A strange new India is in the making: one wakes up to morning headlines that scream on how a house was purchased by a plutocrat for several hundred crores, only to be overshadowed by a similar headline at twice the price. Other headlines proclaim how one family lives in a high rise in Bombay (possibly on dubiously obtained Wakf Board land) that is served by helipad and an army of servants.
One might then conclude from this that the rich in India are no longer ashamed of their wealth and will not hesitate to flaunt it. Not that the rich of yesteryear were really ashamed of their wealth, but there was indeed some sense of embarrassment about it. While Maharajas and Nawabs did lead ostentatious lives, such as the celebrated Maharaja of Patiala, there was some kind of a social contract that the Maharaja had to care of his subjects. Such a contract between the Raja and Praja came down through the millennia in the land that is modern day India, and there were rules of conduct of those in power in regard to the issue of keeping the population fed, clothed, educated and in the issue of the defence of the realm.
It cannot be denied that the fundamental break came with the most major changes occurring as the British rule consolidated itself, and notions above were denuded in the sphere of political philosophy. While the colonial state that was established owed only dues to London, there was nothing owed to the people of India. It is no surprise that this period was the one in which India was destroyed as a manufacturing hub, and one in which agriculture was subordinated to the needs of production of cash crops, and a period in which the land saw famine after famine after famine. It is this colonial state that gave birth to modern India, which is founded on the principles of Westminster and British political philosophy of representative democracy, in which political parties vie for power and replace each other in periodic elections, while fundamental orientation of the economy and the polity is not allowed to change.
The above said, in 1947 the transfer of power from the British to the Indian ruling circles took place driven by the energy of the nationalist movement that had captured the imagination of the people of the country. The people nurtured great hopes that their problems would be solved by this transfer of power. In order to arrive at a compromise between the aspirations of the people and that of the ruling circles which regarded themselves as the legatees of the British, viz., that they would be the ones with the right to loot and plunder the country and enrich themselves, a `socialistic pattern of society’ was put forward by the ruling circles. This was also partly driven by the need of the ruling circles to vastly enhance the manufacturing base of the country, to be able to build dams, roads, bridges, factories, and to produce raw material from one corner and take it to another, a whole socialistic base was created, which to wit is the property of the people of India. Inherent to the system that was put in place were various contradictions between sections of the ruling circles, between the needs of agriculture and industry, and vast competition between many sections for control of these resources, through the political process. The economic system has in built in it, the perils of boom and bust, of recession and instabilities. The needs of the people were not satisfied by the system. The needs of different parts of the country were not met. This led to the splintering of the polity and rise of so-called regional parties, national parties that professed different ideologies, all of which were tugging at the system, driven by the inherent inability of the system to meet the needs of the people. The country would see periodic upheavals, civil disturbances, riots, and the conditions that did not conform to what has come to be known as `civil society’. In all these instances, all eye witnesses, independent reports, also reports of Government’s own commissions of enquiry have always implicated well known political figures, state institutions as being behind all these mischief, but no one was ever punished, and it was always the common man that was the victim. This turned out to be a stone in the shoe for the ruling circles which were unable to project themselves as suitable custodians of the sovereign power there by leading to a crisis.
A new opportunity arose in the mid 1980’s with the foreshock of massive rearrangements internationally. While the demise of the East bloc and the Soviet Union was not easy to predict, under the Reagan and Thatcher onslaught, the world system had to give, and the end of socialism was promised, the overarching role of the market proclaimed and the `end of history’ announced. The Indian ruling circles used this opportunity to realign themselves and freed themselves from the socialistic pattern of society and instead embraced the twin slogans of liberalization and privatization. This is another name of the wholesale loot and plunder of the wealth of the people. This did require them to come up with some window dressing and also to reorient their state apparatus. Under the guise of corporate social responsibility, motivated by the reactionary thesis of trickle-down welfare, some crumbs are thrown to the people, while the wealth is accrued in private hands through tax holidays, massive influx of credit from public banks, tailoring of government policies to suit business, removal of all barriers to exploitation of India’s hardworking peoples, elimination of social net and any kind of security. State institutions are reworked to make the Indian ruling circles appear as kind and effectively serve as an `iron hand in a velvet glove’. The model adopted is that of the UK and USA, where the state is a benign bystander to a vicious market driven economy, that is meant to only keep public order and enforce the `rule of law’ which, to wit, is that of the law of the rich and the mighty that is imposed per force on the people and the nations that constitute India.
During this period, people of Indian origin who have migrated to far corners of the world, and have benefited from the higher standards of living in those societies have as individuals achieved many plaudits, and today man important positions in the economy across the world, and in state institutions in all corners of the world, just as some sections of the population in India have also benefited from the limited resources that are available, and which are needed to produce the work force needed to keep the machine running in India. While there was never any doubt that people of Indian origin are capable of such achievements, for the majority left behind in India under the extreme harsh conditions of life, there is only a life of deprivation and hunger and poverty. It then becomes the duty of those who have risen above these conditions to face the question and challenge of getting their brothers and sisters who have not been as fortunate as themselves out of their desperate conditions of life. Facing this question today is indeed the primary question of philosophy which can and must be met.
Perhaps, the ruling circles have a great deal of confidence in the present set up in India, which is why they do not mind flaunting their power, wealth and influence. The failure of adequately mounting a challenge to their world view in the sphere for philosophy in one of the reasons for this confidence. Is it this failure that constitutes the crisis of philosophy in modern day India?
Let us ask ourselves what the daily phenomena are revealing. Let us ask how the situation got to this pass. Let us ask if this is fair. Let us ask who has given rise to the situation where in one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet one can have such a gruesome disparity of some living lives of such resplendence, while there are others living cheek by jowl in such ghastly and sub-human conditions, without a roof, without clothes, without food, without any dignity that can make them in any way human. Let us trace the nature of rights and duties, that of citizens and that of the state. Let us also learn from history that such imbalances lead to catastrophes of unforeseen proportions. Let us address these questions of philosophy and questions of the polity without any prejudice and break the pall of gloom that is hanging over the billion people of the country.
by B. Ananthanarayan