#March4Education


People have taken up #March4Education demanding more financial support to higher education institutions, of which more universities is also an implicit demand.
The popular counter-argument is that only the school education should be fully funded, while the undergraduate and postgraduate education shouldn’t be funded and be left to market forces.
Merely reiterating that public funding should be restricted only till school education, and fund higher education in this day and age is a classic example of lazy thinking, intellectual hollowness and the lack of thinking beyond 101 textbook ideas. It perfectly fits what Hirschman once said that he hated:
“I always had a certain dislike for general principles and abstract prescriptions. I think it’s necessary to have an “empirical lantern” or a “visit with the patient” before being able to understand what is wrong with him. It is crucial to understand the peculiarity, the specificity, and also the unusual aspects of the case” Albert O. Hirschman
I had earlier blogged saying that it’s time to retire the idea of restricting the definition of basic education to only school education, and expand it to higher education too.
In the context of the #March4Education and its demands, I summarize my arguments in support of the protest and response to the criticisms to the protest.

Response to the argument that extent of funding should be based on externalities

Flimsy defense of National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS)

Livemint has an op-ed on National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), otherwise known as Aayushmaan Bharat. The article argues that NHPS is a good idea and suggests ways to ensure smooth implementation. It is a flimsy defense of NHPS.

The article concludes that NHPS is a good idea based on the following arguments.

1. "Out-of-pocket payments for healthcare services are very high in our country (about 70%, according to the National Sample Survey Office, 2014), which causes impoverishment to nearly 7% of our population."

2. Evidence from Karnataka's Vajpayee Aarogyashree programme lowered mortality for covered diseases and erased rich-poor disparities in concerned mortality rates. It also lowered out of pocket expenditure.

3. "Existing evidence shows that providing insurance to the poor not only saves lives but is also “cost-effective.

The above three points are either inappropriate or incomplete arguments in defence of NHPS, far from terming it as a step in the right direction.

1. There is no debate on the fact that the out-of-pocket expenditure on health care is huge in India. But, National Health Accounts data points out that 42% of the total out-of-pocket spending (OOP) is used towards buying medicines.

Given this scenario, a simple and significant step to reduce OOP would be to make all medicines free. Expenditure on NHPS with no coverage for medicines, while still requiring people to buy medicines for other conditions too, may not be of much use.

It is, in fact, pointed out in one of the author's own paper.

"people who had health insurance coverage did not see any significant difference in their total real OOP health expenditures, relative to people without any health insurance"

2. While the authors agree that not every insurance programme has been successful, the cited programme VAS is not a representative example. A host of other programmes have failed but one can give a benefit of the doubt regarding the implementation quality. It thus brings us to the next aspect - the range of conditions and cost-effectiveness.

3. Surprisingly, the article claims the existence of evidence which shows that insurance programmes are cost-effective. The evidence on the same is to the contrary. Insurance programmes are anything but cost-effective. Starting from the US where they spend 18% of GDP but still don't get timely and quality care to the Indian data, insurance programmes are known for NOT being cost-effective, as Gulzar Natarajan points out. 

4. The argument for primary and secondary healthcare as a prerequisite for good public health system is well taken but the budget allocation to the same is not proportional to its importance. The right question to ask is - assuming that there is an increased spending on health care, where should the increased funding go? Of course, if it ends up being the case that the overall expenditure on health care is NOT increased but money is rearranged towards NHPS, its a lost battle.

Overall, with no increased funding for primary and secondary care, with no coverage for medicines (42% of OOP), and with our existing weak state capacity, the defence for NHPS is flimsy.

The way out is to retain private insurance coverage for terminal illnesses with expensive treatments like cancer, but increase the spending significantly and use a bulk of it towards primary and secondary health care.

Comments on RS TV discussion on education reform

RS TV has conducted a TV discussion on education reform, in the context of government’s decision to reduce the syllabus by half.

