Understanding State Power – How much do we understand?

Bhaskar Majumder

If history did not teach us, then why didn’t we unlearn history? Though the state as we understand today post-Westphalia, 1648, is an arrangement man-made, man is far distanced often from the way state operates or people think so. For most of the operations are understood by courageous public reactions or freighted non-reaction. This means what? It is like, somebody asks me, what the time is and I look at my wristwatch and respond. Actually I misconceived wristwatch as time or at best I understood wristwatch was the conditioning of time. I did not think it was the conditioning that followed the rotation of the earth round the Sun. Let us forget the history of Galileo for the time being.

If the above is agreed upon that is a difficult task in social sciences, then I come to my understanding on state and its power or “state power’’. One has to distinguish between the state as an anatomy and state power as physiology. The anatomy is understood somehow though not wholly. The Physiology is wisdom-distanced. Why? Because state power is not based on mono-wisdom – it shows collective wisdom and the latter is fuzzy. There may be a leader that guides collective wisdom – still it is projected as collective. This may have exceptions when the sycophants chanted like “India is Indira, Indira is India’’.

The other difficulty is looking at the state from a distance – it becomes understanding a shadow. Since the shadow varies depending on the location of the torch, the state gets reflected in a number of ways. A shadow does not speak – it is an abstraction. Then how does the nation/people understand the state? It is by the system of reward-punishment and that is a proxy reflection of the ideas of the state. The state draws its ideas from the way people act or are guided to act. Silence of people is also a part of acting – a decision to remain silent in state-conformity.

State power is not totally an inverse of people’s power – it was people who formed the state. The state seeks legitimization from the people because on the trajectory the dynamics take new shapes. If the state is overdeveloped relative to most of the people or if some of the people think well ahead of the state, multiple disequilibria occur. The state power then works – to bring down the capacity of the section well ahead of the state and to uplift or patronize those well below the state. In a naive sense, state power then becomes a weighted average – below which most of the people live faithfully and above which very few people live or die.

State is supposed to have a single anatomy while the space on which it acts has multiple anatomies. Hence, the state in physiology differs in time over space. The state needs legitimization from non-state actors that is heterogeneous and live at different time. Hence, state power differs or projected differently.

The state keeps a reserve army that propagates the power of the state – these are not the institutions-in-law, these are extra-law and often remain concealed. The power of the state is, thus, both real and unreal – but even if unreal, the state needs to project it. People need to be controlled – each day.

Undoubtedly the state had a legitimization by birth for people made it to obey it. Once the state realizes that some of the people started violating the state-agenda, state reacts. The state being the legal authority and people outside it, the symbiotic relation gets converted into victor-victim relation. The state distributes benefits from the basket that people own. The state is the custodian of the benefits-basket. However, the state declines that the people are the owner.

That the state power exists means it has to be established – it is different from any ethics.  In case the state is hurt, or it feels so, the repercussions may take any form including a vindictive one. The state does not bother about who gets crushed in that state-chakro. The goal needs to be achieved – there is nothing wrong in war.

First, society constructed the state and once the state developed itself it started re-constructing the society. The reason society comes in the analysis is precisely because society is both the cause and the consequence on the state trajectory. The state becomes the protector and benevolent for the society. Comes a time when the very creator of the state that is the society starts feeling helpless or suffocates for domination by the state. But state maintains treasury while society resembles “roti-roji-ghar’’. The state pledges to provide those – the society remains satisfied.

The state seems to be one and unique by anatomy. In essence, it functions differently even within a specified legal structure. It may be that the executors of law foresee and abide by the creators of law.
The state has crises – society does not have. State may fail; it may be a client state; it may be a rogue state and all that. Society is not capacitated to fail or becomes a client of another state or society or a rogue. The state, thus, tries to get capacitated to control the rest of the world or withstand the power of the rest of the world. In the processes, it also acquires power to control the society that is intra-sovereignty. The society is made citizens by isolation and then branded and controlled.

Now, India’s context comes. While the external power of India’s state is understood for it needs to be understood at least to claim to be a nationalist, the internal face is difficult to understand notwithstanding the uses of terms like “soft state’’. Indecision of a state or delayed decision, while seen as components of a soft state, may be also components of diplomatic strategy – where to speed up and where to get delayed, where to take decisions today and where to take decisions tomorrow. People must be made to believe that the state is a welfare state that serves their interests. So it is not really what the state does but how that is projected for acceptance or legitimization.

Manufacturing enemy thus is an integral component of the state to project power – both external and internal. External, it is a hostile neighbour; internal, it is communists (unless it is a communist country) or a Minority (unless it is a single-religion country).

Understanding the state of India is more difficult for it is a twin – Bharat and India. Some add Hindustan and all that. The fact remains that the people of this twin cultural space called a country is ruled by one state that is more European-Indian. This gets more complicated for the Heartland and that shows Bharat and India living in many differentiated regions. The states on the circumference only acknowledge the authority of the Centre.

Let there be no elasticity of imagination that the state power is one-time power as reflected or as concealed. It changes colour – it camouflages. The society is innocent – lives in ethics. Ethics does not decide the state. State power decides often what route ethics will take – ethics is permitted or obstructed. Satyameva Jayate is ethical power that state uses; otherwise it will live idle. Society thinks it carries the national flag; actually the state endorses it. On power equation, it is the state. Society is only a Vidur – odd man out.

I leave the above note incomplete for unnumbered reasons.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Aug 2, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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