Continuités et discontinuités
Paul Brass, Politics of India (1990). Introduction

8 novembre 2018

Paul Brass, The Politics of India Since Independence,
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990

Extraits de l'introduction.
Continuities and discontinuities between
pre- and post-Independence India

[Indépendance de l'Inde et du Pakistan: 15 août 1947]

En quelques pages claires et concises, Paul Brass définit les traits spécifiques de la culture politique et de l'habileté politique ou politique en action (statecraft) en Inde aujourd'hui. Je fais ressortir en gras les phrases qui me semblent essentielles. Il est important de tenir compte dans la lecture de Paul Brass du fait que cette synthèse date de la fin des années 1980 et qu'elle est antérieure à l'extraordinaire transformation de l'économie et à l'urbanisation massive qui rendent obsolète trente ans plus tard l'idée d'une société essentiellement rurale (an agrarian society).

Discours (rhetoric) et réalité dans la culture politique indienne

(14) It became apparent very quickly after Independence that fundamental transformations were occurring in the actual functioning of the institutions and practices borrowed from the West in which adjustments were made that reflected indigenous cultural and behavioral patterns, but without any conscious modeling on its own traditions.

Some observers [Myron Weiner, 1963] attempted to encapsulate the process of contradiction and adjustment that was going on by arguing that there were several "idioms" or "cultures" in fundamental conflict with each other — a modern or Western idiom, centred in the ideas of the nationalist elite and in the institutions in Delhi, a traditional idiom or culture, rooted in the kin, caste, and communal relations of village, locality, and province, and a "saintly" idiom characteristically Indian, associated with Gandhi and his disciples involving selfless devotion to constructive work for the good of society and immune from the mimicking of foreign models or from contamination by the archaic superstitions and feudal practices of Indian society.

These useful attempts to categorize the basic contradictions between Indian politics and society, however, left many adjustments, adaptations, and everyday practices not satisfactorily explained. Little attention, for example, was paid to indigenous traditions of princely rule and their effects upon contemporary political practices, demonstrated every day in the morning and evening durbars or audiences held by every prominent politician in the land, in the duty of prominent people to provide support and protection for their clients, in the responsibility of those political leaders who achieved power and control over public resources to distribute them lavishly to their followers, and in the practice of dynastic succession to leadership in India.

It soon became evident also that there was a massive contradiction between the rhetoric of Indian public discourse and the reality of political practice, which expressed itself in many forms. For example, although the secular ideology of the Indian National /15/ Congress became dominant politically in India after Independence, and the newly independent Indian state proclaimed secularism as the official state ideology, the post-Independence Indian state leadership has nevertheless felt compelled to make official distinctions between the Hindu population and the non-Hindu populations of the country by such measures as the passage of the Hindu Code Act [= Hindu Code Bills, 1955–56]. which established a uniform civil code for all "Hindus" (including Sikhs) in the country, while leaving Muslims with their own system of Personal Law. It has often also been alleged that many of the politicians of the country who proclaim their adherence to secularism as a state ideology actually harbor Hindu communal sentiments. The persistence of explicitly Hindu political organizations and movements in contemporary Indian politics also has been widely noted.

One of the great, enduring games of political analysts of India has been to assert the tacit dominance and to predict the ultimate emergence of a militant Hindu nationalist political category which will overwhelm the Indian state and establish its mastery over the Indian population. Since the late nineteenth century, there have been numerous movements of "Hindu" political mobilization, which have taken a variety of forms. These include the Gaurakshini (Cow Protection) Sabhas formed in the 1890s, which have agitated for laws preventing cow slaughter in India from time to time and launched a major mass movement as recently as the 1960s; the movement to promote the development and spread of a standardized Hindi language written in the Devanagari script, rather than Urdu in the Persian-Arabic script, as the official language of education and administration in north India and ultimately as the official language of the country; and the Hindu Mahasabha which worked to create a Hindu political community and to define the Indian nation through symbols drawn exclusively from "Hindu'' texts, beliefs, and practices and from non-Muslim history. This Hindu "revivalism" or militant Hindu nationalism has persisted up to the present and has manifested itself in various political organizations and movements and politicized religious movements. Such organizations and movements include: the Rashtryiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu "cultural" organization organized into cells, whose members practice martial arts, and /16/ which promotes also an exclusively Hindu definition of the Indian nation; the Jan Sangh, originally the main political party offshoot of the RSS, but now a rump of quite extreme anti-Muslim supporters of Hindu nationalism; the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the more broadly based descendant of the original Jan Sangh; and such other organizations as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is currently engaged in a campaign to "liberate" alleged Hindu religious sites from their occupation by Muslim mosques built on top of them.

