Last summer Foreign Affairs, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist highlighted a major shift in American perceptions of India when, in cover stories that appeared almost simultaneously, they described the country as a rising economic power and a likely “strategic ally” of the United States. In 1991, India partly opened its protectionist economy to foreign trade and investment. Since then agriculture, which employs more than 60 percent of the country’s population, has stagnated, but the services sector has grown as corporate demand has increased in Europe and America for India’s software engineers and English-speaking back-office workers.1 In 2006, India’s economy grew at a remarkable 9.2 percent.
Dominated by modern office buildings, cafés, and gyms, and swarming with Blackberry-wielding executives of financial and software companies, parts of Indian cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon resemble European and American downtowns. Regular elections and increasingly free markets make India appear to be a more convincing exemplar of economic globalization than China, which has adopted capitalism without embracing liberal democracy.
However, many other aspects of India today make Foreign Affairs’ description of the country—“a roaring capitalist success-story”—appear a bit optimistic. More than half of the children under the age of five in India are malnourished; failed crops and debt drove more than a hundred thousand farmers to suicide in the past decade.2 Uneven economic growth and resulting inequalities have thrown up formidable new challenges to India’s democracy and political stability. A recent report in the International Herald Tribune warned:
Crime rates are rising in the major cities, a band of Maoist-inspired rebels is bombing and pillaging its way across a wide swath of central India, and violent protests against industrialization projects are popping up from coast to coast.3
Militant Communist movements are only the most recent instance of the political extremism that has been on the rise since the early Nineties when India began to integrate into the global economy. Until 2004 the central government as well as many state governments in India were, as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum puts it in her new book,
increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu extremists who condone and in some cases actively support violence against minorities, especially the Muslim minority. Many seek fundamental changes in India’s pluralistic democracy.
In 1992, the Hindu nationalist BJP (Indian People’s Party) gave early warning of its intentions when its members demolished the sixteenth-century Babri Mosque in North India, leading to the deaths of thousands in Hindu–Muslim riots across the country. In May 1998, just two months after it came to power, the BJP broke India’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing by exploding five atomic bombs in the desert of Rajasthan. Pakistan responded with five nuclear tests of its own.
The starkest evidence of Hindu extremism came in late February and March 2002 in the prosperous western Indian state of Gujarat. In a region internationally famous for its business communities, Hindu mobs lynched over two thousand Muslims and left more than two hundred thousand homeless. The violence was ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged Muslim attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in which a car was set on fire, killing fifty-eight people. Nussbaum, who is engaged in a passionate attempt to end “American ignorance of India’s history and current situation,” makes the “genocidal violence” against Muslims in Gujarat the “focal point” of her troubled reflections on democracy in India. She points to forensic evidence which indicates that the fire in the train was most likely caused by a kerosene cooking stove carried by one of the Hindu pilgrims. In any case, as Nussbaum points out, there is “copious evidence that the violent retaliation was planned by Hindu extremist organizations before the precipitating event.”
Low-caste Dalits joined affluent upper-caste Hindus in killing Muslims, who in Gujarat as well as in the rest of India tend to be poor. “Approximately half of the victims,” Nussbaum writes, “were women, many of whom were raped and tortured before being killed and burned. Children were killed with their parents; fetuses were ripped from the bellies of pregnant women to be tossed into the fire.”
Gujarat’s pro-business chief minister, Narendra Modi, an important leader of the BJP, rationalized and even encouraged the murders. The police were explicitly ordered not to stop the violence. The prime minister of India at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seemed to condone the killings when he declared that “wherever Muslims are, they don’t want to live in peace.” In public statements Hindu nationalists tried to make their campaign against Muslims seem part of the US-led war on terror, and, as Nussbaum writes, “the current world atmosphere, and especially the indiscriminate use of the terrorism card by the United States, have made it easier for them to use this ploy.”
