Monday, Dec 22, 2014

When ideas become cages

India’s pantheon of nationalism is populated by a number of static ideas: anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, socialism and populist economics a la Aam Aadmi Party. India’s pantheon of nationalism is populated by a number of static ideas: anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, socialism and populist economics a la Aam Aadmi Party.
Written by Khaled Ahmed | Posted: March 1, 2014 12:15 am | Updated: March 1, 2014 5:25 am

India’s pantheon of nationalism is populated by a number of static ideas: anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, socialism and populist economics a la Aam Aadmi Party. Given our changing world, these ideas have led to India’s isolation within an otherwise admiring international community. Pakistan’s nationalism is based on anti-Indianism — plus recent anti-Americanism “because America is tilting to rascally India”. Pakistan is internationally isolated because of this obsessive worldview.

Some Pakistanis blame the state for being non-pragmatic, sacrificing prosperity at the altar of its “India disease”, while in economic terms it is more “realistic” than India because of its pursuit of “free market” and IMF structural goals. Political leaders in India are rendered weak because of the breakup of India’s bipartisan system — or something resembling it, after the rise of the BJP. Now the focus is scattered and people vote for those who will give them welfare at the cost of budget deficits. The consensus in India is Kerala-model-based, not Gujarat-model-based.

Anti-colonialism, however, is flourishing in subaltern studies while Indian foreign policy is doing cool business with old colonisers and new imperialists. Some of its anti-globalisation policies — that look like protectionism posturing as pro-poor trade-barricading against “global exploitation” — are based on an interpretation of global capital that even post-Keynesian Amartya Sen will not buy and globalist Jagdish Bhagwati will abominate.

There is an Indian World Bank economist, Deepak Lal, whom I have admired for his boldness in challenging the embedded ideas of the nations that became free in the middle of the last century. His book In Praise of Empires: Globalisation and Order (2004) has been my guide in debunking bilious repetitions of “imperialism” and “neo-colonialism” in our political discourse.

I know I will be pilloried for my decadent intellectual apprenticeship to Lal, but I hear Pakistanis — propelled by religious fervour, unlike India — emetically theorising about how America is never going from Afghanistan because it has to colonise Central Asia for its natural resources.  Deepak Lal is chilled about the global economic space as “value-neutral”, which cannot be used to underpin an ideology. Before India became prosperous, global multinationals were seen as purveyors of imperial intrigue against homo indicus. America’s soft power through Hollywood films and fast food was seen as an encroachment on something essentially “sacred” and Indian that had to be saved. (Now Indian soft power through Bollywood is changing Pakistan’s “essentialism”, which has really come down to mean surrender to the Taliban as the fulfilment of Pakistan’s founding ideal.)

Globalisation is not new. It was cyclical and was carried on Alexander’s shield and the curved sword of the Mughals. Lal states that it “promoted those gains from trade and specialisation later emphasised by Adam continued…

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