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What went wrong with Indian Independence? chapter-4


Chapter 4: From Gandhism to "Brahmanic Socialism"

Bloodshed of non-violence

               Independence came with the partition of the country. It came with massacres in widespread communal rioting and millions of refugees fleeing from Pakistan to India, India to Pakistan. Partition smashed Mahatma Gandhi's idea of Hindu-Muslim unity and brotherhood. Very few historic figures have had the misfortune of seeing their ideas so demolished before their very eyes. The idea of Hindu-Muslim unity was destroyed; nonviolence became a subject for mockery. More bloodshed came at the end of the so-called "nonviolent" freedom movement than if the entire movement had taken place with bombs and guns. The prestige of Gandhian thinking was finished not only among the people, but within the Congress also. "Better that the old man is far from Delhi and wanders among the refugees" was the opinion of his disciples in the ministry. No one was in a mood to honour Gandhi's urging that 55 crores of rupees due to be paid to Pakistan should be given. It was only when his life was in danger that the ministry very reluctantly agreed to it.

Communalism contained - Gandhism thwarted.

                  Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948. It very often happens that the death of great men produces in an instant, as if by a miracle, the changes they could not bring about with a whole life-time's hard work. In the wave of grief that spread with Gandhi's death all the poison of Hindu-Muslim hatred was washed away. It took forty years for religious fundamentalism to regain legitimacy in India.

            However, Gandhi was no more, and his overwhelming charisma became a memory. It was Mahatma Gandhi's ideas that had built the struggle for swaraj into a people's movement. The original Congress leadership had been the Anglicized urban elite. During the freedom struggle they had put on a thin Gandhian veneer. With Gandhi's going, it was natural that those who were westernized in manners, eating and life-style and Indian only in blood should throw away this veneer which had been so useful for the freedom movement. As power came into their hands, they foresook Gandhism to push the country towards socialism.

             In Gandhi's idea of independence the village was the all-important pivot; agriculture and village industries were given priority, political power had little significance, he often said. He proudly called himself as an anarchist and claimed that the freedom movement in India was the first step in a broad movement towards the withering away of the state. His anarchism was in some ways greatly confused and mixed with religious traditionalism. On one hand Gandhi would say that power is not an instrument for social change; on the other hand he would make statements like, "if power comes for a day into my hands, I will use it to enforce prohibition." But it was far different from the statist orientation of those who called themselves his heirs.

           The abnormal situation at the time of independence helped greatly in the sidelining of Gandhi's thinking. With Partition, the resulting riots, the movement of refugees and the problem of princely states such as Kashmir, Hyderabad and others, law and order had become a subject of serious concern. The situation on the economic front was also serious. Shortaqes of foodgrain and inflation due to the world war had raised havoc. With the greatest wheat-producing regions going to Pakistan, the shortages became even more serious. No other machinery except the state administration existed or could be built to deal with these problems. The survival of the republic was at stake; at least until normality was restored the implementation of Gandhi's programme could not be contemplated. For now the country must be saved; the rest could be seen to later. That at least was the argument given for public consumption.

          But factors more important than the crisis environment in the immediate post-independence years helped the triumph of the Nehru line. These included Indian collectivist traditions, the disdain for the business community, the interest of the high caste officials of the British bureaucracy, and the ability of the elites to win over the bahujans and their proclaimed leaders. These all have to be examined carefully.
The disdained entrepreneur

            The Indian caste system holds the business community in disdain for its mundane pursuits. The private sector in industry was never powerful or well organised in our country. Its leaders had no social prestige. The vaishyas and shudras who constituted the industrial groups were at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. The brahmans who claimed the intellectual and spiritual leadership and the ksatriyas who ruled and made war had the highest status. They used to deride those involved in trade and production as merely selfish; throughout the history of the varna system "banias" were treated with ridicule and contempt

              The shudra artisans were even worse off. Under British rule the traditional occupations of the villages were badly affected. As the cheaper, higher quality and more sophisticated products of English factories spread from village to village, many sections of artisans found their livelihoods destroyed. In particular, as weavers, leather workers, blacksmiths etc. lost their bread. Such balutedars were never entrepreneurs. They were artisans using their simple skills to meet the needs of people in the villages. There was never any reason for them to improve products, to search for more efficient means of manufacturing them or to increase production. Their task in life was simply to meet the needs of the villagers as they arose, produce a few extra goods to sell in the weekly markets or at festival times, and pass their time in one way or another. Because they were born in a particular caste, according to their karma, this was their ordained life; they had no alternative, and even if an alternative existed, searching for it would lead them to hell. This was their own belief as well as that of the society around them.

