India’s Dynamic Capacity


The stream of life goes on in spite of famine and war, full of its inherent contradictions, and finding sustenance even in those contradictions and the disasters that follow in their train. Nature renews itself and covers yesterday’s battlefield with flowers and green grass, and the blood that was shed feeds the soil and gives strength and colour to new life. Human beings with their unique quality of possessing memory live in their storied and remembered pasts and seldom catch up to the present in ‘The worlde that neweth every daie.’ And that present slips into the past before we are hardly aware of it; today, child of yesterday, yields place to its own offspring, tomorrow. Winged victory ends in a welter of blood and mud; and out of the heavy trials of seeming defeat the spirit emerges with new strength and wider vision. The weak in spirit yield and are eliminated, but others carry the torch forward and hand it to the standard-bearers of tomorrow.

The famine in India brought some realization of the terrible urgency of India’s problems, of the overwhelming disaster that hung over the country. What people in England felt about it I do not know, but some of them, as is their way, cast the blame on India and her people. There was lack of food, lack of doctors, lack of sanitation and medical supplies, lack of transport, lack of everything except human beings, for the population had grown and seemed to be growing. This excessive population of an improvident race, growing without notice or warning and upsetting the plans or plan-less-ness of a benevolent government, must be to blame. And so, economic problems suddenly assumed a new importance and we were told that politics and political problems had to be put aside, as if politics has any meaning at all unless it can solve the major problems of the day. The Government of India, one of the few representatives of the laissez-faire tradition in the world, began to talk of planning, but of organized planning it had no notion. It could only think in terms of preserving the existing structure and its own and allied vested interests.

The reaction on the people of India was deeper and more powerful, though it found little public expression owing to the widespread tentacles of the Defence of India Act and its rules. There had been a complete collapse of the economic structure of Bengal and tens of millions of people had been literally broken up. Bengal was an extreme example of what was happening in many parts of India and it seemed that there could be no going back to the old economy. Even the industrialists who had prospered so much during the war were shaken up and compelled to look beyond their narrow sphere. They were realists in their own way, rather afraid of the idealism of some of the politicians, but that realism itself led them to far-reaching conclusions. A number of Bombay industrialists, chiefly connected with the Tata enterprises, produced a fifteen-year plan for India’s development. That plan is still not complete and there are many lacunae in it. Inevitably it is conditioned by the ways of thinking of big industry and tries to avoid revolutionary changes as far as possible. Yet the very pressure of events in India has forced them to think in a big way and to go out of many of their accustomed grooves of thought. Revolutionary changes are inherent in the plan, though the authors may themselves not like some of them. Some of these authors of the plan were members of the national planning committee and they have taken advantage of a part of its work. This plan will undoubtedly have to be varied, added to and worked out in many ways, but, coming from conservative quarters, it is a welcome and encouraging sign of the way India must go. It is based on a free India and on the political and economic unity of India. The conservative banker’s view of money is not allowed to dominate the scene, and it is emphasized that the real capital of the country consists of its resources in material and manpower. The success of this or any other plan must inevitably depend not merely on production but on a proper and equitable distribution of the national wealth created. Also, agrarian reform is a fundamental prerequisite.

The idea of planning and a planned society is accepted now in varying degrees by almost everyone. But planning by itself has little meaning and need not necessarily lead to good results. Everything depends on the objectives of the plan and on the controlling authority, as well as, of course, the government behind it. Does the plan aim definitely at the well-being and advancement of the people as a whole, at the opening out of opportunity to all and the growth of freedom and methods of co-operative organization and action? Increase of production is essential, but obviously by itself it does not take us far and may even add to the complexity of our problems. An attempt to preserve old-established privileges and vested interests cuts at the very root of planning. Real planning must recognize that no such special interests can be allowed to come in the way of any scheme designed to further the well-being of the community as a whole. The Congress governments in the provinces were hampered and restricted in all directions by the basic assumption of the Parliamentary statute that most of these vested interests must not be touched. Even their partial attempts to change the land tenure system and to impose an income-tax on incomes from land were challenged in the law courts.

