Thursday, April 27, 2006

Indian History Trivia (3): A "Nation-in-Making"

As everyone knows now, in August 1947, we became citizens of the Independent India.

At the time of independence, however, such a statement had an "operational"/ etymological problem in terms of interpretation, viz.,

what is "Independent India"?

The appreciate the import of this point, one must look at the findings of a 1957 survey that Jamia Milia University had conducted in 150 villages in the four northern states. The findings:

  • 10% people did not know that British did not rule the country anymore!

  • about 17-18% did not know the name of their country (Oh, yes, they knew about "Bharat", since they had heard the slogans, "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" (Victory to Mother India), but they were not aware who or what "Bharat" was).

    And this was 10 years after the independence!!...

    So how does a nation become independent, when some of its own populace are not even aware of this fact? And how does a nation become a nation, when some of its inhabitant do not even know its name?

    60 years later, now, it is difficult to imagine the challenge it must have been to create a national identity, out of what, at that time, must have been a patchwork collage.

    For instance:

  • Here, we had a "country" which was the birthplace of four major world religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism), had the 2nd or 3rd largest Muslim population in the world, inhabited also by ethnic strains of virtually all origins. From the point of view of the common cultural moorings, even these broad categories had their own shades of differences: the "hindu" of the north had very little in common in culture with the "hindu" of south, or the muslims of kerala (who came as traders via the sea route and got assimilated in the local community) had few commonalities with muslims of the north (who came as "invaders").... Thankfully, this diversity of India has still not changed... which is the charm of India ;0).

  • in the beginning, there was also not just one common currency in circulation. There was the Indian Rupee, which was introduced by the British government in its ruled territory around 1915-1917. However, independence also brought the princely states into the fold of "India" - and along with them other currencies, such as the Hyderabad Rupee, Travencore Rupee, the Kutch Kori, the French India Rupee, etc... Since it takes money to print money (or make coins), many of these currencies remained in use for many years after independence, before they could be phased out.

  • Perhaps, the major challenge was, how to communicate to - and integrate into a single identity - a country which had no common "national language" that everyone understands. Even at that time, the Indian Constitution recognised 14 scheduled "official" languages (grown to 22 now) and a few hundred dialect... India resembled (and still does;) the Tower of Babel - the 1961 census actually reported 1549 "mother toungues"!!!

    Hindi was proposed to be the national language, but more than half of India did not understand Hindi (and still does not). The recommendation got postponed till 1965 due to protest from the southern India - an issue that has not been resolved... Even now, only 30-40% of Indian population understand Hindi (and barely 30mn out of a population of more than 1bn speak/understand English)... So we continue with a pragmatic "twin language" system.

    To make things more complicated, there were hardly any "communication channels" which could connect one across different segments and people, for instance, even by mid-50s:

  • Radio: There were just 1.5mn radios in the country with a population of nearly 400mn. Govt of India had started a scheme of providing "community radios" to villages, but there were just 40,000 such community radios for a country of more than 500,000 viallages. In any case, radios required electricity, and there were just 37,000 towns and villages which had electricity. So the radios worked on batteries, and when the batteries would run down, one had to get them from the district headquarters. Needless the say, there was no repair facility in the villages...

  • Newspapers: The overall circualation of all newspapers (English and vernacular) was just around 3mn. Most of them were available in big cities and towns... In any case, given the overall 18% literacy rate, that was hardly a medium to communicate to people...

  • Meetings and Personal Contacts: 80% of India lived in places that were at least 20miles away from any motorable road... (some of the unsung heros in the making of India were a lot called the Village Level Workers. As a part of the Govt of India's Community Development programme, these thousands and thousands of young people spread across the remote villages of the country, lived there, and coached/coaxed the villagers on issues ranging from basic hygeine, adult literacy, to enfranchise, better ways of farming, etc.)...
    etc. etc...

    In an article written in 1959 in the Atlantic Monthly, journalist Arthur Bonner described an incident, that perhaps examplifies the "connectivity" (or the lack of it) in India at that time...

      "I stopped at a post office and saw, in a corner, a short spear with two little bells attached to the shaft near the head. I recognized it, from descriptions in books, as a spear carried by dak (mail) runners. I thought it was a relic of the days when the mail was delivered by runners who needed the spear to protect themselves from robbers and wild animals and who carried the bells just to keep up their courage as they jogged along jungle trails. But the postmaster assured me that he still delivered some of his mail by runners who took three days going out along one route and three days coming back by another."

    So isn't is a miracle of sorts, that now we have something called "India"?... which we can describe and dentify tangibly, recognise as a defined entity, feel happy/peeved about, pass judgements upon, or eulogise, its previous stakeholders, etc...

