A Squeamish Surreal Charade
By Prabhat Sharan
05 February, 2010
Media Praxis/The Verdict
Red flames shoots and scorches the cloudless skies. In the city shrouded in a dark mass of toxic fumes with sleep-choked, stench-soaked streets running and twisting amidst architectural monstrous fulmination of high-rise apartments, a white cane taps the corner of a pylon near a gutter.
The sightless man in the tenebrous morning counts small tricolour flags clutched in his hand. The sale will fetch him his next meal. Above in the apartments with identical balconies, rooms adorned from advertising supplements, the flush sounds ticks the sooty dark dawn silence in identical toilets and newspapers creep under the door announcing the entry of India into “senior citizen club.” Changing India. India changes. Superpower India. Economic Powerhouse India. The headlines like photocopies of each other gushes over the growth of tumours and cancerous cells.
The support for such cancerous cellular social structures has been going since pre-1947. Indian sub-continent is a classic case of a festering wound being devoured for the past 200 years. The drama of oppression and exploitation continues since the prey is yet to be left depleted, impoverished and exhausted totally.
Under the garb of an illusory freedom, the concept of self-reliance and a holistic natural development, India every year at the point of bayonet carries out ritual of hoisting a flag and proclaiming from the ramparts of Red Fort the need for strengthening the “new world order with the best possible option, European-American hegemony.” (January
1994, The Economist)
Most of the colonies of the European nations in early 20th century after World War II cocooned themselves in the illusion that they have freed themselves from the clutches of their rulers, only to find later it was just a superficial façade of power transfer and nothing else. The claws of the rulers continue to strangle the masses and the land. And so has been the case of India.
On August 15, 1947, “India’s freedom was ushered in with the playing of ‘God Save the King’ followed by Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka.” ( Manserg.N -Editor-in-Chief-Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power (ToP,) XI, pp 107,127,146,156,279;XII, p 731.)
“Nehru toasted the health of the British king and Mountbatten toasted the health of the Dominion government. It was symbolical that the Union Jack was not lowered; it flew proudly when the Indian flag was unfurled.” (Alan Campbell-Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten pp 158 and ibid 161)
An official memorandum of the Indian government in September 1949 declared: “The policy of the Government of India was to allow foreign capital to come in to operate freely in the industrial field….Every attempt must be made to secure the maximum possible influx of foreign capital in the shortest possible time.” (L.Natarajan, American Shadow over India, Page 7)
The Birlas’ in Eastern Economist wrote in a leading article: “India for many years to come will need foreign capital and technical skill which must come mainly from the United States and Great Britain…India’s hunger for food this year is great but her hunger for capital-if less evident-is nearly as deep.” (“India and the United States,” Eastern Economist, 14 Jan.1949 p 44.)
Sixty-three years of ‘Independence,’ and sixty years after declaring itself a republic state, a democratic egalitarian society continues to remain an illusion. A pie in the sky.
The brouhaha, that is created by every structural institution of the State as well as the corporate establishment media which goes overboard while celebrating Republic Day indicates as to how the imperialist nations in collaboration with the national industrialists have managed to infuse a belief into the masses of an illusory golden chapter that opened for the nation six decades back. It may be now just a susurrus but then the reality behind the transfer of power is slowly emerging out from the cocoon wrapped and buried beneath the tomes of documents kept away from the masses. In a brilliant scholarly study of the transfer of power, S K Ghosh in his book: “The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: Its Genes Growth and Character,” states, “Though India did not become free, an important change occurred. From a colony, India became a semi-colony: India’s dependence on Britain yielded to dependence on several imperialist powers, chief among which is the U.S.A.”
It is precisely because of this neo-colonial nature infused into the Indian thought culture, that echoes of Western superiority continues to reverberate in every newspapers and television news channels. Nothing has changed and Indian rulers continue to wallow and relish wallowing in the swamp of neo-colonial opium like they did during the colonial regime.
Britishers after the end of World War II - realised that the masses of the country-be it workers, farmers, youth, or personnel from the imperial armed forces- were certainly not sympathetic to the sentiments espoused by the Congress leaders. Congress leaders along with their national bourgeoisie patrons also tacitly accepted the fears of the imperial rulers.
