aware that there are many representatives in the Pakistan who have falsified their educational credentials and are being pursued by civil society on that count.

    6. It is for this reason that I am advocating that we not speak of democracy in general. We need to look at the democratic process in the concrete context of each country in the region. There are distinct peculiarities in how the democratic system operates in colonial countries where it was not a response to the popular will but the unilateral choice of an elite created by the colonial powers.

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 08:50h, 06 January Reply

    SouthAsian wrote: “Constitutional democracy based on universal suffrage did not emerge from popular pressure for it within Indian society, it was not wrested by the people from the state; it was given to them by the political choice of an intellectual elite.”

    SouthAsian: Gandhi used to say “India lives in its villages” and he spent some time organizing village life. In Indian villages, there has often been a sort of local democracy through panchayats. All that did not arrive with the British, much less the Muslims. It has been there for a few millenia.

    Democracy was not unknown in India. True, universal suffrage may not have been the norm, but then Swiss women got the right to vote in 1971. If you wish to know more about democratic and republican traditions in India (which once included Pakistan region before it turned Turk-Arab-Persian), then this may be of interest to you:

    Democracy in Ancient India

    Democracy is more than at home in India. Hindu/Buddhist society was not averse to democracy. Indians do not owe the British anything, least of all democracy. The ‘intellectual elite’ did not ‘give’ India democracy. The elite strengthened their hold over the population by ‘giving’ them democracy. Had they not opted for democracy, then the power would have been decided by the force of arms. The Indian intellectual elite in those days were not necessary all soldiers. So they would have lost out that way. Secondly democracy may still have taken root in society, but it would not have been at the central level, but a lot more fragmented, and thus the India level elite would again have lost power.

    2. Of course, it is not good if criminals get elected in India. But voters who have bread and butter issues, would sometimes not put honesty and public propriety as their first priorities. One can only know somebody truly only if he/she is in one’s closest circle of acquaintances, otherwise one gets to know the other from hear-say. That is what I mean by political fog. It is only when the people arrive at a certain stage in the developmental curve, that their perspectives and expectations change. Not all Indians are there yet.

    3) So when looking at history of elections and criminals elected, one should keep the curve in view.

    4) In big metros in India, it is rare to see someone with a criminal record as a candidate.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 19:40h, 06 January Reply

    Subcontinental: The quote is not something I said. It is from Sunil Khilnani who is considered one of the leading scholars on this subject.

    Any real social grouping, as opposed to a utopian vision of it, gives rise to conflicts and has institutions to resolve those conflicts. Indian villages had the panchayat and Afghan villages had the jirga. But just as the jirga did not make Afghan society democratic, the panchayat did not make Indian society democratic. In neither could a majority of members recall or replace the head of the body. Both the panchayat and the jirga have had a continuous existence so one can ask when and how did they lose their democratic moorings.

    Dr. Ambedkar was among the most learned and intellectually astute members of the Independence movement. Here is what he had to say about the Indian village based on his knowledge of those who were at the bottom of the village hierarchy: “The love of the intellectual Indians for the village community is of course infinite if not pathetic… What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism.”

    Dr. Ambedkar was very clear at the time of Independence of the nature of the radical experiment on which India was embarking. Here are two of his observations:

    1. “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.

    2. “In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”

    You should have been alerted to this by the nature of the support you have found for your claim – a 1993 paper that has remained unpublished and has finally been posted on the Internet. If this had been a claim that the world of scholarship took seriously we would have been drowning in a deluge of books much like that which talks of Greek democracy.

    On the other points, my claim is that so far the correlation of development and clean politics remains weak because criminalization has been increasing over time. There are other plausible explanations of this phenomenon detailing how politics transformed from idealism into a business proposition. Both Guha and Khilnani provide good starting points for a discussion of this subject. This is of course compatible with your claim that the turning point is yet to be reached.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 14:35h, 08 January Reply

    Amartya Sen is asking the right questions and fulfilling the responsibility of the public intellectual. This is with reference to the judgement against Dr. Binayak Sen:

    “the judgement also raises some questions about India’s democracy, legal framework and Indian engagement with issue of equity.”

    “As Indian citizens, we have right to pose questions — like how some petty thinking became so dominant in the Indian legal system,” Mr. Sen said. He also referred to the sedition charge brought against writer Arundhati Roy and the point made that her comments allegedly offended “patriotic sentiments“.

    “In a democracy, we have no obligation to air only patriotic sentiments. If some people don’t understand it…this is about the foundation of democracy.”

