Sunday, April 10, 2016

New ideas for a new India

Sastra University and The Hindu have embarked on an overly ambitious plan to discover the clues to building an ideal India. In this effort they have been organising a series of discussions among argumentative Indians. The latest panel discussion took place in Chennai on April 9.

Moderated by Justice Prabha Sridevan, the speakers were Sitaram Yechuri, Swapan Dasgupta, N.Ram and S.Gurumurthy. Sitaram Yechuri observed that the Indian Constitution is a welcome departure from the Westphalian binary approach of majority and minority. His regret was that though we have institutionalised one man - one vote system and one vote - one value metric, one man - one value continues to be only a distant prospect. Political equality must result in economic equality if we are to achieve an ideal India. A nice thought. In her introductory remarks, Prabha Sridevan had earlier referred to two kinds of equality: the graveyard variety where everyone is pulled down and the vineyard variety where all are levelled up (a quote from Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa). Yechuri preferred not to take the bait.

Swapan Dasgupta was at his rhetorical best. He took serious exception to Yechury's singular dependence on Constitution to define what is an ideal India. India did not begin in 1950 when we gave ourselves the Constitution. Should we ignore our hoary past simply because of its Hindu content? Is not culture a contributor to what a nation is? He quoted Edmund Burke who said Society is 'a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’. The essence of India is its diversity. Dasgupta sarcastically referred to the attempts to 'secularise' even Bharatnatyam !

N.Ram wanted adherence to principles of our Constitution. He stressed that secularism is a basic structure of our Constitution and therefore not negotiable. He regretted the rise of Hindutva and controversially equated it with terrorism. This view was sharply contested by Gurumurthy. Ram referred to Mahatma Gandhi as the tallest Hindu of the twentieth century and he was felled by a fanatical Hindu.

Gurumurthy opined that if India is not Hindu, it cannot be secular. He quoted various judgments of the Supreme Court to show that Hinduism / Hindutva is not what is defined by Yechury and Ram.

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