There is also presumed to exist a Hindu "vote" in India which can be mobilized for the sake of national unity against the secessionist or otherwise excessive demands of minorities such as Sikhs and Muslims. It has been noted that in the 1984 parliamentary elections, held in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, the issue of national unity was communalized and made into the central issue in Rajiv Gandhi's landslide election victory.

Nevertheless, there remains in India today considerable ambiguity concerning the use of the word "Hindus" to define any clearly demarcated group of people in the subcontinent and considerable doubt about the existence of a Hindu political community. On the one hand, the historic problem of a split between so-called "caste" Hindus and untouchables persists in contemporary Indian politics, as do divisions among the "caste" Hindus themselves. On the other hand, there has also been an historic tendency to subsume Sikhs, Jains, and others in the "Hindu" fold. While this tendency is bitterly resented by some groups, such as most Sikhs especially, and is considered to be part of the absorptive quality of "Hinduism," it also suggests the continued indefiniteness of its religious, social, and political boundaries. Revivalist or militant Hinduism nevertheless remains a pervasive and politically important presence in contemporary Indian politics. The tendency among militant nationalist organizations such as the /17/ RSS and the BJP to insist that Hindu and Indian are virtually interchangeable categories has spread bey0nd the organisational confines of these two organizations. Even more pervasive and subtle has been the more recent tendency to secularize the meaning of the term Hindu by going back to its earlier meaning of "native of India" and identifying India as the nation of Hindus without, however, eliminating from it all the religious associations which are offensive to true Muslim, Sikh, and other believers.

A second example of a contradiction between rhetoric and reality [entre le discours et la réalité] in contemporary Indian politics concerns the disjunction between the language of planning, equality, socialism, and social justice spoken by party leaders in the country and the practices of day-to-day politics. Immediately after Independence, the leading opposition parties were the Communists and the Socialists, promoting variants of the wholly Western ideologies associated with those labels. Yet, those ideologies bore little relation to the social structure of Indian society, which lacked the class distinctions and contradictions upon which the ideologies were based. None of the political parties in India proved able to imitate the European political party traditions of disciplined behavior in the legislatures to which they were elected. Instead, Indian politicians began early to display, indeed had been practicing at the local levels since the nineteenth century, a strong penchant for opportunistic behavior in pursuit of personal ambition to achieve high office and control public resources for personal advantage and for distribution to one's followers.

The reason for this persisting disjunction between public political party discourse and actual political practice, which render meaningful comparisons between Indian and western political parties difficult, is that the issues and social forces which impinge upon party politics in India today are entirely different from those which have confronted either contemporary or nineteenth century Europe and America. There are three such sets of issues, social forces, and aspects of social structure that contribute to the distinctiveness of Indian politics: the issues of control over agrarian resources, including control over land and the work force; social fragmentation; and center-locality relationships. The primary economic, social, and political resources in India today continue to be the land and its /17/ products and the primary struggles concern access to the inputs necessary to increase productivity and control over the produce from the land. Land being inherently a local resource and rural social classes being notoriously difficult to recruit into permanent extralocal organizations, the importance of land control and issues relating to it necessarily impart a local and personal character to politics. Governments in India may pass laws abolishing landlords and intermediaries, establishing land ceilings, and protecting tenants, but their implementation depends upon local patterns of domination and control by land controllers over land, resources, and people.

