Framträdande ekonom ifrågasätter om Indien är demokratiskt

2013-06-01 15_46_08-Interview_ Bernard D'Mello (Part 1 of 3) - YouTube

Bernard D’ Mello

Bernard D’Mello som är biträdande redaktör för tidningen Economical and Political Weekly gör här en analys av frågan om Indien verkligen är demokratiskt. Det finns en stark opinion som menar att de fattiga är helt uteslutna ur den politiska processen och man bl.a. därför inte kan kalla Indien demokratiskt i någon vettig mening.

Intervju med Bernard D’Mello:

The Near and the Far’

Why Is India’s Liberal-Political Democracy Rotten?

Vol – XLVIII No. 22, June 01, 2013 | Bernard D’Mello
The roots of the rottenness of India’s liberal-political democratic order are unearthed in the process of capitalist development since 1793. The latter has essentially been a conservative modernisation from above which has failed to complete the tasks of the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”. Moreover, the caste system and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality and religion have inhibited any stable, long-lasting unity of the oppressed and the exploited aimed at progressive modernisation from below.

Bernard D’Mello ( is a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

This text is a revised version of the Rajesh Memorial Lecture I delivered in Thiruvananthapuram on 15 March 2013. I am grateful to my friend, P A Sebastian, the well-known lawyer and democratic rights activist, for the many discussions we have had over the years, concerning some of what has been dealt with over here, conversations from which I have learnt a lot.

Once again they are coming to our village –

the eagles talking like parrots,

the hordes of blood-sucking vultures.


Guard the green shoots of your dreams,

The flowering hopes in the corridors of your eyes.

That was the Telugu poet Cherabanda Raju (“Chera”) in 1971, warning the villagers when the parliamentary political parties came soliciting for votes. The vultures that seized and profited from what the labouring poor turned out, came with the promise that they would eradicate poverty – garibi hatao was the catchphrase, and a very electrifying one at that. This was also the moment when, in radical political circles, the conviction that parliamentarianism’s time was up snowballed. One did not need much persuasion to believe that only revolutionary struggle could change the lot of the exploited. Ah, what an age it was! It happened to be the time when I had just grown up, politically.

I want to take the risk here of guessing what is below the surface of the practice of liberal-political democracy in India. This I will attempt from what I have managed to perceive; I will try making some sense of the whole from the patterns I seem to discern. I will endeavour to make the problem and its causes as visible as I can.

Profit and Power

One can begin from 20 years ago when India’s elite embraced neo-liberalism, and money – the standard of all things, the measure of one’s worth – now had many more avenues for profitable deployment, and India’s moneybags won de facto the freedom to accumulate wealth by any and all available means. Make no bones about it – in neo-liberal India, big money does possess the greatest power.

At no other moment from the time of the transfer of power in 1947 has capitalism in India been more incompatible with democracy, that is, if the latter is understood as governance in accordance with the will of the people – workers (those who make a living through the sale of their labour power), poor peasants, the oppressed nationalities, women, dalits and “tribes”.1 The reason, in my view, is the much deeper nexus than ever before between the political and the economic, that is, between power and profit, at the local, provincial, national and global levels. The growing relative influence of the big moneybags over public affairs and policy is in proportion with the increasing concentration of wealth in Indian society. More important, what is deemed to be good for these moneybags is projected as being good for India. Suffice it to say that despite the vastly more adverse conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, child malnutrition is worse in India than over there.

The dominant classes and their representatives – the financial aristocracy, the industrial business tycoons, foreign capital, the rich landowners, a section of the rich peasants, controllers of the government machinery in the bureaucracy and the polity, leaders of the conventional political parties – have perfected the art of disguising the outward facade as the real. Authoritarian governance is often masked to appear as democratic rule. After all, how can democracy flourish in a society that is so deeply marked by profound inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth, and manifest with caste and religious-communal prejudices? So we have the periodic charade of choosing members of the political establishment, those financed and co-opted by the dominant classes, who will then govern the country, the states, the municipalities, and the panchayats, the latter, where they exist, for the next five years. More than ever before, what we now get is governments of the markets, by the markets and for the markets – the market, as one poet put it, which knows all about prices but nothing about values. What goes in the name of democracy is the initiation of so-called consensus, obtained through the orchestration of the media to secure the advantage of one or the other of the parties that represent the interests of the dominant classes, and then via invariably absurdly worthless elections, legitimising such consent.

In these times of the dominance of a “financial aristocracy” – one that has gotten rich or multiplied its wealth not by production alone, but by pocketing the already available public wealth and the wealth of others – the distinction between the political and the economic, the “public” and the “private”, is getting increasingly blurred. Politics has also become a form of business, and a very lucrative one at that. Take the two major political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – their declared sources of funds are not even a fraction of their expenses, that is, if one fathoms these over an electoral cycle. In the present neo-liberal era, wherever and whenever they are or have been in power, they have helped the financial aristocracy in plundering the nation’s wealth of natural resources – oil, gas, forests, minerals and, of course, spectrum – aided the “big bulls” in engineering the gyrations of the stock and real estate markets through various means, all to amass private fortunes.

Indeed, one is witness to a veritable orgy of corruption and graft, influence peddling, bribery and embezzlement, all following the deregulation and unfurling of “economic freedom” for the moneybags, from July 1991 onwards. Buying the votes of parliamentarians, purchasing the appointment of particular individuals as union ministers, shopping for the pens of senior media persons, indeed, paying for “justice”, snapping up the support of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social activists, not to forget “laundering” of black money, allocation of mines, forests, land, water and spectrums at “throwaway prices”, all these manoeuvres have been subject to market principles.

Yes, I am referring to, among other things, the 2G spectrum scam, the coal blocks allocation scam, the so-called public-private partnerships in the construction of the Golden Quadrilateral and the north-south, east-west Corridor, the greenfield, modernisation and expansion projects of the Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi international airports, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project, the dedicated freight corridor, the “partnership” of the Adani group with the Gujarat BJP in the corporate plunder of Kutch, the conversion of agricultural lands on the outskirts of New Delhi into expensive real estate by the Delhi Land Finance group, the acquisition of control over the already developed Panna-Mukta oilfield and Tapti gas field, as also, already discovered natural gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin by Reliance, and a whole lot of other private gains at the public expense.2

Sure enough, people do feel disgusted and repulsed when they find that one of India’s most wealthy and powerful business houses funded its lobbyist to manoeuvre to get its nominee appointed as union minister for communications and information technology. Or at such manoeuvres as the removal of Mani Shankar Aiyar as union minister for petroleum and natural gas in January 2006 and his replacement by Murli Deora at Washington’s behest (Washington did not want the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project). Of course, in feudal times state offices were bought in quite an undisguised manner and without any loss of face. In those times, a state official using his public office for the purposes of private gratification was not unusual, indeed, this was expected of him. Nevertheless, in 21st century India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not seem to think that there was anything unusual going on and would have continued to accommodate A Raja in office if it were not for Supreme Court strictures. Of course, we need to acknowledge that A Raja the politician was merely a willing instrument of his wealthy and powerful clients, all capitalists, just as Murli Deora was of his masters in Washington DC.

