The Last Reform: Breaking with the Past

If all links with the past in terms of the economy, politics and culture, are not broken at the time when a country is formed, it is not possible to speak about the present, or about independence in the profound sense of the word.

If all links with the past in terms of the economy, politics and culture, are not broken at the time when a country is formed, it is not possible to speak about the present, or about independence in the profound sense of the word.

One of the greatest defeats for the peoples of South Asia in 1947 was that they won their formal independence on the basis of full acceptance of the British colonial institutions, their economic system and their theories and practices, as well as the formal division of the sub-continent on the basis of religion. Such a defeat for the peoples of South Asia is, fifty years later, the source of all their tragedies, including the danger of a world war which the superpowers will launch in order to conquer the Indian Ocean as an integral part of conquering the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The main thesis of this paper is concerned with the fact that all economic and political theories, as well as philosophy and the world outlook existing at the present time, all systems and institutions need immediate renewal. Renewal means either starting afresh–the sure way to creating the present and future; or a restructuring of what has already been–the renewal of the past so as to ensure its continuation.

Subash C. Kashyap, who had written extensively on the Indian Constitution, confirmed that the “founding fathers” “took a conscious decision not to make a complete departure from the past”.  In the foreword to the book “Constitutional History of India” by V.D.Mahajan, Bisheshwar Prasad wrote, “It is remarkable how in India, in spite of the revolutionary character of the national political movement which heralded the dawn of freedom, the structure of government has exhibited so little departure in its main outlines and legal forms from the framework of the Constitution under British sway.”

The fundamental law of the land, a Constitution, is either an instrument to consolidate the socio-economic system as it exists at that time, or it is used to lay down the basic line for the creation of the new. … The Indian Constitution and the constitutions of other countries of South Asia are intended to strengthen the socio-economic system as it existed at the time of the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
A Constitution which does not enshrine basic principles which a people have fought for in practice, which does not codify the new arrangements which people have brought into practice through their struggles will not enshrine the sovereignty of the people.

The issue here is not that the Indian Constitution was written by the British or British educated people according to what suited them. … The issue is that the people of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia, by now, have had experience of their system and such constitutions … Should they not think about their experience with this set-up and what deep-going reforms they must bring about in order to serve their own interests?

Challenges of Indian Political Thought
Two things that emerge from the summation of the experience of the polity during the past 50 years and by keeping in mind the experience of the Veda period, the periods of Vedanta, Mahabharata, Shastras, of Ain-i-Akbari and of Bahadur Shah Zafar and of the period of the first war of independence is that (i) this experience is unique and is based on a complete break with all the experiences of Indian state-craft from time immemorial to the first war of independence in 1857 and (ii) that the notion of the state from time immemorial to the present is diametrically opposed to what the present states in South Asia are in theory and practice.

Indian Political Thought, as summed up from time immemorial to the present, is very well developed and indispensable if the crisis of the parliamentary democracy and socio-economic system are to overcome. The ideas concerning state polity and state-craft abound in Indian thought through all ages. One finds that the ideals which emerged from these experiences and from the summation carried out through debates during different historical periods were upheld through the centuries and modified according to the changed circumstances and the needs of the times. Their modernisation and renewal according to the requirements of the present period will also contribute to the overcoming of the all-sided crisis with the economic crisis at its foundation.
According to these ideas spanning over centuries, the main content or purpose of the state is to provide Protection–Raksha, and Prosperity–Sukh. It seems that specific forms of state were established by people themselves in order to protect themselves and to provide themselves with a life of prosperity. The ideas behind these states were not just general but were the manifestations of concrete situations.

The fact that all the activities of the state have to be geared to provide Raksha and Sukh also indicates that these were societies based on the division between classes or on the tribal basis. There have to be in those in these societies who must have been threatening people (Praja). For all intents and purposes, it seems that people in these states were sovereign and they never deprived themselves of this sovereignty and willingly handed it over to their “representative”. Their own power was such that if the state did not provide Raksha and Sukh, they used the power in their hands to change such an unusual state of affairs.

The function of such a state was to provide Protection–Raksha. This function is fully defined as Raksha from: 1. Forces of nature–State has to take measures to humanise nature, so that the elements and forces of nature can yield what is needed by the people and the society to fulfill their needs; 2. External invaders–to protect what the people and society have achieved from the loot and plunder of external invaders; 3. Internal vested interests–to take measures that the unscrupulous and vested interests do not endanger the prosperity and security of the citizens and society. For instance, the Rig Veda, Mahabharata, Arthashastra, etc., all talk about taking measures against merchants and traders who cheat the citizens, and charge whatever they wish for goods and services, against those who endanger life and liberty.

Protection (Raksha) without Prosperity (Sukh) has no meaning. Raksha and Sukh constitute a dialectical unity of opposites. While the very essence of Raksha means the creation of the condition of Sukh, Sukh itself is the pre-condition for the existence of Raksha. The aim of one is materialised in the function of the other. It is the duty of the state to carry out … construction of irrigation works and roads, plant trees, look after forests, cattle. education, medicine, and so on; in short, as the most important of human endeavours, all activities necessary for the enabling of Sukh.

It can be said that the Directive Principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution … resembles what a state must do within the ideas developed in Indian political thought over the centuries, even though these principles were borrowed from the Irish Constitution.  However, these were merely directive principles, just policy objectives which may or may not be fulfilled.  They lacked the essential aspect, the power of a sovereign people who could demand that if a government did not turn these principles into deeds such a government would be overthrown.

