The next part of Guha’s book helps us understand the events post independence, gives us a glimpse on the pain that partition inflicted on the country. Guha also delves on the efforts taken by Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar to define a unified, secular and democratic country.
The Idea of India
The partition left the country divided on religious lines. Hindus from Pakistan were forced to relocate to India, and the Muslims from India prepared to relocate to Pakistan. The newly formed governments of both countries were ill equipped to handle the violence or handle the scale of migration. Punjab, Bengal, and Delhi were the states that were most affected by the violence. While the Hindus of Bengal took the West and the Muslims took the east (now Bangladesh), it was not straightforward in Punjab as the state had a strong Hindu, Muslim and Sikh population. The most violent clashes took place in Punjab. Gandhi believed that if he could help quell the unrest in Bengal, then he would be able to control the situation in Punjab. Nehru and Gandhi did more to quell the violence than the Pakistani governor. Nehru and Gandhi wanted the Sangh to not mirror Jinnah’s two nation theory and ideas that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist. The Sangh believed the Nehru and Gandhi had failed the Hindus and the country and believed that non Hindu people needed to adopt Hindu way or deserve no privileges.
In 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was shot fatally by Nathuram Godse a RSS fanatic, who blamed him for the partition. RSS was subsequently banned by the government of India. The ban on RSS was revoked by Patel later on when M.S. Gowalkar swore allegiance to the Indian flag. Nehru and Patel were both shaken by the loss of Gandhi. Gandhi’s ability to transcend violence and spread a message of harmony was the bedrock upon which the foundations of a secular country were built.
The government then focused on resettling the refugees. Activists and Administrators come up with innovative solutions to settle the displaced. Nehru’s progressive left style of politics made him a media favorite in the world. Nehru had travelled extensively and had an more outward look on life. Patel on the other hand believed that India would not benefit from the western outlook of life. Inspite of the differences Patel and Nehru worked on establishing a committee to draft the constitution of India. B.R Ambedkar was nominated as the chairman of the committee and public opinion is sought on several topics. The role of public in governance is a key reason i believe that democracy has sustained in the country for so long. Policies, laws were drawn up by the members after consulting the people of the country. Debates were conducted to test Ideas and Policies. Patel worked hard to drive compromises and ensured the constitution would not undermine critical points of governance. The constitution of India was drafted in 3 years and remains one of the finest achievements of the Indian government till date.
Nehru’s governance was focused on development and protecting minorities rights in the country. India was a predominantly an agrarian country. As the population boomed, so did the shortfall of grains. Nehru realized that in order to be self sufficient, the country had to invest and improve key areas like agriculture, communication and industrialization. Nehru wanted to take a leaf out of the Russian playbook and transform the country. Russia was seen as a poor agricultural country with peasants yet in a few years they transformed to an industrial country through their own means. The Congress party had set up a national planning commission in 1938 to define the economic policy of free India. The belief was that this was essential to provide for the people of the country. The commissions first plan focused on the idea that the State was essential to any large scale economic planning. The center was expected to do the groundwork and provide the required infrastructure to the states to help achieve the goals. the commission recommended 3 tiers and advocates that the most critical industries that help national security and growth like defense, air force, electricity remain with the state. The private sector could step in to various degrees for the remaining two tiers. The idea behind the thought was private sectors were driven by profit and this would not be necessarily good for the country.
Programs promoting agrarian uplift were put in place. Forests were cleared, use of Fertilizers was promoted to develop fields. The farmers did have concerns with the fertilizers as they believed that the crop though resistant to bugs, did not taste well and believed that the earth was being polluted. Several Gandhian followers were extremely concerned by the deforestation and large dams as they though that men were playing havoc with nature for their benefits.
India also set up National Institutes like ISI, NSS, CSO. The latter two were responsible for collecting reliable data on living standards. These organizations enabled India to have a top class set of statistics to support data driven policy enablement. Nehru wanted to develop a scientific temper across the country and believed industrialization was key for development. Hence the second planning commission had it’s goals set around industries, irrigation, transportation and social services. Homi Bhabha developed the atomic energy commission. IIT’s were built in several states to promote engineering as a field of study. The commission recognized that production of power and steel was critical to help meet development goals. India’s central forest belt had rich deposits of iron ore and several large rivers. India sought the help of Germany, Russia and England to help build steel plants. Large dams were constructed across major rivers to help with water storage, power generation and preventing floods. By 1960 India had refuted a belief that Indians were non productive and pre scientific and had established India as a strong player in the S&T field
The Evolution of the Political Parties
After the passing of Sardar Patel, Nehru became the defacto leader of the Congress Party and the government of India. His vision for a progressive, secular country ran into several challenges even amongst his Party members. The 1952 general elections would prove to be a test of strength of Nehru’s government. Nehru was initially skeptical of elections as he thought that illiteracy would make people vote for nationalist, insensitive politicians rather than leaders who would take the country forward, yet he campaigned whole heartedly and led the Congress party to an overwhelming victory against the Hindu MahaSabha, Communist Party and Socialist Party in the 1952 elections. The win was a major boost for Nehru who was jubilant that people had voted for progressive parties rather than choosing parties that promoted communalism or nationalism. Nehru kept the government in power for 2 more terms. The death of S.P Mookerjee had weakened the sangh, and the congress party had no major opposition at the central level.
The regional state parties forced Nehru to redraw the states along linguistic lines. This move strengthened the state parties and reduced the vote share of the congress party. In the 1957 elections DMK won the Tamil Nadu State assembly elections the leadership of Periyar and CPI won Kerala under the leadership of EMS. The case of CPI winning in Kerala was seen by many as a shock, however the EMS government turned out to pass Land and educational reforms. The Congress Party joined the religious state members like NSS, SNDP and Christian Missionaries to protest the reforms introduced by the CPI government. Nehru is surprised by the governance and despairs to take any action against the ruling group. However as pressure mounts from his party he invokes article 356 and removes the democratically elected government. Several communities felt the government had not done enough to protect their interests while the government focused on the industrialization of the country. The Adivasis, and the Naga tribes started demanding their own States. Nehru had to use the army to quell the Unrest in Nagaland. The reports of violence by the army on the Naga villagers are documented by only a few. Nehru was a moral leader and these missteps faded his aura a bit. The RSS and other opposition parties scrutinized every single move Nehru made and every case where he had to make a compromise was cited as his failure as the leader of the country. The border trouble with Pakistan and China eventually broke Nehru. His health deteriorated and his untimely death in 1964 caused a leadership vacuum in the congress party and gave a major boost to the opposition parties.
Whether you agree or disagree with their politics, the political parties of that time were primarily driven by a purpose and stood by their core ideals. The RSS and the Hindu Jan Sangh believed in their religious ideals and worked to build about a Hindu identity. The political leaders like EMS, JP Narayan, Kamaraj, Nehru, BR Ambedkar, Moraji Desai all had the interests of the common folk at heart and truly represented the ideas of the majority. I have not seen anything so far to suggest that the post independence India leaders did not have the best interests of the nation at heart and are the ones to be blamed for the current predicament we are in. It is a shame that the people’s trust on the political system has eroded considerably since then. In the next essay, I would like to cover ideas and incidents that lead to modern day politics in India.