* * *

Can such a sweep of the last two decades help one discern the main patterns of India’s liberal-political democracy? Maybe one should listen to echoes of the past from the time when popular hopes ran high upon the lifting of the Emergency in January 1977 only to be buried when the worthies who had opportunistically hitched their bandwagons to the JP-led movement now emulated what that movement had fought against in Gujarat and Bihar in 1974.3 Be that as it may, for the first time in independent India the Congress could now lose power at the centre; the incumbent could be dislodged in a general election. The ground was created for politics to emerge as a form of business, and a very lucrative one at that. Was this not the moment when the close intertwining of business and politics took hold? No, we are not yet there.

Class Structure, Caste Hierarchy

The class structure had, however, by now cut across the caste hierarchy – even the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), not to speak of the so-called “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs), were to be found, more than ever before, in the ranks of the upper and middle classes. An OBC businessman and/or politician could no longer be brushed aside, and certainly not those middle-caste businessmen and politicians just above the OBCs – the Jats of Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Rajasthan, the Marathas of Maharashtra, the Patidars of Gujarat, the Kammas and the Reddys of Andhra Pradesh, and the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas of Karnataka. The OBC businessmen and politicians, for instance, those among the Yadavs of UP and Bihar, had come into their own. More than ever before in modern India, in the post-Independence period, the class structure of Indian society had ascended over the caste hierarchy. But, at this very point in time when, as a result of a century and a half of capitalist development, the class structure had overshadowed the caste hierarchy, the Mandal Commission insisted that caste identity be taken as the criterion of backwardness in Indian society.

The fact that caste reasserted itself at this point in time is not surprising, for, as Marx once put it: “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”. What are essentially class contradictions are asserting themselves in terms of caste contradictions, for there is a common genre in the two sets of relations. As the eminent sociologist Ramkrishna Mukherjee put it: The “class structure has cut across the caste hierarchy”, giving rise to new “political alliances and antagonisms”.4 Indeed, in the political arena, it was the erstwhile “socialists” who were among the first to get on to the bandwagon of “Mandalisation”, periodically, opportunistically shifting their political ties, metaphorically speaking, today with the ruling party, tomorrow with the main opposition party, and the day after tomorrow, trying to cobble together a Third Front.

Of course, such politics was turning Parliament into an “endangered institution”, as my friend, the writer, journalist and civil liberties activist Sumanta Banerjee puts it.5 But the opening of the two locks, one, the lock of the markets, the other, the lock of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, both by the Congress Party, unleashed havoc.6 Indeed, in November 1989, the Congress-led Rajiv Gandhi government allowed the Hindu consecration (shilanyas) of a Ram temple within the precincts of the Babri Masjid, when just a month before the Sangh Parivar had provoked the Bhagalpur riots in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign to collect bricks (shilas) for the proposed Ram temple, and violent incidents were still occurring over there.

The subsequent consolidation of the Hindutva right as a result of the Ram temple movement that demolished the Babri Masjid in December 1992, followed by the January 1993 pogrom against Muslims in Mumbai, brought the BJP to the forefront of Indian politics. The party, which had just two seats in Parliament in 1984, came to power at the centre in 1998, and after consolidating its position at the union level, and taking advantage of what US imperialism set in motion after 9/11, the BJP unleashed another pogrom against Muslims, this time in its stronghold, Gujarat, in February 2002, with its now prime-minister-in-waiting, Narendra Modi at the steering. Massacre, mutilation, rape and violent ousting were sanctioned by the Sangh Parivar and the governing power elite at the state level, and permitted by state, including police officials – shocking official complicity. But such complicity was witnessed in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 too, this time sanctioned and permitted by the Congress Party, including the Congress’ union home minister at the time.

Now, let alone the fact that justice for the victims of the pogroms has been a far cry; on the contrary, salt has been rubbed into their wounds. I cannot forget that even as the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry that investigated the causes of the Mumbai pogrom held that the Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray “like a veteran General commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks” to spearhead the pogrom against Muslims, when Thackeray passed away last year, the Congress-led government of Maharashtra accorded him a state funeral.

How does one explain such blatant attempts at extermination of “the other” or the coming into being of such devils of established violence, such demons of rapacity? We really do not know, but Indian national chauvinists have always identified the brahmanical version of the Hindu religion with the nation; it was and is the symbol of Indian nationalism. Indeed, even Gandhi promised Ram Rajya, the mythical  golden age of the Ayodhya-born god Ram. But we need to be clear that his vision of Ram Rajya had nothing in common with the utterly uncivilised, sectarian mission of a brahmanical Hindu Rashtra. Nevertheless, it is interesting how the interweaving of reality with myth comes to significantly influence the course of history. Be that as it may, anti-democratic forces invariably wrap themselves in the national flag. For them, secularism has never meant the separation of state and religion; it does not even mean that the state will maintain equidistance from all religions. Muslims are considered second-class citizens; in the eyes of national-chauvinists, simply “Pakistani agents”.

* * *

Are the pogroms of 1984, 1993 and 2002 signs of the gangrene setting in the veins of liberal-political democracy in India? Did this begin in the 1980s? We seem to be cutting a long story short. Don’t we need to go back in time to 1947 – the moment of the transfer of power and the partition of the country – in order to move forward? Yes, the Raj was never overthrown, for the colonial army, the bureaucracy – so-called Indian Civil Service (ICS) steel frame – the police that had repressed the real fighters for India’s freedom, all these venerable institutions of late colonialism remained in place. Frankly, as my friend, Indivar Kamtekar, a brilliant historian whose scholarly work is an original reinterpretation of the 1940s and the transfer of power, holds:7 “Independence” was a handing over “at one stroke” of “the entire territory and state apparatus” of the Raj “to the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League” in a “single negotiated transaction”. Indeed, Kamtekar argues that British rule was so powerful only because of its Indian collaborators – government personnel, business luminaries, landlords and rajas (princes). And, to add insult to injury, the courageous soldiers and officers of the Indian National Army were refused admission into the ranks of what became the Indian armed forces. What was the fate of the 20,000 mutineers of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) (we are talking of the 1946 RIN Mutiny), one might want to know? Why it is that even the left-nationalist historians do not pose such a question?

