"A splid-and timely-book Spirited, combative and insight-filled Khilnani has woven a rich analysis of contemporary India and its evolution since indepence. Sunil Khilnani's Idea of India: An Ideological Critique on his Book The. Idea of India (). Vinod Kumar. Lecturer in English,. BHSBIET (Established by Govt. of. View The Idea of INDIA by sunil homeranking.info from ASIA at University of British Columbia. SUNIL KHILNANI The Idea of India PENGUIN BOOKS Contents .
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SUNIL KHILNANI The Idea of India PENGUIN BOOKS Contents Introduction to the Edition Introduction to the Edition Preface Map: The British Empire . PDF | On Feb 5, , Arkaprabha Pal and others published THE IDEA OF INDIA -Sunil Khilnani Book Review. The Idea of India. Sunil Khilnani (, ; pp). A Summary. Introduction to Edition. Broadly there have been two descriptions of Indian history.
Submit Search. Although the founders saw political freedom as their great goal, decades on, what that freedom has delivered measures up poorly for many. The arrival of the modern state on the Indian landscape over the past century and a half, and its growth and consolidation as a stable entity after , are decisive historical facts. And they have gone to build up the complex mysterious personality of india. The British rulers swathed themselves in mystique by proclaiming in an alien and powerful language, but few among the ruled could actually comprehend what was said. Published on Jan 17,
He did have intellectual principles and a philosophy of history, both of which shaped his actions, and there were certainly others who shared his views, but he had no clear doctrinal plan of action, nor was there anything like a consensus, within either his party or the society at large, to impart cohesion.
He was convinced that to maintain their newly won independence, Indians would have to entrust their future to a national state, whose central responsibility would be to direct economic development; but it also had to build a constitutional, non-religious regime, extend social opportunities, and maintain sovereignty in the international arena. This expansive and imprecise vision became tangible after The early years of his premiership were strewn with such contingencies, none more serious than Partition.
Few had foreseen its likelihood, and fewer still had expected it to come so precipitately or in the form it did. Indeed, even while it was actually underway no one quite knew what it involved, and many — including Nehru himself — thought it was a temporary adjustment that in time would be reversed.
But it came as a fury. Partition, when it began in August , was the starkest case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as trains steaming across the plains with their dead, and refugee columns stretching for dozens of miles, testified.
When the communal killing erupted in Lahore and Amritsar, Nehru faced the crisis as head of a cabinet and a party that were far from united behind him. Ironically, although Nehru was now head of a state, which Gandhi detested, the two men grew closer together in the face of the communal violence — Nehru visited Gandhi daily during the autumn of Thus was the Indian state embattled in contests over rights to territory from its inception.
In two regions the contests were never resolved and continue to this day: The details of this constitutive moment of the Indian Union, which established it as a secular republic that included a Muslim- majority regional state, remain obscure: The state, for its part, made efforts to acquire or control territory: In the cases of Kashmir and Nagaland, India enforced its claim to sovereign control of its territory by military means.
Immediately after Partition, the first of several wars with Pakistan over disputed territory in Kashmir erupted. Soon after, as the hundreds of princely states were assimilated into the new Union, military force was deployed internally — against the private army of the sumptuously eccentric Nizam of Hyderabad, for example, who entertained the notion of setting up his own independent fiefdom, and to suppress a communist-led peasant insurgency in the adjacent region of Telengana.
In each case, the military response ensured that precisely those traits of the Raj which Indian nationalists had struggled against were now reinforced: Military force was essential in establishing and securing the Indian state, but the generals never ruled. The military was successfully subordinated to civilian control, unlike the situation in many other South and Southeast Asian states.
As nationalists insisted, it had now to encompass the welfare as well as the freedom of citizens. The evocative Gandhian vision of an independent India that would dispense with a state altogether and return to traditional habits of rule soon faded from view. The Constitution was squarely in the best Western tradition: Diametrically opposed in character, the two waged an emblematic struggle between rival conceptions of a modern India.
But it was a precarious and partial victory: It did result in a democratic regime. The Constituent Assembly was a remarkably unrepresentative body: To Gandhi, for instance, it was quite clearly not a sovereign body.
Within the Assembly itself, the drafting of the Constitution rested in the hands of only about two dozen lawyers.
Most people in India had no idea of what exactly they had been given. It was neither unintended nor lacking in deliberation. The ample volumes of the Constituent Assembly debates contain superbly turned pieces of forensic reasoning, speeches about the relationship between the executive and the judiciary and about the optimum length of a presidential term.
Yet they carry little trace of the classic fears that haunted both advocates and critics of democracy in nineteenth-century Europe: On the 26th of January , we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality.
In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. The Constitution did not express the opinions or preferences of Indians, nor did it confine itself to a bare statement of procedural rules.
