After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to the Indian Nation-State 2. The Sub-Continental State under the Mauryan and Gupta Dynasties 3. Pyramidally Segmented States or Imperial Formations? 4. Patrimonial-Bureaucratic States 5. The Colonial State.
- Introduction to the Indian Nation-State
- The Sub-Continental State under the Mauryan and Gupta Dynasties
- Pyramidally Segmented States or Imperial Formations?
- Patrimonial-Bureaucratic States
- The Colonial State
1. Introduction to the Indian Nation-State:
The Indian nation-state, imagined and struggled for during the anti-colonial movement, was formally inaugurated in 1947 and given constitutional sanction in 1950.
Of its two components, viz. state and nation,’ the former was largely an adapted continuation of the modern apparatus of the colonial state, whereas the latter was the anti-colonial creation of the Indian national movement, especially of its Gandhi-Nehru phase.
In the processes leading to, and culminating in, the transfer of power from the British rulers to the leadership of the Indian nationalist movement and the attendant process of constitution making, the state apparatus of colonial modernity became transformed by, and anchored in, the moral-political concerns of Indian nationalism.
Appropriately stressing the newness of the independent nation- state, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, announced its birth, at midnight of 14- 15 August 1947, as ‘a moment, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out of the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance’.
How was this ‘nation’ suppressed by colonialism and how has it found its new expression in the post-colonial state? What has been its post-Independence career?
In their different ways, the British colonial state in India and the anti-colonial nationalist movement which it gave rise to, marked major departures from the structure of political authority and the culture of political identities as they had existed in pre-colonial/pre-modern Indian society.
Those departures or discontinuities constitute the birthmarks of the distinctive identity of the contemporary Indian nation-state. This state, however, even while resolutely pursuing modernity, does claim a certain moral-cultural or cultural-political continuity with tradition or, to repeat Nehru’s words, with the long-suppressed ‘soul’ of the Indian nation.
This continuity is formally expressed, often for symbolic purposes, in several different places and ways, some of which include:
(i) Article 1 of the Constitution, which identifies India as ‘Bharat’ reminiscent of Bharatvarsha (the land of the progeny of Bharat, celebrated in the great epic, Mahabharata);
(ii) The use of an adaptation from the Sarnath lion capital of Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, as the state emblem of India;
(iii) The incorporation, into that emblem, of the inscription, satyameva jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs), which is taken from the Mundaka Upanishad;
(iv) The incorporation of Ashoka’s dharmachakra (Wheel of Law) on the national flag of India; and
(v) The constitutionally directed (Article 40) efforts of the state to promote panchayati raj, the form of village republics in ancient India.
What then were the characteristics of state formations and their patterns of legitimization in India in pre-colonial times?
2. The Sub-Continental State under the Mauryan and Gupta Dynasties:
In India’s long pre-colonial history, a centralized pan-Indian state was the exception rather than the rule. The prevailing pattern was one of resilient power structures at the level of the village community and several regional kingdoms of varying power with changing interrelationships with one another.
True, many of these regional states did often pursue ambitions for sub-continental hegemony, but only on very few occasions were they successful.
In fact, prior to British colonial rule, there have been only three brief periods ‘when the parochial loyalties of family, caste, and region have been transcended by a larger pan-Indian vision of what a united India might be’.
These three ‘pan-Indian visions’ were those of the Mauryan empire under Ashoka (third century Bc), whose legitimacy rested partly on Kautilya’s Arthashastra (science of wealth) and partly on the Buddhist dhamma; the Gupta empire under Chandra Gupta II (fourth and early fifth centuries ad), with its legitimation by a composite Hindu religious culture which absorbed several ideas from Buddhism and Jainism; and the Mughal empire under Akbar (sixteenth century) with its largely Indo-Islamic legitimation.
The infrequency of the formation of centralized or strong sub-continental states and their early mortality in India’s long history are generally interpreted as having to do partly with the frequency of foreign invasions and partly with the fact that structures of political authority remained rooted ‘in lineage and kinship networks and primordial loyalties rather than in associational structures and impersonal norms’.
The power of the dominant clans, lineages, and castes of a given local society was legitimized by the Brahmanical religion. In ancient India, the transition from nomadic and semi-nomadic tribal communities to agricultural settlements took the form of caste society, which has proved to be a change-inhibiting system of social stratification.
In caste society, the political agency of the people was either circumscribed (in the case of the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas) or altogether precluded (in the case of the other, lower castes, namely the Vaishyas and Shudras, as well as the untouchables, the Aspriyas).
Moreover, there was a peculiar embedding or reinforcing relationship between the ritual hierarchy based on religious notions of purity and pollution and the hierarchies of wealth and power—peculiar in the sense that the lowest levels of all these hierarchies tended to coincide, whereas their highest levels were differentiated from each other.
In this ingenious system of social stratification, it was extremely difficult for the ordinary people to pinpoint any locus of compounded privileges or the social/human causation of, or political responsibility for, the compounded deprivations of those who found themselves at the bottom of the hierarchies of status, wealth, and power.
This had a change-inhibiting impact, especially at the level of the local village community Its social order, which was indeed one of inequality, was interpreted by the Brahmins as ‘natural’ or ‘pre-given’ (in/by the immutable, sacred shruti [revealed] texts), and not politically constructed by historically situated human agents.
In a society which is thought to be made up of such ‘pre-ordered’ or ‘pre-governed’ village communities, the state or the political sphere had only a very limited or marginal role to play It had no sovereignty in any political sense; it did not have to engage in any legislative or judicial activities for creating or transforming the social order, be it the order of gender relations or of production relations.
