Archive for November 2008

One billion Indians, one billion ideas

November 19, 2008

A nation, at best, is an imagined community. At worst, it’s an idea whose time has not come or has become stale. The idea of India falls between two stools – living and dying, rising and falling every minute. And yet, there are more ideas mushrooming every day, helping, conflicting and destroying each other, and becoming new again. The idea of India, with its ancient traditions and young energy, is never a dull thought.

In a nation where the word for yesterday and tomorrow is the same – kal – future passes into the past in a jiffy and an idea can have only a few moments of glory. Jawaharlal Nehru, sitting in dank prison cell, tried to connect the past with the present with a panorama through ages in his The Discovery of India, creating an idea of India as a “unified whole” on the threshold of a giant leap forward. The idea was born a few months before the ancient civilization turned into a nation state amid bloody chaos at the stroke of midnight. Even as the world saw us as a horror of squalor, Nehru’s idea gave hope of a New India.

As the nation broke free from Gandhi’s idea of India as a loose confederation of self-sufficient villages and began setting up ‘modern temples’, it kept experiencing the rituals of making and unmaking as different forces pulled it in opposite directions. V S Naipaul captured India’s many struggles in ‘A Million Mutinies Now’, an acidic attack on the idea of “unity in diversity”.

The revolutions that Naipaul saw in 1962 failed to destroy the idea as India’s democracy remained defiantly anomalous. In the Nineties, Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India underscored the strength of Indian democracy – the result of a long struggle by the silent majority against the despots and colonialists; democracy was also the glue that kept India together.

By this time, the country’s success was being measured in terms of GDP and its collective happiness fluctuated with the sensex. And New India began to dominate the national discourse, giving birth to a host of new writers with a vision for the future. The most prolific among them was former President A P J Abdul Kalam, who churned out four populist books, all dealing with a single theme: how to make India a developed country. In his 2020 – A Vision for the New Millennium, the rocket scientist presented a few action plans for the country’s young people; in Envisioning an Empowered Nation, he talked of networking the thoughts of one billion people towards a common goal; and in Ignited Minds, he addressed the young directly: surge ahead as a developed nation or perish in perpetual poverty.

Since living in a developed nation is still a fantasy in India, Gurcharan Das’s India Unbound, which argued that India’s new economy was unleashing the country’s “animal spirits” and will make the “giant elephant” into a truly global power, became a bestseller. The middle class lapped up Das’s ideas on why “India needs to embrace capitalism more wholeheartedly, for all the costs and risks.”

With capitalism itself under scrutiny, Shashi Tharoor’s idea of post-colonial India -The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone – in which he analyzes the changing nation, makes more sense, with the writer saying the road ahead may be a bit bumpy for its one billion people.

One billion people means one billion argumentative minds, and maybe one billion ideas of India. Maybe there are many Indias, living in different time zones, hopping back and forth between reality and mythology, slipping in and out of consciousness. Maybe Nehru was wrong in trying to “discover” the nation. Maybe, we needed to invent it. Maybe, Gandhi’s experiment with rural swaraj was not such a bad idea. Maybe Ambedkar’s idea of democracy – one man, one vote and one vote, one value – was an idea we should have pursued with greater care. The possibilities are immense. We can all keep trying to invent India. After all, it’s just an idea.

 Courtesy :- Time Of India