It was a baroque legal promissory note, its almost articles embodying what initially looked like a derisorily ambitious political design. Most decisively, the Constitution endowed the Union with a steady political identity. The first was between the powers of the central state — or the Centre, as it came to be called — and those of the provinces, or regional states that constituted the federal Union. Pre-independence nationalists had promised considerable autonomy to the provinces, but the actual circumstances in which the state was compelled to secure itself after encouraged the Constituent Assembly to retain the extensive central powers inherited from the Raj.
Military powers and emergency provisions for constitutional dictatorship were concentrated at the Centre; so too were the fiscal powers to print money or borrow commercially this last was a significant contrast to other large federal nations, like the United States or Brazil, which granted their constituent states greater fiscal freedoms.
There were also concessions: The second enduring tension concerned citizenship. The grant of universal rights to all was offset by a recognition of historical injustice suffered by particular communities. The Constitution thus established a language of community rights in a society where the liberal language of individual rights and equality was little used. Rights were anchored in collectivities, now recognized as particular interests within the nation.
The effect was to weaken the pressure to accord universal rights and to encourage demands for special dispensations for selected groups. Reservations had been intended to be a temporary expedient to a less unjust society, but, ironically, the desire to dissolve what was seen as the eternal and internally undifferentiated categories of caste in fact gave them new vigour as political self-identifications.
In later decades, as democratic struggle intensified, the ritual status and degradations of caste made for a proliferation of categories of economic opportunity and exclusion, subject to constant political negotiation and redefinition. The Constitution, and the politics it sanctioned, thus reinforced community identities rather than sustaining a sense of common citizenship based on individual rights.
The Constitution established a democratic regime, but how the state would actually act was still undecided. Very rapidly, the state accumulated for itself many quite disparate responsibilities, from patrolling borders that stretched across glaciers to abolishing untouchability, from constraining religious passions to building nuclear reactors. Convinced of its own ability to remould Indian society, it became a full-time trustee for its people: The observance of constitutional proprieties and democratic procedures was partly based upon a genuine idealism.
Politics was still being played by men who were not professionals but had come to politics through the nationalist movement.
Yet most citizens remained outside this conversation altogether, and were increasingly puzzled by its terms.
Nehru himself was aware of this, and insisted constantly on the need to explain the operations of the state, and of democratic politics, to them; but he was caught by his own conceptual language, restricted by the boundaries of intelligibility set by the English language of power. Little was done to widen the circles of deliberation, to establish a public vocabulary through which Indians could talk to one another as Indians. For Nehru, the authority of the new state rested not solely on domestic procedures of constitutional democracy but also on establishing its sovereignty in the international arena.
Here, he had a virtually free hand, only lightly checked by domestic forces. The principles he enunciated at the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in seem a faded and distant ideal now, but in the mids they were a radical departure from the obstinate polarities of the Cold War. This was a staggering performance for a poor country that had only recently emerged from colonial rule. China and India were destined to be the prime movers in this new phase of world history — it was with China that he first outlined the Panch shila, the five principles that he hoped would make Asia an area of peace.
It is doubly ironic, therefore, that it was in foreign policy, and in particular in relations with China, that Nehru had his greatest failure: The claims of the defence establishment received much greater attention after the war with China: There was a fundamental paradox.
The Nehru era was permeated by the rhetoric of democracy and social reform, and indeed Indian democracy was exemplary as a system of government then; parliamentary and party procedures were priggishly followed, there were few scandals, enough Indians voted to give the system legitimacy without overtaxing its capacities turnouts in the first three general elections averaged just under 50 per cent , Congress effectively filtered demands, and managed to contain religious and caste interests at local levels.
The state was enlarged, its ambitions inflated, and it was transformed from a distant, alien object into one that aspired to infiltrate the everyday lives of Indians, proclaiming itself responsible for everything they could desire: The state thus etched itself into the imagination of Indians in a way that no previous political agency had ever done.
This was the enduring legacy of the Nehru period. Democratic habits rapidly became hollow routines, and a bare decade after his death in , his daughter had initiated the country into a very different politics. Perhaps it is unreasonable to have expected this brief and overactive period in Indian history to have installed invulnerable institutional structures. There was undoubtedly an element of self- persuasion to this: The Nehru period made plain the centrality of leadership in the Indian state.
But precisely because of this his death set India into a long succession crisis. As later decades revealed, leadership was crucial, given the misshapen muscularity of the state, which made it strong in certain respects but feeble in others. It was accident that made her prime minister. The first succession, crucial for any democratic state, occurred under difficult circumstances. When she was chosen leader of Congress, Mrs Gandhi lacked any power base in the party or in the country.
Diffident and far from being driven by a burning ambition to command politically, she was also without any ideological passion.
