July 06, 2020
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White, Grey, Dirt-Brown

A book that wishes "the freedom struggle had never ended"

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White, Grey, Dirt-Brown
India: A Nation In Turmoil
By R.G.K
UBSPD Rs 395; Pages: 439
Acomprehensive survey of the contemporary Indian national scene-littered with seemingly insoluble problems-is impossible to achieve. R.G.K. has made his task more manageable by breaking up his subject into convenient segments-each of which is self-contained but is also a part of a sequential unity ranging from the colonial backdrop to the turbulence of post-Independence India.

R.G.K. covers familiar ground-the daunting problems since freedom was won, the unavoidable lament. Yet he has some interestingly controversial points to make. For example, his "wish that the freedom struggle had never come to an end" or his reference to the top people in the pre-Independence generation as "great individuals, men and women cast in a heroic mould".

The idealism and zeal of the freedom movement are indeed admirable and the towering personalities that dominated the run-up to Independence were undoubtedly outstanding people. Yet, did the mindset of the freedom fighters qualify them to serve as the architects of an independent nation? And weren't the heroic individuals who put together the Constitution unknowing victims of a psychological and cultural indoctrination, unavoidable for the intellectual elite in British India?

Parliamentary democracy, the peculiar hotch-potch known as secular liberalism, the administrative and judicial systems, human rights, the army and much else were unquestioningly and seamlessly absorbed into independent India. The British went away and left their shoes behind. The newly-anointed Indian Raj stepped into those very same shoes which now, 50 years later, have begun to pinch and pinch hard. Gandhiji alone, with his capacity for grassroots thinking, recommended the dissolution of the Congress party after Independence. He understood that the seeds of the Indian tragedy would lie in the continuity that linked the pre-Independence past to the present, burdening the country with an inheritance so uncritically and meekly accepted.

R.G.K. unwittingly validates this interpretation when he says of Nehru that he "floated in the realm of ideas without being close to 'ground realities'". He adds: "The structure revamped by the British was inadequate for free India." But "Nehru had no time to reconstruct it". Was this a matter of time or disinclination? If, as R.G.K. suggests, the IAS is a caricature of the ICS, much of structural India today and the ideas that sustain it are a caricature of a British Indian original that should've never had a place in an independent country. Independence implies a break and that break has not happened after half-a-century; what we've witnessed in its place is a deterioration of the unwanted original.

So, India is a victim of the debilitating continuity that has seen the white sahib followed by the brown sahib followed by the grassroots manipulator without any of the redeeming qualities of the old-time sahib. R.G.K. paints Nehru as a weak and indecisive man who presided but didn't lead, who was a convinced democrat with a personal authoritarian streak, who was an aristocratic agitator before Independence and an ineffective leader after, and who was anti-communal but via Partition created the conditions in which communalism flourished.

Given all this, it is futile to complain, as R.G.K. does, of a "diabolical British plan" to undermine India from day one of Independence. Nehru spoke of himself as a "queer mixture of East and West" but the consequences of this mixture have plagued India itself till the present day. Arguably R.G.K. fails to place much of his material in the context that supports this theme. In his chapter on 'Nehru and the World' he has shown that Nehru's failure as a political leader was compounded by his woolly ambitions for India in the world arena, preaching an internationalism wholly out of joint in a newly independent nation with vast and complicated internal problems to solve.

The veneration he commanded globally was never translated into any substantial advantage for the country. Thus he was deceived by the Chinese and his patrician distaste for the hurly-burly of domestic politics allowed the sycophants and yes-men to develop politicking into a fine art.

R.G.K. is on less sure ground when he argues that Indira Gandhi fought the Syndicate to "stay in power". Implicit in the Emergency was a rejection of the old-style politicians whom her father's ineffectiveness had brought into being. One most stimulating and, in fact, very timely chapter asks the question: 'Are We Fit for Democracy?' in which the author goes far to confirm that there is such a thing as the tyranny of democracy, and in which moreover he proves without being aware of it that the question to ask is: 'Is Democracy Fit for Us?'

R.G.K's book ranges far and wide-from the Constitution to the role of the press, from the problems of poverty to education and science, from the persistent questions that plague the Indian identity to music. This work is the outcome of a lively mind and if the tone is unduly pessimistic, it is the sort of pessimism that comes easily to all patriotic Indians.

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