India After Independence: 1947-2000

BOOK: India After Independence: 1947-2000
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Bipin Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee
India After Independence 1947-2000

PENGUIN BOOKS

Contents

About the Author

Dedication

1. Introduction

2. The Colonial Legacy

3. The National Movement and its Legacy

4. The Evolution of the Constitution and Main Provisions

5. The Architecture of the Constitution: Basic Features and Institutions

6. The Initial Years

7. Consolidation of India As a Nation

8. Consolidation of India As a Nation: The Linguistic Reorganization of the States

9. Consolidation of India As a Nation: Integration of the Tribals

10. Consolidation of India As a Nation: Regionalism and Regional Inequality

11. The Years of Hope and Achievement, 1951-64

12. Foreign Policy: The Nehru Era

13. Jawaharlal Nehru in Historical Perspective

14. Political Parties, 1947-64: The Congress

15. Political Parties, 1947-65: The Opposition

16. From Shastri to Indira Gandhi, 1964-69

17. The Indira Gandhi Years, 1969-73

18. The J.P. Movement and the Emergency: Indian Democracy Tested

19. The Janata Interregnum and Indira Gandhi’s Second Coming, 1977-84

20. The Rajiv Years

21. The Run-up to the Millennium, 1989-99

22. Politics in the States (I): Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Assam

23. Politics in the States (II): West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir

24. The Punjab Crisis

25. Indian Economy, 1947-1965: The Nehruvian Legacy

26. Indian Economy, 1965-1991

27. Economic Reforms Since 19915

28. Land Reforms: Zamindari Abolition and Tenancy Reforms

29. Land Reforms: Ceiling and the Bhoodan Movement

30. Land Reforms: Cooperatives and an Overview

31. Agriculture Growth and the Green Revolution

32. Agrarian Struggles Since Independence

33. Revival and Growth of Communalism

34. Caste, Untouchability, Anti-caste Politics and Strategies

35. Indian Women Since Independence

36. The Post-Colonial Indian State and the Political Economy of Development: An Overview

37. Disarray in Institutions of Governance

38. On the Eve of the New Millennium Achievements, Problems and Prospects

Notes

Select Bibliography

A Note on Style

Acknowledgements

Copyright

PENGUIN BOOKS

INDIA AFTER INDEPENDENCE

Bipan Chandra was born in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. He was educated at Forman Christian College, Lahore, and at Stanford University, California. He was Professor of Modern History at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where he is currently Professor Emeritus. Prof. Chandra is the author of several books on nationalism, colonialism, and communalism in modern India.

Mridula Mukherjee was educated at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi and at JNU. She is Professor of Modern Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. Her areas of special interest are agrarian history, peasant movements and the national movement.

Aditya Mukherjee was educated at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and at JNU. He is Professor of Contemporary Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. His research interests are in modern business history and capitalist development, and contemporary economy and politics.

To Late Professor V.D. Mahajan

1
Introduction

India’s independence represented for its people the start of an epoch that was imbued with a new vision. In 1947, the country commenced its long march to overcome the colonial legacy of economic under development, gross poverty, near total illiteracy, wide prevalence of disease and stark social inequality and injustice. 15 August 1947 was only the first stop, the first break—the end of colonial political control: centuries of backwardness were now to be overcome, the promises of the freedom struggle to be fulfilled, and people’s hopes to be met.

The tasks of nation-building were taken up by the Indian people and their leaders with a certain elan and determination and with confidence in their capacity to succeed. Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on the eve of independence, on 14 August, reflected this buoyant mood.

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 more than 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.

The Basic Goals

The first and the most important task was to preserve, consolidate and strengthen India’s unity, to push forward the process of the making of the Indian nation, and to build up and protect the national state as an instrument of development and social transformation. 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 Indians’ multiple identities and by giving different parts of the country and various sections of the people an adequate space
in the Indian union. The project was, moreover, rightly seen to be a long-term and continuing process with the concept of Indianness being constantly redefined.

Basic, in this respect was also the secular vision. The nation’s leaders set out to build a secular society and state, undaunted by the Partition of India and the ensuing riots.

It was also clear that India’s revolution had to be taken beyond the merely political to include economic and social transformation. Independent India had to begin its upward economic climb from an abysmally low level. The technological and productivity levels of Indian agriculture and industry were to be constantly and rapidly raised. Moreover, 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 capital. This could not be accomplished through the unhampered working of the market forces and private enterprise. It would require planning and a large public sector. India, therefore, set out to achieve, especially after 1955, an integrated national economy based on an indigenous industry, catering primarily to its domestic market. While socialism was also set out as an objective, the essence of India’s effort was towards the structural transformation of her economy, leading to its becoming an independent, national economy.