The ideas and analysis presented in the discussion is symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the education reform discourse in India.
Consider two key points raised the discussion — “low salary of teachers” as the binding constraint of teacher quality, and a “library movement” as “the solution”.
The reasoning is that talented people aren’t becoming teachers because of the low pay, as compared to the corporates. It seems an obvious reason, so obvious that it clouds our vision preventing us to look beyond. But if we take a step back and probe this further, a different picture emerges.
As I have argued in my book, one needs to ask three questions
  1. If teacher salary is the issue, what’s the “comparative outcome” of teachers of different grades, receiving different salaries?
  2. In a counterfactual scenario, if teacher salary is the binding constraint, then increasing teacher salary should have significant effect on the outcomes.
  3. Finally, what’s the teacher salary in India, compared to our per-capita income?

A framework to think through a decision on a career in Public Policy

Some people have asked me for my thoughts on a career in public policy. I am synthesizing these in the post below.
The essence of my suggestion is that
the decision on a career in public policy should be based on 3 factors — nature of the person, nature of the problem that the person is interested in, and the available path.
In the following post, I first describe what I mean by each of those 3 factors mentioned above and I put the various combinations arising from these 3 factors in form of a matrix at the end of the post. If you directly want to jump to the matrix, please feel free to do so.

I. Nature of the person

The “nature” of a person has wide connotations but in our present context, we can categorize people into three broad categories. These categories are illustrative and there can be overlaps between them.
  1. Problem Solvers: These people are obsessed with the policy problem. They would go to any extent to solve the problem. If they need to do a massive protest, they would do it. If they need to enter politics, they would do it. If they need to sit and research for years, they would do it. In essence, they are path agnostic. They will figure out their path. They don’t need advice! Such people are analogous to entrepreneurs in business.
  2. Career-ists: Some people are interested in policy sector but they don’t want to take risks. They would like to pursue it more as a career, with stability. Such people are categorised in “career-ists” group. Such people are akin to MBAs, who want to be in the private sector but don’t want to take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur. They get an MBA, enter the corporate world and climb the ladder.
  3. Satisfaction-seekers: Such people are seeking satisfaction, something beyond the materialistic pleasures of life. Often, they want immediate tangible outcomes. For instance, the joy of donating money to a poor person.
Just to be clear, there’s no judgment involved in categorizing people. It’s just a description of people’s nature as it is.

On private health insurance

Government introduced private insured health-care for the poor up to Rs.5 lakh per year. I have only few things to say.
After spending 18% of its GDP on health-care, US’s health system is no better than some public funded systems like Thailand. This is in a country with higher implementation capacity than India’s.
By weakening public health system through inaction and making a complete shift to insurance model, we might be moving planning our own disaster. More on this later.

Teacher voucher policy as a compromise between government run schools and student vouchers


TL;DR
  1. Learning outcomes and cost effectiveness of budget private schools (BPS) don’t make a strong case to shift focus from government schools to BPS.
  2. However, if the current situation of neglect of government schools continue, two another parameters financial stress on families and plausible improvement in current state of BPS due to additional funds from vouchers — makes a case to shift focus from government schools to BPS.
  3. Since student voucher system may not be feasible in short-term due to financial constraints, a voucher policy for BPS teachers to help them receive better training is a good compromise policy.

There are two common perceptions regarding budget private schools (BPS)
  1. BPS perform better than government schools, even after accounting for differences in student characteristics.
  2. The learning per unit cost (cost effectiveness) is higher for government schools as compared to BPS.
These two arguments are cited as basis to move towards a voucher system where students get vouchers from government and they are free to choose the school they like, over the present system of government run schools where students’ choice is restricted. For instance, this Mint editorial makes the above two arguments to advocate for school voucher system.
Though these two arguments seem intuitively correct, careful research suggests that they aren’t necessarily true.