Brahmanical Communalism to Hindu Rashtravad

We need to however state that Partition was the biggest and the severest blow to the prospect of secularism in the Indian subcontinent.8 It was at this time that Gandhi really stood out in his frontal opposition to brahmanical Hindu communalism, his deep concern about and revulsion against those who organised the massacres, first and foremost, those that took place in India. And this exemplary courage to stand by his principles cost him his life, for his striving to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity was anathema to those who wanted to subject Muslims to a brahmanical Hindu Rashtra. The tragedy however was that brahmanical communalism, now transformed into Hindu Rashtravad, reaped significant gains, and across the border, under semi-feudal domination, Muslim communalism, which had metamorphosed into Pakistani nationalism (and later on, with the rise of Bengali and other nationalisms, came to be expressed in the idiom of Islamic fundamentalism) won the day. In India, the brahmanic form of nationalism completely overshadowed its Shramanic rival.9 The consequence: what devastation, what trauma, and the magnitude of it all! As Kamtekar puts it: “If the elation of many Congress politicians in 1947 was visible at one extreme” (op cit, 54) at the other was the exceptional trauma of the “women abducted during the partition riots, and then claimed by the governments of India and Pakistan even when their families rejected them”.

Nevertheless, surely there must have been persons like Salim Mirza (memorably played by Balraj Sahni) and his youngest son Sikandar (played by Farooq Shaikh) in M S Sathyu’s 1973 movie Garam Hawa, one of the most poignant films ever made on the Partition, and a lot of people on this or that side of the border who have been deeply moved by it. And, of course, such satirical short stories as “Toba Tek Singh” by Saadat Hasan Manto, with those haunting last lines: “There, behind barbed wire, was Hindustan. Here, behind barbed wire, was Pakistan. In between, on that piece of ground that had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.”10 As the well-known labour historian and public intellectual, Dilip Simeon puts it: This “madman from the Lahore asylum, tortured by the prospect of ‘repatriation’, who fell in the no-man’s land on a freshly drawn border, his head pointing to Pakistan and his feet towards Hindustan, and who attained sanity when India went insane”, remains “the most poignant symbol of nationhood” (op cit).

But talking of pseudo-secularism, something Lal Krishna Advani loves to pontificate about, when in power, the BJPand the Congress, vis-à-vis Muslims, seem to have been following a similar implicit policy to what the British practised after they crushed the anti-colonial armed rebellion of 1857 – that in matters of recruitment into government service (of course, at that time, the army was the largest employer), suspect all Muslims as possible “traitors”.

Clearly, when one tries to make sense of the present, one needs to look at the interplay of continuity with change. As Indivar Kamtekar holds, come “Independence”, the same British-created Constituent Assembly, now with only a handful of Muslim members left in it, retained a majority of the Articles of the Government of India Act of 1935. And, as Perry Anderson, in a recent three-part essay in the London Review of Books11 has written, and I paraphrase his lines: The detested Section 93 now appeared as Article 356 to be used against the duly elected communist state government of Kerala in 1959. In the Constitution, even mention of the word “federal” was kept at bay. The first-past-the-post system of elections led to a cornering of representation at the constituency level, first benefitting the Congress, and later on, the BJP.

Saturated with Blood and Violence

What about preventive detention, one might ask? Did it not become the mainstay of the smothering of radical politics which threatened the status quo in independent India? Indeed, again, the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre by the British Indian Army, the violence against the Moplah rebellion in the Malabar in 1921, the repression of the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 in Peshawar and Sholapur, and other such incidents eventually came to be many, many times overshadowed by the accumulated Indian Army and paramilitary atrocities against fellow citizens in independent India in Punjab, Kashmir or Nagaland. Independent India has witnessed severe state repression of the oppressed nationality movements in Kashmir and parts of the north-east, aided by laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which de facto give the armed forces immunity from prosecution for rape, abduction, torture and summary execution in the course of counter-insurgency.

In the present phase of the national movement in Kashmir, for the period from 1989 onwards, human rights groups estimate that 8,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris12 – the state government is said to have admitted to a figure of 3,744 in the J&K legislative assembly – were subjected to enforced disappearance and subsequently killed in fake encounters. Provisions in laws like the AFSPA, the Central Reserve Police Force Act and Section 197 CrPC (code of criminal procedure) (where official sanction of prosecution is required) give legal immunity to army, paramilitary and police officers for their actions, which means that they know that they are never going to be prosecuted and so they believe they have a licence to rape and kill (in fake encounters) in the discharge of their official duties.

Recently, the former union home minister and now union finance minister, P Chidambaram, delivering the K Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, is reported to have said:13 “[I]f the Army takes a very strong stand against any dilution or any amendment to AFSPA, it is difficult for a civil government to move forward.” Does this suggest that in India’s liberal-political democratic set-up, civilian control of the armed forces is weak? The executive of the Indian state cannot discipline the Army, as is evident from Chidambaram’s statement, but what is more significant for our purpose over here is that no MP has yet considered the issue important enough to be raised in Parliament. Frankly, there is, in reality, a consensus among all elected politicians in government and in the opposition as regards the privilege of immunity given to the armed forces. Indeed, there is an eerie silence in the rest of the country when it comes to the question of safeguarding the democratic rights of the people of Kashmir. As for the commercial media, its hailing of the “patriotism” of “our” Army in Kashmir has actually masked genocide.

To put the above in perspective, when it comes to safeguarding brahmanical Hindu Rashtravad (nationalism), the Indian ruling classes and their political representatives care a damn for liberal-political democratic niceties. Indeed, it is the tyranny of the Indian state and the rottenness of India’s liberal-political democracy that have brought into existence the fighters for azaadi and the terrorists among them in Kashmir and parts of the north-east, saturated as these areas have been over considerable periods of time in the post-Independence period with blood and violence. So too has the Indian state’s profound unwillingness to bring justice to the victims of the pogroms been the mainspring of the coming into existence of terror in the name of the defence of Islam.

* * *

Now, one might legitimately ask: What am I trying to get at? To even begin to answer that question, I need to define liberal-political democracy and also clearly state the premises that underlie my arguments. In order to understand liberal-political democracy, one has to first situate it within a larger process called democratisation. The latter is a long and arduous popular struggle to check arbitrary rule, replace it by a just and rational order, obtain a share for the people in the very making and running of that order, and interminably continue the struggle for qualitatively more just and rational orders.14 So, the oppressed people who fought for their freedom against a slave-owning oligarchy, as in the slave revolt led by Spartacus, maybe said to have made a significant contribution to the process of democratisation. The latter involves the question of power, first and foremost, the destruction of established systems of power in order to create a just and rational order. Liberal-political democracy is one such just and rational order, so liberal-reformists would say, with the following essential rules and institutions (ibid: 429).

• Universal adult franchise;

• Parliament and state legislatures that make laws and hence are more than rubber stamps of the central or state cabinets;

• Laws that, at least on paper, do not discriminate (other than for the purpose of overcoming historical handicaps) on account of birth or inherited status;

• Bourgeois private property rights;

• Secularism, freedom of speech, and right to peaceful assembly; and,

• Elected civilian control of the Armed Forces.

Again, as my liberal-reformist friends would say, justice is at the heart of such an order; “we” must ensure that the implicit “social contract” is honoured by those who rule and govern. The fact, however, is that, in practice, the “freedom” necessary for the development of capitalism, expressed in the form of “bourgeois private property rights”, namely, the freedom to possess, accumulate and freely buy and sell private property, overrides the political rights, such as the freedom of speech, media, association and assembly. The latter rights – essentially collective in essence – are often de facto revoked in situations where the “bourgeois private property rights” seem to be threatened, especially when the process of the accumulation of capital is put in jeopardy.

