Thursday, November 30, 2006

A letter to my friend Michael Foot

A letter to my friend Michael Foot
DEAR Michael Foot,
You might recall that you asked me, during your last visit to India for a seminar, what I thought had been achieved in free India after the British left.
It is difficult to answer such a question about a country that is physically as big as Europe without Russia, with an amalgam of peoples of different ethnic origins, that emerged into freedom to rule itself after centuries of alien rule that had drained its wealth and maintained one of the biggest armies in the world to fight wars and police the empire. And yet one can indicate the trends of development.
I recall that soon after the 'Tryst with destiny' speech of Jawaharlal Nehru, when the Union Jack came down and the Indian Tricolour went up, while flag-hoisting ceremonies were going on in New Delhi and Karachi, Muslims and Hindus were fighting in eastern India.
There is no doubt that although the Imperial Government had sown the seeds of disruption by its divide et impera policies, there were also other animosities between Hindus and Muslims. But Churchillian incitements of Partition, even against the then Viceroy's wishes for one India, brought, soon after their respective flags were hoisted in the two states, murders, lootings and misery that left a million or more dead.
And Gandhi, who had wanted, until the last days of the negotiations, to avoid a partition - he was for adjustments, not division - was nearly murdered while pacifying mobs in eastern India. He survived the fratricide of Partition, but was shot by a young Hindu chauvinist terrorist, Godse, just as he was going to sing his prayers.
In India, secular democracy did emerge both at the Centre and in the States. In Pakistan, however, not long after the death of Jinnah, the military assumed power. The generals extended Pakistan's Muslim theocracy by occupying Kashmir with unconcealed aggression, and this was followed by three wars between the two states. That a British general directed the first assault in 1947 is indicative of a continuation, among the conservatives of the U.K., of their concealed will to keep the states to which they conceded power at odds with each other. And when the British ultimately decided not to interfere, the U.S. involved Pakistan in its attempts to stall Soviet interests in Asia. Hostility has raged on to the north of the subcontinent for 50 years through fundamentalist terrorists aided by the notorious ISI of the Pakistan Army. This has been a drain on India's finances; money sorely needed for development has been spent on defence.
Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, a Fabian Socialist, had from the very beginning of self-rule devised planned economic development through a Planning Commission that he had envisaged even before freedom. And there is no doubt that whatever achievements have been made in producing sufficient food for the hungry millions were made possible by the initial development of dams for water and power conceived by Nehru.
Industrial development through the public and private sectors has been possible through planning and community development. Schemes in villages for family planning, growing food crops, small-scale industrial development and the revival of crafts have, in spite of some failures, been positive initiatives. If our private sector has not been able to compete effectively with the capitalists of the West, it is partially because of the Nehruite policy of 'licence-permit' raj practised by the bureaucracy at the Centre.
Altogether, however, it is obvious that most of the modernisation that we see in India is the outcome of Nehruite planning.
Our biggest gain has been the sustained working of a parliamentary democracy both at the Centre and in the States.
As in socio-economic development, in foreign policy too Jawaharlal Nehru acted with foresighted vision; he offered Panch Sheel, the five principles of political and cultural relations. These were mainly based on a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other states and collaboration in economic, social and cultural exchanges. This initiative did keep several Asian and African states away from U.S.-Soviet hostility. India's calls for world nuclear disarmament have not yet achieved results.
As in other directions, it was Nehru's prompting and positive initiatives that set the pace of development. And though a high percentage of politicians have been interested only in themselves, there is no doubt that parliamentary democracy through elections has come to stay.
Of course, our democracy remains mainly a middle section phenomenon. Panchayat democracy at the village level, which was urged by Mahatma Gandhi, has not yet been promoted uniformly in all States of India. Democracy at the grassroots level, which has been implemented in the States of Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala under social democratic and Communist leaderships, offers examples that will have to be followed in the bulk of our country.
There is a vast backlog in respect of development work, owing to the growth in population, now nearing one billion, and the need to satisfy its needs. In the midst of much darkness our political intelligentsia is currently active in the struggle to keep religious fundamentalism at bay, both at home and among our neighbours.
The emergence at the Centre of a coalition government of 14 different political parties augurs well for the emphasis of the government on attending to the problems of primary education, health and technology, as also food for millions, to bring up new generations. These may cope with the challenges of renewal and regeneration of our land, which has been handicapped by centuries of retardation under foreign and feudal rule.
As a well-wisher of India over your entire political career, you will see from this letter that we are still together in our awareness of the human condition.
Yours sincerely,
Mulk Raj Anand

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