Thus, as Francine Frankel writes, ‘the failure of centralized states to emerge in the subcontinent was directly linked to the strength of Brahmanical ideology in providing sacral legitimation for localized dominance relations.
These religious beliefs made the state unnecessary for the preservation of social harmony [1989: 1-2]’. This is not to deny the limited space which the Brahmanically legitimized social order assigned to the state or the political-administrative sphere (of the Kshatriyas). Under Brahmanical edict, the state had to uphold or maintain, without any change, the pre-given social order of varnashramdharma and punish those who infringed it.
The state of course also had to perform the basic function of providing protection to the community from its external enemies. Accordingly, the caste system provided for a very limited functional autonomy to its ‘political’ segment, the Kshatriyas, to raise and administer the required revenues and to manage its bureaucracy, police, and army.
A part of the state’s revenues had to be used to construct and maintain temples, whose priests crowned the kings and advised them on their rajadharm (king’s duty) of upholding the varnashramdharma.
Given the limited or constrained nature of their differentiation or autonomy from the Brahmanically legitimized ‘pre-given’ or ‘natural’ social order, the institutions of the state could not develop as political institutions.
Hence the formation of the first centralized pan-Indian state, namely the Mauryan empire, could come about only through radical departures from the old religiously legitimized social order—departures which established a clear differentiation or autonomy of the political sphere from the socio-religious sphere.
Such departures were made since the sixth century bc, first, by heretical movements within religion, namely. Buddhism and Jainism, and, second, by the radically new, secular-pragmatic theory of the state and government contained in the Arthashastra, attributed to Kautilya, the mentor and minister of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan empire.
As noted by Romila Thapar, some of the ways in which the ‘reforms’ or ‘heresies’ of Buddhism and Jainism contributed to changing the socio-economic system, were- the support of the investment of economic surplus in commercial activities rather than its consumption in ritual functions, the formation of the Buddhist sangha, with the monastery, which was supported by the lay followers; as its main institution; and the participation of the emperors, qua chakravartins (universal rulers with not only administrative functions but also legislative and judicial sovereignty), in the Buddhist Councils held at Rajagrha and Pataliputra.
The most important departure of Buddhism and Jainism from Brahmanism was their advocacy of a universalistic ethics for ‘the entire range of castes in an effort to equate people not socially but at least at the level of ethical action’. Buddhism and Jainism, however, were primarily heretical movements within the religious sphere and, with the exception of the later phase of Ashoka’s rule, did not exert much direct influence on the state.
According to Louis Dumont, the Jain and Buddhist reaction against Brahminic supremacy ‘has been effected through renunciation, and not within the social order itself; in other words it occurred on a level transcending society’.
I would, however, maintain that the affirmation of human agency by the individual in her/his religious life did have a revolutionary impact on political life in the sense that the political agency of the individual could no longer be de-legitimized by Brahmanical ideology.
In fact, since its beginning, Buddhism has been associated with a republican view of political life and a contractarian view of the state. Moreover, during the time of Ashoka, Buddhism ‘was not merely a religious belief; it was in addition a social and intellectual movement at many levels, influencing many aspects of society’.
Yet it cannot be denied that the earlier strand of Buddhism, with its emphasis on renunciation and monastic life, could not have been the answer to the need for political unity and centralization in the wake of the incursions into India by Alexander of Macedon. That need was met by the theory of state which was provided by Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
According to it, the answer to the dangers of anarchy was to be found neither in renunciation nor in excessive individualism, but in a strong, centralized state under a sovereign king. What was required, in other words, was a clear or secular differentiation or autonomy of the political from the socio- religious.
The Arthashastra provided for such a clear autonomy. As V.R. Mehta writes: ‘While the earlier literature [e.g. the Dharmasutras] had subordinated the king to brahmanical authority, and the Shantiparva gave the king some discretion, when we come to Kautilya, we find that the king is given the last say in all matters’.
The autonomy of the political sphere from the socio-religious sphere was stretched to the extent of giving to the former its own moral standard, namely the principle of the end justifying the means. With the acquisition of such a sovereignty by the state, religion became a private affair of the citizens.
Moreover, according to Kautilya, the king is no more a mere protector or upholder of a pre-given socio- religious order; he has sovereign legislative, judicial, and executive powers. ‘In the Arthashastra,’ writes Dumont, ‘the king exerts a complete hold on everything, and in the first place on the soil.
It was this radically new theory of state that guided and informed the formation and consolidation of the first centralized imperial Indian state under the Mauryan dynasty of Chandragupta, Bindusara, and Ashoka. Its formation through conquests and consolidation through a centralized bureaucracy rested on the fiscal security provided by an economy of expanding agriculture, craft guilds, and trade.
The intervention of the state for such expansion, however, was by and large confined to the metropolitan or core region of the empire, whereas in the peripheral regions the presence of the imperial state, through its centralized administration, was usually confined to the collection of taxes, tributes and, during campaigns or conquests, plunder.
The taxes and tributes thus collected were used to pay the large army and bureaucracy and the spies, who worked in the guise of ascetics, mendicant women, prostitutes, merchants, and students.
Romila Thapar has used the symbolism of the wheel and the mandala theory of state to describe the relationship between the core region of the Mauryan empire, which served as a firm and secure ‘hub of power’, and its peripheral areas. Just as a wheel is marked by a differential distribution of power, so in the Mauryan empire there was ‘a differentiation between power at the centre of the circle and at the rim’.
Or, as the mandala theory- stipulates, the core region and its peripheral areas stood in a kaleidoscopic; relationship marked by a constant vacillation between friendship-and-hostility, between the central king and his circle (mandala) of friendly, hostile, and neutral kings.
