Grand Tamasha

Ravinder Kaur on India’s “Brand New Nation”

Episode Summary

Ravinder Kaur joins Milan on the show this week to talk about how brand-building is displacing nation-building in the 21st century and who the makers of India’s “new brand” actually are.

Episode Notes

By now, we are all familiar with the catch phrases, colorful billboards, and slick branding: Incredible India. India Shining. Make in India. New India.  


But these are not just the frivolous creations of marketing executives and tourist brochures—they are the stuff of 21st century nation branding. This is the argument of a new book by the scholar Ravinder Kaur, Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First Century India


Ravinder, a professor of Modern South Asia Studies at the University of Copenhagen, joins Milan on the show this week to talk about her new book. The two discuss how brand-building is displacing nation-building in the 21st century and who the makers of India’s “new brand” actually are. Plus, Milan and Ravinder discuss the untold backstory of the “India Shining” campaign and why Prime Minister Modi’s notion of a “New India” is not all that new after all.  


Episode notes: 

  1. Martin Wolf, “Best books of 2020,” Financial Times
  2. Ravinder Kaur, “‘I Am India Shining’: The Investor-Citizen and the Indelible Icon of Good Times
  3. Roshan Kishore, “Review: Brand New Nation by Ravinder Kaur
  4. Ravinder Kaur, “Who Owns the Republic?

Episode Transcription

[00:00:12.025] - Milan

Welcome to Grand Tamasha, a co-production of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Hindustan Times. I'm your host, Milan Vaishnav. By now, we are all familiar with the catchphrases, colorful billboards, and slick branding: Incredible India," "India Shining," "Make in India," "New India." But these are not just the frivolous creations of marketing executives and tourist brochures: they are the stuff of 21st century nation branding. This is the argument of a brand-new book by the scholar Ravinder Kaur, Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India. Ravinder is a professor of modern South Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, and I'm pleased to welcome her to the show for the very first time. Ravinder, good to see you.


[00:00:52.405] - Ravinder

Thank you so much.


[00:00:54.025] - Milan

I want to start out by congratulating you - there are listeners who may not know - Martin Wolf, who I think is one of the most eloquent economics commentators of our era, of the Financial Times, he recently awarded your book one of his favorite economic books of 2020. I'm just curious, how did you hear the news and what was your immediate reaction?


[00:01:15.775] - Ravinder

I actually received the news from a colleague in the US, so I was quite surprised. And given the fact that I'm a historian-anthropologist and my book was to be included in the category of economics, I was actually quite happy and overjoyed that economics is being talked about in broader terms, like it should always have been - that this is not about number crunching, that economics has to do with a much broader field of society. So, I think, in that sense, I was very happy.


[00:01:47.605] - Milan

It was a very eclectic list, and I was very pleased, and it reminded me to drop you a line to get in touch with you because the subject of your book is an incredibly timely one. And I want to begin this conversation by linking to an observation you make early on in the book, and I think it kind of sets up the overall framework for the book. I just want to quote a selection here where you write, "India's embrace of liberal economic reforms in the early 1990s was not merely an instance of liberal triumphalism sweeping the globe. It also signified an end of the Third World Vision that India had helped shape in the heady years of independence." I'm wondering, just as a kind of set-up for our listeners, what was this Third World Vision you speak of that India seems to have been kind of shattering with these 1991 economic reforms?


[00:02:39.445] - Ravinder

So, I think this is a very good question, actually - to think about the Third World Vision, this has a lot to do with the economic question. Now, if you recall, much of the anticolonial struggle had economic independence as one of the key demands, and even after - and here I'm referring to the idea of Swadeshi, or the effort to be self-reliant - and, in many ways, what Gandhi was talking about, in today's very contemporary language, we could be speaking about "degrowth." So, all of this is rechanneled in the post-colonial era in what came to be bundled as the New International Economic Order, or at least this was the wish of the post-colonial nations - to have some sort of level playing field with the industrialized nations because the drive was to escape dependence. So, I think we must remember that all of this is taking place during the Cold War era, where the post-colonial nations are trying to forge their own path without aligning with the capitalist world or the communist world. So, in that sense, when India, which was actually one of the leaders of NAM and Bandung, it's one of those countries which first takes the plunge and reluctantly embraces the reforms. You know, it is it is shifting the dynamic, as we all know, it has since shifted the dynamic.


