The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 29, 2002

Handy reference book
Darshan Singh Maini

India at the End of 20th Century: Essays on Politics, Society and the Economy
edited by Sanjukta Bhattacharya. Lancer’s Books. Pages 317. Rs 580.

THERE are scores of special articles in leading Indian newspapers and magazines on both the Indian scene since Independence, and on the Indian polity, particularly since Indira Gandhi, and we are, thus, in possession of a plethora of narratives written to hoist one vision of the future India or another. Thus the retrospect, the introspect and the new constructs or paradigms have come to occupy the mind space in modern India. Our business would be to sort out the tangled skeins and isolate signals and signatures defining certain interests. The volume under review, fully comprehended, becomes a kind of encyclopaedia which contains almost everything a researcher or scholar needs to formulate his or her attitudes. It may even become a handy references book for all manner of state institutions, organisations, foundations, treaties, conferences, etc., with full statistical evidence. There has been, on the whole, no evasion, rationalisation or the rhetoric of "effects."

But before I take up the volume for a detailed scrutiny, I must make my own position clear. A lot of theoretical work on the reader-writer unconscious nexus has been available since the linguistic-structural ‘revolution’ of the majesterial French theorists and their type. No, it’s not for a critic to turn away with the argument, though being a special reader, his own worldview and values are bound to get reflected in or refracted through the prism of the major argument.


The first thing that strikes the reader of the volume is the nature of its constitution. Since it consists of 18 well-researched seminar papers by university teachers in a set style, it is meant to be an ‘umbrella’ collection which, while allowing for individual and varying views, still presents, in the end, a unified structure and a fairly unified vision. Another point is that all participants in this seminar held at Jadevpur University (March, 1999) are Bengali intellectuals carrying a distinct and characteristic mark of identity. A certain probity, a passionate involvement which still retains a balance, a Marxian-humanist stance, or the right kind of "Leftism" are, by and large, at work in these papers. Nearly each paper presents a distinct summary at the end of a long argument, or the donnee of the paper in question. This makes for a capsule summary of a complex, many-sided story of a massive amount of data available in the volume.

Since in a critique of this nature it’s not possible to take up each individual paper, I intend to pick up a couple of key papers which, to my mind, have not only a rare refinement, but also a centrality that binds the disparate aspects into a dialectic of mutualities. For instance, the 28-page essay entitled "The Philosophy of Silence: Constructing the New Millennium" by Shibashis Chatterjee and "India Towards the Twenty-first Century: The Ethnic Scenario" by Samir Kumar Das strike me as an outstanding work of scholarship which, in this case, reflects the Bengali intellectual ethos and has the ambience of that anguish which goes with it.

So, I return to Shibashis Chatterjee’s long and fascinating piece which traces "conceptual paradigms" in Indian reactions to the challenges presented by the new century. All that he argues for is, of course, already changed in part after the September 11 terrorist attack on the "Mecca" of American power, followed soon after by a dastardly assault on Indian Parliament, challenging the very majesty of our State. His treatment of the fanciful and pontifical pronouncement of the Japanese-American guru, Franeis Fukiyama, is not dismissive, though it rightly receives a chilly response. "The end of history" is in his view reached with the death of the Marxian dream, and the vindication of the American cold war strategies to destroy the Soviet Union. Well, thus spake the corporate capitalism’s ideologue! One wonders how such a pitifully inadequate idea was greeted with so much enthusiasm and éclat!

Again, Professor Das, who has studied the complex ethnic question, applies his knowledge and insight to the Indian case which for geo-political, economic and other reasons has been, particularly since 1947, a source of much thoughtless violence, confusion, and fragmentation from New Delhi to Assam, Bodoland and scores of tribal areas and pockets all across central India. Ethnicity is today a big academic concern and American writers, in particular, have felt compelled to project it in view of its highly mixed and varied ethnic minorities. One thought racial supremacy (Aryan-Nordic as in Hitler’s Germany) was a dead issue after the humiliating defeat of Nazism, but as Professor Das points out vis-ŕ-vis the Indian scene, there has been ironically a sharp and shrill "resurgence," "recrudescence," "explosion," etc.

If I’ve not touched upon the remaining essays, it’s because the pattern becomes quite clear when we move from one paper to another. As I have said earlier, a certain nuclear vision is subsumed in the volume—a vision of an India rich in human resources and their judicious use. Thus, health, education, housing and other fields determining the character of a nation are the primary concern here, and the volume serves the purpose admirably.