Towards the close of Ashoka’s rule, the Mauryan state experienced some severe socioeconomic and religious conflicts, namely conflicts between the Brahmins and the heterodox sects (Buddhists and Jains) and the disaffection of the rising mercantile communities whose interests clashed with the revenue requirements of the bureaucratic-militaristic state.
Taxes were in fact collected ‘from every conceivable human activity with which the state could be associated’. Heavy taxation and bureaucratic controls did not contribute to the expansion of economic activity. The harassment of traders blocked economic progress and led to a fiscal crisis of the state (Kosambi 1970: 165 and 1975: 216).
Confronted by these problems, Ashoka felt that the Arthashastra framework of double or separate standards for the state and for the people had to be replaced by, or at least brought under the purview of, a new common or universal ethics that would not only unite the state and its citizens but also bring about toleration among the religious sects.
Accordingly, he expounded and propagated a new, universal dhamma (the Prakrit word used in Buddhist literature for the Sanskrit word, dharma). Dhamma, for Ashoka, meant neither piety nor the rules of caste society, but a spirit of righteous conduct and social responsibility. Its main principles were non-violence, public works or people’s welfare, and, most importantly, toleration, especially of opposing religious sects.
In one of his rock edicts, he propagated the principle of toleration in the following way:
The Beloved of the Gods [i.e. Ashoka] does not consider gifts of honour to be as important as the essential advancement of all sects. Its basis is the control of one’s speech, so as not to extol one’s own sector disparage that of another on unsuitable occasions. …
On each occasion one should honour another man’s sect, for by doing so one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other man, while, by doing otherwise, one diminishes the influence of one’s own sect and harms the other man’s … therefore concord is to be commended so that men may hear one another’s principles.
Although Ashoka’s actual policy of dhamma made only a very small contribution to bringing about social unity and political stability, his role in emphasizing the need for moral legitimacy of the actions of the state has remained a lasting legacy in India. ‘It can even be said,’ to quote Kosambi, ‘that the Indian national character received the stamp of dhamma from the time of Asoka.
The word soon came to mean something else than “equity”, namely religion—and by no means the sort of religion Asoka himself professed.
The Brahmanic reaction to the Buddhist dhamma was one of the factors contributing to the decline of the Mauryan empire. The former led eventually to a great religious-cultural resurgence and creativity, culminating in what is referred to as the ‘classical Hindu’ period of Indian history under the imperial rule of the Gupta dynasty (ad 320-500).
However, the Hindu religion from which the legitimacy of the imperial rule of the Gupta emperors was derived was a remarkably pluralist religion, containing within it three major sects/cults (of Shiva, Vishnu/ Krishna, and Durga/Kali).
The Gupta rulers were also tolerant towards and supportive of other religions, notably Buddhism and Jainism. There was also a Christian community in South India. According to many historians, the Gupta emperors pursued a composite pan-Indian moral-cultural vision that accommodated religious and regional differences.
The Law book of Yajnavalkya, which served as a guide to the Gupta rulers, not only drew a clear distinction between secular and religious law but also removed some of the legal discriminations against the Shudras and some of the legal privileges which the Brahmins had earlier enjoyed. Yet it must be remembered that the primary interest of the Gupta rulers was to rule and not to bring about social revolution.
Their rule sustained and was sustained by the ‘Aryan patriarchal society’, which, among other things, practised pre-puberty marriages and sati.
Under the rule of the Gupta dynasty, there was a revival of some aspects of the old Brahmanical ideology (for example caste hierarchy, Vedic rituals, and the horse sacrifice). The Gupta period was also associated with some new additions to, or redactions of, the smriti literature, especially the Dharmashastra and the Bhagwad Gita, which, among other things, presented the moral philosophy of nishkama karma (the duty of disinterested action).
The religious pluralism and toleration of the imperial state of the Guptas was associated with the flourishing of trade and commerce both across the regions within the empire and across the oceans, especially with Southeast Asia, where both Buddhists and Hindus visited and settled.
There was also an association between the religious pluralism of the imperial state and the considerable degree of political and administrative autonomy which the provinces or centralization of rule which was achieved under the Mauryan or the Gupta dynasties was not continued or repeated until the coming of the Mughals in the sixteenth century.
In the intervening period, the Indian polity was loose y integrated of what has come to be alternatively designated as ‘pyramidally segmented states or ‘imperial formations’. In their separate ways, theoretical constructs such as these are meant to differentiate the medieval Indian polity from the unitary, centralized, territorial state of European modernity.
3. Pyramidally Segmented States or Imperial Formations?
According to Burton Stein (1980), a pyramidally segmented type of state was formed in medieval south India, especially during the Pallava, Chola, and Vijayanagara periods, by the interlinking of ‘relatively self-sufficient, enduring, and often quite ancient localized societies.
Such a state is not an amalgamation or absorption of localized units into an as implied in the unitary state, but is an arrangement in which the local units-segments-retain their essential being as segmental parts of a whole.
One reason why each of the segmental units remains autonomous is that each is pyramidal, that is, each consists of balanced and opposed internal groupings which zealously cling to their independent identities, privileges, and internal governance, and demand that these units be protected by their local rulers.
In this polity, sovereignty was dual in the sense that while the king exercised an essentially ritual sovereignty in all the zones (nadus) of the state, he wielded actual political sovereignty or control only in the core or central zone of the state system, leaving the intermediate and peripheral zones to the political sovereignty or control of the ‘little kings’ and chiefs.
However, because all the segmentary units recognized the king as the single, incorporative, ritual authority, they together constituted a state system of the segmentary type.
It was segmentary rather than unitary or centralized in the sense that it had a vertical discontinuity of actual power relations with the ‘little kings’ and chiefs of the peripheral zones retaining their own armies and administrators.
