`I object to the language`: In India language is more important than content

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By Amar Yumnam

J. Barkley Rosser of James Madison University writes of Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman in a 2006 review of a book written by the latter thus: `If Paul Krugman is the emperor of the new economic geography, then he is an emperor without clothes.` Rosser reiterates the same in his 2011 book on Complex Evolutionary Dynamics in Urban-Regional and Ecologic-Economic Systems: From Catastrophe to Chaos and Beyond. This reminds me of the nearly two-years-long debate in the Journal of Economic Literature in the early-1970s between two giants of the subject, Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson, in which each one was ridiculing the other as uneducated and needing to go back to college to learn Economics. I am referring to these two instances in order to emphasise the objective of any debate and the necessity of plain talks in the search for the truth. In debates, discussions, dialogues, seminars and workshops around the world, the people do not lose sight of the objective for which the function was being organised and the language is only a medium and not a primary concern. The Japanese and the Chinese (Indians do not enjoy Chinese examples and get boiled inside despite overt nods) are not good speakers unlike the Indians are, but they do speak the significant issues involved on the theme under discussion. But Indians are usually masters in flowery language with very little content if any. By and large at the global level, the power of plain talk would induce the opponents to further dig into the issues to find a better perspective while, in the case of India, it would generally lead to personalisation of perspectives.

There is nothing wrong in possessing the capacity to indulge in colourful language; it is indeed attractive. However, we have a problem here in India. In attempting to indulge in this capacity, the issues are often side-lined. In doing so, covert attempts are made to superimpose the innate designs on others. In this process, the truth is never explored while imposing self-perspective on others. In this, plain talk is frowned upon and truth becomes the casualty. In this huge country, attempts and endeavours are buried in this to maintain the status quo of dominance, racial politicking and policy statism of the predominant statists. In my last input in this column I had expressed the fear that culture and habituated principle of Indian bureaucracy may jeopardise the enthusiasm of the Union government on the problems plaguing the North East and search for relevant policy interventions. This fear is further reinforced by the commitment to language rather than content of the top policy statists in this country.

This reinforced suspicion is accentuated by a familiar comment of an otherwise highly experienced bureaucratic-diplomat of India who would comment `I object to the language` on any perspective of a participant in a discussion and which he finds unpalatable. This cannot be any basis for further debate as the comment is not on the content, but this does serve the purpose of diverting the attention from the search for truth and help in continuation of the predominant statist perspective. This approach is also one where the intellectual and the political leadership of the region should fight against in order that the moment of the region is converted into an actionable and performance period.

Here it would be rewarding and put the people in the region into perspective if we recall the main areas where the policy statists of India find very uncomfortable to hear; plain talk, especially from a North-Easterner, is generally dubbed as anti-national. Very interestingly, even today, diplomacy is seen as a mechanism to address the issues of the region rather than straight talks across. Now the main areas.

First, the Indian policy statists have only one perspective of nationalism, which is as seen and as interpreted by them only. There is no provision for a more inclusive understanding of it as warranted by the size and diversity of the country. The long culture of dominance and being-dominated has completely stunted the Indian psyche to appreciate the contextual reality.

Second, the perspective on China is different in the North East than the one the Indian policy-makers are long used to. Now emphasise this point of truth in a discussion where Indian policy statists are also present, one immediately becomes the target of suspicion and being labelled as anti-national; truth is not considered as serving the national purpose. The whole approach is as if the feeling and definition of patriotism has only one approach that is as defined by these people.

Third, talk of the Ras Lila and the wonderful rendering of the romance of Radhika and Krishna by the endogenous theatrical capability of the Manipuris, all the policy elitists of India would smile with their eyes reflecting the pleasure of having extended influence. As contrast to this, if a North-Easterner talks of the institutional, demographic and geographic continuities of the region with the South East and East Asia, the policy statists of India would halt their smile and their eyes would rather reflect resentment, hatred and suspicion `“ a moment to see the people of the region as ingrates.

Fourth, the ethos and other development milieu of the North East are absolutely different from the rest of India. If one mentions this in a discussion, any Indian policy statist would manifest as if something they are already fully familiar is being unnecessarily reiterated. But if one tries to extend this understanding to the domain of policy formulation, one immediately encounters the huge road-block of being perceived as endeavouring to move away from the dominant Indian paradigm. The imperative for rethinking and redesigning the Indian paradigm to make it wider and deepen is something never to be sought after. If such an articulation arises from a person from the North East, the Indian policy elitists would utter that it is the democracy in this country which facilitates such individuals to indulge in such dangerous arenas.

Well, these are only a glimpse of the surface manifestations of the Indian mind-set. The urge of the North East is that this mind-set itself requires re-designing. Patriotism is not something to be conceived, defined and practised in a monopolistic way. As in the case of the market conceived by the Economists as imperfect competition characterised by differentiation of products, patriotism and nationalism are products of monopolistic competition, not of monopoly, in a hugely diverse country like India. Variety is a spice of life; the variety in India should be construed and allowed to flourish to enhance the quality of life in this country. This alone can be the foundation for a sustainable India.

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