It was a fateful misjudgement of their own abilities, and of her character. It is more than merely biographically significant, for in her own determination to survive, she altered the character of the state and of democratic politics. She had first to act within and against her party, but its centrality in the political arena ensured that her actions transformed as well the internal operations of the state and its relation to the society.
The Indian economy was precarious, and Congress won the elections of — effectively the first it had to contest as a political party rather than as heir of the nationalist movement — but with much less confidence than in the past. It lost control of eight of the regional legislatures, including those of the most populous states of north India.
Since the s, a combination of strong central command and relatively independent provincial leadership was the axis of the Congress machine. This restricted the hand of the central leadership in New Delhi, as Nehru had known all too well, but it ensured that things were done with some efficacy, and it confined subjects of potential conflict to local and lower levels in the political order.
Mrs Gandhi shattered this pattern. To get around the regional power brokerages, and to establish herself against the conservative Syndicate, she did the unthinkable: To mobilize what she correctly perceived as a powerful electoral resource, she devised a gestural radicalism: The strategy — parallel to that adopted by her sparring partner across the border, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan — was deployed in electoral conditions custom-made for her purposes: This surprised her opponents, broke the synchronization between elections to the national parliament and to regional legislatures, and diverted the attentions of the electorate away from regional concerns and directly towards New Delhi.
The strategy was an intoxicating success, and gave her a landslide majority in , bigger than any her father had ever enjoyed. Further triumph followed. Her decisive conduct in the victorious war against Pakistan that same year — which led to the secession of Bangladesh — helped her to sweep the elections to the regional legislatures in The Syndicate had been routed, and the fortunes of the Congress Party were on a crest.
But she had fractured Congress as an organization and opened a deep crevasse in Indian politics. The party itself swiftly degenerated into an unaudited company for winning elections. This myopic focus on elections was symptomatic of a deeper change. The subtle routines of politics between elections — when support must be nurtured, promises delivered on, things actually done — were neglected. Elections became spasmodic, theatrical events, when Indians gathered in hope and anticipation.
She offered herself as an individual object of adulation, identification and trust; it followed that she would also from now on become the object of all frustration and disaffection. A new pattern emerged: Within a few years of her electoral successes, Mrs Gandhi had to face all those disappointed by her promises of a new dawn. But dissent was now no longer filtered through the Congress Party. It coalesced unexpectedly, around disgruntled men of the old Congress, previously marginal political groups, and even, in a final swansong, Gandhian socialism, in the form of Jayaprakash Narayan, who became the symbolic leader of countrywide protests and strikes that began to challenge Mrs Gandhi on the streets.
Politics, both government and opposition, was no longer contained by the institutional form of the political party. In response to the spreading dissent, she clamped down.
The Emergency accelerated the concentration of power within the interiors of a few bungalows and offices in New Delhi. The PMO, as it became known in Indian political acronymese, was henceforth the sanctum sanctorum of the Indian state. But if all this appeared to brace India for a programme of vigorous authoritarian reconstruction, in fact hardly anything was actually done.
There were some prodigious but restricted cruelties: Since the Emergency bore so clearly the hand of its immediate maker, a popular psychology of the leader was evoked to explain it: Indira Gandhi declared herself committed to the project her father had begun, but her tolerance for the unpredictabilities of democratic politics was decidedly lower. Father and daughter had diverged, for instance, over the handling of the communist government formed in the southern state of Kerala in , one of the first freely elected communist governments in the world.
In , during a political confrontation between the Centre and the Kerala government, a reporter from a Madras daily, The Hindu, interviewed both Prime Minister Nehru and Indira Gandhi at the time president of Congress. The tone of the conversation is revealing: Are you going to fight the communists or throw them out?
Throw them out? What do you mean? They have also been elected.
Papu, what are you telling them? You are talking as prime minister. As Congress president I intend to fight them and throw them out. In the end, the communist government headed by E. Namboodripad was indeed dismissed, a portent of what later became a regular pattern of central interference in regional politics.
Yet the Emergency was much more than an expression of personal quirks. By kicking down the inherited Congress apparatus Mrs Gandhi appeared to enjoy freedom and immediate control: But it was the random, sporadic power of a despot. Instead of seasoned market-makers in the party, Mrs Gandhi came to rely on a distinctly less savoury network, the Youth Congress: The Youth Congress quickly became the exclusive doorway to the central leadership, and, in a perverse interpretation of a democracy of open access, invited members with quite unusual social backgrounds, often trailing criminal connections.
The old Congress had served as a finely tuned information exchange. By the mids the PMO had become a solipsistic lair humming with flattery and rumour. The distortion of information was so great that Mrs Gandhi was led to call elections in , in the misplaced conviction that Indians would vote for still further doses of authoritarian bullying.
