What went wrong with Indian Independence? chapter - 11
Flag of Liberation was looted before it unfurled
The United Kingdom paid a heavy price for the victory in IInd World War. Many of its cities and townships were devastated, thousands of young men killed and the economy lay in ruins. The post-war Great Britain lacked both – the will and the stamina for the massive military operation that would have been necessary for keeping its colonial possessions. The Japanese conquest of Asia had altered the Asian situation. The heroic fight by the Indian National Army (INA), the Naval Mutiny in Bombay and the emergence of leftist extremists groups all over the country had created a situation where continuation of the imperial rule was inconceivable. Britannia had ruled India for over a hundred years with the help of a native army, an indigenous police and locally recruited civil servants. It was no more possible to count on the loyalty of those institutions. In the general elections held in the Great Britain the party of Churchill, the militant leader who won the IInd World War for the allies, was defeated. The Labour Party came to power which soon decided to put an end to the Colonial Empire of the Great Britain.
The partition of India was announced; Those who had proclaimed that the country could be partitioned only over their dead bodies acquiesced in the partition with remarkable agility. What explains this change of heart and the sudden rush to gain power? (If the transfer of power is delayed any further an uprising of the suppressed masses, feared the established leadership, would sweep the country, the leaders of this new revolt may have little respect for Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. This apprehension of the leadership that had grown under the Gandhi’s movement, had its own logic.)
Gandhi had mobilised unarmed illiterate and poor masses to confront the might of the British Empire by innovating the technique of Satyagraha and by spiritualising politics. His movement had an unprecedented response; millions came out for the struggle for freedom. The Congress leadership feared that the mighty forces released by the Mahatma would no more respect Gandhian discipline and that it would result in massive violence and bloodshed. Revolutions of this type would have demanded iron leadership and skills that were lacking in the then national leadership. If the advent of Independence is delayed the older generation of leaders will be replaced by a new leadership of a different metal coming out of Indian masses that would not shirk to shed blood to gain Independence. The heat of such a revolt would have burnt down the parochial feelings of caste and creed. The whole issue of Pakistan would have become irrelevant and the partition would have been avoided. But, that would hardly have suited the leaders of the Nehru-coterie. The idea that Independence was eminent albeit at the cost of partition and they would finally be able to have power after long years of speechifying and jail--going quite seductive. They had realised very clearly that this was their last chance of acceding to power. It was clear to them that India that had passed through the furnace of armed revolution would pay respectful homage to the Mahatma but would be far from kind to his second-line followers. Faced with this situation Gandhi passed the buck on to Nehru; his eminent disciples accepted Independence with partition. The Mountbaton Plan appeared to satisfy very largely the aspiration of the Freedom Movement under the flag of the Congress party. Their uppermost aspirations was that the British should leave without upsetting the hierarchical structure of the Indian society marked by the backwardness of the masses, domination of the upper castes and expropriation of the fruit of the labour of the helpless masses. Briefly, it was the ambition of the Indian elite to climb on to the throne of political power irrespective of what happened to the down-trodden. The leadership understandably felt that it had achieved its prime objective of acceding to power. It’s a pity that their mandate would not run in the provinces that would go to Pakistan. But, it was not overly concerned.
The Congress accepted the Mountbatton’s proposal not so much with the objective of bringing an end to the British rule as for the purpose of ensuring continued age-old domination of the elite castes. To sum up, in the idiom of Jotiba Fule, “Independence came before the emergence of Indian Nation as of unified people.”
The elite were happy that the old days of glory for them would come throughout the country minus the provinces going to Pakistan. The Indian elite were prepared to accept Pakistan rather than loosing the commanding heights they had occupied for, at least two, millennia.
The Reincarnation of the Caste Domination
That in the post-independence India the masses in the agrarian society were subjected to horrendous exploitation and that the urban industry was pampered beyond measure was, clearly, not an esoteric event or a sudden accident. This duality was the very basis of the Indian freedom movement.
