Few thoughts on the “All Things Brown” podcast, which is the only podcast I’ve had the pleasure of listening start to finish without interruptions 🙂 Made possible by the fact that I was listening to it while driving yesterday.
1) I find the name cArvAka podcast to be a little grating, at least subjectively for me! I think if the word cArvAka is used, then it should be followed by a Sanskrit word too to form the title. So, I would have named it cArvAka vAkkSepan – which has an alliterative quality to it as the morpheme vAc (voice/speech) is repeated in the words. Literally, sweet-voice voice-cast 🙂
2) I found the conversation to be more frank than most others on India-Pakistan-South Asian politics that I have heard (at least snatches of) on Browncasts. perhaps made possible by the fact that the host of the vAkkSepan was more argumentative than podcast hosts normally are. Maybe that’s the USP.
3) I think that the talk about “efficient countries” was a little misguided, because it conflated survivalism with long-term (meta)stability. A country is a governance system for people living in a geographical area, which exists because the idea of living/investing effort in that region has sufficient purchase in the minds of the local elites (military, economic, political, legal, opinion-makers etc). Political entities that exist over the long-term (time scales of 10s of generations) do so only when they are meta-stable, i.e. not just invested in the art of surviving from one crisis to another but in durable institutions/social-contracts that weather and correct political error. Real instabilities in complex (non-linear) systems like countries or economies do not arise with gradual ebb and flow. They tend to occur as very-low probability, but extreme spikes that come in clusters and can wipe out fortunes in days – the mahotpAta – as our forefathers called the phenomenon in Sanskrit. The only sort of thing that can hedge against such calamity is the strength and breadth of institutions that the state embodies: economic, legal, local government, healthcare, law enforcement etc.
4) In that, all countries of South Asia fare terribly, but Pakistan is probably the worst of all. Because it is the one most concerned with issues of “honour” and “saving-face” than longer-term growth. Ironically, very much like the kSatrIya maryAdA of the mahAbhArata. It is as if gandhAra-naresha shakuni’s progeny is repeating the same mistakes he exploited in the pANDava-s of hastinapura! The state punting at ever higher stakes for ever diminishing returns just to keep the expected payoff positive, and collateralizing ever more of its tangible assets to raise capital to bankroll the audacious punts. In short, Pakistani state is caught up in the Gambler’s Ruin fallacy. I may be totally wrong, but I see a non-trivial portion of the Pakistani elite invested in this sort of thinking.
5) I believe the host was too sanguine about inter-communal relations in India. The “chaos” that the outsider observes is not a result of indecision of Hindus about what India is meant to be, nor a natural “argumentative” condition of being Hindu but a result of a country in severe economic churn (and distress that goes with it) where many millions no longer know their place. Indian middle-class oldies will often remark that India of the 50s was so much more decent and phlegmatic, Muslims lived interspersed with Hindus in harmony, corruption was low and even our movies were decent and embellished with lovely lyrics in chaste Urdu etc. Almost all of this is a fiction constructed in a deeply casteist society, where the lower castes/classes – 70% majority of Indians – were both excised from public life and popular memory and were told their place. The democratic churn means that the popular will of all these people can no longer be kept in check by the mai-baaps. And the lack of economic integration of the rural, largely subsistence-agriculture based economy means that we are witnessing the largest internal mass-migration in human history – from the rural hinterland to India’s creaking megapolises – where most live off colonial-era infrastructure that has seen little major redevelopment since. The adoption of neo-Hindutva (constitution-loving, true Indian patriot avatar) by this new lower/lower-middle class of Hindus, the newest entrants in Indians cities and mofussil satellite towns, will define the Indian Right Wing for decades to come.
6) Regarding India-Pakistan relations, I think they are set to remain very sour for a very long time. One thing that I have noticed in the last 25 years speaking with Indians of all persuasions and from nearly all regions of India is how much negative feeling Pakistan evokes in India of today compared to India of 25y ago. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Partly a result of convergence and ossification of views as popular and social media have permeated Indian discourse. Pakistanis should justifiably be worried about this as this will harden Indian policy towards Pakistan; becoming almost institutionalized doctrine. I, personally, think that India allowing Pakistani students in Indian unis or patients in hospitals is a fantastic thing – but the will in the Indian state to “cultivate” Pakistanis seems to be fast-diminishing. As always the poorest will suffer the most.
7) Zach’s point that Indians are by and large guilty of projecting their own preconceived notions on Pakistani motivations and POV is quite on-the-money. I don’t know if the converse is also true, but I’m happy to take Omar Bhai’s word for it. I also think there is a general dearth of understanding of local evolution of Pakistani politics in India. Maybe a podcast that simplifies and disambiguates the broad details of internal Pakistani dynamics, e.g. on the recent popular Pashtun movement, on the dynamics in Balochistan (is there genuine appetite for political independence there?), on inter-communal relations in Sindh, state of Pakistan’s Hindu, Christian minorities, language politics in Pakistan (or lack thereof) etc would be helpful to Indian listeners.
8) Of all the people, I found myself in agreement with Omar Bhai the most – and that comes as no surprise to me. I ultimately believe that the quintessential Indic way is the majjhima nikAya, the “middle path” of Buddhist doctrine, which is one of give & take and compromise and of shunning extremes. And S Asia will, I hope like Omar Bhai, revert to this civilizational mean if we (and our children) are patient enough.