Inter-segmentary cooperation was brought about in acts of defence or aggression against others and was cemented by their common recognition of the ritually incorporative sovereignty of the king of kings.
This came about in Tamil Nadu during the Pallava period, when the Aryan/Brahmanical conception of ‘ritually incorporative kingship’ or sovereignty was introduced. To quote Stem again- ‘The pre-Pallavan, or Classical, period was one in which three kingships and a great number of chieftainships existed among Tamils; from the Pallava period, the Tamils could have but one great king, one who, by means of ritual, incorporated all lesser rulers.
Because its political unity was based only or essentially on the sacral or ritual rulership of the king over the segmentary units, which were in complementary opposition to one another the pre modern, pyramidally segmented state, in contrast to the modern, unitary, centralized state, constituted a fluid and indeterminate political structure with vague boundaries and shifting capitals.
The fixed or stable elements of the state existed only at local levels, which were under the control of dominant cultivating or merchant groups and of the ‘little kings’.
As protectors of the locality, these ‘little kings’ could obtain resources by force. But since their rulership had a ritual or sacral character as well, they had to redistribute some of their amassed resources through the ‘dharmic activities’ of giving danas (gifts) to temples and Brahmins.
The hundreds of nadus which comprised south Indian society under the Pallavas or the Cholas were unified not through any technical or bureaucratic mechanisms but through the ‘idiom of a dharmic universe realized through the sacral kingship’ of the ruling dynasty.
The segmentary model of the state in ‘medieval’ south India has been criticized for its overemphasis on the segmentariness of the polity and the essentially ritual nature of the sovereignty of its king.
Alam and Subrahmanyam feel that the regular fiscal flows which were maintained between the localities and the core region of the Vijayanagar kingdom made it more than a mere segmentary state based essentially on ritual sovereignty.
According to Ronald Inden (1990), the Indian polity during the so-called medieval period had a greater and, indeed, different type of unity than what is granted to it by Stein’s notions of pyramidal segmentation and ritual sovereignty.
Rejecting Stein’s dichotomy between the higher ritual sovereignty of the Great King and the lower political sovereignties of the ‘little kings’, Inden seems to suggest that the so-called ritual or dharmic activities were also political activities and vice versa.
Instead of Stein’s dichotomy between the ritual/sacral sovereignty of the Great King and the political sovereignty of the ‘little kings’, Inden speaks of the chakravartin’s ‘compound activity’ whereby he seeks both dig-vijaya (conquest of the quarters, whereby other kings are brought into ‘the circle of kings’ or the imperial formation) and dharma-vijaya (cosmomoral victory). Inden writes.
All of the major [Indian] religious orders incorporated into their soteriologies the idea of a universal monarch or paramount king of India, a ‘great man’ (mahapurusha) who, endowed with special powers, was able to complete a ‘conquest of quarters’ of India in the name of a still greater agent, the one taken as overlord of the cosmos.
The names given to this compound activity, the ‘conquest of quarters’ (dig- vijaya) and ‘conquest in accord with cosmomoral order’ (dharma-vijaya), referred to a royal progress that was supposed to display the performer of it as the overlord of each of the four directional regions, together with a middle region, taken to comprise the whole of the earth.
Inden does concur with Stein in denying to the medieval-Indian state the centralized political control and administration that characterize the modern nation-state.
He also sees in medieval India a succession, not of mere ritually integrated kingdoms, but of real ‘imperial formations’ which approximate the Arthashastra model of the ‘circle of kings’ (mandala, rajamandala) under the paramount control or domination of a chakravartin (universal monarch).
Each one of these imperial formations consisted of ‘one (or more) empires and a number of other kingdoms’. Through ‘dialectical and eristical relations with one another’, they together formed ‘a scale of polities, or rulerships that overlapped one another’. Among them, there was frequent competition for the position of the ‘highest polity in the scale’.
According to Inden, the Indian polity functioned as an imperial formation under the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Cholas, and the Vijayanagara rulers.
Under their rule, the core or middle region of Indian polity was displaced from the Ganga-Yamuna region on to their own imperial domains. He also claims that Indian polity under the rule of the Rashtrakuta dynasty (ad 753-975) was one of a total of only four imperial formations which made up the whole of Eurasia and North Africa in that period, the others being the Arab, Chinese, and Greek imperial formations.
4. Patrimonial-Bureaucratic States:
The Mughal empire, especially under Akbar’s rule (1556-1605), has been viewed as ‘the culmination of pre-modern state administration in India’. It had a centralized administrative machinery, called the mansabdari system, in which there was a fusion of military and civil services into a single, hierarchic bureaucracy under the emperor.
Each administrative- military officer had a definite number rank (mansab), generally determined by the number of cavalry (sawars, horsemen), he had to raise and maintain out of his emoluments and which, when needed, were available to the emperor.
The payments were either in cash or by an assignment of the land-revenue of a specified area (jagir), under the control of the mansabdar and his subordinate revenue collectors, including the zamindars. The empire was divided into subahs (provinces), sarkars (subdivisions), and mohallas (revenue circles).
More or less the same administrative structure was developed in each subah. Yet, as pointed out by Alam and Subrahmanyam, there was noticeable variation in land-revenue administration from region to region, rather than an ‘unremitting centralization based on an elaborate and uniform bureaucracy which has “penetrated” the countryside.
The zamindars in the countryside as well as bankers and traders retained a certain degree of autonomy Moreover, as many new regions were conquered and incorporated into the empire, regional and local variations had to be recognized so that the state eventually resembled a “patchwork quilt” rather than a “wall-to-wall carpet”.
Notwithstanding the absence of any ‘unremitting centralization’ in the administrative set-up of the Mughal empire, it needs to be noted that the Mughal state was seen ‘in all of the subcontinent as the only true source of sovereignty’.
