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He argues that the fathers of independence, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, fused the idea of "nation" with the Hindu religion. The heart of the problem, which Anderson does not discuss is the question of socialist reform or revolution, or how pre- and post-independence India are part of an integral world economy. Over the years the Indian ruling class have used ideologies of all kinds, but essentially it is the fusion of caste and class that has sowed divisions.

This strategy of divide and rule was inherited from the period of British rule. Britain's colonial rulers could not control the whole of India on their own. They created an army with a ratio of one British army personnel for every two Indians to control the vast sub-continent. The Indian Mutiny of shocked the British. The mutiny spread to other sections of society and was at its most rebellious in the Northern Delhi region. The rebellious troops wanted a return of the Muslim-origin Mughals who ruled parts of India before the British. After the mutiny was suppressed, Muslims were considered as suspect and all-Muslim units abolished.

By the s the army became the largest employer with over , men, as well as , police regulars. Anderson argues that following the mutiny the British Raj became a "garrison state" that consumed nearly half of state revenues. Some 1. The British wanted to create a "class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" to create a civil service.


Two generations later Anderson argues that the bedrock of the nationalist Congress Party emerged from this class. Initially the Congress remained a pressure group wanting no more than greater self-government under colonial rule. In return this "elite" gave full support for Britain in the First World War. Later, with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi, full independence became the movement's central demand.

Gandhi's active support of strikes and agitations of indigo-labourers in Bihar, farmers and textile-workers in Gujarat built his reputation. The movement that would eventually push out the British was built out of three phases of independence struggles, in , and The ideological origins of Congress were secular, and during his period in South Africa, Gandhi advocated Hindu-Muslim unity. After twenty months, Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and held elections, as the guidebook of the Raj laid down. The Emergency was nevertheless a watershed in Indian politics, since popular reaction against it broke for the first time the monopoly of government in Delhi enjoyed by Congress since independence.

The heteroclite coalition that replaced it in the elections of did not last long, and the dynasty — daughter, succeeded by grandson — was soon back at the helm. But out of the magma of post-Emergency opposition eventually emerged a party of comparable electoral strength, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which two decades later was capable of forming governments as stable or unstable as those of Congress. With the arrival in power of the BJP, formally committed to the idea of Hindutva, it was less democracy which looked under threat — at least immediately; if ultimately it too, in the eyes of many — than the third value of the Indian state, its secularity.

In the struggle for independence, the legitimating ideology of Congress had always been a secular nationalism. It was in the name of this ideal that it claimed to speak for the whole subcontinent, regardless of faith. In the run-up to partition, British officials regularly referred to the larger area where Congress would rule as Hindustan, a term in private not always shunned by Congress leaders themselves.

But when an independent state came into being, it was proudly just India, repudiating any official religious identity, proclaiming the unity of a nation that had been artificially divided. The constitution it adopted did not, however, describe India as a secular state, a term that was avoided. Nor did it institute equality before the law, a principle also eschewed. There would be no uniform civil code: Hindus and Muslims would continue to be subject to the respective customs of their faith governing family life.

The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson – a review |

Nor would there be interference with religious hierarchies in daily life: Untouchability was banned, but caste itself left as it was. Ambedkar, responsible for much of the constitution, was not satisfied with the upshot, and as minister for law introduced in a Hindu Code Bill striking down the grosser forms of marital inequality it had sanctioned.

Faced with uproar from the benches of Congress he had the temerity to tell its MPs that the cherished legend of Krishna and Radha was an emblem of Hindu degradation of women , he was unceremoniously abandoned by Nehru and the bill neutered. With his exit went the only outspoken adversary of Hindu ascendancy ever to serve in an Indian cabinet. My answer is I was a hack.

What I was asked to do I did much against my will. Congress had failed to avert partition because it could never bring itself honestly to confront its composition as an overwhelmingly Hindu party, dropping the fiction that it represented the entire nation, and accept the need for generous arrangements with the Muslim party that had emerged opposite it. After independence, it presided over a state which could not but bear the marks of that denial.

Compared with the fate of Pakistan after the death of Jinnah, India was fortunate. Muslims or Christians could practise their religion with greater freedom, and live with greater safety, than Muslims could in Pakistan, if they were not Sunni. Structurally, the secularism of Congress had been a matter not of hypocrisy, but of bad faith, which is not the same: in its way a lesser vice, paying somewhat more tribute to virtue. Around it, however, there inevitably developed a discourse to narrow the gap between official creed and unofficial practice, which has come to form a department of its own within the Indian ideology.

Secularism in India, it is explained, does not mean anything so unsophisticated as the separation of state and religion. According to another version, this is too limitative. A leading test of these professions is the condition of the community that Congress always claimed also to represent, and the Indian state to acquit of any shadow of confessionalism.

How have Muslims fared under such secularism, equidistant or group-sensitive? In , the government-appointed Sachar Commission found that of the million Muslims in India, numbering some A quarter of their children between the ages of six and 14 were not in school. In the top fifty colleges of the land, two out of a hundred postgraduates were Muslim; in the elite institutes of technology, four out of a hundred.

