by Rajiv Malhotra Jun 17, 2013 12:53 IST
In order to understand India’s present dynamics, it is helpful to think of three competing forces at work internally, each with its distinct support bases and strategic ambitions. Of these forces, Sensex India and Bharat are pro-nation forces even though they fight each other, while Breaking India opposes the unity of India. This article summarises some key kurukshetras within India where these forces are at war with one another. I want to make it politically correct to discuss this in the mainstream.
I have coined the term Sensex India to refer to the western-style institutionally organised economy and lifestyle. This includes all those Indians who relate to the corporate sector as investors, producers or consumers. The major metros and second-tier towns are now largely taken over by this segment, and belonging to it is considered synonymous with being “modern”. The proportion of Indians who belonged to this category during colonial rule was tiny, but has mushroomed after independence, and especially in the past decade of India’s “globalisation”. Sensex India uses Western models that are based on centralised governance, extreme materialism, greed and short-term thinking in matters of environment and sustainability. It continues the legacy of cultural disruption that was started by European colonialists, even though now it is brown-skinned Indians performing the white man’s roles.
The Indians leading this tend to be directly or indirectly integrated with their fellow western elitists, not only in business transactions but also in media, lifestyle, literature, fashions, brands, etc. What is being touted as globalisation is largely the westernisation of the globe. All too often, cricket, Bollywood and a few traditional symbols (carried forward from Bharat, discussed below) comprise the shallow sense of Indian identity among this class. They crave mimicry of the west. A person’s westernisation has become the measure of superiority over his fellow Indians.
While Sensex India seeks to unify India using top-down development, there are opposing centrifugal forces tearing it apart. I have discussed these in numerous talks and in my book, Breaking India. These fissiparous forces include regional ethnic identities, foreign religious nexuses, and so forth. Because I have discussed many of them elsewhere, in this brief article I shall focus on one such divisive force that I refer to as Maoist India, the rebellious insurrections that confront approximately one-third of India’s districts, according to government sources.
There are many disparate revolts against Sensex India, being provoked on the grounds of feeling exploited and marginalised. Maoist Indians allege that they are victims of cultural genocide which is being carried out behind the smokescreen of “progress”. While Sensex India is run top-down with elitist centralised structures and mostly English-speaking governance, Maoist India is grassroots and bottom-up. Here the local languages predominate and the support base is very grounded and bonded with the native soil of a given geographical locality. This means that Maoist India is not one unified movement, but several disparate movements spread across the country, each fighting a local war against local authorities. Often the local police or even symbolic presence of “India” is used as a target to unleash their frustrations.
There are growing alliances emerging across the different geographies, including cells of revolt in neighboring countries. Some of the leaders of these movements include well-educated modern Indians who have turned into revolutionaries, drawing inspiration from similar leftist movements in other parts of the world. China’s Chairman Mao is commonly used as the mascot and political ideologue; hence the term Maoists is used to refer to all such movements.
Their prime enemy is Sensex India and the Indian government seen as its guardian. Many local battles have erupted over the appropriation of lands and natural resources by Sensex India and its foreign collaborators. The Hollywood movie, Avatar, depicts a fictional account of the capitalist exploitation of natives, which resembles many of the issues at stake here. When I saw that movie, I was also imagining the story of the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans after the so-called “discovery” by Columbus (which was really a conquest of the cruellest kind).
The origin of this clash between western-style “civilisation” and the natives of the soil had its origins long ago. It crystallised in legal terms when the British classified many local jatis (traditional communities) that resisted colonial presence as “criminal tribes”. The notorious Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was later extended and further consolidated in 1876, 1911 and 1924. Even though India repealed it after independence, many structures that it produced have endured, such as the category “tribe” which is a derogatory western term. In the terminology of Bharat, all these so-called tribes are jatis. The only difference is that these jatis were too different from western norms and resisted (often with violence) the attempts to encroach into their territories and sacred spaces.
The thugs were one such jati that became infamous. They were especially dangerous for the British rulers of India, because they organised attacks against colonial presence wherever they found such a foreign presence to be vulnerable. For instance, the thugs were opposed to the very large scale deforestation of their lands which the British carried out in order to supply wood to Britain and to their own projects in India. The criminalisation of this jati was so successful that their name has entered the global lexicon as synonymous with crookedness and criminality in general. It is analogous to a pejorative racist term like “nigger” except that there is virtually no resistance against its use because the thugs got exterminated by British edict.
This pejorative mindset is prevalent in the attitude of Sensex Indians towards “tribals”; it is a view through their colonised lenses. It sees the native jatis as “occupiers” of valuable lands that need to be exploited in the name of progress and civilisation. This is the exact same story as the whites who called themselves “settlers” of the American landscape, after making it “empty” of the natives by various means of genocide.
Bharat is the term that refers to traditional India. Whether one thinks of pre-colonial Indian native society as good or bad, there is no doubt that such a society has survived for a very long time, and that many pockets of India still live in traditional lifestyles deeper than mere symbolism and ornamentalism. Today, Bharat has been invaded by both Sensex India and Maoist India, albeit using different reasons and different methods. The Sensex Indians are following imported right-wing capitalist models that are said to have emerged from the Protestant Ethic in the West, and they are frantically “developing” the civilisation of Bharat by westernising it. The Maoist Indians are following imported left-wing models to redress their grievances. Each attacks Bharat with its own imported theories, and each offers its own kind of promise for a better society. The important thing is that both are foreign nexuses based ideologies, and both are tearing Bharat apart. I predict that neither Sensex India nor Maoist India will score an absolute victory, but that this war will break up India sooner than most Indians are willing to admit.