A widespread fear and distrust of Muslims among Gujarat’s middle-class Hindus helped the BJP win the state elections held in December 2002 by a landslide. Tens of thousands of Muslims displaced by the riots still live in conditions of extreme squalor in refugee camps. Meanwhile, the Hindu extremists involved in the killings of Muslims move freely. Though denied a visa to the US by the State Department, Narendra Modi continues to be courted by India’s biggest businessmen, who are attracted by the low taxes, high profits, and flexible labor laws offered by Gujarat.4
Describing the BJP’s quest for a culturally homogeneous Hindu nation-state, Nussbaum wishes to introduce her Western readers to “a complex and chilling case of religious violence that does not fit some common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today’s world.” Nussbaum claims that “most Americans are still inclined to believe that religious extremism in the developing world is entirely a Muslim matter.” She hints that at least part of this myopia must be blamed on Samuel Huntington’s hugely influential “clash of civilizations” argument, which led many to believe that the world is “currently polarized between a Muslim monolith, bent on violence, and the democratic cultures of Europe and North America.”
Nussbaum points out that India, a democracy with the third-largest Muslim population in the world, doesn’t fit Huntington’s theory of a clash between civilizations. The real clash exists
within virtually all modern nations—between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the… domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition.
She describes how Indian voters angered by the BJP’s pro-rich economic policies and anti-Muslim violence voted it out of power in general elections in 2004. Detailing the general Indian revulsion against the violence in Gujarat and the search for justice by its victims, she highlights the “ability of well-informed citizens to turn against religious nationalism and to rally behind the values of pluralism and equality.” Insisting on the practical utility of philosophy, Nussbaum has often attacked the theory-driven feminism of American academia. “India’s women’s movement,” she claims, “has a great deal to teach America’s rather academicized women’s movement.” She is convinced that from India “we Americans can learn a good deal about democracy and its future as we try to act responsibly in a dangerous world.”
Nussbaum thus casts India’s experience of democracy in an unfamiliar role: as a source of important lessons for Americans. Such brisk overturning of conventional perspective has distinguished Nussbaum’s varied writings, which move easily from the ideas of Stoic philosophers to international development. Few contemporary philosophers in the West have reckoned with India’s complex experience of democracy; and even fewer have engaged with it as vigorously as she does in The Clash Within.
Nussbaum, who has frequently visited India to research how gender relations shape social justice, is particularly concerned about the situation of women in contemporary India. She sensitively explores the colonial-era laws that, upheld by the Indian constitution, discriminate against Muslim women. She describes how Gujarat, which has had economic growth but has made little progress in education and health care, became a hospitable home to Hindu nationalists. She details, too, tensions within the Indian diaspora, many of whom are Gujarati, whose richest members support the BJP. She reveals how the BJP initiated India’s own culture wars by revising history textbooks, inserting in them, among other things, praise for the “achievements” of Nazism.
Her interviews with prominent right-wing Hindus yield some shrewd psychological insights, particularly into Arun Shourie, an economist and investigative journalist who, famous initially for his intrepid exposés of corruption, became a cabinet minister and close adviser to BJP prime minister Vajpayee. She suggests that the anti-Muslim views of Shourie, who is otherwise capable of intelligent commentary, may owe to “something volatile and emotionally violent in his character…something that lashes out at a perceived threat and refuses to take seriously the evidence that it might not be a threat.”
In a chapter that forms the core of the book, she examines the ideas and legacies of Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Rabindranath Tagore, founding fathers of India’s democracy. Her admiration for Tagore and Gandhi is deep. However, she offers only qualified praise for Nehru, India’s resolutely rationalist first prime minister. Nussbaum laments that Nehru neglected “the cultivation of liberal religion and the emotional bases of a respectful pluralistic society”—a failure that she thinks left the opportunity wide open for the BJP’s “public culture of exclusion and hate.”
