The Indian Economy Blog

August 14, 2007

Puncture Mishra (Bongopondit edition)

Bongop’o'ndit rips apart another Pankaj Mishra article:

Pankaj Mishra writes an opinion piece for Outlook’s India at 60 issue , seemingly cautioning on excessive championing of and reveling in India’s current resurgence at the cost of insensitivity to myriad problem that still plague the country. I say seemingly because that’s how he starts, and then meanders along without meaning much, while ending with a totally different point.

Mishra’s initial contention is that much of the current western world press are feeding a mistaken delusion of India’s potential to be a global economic, political and even cultural superpower (replacing the US). This he claims, is in the self-interest of Americans and that as Indians we should not avoid reality-checks (he even goes as far as to suggest that India will never really be able to achieve US’s geopolitical hegemony, and therefore should not aspire to). Finally, in an act that could only be described as self-fellatio, he claims that the ‘intelligentsia’ (such as him) are the only ones that can protect India from impeding doom of future development!

I could point out everything that’s wrong with the picture, but let’s just say that I have no issues with parts of Mishra’s theory: India faces numerous problems (particularly in public health and infrastructure) such that one should not get carried away by hyperboles. Unfortunately, by attacking a straw man of chauvinistic nationalism, Mishra is being intellectually dishonest. [Recurring Decimals]

Here’s an older fisking of Mishra

21 Comments »

  1. Pankaj Mishra must be another commie. The article was so stupid that i closed the webpage after reading the first paragraph.

    Just check the similarities between what he says and what the other commie cartoons like Bardhan, Karat, Surjeet (the monkey gang) say. These are the people who find great comfort in wallowing in self pity.

    Comment by Full2njoy — August 14, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

  2. Oops…my blog link in the previous post was typed wrong. Iam game for a good fight in case anyone wants to chase me for my comments. ;)

    http://philip9876.wordpress.com

    Comment by Full2njoy — August 14, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  3. I dont think one needs to be so offensive about an article which really help to open the eyes of of our governmnet and one which is really giving in careful direction to the much hot topics these days.

    And i beleive that India should not concentrate on being an superpower at the cost of social imbalance.First it needs to lot of work inside and then try proving other about its potential.

    Comment by Viplav Dave — August 14, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  4. Dear Viplav,

    Do you really think that the eyes of our government are closed to the many problems?

    And what do you think makes a superpower, for you to argue that India should not try to be one?

    Comment by Nitin — August 14, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

  5. In a free democratic country, everyone has a right to his opinion – we folks at the IEB or Bongop’o’ndit need not be as dogmatic as the Commies themselves. One of the reasons US is a superpower is free exchange of ideas. Let us not gloat over scoring petty brownie points over anyone. A healthy debate encompassing diverse viewpoints is what we all seek.

    Was it Voltaire who said that “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Comment by Pragmatic — August 14, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  6. Dear Viplav,

    Do you really think that the eyes of our government are closed to the many problems?

    And what do you think makes a superpower, for you to argue that India should not try to be one?

    Comment by Nitin — August 14, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

    Yes certainly, dont you think so ?

    Comment by Viplav Dave — August 14, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  7. First of all, the success of the Indian economy extends far beyond IT – perhaps Mishra would care to explain how just 1.3 mn people and a 30 bn dollar industry can make a 1 trillion (1000 bn) dollar economy grow at 7%! And how rural consumption patterns are increasingly converging to urban patterns post-1991 (refer to NCAER reports).

    Second, the problems that India faces are discussed by pretty much every piece of serious analytical work. Even in Time, Economist and Newsweek. But no where is there evidence to suggest that these are insurmountable challenges.

    Granted that these are difficult and massive challenges. But given the things happening all around us it should not prevent us from atleast aspiring to be a superpower. What’s wrong with it, for heaven’s sake?

    Comment by Photonman — August 14, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

  8. Pankaj Mishra is a very important public intellectual we’ve got. If you dont know what superman or ubermensch means, step into some light and, go read Nietzche. People who dont get Mishra dont know India and are just wankering in their attics. Given the title of this blog there wont be a dearth of it I suppose.

    Comment by Jagadish — August 14, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  9. Dear Viplav

    Then I’d argue that your thinking is not based on facts. I’d like to refer you to the UPA government’s common minimum programme (note: PDF file); accessible on the prime minister’s website:

    Here’s something from the very first page:


    to preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce
    the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and
    fundamentalist elements who seek to disturb social amity and
    peace.

    to ensure that the economy grows at least 7-8% per year in a
    sustained manner over a decade and more and in a manner that
    generates employment so that each family is assured of a safe
    and viable livelihood.

    to enhance the welfare and well-being of farmers, farm labour
    and workers, particularly those in the unorganized sector and
    assure a secure future for their families in every respect.
    to fully empower women politically, educationally,
    economically and legally.

    to provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in
    education and employment for scheduled castes, scheduled
    tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.

    to unleash the creative energies of our entrepreneurs,
    businessmen, scientists, engineers and all other professionals
    and productive forces of society.

    Comment by Nitin — August 14, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  10. Jagadish,

    I should have known! The solution lies in Nietzsche—tragedy as an affirmation of life.

    Comment by Nitin — August 14, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  11. I only hope you understand what he means by “superman never returns”

    Comment by Jagadish — August 14, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

  12. Jagadish,

    Like the Bongopondit, I don’t understand. Too hi-phi. (I hope you won’t accuse me of spending too much time in the attic.)

    But do explain.

