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Mainstream, VOL LX No 33, 34 New Delhi, August 6, August 13, 2022 [Independence Day Special]

75 Years of Independent India | Anil Nauriya

Saturday 13 August 2022, by Anil Nauriya

I.

The Soviet Union lasted less than 75 years even if reckoned from 1917.

Independent India has now crossed that threshold and that is a reason for satisfaction.

The Indian experiment has been no less bold than the Soviet if only because the challenges it has faced have been at least equally profound.

Both Russia and India were peasant-based economies when they started out on their new journey, Russia’s in 1917 and India’s in 1947. India was under a full-scale colonialism, alien and extractive, of a kind that Russia did not encounter and indeed no part of the Soviet Union faced in recent centuries. Yet challenges to the Russia project and the India project were severe and came from both similar and differing sources.

Russia and India chose somewhat different paths though over time they learnt a few things from each other.

The former remained a one-party state while the latter had multiple political formations from the very beginning, vying powerfully with one another in the electoral arena. Indeed, the Quit India resolution adopted at Bombay, as it then was, by the All India Congress Committee on 8 August 1942, had pledged that swaraj, when it came, would be for all Indians and not for the Congress alone. Already by 1967, within a couple of decades of independence, it was said that one could travel on the Grand Trunk Road from Amritsar to Calcutta, as it then was, without passing through a single Congress-ruled state.

In keeping with another commitment reflected in its struggle for freedom, India gave free play also to regional languages. Russia did not place equal emphasis on this aspect of its social and cultural life.

India’s Planning process and especially the Second Five Year Plan in the 1950s was influenced by the Feldman model in the Soviet Union.

Independent India did not, however, squeeze out its private sector. It sought instead to demarcate commanding heights and areas that would be under state control or in respect of which the state would have a leading role. This led to the birth of a strong Public Sector which stood India largely in good stead in later years. The Oil sector and Power Equipment sector and the Bulk Drugs sector, among others, were spheres in which India registered creditable achievements. Entities like the ONGC, BHEL and IDPL made their mark around the world. Even in times when it became de rigueur to debunk the public sector, it served as a Material Treasury from which assets could be "disinvested" from time to time by later Governments seeking to generate liquid resources, balance budgets or simply to help cronies while also seeking by a sideswipe to discredit what was described as the Nehruvian model.

Agriculture and Irrigation did not perhaps receive the attention these deserved. Even so agricultural growth broke through the stagnation of Colonial times. There is a lack of remunerative employment generation in rural areas which have witnessed substantial migration to the towns and cities. Until the recent arrival of the Corporate-controlled state, progressive kisans were respected and even encouraged. Land reform implementation and land redistribution, of which there were at least three major rounds till the 1970s, have also now receded from national attention even as the problems of the landless and the land-poor are yet adequately to be resolved.

In the predominantly tribal areas, the issue is qualitatively of another type. Here the question is not one of land redistribution as such but of protecting tribal lands from takeover by outsiders and vested interests acting with the backing of influential political parties. Forest laws are intended, to some extent, to deal with such matters but the higher judiciary which should be aiding the hapless forest-dependent population has strikingly failed to rise to the occasion or even to recognise its protective constitutional responsibility in this context.

Land and water management issues also demand attention with substantial parts of India suffering long spells of drought and prolonged flooding. The creation of a National Water Grid (which is distinct from the erroneously named Ganga-Cauvery Canal) as conceived by Dr K L Rao needs serious attention.

More could and should have been achieved on the public health and educational fronts. Admittedly, the achievements too have not been inconsiderable. The first universal immunisation and vaccination programmes were carried out under Health Ministers like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Dr Sushila Nayar. Public Hospitals, set up or expanded soon after independence, are still the primary destination for obtaining affordable health care. One will nevertheless regret the lack of a universal health welfare scheme that breaks free of the perverse insurance principle of exclusion of pre-existing ailments, which are precisely the ailments that need to be covered in the first place. In the educational field, a chain of primary schools was indeed established but we have still to see them adequately equipped and provided for. Free and compulsory education awaits realisation both in law and on the ground. Public Health and Education are areas where the Soviet Union achieved successes that have been attained only fractionally in India. With this contrast is tied up also the disparity in sports facilities and performance.

In the face of all this, we are confronted with recent moves by taxpayers’ bodies with the obvious backing of the present dispensation invoking Judicial curbs on welfare policies in the name of setting out "guidelines" on "freebies". The matter is not as simple as it may appear on the surface. There are two potentially conflicting principles involved here. First, the tax payers have an obvious stake along with other citizens in ensuring that tax revenues are not wasted. But, second, they cannot have a veto on how tax revenues are utilized. For taxes are collected for the purpose and benefit of the development and welfare of all citizens, not of taxpayers alone. Embedded in the latest challenge may well be an invitation to involve judicial power to subvert what is left of the welfare state.

II.

This brings us to a vital fact at this juncture of the 75th Anniversary of Independence of India.

South Africa has in recent years known what has come to be called, by those who have studied or experienced the phenomenon, "State Capture". This is the situation where a small set of business cronies, in the South African case probably from outside that country, come to take visible or effective control, for an appreciable period of time, of the State, its organs and its policies.

