Between 1963 and 66

Political Transformation in India

ML Sondhi

No one seems to have anticipated the internal changes in India which have followed the large scale attack from China in October last year.

The theory and practice of Nehruism have been challenged in an unprecedented manner.

After India achieved freedom from British rule, Nehru has been at the helm of affairs.  His part in Indian politics in the struggle for national independence and afterwards as the leader of a strategically located country in a bipolarised “cold war” world led many analysts to seek not only for the sources of his political acumen, but to look upon Nehru as the source of Indian national identity.  The foreign specialists tends to lump India with all the other African and Asian countries (unwittingly identifying himself with the Bandung spirit) and forgetting that India had experienced a social and political renaissance in the second half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century which threw up a galaxy of great people who played a greater part in shaping modern Indian history than Nehru.  At least in the eyes of Indians, Nehru ranks as a minor figure among Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda, Lokamanya Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, to mention some of the names.  It is true that in India itself, leaving aside the Communists who have wavered in calling Nehru an “imperialist lackey” and holding him up as the “leader of democratic forces”, an impression had gained ground that Nehruism, in theory and practice, was essentially the creation of “faith in history” - to overcome a national lack of historical self-awareness.  This view is arrived at by over-simplification and was originally part of an onslaught on Indian traditional values which was built into the ideology of the “white man’s burden”.  The profound works of Ananda Commaraswamy and Heinrich Zimmer refute such an interpretation.  Indian thinking till recently was, however, not free from an interpretation. Indian thinking till recently was, however, not free from an ambivalence on the alleged lack of a historical sense, and the assurance by apologists for Nehru that he alone had at last provided the historical perspective, seems to have prevailed for some time against more balanced views.  Side by side with this, the main prop of Nehruism is Nehru’s appraisal of Indian economic backwardness.  His theory of economic development and his sociological views generally contain a powerful plea for maximising social consciousness.  The substantive content of the Nehru programme for social and economic reform allowed for elastic planning in which sectional and promotional pressure-groups could be accommodated while insisting upon institutional modifications necessary to develop further modernisation on the basis of European experience.  The measures enacted by his government which have gained him abiding recognition are piece-meal social engineering measures:  Hindu social reform, the development of free elections, the introduction of the decimal system etc.  Strangely, the charisma of Nehru as a world leader propagated in India as a vindication of his “historical vision” is not related to any theory of international relations.  India’s “dynamic non-alignment” was, it is now seen, based upon a bi-polar model of international politics in which there is no direct communication between the two main centres of power.  “Non-alignment”, however, cannot continue to serve as an ideology for an important country like India in a world of multi-polarity, which includes powers dedicated to the spread of world revolution.  The theoretical concepts used in Nehru’s foreign policy, although often stated in a Gandhian terminology, were derived from an eclectic combination of Fabian socialist sources, current British left-wing thinking in the New Statesman, and latterly Jugoslav ratiocination of their unity and conflict with other Communist countries.  These theoretical concepts are derived from the European setting of politics and cannot serve the macro-political purposes of India in the world power transition, in which the relations between India, China, the USA and USSR are likely to outweigh other relationship in the crucial inter-play of power and ideology.  Nehru’s conception of national integrity is essentially a limited and practical one of preventing antagonisms from erupting into disorder.  The sacred and life-giving prayer “Bande Mataram” (I bow to thee Mother India) which is hallowed by the memory of Rishi Bankim Chandra who gave it a dynamic utterance, does not find any echo in Nehru’s patriotism.  Indian consciousness today is seeking to question the Nehruist “faith in history” as well as his appraisal of Indian economic backwardness.  Mother India is today again being addressed in the language which Vivekananda used: “….this alone shall be our keynote – this our great Mother India.  Let all other vain Gods disappear….  From our minds….”  The dangers facing the Mother have to be overcome.  This determination has t be balanced against the emptiness of much of the Asian sentiment.  Like Gandhiji who wanted Swarajya (self-rule) within one year, the Indian today is impatient to develop national strength to safeguard his Swarajya against communist Chinese danger.  Nehru with his glance fixed in a “historical perspective” has not been able to respond to the determined mood of the nation to safeguard its integrity in territory, culture and freedom.      