Those who get elected to state legislatures from rural constituencies in India themselves either come from important local land·controlling communities or depend for support upon them. What matters most to such people is local influence with government departments that disperse resources for agriculture, adjudicate land matters, or control the local population, particularly the police. These local politicians do not care much for party manifestoes, policy pronouncements, and development goals. They will vote as disciplined members of ruling parties in the legislatures as long as such behavior gives them access to ministers in the state government who can control local resources and the local administration and as long as there is no better alternative. When there is a better alternative, particularly one that gives them a place in a ministry where they can exercise direct control themselves over local resources, they will defect and switch to another party or coalition.

The second great feature of Indian society that imparts a distinctive character to Indian politics is the social fragmentation associated with caste. Caste too, in some of its most fundamental aspects, permeates Indian politics with local and personal features. Success in elections in rural constituencies depends primarily upon the ability to establish a base in one of the locally dominant, land controlling castes and then combining that support with an effective approach to one or more other important local caste groups or a low caste group or the local Muslim minority. Influence in the bureaucracy and in public agencies generally depends upon personal networks of kinship and caste. Legislators and politicians generally who depend upon such local support bases and are themselves part of such personal networks again are not moved or inspired by party /19/ manifestoes and pronouncements, but are moved by what benefits they can get to distribute to their supporters, friends, and relations.

These two great features of Indian political economy and social structure — land control and caste — also contribute to a third political characteristic that imparts distinctiveness to Indian politics, namely, the necessity for those who wish to build power in state and national contexts to maintain direct or indirect links with those who can control local structures of power. Since government now provides or controls the greatest share of external resources of use in the local environments and since government also can threaten the hold of powerful local groups through land laws or police harassment, it is equally important for locally powerful persons to maintain connections with those who wield power in the state and national governments. These relations once again do not concern ideology, policy, and programs but concern control over resources and people, protection from harassment by the bureaucracy and the police, and the trading of political support and votes for such resources, protection, and other services. It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that the public politics of Indian political parties and legislatures, which are modeled after the British pattern and in which a language familiar to students of European politics is spoken, should in fact be dominated by faction, personal and local interest networks, struggles over patronage and distribution of resources, and political opportunism.

Indian politics have lacked the ideological underpinnings of European political traditions. In common with American political traditions, however, there is a strong moral streak in Indian commentary on politics which is displayed in constant condemnation of the corruption of the politicians and the bureaucrats and of the relentless pursuit of power. Such moralism, usually drawing inspiration from Gandhian ideals, gives force from time to time to mass mobilizations to bring down the ruling party. However, these mobilizations have not so far been as effective as the recurrent reform movements which every now and then have transformed American institutions and political practices. Nor has it been possible for most political parties in India to adhere to a consistent ideology in the manner of many European parties which formulate manifestoes, whose programs they actually implement when they /20/ achieve power. Rather, Indian politics have been characterized by an all-pervasive instrumentalism which washes away party manifestoes, rhetoric, and effective implementation of policies in an unending competition for power, status, and profit.

If American political traditions have continued to emphasize the importance of limiting the role of the state while Western Europe has adopted the model of the welfare state and the Socialist countries the model of a socially transforming state, India has adopted the model of the state which exists for its own sake. It is a good in itself and the source of all goods. It exists to provide everything that Indians need and require: sovereignty, unity, welfare, jobs for all, social justice. It is the duty of the state and the holders of its offices, moreover, to provide these goods and services directly to the people, irrespective of any ideology or any notion of a broad common good. It is there to serve everyday's interests, not just an abstract "public interest." Of course, no state can serve everybody's interests and the Indian state has not succeeded in doing so. The contradictions between the foreign models adopted, the Indian traditions which have permeated the actual practices within the Western-derived institutions, and what can actually be achieved in an agrarian society, a caste-dominated social order, and a heterogeneous civilization have been of the essence of Indian politics since Independence.

La conduite des affaires de l'Etat (statecraft)

Depuis 1990, [1] la croissance et la libéralisation de l'économie, [2] l'urbanisation et [3] l'arrivée au pouvoir de leaders promouvant le nationalisme hindou ont profondément transformé la vie politique en Inde. Cette triple transformation nous oblige naturellement à contextualiser l'analyse de Paul Brass, qui mettait en lumière les traits spécifiques de la vie politique dans l'Inde contemporaine sur la longue durée, mais elles n'en détruisent nullement la pertinence.

