Guest Post: India, a wounded civilization

Rohit will (once technical issues are sorted out) be joining our stable of writers.  Until that happens, he asked me to post this from his own blog:
(again, to be clear, this is not my writing, it is written by Rohit Pradhan)

India: A Wounded Civilization

The facts are starkly clear. The Bangalore branch of a storied bakery chain based in Hyderabad was targeted by certain individuals who forced it to cover Karachi. And replace it with the Indian flag. Never mind that the extant organization was founded by a post-partition Sindhi immigrant in the memory of the land he had been forced to flee in the orgy of the violence which followed India’s partition. The parent chain issued an abject clarification on multiple social media channels reiterating its Indian roots. It wasn’t a homage to Karachi which happens to fall in the Pakistan of 2019 but the city which was home for generations of the ancestors of its founder. The utter absurdity of this entire episode is beyond belief.

Perhaps, one is reading too much into a single incident. Perhaps, in a country of 1.3 billion people, it is easy enough to assemble a mob of few who are offended by everything. Or anything. Or perhaps it is not as singular as it may superficially appear and there are some larger lessons to learn here. Three points follow.

First, Karachi bakery has been forced to issue that absolutely shameful apologia because no one expects the Indian state to protect it from the anger of righteous mobs. The mobs which can cite whatever perverse version of nationalism they are extolling currently. And while the blame for it majorly goes to the ruling dispensation, the fact that its establishment was targeted in a state ruled by the opposition simply can’t be ignored. One formation may encourage this perversity; the other side has mostly abdicated its responsibilities so fearful it is now of rocking the prevailing doctrine. Politics is not a purist sport but if you can’t draw even the most basic distinctions, then it may not be one participating in as well. This is no attempt at false equivalence but underlining the fact that a reassurance from the leaders of Karnataka would have gone a long way in assuaging the frayed nerves of a bewildered organization caught in the middle of India’s cultural wars.

Second, the kind of nihilistic nationalism which thought it fit to assault a blameless commercial organization has sadly received a major assist from the social media. Where hunting down alleged anti-nationals has become a major sport and a pathway to gain popularity, cheap retweets, and potentially significant monetary rewards. The more strident the tone; the more heartfelt the criticism is the absurd logic where even a national icon like Sachin Tendulkar can no longer be insulated by his humongous achievements and services to India.

Liberals can’t escape the blame entirely here: their previous prescriptions of people-to-people contact or decrying war as a priori have failed abjectly to deliver any sensible results. They have long dominated the conversation utilizing similarly convenient rhetorical tools dismissing every criticism as warmongering.

As the narrative has dramatically shifted, they have no epistemological counter to this closing of the Indian mind. In this new world, they have failed to craft a new language which can counter this toxic and self-defeating nationalism. The neo-Right has intuitively understood and adroitly exploited the frustration of ordinary Indians. The liberals have withdrawn from this tough fight favoring the easy environs of their echo chambers facilitating the further normative dominance of this singular version of nationalism. Unless they are prepared to embrace patriotism located in the Indian genius and not their ersatz explication, their further disfranchisement is assured.

Third, writing in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has recently argued that India has lost to Pakistan. If further evidence was required of that interrogation of India’s deep psychological wounds: Karachi bakery provides the perfect instance. The anger, the frustration, the fecklessness, the sense of being utterly helpless have found the fullest expression. A country which in its own estimation deserves a place among the comity of the most powerful nations in the world has been utterly shown up. And it has nowhere to hide: unable to counter repeated terror attacks from an apparent also-ran which it had long left behind in its wake.

It maybe couched in the braggadocio of sneering twitter insults and memes recalling 1971, but no one should confuse it for what it really is: utter and complete surrender. Unable to punish the external perpetrators, its sullen frustration has turned inwards: manufacturing villains where none exist. The social media nationalists would indubitably disagree but this is weakness masquerading as strength and vicious backlash corralling the weak. A schoolyard bully lashing out at the vulnerable because even as its parades its strength, it is utterly aware of its decrepitude. A wounded civilization too proud to recognize its own ruins.

It makes one go back and read V S Naipaul’s An area of darkness A stronger criticism of the Indian civilization is yet to be written and its searing postmortem of its psychological wounds has never been surpassed. Unfortunately, because Naipaul was so unsympathetic a figure both as a writer and in his writings, both Indian liberals and nationalists have often misunderstand him as a brown sahib, and not what he really was: a man who wanted to embrace the land of his ancestors, and whose love story went awry.