‘Battle of Democracy’

Now, political emancipation, which liberal-reformists claim to be the fruit of liberal-political democracy, implies equal citizenship and democratic decision-making, but, in practice, under capitalism, do we really have all citizens freely and equally determining the terms of their cooperation in the public realm? Frankly, the concrete realisation of this idea is not even possible under capitalism with its class distinctions and exploitation of the majority. Under capitalism, a majority of the people effectively remain excluded from active participation in the political process because they have to spend most of their waking hours engaging in the struggle to satisfy their vital survival needs. The people can freely politically articulate their needs and preferences and convert these into political demands only when they are also economically emancipated, which is only possible with the institution of egalitarian principles governing the process of production, distribution and accumulation. But to get there, they have to first win the “battle of democracy”.

In the absence of such advance of the process of democratisation, the Indian ruling classes – with practically the bulk of the resource base and apparatus at their command – through the mainstream political parties and the media, successfully manage to claim to represent the “general interest”, even though in reality they merely express their ownparticular interests based on property, inheritance, caste status, dominant nationality, and the brahmanical version of Hinduism. In this way they perpetuate, albeit under the guise of “democracy”, the arbitrary rule of privilege and property that we are witnessing in India today.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me then come to my premises, three of them. They are:

(i) Liberal-political democracy is not entirely the product of capitalism per se. It is a product of democratisation. In the Chartist movement of the 1830s and 40s, ordinary people – not capitalists and their political representatives – played a major role in the coming into being of liberal-political democracy later on with the institution of universal suffrage and the winning of civil liberties. Over time, capitalism entered into a marriage of convenience with democracy, but, as the example of Chile in the first half of the 1970s shows, when a government, elected in accordance with the will of the majority of the people, actually begins to act in accordance with that will, in this case, to do away with the old order and build a new one, capitalism dissolves its marriage with democracy and overthrows that government to establish a brutal military dictatorship.15 So capitalism becomes incompatible with democracy when the people decide that capitalism has to go.

(ii) Democracy implies government in accordance with the will of the people, but, under capitalism, the economy has an autonomous existence (ibid: 281) and if the results it produces, like it does in India, mass poverty and gross inequality, inadequate employment, wages insufficient to satisfy even one’s basic needs, acute insecurity of livelihoods, near absence of any social security, etc, despite state intervention, become unacceptable to the majority of the people, then capitalism will become incompatible with democracy. But, in underdeveloped capitalist countries like India, although the state has never been able to resolve or satisfactorily ameliorate the contradictions that give rise to such dismal economic results, it is made out that if the ruling party cannot perform the task, the opposition, when it comes to power, will. The people are manipulated to falsely believe that the results of the economy are determined by government and all that is required is “correct” policy.

(iii) Civil liberties and democratic rights, even when they are unambiguously part of the law of the land, invariably have to be wrested from authority; they are never granted without a fight.

Nevertheless, the Constitution has set out our fundamental rights; it has also enunciated the Directive Principles of State Policy, going by which, it can be said that the Constitution expected that the state and its agencies would strive to bring about a socially, economically and politically just and equitable order. The Directive Principles are therefore at the heart of the process of democratisation.

Why then did it take 25 years to enact the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) (BLSA) Act? The British had instituted the Indian Slavery Act in 1843, which outlawed many economic transactions associated with slavery, this, even before the Crown took over the rule of India from the British East India Company in 1858. When the Slavery Act was in draft form, a section of the zamindars complained in a memorandum to the colonial authority that, according to “our” Shastras, slaves were “our” inalienable property to be bought, sold or given away as gift. How on the dot Jotiba Phule was in unmasking such a culture of oppression.

Zamindars were the backbone of the Raj, but yet the British went ahead with the enactment of its anti-slavery law. In practice, however, the zamindars and other rich landowners, under colonial capitalism, continued to practise an amalgam of the archaic and the modern – hereditary debt servitude. You must have heard of Adiyar in Kerala, Vetti and Bhagela in Andhra Pradesh, Harwaha in Bihar, Hali in Madhya Pradesh and South Gujarat, Padiyal in Tamil Nadu. These are more than merely forms of debt-bonded labour, based as they are on custom and brute force, and thus immensely varied. And, of course, we have all read about the large number of bonded labourers working in brick kilns, stone quarries, and so on. Why has Article 23 (prohibition of forced labour) and the BLSA Act been allowed to go for a toss, this despite the Bandhua Mukhthi Morcha and Asiad cases?16

Many of these bonded labourers are SCs and STs, and the Constitution has instituted many safeguards for them. Their acute un-freedom today is something Indian democracy should feel ashamed of. Despite the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act of 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 (in brief, the Atrocities Act), such atrocities are a frequent occurrence. Both the British colonialists and “Indians” viewed the “tribes” of central and eastern India, and “Indians” by and large still view them, in racist-prejudicial terms as a “non-Aryan black race”. This racial prejudice is something we prefer to maintain a silence about. The STs are supposed to be protected by the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, but they, more than any other, know what the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 – created by the British colonialists but still on the statute – does to them. Right since colonial times, they are being deprived of the land under their feet, their ancestral land; the minerals in the ground below are being taken away; the forests with which they enjoy a symbiotic relation are being cut down.

The question that looms large is: Why are ameliorative/protective measures like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (in brief, the Forest Rights Act), the PCR Act, the Atrocities Act and the Provision of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 by and large given the go-by? The NREGA is said to have been the major reason for the Congress Party’s electoral victory in the 2009 general elections, but yet it is in a poor condition due to neglect and wages are nowhere being fully indexed to inflation. And, the Chhattisgarh and union governments have not even thought it prudent to implement the Fifth Schedule and PESA in Bastar, one of the strongholds of the Maoist movement.

* * *

Democracy and the Violence of the Oppressed

Now, it is true that the exercise of universal adult franchise and inter-party electoral competition have brought progressive legislation on the official agenda. But one should also give the threat of violence by the oppressed and actual resort to violence by them their due. Who benefited electorally from the anti-feudal (i e, anti-landlord, anti-Nizam) Telangana peasants’ armed struggle of 1946-51? Who benefited electorally from the Tehbaga and Naxalbari peasant militant/armed struggles? The 1972 state assembly elections in West Bengal were fraudulent, thoroughly rigged by the Congress Party, but the coming of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) to power in 1977 was certainly related to public memory of the upsurge of anger and despair among the Bengali poor and middle peasantry, their hopes of justice in a new order, and it was the CPI(M) that rode to power on the back of this wave of anger, despair and hope.

So also in Telangana in India’s first general elections in 1951-52; the CPI, now turned moderate, reaped the benefits – one still remembers Ravi Narayana Reddy, then just released from jail, who defeated his Congress rival by a margin that even exceeded the margin by which Jawaharlal Nehru won his Lok Sabha seat. In no small measure, the “land reforms” of the 1950s came on the agenda as a result of the militant peasant struggles of the 1940s. And, where the Left movement was relatively strong, in Kerala and West Bengal, land reform benefited around a quarter of rural households in one way or the other.