           After the coming of the English, trade began through the ports of Mumbai and Calcutta. Raw materials began to flow to England and ships filled with English goods began to come to these ports. A rudimentary network was established to purchase raw materials in village markets throughout the rural areas and export them to England. Roads, railways and other infrastructure began to be built. Within this framework, Indian merchants and industrialists began to expand their business. Foreign trade was colonial and played an important part in India's plunder. But, as in the cotton trade, it helped the establishment of a native commercial system. With time, some traders moved on from exporting to building and managing mills and importing machinery. Cotton textile mills began to flourish. A few of these traders undertook the heroic enterprise of establishing steel factories. The leadership of the new industrialist class which arose out of trading profits was primarily from communities like the Muslims and Parsis outside the caste system. Among Hindus it was only Vanis, Marwaris and others with the traditional vaishya values who showed the courage to gain an important place in the new industries. 

                This industrialist community was small in numbers; its economic strength was insignificant. Their main skill lay in buying and selling. Aside from one or two exceptions like Tata, no one had the vision and capacity to explore new technology, increase productivity or build the required infrastructure. The common people felt no sense of closeness, love or respect for this industrial class. Marwadis and banias were objects of ridicule even among the bahujan samaj. At a time the entire country was falling into the clutches of poverty, many must have felt jealous of the growing prosperity of this newly rich class. The elite brahmans and ksatriyas who felt their own power declining could not stomach their prosperity and rise to prominence. Due to the feeling that these were the allies of the government which was keeping the country in slavery, the hatred against them became even fiercer. Except for Birla and Bajaj who kept connections with the leaders of the freedom movement, the new industrialists were all felt to be enemies of swaraj. Lokmanya Tilak's swadeshi movement encouraged small manufacturers only. Until the advent of Gandhi, the swadeshi movement had lauded textile manufacturers also. Because of Gandhi's opposition to machinery itself, an antipathy for all native factories and their owners developed even though their products were swadeshi by any definition. The khadi movement created hostility about such native mills; their produce was also thrown on the bonfires.

                   These newly rising industrialists confronted the British economic might with great intrepidity under very difficult circumstances. Wherever it could intervene, the state machinery favoured British industrialists. The competition was fierce. Indian industrialists had only three advantages in the competition with foreign mills. They could get their raw materials more cheaply in the local markets; they were spared the cost of sea transportation; and finally, the wages of Indian workers were much lower than those in England. 

                   With the villages and hamlets in ruin due to exorbitant revenue demands of the British Raj and the constant onslaught of foreign industries, toilers began to go to the cities for work. In the villages, even if they couldn't fill their stomachs, they at least had had the support of ancestral land and traditional cultural surroundings. Those who migrated to Mumbai lived as workers in tin-roofed chawls. Slums and filthy settlements made their appearance after independence. However, the situation of the workers who had somehow to drag out their lives in the cities was in all ways difficult. Ten to twelve-year old children used to work fourteen hours for a few annas; there was no leave; no medical care. Most became sick at a very early age or even died. It was in such situations that the first working class movement arose. That working class movement had a place of honour in the mainstream of the national movement. Both movements depicted Indian mill owners, industrialists and merchants as bloodthirsty demons who exploited the working class.

                 In sum, the industrialist class was small in numbers and capacity, separated from the bahujan samaj by caste and traditions and alienated from the freedom movement. The new leaders of India could not even entertain the idea of entrusting the future of the newly independent country to such a lowly, profit-mongering community of banias.

