February 11, 2016

That murder most foul - Those who killed Gandhi also killed much of India's potential (A.M.)

The Telegraph - February 11 , 2016

That murder most foul - Those who killed Gandhi also killed much of India's potential
First Person Singular- A.M.

This piece is being written on January 30, the day Mahatma Gandhi was murdered 68 years ago by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh zealots. The immediate provocation for the dastardly act from the point of view of the murderers was Gandhi's going on fast and thereby forcing Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel - the decision-makers in the Congress administration in New Delhi - to release a certain amount of foreign exchange which in all fairness belonged to the government of Pakistan but had been blocked from transfer by the Reserve Bank of India. Gandhi till the very end tried to prevent the partitioning of the country, but both Nehru and Patel were in a desperate hurry to take over the reins of power, never mind that the country had to be divided to attain the objective. Gandhi had to concede defeat, but was still keen that the two new countries, India and Pakistan, maintain peace and amity. Quibbling over such a relatively minor matter as returning funds that legitimately belonged to Pakistan was not to his liking. What he disfavoured was however very much to the liking of the mad crowd of communal extremists who constituted - and continue to constitute - the sangh parivar. Gandhi could be the father of the nation to most people, but to the zealots he was a Pakistani agent who richly deserved to be removed from earth.

They killed Gandhi, but it would seem in retrospect that they also killed simultaneously the possibility of India ever emerging as a modern, prosperous nation. During the last few years of his life, Gandhi stressed the crucial necessity of communal harmony; alongside he preached, ceaselessly, the vital need to practice austerity. The nation, in his view, must be austere in all aspects of living. His message had perhaps some relationship with the concept of 'plain living and high thinking'; it had, though, a wider significance. Obviously he was not advising 90 per cent of the nation, who were horrendously poor and could barely exist, to be austere. He was addressing the fortunate 10 per cent at the top to restrain themselves, to keep away from showing off and to abstain from conspicuous consumption. This was of course essential to maintain inter-class harmony. Gandhi was no believer in class war; call it his blind spot, he sincerely believed the rich had a role to play as 'trustees' of the poor. A trustee had to be modest in his demeanour, otherwise he would fail to receive credibility from the poor.

Amusingly enough, the Soviet state set up by Lenin did precisely what Gandhi advised. It was a new country which was born out of a somewhat chancy revolution, was surrounded by hostile governments which would not trade with it or help it in any matter big or small. The Soviet Union therefore, out of sheer necessity, had to practise austerity. None from outside was going to help you, you therefore have to develop on your own, beginning from scratch. The Soviet Union was essentially made up of Czarist Russia and its outlying dominions, with little or no industry, some rich in natural resources, others mostly barren. The communist regime's first venture had to be ensuring foodgrains for all people; since the kulaks could not be trusted, their land was taken over and converted into collective farms. The next step was to extract enough grains and agricultural raw materials as well as workers from the farm sector to initiate and sustain industrial output. The priority in the industrial sector had to be defence production in order to have enough weaponry to resist aggression from outside; once that task was accomplished, attention needed to be shifted to production of capital goods, which, in turn, could produce machinery that could produce machine tools and only subsequently the production of consumer goods. Such a schedule of tasks could be completed if the nation practises austerity. The Soviet prescription was simple: shut off the possibility of high consumption by going slow on the production of equipment which produce consumer goods, particularly luxury commodities. Several birds would be killed by one stone. Since most of the industries were owned by the State, few rich people were in any case around, and even these few could not spend money on luxury consumption since there was no or little production of luxury items. Given the fact that the proportion of affluent persons was so small, there was no class tension. The outstanding achievement of the austerity programme was consistently record production of industrial goods, which in turn helped the Soviet Union to withstand the Nazi invaders, annihilate them and ensure the proud entry of the Red Army right in the heart of Berlin.

All this is past history. What happened in the subsequent decades in the Soviet Union can be for the present set aside. What is of relevance is the similarity between the post-1917 situation in the Soviet state and the conditions in India in the immediate post-Independence period. Our country in 1947 was, in fact, far poorer than Russia and its attached territories in 1917. Both countries needed all round economic development and were lacking adequate resources for achieving the purpose. There was a difference though. The Nehru regime in New Delhi had in its possession what in the jargon is known as a 'degree of freedom' that Lenin lacked. In this context, the adage that the best defence policy of a poor country is to have an intelligent foreign policy assumes a special significance. Mahatma Gandhi, had he been around for a few more years after Independence, would certainly have advised the administration in New Delhi to combine a policy of abstinence with a wise foreign policy which strives to be on the best terms with neighbours far and near. He had, of course, deep faith in the efficacy of non-violence; he was equally a firm believer in austerity. It is more than a certainty that he would have continually advised the Congress government to minimize defence spending and concentrate most of the budgetary outlay on improvement in agriculture, including food output, education and health services. Limiting defence expenditure pre-supposes a wise foreign policy which, let it be repeated, tries to develop friendly relations with neighbouring countries. Gandhi's moral influence over the nation could not be altogether overlooked by the defence strategists in New Delhi.

Lenin and his comrades in the Soviet Union did not possess this foreign policy option: they could have no foreign policy since no external power was prepared to deal with them. What Lenin would have liked to have but did not have Nehru and Patel had, yet they squandered it away. They went against Gandhi's admonitions, and began picking quarrels with Pakistan. Kashmir soon appeared in the picture, and there was no Mahatma around to advise restraint. Had the Mahatma been alive, it is altogether probable that he would have advised Nehru that the confrontation with China over the so-called sanctity of the 'McMahon Line' was pointless. Gandhi might actually have remonstrated with Nehru for the latter's obsession with an imperialist legacy, and suggested the acceptance of Zhou En-lai's compromise proposal which legitimized India's claim over Arunachal Pradesh while conceding to China the accommodation it wanted around the Xinjiang region.

But Gandhi was not there, he had been murdered by the wild ones in the RSS. India proudly fluttered the slogan of defence over development. The consequence half-a-century later is that we have neither development nor adequate defence capability. We sorely seek American assistance both in formulating our defence policy and in the production of defence goods. At the other end, while we have the largest number of billionaires even exceeding the number in the United States of America, we continue to be one of the world's poorest nations with no domestic market for goods and services, so much so that even American capital would not come to our country but would invest in China and elsewhere; our own capitalists themselves are busy looking for foreign outlets rather than invest back home.

The RSS chose to murder Gandhi; in the process, they conceivably murdered the prospect of our growing into a self-reliant, affluent and proud economy.