The late Jyoti Basu has been widely hailed for his statesmanship in instituting laws to legally back Operation Barga, thus preventing the landlords from forcibly evicting their tenants and ensuring the latter a guaranteed share of the net output. But it may well be that the radical left had played an indispensible part, for, more than any other political force, it was this section of the Left which brought the agrarian question to the centre of politics in Bengal in the late 1960s and early 1970s through the armed agrarian struggles that it led. No doubt, Jyoti Basu and his party comrades were gifted pragmatists – they never resolved the agrarian question in Bengal; theirs was a very limited tenancy reform on which they rode to power repeatedly, electorally at every five-year interval for the next 30 years even as their former comrades, the Naxalites, called them traitors to the revolutionary cause.

By the way, more in the present, even “the passage and implementation” of the Forest Rights Act, which “aims to provide secure land tenure to adivasis”, is – according to the well-known civil liberties activist and social anthropologist, Nandini Sundar – “officially conceded as arising out of the need to undercut the core constituency of the Maoists”.17 The proposition that the Maoist movement is part and parcel of the process of democratisation in India and has made a significant contribution to that endeavour is, of course, sure to be challenged by the academic and political establishment in this country.

Nevertheless, contrary to the ruling ideas emanating from that establishment, one might then say that the violence of the oppressed has made and can make an important contribution to justice by democratic means. Clearly, if one is examining the process of democratisation as well as trying to understand why India’s liberal-political democracy requires the violence of the oppressed to deliver justice, one has to go back further in time, perhaps to the very beginning of the colonisation of India.

* * *

The transition from the caste-based “feudalism” of the Mughal period to the caste-based underdeveloped capitalism of the colonial period was brought about, in the main, as a consequence of the Permanent Settlement of 1793, first introduced in the Bengal Presidency and in due course extended to other parts, and the Ryotwari system in southern India, wherein revenue was directly collected from the peasants (ryots). The zamindars got private ownership of vast tracts of land subject to the payment of fixed land revenue derived from the rent extracted from the peasantry. What followed were the commercialisation of land and the commoditisation of agricultural output, including the shift towards cash crops, especially cotton, jute and indigo. But, the colonial government gave – indeed, legally sanctioned – wide-ranging extra-economic despotic powers to the zamindars over the peasantry. As Marx put it, “European despotism” was “planted upon Asian despotism”, this, “by the British East India Company”, resulting in “a monstrous combination”, similar to what the Dutch East India Company had done in Java.18

It is significant that a mercantilist big business enterprise like the East India Company was backed by the British state to the extent of allowing it to assume territorial powers in the Indian subcontinent, turn this huge territory into a colony for plunder and profit, in the process provide offices to the “surplus” members of the British ruling class to gratify their lust for profit and power. Doesn’t the contemporary close nexus of business and politics that has given a free rein to the financial aristocracy to get rich mainly by pocketing the already available public wealth, bring back, albeit in 21st century decor, Company rule? The Company then had suborned the most reactionary forces in Indian society, brought on landlordism with a trail of intermediaries and sub-tenancy, which drove the people into poverty and degradation.

Peasant Struggles

The amalgamation of the oppressive social relations of the Mughal era with those of primitive accumulation led to pauperisation rather than proletarianisation, on a massive scale. An important aspect of the land revenue system was that it made no concessions in times of famine. The upshot was a whole series of peasant revolts that, in turn, forced the enactment of reform. The British-Canadian social anthropologist, the late Kathleen Gough, counted some 77 peasant struggles over the 200 years of colonial rule. She wrote of the long tradition of armed uprisings, with a combination of violent and non-violent tactics, in all the major regions, especially in what are now Bengal, Bihar, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, and particularly in the hilly and forested regions where “tribal” groups dwell, where peasants rose “repeatedly against landlords, revenue agents and other bureaucrats, moneylenders, police and military forces”19 – those who virtually acted as if they were judge, jury and prosecutor. Such struggles forced the British colonial state to enact reform, for instance, the Rent Act of 1859, the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885, its amendment in 1928, and a more progressive new tenancy act in 1935.

The 1940s, as already mentioned, were times of a high point of peasant struggles, especially the Telangana armed struggle, and of course, the militant Tebhaga movement in the province of Bengal, in which the fight was for the share of the produce that went to the jotedars to be slashed from half of net output to one-third. The formal abolition of Zamindari came in 1951 and then, the post-1956 “land reforms”. They brought about the partial amalgamation of the old landowning classes into a new, broader stratum of rich landowners, those not setting their hands to the plough, including an upper section of the former tenants. The latter, middle-caste, but now turned into wealthy landowners or rich peasants, disrupted the nexus of class and caste at the top of the socio-economic heap.

All the rich landowners, the old and the new, despite the various markets [the land, tenancy, labour, capital (including credit), material input and output markets], are yet to rid themselves of various caste-based “semi-feudal” practices and culture. They wield not only economic but also ideological and political power. If, in one respect, the property structure inherited from caste-based colonial capitalism has not changed, it is with regard to lack of access to cultivable land for dalits and the so-called “tribes”; the post-independent “land reform”, by and large, ignored their needs. Even the law on minimum wages for agricultural labourers was hardly implemented. Indeed, the poor in many parts of rural India constantly face the threat of eviction from their homesteads. And, in urban India, poor migrants are called encroachers and evicted – their presence is deemed to lower the price of property which the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) projects are meant to enhance; so they are uprooted and pushed around.

Importantly, the institution of caste still structures the relations of production. The rich landowners are driven to maximise their profits but this, by continuing the practice of unfree labour, mainly through the provision of credit on usurious terms, though in some areas of struggle, for instance, in northern Telangana, there has been a drastic fall in the number of “farmhands” (labourers almost bonded to the landlords and rich peasants). The important change however – and this needs added emphasis – is that when one considers the fortunes of the rich landowners, including the new and the absentee landlords, one has to go beyond the rural areas and beyond agriculture itself. As far as they are concerned, there is a continuum from the urban to the rural and vice versa – they have accumulated wealth and spread their business and political tentacles far beyond the confines of the rural areas. Furthermore, their business horizon is no longer the home market alone; indeed, for them, the external market is not merely a determinant of domestic price formation, but a business opportunity too.

Tragically, however, the class structure inherited from late colonialism and the caste hierarchy have not yet been transformed to an extent that would otherwise have made India’s practice of liberal-political democracy somewhat more authentic. The upper economic strata of the middle and the lower castes (the latter of sudra origins) have used the caste consciousness trumped up by the politics of Mandalisation “to strengthen their wider political and economic interests” and have been quite successful at indulging in a whole gamut of political and economic games, as the eminent sociologist, the late I P Desai would surely have felt.20 B R Ambedkar’s dream of ati-sudra–sudra unity has been shattered.

