And almost every day the newspapers carry signs of individual resistance to a homogenising modernity. The police officer donning the robes of Radha is not only self-consciously harking back to Wajid Ali Shah, the last great ruler of Awadh, who also dressed up as Radha and whom the British denounced as effeminate before deposing him. In his androgynous dress, he is also rejecting the role required of him by a hard, hyper-rational world.
The spiritual guru refusing to part with his holy staff is claiming his right to individual dignity of a higher order than that provided by a national security state which spouts endless nonsense about “terrorism” and requires its citizens to live with constant paranoia and fear. India today is full of such “irresponsible fools”. They hint why the country will not be fully modern for a long time, and why this may be a very good thing.
It is not clear why the case of Doosri Radha should not be considered as one of an exception or a deviant case and why it needs to be compared to Wajid Ali Shah’s behaviour.
Mishra has ended his essay with what should have been its starting point. He needs to explain why would India not being modern be such a good thing, after all. In the absence of such an explanation, his words carry little more than a rhetorical flourish.
His stance needs to be seen in the background of a wider battle of ideas and politics that is going on in India.
It was in the 1980s that the last remnants of the so- called Nehruvian consensus broke apart. The 1990s saw the emergence of liberalization and a one- sided globalization- the mainstream discourse both in politics and in the realm of ideas has been thereafter been dictated by these phenomenon. The ruling ideas of every age, Marx had insightfully written, are the ideas of the ruling class.
The subsequent reactions to these have been from (1) the egalitarian modernizers i.e. the communists of the Old Left- by and large continuing the Enlightenment tradition, however archaic these may be worded as and (2) the counter modernizers or the Neo Narodniks, who oppose modernization itself. Some of the latter derive their ideas from post modernist trends in the West.
But many of the non- modernizers like Bhiku Parikh derive from elements of Mahatma Gandhi’s thought most elaborately laid out in Hind Swaraj. Louis Fischer, in his biography of Lenin had pointed out why neo- Narodism, an ideological trend that the Russian Marxists including Lenin had pitilessly criticised from a Marxist viewpoint (“What the Friends of People are…”), holds a much stronger sway in India.