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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Wonder That Is India: 60 years of the Republic

By Swapan Dasgupta

Earlier this month, a body called Reputation Institute published a poll of how some countries perceived themselves in terms of “overall respect, trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings”, and how these countries were in turn viewed by others. Predictably, the perception gap was the least for countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Japan and even UK. In the case of India, it was as high as 32 points, around the same as the US.

It was reassuring that 82 per cent of Indians are basking in self-esteem—the corresponding figures were 79 per cent for China, 77 per cent for the US and a measly 57 per cent for Japan. In 1997, a poll had suggested that some 60 per cent of Indians thought they were better off under British rule.

Opinion polls are never conclusive but the Reputation Institute exercise does point to a phenomenon that has often been corroborated by anecdotal evidence: Indians feel that the 21st century is theirs.

The headiness that marks 60 years of the Indian Republic is a departure from the gloomy pessimism of earlier decades. Amid this high, it’s easy to forget that not very long ago the haunting face of a hungry Indian child was used to guilt-trip the West into parting with loose change. My parents used to talk about the unspeakable horrors of the 1943 Bengal famine; I recall the grim shortages that marked the mid-1960s; my son, a product of the market economy, takes material comforts for granted.

Nationalist history has stressed the starry-eyed idealism of an India that heard Jawaharlal Nehru making a “tryst with destiny” and witnessed Rajendra Prasad sign the Constitution 60 years ago. But that was half the story. India was intoxicated by the sweet air of freedom after centuries of servitude but its exuberance wasn’t universally shared.

On the far-Right of this ‘perception gap’ stood Winston Churchill who viewed Indian independence as the betrayal of a sacred trust. Using Gibbon’s imagery, he even prepared a speech prophesying that “to India it may well be the age of Antonines”; he never delivered it. Still, he fell back on the horrors of Partition to lament “one of the most melancholy tragedies Asia has ever known”—the end of Empire.

On the far-Left of the brigade of sceptics stood the Communists, determined to turn human tragedy into political advantage. After a Moscow-dictated shift in the party line saw the elevation of B.T. Ranadive as general secretary, the Comrades took to the streets chanting ‘ye azadi jhooti hai’. The insurrection against a ‘spurious’ independence saw grotesque acts of political adventurism: an ultra-Left group stormed the Jessop factory in Calcutta and threw an European manager into the boiler. Mercifully, this delinquency ended in 1951.

Nor was India alone affected by the turbulence; the neighbourhood proved equally volatile. In Pakistan, the murder of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 triggered a wave of sectarian discord, regional tensions and political instability and paved the way for a military coup in 1958. In Burma, soldiers barged into Parliament in July 1947 and gunned down Aung San, the leader of the nationalist movement, and six of his ministers. The tragedy paralysed democracy and eventually led to General Ne Win’s eccentric socialism. Only Ceylon, ironically the only country that never had a mass-based nationalist movement, proved an island of democratic stability — at least till 1956 when Sinhala nationalism brought in ethnic complications, frequent changes of Constitution and, finally, a deeply damaging 25-year civil war.

In hindsight, India seems to have come out of decolonisation least damaged. A commitment to bad ideology meant it had to wait till 1991 for sensible economics to prevail and entrepreneurial opportunities to return. Yet, for 60 years the political edifice created by the founding fathers of the Republic held — barring an 18-month aberration during the Emergency. India conducted 15 democratic elections and witnessed peaceful transitions of government. The military remained outside politics, the judiciary stayed independent and civil liberties were preserved and even extended. There were bouts of political turbulence and civil unrest but these didn’t jeopardise the Constitution.

This awesome 60-year record must seem inexplicable to those who tore their hair for 30 years trying to work out viable and acceptable institutions of self-government for India. Constitution-making for India didn’t begin in 1947; its origins go back to the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919. Thereafter, it went through a bumpy and treacherous ride — the Simon Commission Report, the three Round Table conferences, the Cripps Mission and the Cabinet Mission — which left many convinced that independent India would be violently ungovernable. But these abstruse and fractious exercises actually helped clear up the clutter for the inheritors of the Raj.

