Thursday, 24 November 2011

sixty years of indian independence-some dilemna and contradictions

An India that denies itself to some Indians would no longer be the India Mahatma Gandhi fought to free.1
In the case of an Indian villager, an age-old culture is hidden under an encrustment of crudeness.2

The Political Sphere

We begin with a quote from Sunil Khilnanis “The Idea of India” where he sees in India’s democratic experience evidence of something that James Madison and his Federalist colleagues well understood more than two hundred years ago. “Large republics with diverse and conflicting interests can be a better home for liberty, a safer haven against tyranny, than homogenous and exclusive ones. Within them, factions and differences can check one another, moderating ideological fervour and softening power.”

India’s emergence as a secular state despite the native religiosity of its people is significant. Indeed India stands apart from its immediate neighbours Bangladesh andPakistan specially in having forsaken an ethnic religion as the basis of its national development. With its large size India presents a natural case as a country which should be given its due in world affairs but our case is that its very much for the features that accompany India’s large size that it should be given importance specifically its adherence by and large to secularism and its independent chartering out of its economic path. Despite ambivalence over its federal structure and a strong centre India continues to have ideologically contrasting parties at the helm in many cases at the centre and the states. Despite prophets of doom warning against disintegration regional parties continue to bloom.. It is the democratic structure of India’s nationalist movement which has bequeathed to us an egalitarian structure of governance, in these days of abuse of the nationalist movement and its icons it would serve us well to remember a quote from a popular book on modern Indian history. “A nationalist movement has to be disciplined and organizationally strong and united; yet it cannot afford to be monolithic or authoritarian”3

As Bipan Chandra writes-
“Starting off with a broad social consensus on the basic contours of the India that was to be built-on the values of nationalism, secularism and democracy and the goals of rapid economic development and radical social change-was a great advantage.These values and goals, and the road to their achievement had been mapped over seventy years by the national movement.Yet, there was a realization that this consensus had to be continuously widened and built upon. Crucial in this respect was the role played by Nehru and the ideas he developed and propounded.”(Bipan Chandra, page1)

The Economic Sphere

As Welfare measures continue to be taken up for their citizens by India  this large country has charted its own course of Economic reform independently to a large extent of outside influences. The nationalist movement bequeathed an India that was to chart out its own course after independence-The Indian economy, even while being  an integral part of the world  economy, was to be based on self-reliance, free of subordination to the metropolitan interests or domination by foreign capital4

As Shashi Tharoor writes in his book “India:from midnight to the millennium”-“India is the most important country for the future of the world …for Indians stand at the intersection of four of the most important debates facing the world at the end of the twentieth century:
  • The bread-versus-freedom debate.
  • The centralization-versus-federalism debate
  • The pluralism-versus-fundamentalism debate.
  • The “Coca-colonization” debate or globalization versus self reliance.”

However in order to get a true flavour of these debates they need to be studied in their historical context and by looking at Nehru’s role in setting up the context against or for which most Indians position themselves making Nehru vilified but never possible to ignore.

If we take the issue of socialism versus liberalization first, the first and the fourth debates are simultaneously discussed. A slightly different contradiction was seen beforeIndependence in India-that between the socialists and the conservatives.The Socialists included the communists and Nehru was sympathetic to them, the conservatives positioned themselves to the right of the political spectrum and were supported by Patel
However as Francine Frankel brings out in her book “ India’s Political Economy 1947-2004” growth and democratic social transformation were two separate but related goals of economic planning-In the early years of Independence, these two contradictory tendencies were also well advanced inside the Congress party-Gandhian Village Economy  principles and liberal western model Capitalist economic policies. However the position was slightly more complex than this simple dichotomy brings about .

    • Socialism versus liberalization

As Fancine Frankel writes “ …the new trends in economics and politics are logical outcomes of the failures of the national majority Congress party to carry out agrarian reforms and institutional changes at the core of the great Nehruvian experiment. These aimed to simultaneously achieve rapid economic growth and more equitable distribution.”5
She also writes“The second vastly larger economy, on which 70% of the population depend for their livelihood is agriculture. About 80 percent of this population have yet to benefit from economic reforms. On the contrary, in the two decades ending in 2000-01, public investment in agriculture and irrigation declined, as did production and yield growth rates of all crops. This was accompanied by a slowdown in total employment growth in the 1990’s.Demographers have concluded that during this decade agriculture almost stopped absorbing labour; and they have characterized economic growth as a jobless variety.Handicapped by a decline in real assets, and few opportunities to improve their education and skills for non-farm employment, male workers are caught in a growing trend towards casualisation of jobs in the rural labour force.” (Frankel,Preface page xii)

As far as Nehru’s views on the question are concerned “In the long run, the role of the market forces and profit motive were to become less significant.At the same time, Nehru was quite clear that over time the public sector must generate additional resources.According to the Industrial Policy resolution of 1956, which he helped draft, the public sector was expected to ‘augment the revenues of the state and provide resources for further development in fresh fields.’ Taking a pragmatic view of the question, he also held that where public sector performed well, it should remain , and where it did not, it was to be replaced.” (Bipan Chandra page 180)

    • Pluralism versus fundamentalism
The process of strengthening India’s unity was considered to be the most important.It was realized that India’s multifaceted pluralistic culture had to be protected and made to bloom “Indian unity, it was realized, was not to be taken for granted.It had to be strengthened by recognizing and accepting India’s immense regional, linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. Indianness was to be further developed by acknowledging and accommodating the Indian’s multiple identities and by giving different parts of the country and various sections of the people an adequate space in the Indian union.” (Bipan Chandra page 1-2)

As Bipan Chandra writes “Nehru’s commitment to secularism was unsurpassed and all pervasive.Communalism went against his grain, and he fought it vigorously throughout his life.He helped secularism acquire deep roots among the Indian people; and he prevented the burgeoning forth of communalism when conditions were favourable for it.Though on almost all issues he believed in consensus and compromise, communalism was the exception for as he said in 1950, any compromise on communalism ‘can only mean a surrender of our principles and a betrayal of the cause of India’s freedom.”(Bipan Chandra page 180)

But Chandra also brings out the weakness in Nehru’s approach “Believing that planning and economic development and the spread of education, science and technology would automatically weaken communal thinking and help form a secular conciousness, he ignored the need for struggle against communalism as an ideology” (Bipan Chandra page 181)
    • Centralisation versus Federalism
As Frankel writes “the structure of government provided mainly for coordination between the Centre and the states rather than for central control over state policies, programs and administration.” (Frankel, page 82). However the emergency provided a major departure from this general framework. In general from the early seventies Indira Gandhi began centralizing power in herself, followed by a similar style adopted by Rajiv Gandhi, however subsequent to 1989 Indian politics have taken a different turn with a fragmentation of the vote and no clear majority for any party.

1         Shashi Tharoor , India-from midnight to millennium, Penguin Books India 2000, Millenium Edition.
  1. M.K.Gandhi, The India of My Dreams, p.44.
  2. Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India after Independence 1947-2000, Penguin, Fourth Impression , 2002.
  3. Sunil Khilnani,The Idea of India, Penguin, 2003
        5.       Francine Frankel ,India’s Political Economy 1947-04, Second Edition, , Oxford.

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