India: A Wounded Civilization

India has made a lot of progress in the years since V.S Naipaul wrote India: A Wounded Civilization in 1977. But three recent articles in The Economist demonstrate that, at least in a political sense, India is moving in the same direction as China.

Recall how Xi Jinping responded to Hong Kong election outcomes that he did not like by abolishing the (very limited) democracy in that city-state. Now India’s central government has done the same with New Delhi:

When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, stripped Kashmir of its statehood in 2019, most Indians cheered. . . .

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an academic and columnist for the Indian Express, a national newspaper, was one of the few to raise misgivings. A government that gleefully twisted the law and suspended local democracy in one place could surely do the same in another. Mr Modi proposed to “Indianise” Kashmir, noted Mr Mehta. “Instead, what we will see is potentially the Kashmirisation of India.”

Sooner and closer to home than anyone expected, Mr Mehta’s prediction has come to pass. On March 22nd Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rushed a bill through the lower house of parliament to strip the elected government of Delhi, the capital, of much of its power and hand this instead to the lieutenant-governor, an official who represents the central government. 

Freedom of speech is also taking a beating:

Despite running what is often hailed as the world’s biggest democracy, [India] has gained a taste for curtailing freedom before speech.

Just ask Siddique Kappan, a journalist who has been detained since October under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. His sin was to have been caught driving towards Hathras, a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Other reporters had gathered there to cover the alleged gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman by upper-caste men. Mr Kappan never reached the village of the 19-year-old victim, whose family assert that state police sided with her alleged killers, to the point of seizing and cremating her brutalised corpse to conceal the evidence. On the defensive, police have claimed a wider conspiracy to cause caste conflict. They accuse Mr Kappan, arrested at a highway toll booth, of “intent” to stir up trouble of this sort.

Human rights in India’s villages (where most of its people live) are appallingly bad. But things are also getting worse in the universities:

In another move to pre-empt open discussion of touchy issues, the foreign ministry has imposed new rules on academic conferences. In addition to the existing, stringent scrutiny of foreigners invited to conventional events, it will now require state-run institutes and universities to seek prior permission from the ministry for any online conference or seminar “clearly related to India’s internal matters”. Professors may soon find it harder to travel abroad, too. Police in the state of Uttarakhand have announced that henceforth, anyone they deem to have posted “anti-national” content on the internet will not get a passport. Not to be outdone, police in Bihar say that anyone who joins a protest can forget ever having a government job or contract—a jarring rule in a country that won independence through peaceful protest.

The article also details how the internet is being selectively shutdown to prevent protesters from organizing, again a technique pioneered in Kashmir. Kashmir is to India what Xinjiang is to China. The parallels are increasingly frightening.

A third article points out that India’s police are active participants in Modi’s anti-Muslim policies. It also explained that Modi’s virulent Hindu nationalism has deep roots:

It is a shame that India, as a republic, increasingly seems to set aside its own original and excellent toolkit, namely its constitution of 1950. The divergence has been a long and slow process, but there is little doubt it is speeding up. One hint as to why may have been revealed by the culture ministry, which on February 19th, for the first time ever, issued an official tribute to “The Profound Thinker” M.S. Golwalkar, an early leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or rss, the mothership of the Hindu nationalist movement and progenitor of the BJP. Among other controversial views, Mr Golwalkar believed that Nazi Germany’s management of its Jewish problem “represented a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”. He was not happy with India’s constitution either, judging its makers “not firmly rooted in the conviction of our single homogeneous nationhood”. His call for a change of toolkit has found a powerful audience.

As soon as next year India may surpass China in population. After a few more decades, the gap will grow to hundreds of millions of people. Let’s hope the world’s largest democracy doesn’t become the world’s largest dictatorship.



32 Responses to “India: A Wounded Civilization”

  1. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    29. April 2021 at 11:23

    It is scary to contemplate that maybe megacountries like India and China are simply unable to function as liberal democracies.