  • Subcontinental
    Posted at 10:23h, 18 January Reply

    SouthAsian: Panchayat was only one small part of the grass roots democratic structure in India, albeit a very important part. And to be frank, I would not discount the Afghan Jirga tradition.

    As the link above amply proves, there were several Republics in the Subcontinent from before the times of Alexander.

    I would just like to say, that the Subcontinent has by no means a lesser claim to be home of democracy as say the Western powers. And as much as I respect B.R. Ambedkar, I would say, he made that point taking into consideration just that millenium, when the systems had already degenerated, to a large part due to the invasions from outside the Subcontinent.

    SouthAsian: If you like to quote Arundhati Roy, I would presume you are one of those Pakistani Liberals, who love to celebrate Indians who have been groomed by the Western Liberals to badmouth India. These Western Liberals can exert zero influence on their own Western societies. They are there only cause instability in the developing world, using on the surface very noble sounding causes, but with a program not to solve problems but to jeopardize national cohesion through support of secessionist and tribal forces, through support of environmental issues which stops a development plan in its tracks, etc. etc.

    Now Liberals in developing countries are programmed to respond to this by name calling, calling others as only out to suppress the voice of the people, voice of dissent, voice of liberalism, etc. There is novelty in that reaction either.

    There is nothing wrong in Liberalism, as long as one can disassociate Subcontinental Liberalism from Western Liberal manipulation. Once the Subcontinental liberals stop being feted by Western Liberal institutions, being given scholarships in Western academic and research institutions, and stop quoting Western Liberal literature, then Subcontinental Liberalism becomes a credible force. Until then the Subcontinental Liberals are simply marionettes of the West out to discredit and delegitimize the State and Society in the countries of the Subcontinent, and basically they are not working for the interests of the Subcontinent.

    It is important for the Subcontinental Liberals to free themselves of Western control and manipulation.

    Even to this plea, the Liberals of the developing countries have been programmed to respond to by calling others paranoid. But if it is a question of honesty, wouldn’t you say, that your arguments, your claims, your counter-claims, your style of argumentation, the methodology of offering references, etc., and an overwhelming wide-spread similarity in the narrative about the problems in India, in Pakistan, etc. amongst the Subcontinental Liberals isn’t a well thought out Western project with some Agenda.

    If the Western Liberals build the core, and they deliver the ideological material, the infrastructural sustenance, the systematic encouragement, and the Liberal movement on the one hand strengthens the democratic set up in the West and give the population some exhaust valve, whereas in the developing countries, especially in the Subcontinent, the movement supports causes like Kashmir Azadi without saying anything on the subject of ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits from the Valley, or supports causes which stops developmental projects, or works often with missionary causes together, etc., then it is bound to raise suspicions.

    So my plea to all Subcontinentals is to detach themselves from Extra-Subcontinental Manipulators, and to build their own narrative, or do the Subcontinentals lack the necessary intellect to think without the White Man.

    I may have misunderstood you, and if I did, I am sorry!

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:39h, 18 January

      Subcontinental: It is very easy to come up with a narrative which is why there are always many competing narratives. The more difficult task is to determine which narratives are more robust and credible. This task is familiar to scientists who are dealing with competing hypotheses all the time. The next step is to subject the hypotheses to rigorous testing based on data, evidence and logical reasoning. And then the last step is one of convincing a set of relevant peers of the validity of the findings.

      One can also adopt a non-scientific attitude and claim that one’s own narrative is the only true one and whoever does not share it is unpatriotic and an agent of some external power with a hidden agenda. The choice of which approach to follow is up to us.

      As for democracy, there are no prizes being awarded to the original inventor. What is relevant is to discover indigenous traditions on which institutions that work well can be built. Such traditions can prevent the kinds of institutional pathologies that we have been talking about, e.g., political parties increasingly nominating candidates with criminal records and citizens voting such candidates into office. That this pathology exists is an observation of reality; that it should be corrected is a legitimate objective.

  • Shyam
    Posted at 13:17h, 31 July Reply

    true… not sure who said this, but it still rings true: Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 13:17h, 13 February Reply

    “On a trip to Lahore once, I was struck by the cultural similarities between my hosts and myself. We liked the same food, lived in similar surroundings, and shared the same jokes. It was an altogether friendly experience, separated by a border. On a similar trip to the Northeast, I realised how different I was from the local population. Despite the cordiality, the cultural and ethnic connection of my hosts was closer to China. Yet, I felt gratified that our differences were not a source of alienation, and that the boundaries of nation states were in fact not cultural, social or culinary boundaries.”

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