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Mainstream Formulations

Prabhu Ghate

By Pavan K. Varma
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 248, Rs. 325.00


Pavan Varma does an excellent job of demolishing some standard and some not-so-standard myths about “being Indian”. He draws on extensive reading from several disciplines and his familiarity with Hindu mythology to examine the cultural and personality factors that have influenced Indian development so far, and are likely to influence it in future. The archetypical Indian that emerges is not altogether a sympathetic character – he is highly hierarchical and extraordinarily sensitive to the calculus of power. His spiritualism, “although lofty in its metaphysics, is in religious practice mostly a means to harness divine support for power and pelf. It does help, however, to weather periods of adversity, and thus reinforces resilience. Most Indians are ‘other-worldly’ only in their indifference to anything in the external milieu that is not of direct benefit to their immediate and personal world”.   Fortunately, while the Indian persona proved particularly dysfunctional to the kind of socialism attempted so far, it stands us in good stead, according to the author, for the more individual opportunity and incentive driven growth that lies ahead. Not only will the more gung-ho of our economists be pleased with this conclusion, so will students of the polity. One of the myths the author demolishes to best advantage is that Indians are by temperament democratic. They are not, he points out, but one of the unforeseen benefits of democracy has been the myriad opportunities it has provided for individual upward mobility, which will continue to be a force for great stability.   The main benefit of democracy was supposed to have been economic and social justice. The callousness of the haves and the self-absorption of the upwardly mobile gives us a cultural explanation for the massive failure of democracy and poorly implemented redistributive programmes to deliver in this respect. The author has the courage of consistency here, and relies candidly on growth to do the job instead. He is not too concerned with how long it will take, or how bumpy the ride will be. Another cultural trait, the long suffering resilience of the poor, buttressed by just enough trickle down to keep hope alive, will see us through.   For the growth itself the author seems to place exclusive reliance on recent successes in IT and the knowledge industries. In doing so he may be indulging in a bit of myth-making himself. There is an interesting discussion in a chapter on technology, of the ...

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