Ashis Nandy and Culture-State Relationships

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Executive Summary of the Essay:

'Culture, State and the Rediscovery of Indian Politics'
by Ashis Nandy
"Bonfire of Creeds (The Essential Ashis Nandy)"
eidted by Ashis Nandy,
Oxford University Press, New Delhi,

Submitted by:
Syed Faisal Rehman
10SPHL 05
M. Phil: Dept of Political Science.
In partial fulfillment of the first internal examination for Advanced Indian Political Process.


The article under review is an approach to understanding politics in India, using culture as a framework to analyse relationships between society (viewed as a broad category to include communities and various groups with distinct cultures) and the state. This article was found in the book "Bonfire of Creeds (The Essential Ashis Nandy)", published in 2004 and edited by Ashis Nandy himself.

Culture, State and the Rediscovery of Indian Politics – Brief Summary.

There can be two ways for a society to understand the realtionship between its culture and the state that they are located in. The first way is to evaluate the means by which culture can be made to contribute to the sustenance and growth of the state. This approach is from the viewpoint of the state itself. The second way is to approach the relationship between cultutre and the state from the standpoint of culture itself. In the first approach, the key is to look for the means by which culture can be made to contribute to the sustenance and growth of the state. The state here functions according to certain fixed, universal and sociological rules. Cultural values that help strengthen the state are seen as vital to the values of the state and good. On the other hand, cultural values which are seen as disruptive to the effective functioning of a state or hinder its growth are seen as defective. Therefore, a mature society according to this approach, actively eliminates these defective values, to improve the functioning of the state and the quality of the culture. In the second approach, the state is regarded as a protector and an internal critic for the culture but not as the final arbiter for the society's way of life. The state here has to serve the needs and contribute to the enrichment of culture; it is never allowed to dictate terms to the culture. "Even when the state is used as a critique of the culture and the culture is sought to be transformed, the final justification for the criticism and the transformation is not sought in the intrinsic logic of staetcraft or in the universal laws of state formation. That justification is sought in the self perceived needs of the culture and the people and in the moral framework used by the people."1 The first approach is referred to as the state-oriented or statist approach by Nandy himself in the article, and the second approach is the culture-oriented approach. The term statist used in this article has nothing to do with the sense in which it is used in debates between socialist thinkers and liberal sate regarding the role of the state and extent to which a pro-active or minimalist state is desirable. Nandy observes that for the last 150 years, westernised middle-class Indians have been supporters of the first approach where the state is prior to culture, that culture must suit the needs of the state. This arises as a result of the predominance that the nation-state system has gained in the science of politics since World War II. "Nearly all the studies of political development and political culture of the 1950s and 1960's have this cultural-engineering component built into them. From Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils and David Easton to Karl Deutsch, Samuel Huntington and Lucian Pye, it is the same story. So much so that, modern political analysts and journalists are forced to fall back on state-oriented analytical categories, even after the categories have shown poor interpretative power, as often happens when figures like M.K. Gandhi, Ayatollah Khomeini, Maulana Bhashani and Barnail Singh...
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