There is anger, and then there is anger. There is the fury of Naipaul which uses a surgeons’ scalpel to bludgeon a country which had left him frustrated and confused. But it still stems from a deep reservoir of affection almost willing it to do better. And there is anger which is self-destructive; which appeals to the most baser instincts; and which simply can’t countenance the wisdom of a better India.

India must choose wisely. And must select which version serves it better: the defeatism of the inward looking malignancy which has long given up on India, and must therefore pander or the the one which pricks and raves and rants because giving up is simply not an option. And a better future might still arise from the debris of an eviscerated India. And from recognition of its weaknesses.

Naipaul’s next two Indian travelogues were more hopeful of its future. Perhaps therein lies redemption.

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Pakistani Psychosis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEnrcpeIsYY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKmacpiPZgM

 

Our Brown Pundit Zachary Latif will hopefully share his perspectives on Pakistani Psychosis soon. Tarek Fatah gives a good synopsis of Pakistani Psychosis and Islamism in the above video. I am not an expert on Pakistani Pysochosis, and cannot validate many of Tarek Fatah’s perspectives on Pakistan. However, with respect to Islam, many muslims (including prominent religious leaders) privately share many of Tarek’s views, but the vast majority are too afraid to share their views publicly. Tarek Fatah is very knowledgeable about Arabic, Islamic scripture and Islamic law. If you have the time, please watch the entire video.

What is Pakistani psychosis? I am not completely certain and look forward to evolving my views with new information. To oversimplify, it is the combination of several things:

Continue reading “Pakistani Psychosis”

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India Still Rising (a)

This is the second article in this series after India Still Rising.

India’s ministry of external affairs has little understanding of China, America, India or the world. The ministry of external affairs has little institutional understanding of economics, how global commons works, how global collaboration works; or the importance of:

  • execution
  • transparency
  • honesty

Part of the issue is that the ministry of external affairs lacks internal think tanks and doesn’t extensively use external think thanks. Another part of the problem is post modernist colonization of the mind, virtue signaling, risk averse careerist mindset. The ministry of external affairs needs to hire older experienced private sector Indians, ex-patriot Indians or Indians who have extensively interfaced with foreigners. They also need to learn to better use external resources such as external experts, academics, religious institutions and think thanks. Including foreign ones. [For example consulting wise friends of India such as Zachary Latif.] However to use or collaborate with foreign resources requires the ministry of external affairs to get its own house in order first . . . or it risks being played by various interest groups without a deep understanding of what these interest groups are.

India Still Rising

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South Asian nationalism


I happen to have Saloni’s genotype and she is certainly closer genetically to Sindhis than to most other South Asians. That being said, my own response to her tweet is this: my personal experience is that many liberal Pakistani & Indian Americans are highly nationalistic.

To be honest, it’s mostly Indian Americans. I don’t know too many hyper-nationalistic Pakistani Americans. I think that has to do with the fact that despite India’s social-political problems, its democratic and pluralist history, along with the international appeal of Mahatma Gandhi, makes it easier to be an Indian nationalist than a Pakistani nationalist if you are an American.

Also, there is a cultural “code-switching” that is common among Indian Americans, where they are fluent in, and totally embedded within, a Left-of-centre cultural zeitgeist in the American landscape. But, they also are comfortable switching into their parents’ more Indian nationalist views in different contexts. Rather than synthesizing the two worldviews (which may not be possible), Indian Americans just switch facultatively between the two, because the two social milieus never really engage each other.

Because I am Bangladeshi American it is hard for me to relate. Bangladesh is a very young nation. Both my parents have spent more than 3.5 times of their life living in the United States than an independent Bangladesh. In fact, both lived as Pakistanis for far longer than they lived as Bangladeshis! Additionally, it is not a major geopolitical player, and there are ambiguities with the relationship to both India and Pakistan enough that socially my family has felt comfortable with both Indians and Pakistanis in the USA.

P.S. I do get annoyed when I’m identified as Pakistani American by people just because of my last name. Since I am not vocal about being a “Bangladeshi American” I only find out later people had assumed I was Pakistani. Apparently, in some Indian circles, I am known as a “Pakistani American geneticist”, albeit not a particularly nationalistic Pakistani (told to me by an Indian journalist friend).

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