NUANCES OF EMERGING INDIA

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By ARNAB BHATTACHARYA in India
  • Published 11.08.06
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TOMORROW’S INDIA: ANOTHER TRYST WITH DESTINY Edited by B.G. Verghese, Viking, Rs 595

Established in 1881 by the Cambridge Mission, St Stephen’s College of Delhi aligned itself with the nationalist movement of India from its early days. The bond deepened when C.F. Andrews, later known as Deenabandhu Andrews, came to join the college in 1904. The present volume contains articles by twenty-four alumni of this college. The authors have sent in their contributions by way of celebrating the 125th anniversary of their alma mater.

The articles are wide-ranging, and, as the editor claims, purport to look “randomly at emerging India”. They seek to project various aspects of Indian federal democracy but sadly, in most cases, without the degree of historical objectivity or analytic acumen that their subjects demand.

Kapil Sibal’s “Towards a knowledge society” or Sitaram Yechury’s “Does ideology matter?” read like typed versions of platitudinous political harangues with a mostly unsustainable ideological bias. The result is either naïve optimism or misplaced sarcasm which miss the nuances of Indian reality by miles.

Nevertheless, some articles are sharp and cogent. Dilip Simeon’s “Rebellion to reconciliation”, for instance, written in recollection of a traumatic personal experience of violence, insightfully describes democracy not as “a social system” but as “an institutional arena wherein social conflicts are enacted in an unstable equilibrium”. His plea for breaking through “the structured violence” of Indian polity, in some ways, reflects Jürgen Habermas’s discourse on “ideal speech situation” and John Rawls’s “theory of justice” which created ripples in the debates on democracy in the early Seventies

Another stimulating article is Sagarika Ghose’s “Indian media; a flawed yet robust public service”, where the author efficiently captures the “schizophrenic” quality of Indian mass media. Her discussions of state control, the Bollywoodization of news items in the print media and the encroachment of privacy by the television carry unmistakable resonances of earlier reflections on the roles of media by political and social thinkers. The “schizophrenic” Indian media, as envisaged by Ghose, may be perceived as wavering ideologically between the over-deterministic Althusserian model of “ideological state apparatus” and the hyper-real, self-referential system of image-production which Jean Baudrillard highlights in “Simulacra and simulations”. Ghose, however, does not concern herself with the encoding and decoding patterns of these images which have been painstakingly examined by the recent scholars of media studies.

Arun Maira’s call for starting “a deeper dialogue” across different belief-systems in his article is sincere and sensible, while Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s reassessment of “the relevance of Gandhi” as a questioning, teasing persona rather than as an ever-smiling, acquiescing icon in the Indian context is intense and poetically charged.

Arun Kumar dwells on a triadic nexus of the Indian black economy while B.G. Verghese ponders on the management of the Indian diversity. Ravi Dayal stresses that “the wealth of Indian English writing” is as much part of the Indian culture as the vernacular or bhasa literature. But unfortunately, he does not go to the length of exploring the Indian writers’ use of English to encapsulate the Indian reality, as Amit Chaudhuri does in his article “The construction of the Indian novel in English”. On the whole, this new ‘tryst with destiny’ is a worthwhile survey of the multifaceted Indian reality, but not quite its in-depth scrutiny.