If planning is largely controlled by big industrialists, it will naturally be envisaged within the framework of the system they are used to, and will be essentially based on the profit motive of an acquisitive society. However well-intentioned they might be, and some of them certainly are full of good intentions, it is difficult for them to think on new lines. Even when they talk of state control of industry they think of the state more or less as it is today.

We are sometimes told that the present Government of India, with its ownership and control of railways, and a growing control of and interference in industry, finance, and, indeed, life in general, is moving in a socialist direction. But this is something utterly different from democratic state control, apart from being essentially foreign control. Though there is a limitation of certain capitalist functions, the system is based on the protection of privilege. The old authoritarian colonial system ignored economic problems except in so far as certain special interests were concerned. Finding itself unable to meet the necessities of the new situation by its old laissez-faire methods, and yet bent on preserving its authoritarian character, it goes inevitably in a fascist direction. It tries to control economic operations by fascist methods, suppresses such civil liberties as exist, and adapts its own autocratic government as well as the capitalist system, with some variations, to the new conditions. Thus the endeavour is, as in fascist countries, to build up a monolithic state, with considerable control of industry and national life, and with many limitations on free enterprise, but based on the old foundations. This is very far from socialism; indeed, it is absurd to talk of socialism in a country dominated by an alien power. Whether such an attempt can succeed, even in a temporary sense, is very doubtful, for it only aggravates the existing problems; but war conditions certainly give it a favourable environment to work in. Even a complete nationalization (so-called) of industry unaccompanied by political democracy will lead only to a different kind of exploitation, for while industry will then belong to the state, the state itself will not belong to the people.

Our major difficulties in India are due to the fact that we consider our problems – economic, social, industrial, agricultural, communal, Indian states—within the framework of existing conditions. Within that framework, and retaining the privileges and special “status that are part of it, they become impossible of solution. Even if some patchwork solution is arrived at under stress of circumstances, it does not and cannot last. The old problems continue and new problems, or new aspects of old problems, are added to them. This approach of ours is partly due to tradition and old habit, but essentially it is caused by the steel-frame of the British Government which holds together the ramshackle structure.

The war has accentuated the many contradictions existing in India—political, economic, and social. Politically, there is a great deal of talk of Indian freedom and independence, and yet her people have probably at no time in their long history been subjected to such authoritarian rule and intensive and widespread repression as exist today, and out of this today tomorrow will necessarily grow. Economically, British domination is also paramount, and yet the expansive tendency of Indian economy is continually straining at the leash. There is famine and widespread misery and, on the other hand, there is an accumulation of capital. Poverty and riches go side by side, decay and building up, disruption and unity, dead thought and new. Behind all the distressing features there is an inner vitality which cannot be suppressed.

Outwardly the war has encouraged India’s industrial growth and production, and yet it is doubtful how far this has led to the establishment of new industries, or is merely an extension and diversion of old industries. The apparent stability of the index of India’s industrial activity during war-time indicates that no fundamental advance has been made. Indeed, some competent observers are of the opinion that the war and British policy during it have actually had a hampering effect on India’s industrial growth. Dr. John Mathai, an eminent economist and a director of Tata’s, said recently:

The general belief … that the war has tremendously accelerated India’s industrial progress is a proposition which, to say the least, would need a lot of proving. While it is true that certain established industries have increased their production in response to the war demand, several new industries of fundamental importance to the country, which had been projected before the war have, under stress of war conditions, been either abandoned or been unable to reach completion. My personal view is that, on a careful balance of the various factors in the situation, it will be found that, unlike countries such as Canada and Australia, the war has been more a hampering than an accelerating influence in India. I agree, however … that India has sufficient potential capacity to supply her basic manufactured needs.

Such statistical evidence of industrial activity as is available supports this view, and indicates that if pre-war progress could have been maintained at the old rate it would have led not only to the establishment of new industries, but also to far greater production as a whole.*

What the war has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt is India’s capacity to convert this potential into actuality with remarkable speed, given the opportunity to do so. Functioning as an economic unit, she has accumulated large capital assets within five war years, in spite of all the obstructions placed in her way. These assets are in the form of sterling securities which are not available to her and which, it is stated, will be blocked in the future. These sterling securities represent the expenditure incurred by the Government of India on behalf of the British Government as well as the U.S.A. They also represent the hunger, famine, epidemics, emasculation, weakened resistance, stunted growth, and death by starvation and disease of vast numbers of human beings in India.