Learning the wrong lessons

Azim Premji University recently conducted a longitudinal survey of schools following two types of pedagogy — Activity Based Learning, and usual textbook based pedagogy. It says the following
The study assessed the ability of students to recognize characters in the local languages, and while students could recognize the root alphabet, they struggled to identify the compound character formed by joining “a” to the root character. While 32% students in Palghar could recognize the compound character, only 22% in Yadgir could recognize the same.
The lead researcher of the study says
Often, poor learning outcomes are attributed to lack of diversity in curricula, this research shows that even an activity-based curriculum couldn’t help the students as the teachers were ill-prepared and lacked the pedagogical tools required to teach Indian languages
How do we interpret the results of the study?
  1. Is it the issue with pedagogy — teachers lacking pedagogical tools?
  2. Is it the issue of systemic capacity/constraints (Gulzar calls them ecosystem-constraints) that constrain teachers’ efforts or overlook their lack of efforts?

Why do governments’ efforts to reform education not result in success?

    Okay. I have written too many posts on this topic. But, I learn something new each time I write, a new connection or a better phrasing of my arguments. Here is the nth version on this topic.
    My central arguments are:
    1. Policies are narratives writ large: The popular mental frameworks through which the problems are approached in policy narratives also end up being the lens through which policymakers also approach the problems. Therefore, errors in popular narratives also translate into policy.
    2. Problem with education policy is the mental frameworks through which the problem is approached. It has less to do with a particular policy. These mental frameworks are a part of the popular discourse that permeate into policy making. In particular, they are:
    • Misconceptions about the constraints
    • Silver Bullet Constraint approach where there is a quest to narrow down the problem to one or two constraints
    • An implementation framework with disregard to the nature of task of education and monitoring norms suitable for it

The Lost Einsteins

Now, we largely know that family characteristics and environment have a significant impact on a child’s career trajectory; in some cases, these factors even trumping the quality of schools they attend.
What is it about the poor families that makes children from these backgrounds less advantageous?
This is an important question because if the answer is good instruction at school, then fixing school will do the job. But, if the answer is that child’s disadvantages also arise due to out-of-school environment, then we need to expand the spectrum of our efforts.
My theory, as I blogged earlier is that the culture of expectations and exposure to opportunities in higher-income family environment, differentiate them from that of low-income family environment.
Culture of expectations is present in poor families too, who see education to get out of poverty but the exposure to opportunities is important. Such exposure does two things. One, it illustrates the wide range of possibilities and also removes mental barriers in process of deciding “what to do”. Two, the exposure demonstrates high likelihood of success building the confidence. Role models play an important role here. Prof. Anirudh Krishna has demonstrated its importance in Indian context.
Apart from income, the other social factors like gender, race, caste also are important.
Now, we have a new paper adding new piece of information to this analysis.
Raj Chetty et al. in his recent paper throws light on this question — what is it about the high-income families that makes their environment different from that of low-income families? [Read this for the summary of findings]
First things first, Chetty et al, demonstrate that there is a difference in the likelihood of success, based on income.
children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender.
To what extent is this difference due to the innate ability of students? The answer is — not much.
Differences in innate ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain relatively little of these gaps.
Next, they explore the channels that drive the high likelihood of success in high-income families. They argue that the “exposure to innovation” is the key driving factor. They demonstrate it as follows
Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly the same technology class.
The fact that exposure to specific technology leads to success in the same technology class demonstrates that exposure is the key driver.
There are gender-differences in this.
exposure effects are gender-specific: girls are more likely to become inventors in a particular technology class if they grow up in an area with more female inventors in that technology class
Overall, there are two lessons from this new piece of research.
  1. Exposure to innovation or broad possibilities in general is the differentiating factor between low-income and high-income families. So, policies trying to bridge the income gaps, should focus on creating exposure to the kids. Role models and technology are important tools in this process.
  2. The closer the role models to the socio-economic characteristics of the child, the better.
At a given point of time, there might not be enough role models for all local communities. One idea can be to pick up the students with promising potential from each local community, give them all possible support and demonstrate their success. It’s a long term project, but it will have impact in the long-term.
It may seem vague and abstract idea but it’s important to do this as part of education reform. If not, we are “losing many Einsteins”.
I like the analogy of “oil drilling” here. We take huge pain to explore all over the earth to mine the oil and create value out of it. Education is something similar. The human minds are mines of intelligence, waiting to be explored. The more we nurture them, the better for us. We might be losing out a lot by the virtue of not exploiting this valuable resource!