Thus it was that the British left; but the British army continued. The British administration remained the same; the police system remained unaltered. Not that there were no changes. The British had spread the most expansive railway network on the Indian Sub-continent; the Indian successors to British Rule applied breaks on that policy. The British had promoted India’s international trade, at independence it represented 4% of the world trade; the new Indian rulers started slashing down these links with the world ostensibly in the interest of self-sufficiency. Rulers in independent India, exactly like their Bolshevik counterparts, isolated the territory for their exclusive enjoyment. The Russians created an ‘iron curtain’, the Indians created a ‘bamboo curtain’ which was as effective as the iron one under the Indian conditions. Iron curtain effectively stopped all give and take of ideas as also goods and technology. That kind of strict ideological discipline was beyond the capacity of the Indian leadership. An open entry to goods and technology would have benefited the masses at large. Indians needed the machinery and the technology required for the industries of the urban elite. However, the contact with the world had to be selective. The bamboo curtain had lots of slits and holes, all suited to the convenience of urban cities and their industry. Indian rulers erected another barrier within the country, thus partitioning independent India a second time. This was not a territorial partition but it effectively created two entities – one which obtained the inheritance from the British of colonial domination and the other which continued to be under the harrow of colonial exploitation even after the departure of the British. In George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” the animals revolt against the “two legged master” and drive him out; but, shortly thereafter the pigs who take over the management, start behaving like the human master and go to the extent of learning to walk on two feet. The allegory fits the Indian condition even better than to those in the Soviet Union. The Indian ‘pigs’ started walking on two feet soon after independence. A polity and an economic system was meticulously designed to deny the Indian masses all contact with the outside markets, thought and science and technology.
The Language Imbroglio
During the period of the freedom movement all the leaders were agreed that Hindi should become the national language of independent India. In the first flush of enthusiasm at the dawn of independence people speaking different languages were favourably disposed to making Hindi the national language. They were determined to promote their regional languages but accepted the need of one common language for communication throughout the territory of the newly independent nation. This enthusiasm eroded pretty fast. The leadership lost the spirit and the ideals of the freedom movement. The states in the South started opposing Hindi. Israel which was created at about same time as independent India decided to accept a dead language like Hebrew as their national language in a spirit of national pride and soon the language of the Israel’s ancestors became an effective modern language for administration, communication and education. The harrowing experience of the post-partition period was such that if the ancient Sanskrit had been made the national language there would have hardly been any opposition. But, the government of new India had its own pervert outlook. It decided to have two national languages instead of one. Hindi had to be one of them. In order to obtain a national consensus it would have been understandable if one of the languages of South India were made, side by side with Hindi, the second national language. But, in the Constitution it was English, the language of the colonial masters, got enshrined as the second national language. Fifty years after independence, the dominance of English is increasing; the usage of Hindi is diminishing; English has become, for all practical purposes, the one and only national language.
It is not difficult to imagine to which class and community this language-policy suited best. The communities which had made for themselves comfortable niches in the colonial bureaucracy that continued to dominate even after the British left were, of course, delighted. It suited the urban elite who had got themselves English educated thought it only logical that English should continue. With the exception of these urban communities that formed barely 4 to 5% of the total population, the rest of the population found themselves cut off from the global currents. The rural Indians have never been comfortable with the English language. Even the educated villagers are scared when required to use English. Asian countries like Japan and China and countries of the developed world like France and Germany appear to be doing pretty well without English. There are only a select few that have relations with the external world learn English. This does not appear to have hampered their advancement or prosperity.
