Why India must allow hyphens

In this country, undifferentiated citizenship is an ideologue's or a philosopher's pipe dream with ghastly real-world implications

Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri admire Narendra Modi. They find my positions on Modi implausible, but worth engaging. I appreciate the invitation to an intellectual exchange.

Most arguments in support of Modi tend to be economic. Economically speaking, Modi's Gujarat is Guangdong-like, immensely successful and increasingly a darling of international and domestic investors. It is easy to admire Modi's economics. The speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce is the best speech I have heard on markets as a source of mass welfare from an Indian politician. The UPA's economic reformers have allowed Modi to steal the thunder of 1991.

To my mind, the unresolved and contentious issues about Modi are all political, not economic. Unfortunately, isolated exceptions aside, it is rare to find support for Modi embedded in political arguments. Every time I write a column or express a viewpoint online, Modi's supporters respond with comments that vastly exceed the bounds of basic decency. The relentless venom knows no embarrassment. Does Modi know that he presides over a mountain of crudeness and vulgarity online?

Partly in reaction, some of the best Indian commentators have begun to compare Modi's support base with that of European fascists in the 1930s. European fascism also emerged from the womb of majoritarian democracy and fury. My judgement is different. Modi of 2002 had fascism written all over his politics; he appears to have evolved. The RSS and VHP will seek to push him back, but he is astute enough to know that to rise nationally, he needs to move beyond 2002.

Gupta and Mantri situate their support for Modi in political arguments, not simply economic. But basic disagreements remain. They have made their arguments needlessly pedantic. The core issue can be easily summarised. "Our left-liberals," they say, "assist the state in slowing India's natural evolution from a discrete salad bowl to a composite, dynamic melting pot". A salad bowl gives ample political space to group identities: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions can all stay as tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, without spoiling the salad. A melting pot turns all ingredients into a single whole. Identity groups become undifferentiated individuals. Not Muslim Indians, Dalit Indians or Bengali Indians, simply Indians. There are three keywords here: left-liberals, salad bowls, melting pots.

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