(20) One of the persisting disjunctions in pre- and post-Independence Indian politics is that between mobilization and "statecraft [service de l'Etat]," between the bases for mass mobilization of the people and the actual political goals of the leaders. This disjunction was introduced into Indian politics with the rise of Gandhi and his famous mass movements, beginning from 1920-21. The mass of the people who flocked to see and hear Gandhi as he toured the country and who participated in the great movements launched by him from time to time were moved more by traditional religious beliefs, including the belief that Gandhi himself was a saint or god upon earth who would /21/ bring miraculous changes in their present or future well-being and happiness, than by the specific political and economic demands made in the Congress charter of demands. There was in the Congress itself a clear division between Gandhi's leadership role and the parts played by other leaders such as Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru among others. Gandhi himself kept aloof from statecraft [les affaires de l'Etat] — though not from practical politics — and left the day-to-day functioning of the Congress and later the government of the country to Patel and Nehru.

This tradition of a disjunction between mobilization and statecraft did not always imply, however, a division among the persons performing the separate tasks. Jinnah, for example, who was an early opponent of the mass mobilization techniques of Gandhi, which he saw as nothing but rabble-rousing [démagogie], and who was in his early career oriented exclusively towards statecraft [le service de l'Etat], at the end of his life performed both roles. In the great mobilization of the Muslim population of the subcontinent, Jinnah roused the Muslim masses behind the slogan of "Islam in danger," around a theme that implied the creation of an Islamic state, a land of the pure and the faithful when, in fact, he had no more in view than the creation of a modern, liberal, secular state in which Muslims would be in a majority. In modern Sikh politics as well, there has been a division of roles and leadership between institutions and persons closer to the religious beliefs of the masses, on the one hand, and the politicians oriented towards party leadership and control of government in the Punjab. The secular leaders of the Sikh political party, the Akali Dal, are not equal to the task of mass mobilization and, therefore, require political alliance with a sant, a preacher or holy man, in order to preserve their own leadership, consolidate their control over the Akali Dal, or lead a successful political movement in pursuit of a set of political goals. This division of roles or disjunction of political practices is, in fact, widespread in Indian politics. Even those politicians who deliberately set out to avoid the use of such techniques or even condemn it cannot escape the popular mentalities which attribute to /22/ them religious or other more-than-human, charismatic qualities essential to successful leadership in contemporary Indian politics. Nehru condemned every sort of "casteism, communalism, provincialism" and parochialism in his public speeches everywhere in India and was rewarded by the devotion of the Brahmans throughout north India and the adulation of the Hindu masses who probably saw him as they saw Gandhi, as a living god on earth. We have no studies of mass perceptions of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, but it is certain that she was widely perceived in the image of the female goddess and mother of the people of lndia and was, in fact, often called late in life "Mataji" or "mother" with somewhat more reverence than that ordinarily due to an older woman and mother of children in India.

Contemporary Indian politics have also witnessed the rise of film stars to the leadership of two south Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Andhra. In both cases, these film stars were of a different sort from Ronald Reagan, for their film roles were of mythopoeic characters and their audiences identified them with the heroes and gods whom they played on the screen. In these cases, however, there has been a reunion of roles in which the mass mobilizer and the master of statecraft [art de gouverner] merge into a single demagogic type.

The irony, however, is that this type of disjunction is not the kind which Gandhi himself could have sought. It is more likely, rather, that Gandhi himself sought to maintain a distance between the exercise of moral authority, on the one hand, and political action and the practice of statecraft, on the other hand. There was an implicit assumption in Gandhi's stance that power and political responsibility in state institutions were inherently corrupting and an explicit statement that freedom from British rule was less important than self-mastery. Indeed, most of the techniques adopted by Gandhi during his mass movements involved abstention, non-cooperation, and withdrawal from participation in institutions designed for India by the British. He left the definition of the means of gaining control of such institutions for the statesmen of the Congress.