Prior to 1947, there were four major concerns. First, would India be governed by an overriding Centre or be a loose federation, a United States of India? Second, how would religious minorities be given a stake in the new dispensation? Third, how would the internal differentiations within Hindus be tackled to prevent, as many feared, Brahmin domination? Finally, how would democracy square with mass poverty and

Partition resolved the seemingly intractable strong-Centre versus federal debate. The biggest votaries of a weak Centre walked away into Pakistan. Partition also ensured that the role of minorities wouldn’t become an instrument of permanent political blackmail. India’s multi-religious character could be preserved within the parameters of a liberal Constitution that followed the spirit of the Queen’s Proclamation to not override faith and custom. The only difference was that while the British after 1858 tried to steer clear of all Indian social customs, free India confined its prohibitions to minority sensitivities. As for iniquities within Hindu communities, the Poona Pact of 1932 was carried over and extended to affirmative action in government employment. Mandal took it a step further. The formation of linguistic states cemented another possible area of discord. Today, however, there is a danger of some ghosts from the past reappearing.

The final issue was the evolution of political consciousness and the creation of a democratic culture. This proved a long time coming but the process was helped by the remarkable political self-assurance of the Congress Party. Till 1967, the party leadership didn’t have adequate incentives to attempt a derailment of democracy. Only Indira Gandhi had other ideas. Fortunately, the brief Emergency interlude ended up making Indians fanatically committed to the system. After 1977 India imposed a moratorium on quick-fix, radicalism. Demands for a “committed” bureaucracy and judiciary and a presidential system have become politically unacceptable.

Yet, India’s success with democracy wouldn’t have happened without the presence of a middle class that had imbibed a measure of European Enlightenment and combined it with patriotic selflessness. It was the relative irrelevance of this class in Pakistan that gave feudal landlords and soldiers the upper hand in that country. Lord Macaulay may be a swear word for those untainted by cosmopolitanism but contemporary India has reason to appreciate the prescience of his 1835 mission statement: “Come what may, self-knowledge will lead to self-rule.”
India’s thriving Republic is an Indian achievement but it’s also an outcome of inheritance.

Times of India, January 23, 2010


Arun Italics said...

On the issue of linguistic states, I hope the Sangh folks realize how helpful it has been in running our nation. They seem to be shy of India's diversity and harp on Rashtra Bhasha and Shuddh Hindi. Their vision of nationhood is a copy western nations which don't have the kind of diversity that we do.

Anonymous said...

Glad you mentioned Lord Macaulay !

I have often wondered sceptically how a few sentences allegedly written by Lord Macaulay could have led India to this state. Highly hyperbolical.

My late grandmother who nurtured & groomed me so well despite being denied formal education always pined.." If only I could speak in English also...".

We loved our mother tongue. She & others knew & loved Sanskrit also. Pined for English yesss.

Never for hindi.

Anonymous said...

If some thought that after independence India would self destruct and eventually beg the british empire to return and take back the reigns, well surely India has succeeded in keeping itself together. If "that" is the benchmark, well yes we have passed with flying colours. But if we raise the bar a little bit higher, does a nation of a billion people deserve the governance, infrastructure, civic amenities, liberties, and opportunities they deserve, you'll be surprised we have failed worse than even some of the African countries like Tunisia!

Indian Nationalist said...

India might have achieved independence 60 years back but has the Indian mind come out of its Colonial mindset is the real question to be asked.

That would take another 100 years at least.

Even today speaking ENGLISH is considered as a prestige statement.

Japan, Germany and China have no such Colonial thinking.

Anonymous said...

In my early thirties while cooking , I casually remarked to my grandmother:-

" My God , it must be so difficult to pluck each & every tiny mustard from plants...."

All the congealed pain she carried for not being sent to indian schools simply vanished in an instant.

She without any chalk/pencil/paper effortlessly could multiply even fractions. She was so full of homespun tricky puzzles all dealing with algebra , arithmectic , geometry that , me the dunce would run into the bathroom when she slipped into that mode.

No wonder in my VIII std , someone questioned me about Pythagoras Theorem ( tambram IITians are one big colossal pain showoffs always inquisitioning) & I replied:-

" I don't know anything about we are doing theorem number 16".

Anonymous said...

Resurrection of more pain follows.

MY precious Mother. She did her Senior Cambridge along with putting up with the traumatic state of affairs with barbaric cannibals around ( the accursed GODDAMNED putrefying chaotic joint family) in some corner of tamilnadu. She went to a convent run ny Christian Missionaries.Those were so called pre independence years.

She was such an illustrious student. Till her death she would gratefully recall her French teacher who detected her brilliance & nurtured in a dedicated way. She showed me her certificate where she was given 105 upon 100 for Algebra , Trignometry & Geometry combination.

Was any time willing to give FREE tuitions to anyone coming to her. Girls from Calcutta Loreto convent I have seen learning from her. A boy who was going to take joint entrance exam for kharagpur IIT underwent intensive coaching under my Mother- FREE.

