It is possible that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s comment that India needs modernisation and not Westernisation hasn’t stirred a debate because the two are usually regarded as one and the same in this country. Yet, as political scientist Samuel Huntington has argued, while all cultures have certain similarities in their modernisation processes, each still retains its unique characteristics. The best examples are Japan and China, which have attained modernisation in the post-war era through rapid industrialisation. Even while embracing the capitalist model of development, both have retained their distinct cultural identity.
If India is different, the explanation lies in the prevailing confusion among influential sections about what constitutes modernisation. This follows from the colonial mindset ingrained in Indian minds through Macaulay’s education system that denigrates Indian culture and equates modernisation with aping of the West. If India has not been able to distinguish between modernisation and Westernisation as the other Asian giants did, it is because the latter have never had the kind of colonial experience as India unfortunately did.
Industrialisation, urbanisation, increasing levels of literacy, education, wealth, social mobility and diverse occupational structures are some of the key elements of modernisation. India has to go through this process and cannot put the clock back. Wherever it suits the Indian ethos, we have to assimilate best practices from the West without blindly following it. Just as Nipponisation worked for Japan and China uncharacteristically embraced capitalism without demolishing its heritage, India must modernise without being westernised. It must craft a modern discourse rooted in plurality with co-existence of all faiths and belief systems.