The State dominates the civil law

Not only the Congress party and its leaders, but most leaders in the country were conquered by this view. The Hindu code bill piloted by Dr. Ambedkar is an eloquent illustration. Once Pandit Nehru succeeded in subverting the Gandhian schema, there was little difference between his world view and that of Dr. Ambedkar [as regards economic policy.] Both were comprehensively anglicised. Nehru at least dressed in Indian style while in India, while Dr. Ambedkar comproted himself in full western suit at all times and places. For Nehru the political power at the centre could be the only instrument of economic progress, industrialisation, and devloping science and technology. He could never imagine that ordinary farmers, toilers and industrialists of the country, left to themselves, could ensure progress for themselves and for the country as a whole. 

                 Dr. Ambedkar had a similar conception about social reforms. Hindu/Indian society worships no particular god or goddess, has no prophets and does not confer conclusive authority on any sage. Diverse social structures and customs have prevalent over thousands of years in diverse regions and castes. From the modern, particularly the anglicized view, many of these systems appear not only unjust but also even immoral. But they have the sanction of popular will and were subject to gradual reforms as and when the need arose. Social reforms were generally pioneered by sages who had earned undisputed recognition for their conformity with the religions and the moral tarratle. Gandhiji himself is an example of reformers of this type. He often said, "I do not hold the literal text of any scripture as final authority; anything that is unjust and hurtful to the conscience will have to be resisted." His position on the abolition of untouchability brought about a major transformation. Reform in social structure at the behest of iconoclasts and rebels is foreign to Indian tradition.

                     One could see all possible shades of customs and traditions from matriarchy to immolation of widows. All disputes relating to marriage, divorce, property, adoption etc. were settled fairly effortlessly through the intervention of the senior citizens. Both Nehru and Ambedkar considered this diversity as an indication of backwardness and ignorance. Nehru secretly nursed the ambition to be a latter-day Ashoka, while Dr. Ambedkar imagined himself a modern Manu or Buddha. That those in authority should lay down laws and that the ordinary people should follow them is unknown to Indian tradition. Respected sages put down on paper the customs and practices they observed around them but did not issue any edicts. The English could never comprehend this bewildering diversity starting from much before the revolt of 1857. The British engaged reputed Hindu pandits to make compilations of the various customs and authorities. The English version of the compilations gained greater prestige and authority in the courts of law and government offices than the original shastras themselves. The idea that there should be a common civil law for the entire country was based on the notion that the political government should be all-dominant. On this point not only Nehru, the socialist, and Ambedkar, the social reformer, but also the orthodox Hindu concurred. The Hindu traditionalists thought that the common civil code was an excellent pretext for forcing the Muslims to abandon the Shariat and accept the national code.

                   The Hindu Code Bill was the first step towards a common civil code. To impose uniformity in a situation of diversity a draft bill was prepared. Drawing now from this scripture, now from another, a politically viable middle path was projected as the model. The provisions carried discernible influences of the customs, practices and moralisms of upper caste anglicised society and also of the morals of the English. In south India and in many tribes in north India, custom gave women freedom and rights which were far more liberal. More practices were nullified in order to bring about uniformity. The Indian Constitution had accepted equality of women in property rights; but, the orthodox Hindu members of the Lok Sabha defeated all proposals in that direction. Insistence on uniformity in the Hindu civil law resulted in suppression of some very liberal and logical customs.

               A member of parliament had actually proposed that a model,logical and just civil code should be introduced and all citizens – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi – should have the option to adopt it or to continue to adhere to their traditional civil law. Dr. Ambedkar rejected this on the grounds that it would create a state of anarchy where it would be impossible to tell which law applied to whom.

The Constitution and the villages

               Not only the high caste politicians in power, but even dalit leaders like Ambedkar favoured the idea that there should be a strong central government. It should have comprehensive powers with minimum restraints. It should draw up economic plans and decide social norms, and the citizens should submit themselves uncomplainingly to its dictates. On the one hand we had Nehru's urban high caste socialist indifference towards agriculture and all that was rural. On the other was the urban preference for cities and disdain for villages of the dalit movement led by Dr.Ambedkar. Agriculture and artisanship were caught in this vicious pair of scissors. 

