August 16, 2002


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Rajeev Srinivasan

The predatory State

Why is the life of the common man in India so often nasty, brutish and short? It is because the State is failing, or more accurately because the State is predatory. In general, I support a strong State, a necessity for nation-building. However, the Indian State is not dependable, which is why I am nervous about the Prevention of Terrorism Act, POTA: I fear that it will in fact be used not for the common man, but against him.

The Indian State is not able to, or willing to, or even interested in, protecting the interests of its citizens. The State is a dangerous entity whose primary interest is self-preservation and self-aggrandisement. This is because the State -- such as it is today -- is a vestige of imperial structures, intended to exploit the citizenry.

The rapacious State is not a universal phenomenon. There is a good reason why in the US there was little retaliation after 9/11 against Muslims by individuals: there is strong enforcement of the law, plus the populace is confident that the government will wreak vengeance. But the Indian State is not capable of wreaking vengeance on wrong-doers. It has shown its inability to contain violence perpetrated by anybody.

This has been shown time and again. The Rajiv Gandhi government failed to protect the Sikh citizens of Delhi when Congress goons went on a rampage against them. A number of governments in Srinagar and Delhi have failed to protect the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist citizens of Jammu and Kashmir who have been murdered, raped and ethnically cleansed. The Modi government in Gujarat failed to protect Muslim citizens all over Gujarat, and Hindu citizens in Godhra.

The Indian government failed to protect Hindu Reang tribals in Tripura from being ethnically cleansed by Christian fundamentalists. The Indian government failed to prevent its soldiers being tortured to death by Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most egregiously, the combined power of several states has failed to capture notorious poacher Veerappan.

Why? It is because the State does nothing against criminals and barbarians. This is because the State itself may be criminal and barbarian.

This is the reason many people, and Hindus in particular, have lost faith in the State. They see Hindus being the victims of State indifference everywhere. Alien terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir need fear no reprisal when they eject hundreds of thousands of Hindu Pandits to a miserable fate in refugee camps in Delhi. Who cries for these refugees? See the documentary And the World Remained Silent by Ashok Pandit.

What did the State do when 35 Sikhs were massacred by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir? What about when Hindu pilgrims going to Amarnath were killed by terrorists? What about when two Hindu priests were beheaded in Jammu and Kashmir? What about when a Hindu priest was shot dead in his temple in the Northeast? How about when 28 Hindus were massacred in a suburb of Jammu?

The Indian State did nothing. The State wrung its hands and shrugged its shoulders. Contrast this with the situation in the US. There were letter bombs; they found the Unabomber. The Oklahoma building was bombed; they executed Timothy McVeigh. The recent pipe bomber in Nevada has been caught. There is a feeling that the US State can and will punish wrongdoers. There is no escaping from the long arm of the law: even if you hide overseas, the US will extradite you and try you, ask the guests of the nation in Guantanamo Bay. Some may quibble that the US sometimes punishes innocents, which it does; but an implacable image is created --and that is a deterrent against crime.

But this is not true of the Indian State. The State, as it appears to most people, is a monstrous thing that is to be feared if you are a normal person; only politicians and criminals can get anything done by the State for them. You have no faith in the State.

Then why is everyone surprised when vigilantes take matters into their own hands?

The Indian State is such that it is because it is a continuation of the predatory imperial State. Nobody knows how the ancient Hindu/Buddhist State was before the coming of the Muslims so I won't talk about that. But it is clear that India has been governed by predatory States ever since. We have had a succession of the following:

  • A predatory Muslim State whose objective was conversion and looting
  • A predatory Christian State whose objective was grand theft and conversion
  • A predatory Marxist/Nehruvian Stalinist State whose objective is grand larceny and self-preservation

India has had the unique and dubious distinction of having been governed by all three of the Semitic faiths. It is a wonder that India has survived.

Note that nowhere in the job descriptions of these Semitic tyrannies is there any mention of the rights of the people. Of course, much sloganeering happens in the name of the 'rights of the people', but that is all for show.

The Muslim State was clear in its objective of capturing the wealth that had accumulated in India. As I have said before, Indians collectively chose butter over guns a thousand years ago; and we then did not have the guns to protect our butter. This is the answer to those who wrote to me regarding my column Sport as metaphor asking why the money spent on a modern navy would not be better spent on alleviating poverty. The answer, folks, is that they wouldn't be poor in the first place if we had decent defense.

Several readers have questioned my characterisation of the colonial period as a 'Christian state.' I do so in analogy with the widespread use of 'Hindu/Buddhist' period, 'Muslim' period, etc. Why not then speak of the 'Christian' state? If assorted Turk, Afghan, Arab, Central Asian invaders are lumped in under 'Muslim,' why not assorted British, French, Portuguese, Dutch barbarians under 'Christian'? Besides, British imperialists were highly influenced by Christian evangelistic ideas. See the following quote from Subhash Chakravarthy, The Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions Penguin India 1991, pp. 62:

    'Examining the Christian forces at work in the administration of India and the mutual relations of the British Government and the Christian missions between 1600 and 1920, Arthur Mayhew, a director of public instruction in India declared: 'Often unconsciously, and sometimes with protestations to the contrary, those responsible during a century and a half for India's welfare had been concerned not only, as Kipling suggested, with the Law of the Prophet, but also the spirit of the Gospels' [all references here are to Arthur Mayhew, Christianity and the Government of India, An Examination of the Christian forces at work in the administration of India and of the Mutual Relations between the British Government and Christian Missions 1600-1920, London, undated].'