This disjunction between moral and political authority has also continued to play its part in post-Independence Indian politics. /23/ Like the other disjunction, it has sometimes involved a division of political roles and responsibilities or of institutions, but it has often also involved the same person attempting to adopt both stances. One form it has taken has been the disavowal by the acknowledged leader of a party of any desire for public office. Rammanohar Lohia, the famous radical Socialist leader who died in 1969, adopted this form, refusing to accept any formal leadership in his party and disavowing any desire for high political office beyond his membership in Parliament. Jayaprakash Narayan adopted the different strategy of withdrawal from the political arena into constructive work in the villages, while acting at the same time as a moral critic of political authority and moral adviser to practicing politicians until his own sense of moral outrage against Mrs. Gandhi's authoritarian and perceived corrupting leadership of the country led him to take the lead as mass mobilizer in a movement to displace her from power. The third form in which this disjunction between moral and political authority has expressed itself has been in the attempt by some politicians to play crusading roles without withdrawing from politics and without renouncing political ambitions. For such politicians, their constant refrain is the need to cleanse Indian politics of its corruption and of their corrupt rivals.

In 1988, in preparation for the Ninth General Elections anticipated in 1989, a political struggle was being waged between a former Congress minister in the central government and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), Vishwanath Pratap Singh, and Rajiv Gandhi. The former resigned from office in 1987 in disgust over the alleged gross corruption by the holders of high office in connection with defence contracts [Bofors scandal] which, it was implied, had not left the Prime Minister himself unsullied. In his initial resignation, he also stated explicitly his intention to avoid in future the acceptance of any office of state. If, in victory, he should adhere to his vow, he would conform to the role established by Gandhi and repeated by Jayaprakash Narayan after the Janata victory in the 1977 elections of remaining aloof from the actual exercise of power in order to retain the purity of moral authority.

A third legacy of Gandhi which has become even more attenuated than the other two concerns the proper role of leadership in relation to the masses. Gandhi was a mass mobilizer of unprecedented skill /24/ in India who was using his skill to build a movement to expel the British from India. Yet, he distrusted the people and, by one account, even considered them at bottom a "mob," [une pègre] subject to immoral behavior and prone to violence [Partha Chatterjee, 1984]. Mobilization required simultaneously moral upliftment and leadership to prevent the transformation of mass political action into criminal activity and violence.

Gandhi also was clearly aware that contemporary Indian society was internally divided into castes and religious communities. Effective mobilization of the heterogeneous fragments of Hindu society required, therefore, the use of transcendent Hindu symbols to emphasize Hindu unity while at the same time making special appeals for Hindu-Muslim unity. It has often been pointed out that there was a problem of contradiction between the two goals, which Gandhi never resolved himself, though he was prepared to risk his own life for the second goal and did, in the end, become a martyr to it at the hands of a fanatical Hindu assassin [30 janvier 1948].

In the post-Independence era, numerous variations on Gandhi's techniques of mass mobilization have been applied countless times in movements small and great. Increasingly, however, mass mobilization has become associated more with competitive demagogy, with the manipulation of symbols for the sole purpose of building a political following to win an election or to achieve some other purpose and with scant regard for any moral goal.

The difficulties of constructing all-India social movements and political organizations and of mobilizing the mass of the people around all-India symbols of unity or opposition arise partly out of the inherent cultural diversity of the peoples of India, partly out of the significance of local issues of land control, but also out of the dynamics of intra-provincial politics and center-provincial relations in India's multi-level political system. Those dynamics have operated /25/ repeatedly in similar ways, whose main patterns are the following.

Firstly, at every level of the system, factionalism, personalism, and opportunism rather than ideology, party ties, nationalism, or communalism have structured routine conflict and alliance patterns. Factional conflicts are sometimes suppressed or attenuated at the bottom and the top of the system: at the bottom, when some local leader or leaders have overwhelming power; at the top, where it is hard to maintain the links in the chain of support that lead to a leader's local structures of power. At the middle levels, particularly at the provincial levels, factionalism is generally rampant.