[00:04:14.335] - Milan

So, as we think about where India is today - you talk about this concept of the “brand-new nation,” and you define that as a nation revitalized and renewed as a profitable business enterprise with claims to ownership over cultural property within its territory. And you note, I think, quite provocatively, that 20th century nation-building increasingly has been replaced and substituted by 20th century nation branding. So, paint us a picture of what India's 20th century post-liberalization branding looks like to you. How do you characterize it?


[00:04:54.275] - Ravinder

I think perhaps one should begin by saying that branding is merely the surface, it is merely what we witness, and the most important thing is what is happening beneath. So, the phenomena that I'm trying to refer to is that we begin to conceive of the nation as an entire nation-state - basically, as an income-generating asset. So, it's a new kind of vision: thinking about the nation in economic terms. And here, territory is seen as potential natural resources that can be tapped, or people come to be defined as human capital. Or, in India's case, the term which became very popular was "demographic dividend." And that was something also all over the place - it is one of the key points that India wants to make sure that India has one of the youngest populations, a large labor force, or, for that matter, to think about culture as something which can help you differentiate from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, because everybody is trying to open themselves up as a potential investment destination.


So, suddenly, culture is not an add-on - culture is something you can invoke to define yourself as a brand. So, I think this is a phenomena that I'm trying to refer to. And, of course, it is more than, as I said - branding is merely the surface. It has actually realigned, reconfigured the nation-state altogether. Think about that India is a federal nation-state, and people for [a long time] talked about federal collaboration, but here actually the new concepts which have come about are, for example, federal competitiveness, that a state like Gujarat is trying to compete with West Bengal or Punjab is competing with Tamil Nadu. Each and every state in India, by the way, actually has its own branding or investment program. So, the whole dynamic has actually shifted as to, you know - there are indexes within India, the cleanest city, or who earns the most revenue and whatnot. So, what I'm trying to point to is a different kind of logic which has come to reshape the nation, even though it looks the same to us.


[00:07:23.995] - Milan

So, there's a deeper meta-point, Ravinder, I think, buried within this - and you explicitly bring this out in the book - which is [that this] sort of characterizes the revenge of the nation-state, right? I mean, there was a lot of literature in political science, as you know, talking about fragmentation of power, the rise of capital, the rise of civil society, the rapid rise of transnational groups, but what you're seeing here is a reassertion of sovereignty of the nation-state, isn't it?


[00:07:56.335] - Ravinder

Absolutely. And I think sometimes, when we go back and begin to read the literature that was produced in the early 1990s, it is mind-boggling because the whole language of describing the world is of movements and flows and connections and linkages. Somebody like Thomas Friedman, he writes [that] the world is flat... I mean, I don't need to name all those things which have formed of our ideas, but what I'm trying to show is that in the in the middle of all that, including scholars, people got carried away with this idea that we live in this flat, cosmopolitan world because the phenomenon that I'm pointing out to you, namely the nation branding or the reformation of the nation as an investment destination - this is actually happening in the 1990s. Few people pay attention to the fact that 1990s economic policy, new economic policy in India actually had image makeover as one of the key components, but it is totally overlooked because everyone - when we speak about structural adjustments, people are speaking about many of these number-crunching things, but the thing is, in the soft, affective, emotional arena, something far more significant is taking place, which is making all of us, really - the citizens, the bureaucrats, policy makers - conceive of the nation as something which can also produce income.