In the cities, Muslims had fewer chances of any regular job than Dalits or Adivasis, and higher rates of unemployment. The Indian state itself, presiding over this scene? In state governments, the situation was still worse, nowhere more so than in communist-run West Bengal, which with a Muslim population of 25 per cent, nearly double the official average for the nation, many confined in ghettos of appalling misery, posted a figure of just 3. It is possible, moreover, that the official number of Muslims in India is an underestimate. In a confidential cable to Washington released by WikiLeaks, the US Embassy reported that the real figure was somewhere between and million.

At partition, most middle-class Muslims in Hindu-majority areas had emigrated to Pakistan, leaving a decapitated community of poorer co-religionaries behind. The great mass of those who remained in India thus started out in a very disadvantaged position. But what is transparent is that the Indian state which now claimed to cast an impartial mantle over them did no such thing. Discrimination began with the constitution itself, which accorded rights of representation to minorities that were denied to Muslims.

But Muslims were refused both, on the grounds that conceding them would violate the precepts of secularism by introducing religion into matters of state. They were thereby denied any possibility of acting collectively to better their lot. If a Muslim party had possessed any proportionate share of national representation, its interests could never have been ignored in the coalition politics that have been the norm since Congress lost its monopoly of power.

To add insult to injury, even where they were locally concentrated in sufficient numbers to make an electoral difference, these constituencies were not infrequently reserved for castes supposedly worse off than they, but actually better off. In mechanics such as these, Indian secularism is Hindu confessionalism by another name. How many Muslims do they contain? The answer is too sensitive to divulge: as the report notes, no data on their composition are available for three-quarters of these. Put simply, Muslims are not wanted in their ranks.

In , a former defence minister let slip that they numbered just 1 per cent of 1,, regulars. The Indian armed forces are a Hindu preserve, garnished with Sikhs, and bolstered still — a unique arrangement in the postcolonial world — by Gurkhas from Nepal, as under the Raj. Unlike blacks in the US, who comprise a roughly similar proportion of the population, they suffer from no racial stigma, and are overlaid with a thin elite layer of upper-class origin, the small residue of those who did not leave for Pakistan in , bearers in some degree of a historical memory of Muslim rule, without any counterpart in the descendants of slavery in America.

But otherwise most Muslims in India are much worse off, because they benefit from no affirmative action, and in a caste society are perforce more endogamous. They are second-class citizens. Their fate throws into sharp relief unspoken realities of the Indian polity that emerged after partition, which take still more ominous form where it is contested.

The description is powerful, but it looks away from the connection between them. For what is perfectly obvious, but never seen or spoken, is that the hand of AFSPA has fallen where the reach of Hinduism stops. The three great insurgencies against the Indian state have come in Kashmir, Nagaland-Mizoram and Punjab — regions respectively Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

There it met popular feeling with tank and truncheon, pogrom and death squad. What is hidden within India is Hindustan. It is that which tacitly shapes the state and determines the frontiers between freedom and repression, what is allowed and what is forbidden. Official secularity is not meaningless. If India is a confessional state, it is by default, not prescription.

There is no need to be a Hindu in any sense other than by birth to be successful in bureaucratic career terms. Descent, not piety, is the criterion. Much of the state apparatus, especially its upper echelons, may be composed of individuals largely or entirely secular in outlook, practising or devout Hindus perhaps only a minority. Compared with the state, society is less secular.

To that extent, the ideology of Indian secularism is grounded in a real difference, and makes a difference. An ideology it nevertheless remains. For what the character of the Indian state essentially reproduces is that of Congress as a nationalist party. It is not overtly confessional, on the contrary making much of its secular ideals, but in both composition and practice is based squarely on the Hindu community, and just as Congress made no serious effort to register or come to terms politically with the Muslim League, so the state over which the party has presided has never made any serious effort to improve the social or political position of its Muslim minority.

Had the party or state been truly secular, in each case this would have been a priority, but that was the last thing it had in mind. There cannot be a genuinely secular party or state unless it is willing to confront religious superstition and bigotry, rather than truckle to them. Neither party nor state has ever contemplated doing that, because both have rested, sociologically speaking, on Hindu caste society.

The continued dominance of upper castes in public institutions — administration, police, courts, universities, media — belongs to the same matrix. In the history of 20th-century nationalism, there is a distinct sub-group in which religion played a central organising role from the start, providing so to speak the genetic code of the movement. The most significant cases are those which eventually founded stable parliamentary democracies.

The three leading states of this type in the world today are Ireland, Israel and India. In all three, the nationalist party that came to power after independence — Fine Gael, Mapai, Congress — distanced itself from the confessional undertow of the struggle without ever being able to tackle its legacy head-on. In each case, as the ruling party gradually lost its lustre, it was outflanked by a more extreme rival that had fewer inhibitions about appealing directly to the theological passions aroused by the original struggle: Fianna Fail, Likud, BJP.

