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Gandhi & Nehru 1942

Gandhi & Nehru 1942

Indians have the legal right to protest and the right to contrary views. The constitution does not allow violence or destruction of private property in expressing personal views. Nor does it allow for false statements that could lead to harm others.

Perhaps the best advice if some artist or writer offends you is don’t read or see it. When books are banned because of religious sensibilities it seems to me book sales – or sales pirated copies in the side streets go up.

However a culture of complaint has been spreading over India.

Protest is appropriate but violent protest and the destruction of property is not.

Early Indian nationalism had strong religious overtones . Gandhi realised the need to transcend its potential divisiveness, teaching Sarva Dharma Sambhava equality of all religions.

Concerned over primal passions evoked by religion, Nehru was a universal secularist who moderated to a more Gandhian view, perhaps concerned by how to moderated the deep wound of to the new nation during Partition.

Nehru said “Some people think that it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is a state  which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities” (Sarveralli Gopal, Jawalharlal Nehru: An Anthology). This could be seen as either an extra dimension to secularism or as a tolerant multi faith republic. Religion is deeply embedded in Indian public life.

As Hinduism numerically predominates India minority groups may feel pressured to deny their heritage. So should there be a wall between state and religion? Or concessions that encourage the ancient minority religions to feel welcome?

As Lloyd I. Rudolph (in Pursuit of Lakshmi: The Political Economy of the Indian State) reminds us Nehru  ran India with essentially an urban industrial strategy coalition of urban and  rural interests. With a small but powerful administration  of managerial professionals, from the 2nd and 3rd five year plans a private sector welcomed freedom from foreign competition.

The English educated middle class manned senior services, built the public sector staffed large firms in modern private sector.

The large land holding  rural notables were junior partners who managed to survive or block land ceiling legislation. As they control state governments, they consented to import substitution and industrial self reliance, middle class control of central government or the advantages accrued to the urban elites.

But from the 1970 to 80’s, the rise of conservative Hindutva and the conflicting demands of caste and tribe “bullock capitalists” “backward classes” middle peasants, and scheduled groups have muddied the waters.

As Union minister Pramod Mahajan said in 2000 “I know that most members of Parliament see the constitution for the first time they take their oath on it.”  Congress politician V. N. Gadgil put it another way in 2005 “In India you do not caste your vote, you vote your caste.”

Mr Gadgill spoke those words in 1995. Now, among the Indian Diaspora I meet when travelling home, I hear concern that India’s tradition toleration and diversity is ebbing in the rush to middle class wealth.

“The current resurgence of identity politics, or the politics of caste and community, is but an expression of the primacy of the group over the individual. It does not augur well for liberal democracy in India” wrote sociologist André Béteille.

While India has had its failures, it has on the whole been a successful democracy.

I hope that Mr Béteille is proved wrong. I hope the realities of the new Indian government will encourage moderation.

Personally, I believe it will.

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