The rise and consolidation of this great patrimonial-bureaucratic state in India coincided with, and was, in its later phase, helped by, the dawn of modern technology in Europe. Especially significant was the role of artillery, ‘the most brilliant and dreadful representative of modern technology’ in those times, when there also arose absolute monarchies in Europe.
As pointed out by M. Athar Ali, even though the Mughal army was mainly a cavalry force, artillery did play a significant role in it. Its infantrymen included ‘match-lock men, gunners, cannoneers[,] and rocketeers’ and thus they had a decisive advantage against the traditional chiefs, including the Rajput’s.
Another product of early European modernity was the influx of silver into the international market, resulting from the Spanish ‘discovery’ of South America. This made it possible for the Mughal emperors, especially Akbar, to replace the existing debased coinage (largely of copper content) that had a new currency system, with the highly valued silver-based rupee as the basic unit.
This contributed to the expansion of commerce and credit, and also to the centralization of the state.
Some of the subjects of the Mughal state became aware of early modern European scientific knowledge and questioned the finality of traditional knowledge. For instance, Abul Fazl, Akbar’s ideologue, propagandist, and adviser, questioned those who were opposing sciences that were not based upon the Quran.
There were also ‘revisionist’ movements, like the Mahdavi movement, which challenged earlier interpretations of Islamic doctrines. ‘All these,’ writes M. Athar Ali, ‘were symptoms of a cleft in the hitherto solid structure of faith in the traditional cultural heritage of Islam’.
Partly in response to this new situation and partly for other reasons (like the majority status of the Hindus in the population and Akbar’s marriage to a Hindu princess), Akbar pursued a policy of religious tolerance and promoted regular, inter-religious discussions.
More importantly, he devised a new, eclectic set of beliefs called Divine Faith (Din-el-Uahi), which contained elements from Islam, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. Din-e-Ilahi, however, was not made a state religion. Moreover, in the administration of justice, Akbar assumed the role of an interpreter of the Islamic law, which he occasionally supplemented by imperial edicts (qanun-e-shahi).
Despite these advances in military-fiscal organization and moral-political legitimation, the Mughal state basically remained a patrimonial-bureaucratic state, in which the empire was identified with the person of the emperor and personal loyalty to the emperor was equated with loyalty to the state. This is well expressed by J.F. Richards:
From an external perspective, the bureaucratic structure of the empire[,] with its specialized offices, systematic procedures, and hierarchies of technically proficient officials, was the most impressive aspect of the empire.
However, the core of the imperial system embedded within the outer structure was formed by the complex matrix of ties of loyalty and interest between the amirs and the emperor [1998: 129]. Some of the patrimonial-bureaucratic features of the Mughal state are brought out by Stephen Blake in his reading of Abul Fazl’s Ain-i Akbari (Institutes of Akbar), as follows:
In its depiction of the emperor as a divinely aided patriarch, the household[,] as the central element in government, members of the army as dependent on the emperor, the administration as a loosely structured group of men controlled by the Imperial household and travel as a significant part of the emperor’s activities, the Ain-i Akbari supports the suggestion that Akbar’s state was a patrimonial-bureaucratic empire [1995: 302],
A variant of the Mughal patrimonial-bureaucratic state was the patrimonial-sultanist state of Tipu Sultan (1783-99), which functioned as a semi-independent state under the carapace of the sovereignty of the Mughal state. Under this sultanism, the army was the first institution of the state and its ruler was above all a war commander, demanding the personal loyalty of the subordinates.
Sultanism essentially meant the elimination of the tribute-paying intermediaries and the instantiation of a centralized machinery of fiscal control.
Given its essential character as an extended patrimonial-bureaucratic system, the Mughal state cannot be said to have been constituted according to the distinctly modern values and principles of the formation and legitimation of the state.
In effect, the subcontinent of India, to quote M. Athar Ali once more, ‘had a centralized quasi-modern state without any developing sense of nationhood’ (1995: 277) among the mass of the imperial subjects.
In fact, one of the contributing factors to the decline of the Mughal imperial authority was the resistance movements not only of the peasants and other regional and local groups but also of the zamindars, who capitalized on the peasants’ grievances against the state and mobilized them for their own political ends.
The patrimonial-bureaucratic structures of the Mughal state were initially relied upon by the colonial regime, which, as we shall see below, eventually replaced it by the fully bureaucratized, modern, unitary state based on European principles. Another point of continuity and change between the Mughal and colonial states pertained to the use of what Foucault calls the modern technologies of power.
The Mughal state did use some rudimentary, early modern versions of modern technologies of power and surplus extraction such as surveys, measurements, accounts, and audits. Also, panopticons- style prisons (designed to enable the warder to directly observe prisoners without being seen by them) were built at Poona and Ratnagiri.
Through these new technologies of power exercise, the Mughal state eliminated some of the intermediary structures and acquired direct control over its subjects. These early modern technologies of power/knowledge, however, were more fully developed and used by the colonial state and used for substantively new purposes.
5. The Colonial State:
The British colonial state in India marked a substantial break with the previous state forms. This had to do with its European origins and orientations or purposes, which were inextricably linked with the career of capitalist modernity on a world scale.
The English East India Company, founded in London in 1600 under the Charter rights given by the British government, began its trading activities in India by securing privileges from Mughal emperor Jahangir, in 1619 for setting up and fortifying ‘factories’ or trading centres.
Operating from those trading centres, the functionaries of the Company eventually resorted to political conspiracies, military conquests, and the instantiation of Company raj. These actions constituted the proto-state of colonial modernity, to be replaced, after the 1857 Great Revoh, by the fully designed and formally proclaimed colonial modern state.