And you have pointed out about sovereignty - the logic, obviously, is that more foreign development, [more] foreign investments [pouring] into the nation, it is seen as a form of recognition of the nation, as well. And you can see that whenever the current government is in trouble, they always point out, "But you see the foreign investments are flowing!" So, I think that logically we must remember that foreign investments, money pouring in, that actually is a form of recognition, legitimization, or acknowledging the sovereignty of the state - that it has control over all these assets, territory, natural resources, it can give you a mining contract or it can lay open anything. So, it's a different kind of contract that we are witnessing, which I'm trying to point out: the economic rationalization which goes on.


[00:10:19.225] - Milan

You know, one of the most fascinating chapters of the book is when you explore who exactly the makers of this brand-new nation of the twenty-first century are, and you kind of locate these individuals in the domain of "anti-politics." So, these are apolitical, largely technocratic figures. They explicitly maintain a kind of arm's length distance from politics. Tell us more about who these brand-makers are, where they are located in the governmental power structure, and what gives them their power?


[00:10:51.535] - Ravinder

I have to say that, as someone who, like all of us, has read lessons in Indian history, we are used to thinking of the makers of the nation mainly as political figures, political activists, political leaders. But, in this case, the people I was meeting in the field, actually, none of them were politicians. And the interesting thing is that, you know, this anti-politics or anti-political stance is not something I made up - I mean, they would themselves say that "we are apolitical," and this is how they would introduce themselves: as people who are committed to the service of the nation.


And I think [this] also creates a certain kind of tension between a very commercial enterprise and at the same time talking about a selfless, nationalist cause, and the beautiful part of this - or the very interesting part - is that many bureaucrats or actually politicians that I would meet, they would go out of their way to describe themselves as not [politicians] to themselves. I mean, this is something - it's almost kind of an honorific title which has phased out. You know, I'm not going to name the people, I have anonymized everyone, but these are very well-known figures that I'm mentioning in my book. So, if you can play a little [word] jumble, you can figure out who those people are. And they would often be introduced as CEOs, and by "CEOs," I learned basically what they meant to say was that they bring some ethics or some sort of efficiency from the private sector which the government lacks.


[00:12:24.865] - Milan

By the way, I should just interject, this was very much part of the appeal of Prime Minister Modi when he made the jump from Gujarat chief minister to prime minister in 2013, 2014, right? He was trying to campaign on the back of a kind of CEO-like ethos, saying, you know, "I have gotten the state to function in a more efficient manner with better governance and a more hospitable investment climate, and if you bring my party to power, I promise to do that on a nationwide scale."


[00:12:55.935] - Ravinder

Right. You're totally right. But I have to say that it wasn't Mr. Modi who is the first CEO because that mantle was already taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And that is the first time we began encountering that there is the prime minister of the country [beginning] to be called CEO. Actually, there are books published with such titles at that time, and I think what came naturally to Mr. Manmohan Singh was that he wasn't a politician, but he was an economist, so somehow he comes with a certain kind of expert authority which politicians lack. So, we must also recognize that there is a wider context within which this is taking place, and this whole idea that government has no business to be in business. So, this whole notion that somehow government is symbolic of red tape and it is stopping development of the nation among the people, the nation-branders that I'm speaking about, this was deeply rooted [in them], and they basically were almost allergic to politicians or anyone closely connected [to them]. So, I think this field here - suddenly this public-private distinction that we operate in within political theory, it doesn't work at all because this is a new formation taking place where people who work for the government, they don't want to be seen as government bureaucrats, and people who are in the private sector, they are saying "No, but we are doing it for the nationalist cause." So, I think this is a new field which is emerging, which is literally technocrats, policy makers, designers, advertisers - a completely different set of people. So, I think the makers of this India are of a different variety.