The success of these parties was due not just to the faltering of the first wave of office-holders, but to their ability to articulate openly what had always been latent in the national movement, but neither candidly acknowledged nor consistently repudiated. They could claim, with a certain justice, to be legitimate heirs of the original cause. In each case, the setting was a parliamentary system, in which they operated constitutionally, if in each case with certain prewar sympathies for European fascism.

Historically, no Congress leader had been capable of openly and vigorously combating Gandhian pietism, all persuaded that its emotional appeal offered a shortcut to independence with an emotional awakening against the British. For two generations, as in Israel, the compromised origins of the state could be masked by the charisma of a ruler who cared little for superstition of any kind, but a good deal about state-led economic development.

After he went — full Hindu funeral rites on the Ganges — there was a rapid degeneration. Arguably, Nehru left a worse legacy in this respect than Ben-Gurion, since he injected a further irrationalist element into the political system, blood rather than faith, with the creation of a hereditary dynasty that has been an additional curse, lingering without end. The daughter, characteristically, made more of a show of secularism, writing a belated commitment to it for the first time into the constitution, while in practice toying instrumentally with confessional appeals.

By the time the grandson was in charge, the global turn to neoliberalism was in full swing, and the Indian middle class eager for its pickings. In these conditions, the ground was prepared for the BJP to enter, Likud-style, into its inheritance. In all three countries, the political system would come to rest on a more or less regular alternation between two large kindred forces, each bidding for alliance with an array of opportunist smaller parties to form majorities difficult for them to achieve by themselves — the pattern shared in the Dail, the Knesset and the Lok Sabha.

In all three, the marginalisation of the left has been a structural effect of the dominance of the hegemonic religion in the national identity. The temporalities and outcomes of the process differed. The Irish reversion came within a decade of independence — its carrier was the genuinely more popular and radical wing of the national movement, with the greatest anti-colonial legitimacy — and enjoyed the longest ascendancy, only finally collapsing last year. It took thirty years for the Israeli variant to gain the upper hand, which it still enjoys.

The Indian was slower still: half a century passed before the BJP gained office. A mutation of the Hindu Mahasabha, with which Gandhi had been on good terms, it had played a very modest role in the independence struggle, coming to the fore only during partition, when it led the campaign to divide Bengal along religious lines, pulling Congress in along with it.

It took successive stages in the decay of Congress — the Emergency; the manipulation and repression of Sikh insurgency in Punjab; its retribution in the death of Indira Gandhi; the ensuing pogrom in Delhi, applauded by her son; the ballooning corruption around Rajiv Gandhi, and its generalisation with the neoliberal turn under Narasimha Rao — for the BJP finally to achieve take-off as a credible alternative to the ruling party. But by the s, the conditions for its ascent had crystallised. The social promises of Congress had faded, markets and money filled the airwaves, customary expectations and inhibitions were eroded.

In such conditions, anomic modernisation unleashed a classic reaction of religious compensation. The time for Hindutva, the vision of Vinayak Savarkar, a revolutionary fighter incarcerated by the Raj on the Andamans before Gandhi ever set political foot in India, had come. This was a category mistake — there was no working-class threat, no economic slump, no revanchist drive, to produce any subcontinental equivalent of the interwar scene in Europe — and overlooked not only the distinct social matrix of Hindutva, but the ideological setting in which it could flourish.

Indian secularism of the post-independence period had never sharply separated state and religion, let alone developed any systematic critique of Hinduism. But by the s, it had come under fire from neo-nativist thinkers as an alienated elitism, insufficiently attuned to popular sensibilities and practices of devotion that Gandhi had intuitively understood, and Subaltern Studies would later defend and illustrate.

Still, the vocal anti-secularism of Ashis Nandy, T. Madan and others remained a minority trend within intellectual opinion, if one that enjoyed high visibility and real influence. Much more widespread was — and is — another discourse, embellishing Hinduism as pre-eminently a faith of tolerant pluralism and peaceable harmony, its teeming multiplicity of different deities, beliefs and rituals a veritable template for a modern multiculturalism.

For Amartya Sen and others, indeed, no other religion has so capaciously included even atheism in its repertoire, along with monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and any other sort of theism. In this version, secularism cannot be at odds with a Hinduism whose values are so close to its own. Of course, just because Hinduism is so ecumenical a religion, intolerant or aggressive strains may also find accommodation within its embrace. But with a sufficiently open mind, these can be transformed into their opposite. A secularism as spavined as this presents little obstacle to Hindutva.

Long before Sen, its originator Savarkar cast the generous mantle of Hinduism over atheists, and his successors have had no difficulty turning the tropes of Indo-tolerant pluralism into maxims of their own. In such a process of competitive desecularisation, as another analyst has termed it, the initial advantage could only lie with the BJP. Its breakthrough came in with a national campaign to demolish the mosque at Ayodhya, desecrating the supposed birthplace of Rama, the only mass political mobilisation — something of which Congress had long ceased to be capable — India has seen for decades.

