A Review

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

The idea behind the book is to highlight the fact that dialogue was a strong point of Indian cultural ethos. Indians since ages have relied on process of dialogue and discussions as means of settling their differences as well as propagating different viewpoints. The tradition remains alive even today. This is the argument the author has tried to develop his thought upon.

The chapter 'China and India' presents the case of two ancient civilizations influencing one another on that count. Then 'Tagore and his India' is another chapter effectively making the point. It is an outstanding comparison of distinct ideas and philosophies of two eminent personalities, Tagore and Gandhi. In fact, such accounts are rare to come by.

'India Large and Small' is a chapter partly gone astray thereby losing the focus of the intended basic theme. Suddenly it appears that Mr. Sen's vision got blurred by his political perceptions. True, Hindutva is a recent phenomenon but a deliberation on the causes of its emergence ought to have been more suited to the subject than making judgments. Could it be due to our concept of secularism that is showing signs of strain if not an outright failure? Here it would be relevant to ask whether Hindutva was the cause of the inadequacies of Indian secularism or the effect. Singling out one political outfit and ridiculing the same is perhaps a deliberate attempt at either suppressing one thing or projecting another. Secondly, getting judgmental defeats the very purpose of the commentary on the argumentative Indian.

'Reason' and 'secularism' are two very significant and deeply interrelated topics and one would have expected to have effective and meaningful deliberation on these subjects. The essay 'Reach of Reason' ought to have provided some space to the references to reason as stated and debated in the texts of various schools of Indian philosophy. That was necessary to answer the Western liberal's misunderstanding of clubbing the Indian thought with other 'disciplinarian doctrines' of thought from Asia.

In the commentary 'Secularism and its discontents' the author very reasonably outlined the six lines of discontent. However, when it came to answering those critiques he appears dithering with no convincing arguments coming forth. He chooses to go entirely by the flawed version of secularism in vogue in India without giving any plausible reasons for doing so.

And finally, how far his 'inclusionary view of Indian identity' could be defended when 'the winter of discontent' no matter how wintry, remains.

To what extent Mr. Sen has been able to make his point? Well, conclusions are not easy to make. It is up to the individual reader's interpretation. All said, I must admit that the book kept me thoroughly engrossed. Though I'd not put it in the genre of Octavio Paz's 'In Light of India' yet I feel it is a readable book.