Triumph of the Gujarati

Election 2019 reflects a victory of the Gujarat model. But not the model you are thinking of. Not even that other, more sinister model. It is something very fundamental, rooted deeply in economic ecologies.

Human beings are shaped fundamentally by the networks they find themselves embedded in. In India, these networks overwhelmingly take the shape of caste groups marked by an occupational role, social status and marital rules.

For the North Indian peasant, with an economy driven by land and service to an imperial power, caste identity emphasizes kinship and honor. Biradari literally means brotherhood, and membership is conditioned on izzat.

For the Gujarati merchant, in a dry region of relatively unproductive land, caste identity emphasizes pooled resources, adherence to fiscal norms and shared interests. Even for the peasant Patels, caste is today fundamentally an economic union, channelized into farming and dairy cooperatives.

2019 might well be the year that the North Indian peasant realizes the futility of imbibing a kinship and honor based caste identity. On the one hand, these networks simply do not provide the resources to grow and thrive in a post-agrarian world. And even if optimally politicized, the sheer number of caste groups makes the gains from achieving political power limited and concentrated.

The North Indian does realize the need for new kinds of networks. And Modi’s opening up of North India to the world, via a liberal visa policy, river transport from the Bay of Bengal all the way upto Noida and big ticket global engagement platforms like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen would not have escaped the eye of the sharp Yadav and Jat, who realize that they will have to reach out to the world to grow.

After all, previous engagements with foreigners in the recent past have given Indians globally important automobile and IT industries.

India today is more open to the world than ever before. Everybody from Peru to Russia to Ghana to Indonesia can come in after submitting a simple electronic form. Less than 7 million people visited India in 2013, by 2016 that number more than doubled to 15 million. Modi’s Gujarati mind grasps the decisive role of networks in the growth of individual, and he might have well coaxed the North Indian to look beyond his caste tunnel.


Was India ever really “secular”?

Anton Wessels, a Reformed Christian professor of “missiology”, wrote a book many years ago, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? The title reflects on the fact that a secular ‘post-Christian’ Europe may never have been very Christian at all, at least in Wessels’ telling.

Wessels writes from a Reformed Protestant perspective. This tradition has taken a very dim view historically of ‘popular folk religion’ during the medieval period in much of Northern Europe. Wessels’ catalog of non-Christian beliefs and practices before and during the Reformation emphasize that from the perspective of a confessing Reformed Protestant it may actually be a fact that most of the population never truly internalized in the gospel, even if they made outward show of affiliation with the Christian religion. Christendom was nominal, not substantive.

There are many arguments one can bring to bear to critique Wessels’ views. In particular, some historians of religion assert that in fact, late medieval piety resulted in the spread of genuine deeply held Christianity to the peasantry of much of Europe. The argument then is that this sincere Christianity is actually one reason that the Reformation occurred when it did. Additionally, even granting Wessels’ contention about the medieval period, the competition between Protestants and Catholics after 1500 guaranteed attention to popular beliefs and practices for several centuries before secularization. The suppression of pagan practices among Lithuanian peasants occurred during the period when Catholic clerics were fighting off the expansion of Protestants.

And yet I think we need to give the nod to some element of Wessels’ thesis: that popular Christianity was quite distinct and different from the faith promulgated from on high, and officially claimed as the ideological basis of Western societies. Perhaps the rise of modern secularism is in some ways the proletarianization of European culture?

What does this have to do with India? In the comments below, and in the media, some Indians are bemoaning the death of secular India. But was India ever secular truly? Nehru was an agnostic. His great-grandchildren now make a show of attending Hindu temples and asserting their Brahmin lineage.

I grew up in the United States of Ameria with the children of elite Indian Americans, who left in the 1960s and 1970s. These people were all urbane, and most of them were not particularly religious. But, like my own parents, they were all very self-conscious of their “communal” identity. These were people who grew up in a “secular India”, and moved through good universities. Because of the times, and when they left, many still retained socialist sympathies (as my own parents do). But, these were not liberal cosmopolitans. Most of their children were absorbed into American culture, but they were products of something very alien to liberal individualism.

The India that people are mourning was a weird chimera. Traditional, collectivist, and communal on the broad level. But ruled by a small English-speaking elite with cosmopolitan pretentions, Macaulay’s children. Generations of secularism and socialist rule did not erode the ancient foundations of Indian society, with caste and community reigning paramount.

What we are seeing is the death of the chimera and the revolt of the middle class. True change and secularization are going to occur only with broad-based prosperity and urbanization. Secular socialist India couldn’t bring that, and so nothing changed on the fundamental structural level. Its failure laid down the seed-bed for the emergence of the Hindu Right, which draws deeply at the well of communal sentiment which is stitched throughout the fabric of Indian society.


Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.
You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

Razib & I played host to MJ, Kushal (Carvaka Podcast) and Vidhi.

