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In this episode, Akshar, Mukunda, and Razib discuss Pakistani and Indian nationalism with Araingang, a well-known Pakistani American nationalist on the internet. We talk about the influence of Sarvakar, the Pakistani focus on West Asia, and the inchoate nature of Pakistani nationalism.
I’m on the road now, so this is prescheduled. Hope Americans had a good Thanksgiving.
For those who are asking, I’m keeping the Patreon because I allocate it to Brown Pundits related costs (hosting podcasts, recording software, etc.). I will be cross-posting some, but not all, podcasts from my paid Substack.
This blog post was triggered by a Twitter exchange with Akshay Alladi where he questioned why I identify with the label liberal. A lot of people have – on this blog as well as on Twitter or in person have labeled me a Hindutva liberal or closet Sanghi (from the left) or a Hindutva rebel, yet I personally don’t feel comfortable with those labels. Maybe it is positive tribalism on the Saffron side or parochial wokism on the left.
Akshay also referred to me in his blogpost about Liberalism vs Conservatism and I promised I would also come up with an elucidation of my position. Before I go into attempts at formulating my position, a fair warning – I am not a particularly deep thinker on matters of philosophy and do not have an intellectual bent. I get bored with long essays and books about philosophy and religion, it’s the interactions of these abstract ideas with politics, people, and histories (as an art/science) that interests me than the ideas themselves.
It is fair to get some personal biases (which may appear contradictory) I hold out of the way
I am a staunch Republican and Secularist. In my early twenties years, I was more partial towards the Laicite as I grow old I become more partial towards the British or American style of secularism. (Though the recent events in France have made me reconsider my position).
I have had a very low opinion of Religions in the 21st century in general and Monotheisms in particular.
I have some sympathies with Savarkarite Hindutva (not RSS) and I have often been accused of being a closet Sanghi by leftists.
Though I think of myself as a patriot who is well aware of British exploitation of India, I am an Anglophile. I adore the Brits with their language, literature, culture, models of governance (Westminster model). I don’t have shame in saying “Anglo West is the best”.
I would like to explain my identification with liberalism in three progressive strains.
Roots and Personality:
The TED talk by Jonathan Heidt is also a good watch on this topic. The presentation points to a study about how liberals rate Harm/Fairness higher than Authority/In group loyalty/ Purity. In those 5 fields, I would firmly identify as a liberal. Yet I am partial to a moral relativistic framework for roots of human morality over morality which claims to be self-evident (Maybe with the exception of the Golden Rule).
I don’t hold purity and especially ritual purity as an important virtue. In general more accepting of things that make me uncomfortable. I am less certain and more flexible in my views and positions. Whether or not this is a liberal quality (or just an outcome of uncertainty and skepticism) is debatable, yet it makes me more open to the opinions I don’t hold or find unpalatable. Additionally Atheism, rejection of traditional wisdom when in the conflict in the Zeitgeist puts one on the liberal side in the liberal-conservative divide in many cases.
However, if it’s the uncertainty that makes me liberal, it’s the cynicism that pulls me slightly on the conservative side. I do not believe that the extremes to which liberal democracies have gone in Europe – wrt Capital punishment, Human rights are either pragmatic or even “humane”.
While the above argument is reasonable, I feel it misses the point that the context and the stage of society one find themselves in, as a determinant of one’s position on the Liberal v Conservative scale. Hence I would go supplement the above moorings with the following context.
Even before my engagement with Politics of Liberalism and Conservatism, I have always intuitively associated with liberalism than conservatism. Being a radical atheist, a guilt-ridden savarna and a wannabe feminist has meant that in my family and friend circle I was always the most “Progressive” voice – of course, this is in comparison to more conservative voices.
While there are many things in Indian society worth conserving, it’s the adverse effects of these very things that bother me. The idyllic Indian village is home to both the best and the worst that Indian culture has to offer. One of the good things being the social safety net offered by caste and kin connections and the worst being the rigid institution of caste and sexism which is rampant in such settings. For example – I would not wish to conserve the Indian Joint family – in my worldview that structure has more cons than pros in the 21st-century world we live in. And more importantly, these caste and kin networks are anathema to individual rights and freedoms. If the concepts of personal space and privacy are considered important, one of the ways to achieve this would be loosening the bonds of caste and kin networks.
As Indian society currently stands on balance I would want the society as a whole to progress even if it means sacrificing some things that are good on their own. The conservative position here would be to encourage focusing on conserving traditions while interacting with modernity. The debate between Tilak and Agarkar, Gandhi, and Ambedkar are wonderful examples of such strife in our history, and I would in both cases firmly identify with Agarkar/ Ambedkar’s position. (Though I admire Tilak and Gandhi).
