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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 22

Democratic Colonialism

Saturday 19 May 2007, by P K Chatterjee


If any political analyst looks askance as to what kind of a government can democratic colonialism be, he has only to study the Indian Constitution and its working. Its Preamble recites some basic slogans of republican democracy, its Part-III confers all kinds of fundamental rights to the citizens, its Part-IV gives highly laudable but unenforceable directives for state policies, and there the democracy part ends. The rest of the Constitution, in all essential particulars, is a reproduction of the Government of India Act 1935, which was carefully designed by the British Parliament to retain its absolute control over the Indian administration with a mere show of autonomy to the provinces. Incorporating the Act of 1935 in the Indian Constitution only meant that the highest political leadership of India deliberately avoided vesting the sovereignty in the people and considering themselves their creatures and servants accountable to them. These leaders were well aware that conferring a mere right to vote every five years or so on the poor, uneducated people was meaningless so far as effective democracy is concerned, the real power would always remain with them. This is the reality even today. Let us examine it in a little more detail.

Our political leadership under Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors adopted the socialist ideology for developing the economy of the country. But economic progress floundered. Other countries like Japan and Australia, which were economically at par or even worse off than ours at the termination of the Second World War, went far ahead of us. We had more natural resources than these countries, we had enough manpower. Our Institutes of Technology, our medical and engineering colleges produced qualified men, but the best of them made a beeline for the American embassy for visa to the USA. We had no means to check the brain drain. Our resources were wasted by a corrupt bureaucratic administration which vitiated not only every sphere of state governance, but also the industrial management. Corruption had vitiated even our topmost political leadership right from the dawn of independence culminating in “suitcase diplomacy”. There was nothing wrong in the theory or practice of socialist economy and planned development. It failed in India for lack of implementation mainly because we had a corrupt and selfish leadership, a relic of the old colonialism, and complete absence of a militant public opinion so essentially required to combat the malady. As a consequence our planned economy ended in a corrupt licence and control raj. Our country, according to a UN survey, acquired the dubious distinction of being the third most corrupt country in the world.


AFTER over half-a-century our political leadership, including the Leftists, have now turned to globalisation and free market economy and privatisation of state enterprises. Our leadership apparently has the erroneous conviction that prosperity of the country can be brought about by economics alone, without adhering to social development and social justice, as if these would automatically follow. So now that the era of nationalisation, state enterprises, and social control is over, our leadership has embarked upon the policy of divestment, privatisation and free trade. It is said that the public sector company, Jessop, was sold for Rs 18 crores only when it had Rs 14 crores in its bank account and its assets were worth over Rs 2000 crores. There were other similar deals which put the credibility of the policy being followed in doubt. The answer to the question—why did we fail to advance when other countries succeeded?—emphatically lies in the colonial outlook of the political leadership of India which not only retarded economic progress but also enhanced corruption in the political leadership and in the huge bloated bureaucracy which was already corrupted by the British. It caused unbearable financial burden on the government preventing rural development, poverty eradication, education or any measure for social upliftment of the poor masses.

Gandhiji had suggested that after independence the Vicregal Lodge should be converted into a hospital. Instead, with the independence Babu Rajendra Prasad entered the Viceregal Lodge with the same regalia and paraphernalia of bodyguards etc. and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru entered the palace of the British Commander-in-Chief and started living there with similar costly appendages. Each one of our democratic leaders of the poor masses occupied sprawling Lutyen bungalows and started living in Maharaja style—all at the cost of the poor taxpayers of India. The bureaucrats also did not lag behind. They lived in the same lavish colonial style with private secretaries and orderlies and official cars at the cost of the taxpayers. The number of Ministries and departments were increased to accommodate the aspiring Congress netas. British civilians by and large had retired and went back to England and our Indian civilians filled the vacancies en masse. New Ministries created new posts and the bureaucracy became bloated. Huge residential colonies and comfortable apartments, houses and bungalows were constructed. Up came Ramakrishna Puram, Shan Nagar, Man Nagar, Kaka Nagar and numerous other sprawling residential colonies at the taxpayer’s cost. Villages, towns, small districts, many States and tribal areas of the North-East, south, and west of India remained in primitive darkness, without schools, hospital, roads, pure drinking water, electricity.

It was unbelievable that our leaders, many of them educated in England and other foreign countries, were unaware that the politicians, bureaucrats, judges etc. have not been so pampered in any other country in the world. In England itself the civil servants, Ministers, members of British Parliament, the judges of the High Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are neither provided with official residence nor official cars and, barring a few, not even with private secretaries. There are no bungalows, peons or orderlies for any public servant in England. Nor did the British make such lavish provision for politicians, civil services, police, judiciary etc. in other colonies like Australia, Canada or America. The reason they did it in India was apparent and surely not unknown to our political leadership. The Indian civil servants, police, Army were the strongest support for the British Raj in India. The British created in them a social class different from the common people of India. The common people called these classes of government servants “Kala Angrej”. The people of this class also arrogantly thought themselves to be superior to the common people of India and identified themselves with the ruling class. A few exceptions did not alter the picture. They were used by imperialist Britain to suppress the freedom movement of the Indians, and this class actually carried out all the repressive measures on the people under orders of the British masters.