According to Nussbaum, Nehru may have been good at building formal institutions, but it was Gandhi who gave a spiritual and philosophical basis to democracy in India by calling “all Indians to a higher vision of themselves, getting people to perceive the dignity of each human being.” She approves of Gandhi’s view that only individuals who are critically conscious of their own conflicts and passions can build a real democracy. In fact, much of Nussbaum’s own rather unconventional view of democracy in this book derives from the Gandhian idea of Swaraj (self-rule), in which control of one’s inner life and respect for other people create self-aware and engaged rather than passive citizens. The “thesis of this book,” she writes in her preface, is
the Gandhian claim that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality.
However, Nussbaum’s strongly felt and stimulating book deepens rather than answers the question: How did India’s democracy, commonly described as the biggest in the world, become so vulnerable to religious extremism?
Ideological fanaticism stemming from personal inadequacies, such as the one Nussbaum identifies in Arun Shourie, is certainly to blame. But as Nussbaum herself outlines in her chapter on Gujarat, religious violence in India today cannot be separated from the recent dramatic changes in the country’s economy and politics. The individual defects of Indian politicians only partly explain the great and probably insuperable social and economic conflicts that give India’s democracy its particular momentum and anarchic vitality.
Richard Nixon once said that those who think that India is governed badly should marvel at the fact that it is governed at all. In a similar vein, the Indian historian Ramachandra Guha asks in his forthcoming book India After Gandhi, “Why is there an India at all?”5 For centuries India was not a nation in any conventional sense of the word. Not only did it not possess the shared language, culture, and national identity that have defined many nations; it had more social and cultural variety than even the continent of Europe. At the time of independence in 1950, much of its population was very poor and largely illiterate. India’s multiple languages—the Indian constitution recognizes twenty-two—and religions, together with great inequalities of caste and class, ensured a wide potential for conflict.
Given this intractable complexity, democracy in India was an extraordinarily ambitious political experiment. By declaring India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, the makers of the Indian constitution seemed to take the idea of liberty, equality, and fraternity more seriously than even their European and American counterparts. African-Americans got voting rights only in 1870, almost a century after the framing of the American Constitution, and American women only in 1920. But all Indian adults, irrespective of their class, sex, and caste, enjoyed the right to vote from 1950, when India formally became a republic.
What was also remarkable about the Indian Republic was that it came about with a minimum of political agitation. The Indian political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out that democracy in India came as a gift to the Indian masses from the largely middle-class and upper-caste leaders of the anti-colonial movement led by the Congress Party. It was a byproduct rather than the natural consequence of the anti-colonial movement.6
Modern India’s founding fathers, who preferred a secular democratic system, appear to have been great political idealists and visionaries. However, they were also pragmatists, and they couldn’t have failed to see how democracy, which was viewed in India as inseparable from the promise of social and economic justice, and the official ideology of secular nationalism were necessary means to contain the country’s many sectarian divisions. A former prime minister of India once defined his job as “managing contradictions”; this onerous task, as much moral as political, has remained the responsibility of ruling elites in democratic India.
From the very beginning, India’s leaders faced the problem of instituting a secular and democratic state before the conditions for it—an adequately large secular and egalitarian-minded citizenry, and impartial legal institutions—had been met. A secular political culture couldn’t be created overnight, and in the meantime citizens with political demands could only organize themselves in overtly religious, linguistic, and ethnic communities. As the experience of Iraq most recently shows, when citizens have few opportunities of participation in political life, a concept of democracy based on elections and the rule of the majority can deepen preexisting ethnic and religious divisions.
Sectarian tensions had opened up even in the anti-colonial movement led by the Congress Party. Muslims suspicious that the secular nationalism of the Congress was a disguise for Hindu majoritarian rule demanded and eventually received a separate state, Pakistan. The promise of democracy also didn’t prove sufficient in Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority and where one of Nehru’s closest friends, Sheikh Abdullah, grew disillusioned with what he perceived as Hindu dominance over the province. On the whole, however, the Congress, helped greatly by the moral prestige of Gandhi and Nehru, succeeded in becoming a truly pan-Indian party in the first two decades after independence, able to appease the potentially conflicting interests of Muslims and low-caste Dalits as well as upper-caste Brahmins.