But it was her cannibalistic arrogant ingrates called male siblings that got all education like IIT , MBBS , Chartered accountancy blahblah by her OWN (sic) mother who simply MERCILESSLY detested my mother & her sister for being girls.

My maternal aunt committed suicide in her early twenties. She just could not bear the torture.Nobody bothered except my mother who was distraught. They did elaborate rituals & that was it.

In fact they ate lots of sumptuous sweets & savouries telling such a death of a young woman is very auspicious.

And we are so called orthodox brahmins. Vegetarians indeed ! I keep telling myself we are all heartless , respirating cannibals.

My mother died of cancer of nerve tissue. Told her life story only before dying. I was speechless when she broke down & told me how her maternal paedophile grandfather routinely abused her since she was a 2 year old child. WITH her autocratic insensitive mother's knowledge & apathy.

The most unkindest cut of all came from my mother's Lady Macbethy mother who was also present then with the following words:

" So what ? As if I wanted to marry your father who had neither the looks nor the qualifications of my father. Who was the most eminent doctor in the entire TamilNadu. I wanted only sons. You were such a burden . He offered to bring you up. Feel grateful for all the food clothing & shelter he gave you. With his money today my 3 sons are doing so well in America.That is your karma..."

Anonymous said...

Indian Nationalist ,

You are WRONG.
Absolutely woefully WRONG.

Because of what a Japanese Professor living abroad told me. Corroborated by her indian husband . So you can't checkmate me there indootvavadees.

Anonymous said...

Some facts about festivalssing RENEGADE brahmins:

That mbbbs S (my Mother's paedophile rapist) ( drooled over by multitudinous people for his ladykilling skills ) forcibly yanks ( what else can you call an arranged marriage) a self extinguishing demure , hardworking but very rich (imp all the huge quantities of gold , silver etc entirely was hers) from Vaalaadi in TamilNadu. Openly ridiculing throughout the cermonies youunletteredmeMBBS..this is called 'kalakalannu kuthookalama kalyanam '.( aaaapppppeeeee marriage)

LITERALLY robs her of everything buying huge estates , cardamom plantations , cars , haveli type of houses , drivers , cooks , nubile daughters of cooks asked to thael maalish the towering doctor. Wife of course made to procreate 4or 5 sons & 2 daughters.Plus non stop cooking in various batches because Dr is infamous alleged 'nutritionist' wrote poems like:

Vitamin C is much in the air/ Talks are given by dark & fair / How can apple a day/ keep you away from the doctor/ who is much in your way ?

If at all he caught the wife putting the chopped amaranth plus greens in a not so clean vessel would stride with heavy boots , trample all over them silently. Till she apologised , disposed off all dutifully. And resumed all over again....


Filter coffee in a special Huge Silver Tumbler / Nutritious Upma like handpound aval / broken wheat/parboiled broken rice speckled with vegetables for vitaminising & glistening with oil for maintenance of his skin+ malted ragi dosai+ home churned fresh dollops of butter+ spicy gothsu (salsa) variety of chutneys like tomato , mint , onion ( visual effect) , fresh grapes or whatever juice harvested from his estates made right in his presence. Finished with another Huge Silver Tumbler coffee.

No repeat of the same stuff next day. All malting of ragi, dehusking of pulses like green gram , black gram , toovar all done by THAT wife manually stone ground (yendaram) Plus she had to make huge quantities of toothpowder by roasting rice husk etc. Eco Terroristhealthfreakterrorist husband.

One of her young sons called Swaminathan was BRUTALLY snatched away by the terroristhusband & thrown into sanatorium in Thambaram for alleged tuberculosis. Despite her heartrending pleading NEVER allowed to ever visit or talk to him.

Later He did very well in his life in Singapore.His mother herself got TB in spinal cord , enduring torture for 7 yrs. The affluent son was wantonly denied ANY kind of access to her. Eventually when she died Swaminathan gave a prominent ad in block letters that his mother at last got deliverance from a TYRANT .

Even then the putrefying carcasses were aghast discussing " how much of money he must be making for giving such a paragraph sized ad from SINGAAPOOOR !!!

Anonymous said...

Now garrulousgoondas called thinktankpolicymakers of india are planning to impose hindeeee.

Borrowing Sir.Winston Churchill's words I say:

" Up With This I will not PUT ".

Anonymous said...

