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Monday, 25 October 1999

Return of Nehruism or Keeping down Those Shifty Natives

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Colonisers cannot be blamed for suspecting that the victims of
their loot are anxious to make them quit. Beginning with the
Mughals 1,000 years ago, and continuing with the British, the
population of India was seen as a threatening horde that needed 
to be kept divided and intimidated. Those who advanced such
an agenda were rewarded, and the others punished.

State Control
The richest reward—a new country—went to M. A. Jinnah, who
succeeded in turning the anger of millions away from the
colonisers to their own fellow Indians. But for this division in the
national movement, the British would have found it untenable ·
to cling on to the country till after World War II, when even 
Jinnah could not save them from irrelevance. However, even
after formal independence in 1947, the superstructure of Mughal-
British rule remained.

As attitudes get concretised during adolescence, Jawaharlal 
Nehru—with his Harrow background—could not be blamed for
seeing Indians not as a resource but as a seething mass that
needed to be controlled by the same state apparatus as was there
duri.ng the colonial days. Not only were the various penal and
restrictive provisions not removed during the Nehru dynasty
period (1947-89, with the 1977-79 break), but they were added on
to. Punitive taxes became the norm, and companies that were
effective in the utilisation of their assets were punished for
"exceeding their capacities".

V. P. Singh, who was groomed in the Nehru stable, cannot
be blamed for remaining in love with a cumbersome state 
structure. After all, under the dynasty thousands of crores of 
rupees were funnelled to non-productive uses to create a parasitic
class that identified the family with its prosperity. Even today,
this class is the buttress of the Sonia Gandhi brigade that has
once more taken over the Congress party. It was the much-
reviled P. V. Narasimha Rao who first launched the process of
de-colonising the Indian people, by freeing industry of several of
the Mughal-British-Nehru shackles. However, it was Manmohan
Singh — who gave benefits to foreign rather than to domestic
interests — who got the credit for the spurt in growth.

Nehruism means the taxing of productive groups for
subsidising parasites. It means retaining huge discretionary
power with state agencies so as to collect bribes through, for
example, exemptions to the urban land ceiling laws. It implies a
contempt for Indian culture as religious kitsch, so that local epics
become unworthy of being taught in schools or shown on
television. While it spews verbal abuse on outside powers, in
effect it adopts an ambivalent posture towards Pakistan and
China, countries that are aiding insurgencies in India. 

Those who sought to do away with Nehruism came under
attack from precisely those politicians whose constituencies had
in the past received largess from the collections made in
dynamic regions. They came under attack from individuals
whose family incomes had multiplied spectacularly thanks to
political patronage. Thus, in a universe of free-spending
politicians, the post-Nehru family school was singled out for
sustained attack. In contrast, the "free press" has devoted only
inches to the many foreign travels, the sudden enrichment of
relatives and the lifestyles of the Nehru core.

Post-dynasty Period
Manmohan Singh and Palaniappan Chidambaram exemplify the
Nehru era and the post-dynasty period. Singh was generous to
l foreign producers and to MNCs, allowing alien companies to
import freely into India, and to cheaply increase their stakes in
local outfits. Taxes on the natives remained high, as did interest
rates and the mess in infrastructure. Even the Russians benefited.
The rupee-rouble pact has made impoverished India one of the
biggest aid donors to Moscow. Chidambaram, on the other hand,
gave benefits not only to aliens but to Indians. For this he was
viciously attacked by the Nehru school, which believes that the 
uncouth natives of this country should be given only the stick
and never the carrot.

The VDIS scheme—which was pushed through by the present
Finance Minister over the objections of the "dollar pension
brigade" — is an example of how Indian-friendly policies can be
effective. Its critics snarled that it "promoted dishonesty", and
that "tax-evaders should not be rewarded". In other words, what
they wanted was an all-India "drive" to catch evaders. Wonderful
in principle but foolish in practice, for two reasons. The first is
the impossible scale of operations needed, and the second is the
fact that bribes will surely be used to get evaders off the hook.
In the ancient regime the bribes went to politicians and officials,
which is why many among these groups want to see Nehruism
back.

It is no accident that the same Manmohan Singh who
drastically reduced import duties and has driven several domestic ‘
producers out of business has opposed the lower taxes set by
Chidambaram. This is in line with the Nehru philosophy that the
natives should be given nothing except circuses. Instead of lower
taxes, they should be given scenes of a smiling Priyanka or a
radiant Sonia Gandhi waving to die natives from behind antiseptic
screens. Very soon, if the calculations of the 10 Janpath election
managers work out, India will re-enter the Nehru era.
Should the Congress get 200 or more seats, then the Sonia Luo
refrain will drown out the rest, and the Left and other groups
will be told to make the choice between Sonia Gandhi and the
BJP. Should it get between 150-199 seats, then Sonia Gandhi can
impose Manmohan Singh as the Congress CPP leader, and again
confront the United Front with a difficult choice. Their weak
response to the re-entry into active politics of the Gandhi parivar
indicates that the United Front may accept the return of the
dynasty to keep away the BJP.

Even should the Congress get below 150 seats, Sonia Gandhi
can ensure her election as AICC president, and make a loyal
follower the CPP leader. She will have significant influence over
in the next Parliament, where she can seek to prevent any further
dilution of Nehruism. As this is a philosophy that enriches the
political class, there will be many allies for such a course. With
all his faults, Sitaram Kesri tried to fashion a structure in which 
the local units played a key role. Today the Congress has
returned to the autocracy of the dynasty.

Sonia's Attitude
To her credit, Sonia Gandhi has never disguised her feelings
about the people of her adopted country. She has minimal
interaction with them, shutting out even the media. She has
made clear her intention to return to the ways of the dynasty,
when a family and its followers ruled over a populace fettered
by restrictive legislation and high taxes. Rather than move to the
era of inner-party democracy, the Congress has returned to the
period when any individual not "loyal" to the dynasty had no
role in it. Should the Sonia card work, tomorrow India too may
return to its past.

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