Culminating in the triumphant destruction of the mosque, as the Congress government stood by, the operation gave the BJP the momentum that put it into office in Delhi by the end of the decade. But its arrival at the turn of the century as a ruling party was not a straightforward jump from the springboard of Ayodhya, nor a progress that left it structurally unaltered. Its strongholds had always lain in the Hindi-speaking belt of North India, a narrower regional base than that of Congress, and one incapable of delivering a parliamentary majority on its own.

Another and more important obstacle came from a different direction. In the time of Nehru and for twenty years after him, Congress had ruled a segmented society, divided vertically and horizontally by caste, which rarely coincided across regions. At the summit of this hierarchy, and at the controls of the state machine, were Brahmins. Beneath them, in that epoch, were the least privileged castes comprising the majority of the population, pinioned in their hereditary stations, the passive foundations of a huge democracy run by an elite without inconveniences from below. Fifteen years later, synchronised this time with the take-off of the BJP, caste erupted onto the political scene.

There matters stood when the Janata coalition that briefly followed the Emergency produced a report from a commission headed by B. On returning to power a year later, Congress would have none of this, and it was not until another Janata-style coalition was, again briefly, in office in that the Mandal quota became law, over furious upper-caste opposition in North India. The upshot was to galvanise an entire spectrum of hitherto apathetic, resigned or intimidated lower castes into active political life, transforming the landscape of Indian democracy.

A coalition of two parties, one mobilising Dalits and the other OBCs Other Backward Classes , captured UP — much the largest state in the country — a year later, and within another two years, Lucknow had the first Dalit chief minister in history, the redoubtable Kumari Mayawati, who has ruled the roost, alternating with her OBC rivals, for much of the time since.

The upheaval in UP was the most spectacular expression of a new political scene, but caste parties and factions sprouted across the land, disrupting traditional arrangements and drawing suppressed forces into play. What this development, unquestionably, has wrought is an impressive social deepening of Indian parliamentarism, whose roots now reach much further down into popular soil.

But castes are not classes. Constructed by religion and divided by occupation, they are denizens of a universe of symbolism governed by customary rituals and taboos. State and market have loosened the frontiers between them, but when it came, political activism would all but inevitably acquire a distortingly symbolic twist. Job reservations are material benefits. The jobs, overwhelmingly in the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy, typically go to the highest layers within each caste, all of which are internally stratified.

But since public employment accounts for a mere 4 to 5 per cent of the labour force, these jobs amount to little more than a drop in the ocean of destitution and unemployment; if the more precious and bitterly fought over for that. Since regional reservations can be much higher than the national ceiling of In driving this Hobbesian free-for-all, recognition — the quest for dignity — trumps redistribution, leaders gratifying followers with symbols of esteem rather than the substance of emancipation.

Awakening as voters, the poor and not so poor activate hereditary enclosures as political communities, rather than dissolving them. Within these enclosures, internally far more hierarchical than equal, the identities are ascribed and conformity to them enforced. Historically, the political philosopher Javeed Alam has pointed out, caste was a form of collective unfreedom from which it was more difficult for individuals to escape than slavery or serfdom.

The traces of that remain. Economic and educational development, however uneven, have weakened caste barriers. But crossing them is still taboo for the vast majority of the population, three-quarters of whom reject intercaste marriage, as do well over half of those with higher education. Nor has the actual lot of Dalits, exposed to violence and misery across India, changed in pace with either the formal ideology of citizenship or their electoral clout at the polls.

Castes continue to be, as they have always been, and Ambedkar saw, one of the purest negations of any notion of liberty and equality, let alone fraternity, imaginable. That the Indian state has never lifted a juridical finger to do away with them, but in seeking only to ameliorate has if anything legally entrenched them, says more about its secularism than the omission of any reference to it in the constitution, or the belated passage of an amendment rectifying the omission to embellish the Emergency. But as they have become increasingly powerful lobbies, with the peculiar dynamism of hybrid voluntary-hereditary associations, castes are more than ever the pediments of Indian democracy.

No longer passive but vigilant, in yet more radically segmenting its vast electorate they are what most fundamentally stabilises it. The BJP, as a party aiming to unify the nation under its true Hindu banners, thus found, just as its momentum was increasing, that caste was blocking its path. At the time, its onslaught at Ayodhya was often read as a counterblow to the arrival of Mandal, mobilising the rage of upper-caste youth against impending loss of privileges. There may have been some truth in this, but if so, a course correction soon followed.

Realising that it could not hope to win national power without attracting middle and lower castes, it set about broadening its appeal, and by the time of its first major electoral success in , won 42 per cent of the OBC vote in North India. But regional parties composed of heteroclite caste blocs by now commanded too much of the landscape for it to have any chance of taking the place of Congress of old, itself now reduced to a remnant of its former self. In the last three national elections, the two parties combined have never won so much as half the total vote.

Coalition with an array of regional parties has become a requirement of rule at the centre. With it has come a large measure of convergence between Congress and the BJP in government, each pursuing at home a neoliberal economic agenda, as far as their allies will allow them, and abroad a strategic rapprochement with the United States. Culturally, they now bathe in a common atmosphere in which religious insignia, symbols, idols and anthems are taken for granted in commercial and official spaces alike. Organisationally, they are not so similar, since the BJP possesses real cadres and members, Congress little more than a memory of them.