* * *

We have, broadly speaking, been trying to throw some light on the following questions: What is the character of India’s liberal-political democracy? How did this democracy come about? Why has it come to be the way it is? More than 60 years ago, the Constitution gave legal expression to the imagined resolution of a number of class, caste and religious-political contradictions, gave de jure expression to capitalist relations of production, relations of social equality and non-discrimination, and to a limited extent, secularism in matters of state, even as the cumulative social struggles and movements of the past had not, as yet, completely ushered in capitalist relations of production, social equality and the separation of religion from politics.

I am reminded of what the practical revolutionary Damayanti tells her radical guru Jali in Leo H Myer’s novel, The Near and the Far, set in an imaginary 16th century India: “India has always been full of holy men preaching the religion of freedom and equality, but without producing any practical results.”21 The Constitution very lucidly, in Part III, lays down what should have been inviolable, namely, the fundamental rights, and then, in Part IV, what is not enforceable in court, the Directive Principles of State Policy, supposed to be “fundamental in the governance of the country”. Indeed, “it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws”. The Constitution derived its inspiration, Justice V R Krishna Iyer claims, “from the Magna Carta, the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence”.22

So some “holy men preaching the religion of freedom and equality” sought to give the Constitution of India a conscience, that is, if we consider “the confluence of Part III and Part IV” (ibid: 11), as Justice Krishna Iyer has neatly put it. But where does all this stand in the company of the progeny of the East India Company, the financial aristocracy in India today? In Myer’s novel, the practical revolutionary comrades Damayanti and Mohan, when they actually join the struggle to bring “freedom and equality”, members of their own privileged class seek their defeat. Likewise, in India today, the coming of age to political consciousness of the dalits and the “tribes” has brought on more severe repression by the ruling caste-class combine against them. Even today, a dalit or ‘tribe’ knows that she/he could be beaten, raped or killed at the whim of a middle or upper class-caste person and virtually nothing will be done about it. So also, expression of support to the Maoist revolutionaries brings on the repressive power of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against such solidarity. In the novel, the radical guru Jali however remains firm in his convictions; for him, the philosophers of India have sought to interpret the world; the point is to change it.

Process of Democratisation

With the benefit of hindsight it might be said that the following movements/struggles, taken together, created the political groundwork for whatever limited liberal-political democratic laws came via the Constitution of 1950:23

• the working class in turmoil in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, for example, the struggles of the steel workers of Jamshedpur, those of the railwaymen of Jabalpur, where my father’s brother was an engine driver, as also, those of the textile workers of Ahmedabad and Bombay as well as the jute and tram workers of Calcutta;

• the many peasant rebellions in colonial India, for instance, the Mapilla (Moplah) rebellions in the Malabar of 1836-98, and again in 1921, the Bhumkal Rebellion of 1910 in Bastar, and the Telangana armed struggle initiated in 1946;

• the militant activities of the Ghadar Party, the Chittagong branch of the Indian Republican Army, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha;

• the 1946 RIN mutiny and the 2,00,000 workers and other exploited sections of the people of Bombay who struck work on February 15 of that year in solidarity with the sailors; and,

• the non-brahman movements led by Jotiba Phule, inspired by the work of Pandita Ramabai and Tarabai Shinde, the struggles aroused by the dalit radicals of the 1920s, as also, those galvanised by Narayana Guru, B R Ambedkar and Periyar E V Ramasamy.24

Now, if we have any commitment to liberation in the present, we must acknowledge such liberation movements of the past and the role of the human agency then in the making of the present. The Constituent Assembly (CA) – though, almost wholly, a one-party body, not elected on the basis of universal adult franchise – surely must have been aware of the many campaigns to subject the colonial rulers and their local collaborators (government personnel, business luminaries, landlords and rajas) to the rule of customary law and the norms of civilised behaviour. Indeed, these struggles point to the long-standing democratic traditions of ordinary people, and they imposed a social-democratic framework on the CA (the adjectives “socialist” and “secular” were added later via the 42nd Constitutional Amendment of 1976). The Directive Principles of State Policy can be seen to have presented a “social contract” of the future.

Moreover, surely the liberation of China in 1949, what Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party had brought about must have worried the members of the CA. China has gone, but India must not be permitted to excommunicate itself from the capitalist world. It was as if the CA was telling the people: “Don’t take the future in your own hands; we will take care of you.” The CA wanted to end poverty, illiteracy and starvation, but it did not want the people of India to take the initiative in doing so. It wanted them to stick with Nehru and Patel, not go over to any desi Mao or Ho Chi Minh. So, in a fundamental sense, in 1950, the legacy of the many movements and struggles of the past was taken little notice of, for with the transfer of power, the business luminaries and the rich landowners had already assumed the mantle of the ruling classes, with much of imperialist influence intact. The privileged had created the ground to skilfully divert, divide, repress and/or diffuse the popular struggles for dignity and justice that were to come.

And now, there are powerful conservative forces, backed by the financial aristocracy, that are intent on cheap government, governement à bon marché, and collaboration, as a junior partner, with “Empire” to turn the entire Indian sub-continent (especially Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives along with India) into a well-head for resource grab and profit, in the process providing offices to the supernumerary fat cats of the financial aristocracy to gratify their lust for profit and power.

Stability of the Rotten Order

The Indian state is essentially a caste-ridden, brahmanical-Hindu communal, underdeveloped capitalist one and the regime based on it is rotten liberal-political democracy. A million-dollar question naturally arises: What accounts for the stability of this form of democracy? For one, the financial aristocracy, the industrial business luminaries and the rich landowners – the dominant coalition – have included the rich peasantry, and sections of the middle class – especially the senior bureaucracy, entrepreneurs, professionals and private sector managers – are under their ideological hegemony. The competitive electoral process ensures that the main political parties continue to seek to establish their authority over the working class, the middle and poor peasantry, and the large rural and urban marginalised sections of the population through a mixture of representation, co-option, and manipulation, including divide and rule along class, caste, ethnic, nationality and/or religious-communal lines, as also, by the waging of psychological wars to capture the minds of the oppressed and the exploited. The NREGA, the identity politics of Mandalisation and Kanshiramisation, various devices of divide and rule, SC/ST political reservations, special component plans, tribal sub-plans, Indira Awas Yojana, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the commercial news media are examples of one or the other of these tactics. Besides, such tactics, when they succeed, give the political parties relative autonomy from the ruling classes whose power derives from their ownership and control of the whole apparatus of production, circulation and distribution. In the overall, the majority is subordinated by the very necessity of having to sell its labour-power in order to survive.

I often wonder why intellectuals who revere the liberal-reformist J L Nehru and pen tracts like The Idea of India andIndia after Gandhi celebrate the stability of India’s rotten liberal-political democracy. And, what about contemporary India’s “holy men” who preach “the religion of freedom and equality” in a modern idiom, but turn the other way when they find that practical revolutionaries have actually joined the struggle to bring freedom and equality? For instance, some modern-day “holy men”, philosophers-cum-economists have moved from propounding the ideas of “growth with redistribution” to those of “structural adjustment with a human face”, and from this to the notion of “development as freedom”, claiming that the realisation of everyone’s capabilities is possible within the bounds of the world-capitalist system. But let us leave such ideology aside.