            The neglect of agriculture and villages are present in the Constitution itself. Part IV of the Constitution lays down directive principles of state policy for the governance of the country. Candidly speaking, it is a long list of reckless promises. Citizens are conferred the right to adequate means of livelihood; ownership and control of the material resources of the community are to be so distributed as best to serve the common good; equal work will get equal pay; the state will secure the right to work, to education and to public assistance so that no one should be forced to economic necessity to enter employment unsuited to their sex, age, or strength; a living wage for all is promised; there will be participation of workers in management, and so on and soon.

               This splendid invective is pointless because it is not enforceable in a court of law. If the freedom movement influenced by Gandhian thought had had any influence on the constitutent assembly, there would have been specific directive principles on agriculture, panchayat raj and village industries. In fact, there is only one directive principle regarding agriculture, Article 48 which says, "The state shall endeavor to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines, and shall in particular take steps for preserving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milk draught cattle."

            The members of the constituent assembly were apparently innocent of the fact that all economic development is rooted in the advancement of agriculture and were preoccupied with the upper caste concern for banning cow slaughter. Nehru was indifferent to agriculture, villages and panchayats, while Ambedkar described the traditional village as a "cesspool." The structure of the Constitution was not erected on the foundation of the countryside where the vast majority of the Indian population lived. Its base was the states joined in a federation of India. The panchayat raj was treated lightly and left to the discretion of the states. Briefly, the constitution of the union has no place for the village panchayats. The animosity of the post independence rulers against the autonomy of the villages is clear from Articles 40 and 48 of the Constitution.

               More recently, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi amended the Constitution to introduce some sort of panchayat raj. The idea was not to devolve genuine power to the villages. Quite the contrary. The central government tried to bypass the states to impose its influence directly on the villages. From the beginning until now, all rulers have been indifferent to the needs of the rural population.

Domestic enterprise ignored

                 After the British left it was widely expected that their exploitative system would end. Agriculture, crafts, trade had some how survived a century and a half of unfair competition with England. It did not even occur to the urban elite leadership that the coming of freedom would give Indian producers a fresh lease of life, that this trade and industry could rejuvenate on its own, like vegetation after the first monsoon showers, and all-round development would rapidly follow. The white imperialists had boasted arrogantly that theirs was a mission of mercy, of uplifting the savage and primitive people -- a white man's burden. The new inheritors of power in India had a similar notion. They felt that they had the historical responsibility for the uplift of this huge downtrodden society, and that without them the majority of subjects in the country were incompetent to achieve their own development.

            The leadership that came out of the freedom movement rapidly settled its accounts with the upper caste bureaucrats who had achieved prosperity under the British regime after the 1857 revolt. As long as the British were there, these collaborators used to vilify the leadership of the independence movement, saying, "Only the British can rule; how will your loin-cloth and spinning-wheel brigade run the country?" Once Mountbatten announced the date of the departure, those who could never imagine that the British would actually leave India one day, were shaken to their very roots. They clearly would have liked to control all the strings of economic development of the newly independent India. If the economic sector went to the low-caste people in the private sector, the upper caste bureacrats would have lost all their importance. Traders and producers would have become superior, spelling the destruction of the entire caste system. Pandit Nehru could easily establish a system of upper caste hegemony under the banner of socialism, because Nehru's plans eminently suited to the resurgence of the Brahmin community. The system put premium on skills of drafting and noting gave eminence to speechifires and prestige to bureaucracy.Bureaucrats could, through files-shuffling, rein in the captains of industry and commerce. This is the secret of the emence popularity by Nehruvian socialism. 

'Peshwai' resurrected

               Joniba Phule's prognostic came true. The british left before an Indian Nation in the sense of 'unified people' could emerge. A new form of 'Peshwai' reappeared. In the new Peshwai, it was not the Hindu scriptures that were chanted ; 'the vedas and the puranas' were replaced by the works of arx and Engels. It was a sort of 'Brahminic Socialism' that emerged.