    Comment by Nitin — August 14, 2007 @ 7:44 pm

  13. Nitin,

    Your previous response tripped me into thinking you ‘knew’ Nietzsche. Not being aware of your depth of literary knowledge, I dont know where to start. It might be as impossible as trying to explain normative aspects of Kaldor-Hicks efficiency to a fifth grader or as absurd as trying to teach you multiplication tables.

    This being an economics blog let us not press on further. I do appreciate the blog though not agree with everything it says.

    Comment by Jagadish — August 14, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  14. Jagadish: ‘People who dont get Mishra dont know India and are just wankering in their attics’.

    Really? Does Mishra know India, atleast?

    I tell you what Pankaj Mishra’s problem is – he’s not interested in empirical data. He is merely trying to look at reality through colored glasses.

    Comment by Photonman — August 14, 2007 @ 11:16 pm

  15. It’s classic Pankaj Mishra. Nice to know people like Jagadish think he’s public intellectual.

    “It might be as impossible as trying to explain normative aspects of Kaldor-Hicks efficiency to a fifth grader or as absurd as trying to teach you multiplication tables.”

    That’s right it’s impossible explain philosophy based on made up stats and jaundice eyes to fifth grader because fifth grader have simple questions – What? Why? and How? (a fifth grader is very curious and data dependent.) But then left wing public intellectual don’t need facts: even while praising a mass murderer like Mao for his cultural revolution (at least he tried or didn’t go far enough) they have problems with free markets and incentives that eventually solves real problems.

    In any case, Pankaj Mishra is increasingly the Bharatiya face to western readers and listeners. Because he lives in London, left leaning, and apparently can quote people like Nietzsche (ie he can write English that western intellectuals can relate to), is much sort after by the western media, and, by default, by our own media to explain us to ourselves! God help us when we get dumb questions about ourselves when we interact with westerners.

    Comment by Chandra — August 15, 2007 @ 12:08 am

  16. Yesterday CNN-IBN had a news article on how the retail revolution has changed the dynamics of the farmer’s lives. How the middlemen have been sidelined and the farmers are finally getting their due. How companies like ITC, Bharti, Reliance, Pepsi etc are paying more than 100% of what the govt or the middleman used to pay them earlier. Also these companies today come to the farms and pick up the produce themselves saving the farmer precious resources. Also the farmers are paid in advance for their produce.

    Am looking for the article. Will post it once i find it.

    Everything that the commies have tried to scuttle or oppose has indeed resulted in great news for India. Telecom, Airport privatisation, Private airlines, Insurance, IT/BPO and related industries, Retail.

    Show me one issue that the commies have opposed where they were ultimately proven right and i will run naked on the road ;)

    I wonder if these commies get any money from China/Pakistan to further their agenda? I think the govt need to have a serious investigation on this issue.

    And Pankaj Mishra is just another commie who simply needs to be ignored.

    Comment by Full2njoy — August 15, 2007 @ 6:04 am

  17. i guess tech coolie crowd doesn’t appreciate self-examination as Mr Mishra does often.
    If you look at the macro number for india,it will make the indian hype machine look either delusional or plain stupid.
    coolie crowd is towing good luggage but look out: the mumbai-madras express could get derailed.

    Comment by andiron — August 18, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  18. It’s not so easy to envisage the future events. It becomes apparent that Mishra lacks depth as he fails to rise beyong the problems of our country. The evalution of a nation for super power status is very complex and any person who looked at the pace with which India has been changing will never dare to question such aspiration. The clout India will enjoy doesnt solelely rest on limited criteria.

    Comment by vekat — August 18, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  19. Andiron,

    Wonder what happened to such niceties as good manners, respect for people who do honest work for a living, dignity of labour and suchlike.

    ‘Coolie’ is not a derogatory term from my perspective. You’ll have to pick better words for that. But isn’t it amusingly ironical that those who would accuse others of a lack of introspection should also look down on ‘coolies’?

    Finally, wrong metaphor. Derailments don’t hurt coolie incomes. They often enhance them.

    Comment by Nitin — August 18, 2007 @ 8:33 pm

  20. Andiron says “i guess tech coolie crowd doesn’t appreciate self-examination as Mr Mishra does often….”

    Fact check:

    Inaccurary #1: Exactly who are you to as “tech coolies”? If it’s the contributors on IEB and if by “tech coolie” you mean folks in the IT/ BPO space, you’re wrong — very few of the IEB contributors are in that sector.

    Inaccuracy #2: Re lack of “self-examination”: What exactly do you think IEB’s been writing about then? You’ve certainly spent enough time on our site (we’ve been priviliged to read many of your wonderful comments in the past). Did you actually bother reading any of the posts?

    Comment by Prashant — August 19, 2007 @ 5:44 am

  21. Andiron says “If you look at the macro number for india,it will make the indian hype machine look either delusional or plain stupid.”

    May be you should first look that what the macro numbers are before you conclude that it’s all hype.

    By presuming that it’s only the IT/BPO ‘tech coolies’ who’re rejoicing, pray get out of your living room and look at what’s *really* happening. Facts may be unpalatable to an armchair ideologue such as yourself, but then that’s how most medicines are to a patient!

    btw, What’s wrong if anyone is a ‘tech coolie’? After all, all brick and mortar companies hire *real* coolies! In a sense every employee is a ‘coolie’ in some sense. I can see that you’re quite unaware about how industry work, and what the job market are all about.

    Comment by Photonman — August 20, 2007 @ 5:09 am

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