    A side comment on Hong Kong, while it’s regrettable to watch China crack down on HK, this should be no surprise to any of us, including HKers. When the British handed HK back to China in 1997, China promised to treat HK as a separate, different system for 50 years. We’re now about half way there and they are beginning to crack down. By 2047 HK will be the same as any other Chinese city and we’ve known this would be the outcome for a long time. So I just don’t see the point of the resistance, this was always the endgame.

  2. Gravatar of luigi luigi
    29. April 2021 at 23:33

    It’s not just India.

    Twitter and Facebook, along with quasi banking institutions such as stripe, are now banning their clients for simply holding a difference of opinion. The USA is in much worse shape than India.

    The failure of democracy is clear: in the past, there were fewer universities and fewer academics. To get a PhD, one needed uncommon intelligence, passion for their discipline, and they needed to actually read – voraciously – beyond classroom study. Today, one can receive a PhD from “x state university” as long as their heart is still beating!

    From the promotion of racist pseudo scientific theories, like critical race theory, to the outlandish COVID fear mongering, their is clearly more untruth than truth! Some of this has to do with PhD paper mills – giving credentials to low IQ amateurs has historically been a terrible idea – and some of it, of course, has to do with one’s desire to push a dishonest and biased narrative upon the plebes!

  3. Gravatar of Iskander Iskander
    30. April 2021 at 00:01

    In many ways this is just the will of the majority expressing itself for the first time. The first 50 years of independence was the anglophile elite in charge.

    The funny thing is that many of the myths of the new generation of Indian nationalism are derived from those invented by the older nationalism in order to discredit the British.

    The Myths of the Indian independence movement still predominate among journalists and many in the west, I wish they could tell the Punjabis and Bengalis after partition, or the Biharis killed by communal riots whipped up by politicans in the 1940s, that India “won independence through peaceful protest.”

  4. Gravatar of David S David S
    30. April 2021 at 01:43

    Dictatorship or populist theocracy? India doesn’t seem to have the apparatus of China when it comes authoritarianism—mass surveillance, a tightly knit cadre of leadership, centralized planning, etc…
    Modi comes across a bit like Jim Jones; definitely not as focused as Xi and more reliant on on cult dynamics.

    Iskander makes a good point. A majority, or a highly motivated minority, can herd a nation to disaster. The pandemic might undo Modi, or make him even stronger.

  5. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    30. April 2021 at 05:05

    Not sure if it is wounded, but they have had too much of a socialist orientation for too long. And they have always been fixated on having an ant-Muslim orientation, like China and Russia, but most of that is between they and Pakistan. Might make it more dangerous—-or certainly does—-but it’s being external makes it a different situation.

    China must be the most complex nation in world history. If for no other reason than the many dynasties that have existed and their incredibly long history. And as irritating as the CPP is, how much as a percent of investment is Govt driven? Half? US wants to catch up —as Biden explicitly used Tom Friedman as a guide. Yet they also have a large portion which is Wild West capitalism. The ethnic Chinese have always dominated business in Asia, ex-Japan. We cannot do what China does—first, they are bad at Govt directed activity—-but we are worse.

    No, India’s problem on the margin is their class structure, massive embedded bureaucracy, its nature planted there by England, and it’s socialist oriented nation. They are throwing some nationalism into the mix——-but their other issues are worse.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. April 2021 at 05:54

    Michael, It’s not just external–there are more than 200 million Muslims within India.

  7. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    30. April 2021 at 06:37

    What would cause ordinary people in India to turn away from Hindutva? Why is it attractive in the first place?

  8. Gravatar of Anonymous Anonymous
    30. April 2021 at 12:02

    They should never have returned HK to the Chinese. They should have given it democratic self-rule and said “in 2047 we will take a vote and they will join China if the majority wants it”

  9. Gravatar of bb bb
    30. April 2021 at 13:34

    I find this very sad. In the 2000s, India looked like it could be a model country. A huge and incredibly diverse country that somehow manages to have functioning democracy. Modi is a monster. There does seem to be a rise in fascism across the world. I think it’s more productive to think of China as fascist than communist at this point. I think we dodged a bullet with Trump. Hopefully this trend reverses soon.