    ...and to conclude, an episode that happened just about 10 years back:

      "In 1996, on 15th August, the Independence Day, the 9th Indian Prime Minister, HP Deve Gowda stood up and delivered the traditional Independence Day Address to the Nation from the Red Fort. Like his previous eight predecessors in previous 49 years, he delivered this traditional speech in the "national" language – Hindi.

      There was a change, though - Deve Gowda hailed from Karnataka, and did not know either Hindi or English – and so, his Hindi speech had to be written in his native Kannada script... and was telecasted across the nation.

      I mean, where else in the world - but in India - can the Chief Executive of a nation make a speech in a language that he does not understand, addressing an audience of whom more than 60% also do not know that language!!!

    ...More than a century back, during the freedom struggle, justice Ranade had described India as a "Nation-in-Making"... In many ways, we remain a nation-in-making.. even now!!!...

  • Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Indian History Trivia (2): The Foundations of "Nehruvian Socialism"

    Continuing from the previous post, here is one more trivia:

    Teaching in a B-School has an advantage of getting exposed to curious gaps in information... and the time/luxury to follow-up to find the missing parts.

    Over a period of years, one such gap I found was about the industrial/economic model that India adapted after independence in 1947 - often derided as the "Nehruvian Socialism" that kept India isolated and "dis-enfranchised" from the global economy.

    What was the "gap"?

    The Industrial Policy Resolution, which architected the Socialist Model of pre-91 Indian Economy (government monopoly over core sectors, reservation/protection over other sectors, etc.) was passed in 1948 (and ratified in 1956)...

    ...but the first Indian Parliament got elected only in 1952 elections!!!

    The missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle was: So who governed - and decided the destiny of the nation - during the intervening 1947-1952? And who designed and approved this, nowadays much maligned, economic model?

    When India got independence in August 1947, it did not have a constitution, and had no fully elected parliament. But it did have a representative body - the Constituent Assembly, whose task was to give India its constitution, and to lay down the basic policy framework.

    The Constituent Assembly was the first "parliament" of India, consisting of 389 representatives - 296 of which were elected in an election held during 1946, and another 93 who were represntatitives of the Princely States. The Indian National Congress had got a decisive majority in the elections, winning close to 220 elected seats, and Nehru was elected the interim Prime Minister.

    The Industrial Policy Resolution, 1948, which adapted the "socialist pattern of society as objective of the social and economic policies" was created and passed during this time. It layed the template of the economic model India was to follow in the coming decades. Among other things. It included the proposal for:

  • Government's monopoly over production of arms and ammunition, atomic energy, and ownership and management of railway transport.

  • Government's control over and participation in the core industries vital to country's development, e.g., Coal, Iron and Steel, Aircraft manufacture, Shipbuilding, production of telephone, electricity, telegraph and wireless apparatus, etc. This laid the blueprint of the public sector units.

  • Government's right to regulate iudustries such as Salt, Automobiles and tractors, Machine tools, Heavy chemicals, Fertilizers and pharmaceuticals and drugs, Cement, Sugar, etc.

  • Government's right to nationalise certain industries, if so required in public interest

  • Reservations/protections for some industries in which large private players could not enter.. etc.

    Surprisingly, however, this policy framework was not the handiwork of Nehru (even though he agreed with it), or even of any Congress party member.

    For all his ideological leanings (and critics), Nehru was, and remained, "inclusive" in his approach to governance. In spite of the overwhelming majority of the Congress party, his 14-member cabinet of ministers in the Constituent Assembly had 5 invited non-Congress members.

    One of them was a brilliant young nationalist leader and scholar, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. He had been the youngest Vice-Chanceller of Calcutta University at the age 33, and commanded a high credibity as the President of the Hindu Mahasabha.

    In Nehru's cabinet, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was the Union Minister of Industry and Supply - and the brain behind India's "socialist" industrial policy.

    Nehru and Mukherjee, however, had major ideological differences over India's policies towards the newly-formed Pakistan, and in 1950 Dr Mukherjee resigned from Nehru's cabinet over these disagreements. He went ahead and founded the Bhartiya Jana Sangh party (now evolved into the current Bhartiya Janta Party) in 1951, and became its first president. One of his ardent admirers and disciple, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, later became the Prime Minister of India in the 90s...

    In 1953, Dr Shyama Prsad Mukherjee was arrested in Srinagar while agitating for Hindu rights in Kashmir, and died under "mysterious circumstances" while in detention at an early age of 47...

    That time and era, along with its major players and actors, is over and gone. But one nondescript anamolous footnote in the history of modern India will remain: The foundations of "Nehruvian Socialistic Model of Economic Development" were laid by one his bitterest critics, and the founder of a party which opposed this model, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh/BJP!!!

