India can make definitional contributions at G20

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India can make definitional contributions at G20

Monday, 13 February 2023 | Vinayshil Gautam

Occasions like G20 meet are fit occasions for sharing of local experiences for universal use

Acategory is created by having something in common. Yet in each category, an entity can and usually may have some unique characteristics. Thus, all human beings across the globe have certain common features, physically, emotionally, and otherwise. Yet with human beings, there are different races, and each race has its distinctive features. The category can be further broken down into its conglomerates till one reaches the family, and even in the family, there are certain “streams”. And then there are individuals.

It can, therefore, be argued that in definitional terms one has to look at both the conglomerates’ traits and individual traits to be able to develop appropriate typologies and indeed defining characteristics. This task is simultaneously essential and tricky. A lot of sociological and anthropological categories arise out of the above exercises. It needs to be appreciated that much work on the theme has been done over the years, making the task of categorization simultaneously simple yet complex. This also applies to what is referred to as “Indians”.

Politically, all human beings with citizenship rights within the political boundaries of this country are entitled to be called Indians. Yet the physical characteristics from Kanyakumari to Kashmir have a range of variations. Under such circumstances, the characteristics of the ‘majority’ become the defining characteristic. This is a simple deduction because anything else would make for complexities.

All nation-building efforts require the need to recognize this. In the case of India, what would have been, a simple exercise has become subject to a misplaced sense of parity between one conglomerate and another.

It is obvious that a definition cannot be put in negative terms. There has to be positive content in the definition. In any nation-building exercise, the ‘majority’ of the population has a prime role, and the cultural element is its “way of life”. “Way of life” is defined by the rituals of life, which in turn are defined by belief. Thus, it is “the beliefs” which are important. The definition of “belief” can vary, but it cannot be evaded because of the scientific efforts it needs.

Consider the USA. The President of the USA takes an oath on the Bible, and nobody asks why the religious texts of other communities are not included in the oath-taking ceremony. In the UK, the Sovereign Monarch is the “Head of the Church of England”. Nobody asks what about the followers of Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and whatever other religions of the subjects.

In the case of Russia, the Greek Orthodox Church has its say, and that is how the swearing-in ceremonies take place. In other words, a definition very often gets its expression through practice and acceptability.

This is an essential part of nation-building, or, for that matter, any such definitional activity. In the case of India, so many identities have been drummed up repeatedly, that the word “diversity” has acquired almost definitional proportions. There is nothing wrong with appreciating diversity. However, a definition requires, as pointed out earlier, a positive content. Respecting each other’s beliefs is normal, natural, and desirable. However, confusion will arise if the defining characteristics of a community and a conglomerate do not recognize the beliefs and the practices of the majority.

Taking this elaboration further, each conglomerate has its own unique elements, and those too have to be recognized. For example, in India, more than nine per cent of the population is of tribal descent. Hence, it is necessary to recognise that, besides the majority traits, there may be identifiable minority characteristics that need to be registered, flagged, preserved, and developed.

As it happens in a democracy, noise can often be heard over and above a mild and a sane voice. A good example, again, comes from the tribes. Perhaps because the tribes are such that they have not yet organised into a politically powerful unified group, they are not paid the same deference as some of the local religious groups. This is a national loss.

It is a loss because it not only does not do justice to a substantial part of the population but also misses a focus on some of the characteristics of a tribe that can be put to use for nation-building. Illustration can be the method by which the tribes have maintained their identity over several millennia.

To sum up the above, creating a definition is a tricky and time-consuming exercise. This has to be handled in a deft manner, and above all, it has to be handled in a statesmanlike and knowledgeable manner.

Occasions like the G20 meet are fit occasions for sharing methods for finding definitions and sharing of local experiences for universal use. India has a good opportunity to make definitional contributions at the coming G20 summit. There will be palpable wisdom in preparing for it.

(The author is an internationally acclaimed management consultant)

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