Idea of a country

The short excerpt below from Patriots and Partisans by Ram Guha caught my attention because it offers a simple definition of the idea of India (at the risk of oversimplification). One may have encountered it recently in Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian as well but that book was too dense for me. As such, this ‘idea’ is hard to come by in the media because, as Guha explains, it is unglamorous and difficult to sell, even as the press is the institution responsible for the viewpoint’s day-to-day distribution and maintenance. As a result, you get partisanship more often than deliberation. It’s easier.

It might be useful to clarify here that such deliberation is not between leftwing and rightwing vantages but between reason and reason. Unreason has no place here, nor does its conflation with partisanship. And it is often the case that the right is aligned with pseudoscience and illogic that it confuses resistance against unreason with resistance against itself. It’s frustrating not because the pedantic distinction is lost in the muddle – who cares – but because the result is often that the leftists co-opt your turf simply because you’re not right enough.


The groups and individuals mentioned in the preceding paragraph are, of course, merely illustrative [Ela Bhatt, Jean Drèze, etc.]. The work that they and others like them undertake is rarely reported in the mainstream media. For, the task of reform, of incremental and evolutionary change, is as unglamorous as it is necessary. It is far easier to speak of a wholesale, structural transformation, to identify one single variable that, if acted upon, will take India up and into the straight high road to superstardom. Among the one-size-fits-all solutions on offer are those promoted by the Naxalites, whose project is to make India into a purer, that is to say more regimented, version of Communist China; by the Sangh Parivar, who assure the Hindus that if they discover their religion they will (again) rule the world; and by the free-market ideologues, who seek to make India into an even more hedonistic version of the United States of America.

Based as it is on dialogue, compromise, reciprocity and accommodation, the idea of India does not appeal to those who seek quick and total solutions to human problems. It thus does not seem to satisfy ideologues of left or right, as well as romantic populists.

Featured image credit: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash.