The book “India in a New Key” by Narain D. Batra attempts to offer an insight into questions like: How has India been experimenting with freedom to solve its socio-economic problems? Can Modi—like Nehru—create a unified Indian consciousness?
In the seven decades since Independence, the country has gradually changed from Nehru’s democratic socialism to Narendra Modi’s democratic entrepreneurial digital India, dealing with its internal contradictions by playing the game of democracy and in the process becoming the sixth-largest global economy.
With its immense brainpower and young demographics, India is geopolitically an indispensable nation. Indians play the game of democracy any which way they can: through massive elections; parliamentary debates and no-confidence motions; coalition forming and horse-trading; hartals, bandhs, dharnas, fast-unto-death; and finally, when nothing works, they knock at the doors of the Supreme Court. Read more about this in the book.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
On the Friday morning of 15 August 1947, when Jawaharlal Nehru, heir to Mahatma Gandhi and the Buddha and the European Enlightenment, raised the Indian Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort—the palace of the seventeenth-century Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan—in Delhi, India gained its freedom twice. India was free from the 90-year shining glory of the British ‘Inglorious’ Empire. And India was free from the burden of the ‘Land of the Pure’ dreams of Jinnah’s Indian Muslim League that had rolled up its flag and retreated into the newly created Muslim nation of Pakistan. India was free to do experiments with freedom. India was free to confront its most hideous demon, its ancient ethos of divinely ordained segregation. India was free to build the structures of freedom, the federal-parliamentary political system to achieve unity through multiplicity. India was free to experiment with secular democratic socialism to create a just society.
Nehru’s democratic socialism, along with the Soviet-style central planning, did not fulfil the economic aspirations of rapid growth but it did bind the nation by bringing all national and regional parties under the federal-parliamentary umbrella. By building for the nation a platform of secular socialist ideology reinforced by the centrally planned economy, the rhythms of Five-Year Plans and the general elections, Nehru and the Congress party immunized Indian masses to the temptations of the Soviet and Chinese-style bloody revolutions. Even the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Hindu nationalist party that would eventually become the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), did not reject the authoritarian central control over the economy.
In the early years of Independence, the Indian people would not have accepted the marketplace entrepreneurial economy of the capitalist West, the United States. Nevertheless, under its democratic socialism programme, the Congress party did allow the private sector to have a limited role. And thanks to the space left for private businesses in the mixed socialist economy model— including myriad mom-and-pop stores and small-and-medium entrepreneurs whose energy, adaptability, survivability, shrewdness, and buoyancy in the narrow bazaars of India since time immemorial had empowered and enriched millions—the animal spirit of the marketplace entrepreneurial economy roared when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, under compelling economic circumstances in the 1990s, opened up India’s economy. Once the economic horizons opened up and Indians began to have the taste for growing wealth through the dynamics of a free marketplace, there was no going back.
Transitioning from democratic socialism under the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh era to the rule of the right-wing BJP, which had assimilated the Jana Sangh’s Hindu nationalism and the Swatantra Party’s free enterprise ideology, had been comparatively smooth. Indians wanted to be rich and they knew it was possible to be rich. To paraphrase William Butler Yeats—Indians had fed their hearts on fantasies of growing rich and their hearts had grown hungry from the fare and they wanted more and more. India was ravenous. Nehru’s democratic-socialism commitment to social justice did not disappear, however. In its new garb of social welfare-ism, it’s as much a part of the BJP as it had been for the Congress party from Nehru through Manmohan Singh, the thirteenth prime minister of India. Most importantly, the competition of the global marketplace would challenge India and create the need for competencies, aptitudes and skills that lead to a merit-and-talent based society. The marketplace would churn up India as the electoral democracy had been doing since the times of Nehru.
Nehru was a master of creative illusions. The democratic socialism and non-alignment that Nehru had created, kept India together in spite of the nation’s age-long fissiparous tendencies. Socialism did not create wealth but Nehru was such a powerful and influential intellectual force that everyone went along with his ideological views long after he had become part of history—a history that he had helped create. Most of the intellectual and political class members, regardless of their convictions, went along with the flow, the Great Nehru Flow, the leftist flow of their political bases on which they depended, in order to continue to be politically something, to remain politically relevant, to remain in power. That was the psychological make-up of thousands and thousands of politicians, journalists and academics, the hordes who willy-nilly went along with the tidal wave, the mainstream flow, like flotsam and jetsam. The BJP, a Hindu nationalist and populist political party, did not have to struggle with such internal contradictions or cognitive dissonance. Its evolutionary growth has been steady and consistent and without any disruptive changes.
How the BJP evolved from its genesis in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Jana Sangh’s inward-looking religious ideology to a broad-based mainstream free-market, entrepreneurial all-India political party by playing the game of democracy, has been the most remarkable political development in India. Narendra Modi, a hardscrabble son of entrepreneurial Gujarat, transformed Nehru’s democratic socialist India into a democratic entrepreneurial digital India. And this is the story that the book tells: how Indians have been playing the game of democracy from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi to uphold ‘the India Constant’.
Excerpted with permission from India in a New Key, Narain D. Batra, Rupa Publications. Read more about the book here and buy it here.