Ideologically, too, their appeals are distinct, as are their social bases. Congress may tack towards confessionalism, but it can still rely on Muslim and Adivasi vote-banks by pointing to the BJP as a greater sectarian danger, and invoke a vague social paternalism to garner votes among the poor. The BJP may tack towards secularism, but it can rely on the fervour of the devout and the attractiveness of a more muscular nationalism to an upwardly mobile middle class. Practically, the differences are fewer.

Where communalism suits them, there is little to choose between the two.

The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson – a review

Neither compares with the massacres in Hyderabad under Nehru and Patel. With the morphing under pressure from below of the political system into one resembling the Irish or Israeli, levels of parliamentary personnel and conduct have plummeted. Pervasive corruption dates back to the third generation of Nehru family rule, mired in a massive arms procurement scandal in the s, and the subsequent regime of Narasimha Rao in the s, the first to purchase a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha with millions in cash for defections to the government.

Indiscriminate criminality is the concomitant phenomenon. In the present Lok Sabha, some MPs — over a quarter of the house — have a total of more than four hundred criminal charges against them. At state level, the statistics are more extreme. In , Bihar held elections that were widely hailed as a triumph for the clean government of Nitesh Kumar, a well-respected ally of the BJP.

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Of the newly refreshed Legislative Assembly, nearly half — out of members — had criminal charges against them, including murder, kidnapping and extortion. Or that nepotism has reached a point where more than a third of all Congress MPs inherit their seats by family connection twice the figure for the BJP , and every single one of them under the age of In India democracy never extended very far from government to the parties contending for it, which were always run from the top down. Today, however, many have become something other than the oligarchic organisations into which the political scientists Ostrogorsky and Michels thought all parties must sooner or later turn.

With the exception of the communists and the BJP, they have become family firms competing for market shares of the electorate and so access to public office. The first of the major regional dynasties, setting the pattern for so many others, dates from the capture of the DMK in Tamil Nadu by the Karunanidhi patriarch at the turn of the s. Among so many degenerative symptoms in the executive and legislatures alike, one antibody in the constitution has stood out. The Supreme Court, which had not played a particularly distinguished role under Nehru, disgraced itself by rubber-stamping the Emergency.

Thereafter, spurred by the reaction against it and no doubt ashamed of its past servility, the court has moved in the opposite direction, becoming the principal breakwater in India against threats to liberty, abuses of power and theft of public goods. Today, the court is so proactive that it can not only annul laws passed in the Indian Parliament if it decides they are unconstitutional the normal prerogative of a supreme court , but also demand that Parliament pass laws it determines are urgently needed — a juridical innovation without precedent in any other country.

The current bench has harried Congress and its prime minister on the telecoms scandal, in which licenses were doled out to companies at billions of dollars below their value, and shows no sign of being willing to sponge away its implications. The court, now self-recruiting, is the most powerful judiciary on earth. It has acquired such an abnormal degree of authority because of the decay of the representative institutions around it.

Even admirers are aware of the risks. So long as the malady persists, few Indians would think the country better off without it. The tidal wave of corruption in Indian public life has, of course, been in part a by-product of the neoliberal turn of the state since the s, and the faster growth it has unleashed. The country now occupies a prominent place in every prospectus of the Bric powers, its economy the second largest in size, though in many ways strange in shape.

Manufacturing is not its pile-driver. Services account for over half of GDP, agriculture for less than a fifth in a society where it accounts for more than half the labour force. Over 90 per cent of total employment is in the informal sector, a mere 6 to 8 per cent in the formal sector, of which two-thirds are government jobs of one kind or another. In India cultivable land is 40 per cent more abundant than in China, but on average agricultural yields are 50 per cent lower.

The population is younger and growing faster than in China, but the demographic dividend is not being cashed: for ten million new entrants to the labour force each year, just five million jobs are being created. The greatest economic success of the past twenty years has been achieved in IT, where firms of global impact have emerged.

But its employment effect is nugatory: less than 2 per of the labour force. Even in high-technology industries, average labour productivity appears to be little more than a third of Chinese levels. Nonetheless, growth averaged 7. But if the comparator is China, with now roughly the same size of population and a similar starting-point in the s, India scarcely shines, as Pranab Bardhan has shown in his masterly analytic survey of the two countries, Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay.

Per capita income in India is about a quarter of that in China, and inequality is significantly higher even than in the notoriously polarised PRC. Capital at large is three times more concentrated than in the United States. Infant mortality is three times as high as in China. Undernourishment is much more prevalent even than in sub-Saharan Africa, afflicting more than half of all Indian children under the age of five.

In 11 Indian states, four-fifths of the population are afflicted with anaemia. For the most part, the corrective role of the state is minimal. Two-thirds of all government subsidies — for food, fuel, electricity — go to the relatively well-off, mainly rich farmers. Over 80 per cent of expenditure on healthcare is private. One out of every five children never goes to school. Military expenditure virtually equals spending on all anti-poverty programmes combined. Neoliberal the direction of every government since the s may have been, but the pace has often been halting and the road strewn with obstacles.