Popular resistance to the Emergency did indeed help to restore democracy that year, though ultimately a blithely deluded leadership gifted it back to the people. The votes went against Mrs Gandhi, and for the first time a non-Congress government was formed at the Centre: The coalition could not bend the political and economic order to its doctrinal enthusiasms and after two years had exhausted itself in domestic bickering.
New elections in returned a chastened, more nervously superstitious Mrs Gandhi to office. But these electoral swings were not wayward pubescent awakenings; rather, they showed how deeply elections had engraved themselves on the popular imagination as ready means to express annoyance at the immediate evidence of political misconduct.
Within the state, constitutional decorum and balance were subordinated to what the political leadership interpreted as the will of the people expressed in electoral majorities. The drift was unmistakably towards a Jacobin conception of direct popular sovereignty. Mrs Gandhi, invoking her huge parliamentary majorities especially after , tried to portray the Constitution as a conservative obstacle to her radical ambitions.
This resort to populism strengthened a certain democratic momentum within the political order, but it weakened others — the observance of rules and procedures designed to instil the moderation which democracy needs.
These rules of rule, these procedural constraints which had previously been delicately observed, were set aside. Electoral volatility foreshortened the horizons of political time: New entrants saw electoral triumph as the necessary means to gaining power of patronage over the resources accumulated by the state through several decades of state-regulated economic development; their main intention was now to draw rapid profits from such access.
As elections gained in importance, levels of democratic participation in both national and provincial politics climbed turnouts in the five general elections between and averaged 60 per cent. So, too, did levels of violence, and the connection was not random. According to commonly available understandings of democracy, individuals rationally choose political parties as instruments to pursue their interests. But representative democracy — in India as elsewhere — does not operate through a simple instrumental relation between representative and represented.
Democratic politics seems to require that identities and perceptions of interest be stable; but political identities and interests do not have a pre-political existence — they have to be created through politics. Thus, paradoxically, democratic politics must itself produce the very identities and interests which it presupposes in order to function in the first place. And this process of identity creation is a dangerous business, more akin to conflict than competition.
The new political entrants considered themselves — and acted as — members of groups and communities, rather than liberal individuals. These collective identities in some cases began viciously to attack one another: Violence between society and the state also escalated. Conflicts were arising among social groups whose identities could be activated for political ends: The potential agencies of political representation were also plentiful: Democracy quickened the attraction of these social identities in various, often contradictory ways.
The potentialities of religion, language and caste inspired parties to devise strategies that respectively appealed to the Hindu religion, the Hindi language or lower-caste status, in order to mobilize for power at the Centre.
Regional politics also came violently alive, and very differently from the way it had in the s. The claims of regional autonomy Nehru faced were reactions against the legacies of British rule, which had bequeathed the Indian state administrative territories containing different linguistic groups now discontented by their opportunities. The steady pilferage by the Centre of powers that constitutionally belonged to the regions welded national and regional politics together.
In the past, local issues had been kept local, resolved by chief ministers and regional fixers with autonomous powers.
This freed the central government to pursue longer-term ends and protected it from becoming a target of routine dissent. But the new pattern routed all regional power through New Delhi. Sometimes the effects were grimly comic. I do not even know how I came here. Mrs Gandhi and her son, Sanjay, desperate to break the coalition, tried to weaken the notoriously faction-ridden Akali Dal, and to this end encouraged Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a young Sant or religious preacher, hoping to use him to plant discord.
Once he had done this, and after her return to power, Mrs Gandhi presumed he was dispensable: He encouraged them to question the always potentially tenuous authority of the Indian state over its territorial ownership, and began to flourish the language of self-determination for the Sikhs, the dream of their own Khalistan.
This fell on grateful ears, yet the central government justified its neglect of the regions and of the Punjab by invoking a putatively democratic argument: This comprehensive absorption of powers by the central state occurred when the effects of several decades of unevenly directed policies of economic development began to have visible effects.
Resentments about these policies differed widely. Regions that had done well, like Punjab, wanted greater autonomy, while those that believed the Centre had neglected them, like Assam, called for greater redistributive intervention. But all the grievances were expressed in similar political form.
Unable to be heard in federal, representative politics, the regions had little incentive to play the democratic game. Political assassinations in independent India have generally occurred in public places, in the presence of crowds.
The Hindu extremist who shot Mahatma Gandhi killed him at a prayer meeting in ; Rajiv Gandhi would be killed by a Tamil suicide bomber at an election campaign meeting in Assassinations have not taken place in the grounds of the palace, in the rooms and corridors of political power, as in so many other new states. They have not been instigated by people authorized by the state to bear arms. This time, however, not only was the state unwilling to act quickly to protect its citizens, but members of the Congress Party were actively involved in instigating and directing the violence against Sikhs.