People were simmering with anti-British feeling and Nehru analysed the revolutionary situation correctly and said that India was on the “edge of a volcano,” and that “We are sitting on the top of a volcano.” (ToP, VI, page 1117). Another leader of the European group in the Central Legislative Assembly, P J Griffiths also said: “India, in the opinion of many, was on the verge of revolution.” (R P Dutt, Freedom for India, London, 1946, front cover page)
The end of WW II also saw British imperialism wracked by intrinsic contradictions: US imperialism on which it depended for its post war reconstruction on one hand, national liberation struggles in colonies and spread of international communism on the other hand. The liberation struggle on Indian soil was one of the most, thorny of all the liberation struggles. The INA battle and then conflagration in Calcutta, and subsequent strikes in Bombay by Royal Indian Navy, Royal Indian Air Force and the postal strike had made the once arrogant ruling Britishers cowering and scouring, for leaders who could help them mitigate the anger and perpetuate their rule in another form. Stalwarts and legendary leaders like Sardar Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, S.K. Patil (secretary of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee, and later, minister of the central government,) Jinnah and Chundrigar of the Muslim League brazenly opposed the call for a strike by the Naval Central Strike Committee and pleaded with the navy men to surrender to British rulers.
Patil had secret confabulations with the Bombay governor and the Congress and the League placed ‘volunteers’ at the service of the Raj to “assist the police” and British army units, to fight the people.” (Bombay Governor John Colville’s report to Viceroy Wavell, 27 February 1946, ToP, VI, pp. 1079-84)
In fact Nehru even had the gall, not just to denounce the strikers but even, threaten them: “The R I N Central Strike Committee had no business to issue such an appeal to the city of Bombay to observe a sympathy strike. I will not tolerate this kind of thing.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru XV,pp.4.13; TOP, VI, p. 1083) Strangely, after a plethora of strikes, the strikers who hitherto had dissolved the communal stratification and discrimination, became communal overnight and after the communal carnage on 24 January 1947, the director of the Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, noted for the benefit of the policy-makers:“The game so far has been well played, in that (a) both Congress and the League have been brought into the Central Government; (b) the Indian problem has been thrust into its appropriate plane of communalism; … Grave communal disorder must not disturb us into action which would reproduce anti-British agitation.” (ToP IX, p. 542)
The preacher of non-violence went one step ahead in rationalisation. Gandhi told Wavell after the communal carnage in Calcutta, “that if a blood-bath was necessary, it would come about inspite of non-violence.” (ToP, VII, p.262; VIII, p.313; X, p.69; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, LXXXV, 17)
But all these manoeuvres were extremely necessary as the imperial coffers of Great Britain was fast depleting in the post-war reconstruction. After the so-called transfer of power for several years the Indian rupee remained tied to British sterling. In September 1949, circumstances forced Britain to devalue pound in relation to the dollar by 30.5 per cent and the result: India had to devalue the rupee in the same proportion. John Matthai, India’s then Finance Minister, remarked that he “had to act, not on conviction born of logical necessity but, so to speak, by the compulsion of events; since sterling was devalued, there was no other course open to us.” As a result, India’s exports became cheaper and imports dearer and people became poorer.
Ghosh in his study on the economics of power transfer points out, “The sterling debts – between Rs 1,700 crore and Rs 1,800 crore in 1946 – tied the Indian economy to the metropolitan economy. These sterling balances, which Britain owed to India, represented the value of goods and services compulsorily taken away from India during World War II and in the months following it. Indian food, raw materials, textiles and other finished products were taken away not only for the army but for the civil population of England and other countries when the Indian people were victims of acute scarcity, steep inflation, sky-kissing prices, black markets and famine. The goods were taken by Britain at controlled or negotiated prices at which Indians could not get them.”
And Indians had to pay price with millions of lives. And the silent killings of millions took place in a bid to continue the illusory sovereignty of the country.
After the gradual decline of sterling, indigenous capitalists realised that the time has come to tie Indian currency other than sterling. In 1951, G.D.Birla proposed the creation of an Indo-American Development Corporation with business magnates and officials of the two countries – a kind of “super trust directing the future of Indian economy.” (Hindustan Times, 5.11.1951). And in 1952, the then India’s Ambassador to the USA B.R.Sen, “recommended an investment company in which both American and Indian private capital would participate initially on a 70:30 per cent basis”. (New York Times 30 January 1952) It’s a travesty of time that like the representative of the Indian government and an outstanding leader of the Indian big bourgeoisie in 1950s who were keen that the future of the Indian economy should bedirected not by the Indians but chiefly by U.S. big capital, their successors are still crawling, the same path with more servility. On no account can any country following such paths be called an independent republic. At the most a dominion which under the garb of formal independence quietly functions as a semi-colony wherein the indigenous ruling class wields the political power within the framework of chalked out by imperialist powers.
Prabhat Sharan is a Senior Journalist and Editor of MEDIA PRAXIS, monthly magazine published from Mumbai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org