Technology based medical diagnosis

I have been recently exploring health sector. Unlike education, where everyone has seen schools from inside and have experienced, medical sector is a black box.
The excellent TV Series, House M.D, along with conversations with few doctors helped me realize two key aspects of medical diagnosis
  1. The key job of a doctor is to diagnose the disease with minimum symptoms.
  2. The key constraint in step 1 is the cost of medical tests.
Technology can help enhance doctors’ performance in both the steps.
Let me explain what the two aspects mean, before discussing the role of technology.
1) Job of a doctor: Suppose a patient goes with a headache and stomach ache. What does it mean for the doctor?
A headache can be due to numerous reasons and so can be a stomach ache. Further, headache and stomach ache may not just be stand-alone aspects, they can be symptoms of an underlying major disease.
The doctor’s job now is to use these signs to narrow down the possible diseases that explain these symptoms. This is essentially a mental exercise of matching these signs with diseases that the doctor is aware of! It’s called “differential diagnosis”
Currently, doctors do it using their memory. The problems with this are
a) doctors may not be aware of all possible diseases
b) even if they are aware, they can’t do the huge matching exercise
c) even if the doctors are aware, they might subconsciously discard some diseases because the probability of their occurrence is too low!
As one can see, this is an extremely inefficient process prone to high errors. It’s too much to expect doctors to remember many possible diseases, symptoms and match them instantly.
The key to improving it essentially involves two parameters — doctor’s memory and capacity of match-making process.
We may note that these exact things — memory and processing — are the two aspects that the computers are really good at! Hence, technology would be of a great help here.
A technology tool here would be one where the doctor inputs the symptoms and the tool does the matching and throws out the possible diseases!
This can improve doctors’ efficiency multiple times. It is primarily an IT challenge.

When NGO thinking percolates into policy narratives and policy making

    The danger of “attributable to me” approach is not in the non-government sphere. The real danger is in its percolation to the government sphere.
    Lant Pritchett in his usual brilliant style has mounted a new critique on the narrow RCT led development.
    Lant’s primary argument is that development is increasingly pursuing “attributable to me policies” rather than “optimal policies”. As an example for non-attributable research, he quotes the example of research that has built the narrative on necessity for reforms in India’s pre-1991 era. Research of this kind, Lant says, has contributed more to the increase in incomes of people than the narrow RCT led research.
    Lant argues that an important consequence of RCT led development is that
    individual actors care more about what they can take credit for than whether there is team success
    In these arguments, Lant largely focuses on the non-government sector and academia, where there is an
    • increasing tendency in NGO sector to fund only projects and research that can demonstrate causal effect; and
    • increasing tendency in academia of development economics to shift towards studying narrow questions (RCTs) rather than the big questions of development (what causes growth?).
    In this post, I argue that the dangers of perils of attribution is not in NGO or Academic sphere but it is in the percolation of such thinking into governments’ sphere.
    • NGOs: NGOs operate in a fundamentally different manner from the government. They are focused on a key problem, often a narrow and local problem. They can pursue only one aspect of the problem, keeping others aside. In such cases, the RCT led approach is useful because without it, we are just shooting in the dark, especially spending the valuable resources.
    • Academia: In academia too, the increase in RCT led research need not be an issue to worry. It might be a much needed correction. Historically, development research has focused on the macro question of how nations grow but it neglected the question of how do households come out of poverty. RCT research has just plugged in this missing gap.

Reasons for the death of small firms

Failures of firms led by women are linked to illness and family reasons

David Mckenzie has a good post on the reasons for the death of small firms in developing countries. He summarises the results into three categories.
  1. Most common reason for firm death is that less profitable and less productive firms end up making losses and closing.
  2. Firms, largely run by more educated owners, close because better opportunities arise for the owner.
  3. Small firms, particularly those run by women, close because of illness and family reasons.
The last one is an interesting fact. Firms led by women close because of family reasons. I suspect there’s some underlying sociological reason to this pattern. It’s an interesting area to be explored:
  1. Is this because women bear the additional burden of taking care of the household activities in traditional societies, that their businesses are more likely to get affected when family work load increases?
  2. Is it because women are more likely to divert their business resources to family, should a need arise?