The central government responded in two ways. The most decisive change, oddly enough, was that democracy, in the form of electoral participation, had become indelible: New groups had entered politics as voters and as politicians: The centrality of elections, and the desperate value staked on winning them, made for engrained political corruption in the public arena: But with the concentration of power, the procedures of money-making were also centralized, they became more invisible, and they also attracted more attention: The increased electoral participation encouraged politicians to make communal appeals, and they had to become more ingenious in mustering political support.
Meanwhile, the expanded central state commanded considerable resources, for access to which there was intense competition. But it had also now become an easy target for every frustration, resentment and disappointment. Democracy as a regime of laws and rights, as a set of procedures that moderates the powers of the state, had been damaged. Rules had become subject to political fiddling and routine twisting. Intellectuals outside the government slumped into despair or catatonia.
Politics and the state, once seen as the prophylactic that would invigorate the country, were now seen as the disease. Their consequences differed from what, at the time, they had been thought to be. Indira Gandhi had appeared to be the greatest threat to democracy, but in fact the effect of her rule was to throw open the state to popular demands and to brand the idea of electoral democracy indelibly on the Indian political imagination.
Its increased reliance on appeals to caste and religion helped to politicize those social categories and draw them into the national arena, but it also offered opportunities to rivals. The BJP, dedicated to a redefinition of nationalism in exclusively Hindu terms, was a grateful beneficiary of this. In the first four decades after independence, Hindu nationalist parties had never managed to gather more than 10 per cent of the votes in national elections, but in the s the BJP more than doubled this, although its supporters were confined to the northern and western regions of the country.
Even more important than the rise of Hindu nationalism for the future of Indian democracy was the emergence of a new politics based on caste categories. The lowest in the caste order and those altogether excluded from it — who now called themselves Dalits and Bahujans — organized autonomously and withdrew their support from Congress, which had always portrayed itself as the paternal guardian of their interests.
Their disentanglement from Congress was encouraged by V. He returned to the original commitments of the Constitution and to the recommendations of the Mandal Commission on caste reservations mothballed since , and promised the lower castes sweeping reservations of education and employment opportunities. New lower-caste politicians emerged, for whom Ambedkar was, of all the old nationalist leaders, their only true hero. But unlike Ambedkar, these new politicians did not dress in three-piece suits and speak perfect courtroom English.
These new caste parties were in principle stoutly opposed to the Hindu nationalism of the BJP, and entered into alliances with Muslim and Christian communities against what they saw as a conspiracy of upper-caste Hindus to return to the oppressive varna hierarchies of ancient India.
Yet in their battles against oppression, they did not invoke universal principles of justice and rights. Instead, they struggled quite explicitly to corner special privileges for their communities.
The breakdown of the federal and coalitional pillars of Congress reinvigorated regional politics. By the mids proliferating regional parties had set their own stamp on the national political imagination: Economic reforms initiated in by the minority Congress government of Narasimha Rao assigned greater powers to regional governments, and provoked greater competition for control over them.
The intensity of political competition produced a generation of regional politicians with remarkable skills and quite novel ways of flattering popular cultural sensibilities: It is wrong to see them as atavistic forms that repudiate or attack the ideas of the state and democracy; on the contrary, they exemplify the triumphant success of these ideas.
That success has been paradoxical. The unstoppable rise of popular engagement in electoral politics, the fact that in a national study conducted in more than 70 per cent of the electorate rejected the suggestion that India would be better governed without political parties and elections, attests to the authority of the democratic idea. Yet the meaning of democracy has been menacingly narrowed to signify only elections. Institutions like the Election Commission, responsible for ensuring the legality of elections, have, it is true, reacted impressively: Seshan, a genuine if sometimes whimsical obstruction to politicians.
But more generally, other democratic procedures have weakened with neglect. As the sole bridge between state and society, they have come metonymically to stand for democracy itself; their very simplicity, their conversion since the s into referenda where voters were offered simple choices, have made them universally comprehensible. This expansion of elections to fill the entire space of democratic politics has altered how political parties now muster support.
But the fact that such identities were less significant for four decades after independence, and then surged into national politics, only shows how much they are creations of modern politics, not residues of the past.
In India, democracy has had to function in a society of peculiar complexity where many different temporal and historical planes coexist. India continues to be a predominantly agrarian society, whose people are not indifferent to religion, and where the individual does not have a strong political or social presence.
But towering over that society today is the state. This state is far from supremely effective: Yet it is today at the very centre of the Indian political imagination. Until little over a century ago, the social order of caste had made the state largely redundant. In the Indian state dedicated itself — by means of constitutional law and social reform — to the dissolution of the old, oppressive bonds of caste.
The past fifty years have trenchantly displayed the powers of the state and of the idea of democracy to reconstitute the antique social identities of India — caste and religion — and to force them to face and to enter politics.