[00:14:55.625] - Milan

So, Ravinder, I have to bring this conversation to Davos, this idyllic mountain town in Switzerland, which is the home, of course, of the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum. You describe in vivid terms - because you went there - the ways in which "brand India" was plastered everywhere. You see it on the sides of buses - and you have pictures, I should mention, in the book of many of these instances - to the sides of buildings, hotels, happy hours... For those who have not ever been to Davos, myself included, tell us a little bit about kind of what I would describe as almost like a love affair between, on the one hand, nationalist aspirations and, [on the other,] capitalist kind of dreamscapes. What does it actually look like? Here you are, Ravinder Kaur, the scholar, you show up in Davos... Paint us a picture of what you are taking in.


[00:15:47.525] - Ravinder

Well, I have to say that first of all, Davos, Klosters - I mean, these are two ski resorts for rich people, and these are old establishments, and sometime in the 1970s, 1980s, the World Economic Forum, which begins as actually a business enterprise in Zurich, [decided] to move to Davos. And it's a village with fancy cafes and shops and whatnot. But during that week every year in January, which is the third week of January, it is transformed into a different kind of marketplace. And that's what I'm trying to describe, because the same outlets that would normally function as shops or cafes, they are rented out at very high prices, actually, to different national governments. So, when you walk through the street, which is called "promenade," it is literally like "Invest Egypt," or "Malaysia: Truly Asia," or India, or South Africa, and then you get puzzled. What on earth is going on? And there are so many countries - all BRIC countries, by the way, are majorly present over there.


And so I think what you witness over here is that, surprisingly, in this very flat world of global capitalism, suddenly national identities become tremendously important because how is Malaysia going to pitch itself differently from South Africa or India, from Brazil or Egypt, and so on and so forth? So, this is contrary to everything that we have learned about the global capitalist era thus far. It is precisely those national cultural differences that begin to take root. 


And here I have to say, the field work that I've made - and I've been not once, but a few more times - you know, you are sitting among India's billionaires. It's a small place! So, you still go restaurants - I mean, you have to eat in the same places, so you see something quite interesting happening where the capitalist class of India, they basically speak the language of anticolonialism. Often, they speak about, you know, "We are beating the global capital at their own game by buying their companies," or basically the fact that Indian capital is so majorly present in such a global space is seen as that they are forging ahead with the international response. So, it seems like contrary to the whole notion of globalization versus nationalism, but this is where it makes a very strange kind of unlikely alliance.


[00:18:38.705] - Milan

I want to ask you about the case of "India Shining." This is a really interesting historical case which you go into some detail about. Most of us remember this from the early 2000s as the failed slogan of the BJP 2004 re-election campaign, in which the incumbent government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was defeated, making way for the first of these two terms by the Congress, the Manmohan Singh government. Take us back to the kind of early 2000s. Where did this branding idea of India Shining come from, and why do you think it flopped so badly? I mean, certainly the perception is out there that this was a political disaster for the incumbent BJP.


[00:19:22.025] - Ravinder

So, I think it was a disaster only when you think in electoral terms, in the sense that the BJP government lost the election, which is why people started talking about [how] the government has lost elections because of the India Shining campaign. But what I'm trying to show by going back into 2003 and 2004 is that, yes, the government may have collapsed, but the idea of India Shining or the new liberal reforms actually gained. And to make sense of this seemingly contradictory thing, we also have to go back to the counter-campaign, which was launched by the communist government, which, in Hindi, the campaign was called "Aam aadmi ko kya mila," which basically means, "what does the common men get?" So, basically, what I'm trying to show is that the very language of, "What do you get? What is your share?" that actually points to that, by now, after 10, 12 years of economic reforms, the idea that India must generate growth has become commonplace.


So, no one is actually contesting that anymore. By this time, the idea is, "But what am I getting out of it? What is my share of this?" So, I think this is one way to understand that the logic of belonging to the nation-state is no longer just, you know, that I belong to this nation or citizenship - the very idea of citizenship also is, "What is my share in this? What am I investing, and what are my returns on that investment?" And I think India Shining was tremendously interesting because it was actually launched by the Ministry of Finance, and it was launched basically to give a jolt to the Indian middle class, primarily because the idea is that the Indian middle class usually holds a lot of money in the form of dead assets, and if only those debt assets would be brought back into the economy, the circulation, more growth would be stimulated. And by the time, growth had started rising, and this campaign was launched primarily for the Indian audience to say that, "Look, India is doing very well, why don't you join the celebration, and why don't you invest in India, too?"


