Amartya Sen

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Write a detailed analysis of "The Argumentative Indian" from The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity.

An analysis of Sen's "The Argumentative Indian" must consider his central thesis that India has two historic cultural traits that have allowed for democracy to take hold and flourish. This first is India's "dialogic" tradition of debate and argument, and the second is its history as a pluralistic society in which a diversity of voices and opinions have been included. Sen considers India's continuing challenges through the ongoing relevance of one of its most important philosophical dialogues.

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The key to your analysis will be understanding that this is the first essay in the collection of the same name and introduces Sen’s main purpose for the first section of the book. In it, as he tells us in his preface, he aims to “outline the nature, reach and relevance of the argumentative tradition in India … in seeking social justice, against the barriers of class, caste, community and gender.” Sen is laying the foundation for his argument that India’s “dialogic” tradition and its historically pluralistic society have lent themselves to supporting democracy in the modern Indian state.

Some of India’s oldest and most important books of scripture and wisdom, like the Mahabharata and Upanishads, were written in the form of dialogues, and the Indian subcontinent has always been a place where many different religions, ethnicities, and languages have occupied the same geographical space. While there has not necessarily been peace and harmony, there has been a tradition of tolerance and “heterodoxy” in which alternative perspectives are included in national conversations.

Sen references one of Indian literature’s most important philosophical dialogues, the Bhagavad-Gita. In it, the warrior-prince Arjuna anguishes over his duty to make war against his kinsmen and questions the rightness of acting without regard to consequences. The god Krishna informs him that the war is a just cause and that his priority as a leader must be to fight and act on principle without regard to consequences. Or, as poet T. S. Eliot paraphrased, the conflict is between Arjuna’s question of “faring well” in outcome and his duty to “fare forward” without reflection. This, according to Sen, is the dilemma facing India’s future as a pluralistic democracy, developing economy and regional nuclear power.

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