Blinkers of education research and advocacy ecosystem

The problem in education research and advocacy is that no one ever identifies the lack of comprehensive reform as the issue. Everyone is trying to push through what they think are “new ideas”. It leads to fragmented and unproductive reform.

An IE article argues for recruiting more female teachers in secondary schools. The argument is that female teachers can serve as aspirational role models, increasing enrolment and investment in girls’ education.
This is reasoned based on an evaluation that found that reserving seats for women in panchayats had an “aspiration effect” in those villages, where the perceptions of women changed, investment on education increased and so on.
All’s well and good but there’s one small problem.
The percentage of female teachers in secondary schools is already 42%.
Given that the percentage of female teachers is already high, one can’t imagine significant marginal utility of recruiting female teachers over and above this. In any case, even if the government were to reserve 50% (maximum that’s possible), it’s only 8% above the current value. It is unlikely to yield any significant effects.
The kind of analysis in the article is reminiscent of a larger problem in the public policy eco-system.
  1. RCTs are interpreted too narrowly, often without context. The article in discussion is a good example. A particular evaluation may show effect because it addresses a critical constraint. But before translating it to other context and advocating a solution, one should check if that constraint actually exists and if the proposed solution has already been tried. Often, it isn’t done. As in the case of the above article, increasing female teachers is advocated without even considering the current percentage of female teachers. Such blind transposition is evidence waving policy, not evidence based policy.
2. A single issue is taken and a narrow solution is proposed as an idea of reform.I argued in my book that this is in fact unproductive and hurtful in the long-term for several reasons.
I argue in my book that there’s something called “discourse bandwidth” in policy. At a given point of time, only a few policy ideas can occupy the prime discourse. The ideas at the top end of discourse bandwidth have higher likelihood of turning into policy.
We should hence be careful of the ideas that we advocate. Pushing through one idea displaces others. So, if a narrow solution to a narrow problem is proposed, it crowds out other important problems and other important solutions.
3. Education is not a wheel with spokes, where adding each spoke (policy reform) incrementally adds to its strength. It’s like a pipeline, where the water reaches the end point only if all the parts of the pipeline are working.
It means that addressing one issue (policy idea) isn’t going to result in outcomes unless it’s accompanied by many other complementary policies.
Part of the problem in education research and advocacy is that no one ever identifies the lack of comprehensive reform as the issue. Everyone is trying to push through what they think are “new ideas”.
Thisas discussed earlier, crowds out both policymakers’ attention and also space in discourse bandwidthThis leads to a fragmented, narrow reforms that end up being unproductive.
The blinkered approach to education reform and advocacy was there since long. It only got exacerbated with the advent of RCTs, one of the negative effects of RCTs!

Rohini Pande on solution oriented policy analysis, gender, and development research

World Bank blog has a short interview of Prof. Rohini Pande of Harvard Kennedy School.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. She has great insights into development research, especially on nature of development research and intersection of politics and economy.
On policy analysis:
We often see students, especially those with experience in government and policymaking, arrive with a solution in hand— digital identification, or universal basic income, or whatever — and our work is to get them to back up and start thinking hard in terms of problem identification. If you can get them to do that — to be question-orientated rather than answer-orientated— then it’s an easy step to get them to think about analytical frameworks and the evidence needed.

solutions dominate the conversation before problems have even been identified. This is often because a particular solution is being pushed by political bosses or superiors in the bureaucracy.
On gender:
I think it’s a matter of righting a wrong. Researchers are coming to see that this isn’t a matter of feminism or activism, but of accuracy and rigor: research that doesn’t view development through a gender lens makes errors. I’ve seen this many times in my own work. Microfinance is one example: it’s easy to look at microfinance through the lens of profits and poverty-reduction, and say it doesn’t work. But if you frame the question differently, if you say, Have these programs successfully provided credit to poor women — some of the most isolated and disempowered people on earth — and made a profit at the same time? Then you get a very different outcome. It becomes a success story.
On nature of development research:
I would also love to see the central engagement of development economists being with the research question they pose and not the tools used to answer it. The last decade has seen what I consider a phony war between supporters and opponents of RCTs. I think, as a profession we agree that RCTs are a valuable method for identification in some settings but the analytical toolkit available to development economists is, and will remain, broader than just RCTs.
I liked this line
It’s easy to create and introduce an indicator variable for gender in regressions, much harder to create a sensible indicator for the power structures underlying gender inequities.
I haven’t seen such nuanced views from a development economist in long time. There was Hirschman, then Dani Rodrik and then Rohini Pande!
I am now definitely adding her to the list of my favourite economists. :)

