Read This Book To Know How Both The Civilisational State And Nation State In India Are Founded Upon Individual Rights

Read This Book To Know How Both The Civilisational State And Nation State In India Are Founded Upon Individual Rights

by Aashish Chandorkar - Monday, September 21, 2020 11:55 AM IST
Read This Book To Know How Both The Civilisational State And Nation State In India Are Founded Upon Individual Rights Book cover.
  • The book calls out the hypocrisy of the old idea of India, which is a perfect antithesis of the civilisational nation.

    It leaves the reader with a sense of immense satisfaction and a long list of mental home work to complete.

Individual Rights In A Civilisational State — A New Idea Of India. Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri. Westland, 2020. Hardcover price Rs 799. 361 pages.

Energetic, unapologetic and scholarly — “A New Idea of India: Individual Rights In A Civilizational State” is a masterly book by Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri.

It is a book of ideas and their interlinkages, of old and new, ancient and modern, creating an epistemological basis of a civilisational state.

We have always known and thought of India as a civilisational state instantiated in the current democratic nation-state form.

This book now establishes a bridge between the two identities describing why and how individual rights underpin this duality.

The book also stresses that the two labels are co-existent and do not constitute a transition, which is the old Idea of India as used by establishment intellectuals over the years.

This book breaks a new ground too. Our politics, policy making and the marketplace of ideas have all long been anchored in ideas coming out of a communist or a socialist mindset.

Over the years, like equality feels like tyranny in a political set up led by appeasement, any contrary views, even centrist ones, have been made to feel like far right bigotry.

This book creates a new stream of thought, hopefully to be strengthened qualitatively and quantitatively over the years by the authors and others alike.

Harsh and Rajeev take no prisoners. The book calls out the hypocrisy of the old idea of India, which is a perfect antithesis of the civilisational nation.

Be it around religion and the way the Hinduism-Hindutva dichotomy has been peddled or around politics, where fault lines based on caste and religion have been long-exploited, establishing flimsy comparisons, the authors bring out how lopsided our public discourse has been.

The authors explain why the first principle approach — using the concepts of our ancient civilisation — demonstrate that individual rights are critical to the success of the modern, democratic nation state form.

The Indian way of life had pluralism at the centre of personal conduct, and it was that ethos that enabled India to conquer the conquerors, in assimilating them to the traditions of the land, but not losing the ancient identity.

In that sense, when the modern-day intellectual idea of India was created, secularism was defined as its basis.

This was not just a politically convenient theme to establish some kind of a new birth of the country at Independence, it was also intellectually dishonest.

For, this idea of India pitted secularism against a contrast of communalism.

The authors explain why this was a convenient formulation and why the opposite of secularism is theocracy.

The concept of secularism should apply to the State and not to the individuals.

The modern intellectuals have chipped at this critical distinction deliberately and carefully over the years to cut off the civilisational links, which were rooted in pluralism by design and a naturally accepted code of conduct.

The authors make a strong case for not confusing the State with society and not putting the onus of being secular on the latter.

It is the State — the machinery of governance and administration — which needs to remain secular as per the constitutional principles, while the nation state can very well recognise and celebrate its civilisational roots.

By corollary, individuals should not be forced to replicate the behaviour or the job of the State.

Harsh and Rajeev link the Nehruvian intellectual mould also to two very obvious areas — economics and the continued colonial nature of the State.

Even right-of-centre economic thought in India would rank as centrist or even a little left-of-centre, by global standards.

The authors here make the case of going back to the civilisational view to make a mindset change — that profit is not a bad word.

The continued viewing of anyone who is taking risks to make financial gains with suspicion has been the key barrier to revising our economic policies.

The authors argue that, blending modern impulses — ongoing digital transformation of the economy, promoting entrepreneurship across the hitherto suppressed and overlooked sections of the society and the true pursuit of being aatmanirbhar — self-reliant — can bring about this mental model shift.

Harsh and Rajeev argue that the Indian State needs to rapidly decolonise. The judicial, federal and administrative approach today remains much the same as it was handed over to us by the British.

Even here, rebalancing the power of central and local and freeing up the educational system, which generates human capital for a confident, capable society, is critical to address the root cause.

These are again civilisational ideas, which, over the years, have been deformed and paralysed due to the leftist-socialist control of the governance systems.

The best part about the book is that the authors link these broad and diverse set of arguments to the current political milieu.

They explain how the rise of Narendra Modi on the national political scene has led to a brick-by-brick dismantling of the old order, which is, in turn, causing the churn and the noise in the marketplace of ideas.

The interweaving of the ancient and the modern, leading up to the explanation of the current-day political process, is a unique and hard-hitting feature of the book.

Indian exceptionalism is characterised by dharma — that which has no literal translation and for which the authors quote Bharat Ratna P.V. Kane — the mode of life or a code of conduct, which regulates a person’s work and activities as a member of the society and as an individual.

This concept of dharma needs to be understood and imbibed as clouds gradually clear over India’s moments on the global horizon.

Another uplifting feature of this book is that the authors have quoted extensively from the works of relatively new Indian writers, thinkers and authors.

They have used very recent stories as examples to explain the broader systemic churn that characterises today’s India.

Harsh and Rajeev break new ground with A New Idea of India. It is a must- read book, written lucidly.

It leaves the reader with a sense of immense satisfaction and a long list of mental home work to complete.

Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.
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