Sensex India and Maoist India are like competing predators that each prey on Bharat, while at the same time determined to fight each other to the end.
I am not at all writing a defence of Bharat. I am certainly not claiming that it is some sort of perfect past. There is no such thing as a perfect past according to Bharat’s traditions; smritis are meant to be rewritten for each era and context, rather than being parroted as fossilised dogma. The old Bharat would not be viable today even if one could return to it. For one thing, the population today is over 50 times what it might have been during the classical era of Bharat, and I have never seen a convincing analysis that the old ways are sufficiently elastic to be viable on a 50-fold increase of scale today. Add to this that modern technology and globalisation make isolation impossible, and any isolationist approach would merely weaken India and invite re-colonization by forces in India’s neighbourhood and beyond.
However, I do suggest that civilisation models from classical India must be put on the discussion table alongside all other models, and considered on a case by case basis as the building blocks for a Navya Bharat (New Bharat). Good ideas from all sources, including from Sensex India and Maoist India, ought to be assimilated as part of this exercise, which should be seen as the development of new smritis and adaptation of old ones. This would not be the first time that Indians have modernised their own traditions. It surprises me that such approaches to nation building have not been started on a large scale, at least not persistently with enough competence. (I am excluding proclamations that are political manoeuvres to grab power under such pretexts, and I am referring here to thought leaders who ought to not have political ambitions or others selfish motives.)
Seen in this framework of three Indias, today’s blatant and massive corruption is a result of the breakdown of the ethos of Bharat, replaced by materialistic greed that cannot be satisfied within the Sensex India model. The media has propagated western-style desires among the masses which the system cannot deliver on such a large scale. This leads to all out selfish frenzy to get ahead at any cost, using any means. I do not think that Sensex India could deliver the American middle class lifestyle on which it is premised. Given that India’s population density is 10 times as large as USA’s, India simply lacks the natural resources (e.g. water) to sustain the same level of per capita consumption as the USA. It would have to be based on huge importation of resources (like energy). This would bankrupt the country, while the Sensex billionaires would be cheered as heroes flying in their private jets to enjoy greater foreign assets and fame.
If the US social security system cannot afford to pay for its old people’s retirement, why should India dismantle the traditional family and jati structure of looking after the aged, in the wild hope of “becoming like Americans”? Even if the dream based on Sensex India’s development model were viable, where would so much capital come from and who would pay the debt? Where are the foreign lands India would have to conquer and colonise in order to develop itself, in the same way as the West plundered others to develop itself? My point is that the Sensex India model needs to be augmented with a good dose of ideas from Bharat.
I found that few of my Sensex India friends were willing to discuss the Maoist threats to their wealth, because it shakes up their comfort zones. Lately, I am encouraged that a tiny number of them are becoming open to examine such ideas, at least privately. This topic of conversation does deflate their hot air balloons, for it forces them to step back in the backdrop of recent Sensex crashes, the constant lowering of India’s GDP growth prospects, India’s rising debt, and loss of India’s positioning in the global economy both to China at the top and to other low wage countries squeezing from below. They usually admit the devastation looming ahead due to the population bomb.
Not one of them likes my prediction that very soon the risk analysis of investments in India will start to include Maoist disruptions into the models. They shudder when the following questions are raised: What would happen if the Maoists redirected their anger from attacking petty government officials to attacking the core infrastructure of major Sensex India players? What would get triggered if the news headlines suddenly mentioned attacks on IT, oil pipelines, telecom networks, etc.? As infrastructures expand, which they must, they become increasingly vulnerable as well. My point is that besides being good for the society at large, the kind of strategic rethinking I am calling for would also benefit Sensex India in the long run.
I often wonder: What might have Gandhi’s India been like? I feel it would have been closer to Bharat than the other two models, Sensex and Maoist, respectively. Indeed, it was the Nehruvian turn after independence that went away from Gandhi and Bharat, which could be seen as the watershed event leading up to the present crisis. Nehru saw himself as the last white man to rule India. At the same time, I cannot accept the old Gandhian model for today, for each model has a lifecycle and needs to be updated. It would not be viable now, and Gandhi himself as a great creative re-thinker would probably have revised it for today’s circumstances.
What I propose is a healthy integration of Bharat and Sensex India to take us forward, with lessons learned from the Maoists brought in as well. The exact nature of this confluence would require innovative thinking. Frankly, the political leaders who claim to speak for Bharat have just not had adequate vision; they are too obsessed with immediate politics that is inherently reactive and short sighted. Some persons I speak to anticipate that Narendra Modi will come to power and fix everything. It is true that he has shown interest and support for both Bharat and Sensex India, and might be a good leader to integrate these. But the task at hand is far more challenging than any one man could be expected to achieve, regardless of which among the potential candidates comes to power. It demands an intellectual climate that needs to be created in India.
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