How is it that the fables of V D Savarkar live on in the political realm, even as B R Ambedkar has been ghettoised? The progressive legacy of the non-brahman social movements has been squandered by the opportunistic identity politics of the “sudra” and “ati-sudra” elites who, like their upper caste-class counterparts, have become quite adept at indulging in a whole gamut of manoeuvres to advance their political and business careers. The people, irrespective of their ethnicity, caste and/or creed, those whose life chances are bleak, India’s real “socially and educationally backward classes” – millions of poor and landless peasants, agricultural labourers and artisans in rural areas, masses of people who live and work precariously in urban areas – have nowhere, in any meaningful sense, been the beneficiaries of the politics of Mandalisation and “Kanshiramisation”. What then of Article 15(4) of the Constitution, related to “compensatory discrimination”, which makes a distinct reference to class and not caste (except, of course, to the SCs and STs)?25

More important, what of Articles 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution that call upon the state to direct its policy to ensure “that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good” and also “that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”? Why have these Articles been largely ignored?26 Pertaining to this question, I am intrigued as to where the continuing close nexus of business and politics (and the Indian state) originates from? Does it have its roots in the institution that was the East India Company, a business enterprise upon whom the British Empire had bestowed the powers of state in colonial India for almost a century up to 1858? Or do the roots of this phenomenon go back even further in time, to what D D Kosambi fathomed27 – as part of Magadha statecraft, the Kautalian state, around 300 BC, fostered the ruling classes more than the other way around? We do not know, but again, there is certainly a lot to ponder over Marx’s proposition: “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”. Institutions and circumstances, given and transmitted from the past, do matter a great deal in how the fat cats who are presently making their own history actually do so – that the big decisions a financial aristocrat or business tycoon takes are inextricably connected with the fate of tens of thousands of poor people whose very existence he seems to deny. It is people like him who are the extremists for they want no compromises.

* * *

Is it not time then to wind up? In trying to fathom India’s liberal-political democracy in its 21st century setting, I have taken quite a few trips in time and space, these because I think that history and geography still matter. They shape the constraints and possibilities within which the present unfolds. Indeed, our historical excursion has tried to trace the roots of the present order, clarify the ways in which the past and the present are connected. I have moved from 1991 to the present, then back to 1977, and forward again, only to reverse, this time to 1947, and ahead once more, but once again back, this time to 1793, only to advance again, once more to the present. In traversing from the present to the past, and forward again, a couple of times, even shifting tracks, I have tried to throw some light on the ethical problems that India’s rotten liberal-political democracy is forcing upon us at this point in time. How may we retain our humanistic and democratic ideals in a caste-ridden, brahmanical-communal, underdeveloped capitalist system and its associated rotten liberal-political democratic order which are profoundly inhuman, irrational, and violent? My inspiration has been Leo Myer’s The Near and the Far, although I don’t think I have really grasped what he seems to be communicating through his characters. I first came across Myer’s novel in my father’s collection, but did not quite comprehend it then; the little I have now grasped is because of Jonah Raskin’s moving introduction to it (Raskin op cit, pp 244-54).

My purpose in saying all of what I have said here is not to cast a pall of gloom over the readers; rather, it is to underline the challenges. One must be prepared to know the worst and still keep struggling. A core symptom of Indian liberal-political democracy’s rottenness is the regime’s constant violation of the conscience of the Constitution – “the confluence of Part III and Part IV” that was supposed to give it a sense of what is right and wrong. Our caste-ridden, brahmanical-Hindu communalist, underdeveloped capitalism can only produce and reproduce a liberal-political democracy that is rotten. Justice remains a far cry. The main reason why India’s liberal-political democracy is rotten is – as we have been signalling – because the process of capitalist development since 1793 has essentially been aconservative modernisation from above – on the one hand, it has failed to complete the tasks of the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”, while on the other, the caste system and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality and religion inhibit any stable, long-lasting unity of the oppressed and the exploited aimed at progressive modernisation from below.28

Rekindling Hope

Here is the Telugu poet Cherabanda Raju once more, this time a stanza of his poetry in the form of a “Song of Justice”:

We have broken the hillsides

We have crushed stones

We have built projects with

our blood as granite.

Whose is the toil

and whose is the wealth?

Chera was persecuted by the state and his poetry was banned. What does one say about a liberal-political democratic regime where monstrous injustice is the rule, where the rulers even target poets and their poetry, things that did not happen even during Chile’s brutal military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet?29

The question naturally looms: What is likely to be the state of the regime in 2050, or even next year, 2014? Will the coming year’s general elections, through a deft combination of rightwing, obscurantist populism and “development”-speak, bring the forces of brahmanical Hindu communalism to state power? As far as the long term goes – that is, 2050 – much will depend on the construction of multiple tracks to lead the way to a “sovereign, socialist, secular,multinational, democratic republic”, what is expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution, except, of course, the word “multinational”.30 But those manifold pathways must lead to the disassembling of the old social formation and order and a building of the new, starting from the needs, interests, aspirations and struggles of the Indian people. The people have to create the conditions for their active participation in political life in a representative democracy with general elections and based on a socialist-ethical relationship of electors and elected. They have to win the “battle of democracy”. Such dreams apart, we nevertheless need to place our feet firmly on the ground – reality unfolds and proceeds through the interaction of all sorts of contradictions, and, in this complex dynamic, what the people do, and fail to do, matter. Be that as it may, the important thing for me as a writer is to write honestly, for you will know me by the words with which I express myself, and I wish that some of these words I offer you rekindle hope in the corridors of many young eyes, ones like those of Rajesh Kumar.

[G Rajesh Kumar, in whose memory this lecture series has been set in motion, was a brilliant young journalist. He worked for Madhyamam in its Thiruvananthapuram bureau, covered mainly the education “beat”, and “development” issues, and wrote a regular, widely-read column called “Namathu Kalavum Vazhvum” (Our Lives, Our Times). The commercial media, with its frenzied exploitation of news – “breaking news” covering stories as they break, thereby perennially conveying a sense of urgency – kills the intellectual in many a journalist, robs them of the power to reflect on what is going on, indeed, even strips them of the faculty of genuine feeling. That Rajesh kept alive the intellectual in him made me want to take the risk in this lecture of guessing what’s below the surface of the practice of liberal-political democracy in what is often hailed as “the world’s largest democracy”.]


1 I put the last in inverted commas, because there are today no undifferentiated groups of people anywhere in this country.

