12 April 2012

Dipankar Gupta: "Mistaken Modernity - India Between Worlds"

Dipankar Gupta was professor of sociology at JNU. A review of his "Mistaken Modernity: India Between Worlds" (2000):


"Modernity has to do with attitudes, especially those that come into play in social relations. A modern society is one in which at least the following characteristics must be present:
- Dignity of the individual
- Adherence to universalistic norms
- Elevation of individual achievement over privileges of birth
- Accountability in public life.

This is a very narrow and selective definition of modernity. Modernity refers to the totality of the technology, economy, society, politics and culture that came into being after the Industrial Revolution. See Modernity: Technology, Economy, Society, Politics.


"Once these attributes are in place, it does not really matter if there is high-level technology. Generally speaking, technology (is a) consequence of the four characteristics of modernisation listed above, and (does not by itself) constitute modernity."

This is complete nonsense. The above characteristics are the features of an industrial society – which was the product of the Industrial Revolution. See The Techno-Economic Basis of Society.

India Today

"An analysis of contemporary India will reveal that while there has been a definite move from tradition, what we see around us is not yet modern. If the clock were to stop here, the final diagnosis should declare India as still unmodern."

Of course India is not yet modern. India began modernising properly only from 1991 onwards. See India's Modernisation. Today India can be said to be only 50% modern. See my Index of Modernisation. By the way, this delay in India's modernisation was due to Nehru's socialism – which Prof Gupta also believes in (see below).


"In this era (of globalisation), trade unions have been laid low and, along with it, the emphasis on production and producers as the main planks of economic thought and policy making. In their place, the consumer has stepped in and has become pivotal in all calculations.
Thus in the age when production was central, technologies entered only if they first cleared national barriers regarding what will be produced. Today, consumers get the first preference and any obstruction, in getting these goods and services across to them is anathema to the ideology of globalisation. In the age of globalisation, the consumer is king while the producer has been put out to pasture.
In other words, economic policies today tend to centre on what consumers want. It is no longer material if this brings about unemployment, greater economic dependency or lack of trade union privileges. These issues mattered a great deal in the age of internationalisation, which was production-centric.

Production and consumption are two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same process. How can there be any production without consumption? What is the use of producing goods for which there is no demand? Prof Gupta should stick to sociology, and leave economics alone (but then, he has gotten his sociology also wrong). To talk about production vs consumption is meaningless. His real argument here is socialism vs capitalism.


"(Before globalisation,) national well-being and economic sovereignty were critical issues then that could not be ignored; indeed, these had to be kept up front in any policy formulation. This approach quite logically favoured planned and centralised development in which workers' rights, wages, wage goods and production conditions were critical considerations. Therefore, if the long-term interest of the nation meant that cars of a certain kind, or colour televisions, would not be produced because that might jeopardise a country's economic self-reliance, then that was that.
Economic restrictions and trade policies that earlier determined what will be produced, and how, are now looked at with distaste.

Here Prof Gupta openly makes the case for socialism. These are exactly the policies that kept India poor for 40 years – and delayed India's modernisation (an issue he is so worked up over).


"The encumbrances of tradition permanently debased large numbers of people who were locked in an unyielding social hierarchy. There was no such thing as a universal law in traditional India, leaving subjects completely at the whim of their superiors. People suffered untold misery because of the accident of their birth.
Anyone who has seen how tradition has shackled the poor, or how it has tormented Hindu widows, will not have the slightest hesitation in welcoming modernity with all its stated drawbacks.

Tradition is the way of life of agricultural society, and modernity is the way of life of industrial society. Agricultural society was an unequal society all over the world – not just in India. Even Western society was like this before the Industrial Revolution.


"Much of the recent spate of murders and mayhem is only a bold reassertion of traditional Indian culture. Women and underlings must always be subservient, or else. Those wielding positions of power are not accountable to anyone. Children, especially boys, are supposed to run amok all their lives, more so if they come from privileged homes.
To hold modernity responsible for the grisly incidents of urban violence perpetrated by political brats, or to blame westernisation for the molestation of women in hotel discotheques, only corroborates what we Indians hate to admit: that our traditional culture is deeply flawed at its core.

These perversions are not "tradition", but feudalism – which was the product of 1000 years of Islamic and British rule. See India: Ancient, Medieval, Modern Periods. It is not Hindu tradition that is "deeply flawed at its core", but Islamic+British feudalism – which sadly still survives in India today.

It is Prof Gupta who is mistaken about modernity (and many other things), not India.


Kaddi said...

My theory tends to favour that probably the entire concept of dignity and other individualism in the western sense is a result of economics and the cost of not having democracy.

JNU nitwits and our eminent historians have little intellectual capacity and are paid by their Nehruvian political masters to spew crap about ancient India that then becomes part of NCERT syllabus and gets into the minds of all young impressionables.

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Anonymous said...

I somehow feel that the content is fine but why couldnt you write something without critisizing someone else's work.Its like pointing out instead of creating something else entirely of your own.

Indian said...

FYI - This blog has 400 posts . . .

Unknown said...

Befitted reply/review to psycho mindset. Can you imagine he was a professor fed all this poison to his students !!!