India’s Growth Arrested


A nation, like an individual, has many personalities, many approaches to life. If there is a sufficiently strong organic bond between these different personalities, it is well; otherwise those personalities split up and lead to disintegration and trouble. Normally, there is a continuous process of adjustment going on and some kind of an equilibrium is established. If normal development is arrested, or sometimes if there is some rapid change which is not easily assimilated, then conflict arises between those different personalities. In the mind and spirit of India, below the surface of our superficial conflicts and divisions, there has been this fundamental conflict due to a long period of arrested growth. A society, if it is to be both stable and progressive, must have a certain more or less fixed foundation of principles as well as a dynamic outlook. Both appear to be necessary. Without the dynamic outlook there is stagnation and decay, without some fixed basis of principle there is likely to be disintegration and destruction.

In India from the earliest days there was a search for those basic principles, for the unchanging, the universal, the absolute. Yet the dynamic outlook was also present and an appreciation of life and the changing world. On these two foundations a stable and progressive society was built up, though the stress was always more on stability and security and the survival of the race. In later years the dynamic aspect began to fade away, and in the name of eternal principles the social structure was made rigid and unchanging. It was, as a matter of fact, not wholly rigid and it did change gradually and continuously. But the ideology behind it and the general framework continued unchanged. The group idea as represented by more or less autonomous castes, the joint family and the communal self-governing life of the village were the main pillars of this system, and all these survived for so long because, in spite of their failings, they fulfilled some essential needs of human nature and society. They gave security, stability to each group and a sense of group freedom. Caste survived because it continued to represent the general power-relationships of society, and class privileges were maintained, not only because of the prevailing ideology, but also because they were supported by vigour, intelligence, and ability, as well as a capacity for self-sacrifice. That ideology was not based on a conflict of rights but on the individual’s obligations to others and a satisfactory performance of his duties, on co-operation within the group and between different groups, and essentially on the idea of promoting peace rather than war. While the social system was rigid, no limit was placed on the freedom of the mind.

Indian civilization achieved much that it was aiming at, but, in that very achievement, life began to fade away, for it is too dynamic to exist for long in a rigid, unchanging environment. Even those basic principles, which are said to be unchanging, lose their freshness and reality when they are taken for granted and the search for them ceases. Ideas of truth, beauty, and freedom decay, and we become prisoners following a deadening routine.

The very thing India lacked, the modern West possessed and possessed to excess. It had the dynamic outlook. It was engrossed in the changing world, caring little for ultimate principles, the unchanging, the universal. It paid little attention to duties and obligations and emphasized rights. It was active, aggressive, acquisitive, seeking power and domination, living in the present and ignoring the future consequences of its actions. Because it was dynamic, it was progressive and full of life, but that life was a fevered one and the temperature kept on rising progressively.

If Indian civilization went to seed because it became static, self-absorbed and inclined to narcissism, the civilization of the modern West, with all its great and manifold achievements, does not appear to have been a conspicuous success or to have thus far solved the basic problems of life. Conflict is inherent in it and periodically it indulges in self-destruction on a colossal scale. It seems to lack something to give it stability, some basic principles to give meaning to life though what these are I cannot say. Yet because it is dynamic and full of life and curiosity, there is hope for it.

India, as well as China, must learn from the West, for the modern West has much to teach, and the spirit of the age is represented by the West. But the West is also obviously in need of learning much and its advances in technology will bring it little comfort if it does not learn some of the deeper lessons of life, which have absorbed the minds of thinkers in all ages and in all countries.

