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The Rediff Special/Nirad C Chaudhuri

India after Independence: Nothing authentic, nothing sincere

Nirad C Chaudhuri Nirad C Chaudhuri, arguably one of the finest Indian writers this century turns hundred on Sunday. In this characteristically belligerent essay, he mulls on political decadence in India.

The most striking aspect of government in India after the gift of independence by the British people was its total falsity. Nothing was authentic, nothing sincere, nothing disinterested in it. Instead of showing fear of this gift from white men, all Indians exulted over it. Those who took over the business of governing India proved the truth of the saying 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'

Yet, the man who on the day of independence became virtually the dictator of India, was not himself a scoundrel or even a counterfeit. He was wholly genuine, as an Englishman of radical views. But he was not endowed with practical political capacity. As soon as with independence he abandoned his former role of demagogue, he became an ineffable ideologue, flapping his wings against the bars of the cage in which he was put by the bureaucracy.

The political programme which he himself wished to put into effect was to make India a Soviet Union in technology, and a parliamentary democracy in governance. He alone did not realise that he was really a dictator without the will to exercise his dictatorial power. I said so publicly in an article published when he was living.

But just as he would not act like a dictator, he could not also become a practical democratic statesman. He took refuge in escapism. He shunned all policies and actions in which he knew he would have to face the massive stability of the Indian masses and the cunning self-seeking of the professional politicians of his party. He began to build national structures like dams with the help of American engineers and public buildings with the help of Le Corbusier. His object was to bypass all realities in India. I called these material structures the pyramids of Nehru; alas! Not as long-lasting as those at Gizah.

So, the task of actually governing and legislating India passed to the officials and Congress politicians, both of whom were hard-boiled opportunists and adventurers, the most hard-boiled to be seen anywhere in the world.

Jawarharlal Nehru Another natural inclination of Nehru's, which was created by his entire upbringing and education by an English tutor at home, and at Harrow and Cambridge later, was that he would not employ anybody who was not educated abroad, especially at Cambridge or Oxford. As all Indians so educated were, as a class, pure opportunists who only pursued self-interest, he got a whole cohort of them round himself.

His political colleagues he was compelled to accept as the unavoidable company imposed on him by the new universal franchise. But he would not accept them as fellow-workers. He got together those who were educated abroad. This made him select as his highest adviser on foreign policy Sir Girija Shanker Bajpai, a member of the Indian Civil Service, who under the British had carried on active propaganda against the Congress in the United States. But at least he was a decent and refined opportunist. Most of the others whom he selected for important jobs were maldodorus like skunks. Thus India under the Nehru government was like castles in Spain resting on kitchens, if not sewers.

I assumed that this unnatural government could not last in India and the power of the Anglicised Indian would disappear with Nehru's death, which in any case could not be far distant. At that time I was asked by a very important journal in India to write an article on the question: 'After Nehru, What?' was the crucial question and not 'Who'. My assumption did not prove to be correct. The dictatorship of the Nehru dynasty continued with short interruptions, which were like the 'accidentals' in a musical composition. The normal key was quickly restored.

Its restoration as intended by those who brought in the new government in 1967, was to install a figurehead to their government. Instead it produced the opposite result. In making Indira Gandhi, the sweet and gracious daughter of Nehru, prime minister of India, they caught a Tartar. The position brought about a transformation in Mrs Gandhi's character paralleled only by the promising Ivan Romanov's becoming Ivan the Terrible. The Indian Boyars were routed.

Mrs Gandhi's sole preoccupation was to remain in office and in power by foiling the Hydra-headed opposition to her in a faction-ridden political world. This made her resort to such unscrupulous yet imprudent manoeuvres that she was murdered by agents of the fanatical Akali Sikhs.

The answer is simple: the inevitable consequences of the disappearance of personal rule in Indian political life has been seen to be rule by a faction or an opportunistic combination of many factions.

Indira Gandhi But it is now a very exceptional kind of factional government. During the period of Mogul rule there were three factions at the court -- the Turani or Turkish, the Irani or Persian, or Hindustani, Indian -- all Muslims, of course. At present there is a very broad line of separation, viz between the factions in the Indo-Gangetic plain, or Hindustan, or Aryavarta on the one hand; and on the other, the factions from the peripheral provinces. But the present government in India is dominantly government by politicians from the Deccan. The north as a whole is the Opposition today.

This has brought about an ideological division in the government of India: the north standing for Hindu nationalism, and the south for what is represented as secular and liberal government. This distinction has in its turn made the government in office a replica, an ersatz replica, of British government in India in its last three decades, and the politicians of north India a contemporary Indian National Congress. So, just as in the last decades of British rule Indian politics was only a contest between British rule and the nationalists, at present it is an opposition between a government in office which is exactly like the British government in India and an Opposition which is the old Congress in its latest form.

Excerpted from Three Horsemen Of The New Apocalypse by Nirad C Chaudhuri, Oxford University Press, 1997, Rs 250, with the publisher's permission.

Nirad C Chaudhuri, continued

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