Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Economy, Politics and Governance

I’m no Jean Monnet but…: Thoughts on regional integration and state consolidation in South Asia

A case has been made by scholars better versed than myself, and continues to be so made, for a ‘South Asian Community’, centred on a single market. With a region that, with the remarkable exception of India, remains in impasse, such a regional integrative framework is ideal and essentially practical on various levels. Let us pull back from more specific observances to make some exploratory effort that lays the foundation for an advanced goal of regional integration. What dilemmas does one face when proposing to work on South Asia? That the region, belonging to that notorious grouping of the Third World, has remained handicapped by issues of poverty, development, ethnic riot, gender inequalities and infant constitutions is a popular representation. It is not contended here that these are not realities of the South Asian situation. The anchor for this examination lies in the simple statement that, in order for the South Asian region to draw upon its extensive resources and become a dominant player in a rapidly globalised world- an impetus must be laid upon state consolidation and fortification through which home-grown solutions to domestic issues can be met with and readily addressed, without further dependence and need for empowerment from external actors. Certainly, many states in South Asia remain in constitutional and economic infancy. The region has an odd, lopsided economic characteristic that, all at once, includes extreme poverty and high development. This is partly due to the fact that the distribution of gains from various economic agreements has so far benefited only the developed of the Asian nations whilst the least developed bear the cost of the development. However, instability at the level of high politics and ethnic conflations remain contributory factors to inflation and dire economic and development circumstances. The imposition on the structures of these states at multiple levels, by numerous actors and social processes provides a smorgasbord of entry points not only for analysis but also recommendation. The additional dimension to this is that these are states that are grappling not only with basic economic and political issues but also have been, since conception innately multicultural (as opposed to many industrialized nations that have only been forced to deal with immense multicultural forces comparatively later).

The broader question is to answer, simply, how will these states then perform this consolidation? That the empowerment must come from within is crucial. That the focus must begin with the human resource is also key- the region is home to one-fifth of the world’s inhabitants and is arguably the most densely populated region on earth. The labour force (which is undeniably any state’s greatest resource), while governed by a dominant ideology is in and of itself split by a plurality of ideology that extends itself not only from an institutional apparatus but also along social factors that move outside of the limiting spectrum of a class based analysis- on lines of gender, ethnicity, caste, religion, geography, education and vocation. It is then important to identify where power is sourced from specifically in a region that is characterized by plurality of identity, governance and institution, the recognition of the target points for state-building and consolidation. The need to have control over the human resource and its consciousness is then fundamental to any possibility of state strength. As argued before, the dimensions to this resource are not elementally binary between upper and lower classes but stem from a host of colourful social segregations. And so the grand South Asian narrative has always had at its core this struggle with understanding a plurality of identity and consciousness. This consciousness has been related to and deconstructed primarily via the links to nationalist thought, and the aftermath of the colonial era; to the distance between the elites and the ‘non-elites; to peasant uprisings, gender empowerment and the need to recognise unprotected labour working on estate lines. This has been done, and yet the region, as aforementioned, remains in limbo.

If it is on ideology and labour forces that we lay emphasis, then it follows that our quest for state building must understand linkages to ideology and the power of knowledge. Writing on the topic of nationalist thought in the colonial world in 1985, Partha Chatterjee quotes Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay on Sankhya philosophy, noting that knowledge in the Hindu or, more expressly, non-Western context is not power but salvation. How quickly then does an interrogative arise that if knowledge can thereby salvage does that not connote that it has power beyond ordinary quantification? And so then the ‘Western’ conception of power as knowledge, and the ‘Eastern’ philosophy of knowledge as salvation arguably blend into one another. We have, then, an impression that ideation, which stems from and also reproduces knowledge is the source of power, and it then follows naturally that knowledge is the elemental source of power in the political [social] world. And power, in and of itself, and so defined by its sourcing from knowledge is both relational and structural. The possession of the knowledge factor will make one unit more powerful in relation to the other and it will then have structural, or in the definition taken, coercive (to use some “Strange” sense), power. Indeed, both Western and non-Western discourse are central debates about power and knowledge as power, with the variable being only the unit of primary analysis; whether it is the state, the market, or the strength of a social movement or other. We essentially seek those normative ideals of freedom and enlightenment through the application of this knowledge. We look for civilisations understood as ‘mature’ and fully developed when they are governed by reason, and within this ever-globalising world, ideology and knowledge (power) become more paramount in the advancement of society. Therefore, as we continue our reflections and work on the South Asian narrative it becomes vital to take a directive from an ultimate concern with ideology and knowledge and the fact that a plurality of apparatuses (a la Althusser) that control ideological constructs do exist cannot be ignored. At the risk of repetition, power will thereby always be sourced from a control over ideology and knowledge, and that this control can be held simultaneously by many- because the evolution of the political, and the phenomenon of globalization has allowed for the proliferation of various actors. However, rule by many, the diffusion of this very power has a direct correlation with instability, crisis and conflict and it is necessary therefore, for the survival of the state (as it is the state that one seeks here to empower) as the central administrative focus to recall and consolidate this power. Such fortification and concentration on one body ensures –to a significant degree- that regulations over domestic policy and economic stability remain; such core base strength and political constancy for a country at a domestic level ensures that it is able to engage itself globally in a more aggressive manner and through this assert for itself more reckoning in global governance. State formation is inextricably linked to social relations and the transformative processes of world and national order wrought thereby.