Nehru’s suspicion of businessmen—shaped as much by the European distrust of capitalism between the wars as by India’s forced deindustrialization by the British East India Company—committed him to state control of prices, wages, and production, and to strict limits on foreign investment and trade. These measures, which were aimed at both protecting the Indian poor from exploitation and creating India’s industrial infrastructure, checked economic inequality, even if, as Nehru’s critics allege, they distributed poverty more than they shared wealth.
As democratic ideals and beliefs took root among the Indian masses, the extraordinary consensus Nehru had created around his own charismatic figure and the Congress Party was always likely to fracture. Nehru’s successor, Indira Gandhi, veered between populist and authoritarian measures, such as the “Emergency” she declared in 1975; but she failed to stem the decline of the Congress as a pan-Indian party. Powerful regional and caste-based politicians were no longer content to broker votes for an upper-class elite within the Congress, and wanted their own share of state power; during the Eighties many hitherto imperceptible political assertions became louder, turning into what V.S. Naipaul in a book published in 1990 termed “a million mutinies now.”
The decade saw the rise of new caste- and region-based political coalitions. Fundamentally unstable, they emerged and collapsed just as quickly. In 1989, the attempt by one of these coalition governments to placate low-caste discontent through affirmative action—for example, reserving a portion of government jobs for members of these castes—angered and alienated many upper-caste and middle-class Hindus. Already disillusioned by the Congress, they turned to supporting the upper-caste-dominated BJP, which until the late Eighties had been a negligible force in Indian politics.
Hoping to replace the discredited Congress as India’s ruling elite, the BJP realized that it would have to create another kind of moral and ideological authority. And so, claiming that secular nationalism was a failure, it offered Hindu nationalism, arguing that just as Europe and America, though officially secular, were rooted in Christian culture, so India should revive its traditional Hindu ethos that Muslim invaders had allegedly defiled.
Remarkably, the BJP, while doing away with one plank of Indian democracy, couldn’t abandon the rhetoric of political equality. Aware that the party couldn’t achieve a parliamentary majority without low-caste votes, its leaders were at pains throughout their anti-Muslim campaigns to present Hindu nationalism to low-caste Hindus as an egalitarian ideology. (The presence of Dalits in Gujarat’s lynch mobs attests to their success.)
The liberalization of the economy under Congress’s leadership in 1991—through such measures as eliminating tariffs and restrictions on private business—created a new constituency for the traditionally pro-business BJP: the rising middle class in urban centers. Declaring that it would restore India to its long-lost international eminence, the BJP also acquired what Nussbaum calls “a powerful and wealthy US arm”: a generation of rich Indians who while living abroad seek to affirm their identities through the achievements of their ancestral land. It was largely owing to the support of the Hindu middle class—the BJP has rarely done well in rural areas—that Hindu nationalists managed, after a string of successes throughout the Nineties in provincial elections, to gain power within a coalition government in New Delhi in 1998.
Six years of the BJP’s rule brought about deep shifts in Indian politics and the economy. There was accelerated economic growth, especially in information technology and business-processing services such as call centers. It was also around this time that the faith—first popularized in America and Britain during the Reagan and Thatcher years—that free markets can take over the functions of the state spread among many Indian journalists and intellectuals.
Ideology-driven globalization of the kind the BJP supported, which reduced even the government’s basic responsibility for health care and education, further complicated the promise of political equality in India. The world economy had its own particular demands—for example for software engineers and back-office workers—that India could fulfill. And while the country’s comparative advantage in technically adept manpower has benefited a small minority, it has excluded hundreds of millions of Indians who neither have nor can easily acquire the special skills needed to enter the country’s booming services sector. Many of these Indians live in India’s poorest and most populous states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh in the north, Orissa in the East, and Andhra Pradesh in the south. Their poor infrastructure—bad roads and erratic power supply—as well as high crime levels make them a daunting investment prospect.
