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Challenging Metaphysical Truth Claims

Ratna Kapur

By Martha C. Nussbaum
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 403, Rs. 595.00

Edited by Anuradha Dingwaney Needham and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 411, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. She is a philosopher with a particular interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Her latest book The Clash Within is an effort to expose the American reader to the reasons why democracy flourishes in India despite the threats to its survival by the Sangh Parivar. She discusses the different elements in Indian society that sustain India’s democracy, including its pluralistic culture and history, its strong constitutional foundation, the vision of its early statesmen, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the poetry of its people, though only Tagore finds significant mention in this lengthy text. The violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 becomes the focal point of her argument as to why and how India’s democracy has survived despite such upheavals. Her intention is to end ‘American ignorance of India’s history and current situation.’   The book challenges the dominant belief that religious extremism emanates from Muslim terrorists and largely emerges from non-democratic contexts. India is an explicit example of a postcolonial democratic state that produced a coalition lead by the BJP, which held power at the centre for nearly five years. She points out that India is host to the third largest Muslim population in the world, and that Huntington’s thesis about the clash of civilizations does not bear out in this context. She argues that the real clash lies within, ‘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.’   Nussbaum’s book covers a broad range of issues to illustrate the tension between democracy, the rise of religious fundamentalism and competing ideas about the role of religion. She interviews various political elements in the Sangh Parivar, provides a brief overview of Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore and their contribution to democratic institution building, the secular project and critical learning, the role of the Hindu Right in the contemporary period, the contests over the writing of history by the hegemonic forces of the Right and those committed to ideas of pluralism and diversity, and the role of the Diaspora in supporting the Hindu Right in India.   Starting with a discussion of the Gujarat riots in 2002, Nussbaum posits the view that the BJP was voted out of power ...

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