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What's wrong with ational_culture - Observer

Rajendra Prabhu ()
March 17, 1998

Title: What's wrong with ational culture
Author: Rajendra Prabhu
Publication: Observer
Date: March 17, 1998

An academic observer of Indian drama, Arend Lijphart of the
University of California, wrote a paper in The American Political
Science Review in June 1996 where he characterised the puzzle of
Indian democracy as a 'consociational' rather than a 'consensus'

In such a view, grand coalition governments, cultural autonomy,
proportionality in political representation and a minority veto
become a sine qua non of governance. It used to work within
Congress for a long time.

But Indira Gandhi, by putting loyalty to individual as the final
test, sought to change all that.

The consociational theory could be challenged hi some respects.
But I know for certain that L K Advani has read it in full in the
original and, perhaps, applied it in practice in the quest for
power. Surely, the possibility that within political parties,
within national governments, Indian democracy allows even small
groups to share power and veto drastic change in the balance of
power was borne out when the UF came to power in 1996 and even a
one-man party got a share in the spoils of office.

At state level this has been working for a long time in Kerala,
then in West Bengal and recently even in some other states.

At times a foreign observer predicts doom for Indian democracy
due to its deep divisions (Selig Harrison et al): a closer look,
says the American academic, shows that "power sharing is a
necessary (although not a sufficient condition for democracy in
deeply divided countries".

>From the 1957 Unitarian manifesto of the Jan Sangh to the 1998
avatar as a party more sensitive to minorities' concerns, the
core group in BJP is adapting to the political reality.

As BJP has now been invited to form the government at the Centre,
its cabinet is bound to be a consociational setup.

Mishra is saying that Marxists, therefore, need not cry wolf as
'the Surjit-Mulayam combine is doing.

While many political parties are changing it is the Marxists and
some pseudo-progressives who are stuck in the static equation of
a political theory, which everyone else in the world has

For the first time we find a long time believer in Marxism,
within the Communist fold, questioning the validity of the
leftists' analysis. Mishra says what BJP has been saying all
along: That Muslim voters are bonded to the Muslim communal
leaders and this prevents them from breaking into the mainstream
of national politics. What Mishra does not add is that this vote
bank politics is the handiwork of the Congress leaders and has
now been adopted by people like Mulayam Singh.

The result of vote bank politics has been that the level of
poverty, illiteracy, economic backwardness is more among those
very communities which have voted as a solid block.

It is far lower among those who have voted with different
parties, each individual in this community seeking to maximise
his economic benefit and thereby collectively entire communities
go forward on the economic scale. This should be as true for
,castes as for communities.

For the first time, a top Communist leader has admitted that Left
has been facing erosion of its mass base and is being forced to
lean on casteist parties with limited regional appeal.

However, he would not go so far as to admit that Marxism has no
answer to the strong casteist appeal in major parts of the

Mishra is now demanding that Left give up all such crutches and
manipulation for power or of power and concentrate on the issues
before the people: Jobs, food, drinking water, houses.

BJP is also claiming that its agenda is one against hunger,
unemployment and destitution. This may be a false claim but it is
there spelt out in detail in its manifesto.

The only way it could be tested is by letting it, as the
Communist leader says, by watching what BJP does in government.

In the wake of the collapse of Marxist and Lockian analysis of
socio-political phenomenon to ex-plain the apparent
contradictions of Asian scene, many western analysts are seeking
new tools.

Francis Fukuyama, a consultant at the RAND Corporation, a
conservative think tank, and the author of such original works as
'The End of History', has suggested a new analysis of the Asian

He portrays them as graduating to democracy of the western
concept through culture and civil society even as western
democracies go through ideology and institutions to the level of
civil society, a bottom to top rather than a top to bottom
Western approach.

Increasingly, western analysts are accepting the significance of

Faced with social strife due to break down of nuclear family,
inability of western institutions to deal with the problems of
the post-industrial society, they are accepting civil society
rather than mere individual. rights as a desirable socio-
political goal.

Fukuyama insists that "only Asians have been able to master the
modern technological world and create capitalist societies
competitive with those of the West. Some would argue, superior in
many ways".

Warning against' Western tendency to define Asian alternative
purely in institutional terms, Fukuyama says: "In traditional
Asian cultures, political authority has not rested so much on the
correct engineering of institutions as on broad moral education
that guarantees the coherence of fundamental social structures."

Societies in theocratic countries as well as in non-theocratic
democracies are undergoing seminal changes moving more towards
liberalism, though it is very painful in and very slow of them
like Iran, Pakistan or even Sri Lanka.

It is possible to see that in the Indian context of democratic
institutions and change acting like yeast on the age-old
permanence, conflicts would be inevitable but containable.

As Fukuyama says: "The true importance of civil society and
culture in a modern democracy lies precisely in their ability to
balance or moderate the atomising individualism that is inherent
in traditional liberal doctrine, both political and economic".

Gurucharan Das, writer and business executive, has referred to
'Baniaization' of Brahmins and Kshatriyas, a sign of change in
India in response to modem challenges, as a 'change in values and
the new spirit of our age'.

Bania culture may have a pejorative meaning to an intellectual

However, the new entrepreneurs are both highly educated as well
as business minded unlike the traditional banias.

As the OBCs move into government jobs giving up their traditional
crafts, and the upper castes become entrepreneurs and
technocrats, change is taking place in cultural terms.

Those who reject the challenge of cultural change remain in the
prison of an increasingly irrelevant past and suffer.

Therefore, there is nothing wrong in one political party seeking
to bring in some national culture into political agenda so long
as it does not signal a linear process of exclusion.

Marxists, unable to break out of their two-state ghetto, should
take to analysing lndian change in terms 'from culture to civil
society to institution and to ideology' rather than the other way
round as in the West.

That way, they will understand it better and not end up by
hanging on to the kurta of Laloo Yadavs and Mulayam Yadavs, now
that a seasoned Communist has given primacy to wisdom over dogma.

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