In India we have now also encountered a similar phenomenon, where a sectarian political ideology, in alliance with a tiny set of business cronies, have taken control of the state’s policy. The phenomena of state capture in India as contrasted with South Africa has two additional features. First, it is accompanied by an implicit political shadow over the judiciary which has appeared to align itself closely with the current political dispensation. This is evident from many cases in recent years ranging from Rafale to the Central Vista to Ayodhya to the Gujarat incidents of 2002 and to the arbitrary provisions relating to the powers of the Enforcement Directorate. Pending matters of interest to citizens and of relevance to the purity of the electoral process, such as those involving the dubious institution of electoral bonds, have for long not even been listed for hearing. Such alignment of the Judiciary with the political dispensation contrasts noticeably with the Nehruvian era where on such matters as land reforms and other legislation, state and Central laws were subjected to interventionist judicial scrutiny.

The second distinguishing feature of State Capture in India is that it is accompanied by a long-drawn and insidious propaganda on the part of the ruling party and its associate organisations against the values and symbols of the struggle for the freedom of India. Pettiness is on full display. The school in Rajkot where Mahatma Gandhi studied was shut down for laughable reasons. The Flag Code has been sought to be amended to exclude the mandatory Khadi requirement sanctified by the Constituent Assembly. A web of synthetic nationalism has been sought to be woven around polyester flags intended to benefit particular centres of economic power. Landmarks associated with the names of such monumental figures as the Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan, a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, no less, have been sought to be renamed after BJP functionaries with no role to speak of in the freedom struggle. These are only the most recent in a long line of such niggardly moves possibly in a delusional attempt at erasure of history.

There has in the last 75 years been a concerted effort to eliminate and denigrate many of the leading figures of the struggle for freedom. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 was the first such enormity. A ban on the RSS had followed. Sardar Patel had himself written to Jawaharlal Nehru also pointedly holding a section of the Hindu Mahasabha as responsible for the murder. It was common knowledge then that speeches by leading RSS functionaries had set the stage for the enormity. Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad were also believed at the time to have been potential targets for assassination.

Hindu law reform in the 1950s evoked a fresh round of propaganda against the Congress and against Jawaharlal Nehru in particular.

Since the rise of the Babri Masjid demolition movement in the 1980s, the main propaganda has been directed at the objective, embodied in the Karachi Resolution of March 1931, which stipulated that the state in Independent India would be religiously neutral. The propaganda was initiated primarily at the behest of L K Advani. Real and alleged deviations by a political party, namely the Congress, from secular principles were sought to be utilised fallaciously to debunk secularism itself as a basic principle of the Constitution of India. It was perhaps the first mass-scale fallacy marketed by a sectarian group in independent India and sold to and swallowed by the mass media. It would prove to be a curtain raiser to more such fallacies to follow.

There were dark moments in the last 75 years when the past, present and future all seemed to coalesce — as in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. On this matter, it must be recorded that the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, who had also been Home Minister at the time of the anti-Sikh killings of 1984, failed to see that a line of least resistance before the Advani-VHP-RSS-led movement would have grave implications for India’s future polity. There was a betrayal here also of the principles of the Resolution on Religious Toleration passed on 2 October 1924 by the Unity Conference and the Quit India Resolution of 8 August 1942 which had pledged free India to struggle against Nazism and fascism.

When the UPA regime enacted the Employment Guarantee legislation, MGNREGA, and the land laws of 2013 it made a gigantic change in the disposition of Indian capital and land resources.

Until then our public finances, through the banking system, had been available virtually for the asking to large businesses, while there was little nation-wide guarantee for the lowest income deciles. Land was also similarly available virtually on demand to big business through utilisation of the state’s power of eminent domain. This had remained unchanged in India since at least 1894 throughout an era which saw the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, Indian independence and decolonization of much of Asia and Africa.

Thus the changes made by the UPA regime were truly monumental in nature.

Had the UPA also seen that moment in its past-present-future unity, it would have prepared for and anticipated that there would be a strong counter-reaction in the immediate future from the Corporate world. The latter then in fact hit back by shifting its allegiance to the sectarian-communal politics of the BJP-RSS. This shift in allegiance was accompanied by a massive propaganda thrust through the electronic and film media against major figures in the freedom movement and also attempts at the character assassination of Jawaharlal Nehru in particular.

In the events leading to and after the assumption of power by the BJP regime in 2014 attempts at spreading hatred against the minorities and also against those who speak for them have intensified. There have been lynchings which have been well-documented. Those applauding such hate crimes have been protected and even rewarded. More recently, there have been genocidal calls at Hate Conclaves, miscalled Dharam Sansads, held at pilgrim centres and other places especially since December 2021 and most of these have gone unpunished and have even been encouraged.

This then is the grim outlook that Independent India faces at its 75th anniversary. Unlike the Soviet Union, India has survived. But its social fabric has been sought by sectarian politics to be torn apart. Its state and law enforcement agencies have been largely "captured", a phenomenon limited to a few states in the past, such as Uttar Pradesh in the 1980s, Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002. Its constitutional institutions have virtually collapsed. "State capture" in India has exceeded that in South Africa because here the Judiciary too has been affected. There is relentless propaganda also against the legacy of the movement that led India to freedom. It is the mind of India that is sought to be captured by sectarianism that seeks to drag India back across centuries.

On the surface, recent events in Bihar and the ferment among socialists there indicate a ray of hope in giving rise to possibilities for resisting the rising tide of Indian fascism. But for this to offer stable long-term remedies, a section of socialists will have to take another look at their prevailing understanding on state capture in India and their own role in enabling it by withdrawing from the project of Indian Reconstruction on the morrow of Independence, to mention nothing of strategies pursued by them in recent decades.

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