And this is the idea of the investor-citizen that I'm trying to bring up - that it is no longer just the foreign companies which are coming and investing, the entire citizenry is being invited to also invest in India. So, what seems like a fiasco - and indeed it was a fiasco in electoral terms - but at the same time, the idea, the logic that we must also grow, that I must also grow, that has become commonplace. And what I'm also trying to say is that, by the time, there were not many alternatives being offered. What else can be there? If not growth, then what else can be the solution? So, scan through all those old reports, and you don't find many [alternatives]. And this includes the Communist Party of India, by the way - even those commentators, they're speaking for distribution. They're not actually questioning the model of growth.


[00:22:55.355] - Milan

One of the things that's happening in parallel, Ravinder - and you get into this in the book as well - is this new kind of emerging markets grouping that became embedded, I think, in all of our popular imagination, this (what I think as kind of contrived) designation of the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China - sometimes the "S" stands for South Africa, although I don't think it was originally part of the formulation. This was a term coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs banker Jim O'Neill. When I think about this in retrospect - here we are in 2020 - I question how much resonance this term has anymore in the current political era. Of course, these countries have in some sense taken very different paths. We now see China and India fighting a hot war, basically, on the border; obviously, developments in Russia have gone their own way. Tell us a little bit about this kind of imagination of the BRICS. Do you think that it has any currency any longer?


[00:24:04.115] - Ravinder

I think it is losing its currency because BRICS is symbolic. Actually, it comes about precisely at a time when the idea of emerging markets has taken root, and the emerging markets idea has a much longer history already - from the 1980s onwards it becomes popularized - so BRIC or BRICS is something which is addressing the financial markets to say that, "Look, there are new investment hotspots where you can also make money," that the old third world is not just a hopeless case, you can also generate income there. And as we know, every major and minor investment bank, or banks in general, they actually started having emerging market funds, every bank has that, and funds began to be channeled. And at the same time, the movement of money and capital also meant that that the political power of these countries as a group which could negotiate also grew, and that also took shape of something called IPSA, which sought to become at least some sort of political collective. But by now we see - and especially during the pandemic - the fractures, which have always been there, but in this grouping, they have actually become very prominent. And mostly it has to do with China. 


And I think maybe we must pay attention to the fact that, on one hand, we have this whole Indo-Pacific question, and on the other side, we have this RCEP, the biggest trade deal which has been made and which, incidentally, includes two members of the Indo-Pacific, Australia and Japan also, which basically means that the whole scene - the geopolitical economic scene - is pretty much in flux, that if the older idea of the third world, of NAM, as this collective, which is going to negotiate with the industrialized world - that had taken root with the G77 and so on, and then it becomes BRICS, and now we're seeing that a very fractured scene, where we have the Indo-Pacific which is taking place on one hand and on the other hand this regional comprehensive economic treaty. So, I do not see how BRICS can become that collective that it wanted to become, especially given the position of China, which is increasingly seen with a lot of suspicion and hostility in many parts of the world.


[00:27:02.255] - Milan

I wanted to link back to something that we spoke about a couple of minutes ago on this issue of growth and GDP figures. One of the things I think the book does so well is it helps us understand how and why data, these new global rankings, they play such a large role in defining what this brand-new nation is about. And so you write at one point, "If there is a show-stopper in this routine spectacle of market attractiveness, it comes in the unlikely form of cold numbers: GDP growth rates and global business rankings." India has had, particularly in the last several years, a rather contested relationship with the GDP league tables, as you know, as well as these global rankings like the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index, which is probably the best known. What I'm struck by is when there are criticisms lodged, for instance, of India's GDP numbers and the method of recalculation, the method of back-casting old numbers, or criticisms of how the World Bank's index is constructed, whether or not India has gamed the system and so on and so forth, there is a ferocity of response. The ferociousness of the response coming from government entities - and you see this on social media, you see this in press statements, you see this in press conferences… Why is it the case that these somewhat arbitrary figures have become so central to the kind of crafting of India's image, not just externally, but also for domestic audiences as well?