As alluded to in my post on Brahmanical Patriarchy. I personally abhor the traditional treatment of women by religion. In the comment thread, Srikanta K noted the slippery slope that leads from critiques of Brahmanism from Women’s’ rights POV, could lead to the destruction of tradition or demonization of brahmins. My position is exactly the opposite, I focus on the same issue with a different slippery slope, the one which our societies have actually witnessed in history. I can jettison traditions when they conflict with my morality or worldview – even these very traditions may have a net positive impact on society.
However, this position depends vastly on the current state of Indian society I find myself in. From what I know of British and Western societies – I would be markedly less “liberal” if I were in those societies. In other words, I might want to conserve the society the west was a few years ago instead of wanting an identity-focused woke revolution.
Indian Politics and Personalities (Litmus tests):
Complimentary to this would be how one related to national politics, issues, and personalities. A year ago I read the Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India. It is not only a fascinating window into the extraordinary life of Hanuman Prasad Poddar but also a compilation of how Indian leaders responded to the writings, thoughts, and work of Gita Press and Poddar. Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, and even Lal Bahadur Shashtri (along with numerous others) are referenced in the book as having a positive outlook towards the Gita press initiative and reciprocally the Gita press was positive towards these individuals. Conspicuous by their absence are Nehru and Savarkar, while Ambedkar is given somewhat harsh treatment by Gita Press – especially the magazine Kalyan. Incidentally, the three Indian thinkers whose thoughts I relate to most are Nehru, Ambedkar, and Savarkar. While this is a weird group to look up to, but the modernist and rationalist (may I say Liberal ?) zeal in all these individuals that most appeals to me today. The fusion of these thinkers might create a good ideological role model in my thoughts. Personally, I would be most at home with a political outfit that takes Nehru’s liberalism with a pinch of Savarkar’s reformist and nationalist zeal while sticking to the constitutional democracy based on a hotch-potch of western models that Ambedkar held dear and all the while being particularly skeptical of Islam as a religion.
While I don’t deny that India is an ancient civilization (Dharmic for a lack of a better term), in its current Avatar, India is a nation-state of the Westphalian model, and though there may be flaws in this model IMO this model is vastly superior to all previous models known to this land or any land for that matter. Not to go all Niall Ferguson here, but I am partial to the view that the rise of the Western civilization is not just correlated with Western models of governance and economy (classical liberalism) but a consequence of it.
Another way to look at this question could be like a Y/N Test on current issues. Some current polarizing issues and my stance on them as follows:
Sabrimala – I hope women enter the shrine and are accepted by society in my lifetime. I am skeptical of SC acting as it did in the issue but don’t empathize with the activism around Sabrimala. I can expect a fair flack on this issue – particularly on this blog – but it is as it is. Though I accept my position as a non-believer doesn’t carry as much weight.
Jallikattu – I find the animal rights activism absurd and in unnecessary conflict with traditions and my position here could be classified as conservative.
Cow slaughter – Would be partial to Cow smuggling being treated as an agricultural issue and not a religious one, even though it’s constitutional. Either way, I am not particularly vocal about it.
370 – Based on the knowledge I have I welcome the change.
Free speech – Would love American-style free speech in India.
Bhima Koregaon/ JNU Arrests – Find them draconian.
Stricter regulations of crackers – Would welcome.
On balance, based on the above issues, my position would be firmly liberal on the liberal vs conservative scale. This is not an accurate assessment in a broad sense, but a consolidation of the above thoughts in a much-needed context. Without context, these labels are mere abstractions, and hence not very useful and not necessarily transferable in a different context. In a state with a just and efficient rule of law, I would probably not identify with liberalism as much, for, in such a state, the tools and mechanisms for the needed change in society can be achieved more easily. But I am not living in such a state and hence would be firmly a Liberal.
I would not be very liberal with comments that arent constructive and civil.
The Bell Beakers are an interesting “culture.” A Bronze Age European people defined by their beakers, their origins seem to be amongst non-Indo-Europeans in Southwest Europe. But, at some point, the motifs spread to Indo-Europeans in Central Europe, an offshoot of the Corded Ware people who had admixed further with Neolithic farmers. These Indo-Europeans are the ones who brought the Bell Beaker Culture to the British Isles. We know this because of ancient DNA.
But what was the Beaker Culture right beside their material culture? Again, ancient DNA tells us, and Indians, in particular, may find the results interesting.
