Periyar, Bhagat Singh, untouchability and poverty

And a very faulty analogy

In a piece commemorating Bhagat Singh’s hanging by the colonial British government, historian Irfan Habib describes how the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu interpreted his politics. Bhagat Singh’s views on the political use of religion struck a chord down south. As did his economics.

Periyar wrote further in the editorial that “to abolish untouchability we have to abolish the principle of upper and lower castes. In the same manner, to remove poverty we have to do away with the principle of capitalists and wage-earners. So socialism and communism are nothing but getting rid of these concepts and systems. These are the principles Bhagat Singh stood for.” [The Hindu]

The fallacy should be clear: one cannot change one’s caste, but one can get richer.

Now it is possible to argue, with some justification, that the social structure and colonial policies made it practically impossible for people of the early decades of the 20th century to break out of poverty. But the analogy was philosophically wrong then, as it is now. Economic fortunes of people did change, albeit very slowly. Instead of calling for economic freedom and individual liberty that would create avenues for upward mobility that generation of leaders fell for the easy seduction of Socialism and Communism.

Those short-cuts didn’t work. The tragedy is that almost a century later, with abundant empirical evidence that these short-cuts are cul-de-sacs, India’s leaders still fall for the same faulty premise.

Still keeping Victoria’s promise

But breaking Sardar Patel’s

There were over 554 Princely States within India’s boundaries in 1947. By the time the Constitution came into force on January 26th, 1950, every one of them had acceded to the Republic of India. That feat was made possible by the energy and ingenuity of two men: V P Menon, the secretary of the States department, and his political boss, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the Home Minister. Together the cajoled, coerced or convinced the Maharajas, Nawabs and other rulers to hand over political power to the Indian Union. In return the Republic of India made them solemn promises: their pensions, special privileges and rights were enshrined in the Constitution.

On October 12th, 1949, defending the guarantees that the Indian Union gave the former rulers, Sardar Patel told the Constituent Assembly: “These guarantees form part of the historic settlements which enshrine in them the consummation of the great ideal of geographical, political and economic unification of India, an ideal which, for centuries, remained a distant dream and which appeared as remote and as difficult of attainment as ever even after the advent of Indian independence… the minimum which we could offer to them as quid pro quo for parting with their ruling powers was to guaranteed to them privy purses and certain privileges on a reasonable and defined basis. the privy purse settlements are therefore in the nature of consideration for the surrender by the Rulers of all their ruling powers and also for the dissolution of the States as separate units… The Rulers have now discharged their part of the obligations to by transferring all ruling powers and by agreeing to the integration of their States. The main part of our obligation under these agreements is to ensure that the guarantees given by us in respect of Privy Purses are fully implemented. Our failure to do so would be a breach of faith and seriously prejudice the stability of the new order.”

Just two decades later, the Indira Gandhi government breached that faith. On December 28th, 1971, the 26th amendment to the Constitution abolished the privy purses and withdrew the recognition granted to all former rulers.

All, that is, except the Prince of Arcot.

Why the exception? Because, it turns out, that the Government of India is honouring a pledge made by Queen Victoria in 1867. The British colonial government, after applying the notorious doctrine of lapse, appointed Azim Jah as the Prince of Arcot, and awarded him a tax-free pension in perpetuity.

The Indian republic broke the promise it made. But it’s still keeping the one Queen Victoria made. Now isn’t that something?

Grammar of Anarchy

Lessons from another Maharashtrian

Those who take to the streets often invoke Mahatma Gandhi. Like Raj Thackeray. Surely, if the Mahatma could break the law, then it’s perfectly kosher for lesser mortals to do so?

Not quite.

Because once the Constitution of India came into force in 1950, the rules of the game changed. In one of his last speeches to the Constituent Assembly, on 25th November 1949, Dr B R Ambedkar said:

If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. [Archives of the Parliament of India]

That manoos from Maharashtra got it right: political violence—and non-violence outside the constitutional route—are the grammar of anarchy. So don’t let the invocation of Gandhi be a fig leaf for practices that have no place in a democracy.

Swatantra and secularism: setting the record straight

S V Raju responds to Vir Sanghvi’s allegations

In this article in Hindustan Times, among other things, Vir Sanghvi clubs Jan Sangh and Swantantra Party together and claims that they “made the point that there was no harm in declaring that Hinduism was India’s state religion”. We asked S V Raju, an office-bearer of the erstwhile Swatantra Party, whether this was accurate.

Mr Raju’s response (via email):
During the life of the Swatantra Party there were many epithets hurled at us beginning with Nehru’s “Rich Man’s Party” and a “Party of Rajas and Maharajas” but none called us a a “Hindu” party much less one advocating a ‘Hindu State’. No one clubbed us with the Jan Sangh other than drawing attention to the fact that we had apparently similar economic policies. Even this was a half truth.

Though I was sure Sanghvi was talking nonsense about the Swatantra Party, I looked up some documents, including my Party’s three manifestos for the ’62, ’67 and ’71 elections and confirmed that none of them have we even remotely suggested support for a Hindu State.

It is a fact that both Rajaji and Masani used the word ‘secular’ very sparingly. Masani preferred to describe India as a ‘non-denominational democracy’ and Rajaji in an article on ‘The Secular State’ had to say this: “It has been repeatedly affirmed that when the Indian Constitution laid down that India shall be a secular state it was not intended that the State shall discourage or be hostile towards religion, but that what was intended was impartiality towards all creeds and denominations. It was a refusal to accept the theory that different religions made different nations or that the State should belong to one religion more than another.”

He wrote this on August 3, 1957 in Swarajya. This formed the basis of the Swatantra Party’s policy, founded two years later, on the relationship between religion and the State. Sanghvi’s hindsight is, to say the least, flawed.

From the archives: Any party you like. As long as it’s socialist (Mr Raju responds)