Progress in India is of an arbitrary nature. The beholder’s perspective outweighs any conveyed assertions of rationality for most accounts you hear. It is thus not without cynicism that famous writer Arundhati Roy opens her 2009 essay collection, ‘Field Notes on Democracy’ with the words, “to those who have learned to divorce hope from reason.”
Hope for India is often based on the empirically obtained portrayal of one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the number of tech hubs emerging from the stranglehold of century-long imperialist- and caste-imposed poverty.
Such empiricism must simultaneously include an investigation into the faults of the nation’s institutions that have long been present and seem to be dangerously compounding recently.
I do not mean the corruption, nor the bureaucracy, and red tape that businesspeople may complain about. What sweeps hope from the horizon is the authoritarian military that periodically abuses the people of Kashmir and poor rural areas of the country. It is the rise of Hindutva – religious Hindu nationalism – to unprecedented power. Finally, it is the crackdown on social liberties and civil society echoed by activists around the country.
I cannot say whether there exists a fair view of the nation balancing those observations. I can never claim to be capable of revealing it. Nevertheless, seeing India as it is today, we must recognize the two sides of modernity: one hopeful, one bleak; one more economic, the other shamefully political.
It comes without question that declaring apocalypse when millions of Indians have risen to relative wealth and prosperity is head-in-the-sand pessimism. At the same time, blinding oneself in flowery images of blissful advancement yields ignorance of potential signs of the demise of the foundations of the progress so hailed in the penthouse suites of economic power.
My suggestion therefore, is to stay critical of elated hopes based on reason. For reason must tell us that there is no one view of India, that reality is muddled, and that with every step forward, new forces of doom may emerge.