The Company’s securing of Diwani (the high office entitling its incumbent to collect all revenues) in Bengal in 1765 from the Mughal emperor constituted the ‘inaugural moment of the raj’. Diwani enabled the Company to legitimize its military conquest of Bengal (in the battles of Plassey and Buxar) and to launch its new career as the incipient proto-state of British colonialism in India.
As Diwan, the Company claimed legality for its new function of administering civil justice and collecting and administering land revenues, which were used to finance further trade and military conquests, and to pay an annuity of 400 000 pounds sterling as tribute to the British exchequer.
By the Pitt’s India Act of 1784, the British government brought the Company raj under its indirect rule. After the suppression of the Great Indian Revolt of 1857, the indirect rule of Great Britain over India was converted into direct imperial rule.
This was effected through an Act passed by British parliament and proclaimed in India by Queen Victoria in November 1858. By this Act and Proclamation, the British Indian colonial state was formally created, with its sovereignty appropriated by the British Crown.
This colonial state came to exercise direct rule over two-thirds of the territory and four-fifths of the population of the country, while the rest of the territory and population were left to the rule of the native princes, subject to the ‘paramount’ overseeing of resident agents of the Viceroy.
The Company raj received initial support from Indian financial and merchant capitalists, who saw themselves as standing to benefit more from the larger trade networks of the East India Company than from the military fiscalism of the Mughal nawabs or from the sultanist or warrior states of Mysore, the Marathas, or the Sikhs.
For instance, Robert Clive’s victory in the Battle of Plassey was crucially dependent on the support he received from the merchant bankers Jagat Seth and Omichand. As the Company raj became consolidated, Indian commercial and trading groups were reduced to very inferior status, although some of them found avenues for business in some of the British colonies in Africa, West Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Being both colonial and modern at the same time, the state of the British Indian empire marked a substantial departure from India’s pre-modern/pre-colonial state structures as well as from its modern mother state in England.
The most obvious way in which the colonial State differed from the pre-colonial states lay in the greatness and pervasiveness of its activities. Commenting on some of those ‘great’ activities of the new state on the eve of its reorganization according to the Government of India Act of 1935, Edward Thompson and G.T Garratt wrote:
On the merely material side the new Federal Government will take over the largest irrigation system in the world … some 60,000 miles of metaled roads; over 42,000 miles of railway …; 230,000 scholastic institutions …; a great number of buildings.
The vast area of India has been completely surveyed, most of its lands assessed, and a regular census taken of its population and its productivity.
… The postal department handles nearly 1500 million articles yearly, the Forestry Department not only prevents the denudation of immense areas, but makes a net profit of between two and three crores. These great State activities are managed by a trained bureaucracy, which is today almost entirely Indian.
These ‘great State activities’, which, as noted by Thompson and Garratt were to leave a ‘permanent mark upon Indian life’, had to do with the colonial state’s superiority in military technology, financial resources, administrative or bureaucratic rationality, and, above all, its colonizing purpose, namely the incorporation of India, as a colony, into the imperialist capitalist system.
The central task of the colonial state was the internal disarticulation of the colonial economy and the external articulation of its segments with the requirements of the metropolitan or core country of the then emerging imperialist system of capitalist production and exchange.
Some of the requirements of that core country, namely Britain, were the import of raw materials, especially agricultural and mineral products, and the export of its own manufactured goods.
Accordingly, the colonial state, departing from the military fiscals of the Mughal state and its subordinate/successor sultanist kingdoms in the region, developed modern, centralized, sovereign state institutions for transforming and restructuring the economy, culture, laws, etc. of the colony.
Thus, besides promoting or supporting colonial plantations, forced cultivation of indigo or opium, irrigation, mining, trade, transport, communications, and selected industries, the new state introduced institutions of modern western education and bourgeois legal and judicial systems.
For carrying out these unprecedented, mammoth tasks, the colonial state replaced the erstwhile, patrimonial-sultanist, civil-cum-military bureaucracy with a modern, specialized military and civil bureaucracy, based on a colonial version of the rational, impersonal, non- arbitrary, competitive principles of merit, efficiency, neutrality, etc.
The colonial state constituted a curious mixture of modernity and tradition. It tried to accommodate its own modern, unitary sovereignty with the sovereignties of the traditional rulers, the rajas and maharajas.
Even its own modern, paramount, unitary sovereignty was initially presented, for the purpose of legitimation, as a continuation and improvement of the institutional and symbolic order of the pre-colonial state, for example the institution of the Mughal durbar.
By doing so, the colonial state secured legitimacy for its rule from the forces of tradition, which, in turn, received a fresh lease of life under the paramountcy of the modern-colonial state. For the sake of social stability and state legitimacy, the colonial state also followed the personal laws of the Islamic sharia and an order of precedence according to caste hierarchy.
The colonial state marked a radical departure not only from its pre-colonial predecessor states but also from its mother state in Britain, to which it was in fact held responsible.
Colonialism was based on the justificatory assumption that the colony and its people were different from, inferior to, and therefore colonizable by the ‘enlightened’ or ‘rational’ masters of the modern, industrialized metropolis. The colonial state therefore sought to ‘prove’ the truth of that assumption in two interrelated ways.
First, it subjected the land and people of India to the specifically modern regime of power and knowledge, which, following Michael Foucault (1979), we may refer to as the power of cognitive regimes or disciplining categories of knowledge and rules of logic.
Thus, under colonial rule, not only was the law codified and the bureaucracy rationalized, but a whole apparatus of specialized technical services was instituted in order to scientifically survey, classify, and enumerate the geographical , geological, botanical, and meteorological properties of the natural environment and the archaeological, historical, anthropological, linguistic, economic, demographic, epidemiological characteristics of the people.