The dirigiste instincts of an unregenerate bureaucracy and the populist demagogy of too many politicians have, in this view, hampered normal progress to freer markets. Banking remains largely controlled by the state. There has been little privatisation, even of such important industries as coal.

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Barriers to trade persist, with tariffs still twice as high as in China. Quotas limiting international stake-holders have not been abolished. Why be surprised, then, that foreign direct investment runs so low, that the two-million-strong Indian expatriates — the richest of all immigrant communities in the United States — fail to invest in the homeland as gladly as overseas Chinese have done, or that Mumbai conglomerates put so much money into buying up auto or steel in Britain, where Tata is now the largest private employer in the UK?

What such frustrations express is the intractable brake that Indian democracy has so far placed on the fullest expansion of Indian capital. The poor outvote the rich, the villages the cities, the slums the suburbs. At once activated and segregated by caste, the deprived have never been able to achieve any real redistribution of national income, their drive for recognition typically contenting itself with symbolic representation in the political firmament, with little reaction at its lack of practical consequence. Whereas in India, democracy allows just the opposite — an input legitimacy from the holding of free elections, that thereby excuses the political class from distributing more than confetti to the masses who have elected them.

Commentators now complain as regularly of legislative deadlock in Delhi as they do in Washington. But the underlying reasons are quite different. Neoliberal precepts have the favour of the latter. Yet the former still continue, negatively, to inhibit too provocative a dismantling of the arrangements of an earlier, more paternalist system of rule. Worse, from the standpoint of the stock market and the technocrats seeking further liberalisation to empower it, legislation cannot be wholly insulated from the pressure of a vast destitute electorate.

It is work for pay, rather than a direct cash transfer scheme as in Brazil, to minimise the danger of money going to those who are not actually the poor, and so ensure it reaches only those willing to do the work. Works performed are not always productive, and as with all other social programmes in India, funds are liable to local malversation.

But NREGA now represents the largest entitlement programme in the world, reaching some forty million rural households, a quarter of the total in the country. A National Survey Sample for has revealed that 45 per cent of all rural households wanted the work it offers, of whom only 56 per cent got it. This remains less than 1 per cent of GDP, and the great majority of rural labourers in the private sector are still not paid the minimum wage due them.

Conceived outside the party system, and accepted by Congress only when it had little expectation of winning the elections of , NREGA eventually had such popular support that the Lok Sabha adopted it nem con. NREGA is being applied in structurally far less favourable conditions. In India, the communist tradition has long splintered in three directions, and trade unions muster no more than a tiny 3 per cent of the labour force.

Caste, not class, and alas, least of all the working class, is what counts most in popular life, at once sustaining Indian democracy and draining it of reconstructive energy. If the poor remain divided against themselves, and workers are scattered and ill-organised, what of other sources of opposition within the political system? The new middle class has turned against mega-corruption, but is scarcely foreign to the bribe and the wink, let alone favours to kin, at its own level of advantage.

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Besotted with a culture of celebrity and consumption, on spectacularly vapid display in much of the media, and to all appearances hardening in collective egoism, it is no leaven in the social order. The intelligentsia is another matter. There, India possesses a range and quality of minds that perhaps no other developing society in the world, and not that many developed ones, can match.

Whether working inside or outside the union, it forms an interconnected community of impressive acuity and distinction. In what kind of relationship does it stand to the country? Intellectuals are often held, quite wrongly, to be critical by definition. But in some societies, the mistake has become internalised as a self-conception or expectation, and so it probably is for most Indian intellectuals.

How far do they live up to it? Generalisations here are bound to be fallible. But an approximate assessment is perhaps possible all the same. What is clear is that attitudes differ according to issues, along a gradient that has a logic of its own. So far as Indian society at large is concerned, it is safe to say that an overwhelming consensus is highly critical.

It would be difficult to identify the social disorder or iniquity that has not been subjected to unsparing scrutiny. Hunger, misery, illiteracy; inequality of every kind, sexual discrimination, economic exploitation; corruption, commercialisation, fanaticism; spreading slums, looting of the environment — a detailed scholarship of anger or disgust covers virtually all.

Society is one thing; politics, although never disconnected from it, another. Here the ether alters noticeably. But the response to the three is not the same: with each, the critical quotient is distinct. Indian democracy, although so often ritually loaded like a local idol with garlands as if it were a miracle, is on the whole treated with far less superstition than the rites might suggest. Indeed, it might be thought few countries enjoy such a copious and sophisticated body of political science, bearing on so many aspects of its electoral and constitutional life.

Empirical and theoretical approaches combine, in a spirit that is typically both analytical and critical. Yet compared with social criticism, political critique is typically less comprehensive and less searching. For no political system, however democratic, consists just of its institutions of representation. They are always flanked and buttressed by its apparatuses of repression.

