Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Few Words From Amitav Ghosh

A broad ranging interview with renowned author Amitav Ghosh available here at Internet Archive in it's entirety. Ghosh has written with grace and clarity on a broad range of subjects these last two decades but in the most compelling way on imperialism in its new and old forms .

Interesting and incisive commentary included the following:

  • Referring to his most recent novel The Hungry Tide he describes the blending of Islamic and Hindu tradition seen in the beliefs of the fisherman of the Sundarbans of Eastern Bengal thus suggesting this is the normal course of human affairs when political agendas are not allowed to enter the equation.

  • The concept of India: His earnest American host seemed to struggle with it and Ghosh reassured him this was an outcome of the name India failing to encapsulate an immense wildly varied continental expanse, thousands of years of history, many languages and so on.
  • The new India: He clarified the popular perception of IT India as still in a predominant sense - try 80 %- agricultural India. A caller chimed in with a reality check of the IT industry amounting to less than a million people.

  • Skepticism: He responded to Thomas Friedman's assessment often heard as a mantra nowadays of how after 5 decades spent shackled by Socialism India was now finally advancing.Ghosh pointed to the the 20 decades when it was enslaved by colonialism, a time when access to education was denied to Indians as a matter of policy. If no other reason than context this needs to stated.

  • Democracy is a process not an end. At first an offhand critique of U.S foreign policy in Iraq and then rising to a pointed argument of the futility of expecting a violent process to lead to democratic institutions.

  • New Imperialism : He pointed to the rising interference of American foreign policy in world affairs even going on during Clinton's term and so debunking the idea that it has been just a more recent Neo-con phenomenon.It has become more pronounced under the current administration but the real politic reality of only one superpower has left this as a continuing trend. This notion Ghosh suggests is now challenged by a parity in military technology preventing the old inequalities. An interesting reference to a New Yorker Article he was asked to revise with a classic rationalisation.

  • Outsourcing: Points out that as India's economy expands it will need its workers for its own needs and no-one need be too alarmed about jobs taken from Americans since the domestic demand is already escalating.

  • Misguided assumptions about the rural populace. He corrects the conflation of illiteracy with backwardness as elitist and ultimately mistaken. This is particularly true. The BJP party learned this, Ghosh says in the last election when it tried to divert from its own dismal record by stirring communal strife. There is also the colossal neglect of the true dormant talent pool of the country.
His commentary could be dismissed as anachronistic, of an older method that had failed and now needs to be replaced with efficient ways, as if all of the old was bad and everything new is good. This would miss the point. Ghosh speaks more about forging a unique path without a reflexive adoption of current dogmas.

The changes taking place in the economy appear to be barring any cataclysmic disasters inevitable. Improvements in the agricultural sector, improved supply chains, investment in infrastructure, a diversified economy all these things are wonderful prospects. There not enough good reasons, however, to negate a requisite responsibility to the all of India's citizens and not just shareholders. It is what he Ghosh suggests is great about India the recognition of the paramount importance of process over ends: economic growth with social justice . It's not an unreasonable proposal Mr Ghosh seems to be saying.

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