Successive Pay Commissions and their recommendations have been implemented resulting in increase in pay packets and perquisites of the babus both at the Centre and the States in disproportionate percentage of the national income. Strangely no attempt has ever been made to relate these increases to their work output or quality. Bribery and corruption have increased with increase in salary and perquisites. If the quality of the output from the bureaucracy compared to the world standards is low, if not the lowest, how can the houses and perquisites not prevalent in any other country in the world be justified?


WHY was this obnoxious and apparent colonialism continued after independence?
Apart from propriety, the huge expenditure in building and maintaining the luxurious bungalows etc. cannot be politically or legally justified. The government now is only a trustee of the revenues it collects and is bound to spend it only for public purpose. It is not its owner, as the British were. As trustees, the government is legally answerable to the people to justify questionable expenditure. Strangely our government is even using these public properties as largesse. Journalists, retired or defeated politicians, artists, musicians, even the political parties are being accommodated in these bunglows and houses belonging to the state, and maintained at public expense. “India must be ruled from palaces,” said Lord Cornowallis, a Governor General of the early British days. Our political rulers also believe in that principle.

Another vestige of British colonialism in India is the policy of reservation, which diverse sections of our politicians are making use of to strengthen their vote-bank. National integration, which was a crying need in the period of struggle for freedom, remains even today a crying need. The best weapon used by the British to keep the people of India divided, was their creation of the ‘Scheduled Caste’, a caste unheard of in Hindu texts, and ‘communal award’ which divided the Hindus and Muslims. They introduced an education system which was kept out of the reach for the poor, and it only produced babus, fit for clerkship in government offices only. They brought in parochialism among the people by preferring one province to another in distributing largesse. The picture remains almost unchanged even today.

India has had diversity and pluralism throughout its history but that is its asset and not a liability. Shivaji’s Army had Muslim Generals and soldiers who fought the Moghuls and other Muslim Princes. The Moghul Army had many Hindu Generals and soldiers who fought the Hindu Kings. Diversity does not mean division, nor does unity mean uniformity. But our trouble is that we do not have a political leadership of the quality and calibre capable of attaining leadership of this plural community. They are all lesser gods of political minority or majority, out to create vote-banks by dividing the people as their only stepping stone to power. They do not care a paisa for the stability and strengthening of democracy in the country. Their only concern is stability of their own stay in power, stability of their own government. There are no BJP-ites, Congress-ites, Communists or Socialists in this respect. All are sailing in the same boat.


THERE is no law corresponding to our Land Acquisition Act in any democratic country of the world. The government has been empowered in other countries within strict restriction to acquire private land, only for the purpose of the state, on payment of full compensation alone. No government in any country, not to speak of England, would dare to acquire the agricultural land of a farmer to hand it over to a private industrialist to establish his automobile factory or set up an SEZ. Our Land Acquisition Act is another relic of the British colonial days. But even under our Act the land of a cultivator cannot be acquired except for public purpose, and agriculture is as much a public purpose as manufacture of automobile. It is really strange to hear the talk of industrialisation and SEZ from the lips of the CPM stalwarts. The Bengalis of West Bengal will remember that in the fiftees and sixties West Bengal was one of the formost industrialised States of India. After the Left Front came to power, West Bengal experienced the worst electricity shortage, and labour unrest, resulting in the flight of many established industries from West Bengal. Gradually it became industrially backward. If there is to be a turnabout now, why should it be done destroying agriculture? More than automobile West Bengal needs agrobased industries. There is a crying need for cold storages, which are very short in number and in years of bumper crops these get destroyed for want of storage. Let there be factories manufacturing tractors instead of motor cars. Let there be scientific storage space for rice and wheat so that the farmer can gain. Let there be electricity in the villages so that agriculture can be machanised. Let the roads in villages improve so that accidents do not take place every day. Let the villagers in West Bengal get pure water to drink. After all, the ultimate objective must be the prosperity of the people and not merely the prosperity of the opulent. Noam Chomsky in Profit over People writes about the US economy, that over 80 per cent people believe that the economic system is inhumanly unfair. More than 95 per cent feel that “Corporations should sometimes sacrifice some profits for the sake of making things better for their workers and communities”. Inequality has reached levels unknown for seventy years and the US has the highest level of child poverty amongst the indusrial nations, closely followed by the UK. “Of course, this in the midst of stupendous and dazzling profits overflowing in the coffers of corporate America.” Colonial power has affected the discretion of our political rulers. Let us not allow dictatorial capitalism to destroy us altogether. What the Government of West Bengal did in Nandigram was nothing short of crime. An eminent American Judge Brandis wrote:

If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy. (Olmstead vs USA)

An agonised author asked: “Who has betrayed India?” He himself answered:
The political class, the non-functioning judicial system, corrupt administration, the imbecile or irresponsible media and the selfish and devious intelligentsia have together been responsible. (Maximum City Bombay by Suketu Mehta)

If our media, academics, and the intelligentsia do not awaken the public, democracy will become a complete illusion, the country will be perpetually saddled with a bloated bureaucracy, corrupt to the core, an arrogant, criminalised political leadership, squandering public revenue, a dysfunctional judiciary and corrupt, criminalised law-enforcers.

The author is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India.

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