Ramachandra Guha hails India's pluralism at Oxford

Ramachandra Guha hails India's pluralism at Oxford

"Never in history has such a large territory and diverse people been constructed as a nation. The Indian rupee is a symbol of this diversity – it mentions the value in 17 major languages,each spoken by millions," he said in a keynote address yesterday at the Oxford-India Day at the University of Oxford.

This is the first such country day Oxford, the ancient seat of learning, has celebrated in its 900-year history.

He also recalled the many connections between India and Oxford to make the point that India was the "most interesting country in the world".

Guha said India's main message to the world was pluralism, and had succeeded despite historically being an "unnatural nation and an unlikely democracy".

Addressing a packed audience of policy makers, executives, academics and students, Guha said noted Oxford-educated British evolutionary biologist, J B S Haldane, who became an Indian citizen in the 1950s, was an example of the many links between Oxford and India.

In 1956, Haldane gave up his post at University College London, and moved to Kolkata, where he joined the Indian Statistical Institute, and until his death in 1964, revelled in the freedom, values and culture of India.

"Haldane symbolises the close links between Oxford and India, and is among the many extraordinary remarkable individuals who have been part of this relationship. They include cricketers like Abbas Ali Baig and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, writers like Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth, and many more," Guha said.

Expounding on his thesis that India has been an "unnatural nation and unlikely democracy", Guha recalled that historically nation-states were formed on the basis of common language or religion.

India, he said, was also an "unlikely democracy" because never in history were illiterate sections of the population given the right to vote.

He recalled that Mahatma Gandhi was influenced by the 'suffragettes' movement in England, which fought for women being given the right to vote.

When India became independent, he noted that women were immediately given the right to vote, which was not given easily in western democracies.

Guha, however, cautioned Indian editors and the middle class against holding the perception that India had the makings of a superpower.

He said: "We are not a superpower, not even an aspiring superpower. We are merely the most interesting country in the world".

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