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Monday, November 21, 2005

The Argumentative Pakistani

In The Nation, Tariq Ali gently upbraids Amartya Sen for his thesis in The Argumentative Indian:

"Given the title of Sen's book, it would be churlish to prove him wrong by simply nodding in approval, as is so often the case in our wonderful subcontinent. What follows, then, from this argumentative Pakistani is the expression of a few doubts concerning his central thesis and the odd complaint with regard to some omissions....Can the lineages of modern Indian democracy be traced back to the holy texts, as Sen suggests? And does the affection of ordinary citizens for democracy have any material (as opposed to mystical) links to the arguments once heard by Buddha or King Ashoka (273-232 B.C.), let alone the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605)?

"... Ancient India produced great poets, philosophers and playwrights, along with art forms, gods and goddesses to match anything on offer in Athens, but it did not give birth to an Aristotle. And nothing remotely resembling the Assembly in Athens or the Senate in Rome arose on the subcontinent. Surely this must reflect some deficiency. Despite arguments within the elite and some wonderful expressions of skepticism cited by Sen, the demos was kept under strict control throughout Indian history. Uprisings threatening the status quo were brutally crushed by Hindu and Muslim ruler alike. Superstition and irrationality were institutionalized via a network of priestly domination."


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