Considerations of British Rule over South Asia
The British established their political thought according to the charter of the East India Company in 1660 and established their state and the successive governments to achieve it. The British had the aim to plunder the natural and human resources. Accordingly, they established a state which, instead of providing the people with Raksha and Sukh, terrorised them. Such a terrorist state, with institutionalised rape and plunder of land and the peoples of South Asia, carried out a ‘transfer of power’ in 1947.  But it did not dissolve itself. The main pillars of this state, the army, the police forces and the prisons, as well as the same fundamental law, judiciary and the considerations on which British rule were based, remained.

The British Raj boasted that they brought a central state and rule of law to South Asia … But the aim of this rule of law was to ensure that their Raj is “found beneficial” to them. As their political system developed in Britain, and various political theories developed to justify it, these justifications were brought to South Asia. They were planted in the minds of those in whose interests it was to defend the British system and all its institutions in India. At present, besides liberalism, liberal democracy, conservatism, social democracy … there is the broad promotion of neo-conservatism, the entire justification for “liberalisation and privatisation”.

‘Direct’ Democracy or ‘Representative’ Democracy
According to Kashyap, “In a democracy, sovereignty vests in the people and ideally people govern themselves.  But … direct democracy is no more feasible.”  On the contrary, Kashyap suggests that the ‘inalienable right’ given in the Indian Constitution to the people of India, in the absence of governing themselves through direct democracy, is to decide “by whom they should be governed”.  The question which arises is this: after fifty years and more of people of South Asia searching “by whom they should be governed”, should they not look at this question afresh?  There may be a flaw in this law and it must be corrected.

Democracy is a feature of all societies based on class divisions.  The twentieth century has seen two distinct democracies – socialist democracy with direct democracy as its political process and method of governance, and capitalist democracy with representative democracy as its political process and method of governance.  All the countries of South Asia have capitalist democracies with representative democracy as the political process and method of governance.

The ‘representatives’ within such a system of representative democracy act on behalf of the ‘sovereign’, organise themselves into political parties, carry out the most vicious competition for positions of power and go to the “fellow countrymen” every few years to provide themselves with the credibility, the mandate that they have the right  to continue. These ‘representatives’ go to the people to demand that they must divide along their political party lines and decide which one of them must govern during the period before the next elections.

Breaking with the Past
The main content of the thesis of this paper “The Last Reform: Breaking with the Past” is that if all links with the past in terms of the economy, politics and culture are not broken at the time when a country is formed, … it is not possible to speak about the present. It is not possible to speak about independence in the profound sense of the word. The present, in this case the situation as it stands in South Asia after fifty years, is merely an extension and continuation of the past.

After having recognised that the past has entrenched itself and blocked both the present and the future, it is to be appreciated that no problem can be sorted out in these countries unless a radical rupture is made with this past. By this past is meant the economic and political system as it existed before the partition in 1947, the past which begins with the edict of Queen Elizabeth 1 on December 31, 1600, granting the charter to the East India Company, the past which is transformed into the Indian Constitution which borrowed nothing from the leaders of the first war of independence, from Bahadur Shah Zafar and other figures like Tipu Sultan, the martyrs like Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who gave their lives in the fight against colonialism and for social liberation.

“White Man’s Burden” and Trusteeship

According to the theory of “white man’s burden”, the Liberals claimed that they wished the colonial peoples to have the same benefits from the advances they have made in various spheres, especially in the economic and political spheres.  The hidden agenda in this claim of the Liberals was that British capitalism could not develop without streamlining the colonies according to its own interests …. They needed colonies to dump their goods, export capital and capture sources of raw materials.

A version of “white man’s burden” is still in place at this time.  South Asian economic development is unabashedly linked at this time with “privatisation and liberalisation”, with the import of capital and export of raw materials and some manufactured goods, all for the benefit of the native and foreign financial oligarchs.  Even the government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal came up with the thesis of building infrastructure on the basis of foreign capital as the prelude to economic development …

Going into the institution of President in some depth, the president is presented as a “Trustee” who heads the state and carries out his/her functions as a trustee of the people.  There have been heads of states in India in the name of Rajas, Maharajas … from time immemorial.  But this particular presidential form has the content that it usurps the position of trustee in the name of the people and deprives them of all their power.

The British colonial regime did what did not belong to it to do, that is, it established what would happen after it had departed from South Asia.  Bahadur Shah Zafar, one of the great fighters of the first war of independence, had advanced his political theory that it is the people of India who will determine what kind of system they would want to have.  But in 1947, the ‘act of transfer of power’ decided what kind of system South Asia will have during this period of formal independence.  This usurpation of the power which belongs only to the people was handed over to the President who began to call himself the “trustee” … If this trusteeship is removed through deep-going reform and the power which belongs to them is taken by the people themselves, then all links with the past will be broken.  This will be the last reform, which will be a prelude for the ushering in of the present and for continuation of the present into the future.

For fifty years, the peoples of South Asia have fought in order to take the entire region from this stage of formal independence and division to the stage when all the peoples of South Asia will have emerged as truly independent in which they alone will determine which kind of economic and political systems they want to have. This struggle for their true expression is not directed against this or that institution or a theory or a practice because it is foreign. The struggle is waged only against what has become anachronistic, everything that is out of date and out of time and against the smug satisfaction that what exists at the present time is good enough or the best that we can expect.

All the countries in the world need renewal. All countries in South Asia have the same needs. By renewing themselves, that is, by starting afresh on the basis of the experience of the entire world and most particularly their own, they will be making their own contribution to the renewal of the world.

Hardial Bains

[Excerpts from a paper presented to the ‘Building the Future’  conference , organized by the Committee for People’s Empowerment in Delhi, on August 13-15, 1997]

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