The social scene also called for rapid transformation. Despite lower caste movements in several parts of the country and Gandhiji’s campaign against untouchability, the caste system still dominated rural society and untouchability was the prevailing mode—the lower castes had still not ‘stood-up’. Male domination was still nearly total, and women suffered immense social oppression in the family. Polygamy prevailed both among Hindus and Muslims. Women had no right of inheritance, nor the right of divorce, and were still by and large denied access to education. For Indians, illiteracy and ignorance were the norm in 1951; only 25 per cent of males and 7.9 per cent of females were literate.

The founders of the Indian Republic had the farsightedness and the courage to commit themselves to two major innovations of historical significance in nation-building and social engineering: first, to build a democratic and civil libertarian society among an illiterate people and second, to undertake economic development within a democratic political structure. Hitherto, in all societies in which an economic take-off or an early industrial and agricultural breakthrough had occurred, effective democracy, especially for the working people, had been extremely limited. On the other hand, from the beginning, India was committed to a democratic and civil libertarian political order and a representative system of government based on free and fair elections to be conducted on the basis of universal adult franchise. Moreover, the state was to encroach as little as possible on rival civil sources of power such as universities, the Press, trade unions, peasant organizations and professional associations. The many social, economic and political challenges that the country was to face were to be dealt with in a democratic manner, under democratic conditions.

One of the major political tasks facing the leadership was to further develop the democratic consciousness among the people initiated during the period of the freedom struggle. The leadership completely rejected the different versions of the ‘rice-bowl theory’, that the poor in an underdeveloped country were more interested in a bowl of rice than in democracy, and that, in any case, democracy was useless to them if it could not guarantee them adequate food, clothing and shelter.

Further, it was realized that given India’s diversity, a democratic political structure was necessary for promoting national integration. Democracy was also considered essential for bringing about social change. Nehru, in particular, upheld perhaps the utopian notion that the poor would sooner or later assert their power through their vote and bring into being a social order responsive to their needs.

Economic development and a democratic political order were to be accompanied by rapid social transformation so that existing gross economic, caste and gender inequalities were rapidly eliminated, poverty was removed and the levels of living raised. The structure of Indian society was to be rapidly transformed in a broadly socialist direction, but not necessarily to resemble Soviet-style Communism. It was also realized that these objectives required the broadest unity of the Indian people. Therefore, a large social consensus had to be evolved around the vision of the freedom struggle and the democratic forms through which the objectives would be achieved.

The national movement had aroused expectations of a rapid rise in personal and societal prosperity, of social and economic equity and equality, of the good life. Indira Gandhi’s slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ in 1971 further fuelled these expectations as did the process of continuous politicization since 1950. The constantly rising aspirations and expectations had to be fulfilled as rapidly as possible, and without letting too wide a gap develop between expectations and fulfilment. In short, the Indian people and their leaders hoped to achieve in a few decades what others had achieved in a century or more. And this was to be on the basis of democracy, avoiding bloodshed and authoritarianism, and through a process of accomodating diverse social, economic and regional interests. Agrarian reforms, state planning and a strong public sector were to serve as the major instruments for the purpose.

At the same time, political stability had to be assured for the accomplishment of all these tasks. The political system had to combine stability with growth, social transformation, and deepening of the political process. The Indian revolution had to be gradual, non-violent and based on political stability, but it had to be a revolution all the same.

A Troubled Democracy

Since 1947 and until today, many Indians and foreigners, critics and admirers, have expressed doubts about India’s ability to develop or
continue its advance, or even sustain its societal and developmental design. From the beginning there have existed vocal prophets of doom and gloom who have been predicting that neither freedom, nor democracy, nor socialism would survive in India for long, that the Indian political system would collapse sooner or later, that the Indian union would not survive and the nation state would disintegrate into linguistic and ethnic fragments. They have repeatedly argued that India’s numerous religious, caste, linguistic and tribal diversities, besides its poverty, social misery and inequity, growing disparities of wealth, rigid and hierarchial social structure, massive unemployment and multiple socio-economic problems were bound to undermine its national unity, its democratic institutions and its developmental efforts. India would, therefore, either break up or alternatively be held together by a civilian or military authoritarian, dictatorial regime.