    [Postcript: What was Nehru's own stand on the public and private sectors? In 1956, when the India's Industrial Policy Resolution was ratified by the parliament, Nehru said: "I think it is advantageous for the public sector to have a competitive private sector to keep it up to the mark... I feel that, if the private sector... is abolished completely, there is a risk of the public sector becoming slow, not having that urge and push behind it."

  • Sunday, April 23, 2006

    Indian History Trivia (1): The Story of Junagadh

    [NOTE:The reason for this post (and hopefully, some more to come):

    ... as history moves, many insightfully delightful trivia of history get buried under a simplified black-n-white version of the historical experience.

    The popularity of the simplified version is because it is uncomplicated and clearly distinguishes the "good" from the "bad" - and therefore, is very convenient for the MSM and the 0/1-binary thinkers (which inhabit the MSM, ideologue community and even the blogosphere).

    History, on the other hand, is primarily amoral, and has a tendency of punching holes in the contemporary zeitgeist...

    So here goes the "first installment" of this series - based on "facts" as I know them: just a story often not told/known... and no ideological implications

    While we often say that India got its independence from the British on August 15, 1947, actually, the British never ever ruled the entire India as we know it now - at least not technically.

    There was one part which was the British India (Direct Rule), and there was the other part consisting of 562 Princely States, covering roughly 40% of land-mass of what we now call India (Indirect Rule). About 100+ of these Princely States were quite large, e.g., Travancore, Hyderabad, Baroda, Mysore, Kashmir, etc., while many were small "jagirdaris"...

    While the British India was governed by the British Parliament, there was a separate political arrangements with the princes, and it came under something/somebody called "Chancellor of Indian Princes".

    In early 1947, when England decided to free India, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act (in June 1947, which marked the foundation of two separate nations - India and Pakistan).

    However, this Act did not apply to the Princely States. The freedom to these states was given by a separate Cabinet Memorendum, which declared that the British Government will cease to have any political or defense arrangements ("Power of Paramountcy") with the Princely States. The memorendum was clear that the Princely States were free to decide to either join India or Pakistan before August 1947 - or devise their own sovereign political system for self-governance.

    Most of the Princely States were small and decided to join either India or Pakistan before independence (in return for a promise that the government will maintain their Princely perquisites, which finally got abolished in 1970-71).

    There were, however, three exceptions:
  • Hyderabad (which had a population of around 1.4cr, with a muslim Nizam and around 80% hindu population): the Nizam of Hyderabad either wanted to remain sovereign (and become a part of the British Commonwealth), or join Pakistan (which would have made an interesting map of Pakistan;)... Anyway, the state was annexed by India.

  • Kashmir (with a hindu Maharaja and a muslim majority in the population, and, to make thing more complicated, an adjoining borders with Pakistan): There is a confusion about whether the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, ever signed the letter of accesion with India or not - he had not done that till India and Pakistan became independent in August 1947. Some records say that he wanted to be a part of India, but by then the situation had gone out of hand, and Indian army landed to curb the infilteration... etc. etc... but that remains a murky, messy situation... Even now!

    ...and Junagadh

    Junagadh was an interesting case:

    The Nawab of Junagadh was a muslim, with a large hindu population. Geographically, it was a peculiar piece of the jigsaw in what were to become the two nations of India and Pakistan. It was a state in erswhile Saurashtra, surrounded by the hindu Kathiawad regions (which had acceded to India) on three sides, and facing the Arabian Sea on the fourth.

    The Nawab, however, decided to join Pakistan, which predictably did not go very well with the local populace, and they revolted. The neighbouring states also added to pressure by creating blckade ("chakka jam") to any grains, vegetables, or material from reaching Junagadh.

    As the revolt grew, the Nawab fled to Pakistan along with his family, taking almost all state treasury with him, and leaving his Deewan (Prime Minister) to manage the affairs.

    The Deewan of Junagadh did the best that he could have done to bring the situation to normalcy. The situation continued to worsen. The newly formed Pakistan was still dealing its own issues to extend help to a distant Junagadh... and finally the Deewan wrote to Jinnah that since Pakistan was not been able to help Junagadh, and the situation was worsening, he would be handing over Junagadh to Indian government - which he did around Octover 47, through a letter to the Regional Commisioner of Saurashtra, Mr Buch.

    A few months later a plebicite was held in which more than 190,000 voted to be a part of India, while only 91 favoured to be a part of Pakistan (Pakistan contested the results, and Indian government upheld it... as one would have anticipated)

    But here is the somewhat poetic twist to the story:

    The Deewan of Junagadh was a person called Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto. His son, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, grew up to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan (was executed by Zia-hl-Haq in 1977)... And his grand-daughter, Benazir Bhutto served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice in the late 80s and the 90s.

