Sanjay Ranade

Sanjay Ranade (PhD) is Associate Professor at Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Mumbai.

Counter to the Grand Narrative of State

Sanjay Ranade

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The Indian State is clearly afraid of private, individual enterprise. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam does not sit well with Aham Brahmasmi or any of the other three Mahavakyas and the four Purusharthas – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. The former offers the grand narrative of the universe being one family and the individual a part of it, while the latter locate the Universe in the individual. We are unable to make a choice between these two positions and the tension has led to extreme distrust. From our social and political ethics to our laws, we demonstrate an undermining and distrust of the private contract. If two individuals in India enter into a contract and one of them breaches that contract, it would be impossible to enforce it in the Indian judicial system. Parallel judicial systems abound in India. Families, village and community elders, and even dacoits and gangsters, conduct these. These parallel systems are more often than not the first recourse for justice. More often, people trust these parallel systems and abide by their judgement than those of the legal courts.

The Mahavakyas and the Purusharthas are a lived reality in India. It is a constant exploration and engagement with life. They are the measure of one’s success in life. In the Indian everyday narrative, one is constantly locating the Universe within oneself. This is true regardless of what religion is being followed. That is in fact, one of the main reasons why religions of the world changed when they came to India. It is easy for an individual Indian to locate any of the many religions within oneself. Syncretism is a part of ideology and living in India. It is not restricted to a mere reconciliation of different beliefs but an active exploration and practice of all beliefs one encounters in a lifetime. It is a device that acknowledges that the entire Universe is located in the individual.  Religion is thus, a device. Similarly, the body is a device, the mind and the intellect too are mere devices to interrogate and engage with one’s Universe. The family and the community too are institutional devices meant to provide social, political, and economic support to the individual, so that the individual is able to garner the ‘wealth’ necessary to engage with the Universe. This interrogation of and engagement with one’s Universe is a dominant theme in the Indian folk grand narrative. It is the purpose of life. It is reflected in the Mahavakyas and the Purusharthas.

1When the modern institution of State and the Corporate was introduced to the Indian mind it too was seen in the same context; a device like the others. The State and the Corporate were sold as an order, very systematic and rational institutions that would be the solution to all problems emerging out of the worldview that the Indian held. In dealing with the modern idea of State, the Indian mind continued to imagine it to be a device but the device has failed. It has failed because the State competed with family, community, and the individual with the same failings. The State took a moral high ground of the elder, the wise. It claimed to know all but gradually it turned into just another institution like the family or the community.

The modern State is an important device for gathering and disseminating information to the people who give their allegiance to it. The Indian State ignored this function. The modern State is a device for individuals to create wealth. The Indian mind knew what ‘wealth’ meant having lived with the Mahavakyas and the Purusharthas, but the Indian State did not trust its own people’s instincts. The State made promises of equality, fraternity, and liberty. Of socialism, secularism and federalism. To the Indian mind these were devices, goods to deliver the wealth necessary to achieve the goal of the Mahavakyas and Purusharthas. As long as they were convinced of this correlation, they poured their energy and imagination into the State.

However, that grand narrative has failed. The State of India cannot deliver any longer. It is corrupt, fragmented and broken, and the bickering is as bitter as in any family. It represents coercive order. More importantly, the individual feels completely marginalised from the discourse and helpless to influence it in any way.

It is in this context that the increasing access to media technologies is bringing about a change. The Mahavakyas and the Pursharthas are losing ground as the dominant narrative, and being replaced by goals that are located in compartmentalised and intensely private and personal events than a grand overarching philosophy. The moments have become more significant than the overall life. The Universe itself has shrunk to one’s own consciousness of the reality at a given point in time. The method is not to let go, but to hold on. What is difficult is seen as being irrelevant, unnecessary. Barriers used to discriminate and understand, analyse, comprehend, interiorise and lives are being drawn down. However, what appears as a seamless space is actually a redefining of earlier barriers that is changing the ethos, pathos and logos leading to micro narratives about what makes a good life.

The State along with the family and the community are losing their relevance in this resetting of the borders. To see the State as being distinct from family and community would be foolish in India. It is not about the Constitution or the law or about political and social theory. It is about a relationship with a device, a tool. The State, as much as the family and the community, is a device and it is expected to be subservient to the individual who is supreme. This individual knows what she wants or is trying to find out what it is she wants. She wants the State to play a role there. Let us know what is available. Let us know the price one has to pay. Just let us know. Then get out of the way and let us decide for ourselves. The State, however, is scared to let go.

2Like the State, the post Independence grand narrative of the private sector and later of the Corporate too failed to live up to its promise. Given the highly individualistic narrative on which the average Indian built her own place in this world, the private sector encountered head on what was the Indian private sphere. That sphere was rarely defined in spatial or temporal terms. It was always in relational terms. The private sphere of an individual’s life was defined by who one was with and what one was doing. In such a world the Arthashastra and the Shuka Saptati made sense together with the Kamasutra, the Yogashastra, the Natyashastra and the Dharmashastras. The overarching narrative of the Mahavakyas and the Purusharthas was omnipresent. The narrative of the private sector was bound to fail because it assumed all kinds of other sub-plots that never happened – no overarching currency, no credit, no entrepreneurship, an altogether different definition of what was meant by a good life, a successful life and a failed life, and the emphasis on industry and not art. The words capitalism, commercialism, corporatisation, crony-capitalism do not describe what is happening in India because that is not what is happening in India. Typically, the Indian private sector became more a network of cronies, each feeding on to the other with a parasitical attachment to the State. One order legitimised by the other.

What is happening in India is very Indian. After a very long time, Indians have once again become aware that they are not just a part of India, but the world. Their theatre, their playing field is the entire world and its people and their lives put together. They had a spiritual, an emotional, and an intellectual sense of this for centuries. What they could not get a grip on was the modern, pragmatic, material and technological sense of this. Now they are fast getting a sense of the material world. The new narrative is that of family. We are the same species. Our destiny is linked to one another. What makes a good life is getting redefined now. Wealth is getting redefined now. It is in this people’s emerging micro narrative that Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the four Mahavakyas and the Purusharthas are sitting comfortably together; and it is causing a lot of discomfort to the State and the Corporate because an empowered individual is what would challenge their authority and undermine their power. Everywhere we look, it is the single individual, alert and empowered, who is challenging the might of the State and the Corporate.  All that this individual has behind him for support are a global family of similar such individuals fighting for an idea, a truth. Unless the State and the Corporate see the connection between the family, the individual and the Universe as the individual in India does, the sloganeering will remain mere self-promoting rhetoric. The Indian is wise enough to see through it.


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