Ever since regional parties started emerging in the sixties and much more during the eighties and nineties, many commentators have been speculating—some with enthusiasm—as to when the disintegration of India would take place. Even the success in holding together and working a secular and democratic political system over the years has not deterred the prophets of doom. At every instance of turmoil or perceived political crisis, as for example the wars with China and Pakistan, the death of the towering Nehru, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, communal, linguistic or caste violence, Naxalite uprisings, secessionist movements in Kashmir, the North-East, Punjab and earlier in Tamil Nadu, these critics articulated and renewed their foreboding.

As early as 1960, the American scholar-journalist Selig S. Harrison predicted: ‘The odds are almost wholly against the survival of freedom and . . . the issue is, in fact, whether any Indian state can survive at all.’
1

In 1967, Neville Maxwell, the
Times
correspondent, in a series of articles entitled ‘India’s Disintegrating Democracy’ declared, ‘The great experiment of developing India within a democratic framework has failed.’ He predicted that the fourth general elections which were then forthcoming would be surely the last election to be held in India.
2

Many of the Cassandras felt justified when the Emergency was imposed. Many argued that it provided a signpost to India’s political future. Some went further and said that the democratic system in India was finally and permanently in eclipse, or at least that it would never be the same again. Another set of doom-wallas stressed the incapacity of India to achieve economic development. India’s political institutional structure, according to them did not coincide with the developmental goals that had been set as these required a degree of coercion if not dictatorship to be achieved.

Then there were left-wing sceptics who held that no social; economic or political development was possible without a violent revolution and that nation-building, political democracy, economic development, national unity and nationalism were mere shams meant to delude the oppressed and the exploited. They, therefore, argued for or anticipated a peasant-based
revolution as in China during 1925-1949 or a worker-peasant-based revolution as in Russia in 1917. According to them, poverty, inequality, class domination, and social oppression would sooner or later lead the vast majority of the people on the path of revolution, putting an end not only to capitalism and feudalism but also ‘bourgeois democracy’ and the multi-nation state’. In the early seventies, many observers, including the writer of a note prepared by the Home Ministry, predicted that the Green Revolution would turn Red since it would benefit only the rich farmers and displace small peasants from the land and create further unemployment among the agricultural labourers. Some of the left-wing prophets of doom even denied the possibility of independent economic development in India and continued to maintain over the years that India was entering a phase of dependency and neo-colonialism, if it had not already done so.

It is also interesting that those who did not share this scepticism of the left or the non-left were usually portrayed by them as apologists of the Establishment. As W.H. Morris-Jones, perhaps the most perceptive of the political scientists studying India, put it as early as 1966: ‘It has become customary to adopt highly sceptical views on Indian developments . . . . The position, is now reached where failure to share such attitudes is taken as the mark, in an Indian, of some kind of government public relations man and, in an outsider, of a misguided sentimentalist.’
3

Another set of observers of the Indian scene, who were less pessimistic about the democratic political system, were puzzled by India’s success in sustaining itself in the face of its failure on so many fronts—inadequacy of land reforms and the existence of large-scale landlessness in the rural areas, the slow rate of growth in industry and the national income, the failure to check the high rate of population growth, persistence of gross inequalities, caste oppression, discrimination against women, a dysfunctional education system, environmental degradation, growing pollution in the cities, human rights abuses, factionalism in politics, chaotic party situation, growing political unrest, seccessionist demands and movements, administrative decline and even chaos, police inefficiency, high levels of corruption and brutality, and criminalization of politics. The perplexity of many of these ‘puzzled’ observers was also fuelled by the truism that democratic institutions cannot be transferred by the fiat of the framers of a Constitution. But what they failed to appreciate is that democracy had already been indigenized and rooted in the Indian soil by the freedom struggle and the modern Indian intelligentsia during the previous hundred years or so.

In our view the prophets of doom were basically wrong in their prophesies, but they were quite often right on the target as critics. Many other analysts of Indian developments, who have not shared their scepticism and predictions, have pondered over the problems of democracy and development in an extremely diverse society having an underdeveloped economy and facing economic scarcity. They, too, have been worried by the fragility of India’s political stability. They do not believe that there is a situation for administrative or political breakdown but many of them
would argue that India is beginning to face ‘a crisis of governability’. Over the years they have continuously emphasized that basic structural and institutional changes were necessary for desirable social development and the deepening and effective functioning of democracy. Even while arguing against the supporters of authoritarianism, the feasibility or desirability of a violent revolution, and predictions of the break up of the country, they have advocated and worked for the implementation of a programme of radical reforms, more or less around the Gandhian and Nehruvian agenda and its further development.

BOOK: India After Independence: 1947-2000
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