“Tryst With Destiny”

The Modis are Reversing Gains of Freedom Struggle

Sankar Ray

The founders of Indian Republic had a foresight during the freedom struggle on how to manage Independent India that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru encapsulated in three words together—‘tryst with destiny’ at the moment India woke into freedom. Nehru spent nearly ten years in jail—the longest among the freedom fighters excepting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. That farsightedness and grit made Nehru and the new government he led in attempting with at least partial success to achieve ‘an economic take-off or an early industrial and agricultural break-through’—essentials for constructing an ‘effective democracy’ to be caressed by the working people.

The Indian National Congress (INC) which represented the ‘national bourgeoisie’ (the Naxalites’ characterisation of them as ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ was parroting of what the Communist Party of China–actually Mao Zedong –formulated without going in-depth, somewhat cavalierly) first scripted the path of development once it would become free at the Karachi Congress in 1931. Had the Government of India been ruled by the comprador bourgeoisie, it hadn’t liberated Goa from the Portuguese colonial rule nor helped the Liberation Struggle of Bangladesh achieve success. It started to envisage firmer control of the Indian economy. In its programme for an Indian government, it declared, ‘The State shall own or control key industries and services, mineral resources, railways, waterways, shipping and other means of public transport’, wrote David Lockwood in his “The Indian Bourgeoisie: A Political History of the Indian Capitalist Class in the Early Twentieth Century”. The resolution adopted, stated, ‘‘This Congress is of opinion that in order to end the exploitation of the masses, political freedom must include real economic freedom of the starving millions. In order therefore, that the masses may appreciate what Swaraj as conceived by the Congress will mean to them, it is desirable to state the position of the Congress in a manner easily understood by them”. The Congress outlined the future constitution of Independent India.

Nehru wrote later that the Karachi resolution took a very short step in a socialist direction by advocating nationalisation of key industries and services, and various other measures to lessen the burden on the poor and increase it on the rich. Gandhi himself endorsed state intervention to the extent that it was needed to protect Indian industries: ‘I am an out-and-out protectionist’, he declared, endorsing protection for the cotton industry and the reservation of coastal shipping for Indians.

Under the auspices of Nehru and the other leaders of the Congress Left, Subhas Chandra Bose, the Congress set up a National Planning Committee in 1938. ‘The very essence of this planning’, Nehru wrote, ‘was a large measure of regulation and co-ordination. Thus while free enterprise was not ruled out as such, its scope was severely restricted’. Defence industries were to be state owned, while ‘key industries’ would be state controlled. ‘Such control of these industries, however, had to be rigid.’ The Congress manifesto for the elections of December 1945 advocated ‘social control of the mineral resources, means of transport and the principal methods of production and distribution in land, industry and in other departments of national activity’, as well as ‘large state farms’.

From the wee hours of day one,  the new government of India ‘was committed to a democratic and civil- libertarian political order and a representative system of government based on free and fair elections to be conducted on the basis of universal adult franchise’, succinctly wrote Bipan Chandra, Mridula and Aditya Mukherjee in their book, “India Since Independence”. The sovereign-in-the-making state came into being at the midnight of 15 August 1947 is now threatened by the present ruling government of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the hegemonic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is subordinated to the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) which not only dissociated from the freedom struggle ever since its birth in 1925 but obediently served the British colonial rule. While the freedom movement opposed and exposed the mischievous ‘divide and rule’ policy and instead waged a protracted battle for a secular and democratic India. Directly opposed to the freedom struggle and its ideology by working for the ‘divide and rule’ conspiracy, Vinayak Deodars Savarkar theorised ‘Hindutva for that’. Today, the NDA government with Narendra Damodardas Modi, a hardcore RSS product, as the Prime Minister has been pampering the RSS-BJP’s dream of converting the secular democratic India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Gandhiji wrote in Young India in the year of founding of RSS, “Real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, Swaraj is to be obtained by empowering the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority”.

The three authors envisioned the motto of Sangh Parivar that includes Viswa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and others, apart from RSS and BJP to demolish India, born out of freedom struggle. They apprehended the concerted endeavour to encroach civil sources of power such as universities, the Press, trade unions, peasant organisations and professional associations. The many social, economic and political challenges that the country was to face were to be dealt with in a democratic manner, under democratic conditions.

Nehru who warned against the dangerous possibility of poisonous emergence of majoritarian communalism (Hindutva, not Hinduism) as the path of rise of fascism. He was prophetic. He did not sit idle. Instead he almost single-handedly took upon himself the principal political task of furthering the democratic consciousness among the people, sprouted during the freedom struggle. “The leadership completely rejected the different versions of the ‘rice-bowl theory, that the poor in an underdeveloped country were more interested in a bowl of rice than in democracy, and that, in any case, democracy was useless to them if it could not guarantee them adequate food, clothing and shelter”, asserted Chandra and Mukherjees.

Although there had been default in the needed social transformation eliminating gross economic, caste and gender inequalities attacking the massive poverty, a hangover of the Raj, Nehru was virtually isolated amidst conservative and anti-socialist group in his own party Indian National Congress. But Nehru too was to be blamed, albeit partially. He was at times in two minds perhaps fearing that any hard decision might lead to a split in the INC, as happened during the tenure of Purushottamdas Tandon as the Rashtrapati. He had a pro-Hindutva mindset.

The Nehruvian India is now under an unprecedented attack. Privatisation of profit-making central public sector undertakings one after another (initiated during the first NDA government when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister) is going on with full speed. VSNL, Balco and Modern Foods were sold off. Equity shares in highly profitable government organisations such as the Life Insurance Corporation of India were sold out at throw away prices. And the attackers are those that stabbed the freedom struggle at the back. Apparently, secular democratic India has been defeated by ballots (read manipulation by Electronic Voting Machines and Voter verifiable paper audit trail, to a considerable extent). In a sense, Sangh Parivar hatches a conspiracy to reverse the saga of success stories of Indian freedom struggle.

Modi government’s policies frequently prioritise creed over the country. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 is a case in point. It grants Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Jain refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan citizenship of India but has been purposively using it against the Muslims who are persecuted as never before—a proof that the saffron regime makes religion a criterion for citizenship trample the basics of the Constitution of India. The citizenship laws are a mismatch with Constitution of India, the core of which is secularism, fitting into its republican identity with secular conditionalities.

Contextually in the reverse sense, the saffron intimidation against minorities—not always the Muslims, continues unabated. Father Stan Swamy who embraced martyrdom in custody against suppression of dissent was a Christian missionary who dedicated himself in the battle against exploitation of subalterns (mostly Dalits). The role of journalists (not all) was no less than nefarious. Almost everything that people know about how Indians vote comes either from political journalists ‘on the field’ or from opinion polling. The way they ask questions, the data from these surveys and selective reporting have created false narratives around the Indian voter that comes in the way of an honest understanding of democracy in India. How do the nuts and bolts of Indian democracy work? Newspapers and nightly TV shows are full of experts explaining what Indians think, feel and do; one can hardly take an Uber pool or an overnight train without someone reeling off their pet theory about what Indians are really like. The problem is most of these established “narratives are pure fiction masquerading as fact”, inferred Rukmini Sen in her path-breaking study. This shows how freedom of the Press is mischievously misused. It started much before the BJP came to power. However, the Indian democratic polity is under attack in a concerted way from various sides.

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Vol 55, No. 14-17, Oct 2 - 29, 2022