Am not surprised AT ALL by Cho ramaswamy's craftily worded edit cavilling RAPIST rathore is being subjected to witch hunting by media.

Read the following.

This was told by a boy student of a very 'reputed' residential school in tamilnadu. Whose management blahblah all in the hands of cho ramawamy & extended family members all (sic) Brahmins((

There was a Nepali girl student who committed suicide. Ofcourse , many knew a lecherous English teacher had raped her.

Yet , the management decided to come out with a dejavu report "Nepali girl was of loose morals; so committed suicide..."

The entire faculty comprising of (sic)pious , learned , teachers of both genders went along with the management.

That boy who saw all this charade literally jumped out of the heavily fenced , guarded hostel never returning. I met him in a Temple in tamilnadu , where he told me all this.

Nobody is going to believe this , as that school is one of a kind , giving free high quality food plus enviable facilities for the students. Including day scholars.

Hence Indians glibly blame everything on her 'karma/prabdham' shrug their shoulders , circumambulate , give lavish donations to orphanages.....

Incidentally that school was praised to the skies by another revered saffron clad Hindu monk very recently. Eloquent testimony of the chimerical omniscience of faux sannyasis/monks/pontificators.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the wantonly illunderstood & abused word karma:

My Mother did NOT ask to be raped. I did NOT either. The Bhagavad Geetha raunchy & paunchy thumpers ought to remember nowhere does SriKrishna say to Paanchaali it was her karma. He declares:

NO AMNESTY for the undeserving.Over actions everyone has freedom of choices not over consequences.

Invariably, immoral unethical people subject the victim to inquisition dwelling over salacious details & asking for proof!!

let the ONUS of DISproving fall on the perpetrators .

Anonymous said...

Recall the torrid story of an exceptionally brilliant and good looking girl student of DPS (in Delhi very recently) who was 'caught in the act ' (videoed on mobile circulated non stop & hungrily savoured by the mera bharath mahaan vande matharam matripitribhumi) so to speak by a richierich superbrat boy of the same school who was never ever her friend or lover to begin with.
It was only one newspaper (Chandan Mitra 's Pioneer ) that had come out with the unvarnished truth.

The boy simply could not add her to his list of 'conquests’ ; hence hatched upon a nefarious blackmailing plot to lure her to his private bedroom studded with all gizmos.

In that charade of court hearing the boy’s retinue of relatives fawned over him bemoaning how he was denied his daily quota of pizzas etc. Money power ( son of a rich industrialist) won. All the “slimes” (news channels & papers) pilloried the girl.

That girl ’s father is a retired Army Officer ( how well we honour them ..horripilating isn't it(( . She had her studies abruptly discontinued, lost her only genuine boyfriend and was shunted out to some distant relative’s house in a far off country. You would know how 'karma cola ' starts fizzing then.

The popular tv channels’ female reporters with unabashed prurience continued maligning her. The matronly imperious teachers and fellow girl students had done the houdini with a could-not-care-less nonchalance .

NO WAY india will get an American Jeff Bridges ( The Contender) the truly enlightened White Man.

In hodgepodge ways by hurriedly picking up a smattering of trendy English , trendy clothes , shoddy plagiarizations of intensely thought provoking Hollywood movies , opening glitzy malls in tandem with opulent temples from America to New Zealand , supercilious preenings alternating with rehashing of past history boohooing (sic)Winston Churchill owes 13 rupees to Bangalore , crowing " indians only found water in moon " etc etc India CANNOT become an America.

Am reminded of the greedy woodcutter story. Look at the quality of people.

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

you..Anonymous with those personal stories...Dont you have your own blog?..Please comment in context.
You are only insulting yourself.
Thank u..

Anonymous said...

" you..Anonymous with those personal stories...Dont you have your own blog?..Please comment in context ".

Comment posted above.

It is Swapan Dasgupta's blog right ? It is his decision to delete or not.

Anonymous said...

Anon @10:02 PM with erudite & neat concepts about " insult " & whatnot ,

Is it Ruchika who is dishonourable or Rathore ?

What are Ramayanam & Mahabharatham if not real stories about real people & their conduct ?

Incensed purists like you ought to be familiar with abstruse chaos theory also ;))

Don't bother to pound away answers going into damage control overdrive.

Those are rhetorical questions :))

Anonymous said...

Anon@ 10:02 PM ,

There is this unique , exceptional Bengali woman whose blog I serendipitously came across. Non political & non religious.Truly educated. Younger than I.

In my interactions with fellow Indians (of both genders) for the first time I found an unpretentious person speaking out so honestly.