  10. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. April 2021 at 20:12

    The emerging dictatorship in India might still be pretty far from China. But it is true that the current trend is moving away from democracy and more in the direction of the Chinese model.

    The reasons for this are not entirely clear to me. One reason might be a representation problem. Democracy is very often a top-down approach by some elites.

    I don’t feel represented by German parties anymore either. They mostly contain only professional politicians who have never had a real job in their entire lives. Once in power, they govern closely together with full-time political activists, benevolently supported by pseudo journalists who have to be force-funded via a tax-like monthly levy.

    Perhaps the perceived differences are not as great as we think. Maybe quite some people think for themselves: If it already feels like a dicatorship, then you might as well elect one, but one where you very roughly have the feeling that it at least partially represents some of your own views and interests.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. May 2021 at 06:47

    bb, You said:

    “I think it’s more productive to think of China as fascist than communist at this point.”

    I completely agree.

  12. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    1. May 2021 at 15:18

    I wouldn’t have predicted 20 years ago that the democratization of information through social media would correlate with increasingly authoritarian governments, but there’s a logic to it. The democratization of information is eroding trust in authority ( see Martin Gurri’s, “Revolt of the Public”). If a government is closed and incompetent(see Egypt) it will be in deep trouble because it will both be incapable of solving problems and unable to hide that fact because of its incompetence while pissing people off with its repression. If it is open and incompetent, it will have the struggles of incompetence minus the resentment for suppression( see the US and India). If it is closed and competent (aka China) it will piss people off for suppressing them and hurt itself long term by losing adaptability but will otherwise benefit from fewer reasons for challenges to authority plus fewer forums from which to challenge authority. If it is open and competent it will get the traditional benefits of openness plus suffer fewer withering attacks on its competence. Governments are left with the very hard choice of becoming more competent or the easier choice of becoming more closed off in their effort to stay in power.

  13. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. May 2021 at 19:06

    I think it’s more productive to think of China as fascist than communist at this point.

    The vast majority of people seem to have forgotten what fascism really means. A fascist glorifies war. War is a political method for a fascist. And it is not just any political method, but the most desirable of them all. This means that a fascist, given several political options, always chooses war. This means that a fascist puts all economic activity into war preparations. Think of a fascist as sort of a modern viking. A fascist cannot live without raids and war.

    So Scott either predicts that China is planning a major war, first completing the Anschluss of Hong Kong, then an invasion of Taiwan. And then it will continue like this forever. All other peoples are just barbarians and subhumans to be enslaved or at least controlled. Scott is either predicting that or he just has no idea what fascism means – like so many other people these days.

    I doubt that most people can evaluate competence in an objective way, everyone understands it differently anyway. But people can certainly evaluate whether their opinion is represented or not. Maybe opinions and milieus are more fragmented today than in the past, this seems possible.

    In the infinite sea of information, framing and controlling people may actually be easier. Serious criticism and opposition may be out there, but they are not heard when drowned in a sea of nonsense.

  14. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    1. May 2021 at 21:35

    @Christian List
    I agree that competence is hard to define, but I think a government will generally be seen as competent if it increases prosperity and generally maintains peace but wins wars when forced to fight.

    You make an interesting point about the relative simplicity of drowning out signals when there is a sea of noise.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. May 2021 at 07:36

    Yes Christian, only you know what fascism “really means”.

  16. Gravatar of Wonks Anonymous Wonks Anonymous
    2. May 2021 at 08:29

    You messed up your “deep roots” link. I think you meant to link to this:

  17. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    2. May 2021 at 10:41

    @Christian List

    It’s not an ‘Anschluss’ of Hong Kong. The British handed it to them and the Chinese said in 50 years it’s not any different anymore.

    Also, ssumner is correct, you aren’t the arbiter of what that word means.

    The dictionary doesn’t even mention ‘war’:

    By that definition I think China qualifies, certainly more so than calling China ‘communist’, which they aren’t anymore.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. May 2021 at 15:56

    Wonks, Thanks, I fixed the link.

  19. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. May 2021 at 14:11


    I certainly didn’t mean it in that way. I was trying to understand what you meant. For at least 1-2 years you have been referring to CCP China as fascist rather than communist. What do you even mean by that? What is supposed to have changed?

    I just wondered if it has a deeper meaning or if it is as arbitrary as the definition msgkings linked. You’re quite the China dove, so it’s pretty interesting that you’re calling CCP China fascist now. But words should have meaning.

    I suppose CCP China is the first fascist country that does not want to bring alleged territories “heim ins Reich”. It is the first fascist country that does not plan invasions and does not dream of a great empire through territorial expansion like back in the old days. Okay then. But then why call it fascist in the first place. You cannot call something black and then act as if it’s not black.

    Thanks for your answer. Unfortunately, in many parts of Europe it is now even disputed what prosperity increases mean and how they are to be measured. Perhaps this is a sign of the new age: the different political camps increasingly disagree about what simple terms actually mean and how we are to describe reality with them.

    This is the most meaningless definition of fascism one can come up with ever. Where is the difference to communism? Communism does not exalt the nation above the individual? Where is the difference to any dictatorship for that matter? Hell this point is even true for America.

    The British handed the Sudetenland, the Memelland, and the rest of Czechoslovakia over as well by the way. Maybe they are good at handing things over.

  20. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    3. May 2021 at 15:07


    Not sure why you enjoy being intentionally obtuse on this site. Here’s the differences with communism:

    The man differences seem to involve common ownership vs private ownership. But yes, both systems share many similarities. And one can have a communist dictatorship or a fascist dictatorship, or even a dictatorship that is neither.

    And the British were returning HK to China. Pretty different from laying down for Hitler in 1938. Are you suggesting they should never have returned their imperial possessions to the locals?

  21. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    3. May 2021 at 20:34

    I like Christian Lists attempt to be precise about the use of the word “fascist”, and to try to see if it is referring to fascism as it actually existed and was practiced during the 20th century. Frankly I dislike use of the word, as I think it used pejoratively by anglophones on the political left very imprecisely, much like anglophones on the political right have shorn the word “socialism” of having much of any meaning.

  22. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    3. May 2021 at 21:21

    @Lizard Man:

    But the topic was China. Based on what those words are seen as meaning by the dictionary and convention, is China a fascist or communist country?

  23. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    4. May 2021 at 09:08

    I have been using fascist to describe China for 20 years because it is authoritarian, nationalistic and has a supervised economy that allows private ownership of capital. That said, I think one of the greatest questions of our time is whether China will end up manifesting the other major trait of the great fascist powers of the last century: militarism. So far they haven’t been militarily adventuresome especially when you consider the size of their economy. I hope China stays that way. By assuming China is or will inevitably become so, we risk creating the situation we are trying to avoid.
    For now China can be seen as proposing a Westphalian foreign policy counter vision to America’s liberal vision of the world. They are not proposing a militaristic counter vision. To some extent it is a healthy counterweight to an America that lost its sense of humility after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We are not going to convince anyone of the superiority of a liberal world order when we’re invading countries “for their own good” while we’re running up massive debts and tearing each other apart at home.

  24. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    4. May 2021 at 10:43


    Well said, +1

  25. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    4. May 2021 at 15:03

    I’m not being intentionally obtuse. I just don’t think that the partial private ownership of capital is the defining idea of fascism. Defining communism is easy, you really don’t need a link to do it.

    My point was that you can’t distinguish fascism from other non-communist dictatorships in a good way. You just don’t have a good distinction if you only define it in economistic terms.

    It sounded to me as if any non-communist dictatorship is basically “fascist” in Scott’s and your eyes – that’s indeed how the term is basically use in many circles today – and even when it is completely ahistorical, as in the case of CCP China. A country that calls itself communist and worships Marx and Mao at every corner.

    It doesn’t make much sense to call it fascist, especially since fascism is characterized by strict anti-communism and a certain closeness to Catholicism (or at least another religion).

    It might make some sense if you and Scott wanted to emphasize the warmongering conquest culture of fascism, but you explicitly don’t want to do that. So it doesn’t make much sense from my point of view.