These new or modern technologies of disciplining knowledge/power/rule, namely surveys, enumerations, classifications, accounting and auditing, and the associated conceptual baggage and binary logic of rational exclusion or marginalization, were put into operation by the colonial state in order to bring about an unprecedented centralization of rule, especially of the monetary system.
The revenues extracted from the traditional society by the modern, specialist cadres went into supporting the military operations or the international trading activities of the Company raj. This led to ‘money famines’, demonetization of the countryside, and the decline both of indigenous banking and manufacturing industries.
After the replacement of the Company raj by direct Crown rule through the Secretary of State and the Viceroy, the Indian economy had to pay what were called ‘home charges’, which included the cost of the Secretary of State’s office (in London), costs of wars fought to expand or defend the empire, pensions for the military and civilian personnel, and a guaranteed annual interest on the investment in Indian railways.
There was also a substantial de-valuation of the silver- based Indian rupee when it was plugged onto the gold-based exchange standard.
The second way in which the colonial state attempted to ‘prove’ the justificatory assumption of colonialism (namely that the colonial subjects were a racially inferior people) was by ‘demonstrating’ that the legitimizing principles of the modern, liberal-democratic state, for example the principles of liberal equality, rule of law, and responsiveness to public opinion were not universalizable until after the fulfillment of the so-called ‘civilizing mission’ of colonial rule.
Even though the colonial state did set up institutions of modern western education in India and even though some of the constitutional reforms of the colonial rulers did provide for restricted Indian representation in provincial and central legislative assemblies as well as in municipal and other local boards, the colonial government did not give Indian judicial officers the same rights as their British counterparts to try cases in which European British subjects were involved.’
Similarly, the principle of the freedom of opinion and expression was denied to the colonized subjects by the colonial government, whenever that opinion and expression dashed with those of the European community.
The colonial state was formed by, and for, an alien bourgeois class. While the rule of that class was hegemonic in its home country as there was, in its civil society, widespread acceptance of the bourgeois-liberal conceptions of the individual, society, state, and democracy, its state in the colony lacked any such hegemony.
No doubt, the colonial state was responsible to the parliamentary-democratic government and public opinion of Britain. Those, however, were, for the historical period in question, avowedly imperialistic.
The colonial state maintained its rule or power partly through coercion, partly through the continuation of some of the old discourses and practices of legitimation, and partly by forming a new middle class of English- educated Indians, who, it was hoped, would appreciate and advocate the benefits of the modern state that was imported from Britain.
As it turned out, it was this middle class, whose acquisition of modern education made them see the utter illegitimacy or ‘untruthful’ nature of the colonia state and who provided the moral-intellectual and organizational leadership of the successful anti-imperialist nationalist movement.
In the course of the Indian nationalist movement, many of its leaders emphasized the fact that while in the entire tradition of Indian political thought and practice, the state had to seek its legitimacy in terms of moral-political principles, such as the principles of dhamma, dharma, or Din-e-Ilahi, the colonial state made itself the source of the law which created and sustained the colonial mode of the drain of wealth from India to the imperialist circuit of modern capitalism.
This colonial-modern conception of the role of the state and of the rule of law was in fact inscribed over the seat of imperial power at the Central Secretariat in New Delhi. It read-‘Honour the State, the Root of Law and Wealth’.
The Indian Nation-State—Democratic, Secular, and Developmental It was in resistance to that state and its laws that the anti-colonial nationalist movement took shape in India and eventually succeeded in securing the transfer of power from the colonial rulers to its own leadership.
The nationalist movement was spearheaded by the western-educated middle-class intelligentsia and the emergent indigenous bourgeoisie. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the movement acquired a mass base among the peasantry, who had been the worst sufferers of the colonial system and who had previously risen in uncoordinated, violent rebellions.
The Gandhian era also saw a major reorganization of the Indian National Congress, whereby its provincial units were made to correspond to the linguistic regions rather than to the administrative provinces of the colonial state.
The structure and functioning of the party were also made democratic. These democratic and linguistic- federal practices of the Indian National Congress, which were in clear opposition to the arbitrary and despotic practices of the colonial state, were thought to prefigure the future, independent nation-state.
In fact, the central objective of the nationalist movement, in its mature phase, was the replacement of the colonial state by a democratic, sovereign nation-state, which, unlike the colonial and pre-colonial states, was to play a central, directing role in economic development and social justice.
The future, independent state was ‘imagined’ by the nationalist movement, especially in its final, Gandhi-Nehru phase, to be one which would sustain, and be sustained by, a complex conception of pluralist, civic-communitarian nationalism, rather than by any simple ethnic, religious, or linguistic nationalism.
The former, unlike the latter, entailed a state-centred (rather than, say, caste- or religion-oriented) ‘imagining’ or ‘construction’ of a composite or pluralist national political community marked by the equal citizenship of all the peoples of India, irrespective of their religious, caste, linguistic, regional, or gender differences. ‘In effect,’ writes Rajni Kothari (1995a), ‘it was stateness that gave to the new entity, at once, an encompassing, representative, and transcendent quality.’ The state, moreover, was to respect the principle of the equality of all religions.
The relationship of the new nation-state to the diverse pre-existing social, regional, linguistic, religious, or cultural identities was imagined ‘in part to be one of transcendence, though it was far more to be one of encompassing them and in some ways even representing them in a composite manner’.
In the Indian nation-state, as imagined by the nationalist movement, there was no way … for any person to be only Indian and nothing else; indeed, one could not be an Indian without being some other things at the same time.
