Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is the original Idea of India dead once and for all?

The other day, when I was thinking of this whole rigmarole called the Idea of India, one question that had never occurred to me in the past suddenly bobbed up its inquisitive head in my mind.

Who invented the Idea of India as a Democratic Republic in the first place?
Taking a long backward look, the answer became obvious. It was a coterie of eminent Indians that included Harrow-educated Jawaharlal Nehru and Dt BR Ambedkar, a Columbia alumnus. It was this league of extraordinary gentlemen who chiseled and buffed the somewhat alien idea  conscientiously much before it became a reality on 15 
August 1947 and 26 January 1950.

Yes. The leaders of the Indian independence movement were mostly from the Western-educated middle class. They had been weaned, so to speak, on Socrates and Plato, Marx and Engels, Gibbon, Darwin, and Spencer, Smith and Keynes, Ruskin and Thoreau and Shaw among others. Many of these thinkers and writers hailed from Great Britain of which at the time India was a colony. Imbibing their thoughts, beliefs and opinions was ironically like being “colonial mimics” of sorts. 

But surely it is obvious that there are as many Ideas of India as there are special interest groups and sub-groups, e.g., big business, labour, Dalits, OBCs, tribals and so forth. Each group’s Idea of India is needless to say calibrated to align with its special concerns.

Big business, for instance, would want maximum ROI, least interference from the government, unlimited access to natural resources and so forth. Ergo, the big business’s Idea of India would be a country with a politico-economic system – whether democratic or not − that treats business, particularly big business, with kid gloves and so forth.

It’s time we backtracked a bit, though. The founding fathers’ Idea of India was conceived against the backdrop of Nehru’s Discovery of India, the seminal ideological text on which the Nehruvian template of a liberal, secular, egalitarian democracy with a “composite” and inclusive culture and a socialistic economy was based. Nehru envisioned an Indian nation with the state entrusted with the task of ensuring that no single special interest group, e.g., the Hindu majority or big business, enjoyed significant privileges to the detriment of others. One of the corollaries of this vision was the Indian state taking over the lead role in the economic sphere.

Unfortunately, this meant the perpetuation of the Ma Baap Sarkar metaphor in the minds of the illiterate majority − enhanced further by the continuance of feudalistic behaviour of the bureaucracy, a legacy of the British Raj in any case. Furthermore, the adoption of another legacy of the British Raj – both Discovery of India and Constitution of India were written in English and the business of the Indian state continues to be transacted in English − and the accidental privilege thereby conferred on the miniscule English-speaking minority of the Indian population who ran the emerging state enterprises merely confounded the already somewhat cloudy scenario.

The Idea of India saga seems to have modeled itself on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The first major crack in the Nehruvian template came with his daughter’s successive triumphs (Bangladesh, i.e., the splintering of Pakistan,  bank nationalization, abolition of privy purses, stoppage of food imports, a 20-year friendship pact with the USSR) culminating in the 1974 Pokharan nuclear blast that caught the world’s attention. All this prompted DK Barooah’s sycophantic “Indira is India, India is Indira” call. JP Narayan’s challenge to Indira Gandhi’s autocratic rule triggered off the June 1975 declaration of emergency.     

The other four significant events in post-Independence India that progressively sapped  the Nehruvian Idea of India of its relevance were the chronological order of occurrence the following:

[1] The anti-Sikh violence (1984)

[2] The Shah Bano case (1985)

[3] The Babri Masjid demolition (1992) and its aftermath (1992-93)

[4] The burning of a train at Godhra and the Gujarat riots (2002).

Apart from these, there is the on-going virtual occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and the North East by the Indian Army under the pretence of keeping peace – a policy without an iota of success in stemming the insurgency and the defiance of the Indian State. Equally worrying is the seemingly unstoppable resurgence of the Naxals in the so-called red corridor comprising those parts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgrah, Jharkand, Madhya Prasesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal inhabited mainly by the marginalized Adivasi tribals trying to eke a living out of forest produce and primitive farming under constant threat from forestry officials and the mining mafia. 

Now that NaMo has all but demolished the flag bearers of the Nehruvian Idea of India, history has finally been consigned to the dustbin, maybe even to oblivion, where according to the “neo middle class” (a NaMo hypothesis according to Sunil Khilnani it rightfully belongs.

Will it remain dead and buried for all times to come? Your guess is as good as mine.