We present a high-resolution cross-disciplinary analysis of kinship structure and social institutions in two Late Copper Age Bell Beaker culture cemeteries of South Germany containing 24 and 18 burials, of which 34 provided genetic information. By combining archaeological, anthropological, genetic and isotopic evidence we are able to document the internal kinship and residency structure of the cemeteries and the socially organizing principles of these local communities. The buried individuals represent four to six generations of two family groups, one nuclear family at the Alburg cemetery, and one seemingly more extended at Irlbach. While likely monogamous, they practiced exogamy, as six out of eight non-locals are women. Maternal genetic diversity is high with 23 different mitochondrial haplotypes from 34 individuals, whereas all males belong to one single Y-chromosome haplogroup without any detectable contribution from Y-chromosomes typical of the farmers who had been the sole inhabitants of the region hundreds of years before. This provides evidence for the society being patrilocal, perhaps as a way of protecting property among the male line, while in-marriage from many different places secured social and political networks and prevented inbreeding. We also find evidence that the communities practiced selection for which of their children (aged 0–14 years) received a proper burial, as buried juveniles were in all but one case boys, suggesting the priority of young males in the cemeteries. This is plausibly linked to the exchange of foster children as part of an expansionist kinship system which is well attested from later Indo-European-speaking cultural groups.
As a nation you don’t seem to mourn your dead, but their families do. Their communities do. Jesus, also, weeps. But for most people it’s just another day. You’ve run out of coffee. There’s a funny meme. This can’t be collapse, because nothing’s collapsing for me.
But that’s exactly how collapse feels. This is how I felt. This is how millions of people have felt, including many immigrants in your midst. We’re trying to tell you as loud as we can. You can get out of it, but you have to understand where you are to even turn around. This, I fear, is one of many things Americans do not understand. You tell yourself American collapse is impossible. Meanwhile, look around._
In the last three months America has lost more people than Sri Lanka lost in 30 years of civil war. If this isn’t collapse, then the word has no meaning. You probably still think of Sri Lanka as a shithole, though the war ended over a decade ago and we’re (relatively) fine. Then what does that make you?
I guess this is now a trilogy of collapse. It gets less depressing. Then moreso.
Since this question always comes up at some point, I decided to do a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation of the % steppe across the Indian subcontinent. The way I did it was by taking Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, and estimating the average percentage from the caste breakdowns (e.g., UP is 20% “upper caste” and 20% “Dalit” and 60% neither, with fractions of steppe/Sintashta about 30%, 10%, and 15%, respectively).
So the final number I came back is that 14% of the ancestry in modern-day South Asia is from the steppe in the form of people descended from Sintashta pastoralists. That is about 220 million human beings worth. You can judge whether that’s significant or not. Additionally, it looks like closer to 20-25% of the Y chromosomes are derived from these people.
I’m not “showing my work” because I think no matter how you estimate it, you’ll get a number in this range. Perhaps 12%. Perhaps 16%. But what difference does that make?
India in the last decade has been witness to a political churn, that has been accompanied by a loud and an energetic questioning of what we as a nation and a society stand for.
What is it that makes India and what does India stand for? The debates can be raging on social media and the electoral outcomes indicate that the debates are not just restricted to social media war rooms but are being waged on the streets too.
Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri’s new book- A New Idea of India, comes across as an earnest attempt at answering the two questions.
Gupta and Mantri, start off their answers by placing the modern Indian state as an inheritor of an ancient civilizations and not a construct that the British left behind in 1947.
“India, that is Bharat” the authors claim, has roots in acceptance of pluralism that comes from a tradition of skepticism.
India has been an amalgam where diversity has thrived without a central controlling authority.
An Indian is one who retains the agency of questioning anything and anyone and this agency when extended to everyone is one of the ingredients for what makes up for India.
The Indian state should find its moors in this civilizational legacy and build a modern Indian state where primacy of individual rights is supreme.
This definition of India puts them on the opposite side of those who believe that India is an entity brought together for, and to be kept together by, a strong state that should strive to accommodate its religious and cultural diversity.
A state that acknowledges groups and subordinates the rights of the individuals to the rights of those groups.
The authors frame both these points of views, and then drive home the point how the latter view, one that evolved under and was nurtured by each succeeding government of the republic, has been detrimental to India’s economic growth and how the whole idea of making a community belong to a nation, instead of making individuals belong to a nation, has only led to deepening of fissures.
Since the republic has been mostly run Congress and the dynasty, Nehru and his clan end up with most of the blame.
The authors go on to present in detail how economic policy making that encourages government control, rent seeking and ignores markets have left India impoverished and how civil laws that are aimed at accommodating religious identities have led to resentment and are a recipe for social conflict.
The book does not merely enumerate what is wrong and who should be held responsible for it, the authors go on to present a way forward.
The solutions lie in building robust state capacity that allows for markets to efficiently operate and doing away with sectarian laws to enable social cohesion.