But the identities of caste and religion have also bent the democratic idea to their own purposes. The vertiginous terminology of caste belonging in contemporary India — Scheduled Castes, Backward, Other Backward, and More Backward Classes and castes — as also of Hindu religious self-definition bear the heavy burden of modern politics and law.
These categories make no sense in the traditional language of caste or religion, the vocabulary of Brahmin and Shudra, vaishnav or shakta. The conflicts in India today are the conflicts of modern politics; they concern the state, access to it, and to whom it ultimately belongs. And the protagonists are creatures who belong to neither the modern nor the traditional world: Within a very short time, India has moved from being a society in which the state had for most people a distant profile and limited responsibilities, and where only a few had access to it, to one where state responsibilities have swollen and everyone can imagine exercising some influence upon it.
Conflict is part of what democracy is: In India the idea of democracy has released prodigious energies of creation and destruction. Democracy as a governmental form will no doubt suffer the vicissitudes to which all human institutions are prey. A return to the old order of castes, or of rule by empire, is inconceivable: Two Temples of the Future Probably nowhere else in the world is there a dam as high as this … As I walked round the site I thought that these days the biggest temple and mosque and gurdwara is the place where man works for the good of mankind.
Which place can be greater than this, this Bhakra-Nangal? The dam at Bhakra was the most awesome of them all, a metre-high concrete wall stretched half a kilometre across a jagged Himalayan gorge. Three and a half million cubic metres of concrete were needed to raise the dam — the concrete had to be produced over three years, at the rate of ten tons a minute, sixteen hours a day mid-century India was also in love with statistics.
It was a virtuoso engineering performance. For the men and women who laboured to build Bhakra, the motivations were straightforward enough. At the end of the week he gives me money. That is why I do it. It was a big, audacious image. India, it promised, would become an industrial giant. Nothing ages worse than images of the future, and half a century later that image, many agree, seems to have been mistaken: The great dams, sluicing through forests and villages, have come to be seen as the emanations of a developmental fantasy insensitive to ecological limits and careless of turning its citizens into refugees in their own land.
Poverty in the countryside and the city continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of millions. Gandhians and socialists, environmentalists and free-market liberals, all agree that something has gone wrong. To a large extent, though, responsibility must lie with Indians themselves. But which Indians? The Indian state was hardly unusual in setting itself colossal developmental ambitions; but it was virtually unique among new states in deciding to pursue these by democratic means.
For most of the last fifty years, the electoral dominance of the Congress Party and the availability of a sophisticated and extensive public bureaucracy gave the ideas and theories of intellectuals a stable platform, and granted the direction of the Indian economy a remarkable continuity, if not fixity.
But these ideas and theories had to be implemented in a society where democracy steadily extended its empire, and where the state became selectively responsive to interests that secured political representation. Liberalization and market-oriented reforms did come to India in the s, but their proponents were impelled to consider them by a self-created fiscal crisis which, in tandem with the arguments of intellectuals, pushed the Indian state towards reform.
And how well have they served Indians? Its huge agrarian economy was one of the most impoverished in the world; from Gandhi it had inherited a vision deeply opposed to the project of industrial modernity; and, although it possessed powerful industrial capitalists at the end of the Second World War, India was the tenth largest producer of manufactured goods in the world , they did not form a united class strong enough to push through a project of industrialization against a society of rentiers, farmers and traders.
There was broad agreement about the problems that faced free India: The proposed solutions, however, varied. The typical concerns of Indian nationalism rarely encompassed detailed reflection on wealth and power, or the practical arrangements thought necessary to secure these under modern conditions. The historical experience of modernity was usually interpreted as a cultural predicament. The most impressive aspect of that history was the unexampled prosperity and security that industrialization had delivered to the peoples and states of the modern West.
The idiosyncrasies of Britain and France were nothing like the trajectories of late developers like Germany and Russia; and all could be read through the contrasting lenses of socialist or liberal theory. For Indian intellectuals in the mid-century, the hope was to condense in rapid simultaneity the different processes that had unfolded in slow sequence in the West: Yet the intellectuals who advanced these arguments were without any social or economic base.
On the whole, these men had profited well under the colonial dispensation and had little quarrel with British rule. Their view of their own interests did not converge with those of their compatriot intellectuals in the cities.
The stirrings of the intelligentsia had an urban energy, with few effects in the countryside; and despite the later moment of the Gandhian bridge between the countryside and the cities, positions were never reconciled. The British Raj thus kept Indian economic interests divided, but it was also the first authority to unite India into a single economic field. It provided a common currency, and it developed abilities to conduct policies that were put into effect across the subcontinent.
But, unlike the East India Company which it had succeeded, the British administration made its money mainly through indirect methods. It did not rely on direct taxation or rents: Wealth was primarily accumulated by manipulating the Indian currency and the balance of payments.
