Republic Day Special Series




Chapter IV: From Gandhism to "Brahmanic Socialism" (Part 2)

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 constituent 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.

(... continued in Part 3)

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