News18 » Blogs » India

The Kiss of Globalisation: Is India Ready for It?

Debraj Bhattacharya

Updated: November 15, 2014, 8:08 AM IST
facebook Twitter skype whatsapp
Consider the following facts from recent past:

(a) Narendra Modi announces to the world a new slogan "Make in India", with the aim of transforming India into a manufacturing hub of the world.

(b) India sends a satellite to Mars. Entire country rejoices.

(c) Dinanath Batra's attack on Wendy Donninger and other scholars for offending the Hindu sentiment.

(d) From Kochi to Kolkata to Hyderabad to Delhi youth revolts against moral policing by daring to kiss in public and throwing a challenge at Hindu rightwing organisations.

(e) Smriti Irani says that students must read Sanskrit and not German.

(f) A young man and a woman who belong to two different religious communities are on the run and being chased by Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists.

(g) Modi says that ancient Indians must have known plastic surgery as is evident from the face of Ganesha.

(h) In Kolkata a girl is not allowed to enter a cinema to watch Happy New Year because she was wearing a skirt above her knees. The film however depicted a leading Bollywood heroine in clothes wearing a very very short skirt.

I can cite many more of such examples but this should suffice. The point I wish to make is this - India is trying to find a place in the world and is trying to find a place for the world within India but is not sure exactly how this is to be achieved. In other words, we are living at a time when India is at war with itself to find out how to place itself in the world and how to place the world within itself.

The policy that the BJP government and its friends in RSS seems to be advocating is that India will globalize in economic terms but would follow a purist Hindu fundamentalist line in the realm of everyday cultural practices. India will develop economically in collaboration with global capital but Indian will return to the fold of a pure "Indian culture", which of course would be primarily Hindu. The Muslim fundamentalists of the country would probably like exactly the same thing although I am not quite sure of their economic thinking. So on the on hand the current rulers of India want India to develop as the younger brother of the capitalist big brother, and become a major player in the capitalist global economy in due course. On the other hand they want some kind of ancient golden India to come back. This is in a way Modification of the earlier Swadeshi line of RSS. Bullet train - yes, smart city - yes, global manufacturing hub - yes, girls and boys kissing each other - no, young people falling in love without bothering about each other's religion - no, a girl wearing a short skirt - no. Sending a satellite to Mars must somehow co-exist with Karva Chauth. More economic prosperity through collaboration with global capital - yes, gay rights - no. Western business models must somehow seamlessly weave with a conservative Hindu family life complete with dowry and Saans-bahu serials. Those who talk about the demolition of socialism and the Planning Commission actually want to control every aspect of India's march towards the status of a developed country. India will play the videshi-desi symphony according the notes written down by the master composer of the Hindu or Muslim fundamentalists.

Unfortunately, such a mindset is based on a profound misunderstanding of what capitalist globalization is. The simple truth is that as India tries to more and more integrate with the global economy there will be social and cultural transformations along with economic transformations. And it is very difficult to have a liberalized economy on the one hand and a controlled traditional society on the other hand especially in a democratic country which is also extremely diverse. The Modified right wants its young generation to work with global companies but not behave culturally like the youths of London or Paris. Mamata Banerjee says that Kolkata will become London but then when young people start openly expressing their affection for each other (like young people in London) that is not considered desirable. We want the prosperity of the west but not westernization of our culture.

This anxiety, this war within India for the identity of the country is producing a schizophrenic Indian. We desire the prosperity of USA and France, but not the cultural dimensions of their society. We want our Bollywood heroines to have a foreign accent or wear bikini but we want our girls at home to behave themselves 'properly'. If one of them gets raped, we will blame it on them by saying that they wore the wrong kind of clothes and then rush off to see Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang or Deepika Padukone in Happy New Year. We want democracy but we don't want liberal values. Ideally feudalism, capitalism and democracy should co-exist with each other. We want to feel proud of our scientific achievements but we want our faith in gurujis to remain undisturbed. We want dowry in real life and item numbers by scantily clad ex-porn stars on the silver screen.

In all these there is a naïve misunderstanding of what the globalization is all about. It means above all less control not just over the economy but also over the society. It is true that in some countries of the middle east have desperately tried to maintain the distinction between conservative society on the one hand and capitalist economy on the other, the general trend across the world seems to be towards more and integration of culture, aesthetics, values and ideas as well as integration of the economy. Traditional life styles have been reduced to specific rituals rather than daily practice.

So India seems to be poised to move in either of two directions. On the one hand is integration with global economy and society where the major conflict will be between left and right economic policies rather than what kind of clothes women should wear. This is more or less the case in Latin America. On the other hand there is the possibility of a violent fundamentalist backlash as in countries like Afghanistan and Iran.

Global capital has kissed India although so far it is just a gentle kiss on the cheek rather than an intense locking of the lips. The question that India under Modi will have answer is whether it is ready for tumultuous change that integration with global capitalist world is likely to bring. This change is unlikely to remain confined to the economy only.
First Published: November 15, 2014, 8:08 AM IST