Thus, even as the economy grew in urban areas, preexisting inequalities of resources, access to information, skills, and status came to be further entrenched within India. The country’s prestigious engineering and management colleges now seek to set up branches outside India, but, according to a survey in 2004, only half of the paid teachers in Indian primary schools were actually teaching during official hours.7 Europeans and Americans head to India for high-quality and inexpensive medical care while the Indian poor struggle with the most privatized health system in the world.
Nevertheless, the BJP campaigned in the 2004 elections on the slogan “India Shining.” Its success was predicted by almost all of the English-language press and television. As expected, urban middle-class Hindus, who had been best-placed to embrace new opportunities in business and trade, preferred the BJP. However, the majority of Indians, who had been left behind by recent economic growth, voted against incumbent governments, unseating, among others, many strongly pro-business ruling politicians in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (of which Bangalore is the capital city).
In the elections of 2004, Indian Communist parties performed better than ever before. The Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, had built its election campaign around the travails of the ordinary Indian in the age of globalization. Much to its own surprise, the party found itself in power, with Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, as prime minister.
Singh and his Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram were among the technocrats who initiated India’s economic reforms in 1991. Their second stint in power has disappointed international business periodicals such as The Economist and the Financial Times as well as much of the English-language press in India, which complains periodically that economic reform in India has more or less stalled since 2004. But given the mandate it received from the electorate, Singh’s government has little choice but to appear cautious. The rise in inflation that accompanies high economic growth proved fatal for many governments in India in the previous decade, most recently in the state of Punjab where the ruling Congress lost to a coalition, prompting Sonia Gandhi to publicly ask the central government to show greater sensitivity to the plight of poor Indians.
The government’s hands are already tied by rules of free trade inspired by such international institutions as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Thousands of cotton farmers in central India have killed themselves, escaping a plight that Oxfam in a report last year claimed had been worsened by their “indiscriminate and forced integration” into an “unfair global system” in which the agricultural products of heavily subsidized farmers in the US and Europe depress prices globally. Unable to persuade the United States to cut its subsidies to American farmers, the Indian commerce minister spent much of his time at the WTO’s Doha Round of talks in July 2006 watching the soccer World Cup.
Unlike China, India can only go so far in creating a “business-friendly climate”—the very limited ambition of many politicians today. In China, lack of democratic accountability has helped the nominally Communist regime to give generous subsidies and tax breaks to exporters and foreign investors. The swift and largely unpublicized suppression of protesting peasants has also made it easier for real estate speculators acting in tandem with corrupt Party bosses to seize agricultural land.8
In India, however, the government’s efforts to court businessmen are provoking a highly visible backlash from poorer Indians who feel themselves excluded from the benefits of globalization. Plans to relax India’s labor laws—in other words, to import the hire-and-fire practices of American companies—have provoked strong protests from trade unions. In recent weeks, the government has been forced to reconsider its plan to set up Chinese-style Special Economic Zones for foreign companies after the project ran into violent opposition from farmers facing eviction from their lands.9
Such intense mass agitations in India have helped magnify the growing contradictions of economic globalization: how by fostering rapid growth in some sectors of the economy it raises expectations everywhere, but by distributing its benefits narrowly, it expands the population of the disenchanted and the frustrated, often making them vulnerable to populist politicians. At the same time the biggest beneficiaries of globalization find shelter in such aggressive ideologies as Hindu nationalism.
The feeling of hopelessness and despair, especially among landless peasants, is what has led to militant Communist movements of unprecedented vigor and scale—Prime Minister Singh recently described them as the greatest internal security threat faced by India since independence in 1947.10 These Mao-inspired Communists, who have their own systems of tax collection and justice, now dominate large parts of central and northern India, particularly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa.
