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Tuesday, August 07, 2001

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Living in a global village

IF ONE could overlook the era of French imperialism which marginally survived in India in the tiny settlements of Pondicherry and Karaikal, the image of France as a country of "intellectuals" has certainly appealed to India. (It is worth recalling here an earlier literary dismissal of Britain as a country of just beef-eating and beer-swilling Englishmen). This should explain this present literary Indo-French collaboration. If among the demands made for being regarded as an "intellectual" is the obtuseness and the unintelligibility of the writer, a number of contributors to this collection live up to it remarkably. This is unfortunate because the contents of the book are highly inviting but the way they are presented could put off many readers who would have been drawn to it. Here is a sample of the writing by Mr. Ravindra K. Jain in his Indian Diaspora, Globalisation and Multiculturalism: A Cultural Analysis. "The collage is accountable to its own anti-social disembodied logic. What we get from the surrealistic assemblage is a view of the interior universe. Unconscious may be, dialectical no." He also refers to a wholly "emic" view of Indian politics in South Africa.

A disconcerting quote from an English translation of Mr. Zaki Laidi's Un Monde Prive de Sens given right at the beginning of the book is about India along with Algeria and Yugoslavia being "blocked, dislocated or disintegrated today while hardly 10 years ago they were on the international scene with diplomatic assertion, sublimating their internal fragility". We are further told that while politics defined their identity 10 years ago, "today _ and this at a global/world level _ it is from the problematic quest for identity that an uncertain political action seems to derive". However, when the initial sense of shock felt at being so very bluntly told about the scene in India recedes, we might even realise that this may actually be an understatement since the sense of lost identity might have set in even earlier than the 10 years mentioned by Mr. Laidi. With receding euphoria felt in the country after the liberation of Bangladesh and the dismembering of Pakistan by the Indian army towards the end of 1971 and the collapse of the Soviet Union which could well have imparted a meaninglessness to the concept of rationale of non- alignment propounded by this country, it is very likely that India suddenly found itself groping for some purposefulness as a looming South Asian presence.

Globalisation left as the only alternative after the collapse of the Soviet Union and with China not posing any threat to the rest of the world even as the only Communist power seems to have thrown a spell over everybody with very few exceptions like Jean- Lu Racine. He writes that globalisation could extract a heavy price. But he should have discussed this at greater length to explain the excesses of globalisation and "segmentation" and "the costs of civil society and the collapse of the social bond". It is seen as a new tool of imperialism "not just because of the tremendous weight on Washington in world affairs but also because many of the best known and most powerful multinationals are based in the West."

If, as it appears, globalisation is gaining ground and is becoming unstoppable, is it because of a sense of despair now finding expression in TINA (There is no alternative)? The futility of attempts at trying to contest TINA could, says Jean- Luc Racine may only throw up "unsuitable alternatives" like the promotion of "extremist exaltation of identity, communalism and xenophobia". There seems to have been such a disconcerting development with the "universality of the enlightenment values being more and more questioned by non-Western elites, some of them revivalist". The "ultra-liberalism" thrown up by the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the emerging retreat of the Left from the globalisation towards which it was confidently heading not very long ago would seem to be manifesting itself in the non-West questioning of the values of enlightenment and the "revival of cultural relativism" which is potentially alienating.

It would, however, appear that the response for such possible alienation could well be what Mr. Racine calls a "merchandisation" of the cultural arena as well by the commercial vested interests for a nefariously planned expansion of the global market though he does not get down to details about how this could be or is being done. He, however, does not take a wholly negative view and says, "The question is not to oppose the trend to globalisation but rather to define what could be a positive globalisation which requires to maintain a principle of regulation applied at different levels from the global one to the local one. Market cannot be the one regulator and the principle of accountability must apply to transnationals and to speculators as well as to governments".

The recommendations of the Mandal Commission on the OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and destruction of the Babri Masjid are seen by Ms. Rama S. Melkote, Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science, Osmania University, as the projection of the disintegrating forces in India. Her reading is that "the absence of a bourgeois revolution" in India led to the incorporation of the feudal class into the "weak, small capitalist class" resulting in the authority of the landed gentry and upper castes going unchallenged. "The solidarities and forms of authority deriving from the pre-capitalist community" inserting themselves into the representational processes of liberal electoral democracy" and throwing a challenge to the "large marginalised sections of India who have been left out of civil society" would seem to hit the nail right on the head.

Ms. Jayati Ghosh of the JNU points out how the sheer scale of today's MNCs and the relative autonomy they can maintain vis-a- vis developments in any particular economy dwarfs the earlier achievements in internationalisation of production and foreign ownership as a proportion of domestic in the early 20th century. "Today, the net worth of the world's richest people, the 358 billionaires is equal to the combined incomes of the poorest 45 per cent of the world's population of 2.3 billion". The inequity projected by this scenario could be seen from "the tremendous human and social waste involved in the unemployment of labour which is simply not calculable". There has been no new investment or asset creation by the FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) and their dominant share of 73 per cent is accounted for only by mergers and acquisitions. The initial inflows of foreign exchange from FDIs is also subsequenty wiped out by subsequent repatriation of profits and dividends. Globalisation has also made it impossible for countries to control the amount of capital inflow or outflow neither of which can serve their interests.

The assertiveness of Muslims spread over in France in making themselves felt as a cultural and ethnic presence has given them a growing visibility to cause disquiet in the countries where they are scattered. The insistence of Muslim girls in a school in a suburb of Paris on their right to wear scarves and the equally determined objection of the headmaster to their doing so because of its being an affront to the French principle of separation between the Church and the State, is given as an example by Catherine de Wenden of how tolerance could sink well below the levels at which they should remain.

Mr. M. Madhava Prasad writes that "globalisation is that kind of modern beast that will devour the nation states, not stopping until a single world state is established". American television channels are the kind of new cultural imperialism which leverly have expanded and diversified "to produce locally oriented programmes" cleverly disguising their foreign origins.

The contents of the book are indeed heavy reading but it is worth the concentration they call for.


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