Why India must allow hyphens

Let us start with "left-liberals". It is a term marked by a rapidly disappearing anachronism. It described Jawaharlal Nehru best. Nehru was economically on the "left", but politically "liberal". His promotion of state planning, not markets, represented the former; his unflinching faith in democracy epitomised the latter. Except for a few nostalgic souls in the National Advisory Council, those still marching to CPM tunes, those admiring Arundhati Roy's travels to Naxal lands and a few more, no one today is against markets. My own position is that the post-1991 shift in India's economic policy was a monumental breakthrough, not only producing high economic growth but lifting millions out of poverty. Modi has by now become the poster boy of markets, though Manmohan Singh gave birth to the new economic era.

Gupta and Mantri lend the term "left-liberal" considerable imprecision. They see many more economic adversaries than there actually are. Very few oppose markets today. The bone of contention is whether markets alone would lead to mass welfare, or state intervention is also required. Liberals like me find markets necessary, but not sufficient. India needs greater play of market forces, but the government's welfare, regulatory and public-goods functions remain.

Let us now turn to "salad bowls" and "melting pots". Invented by Ashis Nandy, these two metaphors have had a lasting impact on how we think about the Indian nation.

Though often associated in popular mind with the US, scholars of nationalism are clear that France is the ultimate melting pot of the world. There are no hyphenated identities in France. Muslim-French, Jewish-French, Arab- French are not categories France allows; all have to be French in an undifferentiated way. In contrast, the US allows hyphens: Irish-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, Chinese-American, Indian-American are all accepted categories. Moreover, the term "minorities" is highly prevalent. There is no minority quota to be sure, but affirmative action is practised as an enabling provision. I routinely sit on admissions and fellowship committees, which consciously search for minority candidates.

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