Symptomatically, these are a conspicuous absence in the Oxford Companion , as elsewhere, where civil rights scarcely figure. There are honourable exceptions. Suspects against whom the police are unable to bring substantial evidence or those who are perceived to be dangerous are simply murdered. These are not matters on which the literature of miraculism cares to dwell.

It is not only in breadth of scope, however, that even more level-headed accounts of the political system so often fall short, but depth of penetration too. There is no lack of ledgers registering assorted strengths and weaknesses of representative democracy in India, and arriving at different estimates of the balance between them. Virtually all conventional analysis posits, as he did, a contradiction between society and polity, and explains imperfections in the latter that he did not foresee, as effects of distortions in the former of which he was bitterly aware.

But the relationship between the two has always been more paradoxical than this. A rigid social hierarchy was the basis of original democratic stability, and its mutation into a compartmentalised identity politics has simultaneously deepened parliamentary democracy and debauched it. Throughout, caste is the cage that has held Indian democracy together, and it has yet to escape.

At secularity, taboos become stronger and the front of criticism narrows. In part, the reason lies in the political, and to some extent intellectual, chequerboard of recent decades, where to question official secularism as a doctrine, for a wide mainstream, risks opening the gates not only to nativist snipers but the troops of Hindutva. The larger explanation lies in the tense relationship of so many Indian intellectuals to the traditional faith surrounding them.

Even for non-believers in the ranks of Congress, once religion had fused with nation in the independence struggle, to demystify one was to damage the other. In the s the great Tamil iconoclast E. He who propagates God is a scoundrel. He who worships God is a barbarian. But an enemy of caste and of sexual inequality as fearless as this had no place in the construction of the Indian Union, which he resisted, and once it was consolidated, a stance like his became unthinkable for any politician with national ambitions. Intellectuals were under less constraint, but few cared to be too outspoken.

On the whole, only Dalit writers have broken ranks. For how could the stature of Gandhi as father of the nation not suffer if Hinduism was to be handled so brusquely? To this political inhibition was added a cultural difficulty. Sociologically, Hinduism was not a realm of belief or practice separate from the rest of existence, but permeated it as the ubiquitous texture of popular life.

How could even secular progressives affront it, without loss of sympathy with the vast majority of their fellow citizens, and the symbols and ceremonies lending colour and meaning to their lives? Not only that. Like every other major religion, Hinduism also gave rise to a major reservoir of high culture — metaphysics, poetry and mathematics in particular. To dismiss or undervalue such riches of the subcontinental past would be as philistine a self-mutilation as a breezy ignorance of Christian art or thought would be in the West or the classical corpus in China. Outstanding among them, too, were the great epics of Hindu legend, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana , which unlike the Odyssey or the Aeneid , are still in such absolute command of popular imagination that their dramatisation on television could not only mesmerise hundreds of millions of viewers, but occasion many a literal act of worship before the small screen.

Accommodation of fervours like these, inspired by so popular a literary masterpiece, might be held common prudence on the part of a state equi or flexi-distant from all religions. Indian secularism can encompass them all. Few are inclined to ask how many clothes it ever possessed, or what has become of them. At the last of the Trimurti values, dissent comes close to vanishing altogether. Democracy may be imperfect, secularity ambiguous, but unity — of the nation and the land belonging to it — has become virtually untouchable.

Here the heritage of the past has had its own weight. Hindu culture, exceptionally rich in epics and metaphysics, was exceptionally poor in history, a branch of knowledge radically devalued by the doctrines of karma, for which any given temporal existence on earth was no more than a fleeting episode in the moral cycle of the soul.

In such a historiographic vacuum, when the nationalist movement arose, legend encountered no barrier. Today the cult of Indian unity has typically worked itself free from such mystical origins, territory as such becoming the bond unifying the nation, regardless of any religious — let alone ethnic or cultural — trappings. The reality is otherwise. In these pages, there should be little need for any reminder of the fate of Kashmir, under the longest military occupation in the world. At its height, in the sixty years since it was taken by India, some , troops have been deployed to hold down a Valley population of five million — a far higher ratio of repression than in Palestine or Tibet.

Demonstrations, strikes, riots, guerrillas, risings urban and rural, have all been beaten down with armed force. Held fast by Nehru to prove that India was a secular state, Kashmir has demonstrated the exact opposite: a confessional expansionism. Today, the bureaucracy that rules it under military command contains scarcely a Muslim, and jobs in it can be openly advertised for Hindus only. How is this landscape received by the Indian intelligentsia? Below, Amartya Sen uttered a plangent cry. That the democracy of his country and the humanity of his leader preside over an indurated tyranny, replete with torture and murder, within what they claim as their national borders, need not ruffle a loyal Indian citizen.

Nobel prizes are rarely badges of political courage — some of infamy — so there is little reason for surprise at a silence that, in one form or another, is so common among Indian intellectuals. But any talk of self-determination is another matter, garlic to the vampire. More than ordinary intellectual conformism is at work here. The same degree of pressure does not obtain outside the country, but Indian intellectuals abroad have not made notably better use of their greater freedom of expression. There the leading production comes from Sumantra Bose.