           This brahmanic socialism was convenient to the powerful classes of the traditional chaturvarna system. Its clinching feature was that gave the upper-caste bureaucracy control over the economy, but without responsibility for production and efficiency. The Russian system of socialism gave both power and responsibility to the state. All property was national wealth. All citizens were simply paid employees. From the planting of rice to the mining of coal to the building of railway carriages, not only were all decisions made by the state, their implementation was also the state's responsibility. The leaders and activists of the Russian communist party came from the working class, or at least had an intimate connection with working class life. It was not impossible for them to take charge of the actual work of agricultural and manufacturing.

                 In India, by contrast, both bureaucratic officials and political leaders were of the elite. They had no capacity for details1 of industry nor even the desire to be engrossed in such work. They wanted only to keep in their hands all the power of economic planning at the national level, to decide how large national production and national saving should be, how much consumer demand should be and how to meet it, which factories should be opened up and where. In short, they wanted the socialism of controlling industry without accepting the responsibility of industrialists.

Specter of Socialism in India

                 During the freedom movement, at least up until 1940, neither socialists nor Communists had widespread prestige. Slogans such as nationalising all industries including agriculture, leveling all inequalities in society or uprooting religion simply prejudiced people against socialism. There was not even a general consensus that the country should strive for economic abundance after independence and that it should become as wealthy as England or America. Everyone spoke of the principles of limited needs and simple living. Under the hegemony of Gandhism, poverty was glorified and disdain for wealth and luxury was encouraged. Farmers were supposed to toil all day and enjoy the fruits of their toil only in singing bhajans to god along with their wives and children, while the owners of wealth were supposed to use their wealth in the spirit of trusteeship and sacrifice. Amassing wealth and abundance of material goods in themselves were inconsistent with Gandhi's principles.

                 But the people never wholeheartedly accepted these principles. "It's all right for sadhus and saints - they are above mundane things; they can live on air; but asceticism and brahmacharya principles to high for ordinary people." This was the rationalisation in everyone's mind. No one who got hold of a little money was such an ascetic world-renouncer as to let go of it. It became a well-established practice to fill one's own stomach, look out for to the welfare of one's own people, and tell all the world of the splendours of renunciation, self-denial and simplicity.

                 Thus there was not much opposition to the idea of taking the country on the road to development. The name of the War Department was changed to the Defense Ministry after independence, so again were words like "removing poverty and illiteracy" rather than "achieving prosperity" were used it took no time at all for Indians' previously tottering nonattachment to be broken. Development became an accepted goal, and people who were constantly hearing the exaggerated propaganda that countries like Russia were making such huge progress after destroying capitalism gradually began to accept the assumption that "socialism means all-around development."

                 The prestige of science also helped the triumph of socialism. With the war just finished, and rumours of dangers in many areas to the security of the country, it was natural for people to agree with the need to develop science and technology in order to stand up in the world. And, if science and technology were to be harnessed to economic development, then the state would have to take the central decision- making responsibility, and a system in which the state does so is called socialism

Nation Seduced by Socialism

                 The elite had one more expectation of the new state of independent India. While they craved to gather all power in their hands, they had no desire to exercise power through force or with the fascist methods of a Hitler or a Stalin; rather they had not the capacity. There was a consensus that the newly dawning Indian nation would be a republic, and would function as a parliamentary democracy
Democracy means unrestricted suffrage, and with voting rights for all a programme or at least a slogan acceptable to the majority of people is needed. How to lead the bahujan samaj away from Gandhism towards socialism? How to get them to accept a policy of brahmanic socialism in which power was centralised in the hands of a high caste elite? On what basis would they support the idea of a socialist pattern of society?

                 What happened was astonishing. Most people accepted brahminic socialism. They came to regard nationalisation and state control as good for the common people in the country. Even today, even after the historical and universal defeat of socialism, its slogans fascinate most of the bahujan samaj. Why did the majority of lower castes accept new system of caste domination thinly veneered as socialism? How is it that elections continue to be won on slogans of socialism and removing poverty?