The mother-tongue remains medium of thought throughout life. Languages acquired in later life are used only selectively in specific fields. India, nevertheless, accepted English as a national language mainly because the Indians have never had the ambition to be original thinkers. The wished that the alien literature, arts, culture, thought and science and technology should enter India in convenient doses and, that too, through their intermediary so that the lower castes remain dependent for these inputs on the communities “Superior” to them. Nehru would have never accepted that the administration should be in the people’s language. Many senior Indian thinkers, like Nani Palkhiwala, even today seriously believe that the formation of linguistic states was a grave error. They maintained that the linguistic states were primarily responsible for the dismal performance of India after independence. Socialistic State meant a hyperbolic proliferation of paper work. The educational institutions could barely keep pace with the demand for officials and leaders being able to transact business in acceptable Hindi/English. The list of subject in the state list were of minor importance and those in the top echelons of India were unlikely to be hurt if the state governments carried out the administration in regional languages. In fact, formation of linguistic states made it possible to raise whole new battalions of rural leaders who would support the cause of “India”. The fact that even forty years after the reorganisation of states, English continues to dominate fields of Science and Technology and business is an eloquent testimony of this fact.
The one single decision concerning the national language opened up vast avenues for the urban upper caste communities where they could operate unchecked. The army, the police, the administration continued the format set by the British. Jana Gana Mana, which was written originally to salute the British Emperor became the national anthem. ‘Vande Mataram’ that was associated with the most brilliant and historic chapters in the freedom movement was not acceptable to the new rulers.
On the Independence Day, on the Republic Day the flag--hoisting and ‘beating the retreat’ were fashioned more strictly according to the “Raj” pattern than in the U.K. itself. Slogans were raised of eradication of poverty and priority to health and education. In practice, educational institutes were developed to suit the convenience of the progeny of the black Britishs. The educational institutions are divided into three types.
A few hand-picked Universities and IITs maintain international standards for the children of the urban elite. The alumnies of these institutions generally migrate to richer countries or occupy elevated positions of power.
The “run-of-the-mill” schools and colleges available to the middle classes provide education of deplorable standards. Such institutions are generally handed over to the cronies of the rulers to make enormous money by. The educational attainments and proficiency of the product was irrelevant, since those who hold a printed degree paper got jobs in the socialist bureaucracy where efficiency and culture were of little importance.
The third and the last level of educational institutions consists of schools run by the Panchayat Raj institutions – the celebrated primary schools that lack even the black-boards. The rural masses continue to remain far removed from even the primary literacy.
More that 50% of the people are illiterate; most hamlets are unconnected by road; drinking water is luxury. Teachers and Doctors are seen only in “mandi” towns. The services of a mid-wife are not available even in extreme emergency. The village cobbler cures leather by the same century-old process; baskets are woven exactly in the same manner since generations. The iron-smith fixes the metal rings on the wooden wheels of bullock-carts and sharpen axes and sickles by his age-old methods. At the other end, more fortunate Indians receive education in the top-most institutions and migrate to richer countries to serve the affluent people there by using skills paid for by the poor in India. If an Indian tourist becomes unwell in U.S.A. or U.K. it is more than likely that he will be treated by a doctor educated in India. High level responsibility in industries, research institutions are entrusted to Non-Resident Indians. This is the fruit of fifty years of independence.
History repeats itself often; it so happens that the same character perform the same plays on the world stage with minor differences of costumes and make-up. Since thousands of years, India is witnessing the caste conflict in its various forms one after another. The caste character of the Indian society remained unaffected by the revolution lead by Gautama the Buddha. The feudal invasions barely touched its outer crust. After the advent of the British political independence received top priority setting aside all agenda for the uplift of the depressed and the down-trodden. After independence, slogans of socialism were raised to hypnotize masses into submission to the systems that tyrannised them. With the fall of socialism when some prospects of an era of dignified living for the toiling community appeared the upper caste elite have started talking of “Swadeshi” to defeat openness. The independence of India proved futile and the teeming masses continued to be fooled by ever new stratagems and tactics. The most unfortunate part of the story is that even the persons affected by the course of event fail to understand the diabolic plot in spite of witnessing it repeatedly act by act, centuries after centuries.
- Sharad Joshi