The Memes 2019

Resilient India
Unified by Contradictions & Pluralities

“India has concentric rings of communities. A person, individually, belongs to not one community, but to a series of communities which are concentrically organized, from the country, to the region, to the language group, to sects, religious groups and then caste groups. It is a very complex system. A person has multiple identities, multiple allegiances. A normal Indian lives with a splintered self, and is quite comfortable with it, because it is a diversity they’re really used to, it has been there for centuries.”

- Ashish Nandy, Sociologist

Indian conservatives and liberals agree on only one thing - that the soul of India will be at stake during the upcoming general elections in 2019. No matter that none of India’s political parties fit easy definitions of conservatism or liberalism. But they are sure of the need to fight bitterly for their idea of India.

That India’s predominantly Hindu culture has survived for more than four thousand years – with or without their keen involvement and protection – escapes the reasoning of India’s right-wingers. On the other hand, India has always been a plural and a syncretic society – with or without the keen involvement and protection of her liberal brigade.

For the world’s longest, continuously surviving culture, survival is its defining trait. Even as different parts of the world were repeatedly redefined by the winds of change – from Christianity to colonialism, from communism to capitalism – India took them all in her stride and survived, if not thrived.

For a social or political force to defeat or conquer a nation or culture, it has to defeat a singular idea that defines the nation or culture. But there has never been a single idea that defined our region and culture. There has always been, and there will always be, many India’s, and many ideas of India.

For most of world history, across Europe and the Middle East, moral and political authority  were fused. The protection of these dual authorities was at the heart of protecting the kingdom or nation. In India, moral and political authority – the Brahmin and the Kshatriya – were always separate. The one with the moral authority never had political authority and vice versa. In fact, there has never been a single King who has ruled the whole of India. Even the British had to deal with (at last count) 584 kings and maharajas and share political and social authority with them while ruling over India. And of course, India’s predominant religion, Hinduism doesn’t have the concept of a pope, caliph or ayatollah.

Sure, it has its pitfalls. It becomes difficult – nay impossible – for any one person to decide and execute what he feels is best for the country – no matter how tall or broad a leader he is. It becomes difficult for one single political party to impose a singular view of how societyshould be, on the whole nation. It becomes difficult to efficiently, organize and implement anything, anywhere in our chaotic, multi-layered subcontinent with multiple interest groups constantly competing against one another. India has witnessed this impossibility time and again.

India never had a revolution. Neither did it face civil unrest or war that engulfed the whole nation. We never had the equivalent of a Meiji Restoration that transformed Japan into the first Asian power on the world stage. Neither did we have the equivalent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution that resulted in the deaths of millions but moved China towards a single authority and ideal. India isn’t a country meant for overnight transformation.

And yet, it changes. For if it hadn’t changed, it wouldn’t have been relevant on the global stage for such a long period through world history. India changes, but at her own pace, on her own terms.

To witness change, one can’t look at India top-down. Change happens in many India’s simultaneously, ground-up. Change happens in its states, change happens in its towns, change happens within communities and change happens within families. Change is localized and often driven through local forces – one at a time and simultaneously.

The local in India is always far, far more important than the national. Whether it is politicians or political parties, local brands or disorganized businesses, local information networks or supply chains – these are the ones that define who succeeds and who fails. The infinite heterogeneity and diversity of India ensures that no single idea wins over the entire nation. Nor does a failure in one part of India portend failure in another. This holds true for brands, for businesses and for politics.

So in 2019, look out for local trends, influences, issues and leaders. The nation will survive.