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Review Article

Of Politics and Culture

Anirban Biswas

The volume* under review is an illuminating collection of essays on the culture, politics and system of education and governance in contemporary India. At the outset, it should be stressed that although originally written for various news dailies, magazines and journals, these essays express sharp observations of the author, who is not under the sway of neoliberalism and consumerism, on various aspects of the society, as well as his deep concern with the issues plaguing the people of the country. One may take the very first essay (Tailored for Corporates?) as an illustration. While admiring the qualities and achievements of the national law schools in departing from the conventional universities 'in terms of work culture, performance orientation, transparency, and freedom or autonomy with responsibility', the author does not forget to point out the extraordinarily expensive nature of training, and the absence of a culture of cooperation and sharing. Further, as the writer also observes, most of the law graduates are absorbed by the corporate sector at high pay, and the nature of work is monotonous and devoid of social relevance. The real challenge is then to rid the institutions of higher learning of the consumerist and pragmatic culture while maintaining the work ethic and transparency. The second essay (Ranking Universities: Comparing Harvard Apples with JNU Oranges) challenges the so-called Times rankings regarding academic excellence, pointing out their hollowness in the larger social and economic context. Referring to the academic situation in the USA, the author makes one perceptive remark, "Students are not trained to become critical thinkers, but foot soldiers of the establishment. The same concern is displayed in the third essay (Social Sciences : A Case for Destructuring Political Science) in which the author laments, with strong and clear reasoning, the dichotomization between theoretical and empirical studies. The opinion expressed in the first essay is reiterated in the fourth in the form of an interview, but there is an additional point, i.e, the author's observation on reservation. A few lines may be quoted, not irrelevantly, "See reservation is necessary but ...at a certain point, [reservation] is becoming counter-productive. The idea that reservation and merit are dichotomized is something that needs to be relooked. Those who get reservation also need to be meritorious in the system. Reservation is just enabling individuals to enter the system. But once you enter you cannot say that nothing else is left. The purpose of reservation is to realize one's highest potential." (P-34) Gudavarthy's view is further clarified in some later pieces, which are indictments of both the typically upper casteist notion of 'economic criterion' owing to their already entrenched position in bureaucracy, upper castes are most likely to reap the advantages of his criterion—and the inability or even reluctance of those demanding reservation develop alternative criteria of merit. It is refreshing that he recommends some measures to enable the beneficiaries of reservation to compete more effectively with others.

Gudavarthy's observations on the 'rightward shifts' of dalit politics are perceptive enough. He has correctly pointed out that the anti-caste movements have never taken up the issue of intra-group domination, domination by some specific castes over other dalits and OBCs. This paved the way for the BJP and the RSS to use these others as warriors of Hinduism. Otherwise, how can one explain the large participation of dalits in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 and Mujafarnagar in 2014. Gudavarthy also correctly blames the 'secular sectarianism' of dalits and Muslims, asking, "...how many dalits are there to talk about Muslim issues? How many Muslims are raising the issues of Adivasis?" (p. 202) Any serious student of the communal problem of India should consult Gudavarthy's pieces in this volume on the subject. It may be argued that Muslim leaders preferred isolation from the dalits owing to the influence of pan-lslamism, which did more harm to Indian Muslims than to anybody else. One might however add that the recent assembly polls in Bihar and the protests in the wake of the suicide of a dalit student in Hyderabad, coupled with the nefarious role of the BJP and the RSS, should serve to arrest these 'rightward shifts', showing cracks in the BJP's top to bottom approach to the saffronization of the polity.

The piece on 'Balagopal' is moving as well as instructive. So is the piece on fake encounters. The pieces on Modi are well written and bear testimony to the author's power of observation. But two points should probably have been emphasized. First of all, Gujarat remained only a middle-ranking state in terms of the physical quality of life index even after ten years of Modi's Chief Ministership, despite investments worth trillions of rupees. Secondly, Modi's campaign was almost exclusively financed by the corporates, and the way he was projected as an able leader of the nation was strikingly similar to the projection of Hitler as the leader of the German nation. The massive victory of the AAP in the Delhi assembly polls—the AAP is however ridden with many contradictions—and the stunning defeat of the Modi-Shah combine in Bihar have however shown that Modi's pro-corporate policies have run into serious troubles, and that exposure of the falsity of his many promises, e.g. that regarding the money stashed in Swiss banks, has definitely made an adverse impact on mind of the electorate. One glaring example of Modi's troubles is his failure to impose the proposed Land Ordinance. Hence one relevant question is whether he will be able to serve the interests of the corporate houses in the expected measure.

The above is not a full review of the book and quite a few essays have not been touched. One reason is the space constraint and the other is that this reviewer does not consider himself competent enough to comment on all the issues, e.g. the issue of Telengana, raised in the many essays collected in the volume. The reader should, however, find this collection of essays an immensely interesting, informative and insightful one, and the language is admirable.

Finally, one word for the publisher. He has done a commendable job in bringing the essays together in one single volume, but the volume being a hardbound one, the price seems to be a bit stiff for a person of modest means. If a paperback edition is published, the volume will certainly reach a larger number of readers.


*Cultural Politics Of Modern India
by Ajay Gudavarthy
Aakar Books, Delhi-110091
246 pages, Price Rs 695

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 32, Feb 14 - 20, 2016