Perry Anderson takes aim at the abiding cliché of contemporary commentary on Indiaby Maria Misra / October 17, 2013 / Leave a comment
The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson (Verso, £12.99)
With this brief but pugnacious account of recent Indian history Perry Anderson takes aim at the abiding cliché of contemporary commentary on India—that it is a shining and miraculous example of democracy, secularism and unity. This “Indian ideology” is assiduously propagated by many prominent Indian writers, and by western opinion-formers eager for a postcolonial liberal success story to set against China’s turbo-charged development. Sometimes Anderson’s aim is true: he is right to ridicule the theological casuistry of much writing on Gandhi which strives, unconvincingly, to prettify the Mahatma’s bewildering inconsistencies and ingrained conservatism. On target, too, is his censure of smug bromides about the wholly tolerant and unifying nature of Hinduism. And his scepticism towards India’s claim to be a postcolonial democracy uniquely untainted by repression, emergency powers and other dark arts of territorial “unity” is also timely.
Yet there is a striking oddity about Anderson’s Marxist approach—the complete absence of any structural analysis. Foregoing serious discussion of the economy, institutions or social groups, Anderson attributes India’s failings to the flawed personalities of its founding fathers and to the taint of “religion” in its nationalist movement. Amusing as it is to catalogue Nehru’s love affairs, vanity and weakness for flowery prose it does not convince as an explanation of the failure of his developmental project and smacks of intellectual snobbery. Similarly to view Hindu-Muslim relations or caste politics through the Dawkinsesque lens of “supernatural irrationality” borders on Orientalism. A stimulating read—but treat with caution.