Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ravana mode of development – II

Gandhi had seen signs of militarization in India and was worried that an arms race between India and Pakistan would divert resources from areas like education, which is of course what happened. He said that India had accepted his remedy only because a violent alternative was not visible. In these days of guided missiles and misguided rulers, his observation in Nov 1947 is still relevant: 'Our statesmen have for over two generations declaimed against the heavy expenditure on armaments under the British regime, but now that freedom from political serfdom has come, our military expenditure has increased and still threatens to increase and of this we are proud! There is not a voice raised against it in our legislative chambers.'

A basic justification that was given for colonialism was the civilizing mission of superior-matured men of West over inferior-childish men of East. Gandhi rejected the idea of viewing West's masculinity as matured, aggressive and civilized as against East's masculinity as childish, passive and barbarous.  (As discussed by Ashis Nandy in  The Intimate Enemy.) The authors of Postmodern Gandhi and other essays say, ‘Gandhi turned the moral table on the English definition of courage by suggesting that aggression was the path to mastery of those without self-control, non-violent resistance the path of those with self-control.’

But people still seem eager to adopt the western definition of courage marked by aggressive self assertion. This can be seen in various debates one sees on TV where participants think that admitting an error is a sign of weakness and muscular responses are seen as being desirable. The responses will sound as if they are saying 'Mistakes were made but not by me'. In Great Soul, a book that shows many of Gandhi's compromises, inconsistencies and objectionable statements, still comments on his contrast with present-day politicians:
Seldom does he give in to the politician's usual temptation to blithely sweep away any sense of letdown, to proclaim victory at every juncture. This unsatisfied Gandhi, the one who doesn't know how to pretend, is the one who still makes a claim on Indian social conscience, such as it is. 
In Nationalism (a book that would be banned as 'anti-national' if it was published in these days of manufactured nationalism), Tagore criticized the ‘fierce self idolatry of nation worship’. Tagore was surprised why Gandhi took to nationalism while it, according to Tagore, negates other benefits of modernity such as freedom, equality etc. But Gandhi’s nationalism was not exclusive, it was “intense internationalism”. When I heard about the SC making it compulsory to stand in theatres for the national anthem, the first thought that occurred to me was a statement by Gandhi during his trial for sedition in 1922, 'Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law.'

Gandhi's nationalism was very different from Hitler's nationalism. By using one word to describe such a wide spectrum of sentiments, a lot of confusion is created. If you wield a stick and tell a person to say 'I love you' and you really think the person loves you, you have to be quite naive. As Ramachandra Guha writes, 'Speaking of 18th century England, Samuel Johnson famously said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In 21st century India, it seems to be the first refuge of the incompetent and malevolent.'

In Nationalism, Tagore said that if India tried to copy Western countries (he was talking specifically about political nationalism) without taking into account its own history, ‘it will be as absurd as if Switzerland had staked her existence in her ambition to build up a navy powerful enough to compete with that of England’. I saw an instance of such imitative modernity in Bonfire of Creeds by Ashis Nandy. Apparently, the Bhilai steel plant, located at a place where the winter temperature rarely falls below 55 deg. F, has a roof modeled on a Russian prototype which is designed to withstand heavy snowfall.  Such blind mimicry will be given some fancy name like ‘technology transfer’.

The latest in this spree of copying is the bullet train project which has no relevance to the overwhelming majority of the population. It reminds me of an episode in Yes, Prime Minister where there is a proposal to buy the expensive Trident missile. The bullet train is India's version of something at Harrods:
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Don't you believe that Great Britain should have the best? 
Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident - it's lovely, it's elegant, it's beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say? 
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don't need it.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.
In The Good Boatman, Joshua Oldfield, who had shared a room with Gandhi during his college days in London, discusses about Gandhi not following the habit of other Indian students. He says, 'I have always felt since that the Indians coming to England have to face the same great testing examination. If they fail, they prove that they have commonplace minds and they drop into the ordinary run of English diet, English habits, and general mediocrity.' You don't have to go to England now to see that.  Macaulay’s aim, set out in his infamous “Minute on Indian Education”  - to create 'a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect' - is still operational.

You can see this Western mode of living in many cities - the way of dress (suit and tie in the middle of an Indian summer), in the foods they prefer (pizza or burgers), the language they speak (Hi dude - or 'bro'-, cool hairdo!), the antics during various sporting events like the IPL...(somebody called these people 'Resident Non-Indians'). My physiotherapist said that his daughter (in kindergarten) had been told by her teacher to speak in English at home! Sujit once told me with great excitement, 'Tonight is El Classico!'. Uh, what's that? It turned out to be a football match between  two European clubs which was apparently followed avidly in his college. Ashis Nandy writes in The Intimate Enemy, '...once the British rulers and the exposed sections of Indians internalized the colonial role definitions….the battle for the minds of men was to a great extent won by the Raj.'

I keep hearing foreigners say that India has become more confident. It seems to mean that India has become better at copying. What is copied is the worst of the West, not its best like respect for institutions, defence of free speech etc. On a visit to London in 1931, for a conference on determining India’s political future, Gandhi was asked by a British journalist what he thought of Western civilization. “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied. I heard a modern spin on this incident. An Indian intellectual said that if Gandhi was alive today and was asked what he thought of Indian civilization, he would reply, “I think it would be a good idea.” As it says in The Mahabharata, 'Alas, having defeated our enemies, we have ourselves been defeated.'

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