The second feature is the principle of interference or intrusion of politics from higher levels into lower levels. This principle has had two bases. It has operated because of the absence of any doctrine of the autonomy of local bodies or "states' rights" and the presence instead of a presumed right of higher authority to intervene to maintain order at lower levels. The second basis has lain in the need either for support at lower levels in the system to build power at higher levels or for a transcendent appeal to overcome or bypass the essentially local character of politics and structures of power in Indian politics.

The third feature of routine politics in India has been the pervasiveness in provincial and local politics of intra-communal political divisions and inter-elite cooperation across ·communal boundaries. The fourth feature follows from the other three and may be called the principle of division, a variation on the theme of "divide and rule." In routine politics in India, power at each level and especially across levels is attained by dividing the opposition, not by oppressing it. One offers "inducements": ministerships, patronage, non-interference in a leader's local base, cash.

The fifth feature, however, runs counter to the others to some extent. It is the principle of hierarchical loyalties, which is based on the existence in India of ascending levels of loyalty running from jati (the local caste group) to nation, with many intermediate stages in between, that can be called upon by leaders and movements to build support through communal unity rather than through division of the opposition. It operates at the mass level and influences popular allegiances at moments of choice, such as elections, mass movements, / 26/ or communal riots. It presents itself in the form of dichotomous oppositions between caste groups, religious communities, nationalists against British rulers, and occurs whenever structures of opportunity are created to facilitate or precipitate such oppositions.

The sixth feature is the premium on charismatic or demagogic leadership that can call upon the appropriate loyalties at critical moments to transcend the features of routine politics identified above, particularly at the mass level. The strategy of dealing with local leaders then becomes one not of dividing leadership groups, but of threatening to undercut the leader's local bases of support with an appeal that will move his local supporters and break temporarily local links and allegiances. There have been several kinds of leaders in South Asian political history with this kind of capacity. One type, of which Gandhi was the preeminent example, rose to prominence through both mass ltadership achieved through struggle and effective liaison with provincial leaders. He retained no local political base for himself and sought no national power for himself.

A second type, represented by the Nehru family, achieved national power through direct anointment by Gandhi, in the case of Nehru [Prime Minister de 1947 à sa mort, le 27 mai 1964], or through their own parents, as in the cases of Mrs. Gandhi [Prime Minister pour la première fois en janvier 1966]. and Rajiv [Prime Minister du 31 octobre 1984, assassinat de sa mère Indira Gandhi, au 21 mai 1991, son propre assassinat]. Father and daughter, however, retained their powers in different ways, the father by maintaining bargaining relations with provincial leaders, the daughter by destroying them. Both, however, maintained direct popular or demagogic links with the masses. Rajiv, who has oscillated between the methods of his grandfather and his mother and lacks any distinctive leadership qualities of his own, has survived [«survit» = il est encore vivant et Prime Minister en 1990, année de publication du livre de Paul Brass] largely on the basis of divine right. The third type is exemplified by Jinnah, who built upon personal reputation rather than mass leadership, who was not really anointed by anyone but himself for the leadership role he ultimately adopted but who, at last, his own personal dispositions to the contrary notwithstanding, had to take up the same dual role that both Gandhi and the Nehrus adopted: plebiscitary or demagogic appeals directly to the masses combined with direct bargaining with political leaders.

It is a recurring feature of Indian political history that only a charismatic leader with a simple appeal can unite the subcontinent or any of its larger peoples for a political purpose. While the /27/prevailing tendencies in normal times are towards disaggregation of power, regionalism, and opportunism, the desire to centralize power in India leads to efforts to nationalize issues, which also means their simplification and symbolization in slogans, which in turn places a high premium on charismatic or demagogic leadership. However, such mobilization is evanescent; power so aggregated soon crumbles, and defection and the scramble for places reemerges immediately the dust settles. From Gandhi's first great mass movement, the Non-cooperation Khilafat movement of 1920-21, to the Rajiv Gandhi landslide election of 1984, Indian politics have oscillated between the sordid, everyday, patronage politics of the provincial and local politicians and the enthusiasms aroused by mass popular leaders.