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Tea over, time to smell the coffee

India’s middle classes are mutating and blame it on the 14-year-old market economy. The effect is telling. Where they were enlightened citizens of the world, they are turning into frogs in the well, slightly better-off frogs, perhaps, in the material sense, but in the well of their making nevertheless.

Where they were world leaders, aligned in the fight for justice and freedom at home and in Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam they have surrendered to lucre. They fought for Pakistanis who fought Ayub Khan. They spoke out for George Habash’s Palestine. They stood solidly with Korea, China and Allende’s Chile. They were with every dreamer’s Cuba and South Africa. Indians vehemently opposed the evil of fascism in Europe while resolutely protesting the nuclear bombing of Japan. Now they have been tamely hustled into a self-regarding corner where they single-mindedly pursue the dream of what George Orwell called the soul-sapping lure of the Sugarcandy Mountain.

They rallied the world as recently as at the 1983 non-aligned summit in Delhi to keep the Indian Ocean free of nuclear weapons, and called for the peaceful vacation of the Diego Garcia military base on a point of principle. Today they are willing to be hired as road-clearing contractors in troubled sea-lanes bordering China. And they haven’t established even a toehold in their own backyard via, say, a port like Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka.

Narendra Modi is as good an example as any of this new, limited ambition, which, let’s not forget, was inaugurated by Manmohan Singh in 1991. Mr Modi embodies not only the new middle class the Congress-led reforms have spawned but is also its nouveau-riche mascot.

The new Indian middle class does not pretend to have an ideology, but is being pumped with biases. There is another world beyond the hullaballoo of the gross striped suit he wore with his name embossed in fine gold threads, something few global leaders would dare flaunt. Beyond his compulsive first-name calling of the US president or giving Barack Obama endless rounds of bear hugs and handshakes, lies a troubled world with which Indians are being trained to disengage. They are being nudged instead to retreat into their well with promised malls with as many consumer goods as money can buy.

Mikhail Gorbachev is warning us about the possibility of a Third World War breaking out over Ukraine, but the new Indian middle class is not allowed to see or hear. He will still swear to you, like any neighbourhood grocer, that he is your reliable friend. Never mind the double-deal with an old customer to get the better of a new one. Read the speeches made to the Chinese and Russian leaders and compare them with the bonhomie shown to Obama.

A Chinese editorial described India as “the lucky dog” benefiting from an unfortunate Russian-American rivalry. Benefiting? Do Indians care about the perils old ally Gorbachev is trying to alert us to? Even President Obama has responded to the warning with tiptoe caution. And would it matter to the ‘Modified’ Indian when Vladimir Putin goes as the chief guest at China’s once-in-10-years military parade? Will they see the ominous polarisation it encompasses? Will India survive by hiding in the well?

The new middle class, mostly aping the more regressive strata of US-based NRIs, does not pretend to have an ideology but is being pumped with biases flowing from a sense of injury real or imagined. At times it gets abusive, even violent. Tear the Indian constitution, they demand, before threatening to delete the words socialism and secularism from the preamble. Opponents of the new middle class, who are mostly the old middle class, just as foolishly seek to have an intellectual fight, though never a physical one, to have the constitutional preamble kept intact.

They forget that Nazis were National Socialists and that socialism changes meaning with the nature of the state that runs the show. If the old middle class wants to restore the nature of the Indian state to its Nehruvian form and not merely bleat about statute books, there is no palpable evidence of a strategy.

India has swung to the far right. It is led by some of those whose groomers admired Nazis and rejoiced in the massacre of the Jews under Hitler’s watch. Should the constitution reflect the given reality, or should it misleadingly retain a liberal label that Nehru or Gandhi thought up. It hardly makes sense to berate the Hindutva acolytes for demanding a Hindu rashtra. Who else should? It is also true that such a state will be a fascist state, if Guru Golwalkar got it right. Would the old middle class prefer that an evolving Hindu rashtra declares itself secular and socialist in the preamble? Or do thinking people want to fight the real fight.

Does someone really want to know where the idea of socialism is being discussed seriously? They should read the weekend’s People’s Daily. It would disabuse many of the notion that China, in Mr Modi’s neighbourhood, is hurtling inexorably towards a consumer society like the one Indians are dreaming of.

The People’s Daily spoke of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new stress on dialectical materialism. The paper said it had brought about a resurgence of Marxist ideology as the theoretical foundation of the Communist Party of China amid the nation’s deepening reform. The reforms too are all continuing.

Xi retrieved a philosophical approach that views all changes in the world as the result of conflicts between opposites. Is it a coincidence that a parallel ideological impulse sent Indians debating head transplants in the Vedic era?

The chasm between Xi’s call for deepening socialism in China and those struggling to preserve it in the preamble of India’s constitution is as stark as the difference between tea and coffee. China gave India tea, but what Indians really need right now is to smell the coffee.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi, jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Jawed Naqvi, "Tea over, time to smell the coffee," Dawn. 2015-02-03.
Keywords: Political science , Political relations , Political leaders , International issues , International relations , International peace , International policy , Nuclear weapons , Socialism , PM Narendra Modi , Manmohan Singh , President Obama , George Habash , Mikhail Gorbachev , United States , Russia , Palestine , India , Africa , China