In his thoughts on Western civilisation Gandhiji in his early writings particularly in HIND SWARAJ reflected on India’s confidence in individual Europeans but expressed a fundamental opposition to the European method of industrialisation. Gandhiji maintained a friendly attitude to the religious strivings in Western consciousness and he sympathised with efforts to maintain moral values in the face of the challenge of industrialisation.  For India, Gandhi wished to avoid a repetition of the mistakes of the Europeans in industrialisation.  This would apply all the more to the Russian programme for industrialisation at tremendous human cost.  Gandhiji was, however, not afraid of the West.  Nehru himself and several of his trusted friends (like Krishna Menon) do not share Gandhiji’s rejection of Europeanisation.  It seems (particularly from Menon’s conduct) that in these circles there is a latent fear of the West, and hence a desire for rapid modernisation without a full inquiry into its cost, an inquiry which Gandhiji refused to give up to the last of his days.  The confrontation with China has had an unexpected result in leading Indian intellectuals, particularly the younger minds, to subject the hitherto compulsive process of “westernisation through anti-western attitudes” to serious criticism.  The discontent in India today is not directed against the holding up of rapid industrialisation. It is directed towards over-centralisation in planning methods, neglect of principles of balanced growth, and lack of adequate investment in agriculture and food processing industries.  The Chinese big leap forward has clumsily failed.  It is difficult to persuade thinking Indians to embark on a big leap.  Indian economists are reluctant to accept extensive manipulation of economic sectors merely to create a “proletarian appeal”, and thinking among them today is tending towards stabilisation of the gains of the Indian mixed economy.  The fact that Eastern European countries are anxious to study the performance of the Indian economy has served indirectly to reduce the appeal of the Marxian dogma.  Nehru himself has been forced to lesson his reliance on the Marxian interpretation of economics, which except in some marginal cases is irrelevant to the Indian scene.

The Chinese attack showed that Indian labour is basically nationalist. Large scale contributions to the national defence fund were collected by workers.  Communists who are trade unionists continue to have a certain influence but they have faced increasing hostility for their anti-national views from the workers.  It can be safely said that no section of Indian labour is ideologically committed to back the Communist leadership when Indian national interests are involved.  After all this is not surprising.  When the Soviet Communist leaders were themselves still coming out of their wilderness, the workers of Bombay had showed their devotion to the nationalist Lokamanya Tilak in 1908 in a manner which had stirred the Bolsheviks including Lenin himself.  Gandhiji and Lokamanya Tilak enjoyed the support of workers to a measure which has never been equalled by any Communist leader anywhere in the world.

The armed forces are today a stronger force in the affairs of the country.  The army feels humiliated in having lost the first round to the Chinese last year.  Fortunately able generals like Carriapa, Thimmayya, Thorat and Chaudhuri were not personally involved because the political manoeuvring in New Delhi had kept them out of active service or in positions of ineffectiveness.  Today all this is changed.  Thorat has been actively associated with the new thinking on strategic programmes and Chaudhuri has undertaken measures of reorganisation.  The nation is impatient of any postponement of “decisive measures” to strengthen Indian Indian defence.  The earlier condescending attitude of Nehru and other government leaders towards the armed forces has yielded to one of respect.  It will still be sometime before morale in the Indian army can be fully restored.  This will come about only when there is fuller and freer debate on Indian strategic policies which was suppressed all these years under the guise of caution and prudence necessary for a non-aligned country.          

The civilian bureaucracy has also received several shocks.  The criticism of national policies has not touched only the politicians.  Indian administration is dependent upon the elite corps of the Indian civil Service, the Indian Administrative Service, the India Foreign Service and the Indian Police Service.  The reputation of the ICS (Indian Civil Service) has not helped its surviving members to answer the discontent against them both inside the Government and outside.  It is alleged that the ICS have sought to preserve their monopoly of administrative power, and that their methods and ideas, however appropriate to a colonial environment or in the first days of the transfer of power from foreign rule, are now no longer appropriate to an Indian “New Course”.  It is also alleged that they tend to lead the dice in their own favour in all proposals for the organisation and able young men in the second and third echelons of administration have no scope for putting across new ideas.  The challenge to the ICS is not foredoomed since the logic of events has sparked off an intensive discussion in which the Congress party itself is demanding an administrative overhaul by which younger people can be entrusted with policy-making and administrative control.

The Parliament has emerged stronger than was expected.  It seems that regional tensions were very much exaggerated, mainly by foreign commentators, who were deeply excited by the question “After Nehru, what?” and their own answer ‘Disintegration and the Deluge”.  This it turns out was a complete travesty of facts.  Since the Chinese attack, Parliament has given an opportunity to many young leaders in the Congress Party and in other parties to come out with practical suggestions which cumulatively have tended to rob Nehru and his fellow associates of the role of Praetorian guards of Indian political ideals.

The dimensions of national policies in India today embrace much more than could be encompassed by a simple right-left or conservative-progressive description.  The Chinese attack has affected the character of Indian politics by showing the limits of the renunciation of political goals other than economic organisation in internal politics.  To put it differently, the honeymoon of nationalism and socialism in Indian politics is definitely over.  This is not to say that either of them has suffered.  It would be unconvincing to develop such an argument on the basis of so short a period.  Nevertheless, there is no difficulty I showing that the Chinese danger looms so large in the Indian mind that it ha firmly established a distrust of axiomatic positions like “Capitalism leads to war and Socialism leads to Peace and Progress”.  This is a most portentous development in as much as it restores freedom to political and economic theorists to consider uninhibitedly the changes that are taking place in the world today, and enables Indian’s future politicians to restore the intellectual and moral appeal which Gandhi and Tagore had for those who value freedom both from the tyranny of political misrule and of constricting concepts.
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