One of her posts touched a raw nerve in me making me realize I was not that dead yet. I came out with some details of my life. Which I have rewritten above.

Thank God , everyone is not like you lacking in empathy. Kind words coming from HER meant a lot to me. It was truly cathartic. As she is simply incapable of faking .

Born & brought up in India , now living abroad , yet in touch with both the worlds , she understands.

She has her heart in the right place. No jagged intolerant angularities like you & many around.

No Mist said...

@ Anonymous of the TamBram story

your story is shocking beyond words. but i do not see any point of it being included here.

and if anything the full story deserves to come to the fore with proper names, not anonymous in a blog comment. though i also detest the decaying institution called joint families and arranged marriages, i wouldn't go that far as to paint all of them as insectuous.

and i would like to believe that girls are subject to much less discrimination in today's India though I am sure not entirely absent.

i hope you come with your full story with proper names.

Anonymous said...

No Mist ,

I am not answerable for your overwrought imagination thereby putting your words into my mouth.

I have never painted all joint families incestuous as understood by you.

What I have written is facts about what I have seen & heard from a few good people among us.

Can't cater to your morbid itch of coming out "with full story with proper names".

I have no objective of convincing anyone or becoming a martyr or crusader. I am no mahila mandal or social reformer.

Anonymous said...

No Mist writes " i would like to believe that girls are subject to much less discrimination in today's India ".

The following excerpts in another forum where an Indian woman answers a sceptic like you (as I can't put it better).

"... you do the greatest disservice to your efforts at "presenting a more balanced perspective on India" when you dismiss the reality of several million women's daily life in India as mere "emotive personal anecdotes".

Abuse small or big, one time of habitual is emotionally scarring. That this actually needs explaining to you illustrates exactly why you are simply unqualified for the task....

Women have been conditioned over generations to accept abuse from men at home and outside.

Indian men will flat out deny that abuse happens or is far more commonplace than in the developed world or offer faux sympathy at best without doing much to change anything ....
With the later,the attitude is a mix of resignation to karma and a complete lack of empathy. Yes, there are men who will walk the talk and go the distance to help women - they feel her suffering like it were their own - but they are too few in number to cause change in the pace and volume required in India.

I believe that women should be far more vocal and forthcoming with their stories. There are things I know about my girlfriends from India about abuse by close relatives and random men in public that they would never share with men in their families - husbands, brothers,fathers etc.

Since abusive behavior by men is so pervasive, they tend to be desensitized to a great extent. Minor infractions no longer appear to be "abuse" to them. Unless something really bad happens it does not quite register.Just because all women in India go through it does not make it less bad - but women seem to find consolation in shared misery. Whether or not they look upon at it as abuse, the damage continues to happen - all the time.

When all women speak up and say it like it is, it would be impossible for men to ignore what is happening to those closest to them. It is no longer someone else's karma, or some other woman's problem.

Unless you are able to disprove that I am a woman born and raised in India and have been subject to a wide assortment of eve-teasing since my teens and do not know a single Indian woman whose experience has been any different from mine (do spare us the fiction about how your wife and daughters have never been harassed ever in their whole lives in India - you don't expect a desi woman to buy that. We happen to know the score only too well), there is nothing you can do to alter my so called slumdog narrative.

I have had girlfriends break down and cry as they have shared for the first time incidents of molestation that took place in their teens. These are grown women with children who have not been able to find a way to tell anyone about what happened.

So deeply ingrained is their sense of shame and feeling that they contributed somehow in being the victim that will not open up to men in their family who refuse to even acknowledge there is a very serious problem. The women can't do more than be sympathetic and that does not help.

I wonder if you live in a parallel universe where there is a country that resembles India somewhat. I have spent the majority of my life in India and have most of my family living there. We are in touch on a daily basis. I have never seen or heard any evidence of the Ram-Rajya you describe...

If we consider the writings of Swami Vivekanada after his Chicago address, we learn that American women have about a 200 year head-start over us desis. And they have not been sitting around since that time.

I grew up in India and have lived there the majority of my life. It is still my home and I would love nothing more than to be able to return. As a woman,my quality of life in the public space is so much better in the West ..."

ArbitThinker said...

A very nice article! but I have always wondered what India would have been like if the British were not that slow in implementing their promise after the WWI. Seems like the period of 1920's, when Khalifat and Non cooperation were at their peak, would have been a good time for Indian Independence but cant be sure if we were free how many pieces the nation could have divided into. After all major political mobilization took place after 1920's.