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Friday, September 07, 2007

Western ideas of free market fundamentalism have captured the Indian media

Batman Never Begins - Pankaj Mishra
With Chak De India, Bollywood appears to have created a new myth of a united and resurgent India. Yet this story of supposed success and empowerment hides uncomfortable truths. The enthusiasm of the press and of audiences for the movie does not represent a genuine appraisal of India’s prowess in women’s hockey, but the wishful thinking of Western policymakers who wish to engage India as a geopolitical resource and a trading market.
The attempt to project the virtues of team spirit and nationalism provides comfort to India’s neo-orientalist elites who can afford to watch movies in the multiplexes of ’shining India’. But the story of the film is a self-affirming fiction that emphasizes that free-market capitalism in India is at the cost of the have-nots, who are being plunged deeper into despair at the growing inequality.
Nothing in the film demonstrates this as powerfully as the casting of Rani and Soimoi of Jharkhand as mere defenders, while the glamorous goal-chase subplot is cornered by the strikers from Chandigarh and Haryana - the epicentre of Indian neo-liberalisation policies. Media attention on the competition for goals between Preeti and Komal is analogous to the preoccupation of the Indian media with corporate battles for marketshare.
The fact that the movie chose to focus on the personal lives of only the strikers- who were all from the states of India which had embraced neo-liberal capitalism - demonstrates the extent to which the western ideas of free market fundamentalism have captured the Indian media. At the same time, the sidelining of the players from Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh to mere cameos points to why their frustrated citizens are turning to Maoist insurgency, a phenomenon known as Naxalism.
Also, though the movie attempts to make much of the Muslim identity of the coach, the team itself has only one Muslim player. This is taken for granted, yet this under-representation lies at the heart of a government report published earlier this year which found that Muslims were dangerously excluded from government jobs. This increasing marginalisation of India’s minorities since the championing of Western-style free-market economics contrasts sharply with the inclusive ethos which characterised Indian politics in the 1950s.
In fact, the 1950s were a golden age when India experimented with brave new political, economics, and diplomatic ideas that were homegrown and owed nothing to Western influence. This period laid the foundation for India’s best years of hockey. India’s achievements in this period must be examined in an Indian perspective. Thatcherism and astroturf were introduced concurrently. Both these Western innovations have disadvantaged India greatly. As long as Indians try to play within the constraints imposed by these alien concepts, India cannot become a superpower - either in hockey or in the economic domain.
Instead of seeking success on Western parameters, India would do well to tap into its legacy of original thought. As I have mentioned, India cannot succeed in either hockey or the financial sphere, but it is well placed to become the world leader in deep thinking. With its heritage of radical ideators - Gandhi, Adi Shankaracharya, Buddha, and Chanakya, India can use the educational foundations laid by Nehru to lead the way in foreign affairs, economics, and social studies. India’s businessmen and engineers are recognised only by the world’s general news and business media, which themselves are under the influence of the West’s policymakers. However, the world’s intellectuals recognise the talent of India’s writers, artists, and social commentators. It is these Indian intellectuals who are best placed to guide India away from Western standards of prosperity and social organisation.
The hockey players in Chak De India are not suitable Indian icons. Their wide eyed wonder at advanced training equipment and gyms show that they are too overcome by Western technology to authentically represent India. This is not unique to hockey. Even in cricket, no batsman can begin to speak authentically of Indian sensitivities the way Indian intellectuals can. Intellectuals, not hockey playing girls, are the true heroes of twenty-first century India - which India is gradually realising, aided by reviews such as this one. Perhaps the next Bollywood blockbuster will be called Chak De Intellectual.

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