They claim that the Narendra Modi government has used the last six years to lay down the path on these lines. Be it laws the allow for efficient working of markets- IBC and GST, to improving last mile delivery via the JAM trinity and restructuring of the administrative frame work.
It is their opinion that although much needs to be done, the NDA 2 government is on its way to reshaping India, an India that will be economically strong and will be rooted in modern liberal values that are similar to ancient Indian wisdom.
As a long time, reader of Harsh and Rajeev’s newspaper columns, time for a disclosure: I have known Harsh personally for a few years now – I more often than not find myself on the same page as Harsh in our world views, the lucid writing and substantiations with facts and figures is not surprising.
The writing, even when covering philosophical foundation of their arguments is plain and simple.
I did find the book harsh on Nehru.
Nehru alas is now a figure in this country who is either worshipped or held responsible for everything that is wrong with present day India.
We analyze his legacy with benefits of hindsight. Nehru like all humans operated in the realms of his bounded rationality.
We must also not forget, specially those of us who repose all their faith in wisdom of the electorate, that Nehru was democratically elected.
Who is to say he did not represent how Indians wanted to see India as much as Indians of today want India to be shaped by Narendra Modi?
Similarly, the writers go easy on Modi, the litany of laws that they think are sectarian in nature, whose eradication they think is key to building social cohesion, they don’t ask why Mr. Modi has not done anything about them.
If Mr. Modi with all the political capital that he enjoys, can not come around to changing those laws, who is to say that he himself does not believe in them and as a democratically elected leader, his thinking represents our thinking.
As to his economic legacy, we will have to wait and see, in so far, his big calls have been a mixed bag.
The inflation targeting framework and fiscal conservatism have been disastrous for the economy in the short term, while we await to see the positive impact of the reforms that writers mention.
The book though is a much-needed addition to the discourse.
For those stuck in social media driven echo chambers, it will either be a worthy peep into what the other side thinks or a provide arguments to elaborate on one’s own world view.
It is a must read for those trying to make sense of this young and vibrant country, for the points that the writers make will, in the humble opinion of this reviewer, shape the future course of this country.
An old review I happened to revisit today. It was written for the Pakistani news-magazine Herald in 2002, you can see a reference to “colonization of the Middle East” which indicates it was a different era and a different me 😉
The Koran (in the OUP “Very Short Introductions” series,) Oxford 2000.
Pious Muslims may feel that in the presence of the text and its commentaries, they do not need Professor Michael Cook’s “very short introduction” to the Koran. The pious may also wish to stay away because Professor Cook was once associated with the notorious “Hagarene hypothesis” (put forth in the 1977 book: Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook) though he has since backed away from some of the more extreme claims of that book. But “The Koran, a very short introduction” turns out to be a very witty and interesting book, full of insights that the most pious Muslim will find informative and stimulating. Continue reading The Koran; a very short introduction
From Dr Hamid Hussain. As usual, he gives sensible advice, but it is not going to be heeded. On this issue, I think Major Amin is right, there will be a civil war, Pakistan will take sides, PTM will not be reconciled and will instead be further demonized, things will not get better. I also hope I am wrong. (Omar Ali)
Dr Hamid Hussain’s post follows:
One can only highlight signposts of a complex issue. Following is one such exercise.
Pakistan’s Afghan Conundrum
“On earth, it’s hard and heaven is far away”. Afghan proverb.
Afghanistan is going through another transition with many uncertainties causing hope and fear. Pakistan has a long history of involvement in Afghan affairs. President Donald Trump tweeted on 08 October 2020 that all American troops will be home from Afghanistan by Christmas. This surprised everyone in Washington and Pentagon, State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials were scratching their heads and contemplating how one single tweet has undermined the bargaining position of United States. This also sent shock waves in General Head Quarters (GHQ) of Pakistan army. Prime Minister Imran Khan government is not even pretending to have any role in Afghan affairs and has handed the Afghan file to the army. Imran Khan wrote an op-ed piece for Washington Post pleading Americans not to leave Afghanistan in haste for Pakistan fears it will face all the negative fallout.
There will be review of Afghan policy with the arrival of new administration in Washington in January 2021. However, domestic issues will suck all the oxygen and it is not likely that new administration will be able to spend significant economic, military and political capital on a side show in Afghanistan. President Trump is now the wild card before President elect Joe Biden takes oath on 20 January 2021. He can order complete withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year that can make any course correction for new administration very difficult. Pakistan’s hope is that new administration keeps current level of forces and economic lifeline to Afghan government until meaningful progress is made on intra-negotiations front. Continue reading Afghan Conundrum II