In general the British — apart from a few entrepreneurial Scots — had little interest in making productive investments in India or burning its resources in industrial workshops.
The British justified their own desultory developmental efforts by citing the many climatic, social and cultural obstacles, all resistant to reform through policy: They left no model for such purposes.
But the Raj did leave its successor one narrow — but for any state, essential — practical legacy. Its commitment to cheap government became entrenched as a finicky administrative concern about sound finances: The test for British rule in India is not what it has done for ourselves but what it has done for the Indian people.
They began, therefore, to learn and turn the language of political economy against the British. Poverty in the countryside caught their attention, but poverty stalked their arguments in metaphorical guise: The language used to describe the poor was the purplest of late Victorian prose, while the actual existence of poverty was proven by the simple expedient of citing the observations of British administrators about the conditions of the Indian poor: Figures were tabled, and invariably used to compare India with other countries, but not Indians with Indians.
Unlike previous imperial looters, who had at least had the decency to spend their plunder within India so preserving the hydrostatic character of the local economy , the British regularly decamped with their cargo. Evidence of this flow — and of its scale — could be found in a simple statistic: It engrained a fear about the fragility of Indian economic interests in an open, international economy.
The solution to the problem of poverty in the villages which the economic nationalists proposed did not encompass changes in agriculture itself: Instead, it recommended plugging the drain and redirecting resources to private initiatives in industry, whose benefits would not only revive and enrich the countryside but unite the country even more powerfully than a sense of common political interests.
The community of interests may cease when these rights are achieved. But the commercial union of the various Indian nationalities, once established, will never cease to exist. Commercial and industrial activity is, therefore, a bond of very strong union and is, therefore, a mighty factor in the formation of a great Indian nation. Its rhetoric circulated in the annual sessions of Congress and in the pages of the nationalist press, but little further. By the late s, though, nationalist politics had changed.
A schism had opened between those who favoured some version of industrial modernity and those who rejected it. Indian industrialists had perhaps the most practical outline for an economic policy. Tata, G. The industrialists, keen to influence Congress to support their strategy, proposed a paternal role for the state in a future India: They agreed that poverty was a fundamental problem, but they envisaged neither a substantial segment of the economy in public ownership nor extensive redistributive responsibilities for the state.
An overlapping, if rather more technocratic, argument was advanced by men outside the nationalist movement, within the Indian Civil Service or connected with progressive princely states like Mysore and Travancore: Committed to the idea of planned modernization, they favoured a purely pragmatic view of the boundaries between state and private action. A third argument came from the small but articulate left wing of the Congress Party.
Initially, it simply pressed for more explicit redistributive commitments in both industry and agriculture, and it was able to extract this from a temperamentally cautious Congress in the form of the famous Karachi Resolution of , which for the first time appeared to commit Congress to radical reforms. This declaration expressed a desire to speak a political message comprehensible to other Indians: In order to end the exploitation of the masses, political freedom must include real economic freedom of the starving millions.
During the course of the s, though, these intellectuals tried to shape this well-meaning phraseology into a more confident statement about economic production. Support for light or consumer industries was a distraction from the larger task of pushing India towards an independent industrial future.
And these heavy industries had to be in public ownership, for both redistributive and security purposes.
Like all who subscribed to the vision of an industrial future, these intellectuals of the Left believed that industrialization and, they added, policies that redistributed land away from the big landlords, would eliminate rural poverty. The voices in favour of industrialization temporarily converged in the late s under the umbrella of a National Planning Committee.
Bose himself was on the verge of leaving the party to make his own phantom way into history as a general without an army, while Nehru complained incessantly about the constraints his committee faced: The committee disbanded in , when Nehru went into prison for his eighth spell, and it was not revived until the end of the war.
The Congress leadership talked murkily around it, as with so many other fundamental subjects of potential conflict, leaving it unresolved by the time of independence. The purpose of winning swaraj, self-rule, Gandhi daily insisted, was to emancipate Indians from the compulsion to imitate the imprisoning, destructive and iniquitous forms of industrial modernity dumbly cherished in the West. Gandhi was committed to an ethic of austerity. His obsession with accounting for each anna might lie, as he himself joked, in his bania blood; it also manifested a shrewd and deeper ecological sense and a prescient grasp of the relationship between modern man and nature.
Here, he saw the deepest injury of Indian society lying not in poverty itself which Gandhi assumed would decline after the withdrawal of the British but in the humiliations of caste. Gandhi saw caste as a dispensable adjunct to the productive systems of village society. It also led him to believe that caste could be dissolved through pressure of moral argument and example — in contrast to Nehru, for whom industrialization and the social relations it set in place were both essential practical solvents of the bonds of caste.