    '[The author] suggested that the Simla secretariat was engaged under episcopal supervision in translating the Sermon on the Mount into official jargon. "Our policy has been moulded by men who have come gradually to see that the distinction between Christian missionary and administrators in India was one of scope and method rather than of aim or motive power." '

    'Increasing readiness on the part of the Government to honour Christian obligations, educational progress and gradual enlightenment of public opinion, the author opined, transformed prophets and pioneers into men distinguished by unobtrusive and impersonal activity more anxious to gain colleagues than disciples.'

    'Advancement on Christian lines had moved apace especially during the period covered by William Bentinck and Dalhousie with John Malcolm operating in the west, Thomas Munro in the south, Alexander Duff in Bengal, John Wilson in Bombay and Jonathan Duncan in Benares.. Subsequently,. Mayhew asserted. [that] Christian missions and institutions were included within the governmental infrastructure.'

There, in black and white, in the official prose of empire, is the evidence of the unholy nexus between Church and State. The officials of the British Empire in India colluded with the missionaries. It was a self-consciously Christian State.

The Christian State is infamous for how it looted five to ten trillion (yes, that is trillion, 1,000,000,000,000) dollars from India to the UK. I am certain, and the British historian William Digby ('Prosperous' British India) and the Indian historian Rajni Palme Dutt (India Today) would agree, that the Industrial Revolution would not have taken place had it not been for the 'venture capital' provided by loot from Bengal. Note the amazing coincidence: the Battle of Plassey, 1757. The spinning jenny, 1764; the water frame, 1769; the steam engine, 1785. Money chased innovations -- and the innovations appeared.

Just to give you an idea of how predatory the Christian State was, look at the great droughts and famines of the late nineteenth century. Consider what happened during famines. According to Mike Davis (Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, Verso, 2000) there were 31 serious famines during the 200 years of the Christian State, as opposed to 17 during the previous 2000 years! And in the famines of the 1870s and 1880s, as many as 30 million Indians died. Yes, 30 million, one California, 10 per cent of the population.

And this continued into the Bengal famine of the 1940s which killed 4 million people (see the Satyajit Ray film Distant Thunder): purely artificial. There was plenty of grain, it's just that it was more profitable to ship it out so that speculators in the futures markets could make a wartime killing.

See my earlier column on Europe's hypocrisy to get an idea of British famine relief: the ration was one pound of rice per day for an able bodied male. An absolute starvation diet. At the same time, during the height of the famine, they exported record amounts of wheat and other grains from India to Britain! Millions were starving to death in India, and thousands of tons of grains were exported to Britain!

Furthermore, it is clear that before the Christian State was established in India, the British were on average poorer than Indians. Bengal, in particular, was wealthy. By destroying India's industries (in 1750, India accounted for 25 per cent of world manufacturing, compare that to the US with its 23 per cent share today), the colonialists ruined potters, weavers, smiths and other skilled artisans and made them landless laborers. Instant impoverishment: from a respected craftsman to an indigent so that white people in the 'Satanic mills' and factories of ye olde England could have a better standard of living!

This is not mere rhetoric on my part. Here is fact: at the time of the French Revolution, Asia dominated world manufacturing, and 'the largest manufacturing districts in the world were still the Yangtzi delta and Bengal, with Lingan [Canton in China] and coastal Madras not far behind,' says Mark Davis. Prasannan Parthasarathi suggests that 'there is compelling evidence that South Indian labourers had higher earnings than their British counterparts in the eighteenth century and lived lives of greater security.' Even outcaste agricultural labourers in Madras earned more in real terms than English farm laborers, he further suggests. (Rethinking Wages and Competitiveness in Eighteenth Century Britain and South India, Past and Present, February 1998).

Shares of World Manufacturing Output, 1750-1900

  1750 1800 1830 1860 1880 1900
Europe 23.1 28.0 34.1 53.6 62.0 63.0
UK 1.9 4.3 9.5 19.9 22.9 18.5
Tropics 76.8 71.2 63.3 39.2 23.3 13.4
China 32.8 33.3 29.8 19.7 12.5 6.2
India 24.5 19.7 17.6 8.6 2.8 1.7

Source: adapted from B R Tomlinson, Economics: The Periphery in Andrew Porter (ed), The Oxford History of the British Empire: the Nineteenth Century, Oxford 1990.

A very clear trend: Battle of Plassey and the rape of Bengal begin in 1757, and within a hundred years, India had been thoroughly deindustrialised. The Chinese held out a little longer, but they too succumbed eventually to British strategy: opium to enervate and enslave.

By destroying age-old irrigation systems, the imperialists also made the country vulnerable to the disruptive El Nino oscillations that make monsoons fail. For millennia, India had dealt with wayward monsoons through systems of canals and of local stocks of grains. With the railways, imperialists were able to siphon off these local stocks to be sold in grain markets abroad. Result: widespread famine.

Thank you so much, Britain, for 'giving' India a railway system (it was fully paid for through Indian taxes, and it was wonderfully convenient for British troop movements). Much like Tibetans should be 'thankful' to Han China for building a railway line to Lhasa. Says Davis: 'The newly constructed railroads, lauded as institutional safeguards against famine, were instead used by merchants to ship grain inventories from outlying drought-stricken districts to central depots for hoarding (as well as protection from rioters). Likewise the telegraph ensured that price hikes were coordinated in a thousand towns at once, regardless of local supply trends.' Ah, the wonders of technology!

Part II: Taming the predatory State of today

Rajeev Srinivasan

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