[00:28:35.055] - Ravinder

I think this is the logic of the brand-new nation, where growth or growth numbers become so central to the identity, because what I've been trying to argue is that much of that identity rests on the ability to generate growth. So, GDP, of course, is a measure of that, and of course, everyone knows that GDP is heavily criticized - the methods, the ways in which [it is calculated], and GDP - what does it even tell us? GDP basically is the sum of the entire production and consumption in a nation. And leaving aside the bigger debates, the thing is that it is especially central to the growth rates in India. In India, GDP, in internal politics - I'm not speaking about the rest of the world - the rest of the world pays less attention to what India's GDP is than what happens in India. And the government actually is really - not just the Modi government - successive governments have been extremely focused on GDP numbers, which basically means that the focus is so badly on improving the ranking or a particular number that all kind of data... The focus is on how we can improve our ranking, you know?


So, the point here probably is about the notion that we need to generate good news all the time, and GDP or higher numbers become a signal of good news, [suggesting that] India is doing pretty well, and the efficiency of the government is constantly measured on that, how well they have performed. And as you know, during the pandemic, when the news came that India's GDP has been sliding down very badly, nearly a quarter of the GDP was lost, and now we are in negative numbers, quite like the recession. So, that is actually seen as a performance report card. So, how is the CEO of this company doing? How profitable is this company? So, I think, in that sense, no one really understands what figures are all about or how they are calculated, but the number itself becomes literally the fetishized object of public debate.


[00:30:51.345] - Milan

One of the things that this links to is this conversation which is everywhere in India today about this idea of a "New India." The prime minister talks about it a lot: he talks about it in terms of his vision for better sanitation and potable water; he talks about the need to construct a new India in reference to India's role abroad, not as a balancing power, but a leading power; he talks about it in terms of his vision for a five trillion-dollar economy by the year 2024. It is a constant trope in his speeches and across his social media accounts. You note in the book that this idea of a "New India" is not very new - in fact, it goes back to the '91 reforms. What I found totally interesting, and I had no knowledge of it, is that it actually goes back to developments in the mid-19th century. Tell us a little bit about this past, relatively unknown life of this concept of the "New India."


[00:31:49.785] - Ravinder

I have to say it was exactly the same for me when I began doing this research. I would get into the archives, and I would expect everything from the 1990s to come up, and instead I began reading documents from the mid-19th century, and it was a great puzzle for me as well. And what you could see, obviously - of course, I began tracing the shifts, like how the idea of new or novelty, how that has been reproduced, produced in different ways over a century and a half or so. The origin of this term, when people begin to speak about renewal of India, that [had] much to do with [the fact] that India is becoming part of the empire. And, [as often happened], "New India" - the part which is under the imperial rule - [was pitted against] the princely states because the princely states were seen as a little bit more feudal and backward, whereas now this new India is moving towards modernity because it is plugged into the world economy through the imperial route. And that was one notion. 


At the same time, we must not forget that 19th century is also the age of social reforms, that modernity was also expressed in such ways, and these are colonial enterprises. And then, of course, "New India" was also a terminology with freedom fighters - activists who are demanding independence, they are also using this. And there's just a whole lot of literature - actually, there was a newspaper produced at the turn of the century, last century, called New India as well. And by the time, of course, when Jawaharlal Nehru makes a speech in India at midnight in August 1947, he is indeed speaking about the birth of New India. But the '90s come, and by that time, it is no longer about political freedoms - we are speaking about economic freedoms. And this is something which is expressed on and off about, as you know, the "second independence struggle" or the "second liberation," where it is no longer the political freedoms but economic freedoms that we are speaking about. So, I think these are the shifts that "New India" continues to evolve into.