                 We have already seen that the majority of people did not support very enthusiastically the program of simply removing the British. It was when Mahatma Gandhi used the Congress platform to make the freedom movement into a people's movement that the prominent leaders of the bahujan samaj joined the national mainstream of Congress. The minority who did not join Congress went into the dalit movement. The socialists became leftists, or radical humanists Royists. Not only did these spokesmen of the bahujan samaj support the socialist programme that consolidated the domination of the high castes, but they supported it with extreme enthusiasm. How did this happen?

                 It is not very difficult to unravel this enigma. The meaning of socialism was something known only to a very few. The Indian freedom movement was anti-imperialist; the readers of newspapers and the circles around them only knew that after the second world war the might of socialist Russia was vigorously standing up to oppose imperialism. This was sufficient reason to assume that socialism must be a great thing. The organized propaganda that a heaven for workers was rapidly coming up in the socialist system, and the sympathy felt towards the cosmological monistic world view of Marx and Engels by those who had just escaped from the clutches of Sankara's advait, were also important factors. Still, it is surprising that such a questionable ideology as Marxism should so easily have enchanted the mind of the entire human race in the last 150 years of its history.

                 However, the philosophical or scientific basis of socialism was not of very great importance. People put hope in "socialism" as some kind of system through which their poverty would be removed and there livelihood assured. Even if they didn't get anything themselves, there was a distorted satisfaction in the belief that after the socialist revolution all the aristocratic landlords and moneylenders would be humbled if not slaughtered. And so slogans of "workers of the world, unite" and "we are all one!" gained popularity. Never before in history have such large masses willingly and even enthsiastically accepted to be subjugated by their traditional tormentors.

                 After the crumbling of socialism, these citizens once again enthusiastically ran after those parties which promised to give them a kilo of rice for two rupees or a zhunka-bhakri for one rupee. Earlier the slogan was socialism; now it was Shivshahi, Ram mandir and Nehru dynasty. The important point was not in principles or reason. Thousands of years of slavery had extinguished not only social but also individual capacities. In the same spirit in which people had shouted "long live socialism," they were ready to hail the victory of any paternalistic government.

                 In order to turn a dependent people towards socialism, it was important to take control of their spokesmen. This was easily done. If only an indication was given that some crumbs of the left-over cake of power would be thrown in their direction, these leaders were ready to sell their loyalty. These were the heirs of the "nobles" who had opposed Shivaji himself and entered the durbars of Vijapur and Ahmednagar. What loyalty, what principles did they have? The savoury story of how Yashwantrao Chavan won over for Congress the fiery spokesmen of the bahujan samaj who had gone into the left parties is notorious. And just as Yashwantrao bluffed them, so the spokesmen who had come forward with the flag of socialism bluffed Chavan and his caste fellows and made them their own.

                 Indian caste traditions encouraged the spirit of collectivism and supported a disdain for industrialists as money-loving banias. The economic programme of the urban political leadership gained the support of the bureaucracy that had been created by the British. The leaders of the common people were bought cheaply in the market. The masses sat with mendicancy to sing praises to anyone who promised to provide them their evening meal. This is the simple story of the triumph of brahmanic socialism over the Gandhian principles that had dominated the freedom movement.

                 Gandhism and socialism are mutually opposing ideologies. Gandhiji believed in God. He called himself a sanatani Hindu. He had faith in varnashrama dharma. He firmly believed that people should try in a humanitarian way and at a personal level to remove social inequalities, that a change of mind was of the greatest importance and that such change would not come by laws of the state. There was no common ground between Gandhism and the classical anti-religion socialism, that was based on materialism and the historical necessity of the rule of the proletariat. Before accepting socialism all of these issues should have been publicly discussed. But such a basic discussion never took place. In the Awadi session of Congress with the resolution on the "Socialist Pattern of Society," Pandit Nehru, socialist camel, put its nose inside the tent of the country. At the time of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi amended the Constitution to call the Indian republic a socialist one. The preamble to the Constitution that had been enacted and adopted by Indian citizens in 1950 was changed with retrospective effect. Electoral laws were amended so that only political parties formally adhering to the tenets of socialism can be registered under law. But all this dramatic sloganeering lacked conviction study. No one considered it necessary to have an open and public debate.

                                                                                                                    - Sharad Joshi