Why didn’t India breakup given its diversity?


Humans have historically lived in closed groups, as tribes. Hence, we have a strong tendency towards seeking “identical people”. We feel comfortable around them.
The metrics for the identity can be many — colour of skin, language, region, religion, country, same college, same school and so on. Of these, some are strong (language, religion, region) while some aren’t.
Any difference in these identities lead to frictions. Yuval Harari provocatively questions in his book Sapiens
Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species? It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.
The formation of nation-states brought a significant shift. Suddenly, people were expected to identify themselves with a geographical territory, an imagined community. Such nation-states needed a common marker to all to keep people within nation-state united. Hence, ethnic nation-states was considered the most suitable form.
Experiments with multi-identity nations faced significant troubles. Even today, we notice that careless redrawing of boundaries in Africa and Middle East has led to arbitrary division of territories of different ethnicities, leading to civil wars and movements of secession. Kurdistan is the latest example. In our neighbourhood, Sri Lanka had to face a civil war due to an issue of language. The case of Rohingyas in Myanmar is well known.
Given this context — it is surprising to note that India more or less remains united despite vast diversity in language, religion, customs, skin colour, ethnicities and so on.
The welding together of Indians into a nation wasn’t spontaneous. As many freedom fighters argued, India was a “nation in making”, nation being the modern concept.
The unity during British era might make sense because there was a common purpose, which united people. But what explains the unity after the enemy disappeared.
How did India survive being united even 70 years after independence? What’s the reason for India’s unity despite its diversity?

One of the commonly propounded theory is that Indians are kind hearted and tolerant by nature. Hence, they can co-exist despite diversity.
I examine this hypothesis in this post. To do this, I first list out various other plausible hypothesis and discuss the research regarding it. This is to demonstrate that there are equally compelling other theories, with even supporting research.
I then focus on the warmheartedness argument and argue that this isn’t a reasonable explanation.
The plausible theories that explain India’s unity despite its diversity are:
I. Common experience of colonialism: Common experience of colonialism has created a form of shared common imagination of the entity of India.
II. Culture of non-militaristic struggle: Indian Freedom Movement is remarkable in the sense that it was largely non-violent. This had significant impact on the way people organise and mobilise.
This may seem subtle but it’s important. Masses can be shaped. The way masses are shaped will have lasting consequences.
In early days of independence, MG Ranade used to write letters to British criticising their rule. Someone asked him — why do you keep writing the letters despite British’s lack of interest? Ranade replied — these letters are not for them, it is for our people. They need to be taught how to think and articulate.
This captures the importance of shaping the masses.
A largely non-violent independence struggle meant that militaristic option as a way to express grievance was out of people’s mind maps.
Further, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, Ambedkar binded Dalits, one of the most oppressed sections, to strict form of constitutional methods.
All these together had an effect.
III. Nehru’s leadership in initial years of independence: Nehru’s towering leadership, coupled with his strong democratic ethos has helped a newly born nation survive. It also sowed seeds of democratic spirit.
IVLack of single common identity: Lack of single common identity is cited a plausible reason for India’s breakup. Contrary to this perception, Paul Brassargues it is in fact the reason that India is united.
Brass’s argument is that every individual in India possesses multiple identities — religion, region, caste and so on. This overlap of cross cutting identities means that one can’t neatly carve out a section of people with single common identity, without other contradictory identities.
For instance, one can demand a separate state based on language. Once that’s achieved, people discover too many other contradicting identities — religion, caste, rural, urban, class etc. Note that there are overlaps in these identities. This makes any form of secessionism difficult.
V. State Nations: Yogendra Yadav, Alfred Stepan and Juan Liz in their book “Crafting State-Nations” outline seven reasons for India’s unity.
  1. Asymmetrical federalism addressing special needs of states like Nagaland, Mizoram etc.
  2. Protection of group rights along with individual rights
  3. Parliamentary system
  4. Coalition of regional and national parties
  5. Country wide opportunities to businesses
  6. Federal and parliamentary system doesn’t lead cultural nationalism to secessionism.
  7. Multiple and complementary identities where individuals identify with both their communities and the larger polity.
From this, it is clear that there are historical, social, leadership and constitutional reason for India’s unity. Let’s next focus on the warmheartedness hypothesis.