Their informal secessionism has its counterpart among the Indian rich. Gated communities grow in Indian cities and suburbs. The elite itself seems to have mutinied, its members retreating into exclusive enclaves where they can withdraw from the social and political complications of the country they live in. Affluent Indians are helped in this relocation—as much psychological as geographical—by the English-language press and television, which, as a report in the International Herald Tribune put it, “has concocted a world—all statistical evidence to the contrary—in which you are a minority if not fabulously rich.”11
Nussbaum is right to say that the “level of debate and reporting in the major newspapers and at least some of the television networks is impressively high.” In fact, India is one of the few countries where print newspapers and magazines, especially in regional languages, continue to flourish. But the most influential part of the Indian press not only makes little use of its freedom; it helps diminish the space for public discussion, which partly accounts for what the philosopher Pratap Mehta calls the “extraordinary non-deliberative nature of Indian politics.”
On any given day, the front pages of such mainstream Indian newspapers as The Hindustan Times and the Times of India veer between celebrity-mongering—Britney Spears’s new hair-style—and what appears to be “consumer nationalism”—reports on Indian tycoons, beauty queens, fashion designers, filmmakers, and other achievers in the West. Excited accounts of Tata, India’s biggest private-sector company, buying the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus make it seem that something like what The Economic Times, India’s leading business paper, calls “The Global Indian Take-over” is underway. Largely reduced to an echo chamber, where an elite minority seems increasingly to hear mainly its own voice, the urban press is partly responsible for a new privileged generation of Indians lacking, as Nussbaum points out, any “identification with the poor.”
The stultification of large parts of the Indian mass media is accompanied by the growing presence of a new kind of special interest in Indian politics: that of large corporations. Close links between businessmen and politicians have existed for a long time. But unlike in the United States, the electoral process in India was not primarily shaped by the candidates’ ability to raise corporate money. Compared to the US Congress, the Indian parliament was relatively free of lobbyists for large companies. This began to change during the rule of the Hindu nationalists, who proved themselves as adept in working with big businessmen as in holding on to its older constituency of small merchants and traders. A recent opinion poll in the newsmagazine Outlook reveals that growing public distaste for politics feeds on the intimacy between politicians and businessmen.
Nussbaum terms “surreal” the “mixture of probusiness politics and violence that characterizes the BJP.” But this doesn’t seem so surreal if, briefly reversing Nussbaum’s gaze, we look at “democracy and its future” in the United States. Many of Nussbaum’s American readers would be familiar with the alliance between right-wing politics and religion, or with how powerful business elites advance their interests under the cover of ultranationalism and religious faith.
Unlike the situation in India, democracy in America has not been largely perceived as a means to social and economic egalitarianism. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s victory in midterm elections in November 2006 suggests widespread disquiet over inequality in America, which has grown rapidly against a backdrop of corporate scandals, such as Enron and WorldCom, extravagant executive pay, dwindling pensions and health insurance, and increased outsourcing of jobs—including to India—by American companies looking for cheap labor and high profits.12
Examining the state of American democracy in his new book, Is Democracy Possible Here?, Ronald Dworkin asserts that “the level of indifference the nation now shows to the fate of its poor calls into question not only the justice of its fiscal policies but also their legitimacy.”13 The challenge before India’s political system is not much different: how to ensure a minimum of equality in an age of globalization as international business and financial institutions deprive governments of some of their old sovereignty, empower elites with transnational loyalties, and cause ordinary citizens to grow indifferent to politics.