As independence approached, the contradictions between these different visions sharpened. But the manifestos of the intelligentsia and the industrialists were at some remove from the kind of party that Congress had by now become.
By the late s, it depended more than ever on the powerful in the countryside, who were uninterested in industrialization or in the redistribution of wealth and power. The entry of Congress into the provincial electoral politics of the Raj would henceforth practically constrain the imaginative visions of the progressive intellectuals.
To win, Congress had to carry the support of the upper-caste rural land-lords and richer farmers; and after it continued to rely on them to deliver the votes of those lower in the social order. And to keep the support of the rural rich, Congress had in practice to soften its redistributive intentions and agree to leave decisions about the rural property order in the hands of the men who dominated it.
It also conferred on Congress its distinctive temper, so different, for example, from the Chinese Communist Party: Nehru found himself leader of a party divided in its views about economic development, with no single group weighty enough to impose its vision. The disruptions of Partition had further blurred things: In the Constituent Assembly, the interests of the rural rich were secured by removing land reform and agricultural taxation from the control of the central government and putting them in the hands of the provincial legislatures, more closely subject to the imprecations of the landlords.
This left Nehru isolated, and with Gandhi gone, it made Patel the most powerful figure within the party. Commentators concluded that the enthusiasm for planning had been a short-lived fashion, now over: Yet this is a crude reading of his purposes and practice. Not merely was Nehru from his very earliest encounters with the Soviet experiment critical of its political consequences a judgement he made very clear after a visit to Moscow in , well before Stalinism ; his own practice after was more improvisatory than ideological, and aimed to unite into a single, coherent strategy quite diverse intentions.
It encouraged him to believe that an independent India could follow three ends simultaneously: This project was rather distant from Soviet practice, and much closer to post- war European social democracy.
Indeed, by the late s, Nehru had shifted to a recognizably social-democratic position that would not have been out of place in the radical mood of the post Labour Party. But it was always his own conception, which joined his views about the international economy with a model of the domestic one and related both to a democratic political order.
Given the structure of the world economy, it would be only too easy for a new state like India to surrender its political sovereignty by slipping into dependence on foreign capital in its effort to industrialize. The state had actively to create conditions for economic expansion: The ancestry of this argument for a public sector is therefore not correctly traced to the Soviet model of a command economy, nor did it derive from an ideological conviction in the virtues of collectivism.
Rather, in its redistributive ambitions, it had obvious resonances with the policies adopted in many western European countries in the post-war period.
There was indeed very large-scale American financial and food aid: But for Nehru, a rapid growth rate was not an end in itself. It had to be reconciled with independence and with democracy. Higher levels of output might have been achieved by directing investment towards consumer industries, but this, it was believed, would weaken economic independence, which needed a base of heavy and defence industries.
As it happened, external support for the strategy of investment in heavy industries came most consistently and generously not from the West but from the Soviets, eager to extend their sphere of influence. Yet Nehru was equally clear that given the Indian commitment to democratic politics, growth rates in heavy industries could not be forced, in Soviet or Chinese style. In contrast to present-day, instrumentalist attitudes to democracy, which puzzle over whether or not democracy is conducive to economic growth, Nehru assumed that democracy was a value in itself.
Economic development and democracy were intrinsic virtues of the modernity to which he was committed, and both had to be pursued simultaneously. But it had to be built in real and particular circumstances, and inevitably intentions did not match outcomes. The difficulties were rooted in the land: These constraints forced Nehru to rely on the state bureaucracy to realize his aims, ultimately a self- confounding tactical choice.
The drive towards industrialization, Nehru saw, presumed changes in the agrarian property order. Since the benefits of industrialization were bound to accumulate only slowly, in the intervening period agricultural growth would have to absorb some of the slack in rural employment, as well as provide cheap food. Given his aversion to raising food prices — which was considered unfeasible in a society where most people were poor — the redistribution of land was believed to be the way both to reduce rural inequality and to give incentives to farmers to produce more, so helping India to become self-sufficient in food.
And on the face of it there was no more likely opportunity than the first decade after independence. Until Congress ruled in all the states, and in principle it might have been possible. But in fact Congress had never been a strongly ideological party, dedicated to announcing and then enacting political programmes.
During the mids it became evident that the legislative approach to altering the property order had reached an impasse. But the measures were rather half-hearted and ineffective, and the district and village councils were sequestered by the already powerful through a blend of cajolery, terror and usury. Land reform was pushed further in certain regions, in communist-governed states like Kerala which anyway began with less stark inequalities, partly a result of its own cultural forms of matrilineal property inheritance and later in West Bengal.
But overall it ground to a halt, and the great inequalities of the social order were largely preserved. Khilnani provides the bridge between the nationalist and socialist ideological formation of India on the one hand and the later neo-liberal capitalist formations on the other.
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