    CCP China is simply an evolution of communism. They even say that about themselves. You wouldn’t say of Hitler either, oh no, you’re not a fascist at all, we got another name for you. Doesn’t make much sense.

    I have been using fascist to describe China for 20 years because it is authoritarian, nationalistic and has a supervised economy that allows private ownership of capital.

    You are a great guy. You don’t speculate on the motivation of others, you just answer the question and cut straight to the case. I really like this definition, it’s thoughtful, short and specific. It makes sense.

    I still wouldn’t say that CCP China is fascist, from its historical development and so on, but your definition is certainly not wrong.

    Add to that the militarism and the planned invasion of Taiwan and it is very reminiscent of fascism, no question.

    Not calling it militaristic is probably a mistake. It has such a large army, massively deployed internally, it is an important means of policy, one of the most important ones, not to mention its arsenal of missiles at medium range, where it overtakes even Russia and America, but this is rarely mentioned.

    Calling CCP China fascist is a great idea for tactical reasons though, because by that the “liberal” half of America starts to see CCP China critically as well: Hey, it’s against fascists and who isn’t against fascism?

    It’s a strategic demonization, and I’m just fascinated that Scott supports it. Alright then, go on.

  26. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    4. May 2021 at 15:53


    There’s nothing Marxist or even Maoist about today’s China, and you know this. No matter what words they use.

    Basically we’re all arguing over vocabulary words here. What does it matter what label we put on China? You’ve consistently been a poster who considers China a threat, never relenting in attacking ssumner for being ‘soft’ on them, so why do you care if they are called fascist or communist or whatever?

    They are the only other superpower in the world, and they must be engaged with and carefully dealt with. I think we can all agree on that.

  27. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    4. May 2021 at 20:30


    I think that it actually matters how Chinese elites try to justify their rule and whether they describe themselves as socialist, because that has a big impact on what people within China expect both from the government and in their lives. Socialist thought still influences the thinking of party cadres. Xi’s chief rival for leadership of the party had started to revive the singing of songs from the 50’s and 60’s, had also expanded the role of the government in providing housing to the urban poor, and had functionally started raising taxes to pay for improved services and housing. Recently, the party has been trumpeting their success in eliminating extreme material deprivation. The party’s explicit goal is to create a “moderately prosperous” society in the near future, with the understanding that the prosperity will be very broadly shared. The Party focuses on the material world in a way that is at the very least a strong inheritance from Marxism, and unlike traditionally defined fascists, they don’t really focus on a spiritual or cultural rejuvenation of the country.

  28. Gravatar of Greg Greg
    4. May 2021 at 21:22

    It’s really funny that people here argue how to label China, whether it’s fascist or communist, and can’t seem to decide it is either one. There is even no consensus on whether China is militaristic or not. In the end, it appears to converge on it doesn’t matter as long as we can demonize China. LOL.

    India is jealous of China. Since Modi came to power, it doesn’t even hide its intention to emulate China, from Special Economic Zone, to Made by India, Belt and Road, global supply chain alternative, and vaccine diplomacy. It wants everything China has and is. The problem is that India is not China and can never become China. For that, it hates China. China is at least competent, which is rare in this world.

  29. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    5. May 2021 at 06:11

    @Lizard Man:

    Nice post, good points. I just don’t think it matters what the label is. They are what they are, and we have to deal with them.

  30. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    5. May 2021 at 06:45

    Thanks Christian and msgkings
    I always enjoy learning not just from Scott here but from others of good faith with me in the peanut gallery.

    I was trying to make the opposite point. I think we risk an own goal by demonizing China. I agree with your point about China’s competence having appeal.

  31. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    5. May 2021 at 16:17

    Has there ever been a communist country that hasn’t devolved into something that better meets the definition of fascism? Communism is such a ridiculous system that either it implodes within a couple years or transitions to a more stable form of authoritarianism; even Lenin made this transision with the New Economic Policy.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. May 2021 at 16:38

    Mark Z, I’d say that fascism is something more than communism with private markets. Fascism is a right wing ideology, and China is far more right wing than Cuba, for instance. China has a Han supremacist government, whereas (AFAIK) Cuba does not have a white supremacist government.

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