  • Friday, April 21, 2006

    India: A Nation in Debt?

    A recent news item in The Times of India (April 18, 2006, Kolkata Edition) shares some interesting data about the growth of consumer debt in India, based on loans given by banks:

  • Between 1991 and 2005, the outstanding debt of and average Indian household increased more than 19-times - from Rs.675/- to Rs.13,000/-.

  • The overall consumer loans from banks increased more than 26-times, from Rs.9,599/-crore to Rs.2,58,583/-crores.

  • While the loans for consumer durables, grew only 3.75-times, the housing loans increased by more than 40-fold, from Rs.3,297/-crore (1991) to Rs.1,34,653/-crore (2005)... as the article points out, these loans do not indicate reckless spending, but a trend to borrow for building solid assets.

  • Another good news is that the outstanding loans on credit cards account for only Rs.8,405/-crores - merely 3% of the total retail outstanding.

    Unfortunately, the article does not explain the implications of the more than 22-fold growth of "personal loans" - from Rs.5,288/-crores to Rs.1,20,120/-crores, which account for more than 45% of loans taken by the Indians.

    Times sure have changed... a couple of decades back, being in debt was a social stigma. One saved, and then one spent/bought assets. Now, apparently, one buys and then pays... being in debt increases one's "credit worthiness". And if it is a mass phenomenon, then it is an indicator of "consumer confidence", a healthy symptom of a growing economy.

    So, Does this mean that India is
    -a booming economy?
    -a nation in increasing debt?

  • Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    An Un-Glamorous Public Protest in New Delhi

    During last one month, New Delhi, the Indian capital has seen two public protests.

    One which was extremely rang de basanti-type photogenic protest, and inspired the urban middle class imagination to join for the cause. It was about the acquital of the accused in the murder of a model in an up-market café. It was well-covered/ discussed in MSM and public for a - and brought the issue of justice the "common man" to the forefront.

    But this post is about the other less-covered/discussed and less-glamorous public protest by those who are perhaps not even considered as "public" by those others who define themselves as public:

    Here is what this protest is all about - The DID-Victims:

    Economists, policy planners and politicians have this very deceptive term called "Development-Induced-Displacement" (DID).

    It is deceptive since at its best, it seems to communicate that one is the beneficiary of development - and at its worst, that one is a martyr for a larger nobler cause (as is sometimes ambiguously mentioned - due to "compelling and overriding public interests")

    What it actually means is being forcibly uprooted, losing one's livelihood, heritage and community to make way for someone else's development....

    This issue is particularly relevant for India, where since independence the estimates of DID-victims ranges from 21mn to 40mn. In 1994 the Govt. of India admitted that 10 million people displaced by dams, mines, deforestation and other development projects were still "awaiting rehabilitation" (a figure that is considered as gross underestimation by most independent researchers).

    Since I had played a very miniscule - but personally insightful and still, troubling - part in the "calculation" - for want of a better term - of the number of those needing rehabilitation about 2 decades back, I can vouch for the inaccuracies... That was My Road to Harsud... and contributed to such havocs in lives of people:

    One of the major contributions to this "DID population" comes from the construction of large dams (which often blur the boundaries between a developmental project and man-made disasters). The UN World Commission on Dams concluded that large dams "produce benefits that accrue to groups other than those who bear the social and environmental costs".

    India is the third largest dam-builder in the world, with about 3600 large dams and another 700 or so under construction.

    However, this post is not even about building of a dam, but about raising the height of a dam - The Sardar Sarovar Dam - by about 10 meters - from 110.64m up to 121.92m, which will submerge an additional 220 villages - and 35,000 families - in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra...

    ...and without any assurance of rehabilitation (Going by the past records, only about 10% of the total number of families, affected due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam, have been rehabilitated over the years...)

    This decision was taken by the Narmada Control Authority in March '06 - in contravention to the decisions by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and the Supreme Court order of October 2000 and March 2005, upholding the right of the DID-victims to land based rehabilitation 6 months prior to submergence.

    This is a public protest to uphold justice given to citizens of India by its own Supreme Court - and yet, ironically, there will be no candle marches, TV interviews and debates, newspaper editorials to demand that the judgement be implemented.

    So in case you are really interested to contribute your small - yet significant - bit, here is what you can do:

    - sign a petition

    - join them at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

    - send mails/fax to the officials/politicians given in this list:

    ...and just in case, you are not aware of what this is all about, here is a backgrounder:
    The Greater Common Good

    Development-induced displacement: internal affair or international human rights issue?
    Non-violent struggles are being ignored
    Global Overview of DID
    Large Dams and Displacement in India
    Road to Harsud