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace does not embellish the record of Indian rule, and covers in some detail the insurgencies which broke out against it in the s, the extent of the assistance they received from Pakistan, and the way they were put down. Descriptively, there is little it avoids. Prescriptively, however, it simply underwrites the status quo, on the grounds that the confessional and ethnic pattern in the region is now too complicated for self-determination to be applicable, and anyway India is not going to permit any such thing, so why not settle for the existing Line of Control, naturally assorted with appropriate placebos and human rights?

No Indian general could put it better. Looking north-east, attitudes are much the same, if typically rationales for them are adjusted to local conditions. There, the standard justification for military repression is that the various insurgent communities have always been far too small and isolated to be able to form independent states, and can only benefit from inclusion in the much more advanced Indian Union. The argument, like so much else in the national apologetics, is risible. Bhutan, in the same zone, is equally landlocked, and has a smaller population than Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram or even Meghalaya.

Yet it is a perfectly viable independent state, with a seat at the United Nations like any other, and short of going the way of Sikkim, annexed by India in , will continue to be so. What is true is that no break away from the union is conceivable in this area, not because of any economic impossibility, but because Delhi can unleash overwhelming military force, as it has done for a half a century, to crush any attempt at secession, and can count on exhaustion eventually wearing out all resistance, as it cannot in Kashmir, where the alternatives of independence or inclusion in Pakistan have not left the Valley, and any free vote would prefer either to the Indian yoke.

The toll of the two occupations forms no part of the triune liturgy. But the cold truth is that the British massacre at Amritsar which ignited the first great mass movement of the independence struggle was a bagatelle compared with the accumulated slaughter by the Indian army and paramilitary forces of their fellow citizens, or those deemed such, since independence. The same could, of course, be said of many states that were once colonies, not least the US itself, where the price in human life of territorial integrity was far higher.

Still, at the altar of Trimurti, costs are discounted inversely to gains. Unity, whose moral and political deadweight is heavier, is safer from reproach than democracy or secularity. An ideology, to be effective, must always in some measure answer to reality. The co-existence of so many languages, the durability of parliamentary forms of government, the liveliness of cultural life, vigour of much intellectual exchange and elegance of social manners at their best, are all rightly matters of pride, out of which it has been fashioned.

But the realities of the union are more complex, many of them much darker. Once any independent state has emerged from an anti-colonial struggle, what was once a discourse of awakening can easily become one of intoxication. In India that danger is great, because of the size of the nation, and the particular character and outcome of the way it came into being. Across its borders lie the accusing facts of the states that did not become part of India, whose existence cannot be squared with much of the story it continues to tell itself, and still could bring that story to a fatal end.

Consoling themselves for domestic shortcomings, Indian intellectuals will often contrast the happier condition of their country with that of Pakistan. But given their respective starting-points, not to speak of the responsibility of the stronger in doing its best to sabotage the weaker from the outset, the comparison risks pharisaism. In any case, it is not always to Indian advantage. Though the military looms larger, today the media are more outspoken in Pakistan; though it is yet poorer, there is less undernourishment and better healthcare in Bangladesh.

A more generous, more curious and more self-critical sense of their neighbours would become Indian attitudes better. Needed above all is detachment from the totems of a romanticised past, and its relics in the present. The dynasty that still rules the country, its name as fake as the knock-off of a prestige brand, is the negation of any self-respecting republic. Congress had its place in the national liberation struggle. Gandhi, who had made it the mass force it became, called at independence for its dissolution.

He was right. Since then the party has been a steadily increasing calamity for the country. Its exit from the scene would be the best single gift Indian democracy could give itself. The BJP is, of course, a more dangerous force. But it is a real party, with cadres, a programme and a social base. It cannot be wished out of existence, because it represents a substantial political phenomenon, not the decaying fossil of one, and has to be fought as such. So long as Congress lingers on paralytically, that will not occur. If Congress offers ultimate protection against Hindutva, why do more than just go on voting for it?

Why think of any radical reconstruction of the state over which it has so long presided? The political ills that all well-meaning patriots now deplore are not sudden or recent maladies of a once healthy system. They descend from its original composition, through the ruling family and its affiliates, and the venerations and half-truths surrounding these and the organisation enclosing them. Today, the largest statue in the world is being erected in Gujarat. The government commissioning it is BJP. But the giant it honours is a Congress leader, who wanted the RSS to join his party.

Vallabhbhai Patel will tower six hundred feet high, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Appropriately, his will be the Statue of Unity. Long preceding it are monumentalisations, no less immane, in words not stone, of his companions. It is time to put away these effigies, and all they represent. Routledge, pp.

Orient Blackswan, pp. Oxford, pp. Kansas, pp. Taylor Fravel Princeton, pp. Imprint One, pp. Hurst, pp. Regency, pp. Abacus, pp. But Indian assessments of Nehru and Gandhi have ebbed and flowed, arguably reaching a critical low in the s, in the wake of the Emergency and widespread disillusionment with Congress politics.