It was a very long podcast (1hr 40 minutes) and it was really entertaining. Kushal & MJ are BJP-lite while Vidhi (if she was forced to vote) is Congress. We skipped the technical discussion since we will serve that after the elections. Continue reading “Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections”


As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-

A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word “saffron“. It might stem from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranum, from the Arabic za’farān,[13] which comes from the Persian word zarparan meaning “flower with golden petals”.[14]
As an aside I pilfered this interesting piece from Kabir’s facebook

Continue reading “As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-“


Is the social justice exterior overwhelming the Indian nationalist interior?

One of the most interesting things I have experienced over the past 15 years or so interacting with young Indian Americans, usually of Hindu background, is the disjunction between the scripts that they are inculcated with in their education in broader society, and the quite nationalistic/parochial perspectives that are imparted to them by their parents.

You can say many things about me, but there isn’t much of a disjunction in what I will say you to privately about controversial topics and what I will say in public about controversial topics (the main skeptics of this view are some Hindu nationalists and Zionists, who are convinced that I’m an Islamic supremacist sleeper agent).

So, I when I began to spend some time around Indian Americans one of the peculiar things I was a bit surprised by his how different their extremely social justice Left external presentation could be from what they might say privately over some drinks, or if they perceived you to be an intimate acquaintance. Since my views on Islam were well known many of them felt quite free to openly state their privately skeptical views on the religion of Islam and the practices of Muslims, which reflected what their parents had told them, while in public these people might still denounce Islamophobia. People who would criticize caste privilege in public forums might still be privately smugly proud of their family’s caste background. And, the same people who might perceive American patriotism as to be jingoistic and declasse would express Indian nationalism that they had absorbed with their mother’s milk in private in the crassest of terms.

But there does come a time when you leave your parents’ home, and their influence. And I don’t interact much with Indian Americans on a day to day basis, but I do wonder if many progressive Indian Americans are bringing their two aspects into alignment, and shedding their private chauvinistic reflexes?

An analogy here might be young American Jews, who until recently were quite liberal in the American context, but might align with more ethnonationalist views in relation to Israel (even if they supported the Left parties in Israel, those parties are still more nationalistic than similar parties in the United States). Today the two views are coming into coherence, as most younger American Jews who are not orthodox are starting to distance themselves from Israel.


Pakistan is home to the most frenetic education reforms in the world

EVERY three months, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, gathers education officials around a large rectangular table. The biggest of Pakistan’s four provinces, larger in terms of population (110m) than all but 11 countries, Punjab is reforming its schools at a pace rarely seen anywhere in the world. In April 2016, as part of its latest scheme, private providers took over the running of 1,000 of the government’s primary schools. Today the number is 4,300. By the end of this year, Mr Sharif has decreed, it will be 10,000. The quarterly “stocktakes” are his chance to hear what progress is being made towards this and other targets—and whether the radical overhaul is having any effect.

For officials it can be a tough ride. Leaders of struggling districts are called to Lahore for what Allah Bakhsh Malik, Punjab’s education secretary, calls a “pep talk”. Asked what that entails, he responds: “Four words: F-I-R-E. It is survival of the fittest.” About 30% of district heads have been sacked for poor results in the past nine months, says Mr Malik. “We are working at Punjabi speed.”

Reformers are trying to make up for generations of neglect

Continue reading “Pakistan is home to the most frenetic education reforms in the world”


The unconscious whiteness of Britain-

I had posted this last night but saved it in the draft. I just heard a story about a Bursar of a Cambridge College telling an *Asian* lighting Engineer that he should watch out with the lighting because otherwise you can’t see “black people in the dark except for their teeth.” Continue reading “The unconscious whiteness of Britain-“


Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka blasts: At least 137 dead and more than 150 injured in multiple church and hotel explosions:

More than 137 people have been killed and more than 150 injured after coordinated bomb blasts hit a number of high-end hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Sunday.

The blasts, reported to have occurred in the cities of Negombo, Batticalo and the capital Colombo, targeted at least three hotels and three churches as worshippers attended Easter services.

Bodies of the dead have been received at Colombo National Hospital, according to hospital sources. Most of those injured were also taken there, hospital officials said.

Please post updates in the comments.

Update: New York Times seems to be reporting Islamists.


Notre Dame & Babri Masjid

This status represented my initial thoughts on Notre Dame. Not all monuments are equal and the Notre Dame has a place in the global imagination. Continue reading “Notre Dame & Babri Masjid”


Chutzpah- celebrating HM the Queen’s birthday in the Punjab on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh

Today is a very sad day for all Brown People. 100 years ago Indians, who were peacefully protesting on a Sikh Holy Day…

Posted by Zachary Zavidé on Saturday, April 13, 2019

Today marks 100 years since the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. We remember those who were killed merely for demanding basic…

Posted by Barfi Culture on Saturday, April 13, 2019

Continue reading “Chutzpah- celebrating HM the Queen’s birthday in the Punjab on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh”