Friday, April 10, 2009

An increasing trade in politicians

One thing that surprised me in Ramachandra Guha's (ironically titled?) India After Gandhi is the degree to which India defined itself from the beginning as a secular state, a country that would embrace multiple religions, languages, ethnic groups, and castes, without favoring any of them. They set out to make something most outsiders, (including the Muslims who created Pakistan), thought was impossible: A truly pluralistic, secular democracy.

Why hasn't India failed, (yet)? It's not for lack of challenges. Insurrections, massacres, assasinations, and even a two-year semi-dictatorship. Guha speculates that what many thought was India's greatest weakness, its democracy and pluralism, is actually the source of its resilience. (Sri Lanka and Pakistan tried to enforce one language, and got civil war.)

Another thing that surprised me was how relevant Indian politics is to Europe. Their struggle to build a transparent democracy out of very different states is relevant to our European Union. And the debates about Hindu-Muslim relations sound disturbingly familiar to our own debates about integration and immigation. Should the state favor a common cultural identity, or play a religiously and culturally neutral role? Our more aggressive European secularists may be surprised to find they have more in common with Hindu nationalists than with Indian secularists.

There are few direct analogies between India and Europe, but India's experiences add contrast and perspective to our own, as well as plenty of warnings about paths nok to take. My advice to anyone who is interested in European politics: Look to India.



At 10 April, 2009 18:45 , Blogger oaø said...

Indeed. India is fascinating and frightening. I recommend strongly Robert Kaplan's report from Gujarat.

At 10 April, 2009 19:08 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...

Good article. Also, read the comments on this Economist article - I'm not sure what it all means, but it's interesting for what it reveals about ideological faultlines and worldviews.

At 10 April, 2009 22:00 , Blogger oaø said...

And about a, mm, flamboyant political culture? I continue the recommendation relay with Edward Luce's book In spite of the Gods (it's quoted in the Kaplan piece). Impressive.


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