2 See Bernie, “All Sorts of Roguery? The ‘Financial Aristocracy’ and Government à Bon Marché in India”, MRZine, 19 August 2012, at

3 Sumanta Banerjee, “Thirty Years after the Emergency”, Economic & Political Weekly, 4 August 2007, pp 3193-95.

4 Ramkrishna Mukherjee, “Caste in Itself, Class and Caste, or Caste in Class”, EPW, 3 July 1999, p 1761.

5 “Salvaging an Endangered Institution”, EPW, 9 September 2006, pp 3837-41.

6 In this locks bit, I am merely paraphrasing what I heard Arundhati Roy say at a public meeting in Delhi in December 2009.

7 “The Fables of Nationalism”, India International Centre Quarterly, Monsoon, 1999, pp 44-54.

8 The association of organised politics with the conduct of religious-communal riots/pogroms, set in motion in the 1920s, was institutionalised in the 1940s. The Congress, with its overwhelmingly Hindu leadership and cadre, in the Punjab Presidency, the United Provinces and the Bengal Presidency, had failed to represent the interests of the increasingly vocal Muslim sections of middle class employees and professionals and the peasantry, and they gravitated towards the Muslim League in the movement for Pakistan. The Muslim zamindars in the Punjab, until 1945 with the Unionist Party, joined the Muslim League in order to safeguard their landed class interests, while the Muslim peasantry of the Bengal was left with little choice but to opt for Pakistan when, towards the end of 1946, the Bengal Congress’ bhadralok, absentee-zamindar leadership, having constructed the image of an imminent “Muslim tyranny”, was bent upon the second partition of Bengal. For the latter, as also for J Nehru and Vallabbhai Patel, a united Bengal would have been a “Greater Pakistan”. See Hamza Alavi’s “Misreading Partition Road Signs” and “Social Forces and Ideology in the Making of Pakistan” (EPW, Vol 37, Nos 44/45 and 51, pp 4515-23 and pp 5119-24 respectively) and Joya Chatterji’s Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

9 The latter, “based on a syncretic definition of Indian culture and the social-democratic aspirations of economically and socially oppressed Indians”, as Dilip Simeon puts it. See his “Communalism in Modern India: A Theoretical Examination”, Mainstream, 13 December 1986, South Asia Citizens Web at

10 “Toba Tek Singh” by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated from the Urdu by Francis W Pritchett, at

11 “Gandhi Centre Stage”, “Why Partition?”, and “After Nehru”, London Review of Books, 5 July, 19 July and 2 August 2012 at

12 Buried Evidence, International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir (IPTK), December 2009; Alleged Perpetrators: Stories of Impunity in J&K, IPKT and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, December 2012.

13 “Very Difficult to Move Forward on Amending AFSPA: PC”, Hindustan Times, 7 February 2013, NewDelhi/Very-difficult-to-move-forward-on- amending-AFSPA-PC/Article1-1007918.aspx.

14 Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Penguin Books, 1967, p 414.

15 See Paul Sweezy, “Capitalism and Democracy”, Monthly Review, Vol 32, No 2, June 1980, pp 27-32. Reprinted inWhat is Maoism and Other Essays, edited and introduced by Bernard D’Mello (Kharagpur: Cornerstone Publications), 2010, pp 281-85.

16 Our account of the Indian Slavery Act of 1843, bonded labour in independent India and of protective laws and public policies concerning SCs and STs draws a lot from S R Sankaran’s “Administration and the Poor”, The Administrator, Vol XLII, January-March, 1997, pp 1-24.

17 “At War With Oneself: Constructing Naxalism as India’s Biggest Security Threat” in Michael Kugelman (ed.), India’s Contemporary Security Challenges (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Asian Programme), 2011, p 50.

18 Karl Marx, “The British Rule in India”, first published in The New York Daily Tribune, 25 June 1853, accessed at

19 Kathleen Gough, “Indian Peasant Uprisings”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 9, Nos 32-34, Special Number, 1974, p 1391.

20 I P Desai, “Should ‘Caste’ Be the Basis for Recognising Backwardness?”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 19, No 28, 14 July 1984, p 1113.

21 Quoted in Jonah Raskin’s The Mythology of Imperialism (Delhi: Aakar Books), 2012, p 252.

22 Surely such paean of the Indian Constitution, this from an intellectual of the establishment left, would be music to the ears of the Indian ruling classes and their ideologists. See V R Krishna Iyer’s “The Basic Structure of the Constitution and ‘We, the People of India’” in Kamala Sankaran and Ujjwal Kumar Singh (ed.), Towards Legal Literacy(New Delhi: Oxford University Press), p 13.

23 The list does not include struggles against patriarchy, those concerning “the women’s question”, although certain aspects of that concern have been in the public realm since the 19th century, for instance, the oppression of the upper caste-class widow. In our view, patriarchy embedded in property (class) structures, in the caste hierarchy, in control over women’s bodies and sexuality is yet to be militantly, collectively challenged, and so the process of democratisation in this realm has a long way to go.

24 For the non-Brahman or anti-Brahman figures and movements, see Gail Omvedt’s Dalit Visions: The Anti-Caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity (Hyderabad: Orient Longman), 2006.

25 Even as we assert, a la Ramkrishna Mukherjee, that caste-in-class and not caste and class better depicts the reality of Indian society today, we need to qualify this by stating that the tendency of caste endogamy is still very strong. Nevertheless, the fact that the so-called higher castes have to resort to violence to force the lower castes to accept their presumed inferior status is evidence enough to question the view that caste hierarchy is still as deeply ingrained in Indian culture and society as it was say in the mid-19th century. We have to however admit that if caste status is not factored in, for instance, in access to employment, then poor brahmin, kshatriya and vaishya jatis do steal a march over poor Sudra and ati-sudra jatis because the latter have not yet overcome their historical handicaps that stem from the caste system. Also, a dalit’s ascendance in the class structure does not liberate him or her from caste discrimination.

26 This needs to be qualified. At particular political junctures, for instance, after the split in the Congress Party in 1969, Indira Gandhi found it politically expedient to apply the principles underlying Articles 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution in the framing of certain laws. She spearheaded the motion to bring in the Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969 and nationalise the 14 largest commercial banks with effect from the midnight of 19 July 1969. Her party, the so-called Indira Congress got Parliament to enact the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act in 1969, the Indian Patents Act in 1970, the 26th Constitutional Amendment of 1971 to abolish the Privy Purses of the erstwhile royal families of the former princely states, and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act in 1973. But such social-democratic orientation was short-lived.

27 D D Kosambi, The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, 1964, chapter 6, “State and Religion in Greater Magadha”, Section 6.2, “Magadhan Statecraft”.

28 I am still profoundly influenced by the framework and perspective of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins… see fn 14.

29 Witness the malfeasance towards the protest singers and poets of the Kabir Kala Manch by the anti-terrorism squad of the state of Maharashtra, that is, if one is looking for a recent instance of state repression of poets.

30 The Preamble, of course, sets out the Constitution’s guiding purpose and principles, that is, if we choose to ignore the deceit of the powers-that-be, given the sharp contrast of actual practice from claimed principles. Brahmanical cant and hypocrisy know no bounds.


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