In a recent book, the distinguished American political scientist Robert A. Dahl offers an optimistic vision in which “an increasing awareness that the dominant culture of competitive consumerism does not lead to greater happiness gives way to a culture of citizenship that strongly encourages movement toward greater political equality among American citizens.” Dahl points out that “once people have achieved a rather modest level of consumption, further increases in income and consumption no longer produce an increase in their sense of well-being or happiness.”14
This awareness is not easily achieved in a culture of capitalism that thrives on ceaselessly promoting and multiplying desire. But it may be imperative for Indians, who, arriving late in the modern world, are confronted with the possibility that economic growth on the model of Western consumer capitalism is no longer environmentally sustainable. One billion Indians, not to mention another billion Chinese, embracing Western modes of work and consumption will cause irrevocable damage to the global environment, which is strained enough at having to provide resources for the lifestyles of a few hundred million Americans and Europeans.
Fortunately, a large majority of poor and religious Indians do not live within the modern culture of materialism; they are invulnerable to the glamour of the CEO, the investment banker, the PR executive, the copywriter, and other gurus of the West’s fully organized consumer societies. Traditional attitudes toward the natural environment make Indians, like the Japanese, more disposed than Americans to pursue happiness modestly.15 And almost six decades after his assassination, Gandhi’s traditionalist emphasis on austerity and self-abnegation remains a powerful part of Indian identity.
Gandhi saw clearly how organizing human societies around endless economic growth would promote inequality and conflict within as well as between nations. He knew that for democracy to flourish, it “must learn,” as Martha Nussbaum puts it, “to cultivate the inner world of human beings, equipping each citizen to contend against the passion for domination and to accept the reality, and the equality, of others.”
Gandhi’s ethical vision of democracy seems more persuasive as the social costs of the obsession with economic growth become intolerable. Responding to another wave of mass suicides of farmers in July 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it clear that only a small minority in India can and will enjoy “Western standards of living and high consumption.” Singh exhorted his countrymen to abandon the “wasteful” Western model of consumerism and learn from the frugal ways of Gandhi, which he claimed were a “necessity” in India.16 The invocation of Gandhi by a Western-style technocrat sounds rhetorical. But it may also be an acknowledgment that there are no easy ways out of the impasse—the danger of intensified violence and environmental destruction—to which globalization has brought the biggest democracy in the world.
June 28, 2007
Though the service sector employs only 23 percent of the population, it accounts for 54 percent of India’s GDP. ↩
Somini Sengupta, “On India’s Despairing Farms, a Plague of Suicide,” The New York Times, September 19, 2006. ↩
Anand Giridharadas, “Rising Prosperity Brings New Fears to India,” International Herald Tribune, January 26, 2007. ↩
See Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, “Gujarat’s Guru,” Outlook, January 29, 2007. ↩
Ramachandra Guha, India After Gan-dhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (to be published by Ecco in August 2007), p. 15. ↩
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Burden of Democracy (Delhi: Penguin, 2003), p. 5. ↩
Jo Johnson, “Poor Turn to Private Schools,” Financial Times, January 13, 2007. ↩
Dramatically increasing investment in education and health care and withdrawing tax breaks to foreign businessmen in their latest budget proposals, China’s new leaders seem to be trying to check growing inequalities and social unrest in their country. See “Getting Rich,” London Review of Books, November 30, 2006. ↩
Somini Sengupta, “Indian Police Kill 11 at Protest Over Economic Zone” The New York Times, March 15, 2007. ↩
Jo Johnson, “Leftist Insurgents Kill 50 Indian Policemen,” Financial Times, March 15, 2007. ↩
See also Siddhartha Deb, “The ‘Feel-Good’: Letter from Delhi,” Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 2005. ↩
For a vigorous assertion of growing economic populism in America, see James Webb, “Class Struggle: American Workers Have a Chance to Be Heard,” The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2006. ↩
Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? (Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 118. ↩
Robert A. Dahl, On Political Equality (Yale University Press, 2006), pp. x, 106. ↩
Renée Loth, “Japan’s Energy Wisdom,” International Herald Tribune, March 26, 2007. ↩
“Refarmer Manmohan,” The Economic Times, July 3, 2006. ↩