VI. Indians are inherently identity blind and can co-exist with anyone? It is commonly suggested that Indian unity is due to the inherent nature of Indians who can co-exist with people of all forms of identity.
This, I argue, is misreading of the scenario. To begin with, as we have already noted above, research (Paul Brass and Y.Yadav’s for example) clearly shows historical, social and constitutional reasons responsible for keeping India united. If Indians were inherently identity blind, these wouldn’t have been needed.
Further, there are three more reasons to argue against the inherent tolerant nature of Indians being the reason for its unity:
1) Not sharing mental space: Coexistence of people of different identities in India is sort of a myth. People may live closer geographically but they aren’t so mentally. This helps prevent frictions.
The argument is that friction between different identities become significant only if one identity ends up occupying significant mind space of others. Such friction is avoided in India by segregating people geographically into ghettos.
One may live in same country but are separated linguistically through ghettosof states. One may live in same village but separated through ghettos of caste colonies. One many live in same city but separated through ghettos of class. And so on.
We all seem to be living in same city, state, country but we all are leading completely different lives. It’s possible for one to exist without any knowledge of people of other identities.
All these help prevent friction between different cultures and classes.
The moment these barriers are broken, friction arises. For instance, language issues started arising due to increasing migration between states.
2) Hierarchical society with a hegemony of subordination: Gramsci defined hegemony as a manufactured consent that makes something as a commonsensical principle, that isn’t even a matter of question. Indian society has manufactured a hegemony of subordination, that some sections are inherently subordinate to others. It leads to acceptance of others, not in form of tolerance as is usually understood but in terms of fate, thereby reducing the friction.
This is different from other countries where different communities see each others as equals and competitors.
In cases where such hegemony is broken, the resistance against such subordination finds it vents through politics. Taylor called it the politics of recognition: in a multicultural and unequal society, there is a demand for peer-recognition, manifested in form of politics of recognition. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his famous book The Burden of Democracy also talks of the same — in a society when a fellow human being doesn’t treat you as a co-equal, politics becomes the vehicle to assert the equality. It’s manifested in form of caste politics and various other forms of identity politics.
Further, as noted above, Ambedkar wedded one of the most oppressed sections in India, the Dalits, to non-violent forms of protest.
We hence don’t see the form of violence that we don’t see in other multicultural countries.
3) Preference falsification: People might not be publicly revealing their preferences for fear of embarrassment as they are taboos or not politically correct things to say. Timur Kuran called this as preference falsification. Till now, a certain sense of political wisdom ensured that the narrative doesn’t cross the limits, that ends up turning these norms upside down.
If such norms are shattered, Timur Kuran says that sudden changes occur. In case of India, one such manifestation of breaking norms can be that the underlying intolerance flows out.
One needn’t look further than recent past to note this. It’s the reason I have argued that citing numbers murders due to hate as an evidence to deny intolerance is merely data dressing; it doesn’t capture the actual essence. The essence lies in shattering the norms making it acceptable to publicly air certain beliefs, which isn’t always manifested in form of immediate extreme violence.

In summary, India’s unity despite diversity is not because of special large heartedness, tolerance, and identity blind nature of Indians. Indians are like humans of any other country. The explanations for India’s unity are historical, political and constitutional.