Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ashutosh Varshney's NRI View of India

Ashutosh Varshney, an academic at Brown University in the United States, has a new book out, “Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy.”

Judging from what he said at a book release ceremony in Goa yesterday, it is the usual intellectually disreputable NRI product, a mix of Western stereotypes and learned blindness to inconvenient history.

India’s democracy is “improbable” in Western eyes because of the country’s poverty and the expectation (Varshney's citations began with John Stuart Mill), that a country so diverse could not be a nation, much less be subject to democratic governance.

Varshney ascribed the failure of democracy in the great majority of poor countries – over 75% – to a variety of internal factors, not breathing a word about the primary reason, endemic subversion by neo-colonial interests.

In noting Pakistan’s failures he ignored completely the poisonous process of its creation by the British and its ISI enforced servitude as their proxy to disrupt South Asia and the Islamic world.

He cited Indonesia’s failure without a nod to the brutal realities of the Cold War that inflicted on the country a massacre of some 500,000 “communists” and imposed prolonged rule by a military junta backed by Washington.

He was silent on the manipulations of African countries by Britain, France and Belgium that destroyed their infant experiments with democracy and plunged many into murderous tyranny and perennial civil war.

Since the 1990s Africa has painfully extricated itself from many such conflicts and under the Organization of African Unity democracy had become the norm on the continent; but in the last few years, as European neocolonialists have faced crisis at home, they have reversed decades of progress. Varshney is blind to the past and the present.

Similarly, the 1953 British-American coup that destroyed Iran’s homegrown democracy under Mohammed Mossadegh has evidently made no impression on his scholarship.

Varshney has to ignore all this because that is the cost of NRI success in Western academia; what is inexcusable is that in explaining India’s success he ignores completely the country’s millennial tradition of governance directed by concepts of Ramrajya and the constant democratic influence of the major castes even under the most despotic rulers.

He accepts without question the Western claim that its “nations” represent the conceptual default framework essential for democracy.

Western nationhood is the result of armed conquest and the violent molding of all minorities into servitors of an imposed national ideal. Their democracies are a recent historical development that assumed their current liberal character only in the second half of the 20th Century, under the impact of the human rights revolution Gandhi let loose with Satyagraha in South Africa.

In contrast, the Indian nation is the result of a long evolution going back to the compilation of tribal lore into the Vedas that tamped down group conflicts and allowed the emergence of interdependent castes. The Ramayana and Mahabharata mark significant points in that evolution, and over the millennia, Indian polity has shown a remarkable capacity to meet challenges and adapt to new conditions.

Guru Nanak and Kabir initiated the modern Indian renaissance by seeking to break down religious and caste divisions that had emerged during a period of invasion and social decadence. Their success can be judged by India’s massively unitary response to British rule. The only effective response to that upsurge was the enormous and completely unprecedented communal violence the British engineered.

Varshney seems oblivious to this entire history when he terms Jawaharlal Nehru the “father of Indian democracy.” Nehru certainly deserves credit for nursing India into electoral politics, but the essentially democratic spirit of Indian society is of ancient origin.

Indian democracy is not “improbable.” It is our heritage.

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