Because of the accumulation of capital assets, India has paid off her big debt to England and has become a creditor country. Owing to gross negligence and mismanagement, tremendous suffering has been caused to the people of India, but the fact remains that India can accumulate these huge sums in a short period of time. The actual expenditure on the war incurred by India in five years greatly exceeds the total British investments in India during more than 100 years. This fact brings into proper perspective how little the progress made in India has been during the past century of British administration—railways, irrigation works and the like of which we hear so much. It also demonstrates the enormous capacity of India to advance with rapidity on all fronts. If this striking effort can be made under discouraging conditions and under a foreign government which disapproves of industrial growth in India, it is obvious that planned development under a free national government would completely change the face of India within a few years.

There is a curious habit of the British of appraising their economic and social achievement in present-day India by criteria derived from social achievement here or elsewhere in the distant past. They compare, with evident satisfaction to themselves, what they have done in India during their regime with changes made some hundreds of years ago. The fact that the industrial revolution, and more especially the vast technological improvements of the past fifty years or so, have entirely changed the pace and tempo of life somehow escapes them when they think of India. They forget also that India was not a barren, sterile, and barbarous country when they came here, but a highly evolved and cultured nation which had temporarily become static and backward in technical achievements.

What values and standards are we to apply in making such comparisons? The Japanese made Manchukuo within eight years highly industrialized for their own purposes; more coal was being produced there than in India after many generations of British effort. Their material record in Korea compares well with other colonial empires.** And yet behind these records there is slavery, cruelty, humiliation, exploitation, and the attempt to destroy the soul of a people. The Nazis and the Japanese have created new records in the inhuman suppression of subject peoples and races. We are often reminded of this and told that the British have not treated us quite so badly. Is that to be the new measure and standard of comparison and judgement?

There is a great deal of pessimism in India today and a sense of frustration, and both can be understood, for events have dealt harshly with our people and the future is not promising. But there is also below the surface a stirring and a pushing, signs of a new life and vitality, and unknown forces are at work. Leaders function at the top but they are driven in particular directions by the anonymous and unthinking will of an awakening people, who seem to be outgrowing their past.

* Mr. J. R. D. Tata, speaking in London on May 30th, 1945, also denied that the war had enabled India materially to expand her industries and industrial capacity. ‘There may have been isolated cases of expansion, but on the whole, when armament factories and other specialized industries connected with the war have been excluded, there has been none. A number of projects would have been started if there had been no war. I can speak from personal experience of projects that have been abandoned because of the impossibility of obtaining bricks, steel, and machinery. Those who talk about industrial and economic progress in India during the war do not know the true position.’ Again he said: ‘I must prick this bubble. It is nonsense to say that India has materially advanced and gained by the war. For one reason or another there has been no important progress or development in India. Rather there has been considerable retardation. In fact what has happened is this. As a result of the war and India’s contribution towards it, we have millions dead in Bengal owing to famine. We also have had famine of cloth. Thus, it is clear, that economic progress has been conspicuous by its absence.’

** Hallett Abend, who was the New York Times correspondent in the Far East for many years, says in his book ‘Pacific Charter’ (1943): ‘In fairness to the Japanese it must be conceded that in a material sense they have done a magnificent job in Korea. When they took it over the country was filthy, unhealthy, and woefully poverty-striken. The mountains had been denuded of their forests, the valleys were subject to recurrent floods, decent roads were nonexistent, illiteracy was prevalent, and typhoid, smallpox, cholera, dysentery, and the plague were epidemic annually. Today the mountains are reafforested; railway, telephone, and telegraph systems are excellent; the public health service is highly efficient, good highways abound; flood-control and irrigation works have vastly increased the food production, and fine harbours have been developed and well-managed. The country has become so prosperous and healthy that the 1905 population of 11,000,000 has risen to 24,000,000 and the average scale of living today is almost immeasurably higher than it was at the turn of the century.’ But Mr. Abend points out that all this material improvement has not been instituted for the benefit of the Korean people but so that greater profits might go to the Japanese.

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The Discovery Of India – Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru

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