Caption: A sailor being arrested in the RIN Mutiny
On August 15, 2022, the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence was celebrated with great pomp and show, with the Prime Minister making a speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, just as there had been a speech that was entitled `Tryst with Destiny’ by the first Prime Minister 75 years earlier.
But did the Indian people become masters of their country in 1947? In reality what took place was the transfer of power from the British to the emergent ruling circles in what turned into two countries, namely Pakistan and India. A terrible holocaust and bloodbath took place with the partition of India, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions. Is this what the great martyrs like Bhagat Singh and millions of Indian people struggled for?
The `peaceful’ transfer of power from British colonialists to the Indian ruling establishment ensured that all Institutions of State used by the British colonialists remained in place, including the Constituent Assembly, Executive and Judiciary, which were simply being passed from the British to the new rulers. The people of India who sacrificed all that they had in the freedom struggle were told that the new rulers would rule in their name. But not only were all the Institutions of power firmly placed in the hands of the representatives of the status quo, but the reins of the economy too were also firmly in the hands of corporate houses. The ruling circles went so far as to get the British colonialists stamp of approval on the plan they developed for the Indian economy in the nineteen forties, the plan popularly known as the “Bombay Plan” which was drawn up by the Tatas, Birla’s, and other eminent industrial houses of the time.
Sovereign power was placed firmly in the hands of the Cabinet and the PM, with a President required to act on their advice. This model was based on the Government of India Act of 1935 drawn up by the British colonialists. A new Constitution was also drawn up soon after 1947, based mainly on the same Government of India Act of 1935, with additional elements taken from other Constitutions across the world in which sovereignty was not vested in the hands of the people but in the hands of elites. The Constitution makers purposely ignored the rich Indian heritage of statecraft claiming that our people were not fit enough to rule themselves and that there was a need for a representative democracy where people hand over their sovereignty to their rulers. Numerous Constitutional Amendments have followed since then, all of which have concentrated power even more in the hands of a few, while depriving the people of any significant right other than the right to cast a vote every few years. Political parties that seek to come to power at the Centre and states are dependent on their corporate benefactors for funding. It is no surprise that these parties have hastened to do the bidding of these corporates. The fact that the wealth and power of the monopoly houses have increased several hundredfold in the last seventy-five years is testament to this. On the other hand, the lot of the masses of people has worsened, with more and more wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of the monopoly houses. The vast majority of people is excluded from having any role in the affairs of the State and that of the polity.
The last seventy-five years have seen numerous crises in Indian political and economic life. The GDP has grown manifold but so has the chasm between the rich and the poor. Large Indian monopoly houses are now fighting for a place under the sun internationally, and large numbers of Indian billionaires trotting around the world in private jets. The government’s economic policies are geared towards maximisation of their profits, unmindful of poverty, unemployment and rising prices at home. From the annual ritual of the budget to the various allocations of Central and State funds, and the disbursement of revenues, the people remain powerless spectators.
Decisions affecting the lives of 1.3 billion people are being taken entirely arbitrarily in small, closed meetings – including, for example demonetisation, lockdowns, abolition of recruitment to the armed forces and replacement by Agniveer, Agnipath; the sale of PSUs to greatly benefit monopoly corporate houses, monetisation pipeline, privatisation of education and health care and of transportation, and electricity. All of these show that it is only profit for a few that counts as development, irrespective of the tremendous burden to the bulk of the population. The people of India are not consulted in any major decision that affects them – yet the rulers pride themselves on India being the “world’s largest democracy”. Thousands of innocent people languish in jails for protesting against the government’s policies. They have been incarcerated without applying the due process of law, reminiscent of the colonial times.
On this 75th Anniversary it is important to note that what really took place seventy-five years ago, is the transfer of power from British colonialists to a wealthy minority of Indians, headed by monopoly corporate houses – and not placing power in the hands of the people of India. By enveloping the entire sub-continent in a bloodbath, the colonialists ensured that people remained disempowered and on the fringes of political power.
A sober audit of the events of 1947 and since then, is the order of the day. WE need to see how the dream of the great martyrs of India – of a country and society where people are empowered – can be achieved. We need to soberly analyse and chart out a path which will throw open the doors for a new tomorrow where people can play a central role in the affairs of the country. Let us debate honestly and freely and rise to the challenge.