India After Gandhi By Ramachandra Guha Book PDF

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India After Gandhi By Ramachandra Guha

Because they are so many, and so various, the people of India are also divided. It appears to have always been so. In the spring of 1827 the poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib set out on a journey from Delhi to Calcutta. Six months later he reached the holy Hindu city of Banaras.

Here he wrote a poem called ‘Chirag-i-Dair’ (Temple Lamps), which contains these timeless lines: Said I one night to a pristine seer (Who knew the secrets of whirling Time), ‘Sir, you well perceive, That goodness and faith, Fidelity and love Have all departed from this sorry land.

Father and son are at each other’s throat; Brother fights brother. Unity and Federation are undermined. Despite these ominous signs Why has not Doomsday come? Why does not the Last Trumpet sound? Who holds the reins of the Final Catastrophe?

Ghalib’s poem was composed against the backdrop of the decline of the Mughal Empire. His home territory, the Indo-Gangetic plain, once ruled by a single monarch, was now split between contending chiefdoms and armies.

Brother was fighting brother; unity and federation were being undermined. But even as he wrote, a new (and foreign) power was asserting its influence across the land in the form of the British, who were steadily acquiring control of the greater part of the subcontinent.

Then in 1857 large sections of the native population rose up in what the colonialists called the Sepoy Mutiny and Indian nationalists later referred to as the First War of Indian Independence. Some of the bloodiest fighting was in Ghalib’s home town, Delhi – still nominally the capital of the Mughals and in time to become the capital of the British Raj as well.

His own sympathies were divided. He was the recipient of a stipend from the new rulers, yet a product of Mughal culture and refinement. He saw, more clearly than the British colonialist did then or the Indian nationalist does now, that it was impossible here to separate right from wrong, that horrible atrocities were being committed by both sides.

Marooned in his home, he wrote a melancholy account of how ‘Hindustan has become the arena of the mighty whirlwind and the blazing fire’. ‘To what new order can the Indian look with joy?’ he asked.

An answer to this question was forthcoming. After the events of 1857 the Crown took over control of the Indian colonies. A sophisticated bureaucracy replaced the somewhat ad-hoc and haphazard administration of the old East India Company. New districts and provinces were created.

The running of the state was overseen by the elite cadre of the Indian Civil Service supported by departments of police, forests, irrigation, etc.

Much energy (and money) was spent on building a railway network that crisscrossed the land. This contributed enormously to the unity of British India, as well as to its stability, for now the rulers could quickly move troops to forestall any repeat of 1857.

By 1888 the British were so solidly established in India that they could anticipate, if not a thousand-year Raj, at least a rule that extended well beyond their own lifetimes. In that year a man who had helped put the Raj in place gave a series of lectures in Cambridge which were later published in book form under the simple title India.

The man was Sir John Strachey. Strachey had spent many years in the subcontinent, ultimately becoming amember of the Governor General’s Council. Now in retirement in England, he set his Indian experience against the background of recent political developments in Europe.

Large chunks of Strachey’s book are taken up by an administrative history of the Raj; of its army and civil services, its land and taxation policies, the peculiar position of the ‘native states’.

This was a primer for those who might work in India after coming down from Cambridge. But there was also a larger theoretical argument to the effect that ‘India’ was merely alabel of convenience, ‘a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries. In Strachey’s view, the differences between the countries of Europe were much smaller than those between the ‘countries’ of India.

‘Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab.’ In India the diversities of race, language and religion were far greater. Unlike in Europe, these ‘countries’ were not nations; they did not have a distinct political or social identity.

This, Strachey told his Cambridge audience, ‘is the first and most essential thing to learn about India – that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India possessing, according to any European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious’.

There was no Indian nation or country in the past; nor would there be one in the future. Strachey thought it ‘conceivable that national sympathies may arise in particular Indian countries’, but ‘that they should ever extend to India generally, that men of the Punjab, Bengal, the North-western Provinces, and Madras, should ever feel that they belong to one Indian nation, is impossible.

You might with as much reason and probability look forward to a time when a single nation will have taken the place of the various nations of Europe.

Strachey’s remarks were intended as a historical judgement. At the time, new nations were vigorously identifying themselves within Europe on the basis of a shared language or territory, whereas none of the countries that he knew in India had displayed a comparable national awakening.

But we might also read them as a political exhortation, intended to stiffen the will of those in his audience who would end up in the service of the Raj.

For the rise of every new ‘nation’ in India would mean a corresponding diminution in the power and prestige of Empire. Ironically, even as he spoke Strachey’s verdict was being disputed by a group of Indians. These had set up the Indian National Congress, a representative body that asked for a greater say for natives in the running of their affairs.

As the name suggests, this body wished to unite Indians across the divisions of culture, territory, religion, and language, thus to construct what the colonialist thought inconceivable – namely, a single Indian nation.

Very many good books have been written on the growth of the Indian National Congress, on its move from debating club through mass movement to political party, on the part played by leaders such as Gokhale, Tilak and (above all) Gandhi in this progression. Attention has been paid to the building of bridges between linguistic communities, religious groupings and castes.

were not wholly successful, for low castes and especially Muslims were never completely convinced of the Congress’s claims to be a truly ‘national’ party. Thus it was that when political independence finally came in 1947 it came not to one nation, but two – India and Pakistan. This is not the place to rehearse the history of Indian nationalism.

4 I need only note that from the time the Congress was formed right up to when India was made free – and divided – there were sceptics who thought that Indian nationalism was not a natural phenomenon at all. There were, of course, British politicians and thinkers who welcomed Indian self-rule and, in their own way, aided its coming into being.

(One of the prime movers of the Indian National Congress was a colonial official of Scottish parentage, A. O. Hume.) Yetthere were many others who argued that, unlike France or Germany or Italy, there was here no national essence, no glue to bind the people and take them purposively forward.

From this perspective stemmed the claim that it was only British rule that held India and the Indians together. Among those who endorsed John Strachey’s view that there could never be an independent Indian nation were writers both famous and obscure.

Prominent in the first category was Rudyard Kipling, who had spen this formative years in – and was to write some of his finest stories about – the subcontinent. In November 1891 Kipling visited Australia, where a journalist asked him about the ‘possibility of self-government in India’.

‘Oh no!’ he answered: ‘They are 4,000 years old out there, much too old to learn that business. Law and order is what they want and we are there to give it to them and we give it them straight.

Where Kipling laid emphasis on the antiquity of the Indian civilization, other colonialists stressed the immaturity of the Indian mind to reach the same conclusion: namely, that Indians could not govern themselves. A cricketer and tea planter insisted, after forty years there, that [c]haos would prevail in India if we were ever so foolish to leave the natives to run their own show.

Ye gods! What a salad of confusion, of bungle, of mismanagement, and far worse, would be the instant result. These grand people will go anywhere and do anything if led by us. Themselves they are still infants as regards governing or statesmanship. And their so-called leaders are the worst of the lot.

Views such as these were widely prevalent among the British in India, and among the British at home as well. Politically speaking, the most important of these ‘Stracheyans’ was undoubtedly Winston Churchill. In the 1940s, with Indian independence manifestly round the corner, Churchill grumbled that he had not become the King’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.

Language English
No. of Pages679
PDF Size6.1 MB

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