India has become static and yet it would be utterly wrong to imagine that she was unchanging. No change at all means death. Her very survival as a highly evolved nation shows that there was some process of continuous adaptation going on. When the British came to India, though technologically somewhat backward, she was still among the advanced commercial nations of the world. Technical changes would undoubtedly have come and changed India as they have changed some western countries. But her normal development was arrested by the British power. Industrial growth was checked and as a consequence social growth was also arrested. The normal power-relationships of society could not adjust themselves and find an equilibrium, as all power was concentrated in the alien authority, which based itself on force and encouraged groups and classes which had ceased to have any real significance. Indian life thus progressively became more artificial, for many of the individuals and groups who seemed to play an important role in it had no vital functions left and were there only because of the importance given to them by the alien power. They had long ago finished their role in history and would have been pushed aside by new forces if they had not been given foreign protection. They became straw-stuffed symbols of proteges of foreign authority, thereby cutting themselves still further away from the living currents of the nation. Normally, they would have been weeded out or diverted to some more appropriate function by revolution or democratic process. But so long as foreign authoritarian rule continued, no such development could take place. And so India was cluttered up with these emblems of the past and the real changes that were taking place were hidden behind an artificial facade. No true social balances or power-relationships within society could develop or become evident, and unreal problems assumed an undue importance.

Most of our problems today are due to this arrested growth and the prevention by British authority of normal adjustments taking place. The problem of the Indian princes is easily capable of solution if the external factor is removed. The minorities problem is utterly unlike any minority problem elsewhere; indeed it is not a minority problem at all. There are many aspects of it and no doubt we are to blame for it in the past and in the present. And yet, at the back of these and other problems is the desire of the British Government to preserve, as far as possible, the existing economy and political organization of the Indian people, and, for this purpose, to encourage and preserve the socially backward groups in their present condition. Political and economic progress has not only been directly prevented, but also made dependent on the agreement of reactionary groups and vested interests, and this may be purchased only by confirming them in their privileged positions or giving them a dominating voice in future arrangement, and thus putting formidable obstacles in the way of real change and progress. A new constitution, in order to have strength and effectiveness behind it, should not only represent the wishes of the vast majority of the people but should.also reflect the inter-relation of social forces and their power relationships at the time. The main difficulty in India has been that constitutional arrangements for the future suggested by the British, or even by many Indians, ignore present social forces, and much more so potential ones which have long been arrested and are now breaking out, and try to impose and make rigid an order based on a past and vanishing relationship which has no real relevance today.

The fundamental reality in India is British military occupation and the policy which it supports. That policy has been expressed in many ways and has often been cloaked in dubious phrases, but latterly, under a soldier Viceroy, it has been expressed with clarity. That military occupation is to continue so long as the British can help it. But there are certain limits to the application of force. It leads not only to the growth of opposing forces but to many other consequences unthought of by those who rely upon it too much.

We see the consequences of this enforced stunting of India’s growth and this arresting of her progress. The most obvious fact is the sterility of British rule in India and the thwarting of Indian life by it. Alien rule is inevitably cut off from the creative energies of the people it dominates. When this alien rule has its own economic and cultural centre far from the subject country and is further backed by racialism, this divorce is complete, and leads to spiritual and cultural starvation of the subject peoples. The only real scope that the nation’s creative energy finds is in some kind of opposition to that rule, and yet that scope itself is limited and the outlook becomes narrow and one-sided. That opposition represents the conscious or unconscious effort of the living and growing forces to break through the shell that confines them and is thus a progressive and inevitable tendency. But it is too single-track and negative to have full touch with many aspects of reality in our lives. Complexes and prejudices and phobias grow and darken the mind, mental idols of the group and the community take shape, and slogans and set phrases take the place of inquiry into real problems. Within the framework of a sterile alien rule no effective solutions are possible, and national problems, unable to find solution, become even more acute. We have arrived in India at a stage when no half measures can solve our problems, no advance on one sector is enough. There has to be a big jump and advance all along the line, or the alternative may be overwhelming catastrophe.

As in the world as a whole, so in India, it is a race between the forces of peaceful progress and construction and those of disruption and disaster, with each succeeding disaster on a bigger scale than the previous one. We can view this prospect as optimists or as pessimists, according to our predilections and mental make-up. Those who have faith in a moral ordering of the universe and of the ultimate triumph of virtue can, fortunately for them, function as lookers on or as helpers, and cast the burden on God; others will have to carry that burden on their own weak shoulders, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

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The Discovery Of India – Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru

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