[00:34:11.265] - Milan

I want to bring this conversation to a close by asking you to reflect on something that comes up towards the end of the book where you, in kind of wrapping up your discussion of the brand-new nation, talk about the fact that these global capital flows that we're discussing, they are seen to be the promise that activates India's old civilizational glory, and [that they are] going to somehow renew its cultural nationalism in the twenty-first century. And I was reflecting on this in the context of today's politics, where there is clearly, it seems to me, a tension between the ruling BJP and their branding agents, on the one hand, and organizations like the RSS and the Sangh Parivar, its affiliates, who maintain a more nativist orientation. And you can see the push and pull of this discussion and dialogue in government policymaking. But if this brand-new nation is to continue in the way in which it has developed over the last quarter century or more, how stable is this equilibrium, given the fact that the ruling party does have these two very different constituencies that it has to please? It has to please a more market-oriented, globalization-friendly, investor-friendly middle class; on the other hand, it has an ideological, "kaadar"-based organization that is very powerful. You and I both know that at the end of the day, it is really the latter that is what goes out and wins you elections, and so how do you think about how the current dispensation [of the "brand-new nation"] navigates this territory?


[00:35:54.015] - Ravinder

I think one thing that we have already been speaking about is that, in surprising ways, the flow of global capital has also really energized the nationalist feelings. And that was already there during the Congress time, also, except the difference was that no one was speaking about nationalism, but [instead] in terms of a secular nation. So, that begins to shift sometimes under the current ruling party. But what I'm also trying to argue is that what at first seems like a contradiction between a very liberal ideology and expressions of illiberalism - like, you point to nativist notions - actually, in surprising ways, they somehow are re-energized. That's what I'm trying to show: the revitalization of the homeland, that the more money flows, the more it is interpreted as a reaffirmation of the nation's cultural ascent, that we are we are the productive people. 


I mean, pay attention to the fact that when Mr. Modi went to the World Economic Forum two years ago and he made his speech, a lot of people were very puzzled that he wasn't actually speaking much of economic policy at the World Economic Forum. He's actually speaking about Indian civilizational culture. He's speaking about the greatness of India. I remember a lot of commentators were deeply puzzled - "why is this even happening?" The point is, here you have a captive audience, which is the world's movers and shakers who are present basically because they see India as an opportunity, as an economic opportunity - they don't care for much else - but at the same time, Mr. Modi then captures that opportunity to speak about India's cultural ascent.


So, I think, in that sense, what is important is the kind of bargain that is being made and how capital becomes a fuel which can be channeled in many different ways. But, in this case, it has been channeled to re-energize what would at first seem the nativist forces, in this case, Hindu nationalists. So, I think this is where the liberal-illiberal categorization which we have become familiar with [doesn't] make sense because a liberal economy can perfectly co-habit with illiberal politics. So, I think this is the thing, because, you know, the triumph of liberalism - we were told that all freedoms go together, or a liberal economy will stir up - it has not happened, neither in China nor in Russia nor in many other places in the world. So, I think this is what we need to accept, that the liberal and illiberal categories can coexist.


[00:38:58.175] - Milan

My guest on the show today is Ravinder Kaur. She's the author of the book Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India. Here's what John Comaroff of Harvard had to say about the book: he calls it a "tour de force... of the changing trajectory of the nation-state: specifically, its transformation from a liberal democratic polity into a business enterprise underpinned by the neoliberal faith in the capacity of markets to produce utopian futures." Ravinder, this was a fabulous book. I was really heartened to see it on Martin Wolf's bestseller list. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, and good luck with the rest of the book release.


[00:39:34.205] - Ravinder

Thank you so much.