Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Prediction

I sometimes deliberately delay getting new books in order to re-read some old books. I would have forgotten many things in these books so it will be almost like reading new books. I thus read again India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha. It is a book that I liked because it covers a period of history that does not appear elsewhere. It was interesting to read about things I had very little idea of like integration of princely states, resettlement of refugees after partition, debates in the Constituent Assembly, linguistic reorganisation of states (language can still evoke passions as shown in this debate), etc.

I had mentioned earlier that long-term predictions about complicated situations are generally off the mark.  In this book, there are many mentions of dire predictions about India's disintegration and slide into military dictatorship which did not happen. But there is mention of an article called "After Nehru..."  by  an anonymous writer that appeared in the Economic Weekly in the summer of 1958 which contains predictions of broad trends that have generally come true.

In 1958, Jawaharlal Nehru had been Prime Minister of India for 11 years. He was around 70, and the last representative of the old guard within the Congress. The great men who had worked with him in uniting and integrating India were all gone or going. Vallabhbhai Patel was dead, Maulana Azad was on his death-bed, Govind Ballabh Pant was ailing and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was in retirement. The party, and nation, were both held together by the moral authority and prestige of the PM. There was no obvious successor among the next generation of Congressmen. What would happen after he was gone? This was the question being addressed by the writer:
The prestige that the party will enjoy as the inheritor of the mantle of Tilak, Gandhi and Nehru will inhibit the growth of any effective or healthy opposition during the first few years. In later years as popular discontent against the new generation of party bosses increases, they will, for sheer self-preservation, be led to make increasing attempts to capture votes by pandering to caste, communal and regional interests and ultimately even to `rig' elections.
The writer said that in this situation the Congress party would find it hard to resist the temptations of business interests. Thus
in a politico-economic system of mixed economy, in which the dividing line between mercantilism and socialism is still very obscure and control over the State machinery can give glittering prizes to the business as well as the managerial classes, the monied interests are bound to infiltrate sooner or later into the ruling cadres of the party in power.
Finally, the writer predicted that the growth of caste, communal and regional caucuses would lead to an "increasing instability of Government first in the States and later also at the Centre". This instability, in turn, might also lead to a competitive patriotism among the different national parties.
for instance, the Congress Party may try to unite the nation behind it by warning of the dangers of `balkanisation', the Jan Sangh by playing up the fear of aggression from Pakistan, the P[raja] S[ocialist] P[arty] by emphasising the competition between India and China and the Communist Party by working up popular indignation against dollar imperialism.
Who was this far-sighted writer? Ramachandra Guha speculates that he might have been a Western political scientist, who would have felt constrained to write anonymously about a controversial subject concerning another country. A more likely possibility according to him is that he was a civil servant precluded by his job from speaking out in his own name. This latter possibility is suggested by the remark that "senior civil servants are hoping that they will retire before Nehru goes"

During an Internet search, I came across this article by Ramachandra Guha with the sub-heading " `... do you think there is any chance that he could have written it?'
'He' referred to Nehru.

P.S.: Here is a talk by Ramachandra Guha on Indian Democracy's Mid-Life Crises

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