Being a Bengali or Tamil or Punjabi, or Hindu, or Muslim or agnostic, was not contradictory to being an Indian. Indianness was a complex and multilayered identity which encompassed other such identities without cancelling them.
The Indian nation-state, as pointed out by Bhikhu Parekh is both an association of individuals and a community of communities, recognizing both individuals and communities as bearers of rights. The criminal law recognizes only individuals whereas the civil law recognizes most minority communities as distinct legal subjects (1992: 171). Only a democratic, federal, ‘secular’ state could sustain and be sustained by such a rich or great ‘composite’ nation.
Actually, however, the end of the career of the British colonial state in India 1947 came about through the formation of two sovereign nation-states, India and Pakistan my the country was partitioned and how the colonial state [or, how the end of the colonial state] contributed to defining the state-religion relationship within, and interstate relations between, them are some of the most important questions to be addressed in any study of the post- colonial states of the Indian subcontinent.
Such an exercise falls outside the purview of the present work. I will, however, briefly consider the implications of partition for the secular and centralized nature of the Indian nation-state.
The demand of the Muslim League for a separate state for Indian Muslims was based on the claim that they constituted a distinct ‘nation’, and not just a ‘minority. Those, like the leaders of the Indian National Congress, who opposed that demand did so on the counter- assertion that the Muslims and the other religious communities together constituted the ‘composite’ or ‘pluralist’ Indian nation.
Eventually, the creation of Pakistan as a separate nation- state was not done through any homologous translation of the religious identity of the Indian Muslims into a national-political identity. Actually, partition was the result of a modern political-ideological use of religion, which Jinnah and the Muslim League pursued and which was agreed to, quite readily, by the colonial rulers and, more reluctantly, by the Indian National Congress.
Pakistan was created not as an Islamic state of all the Indian Muslims, but as a separate state made up of the territory of only the Muslim-majority provinces and Muslim-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal.”
After Partition, Pakistan had a Muslim population of about 60 million, while about 40 million Muslims continued to live in various parts of India. Hence the idea of India as a ‘composite’, ‘pluralist’, or ‘secular’ nation-state did not become less salient after partition.
In fact, the Indian Constitution contains explicit provisions that guarantee to all persons equal freedom of conscience and religion and that prohibit the state from any citizen on grounds of religion. In 1973, a full bench of the Supreme Court ruled that secularism is a constitutive feature of the basic structure of the Constitution.
In 1976, the Constitution was amended to add the word secular to the Preamble and to make the preservation of ‘the rich heritage of our composite culture a fundamental duty of all citizens.
Since the 1980s, however, there has been a shift in the legitimizing ideology of the Indian nation-state from secular nationalism to a religious-majoritarian nationalism. Associated with this, there has also been a shift in the state’s developmental ideology from socialism or growth with justice’ to the idea of the liberalizing state. These shifting trends are briefly sketched
is pertinent to recall here that the partition of the country had a centralizing effect on state building in India (as well as in Pakistan).
This is well brought out by Partha Chatterjee who writes that partition provided the state-builders in India with the opportunity to consolidate the powers of the state under a centralized political leadership which had a reasonably clear consensus on the objectives of state policy and which faced relatively little organized political opposition. The presence of a strong Muslim League opposition with potential support from large landed interests and the princes would have definitely made the task far more difficult.
Chatterjee goes on to maintain that Partition facilitated the formation of a new, relatively more cohesive ruling-class coalition, which was led by the industrial bourgeoisie and the urban middle-class intelligentsia and which also included, for reasons of electoral mobilization of the masses, locally dominant rural propertied classes.
A strong, centralized state, rather than a Gandhi-inspired decentralized system of government, was chosen by the state builders of independent India, led by Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, for coping with certain immediate problems of governance, such as Partition-related riots between Hindus and Muslims, the incursion of tribesmen from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province into Kashmir, a peasant uprising in Telengana, and problems connected with the integration of the hundreds of princely states, in one of which (Hyderabad) the Indian army had to intervene.”
A strong, centralized state was also seen to be necessary for pursuing one of the major goals of the nationalist movement, namely- planned economic development, especially industrialization.
Hence it seemed sensible to the leadership of the independent nation-state to continue with the centralized structure of the colonial state apparatus. Not only the structure but also the Indian personnel of the civil bureaucracy, the police, and the army were retained and expanded in a big way Also retained was the judicial system along with the system of civil and criminal laws. In fact, about two- thirds of the Constitution of independent India was drawn from the (colonial) Government of India Act of 1935.
The major institutional departures from the colonial state were:
(i) The institutions of sovereign statehood (the indirectly elected President as Head of State) and parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise;
(ii) A set of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights to all citizens, a set of principles to guide state policies;
(iii) A centrally tilted federal system with a constitutional distribution of powers between the States; and the Union of India, and an independent judiciary vested with certain powers of judicial review.
The overriding objectives of the new independent nation-state were the preservation of its national sovereignty and unity and the fostering of economic development and social justice. These objectives had been the guiding motives of the Indian nationalist movement.
Its opposition to the colonial state was based on the grounds that it was an alien institution serving to exploit and under-develop India for the benefit of the people of the imperialist country. The independent Indian nation-state was imagined to be the historically necessary and legitimate means to end imperialist exploitation and to usher in a process of national economic development with social justice.
Concerning the state’s role in economic development, Partha Chatterjee writes: A developmental ideology … was a constituent part of the self-definition of the postcolonial state. The state was connected to the people-nation not simply through the procedural forms of representative government, it also acquired its representativeness by directing a programme of economic development on behalf of the nation.
The former connected, as in any liberal form of government, the legal-political sovereignty of the state with the sovereignty of the people. The later connected the sovereign powers of the state directly with the economic well-being of the people.
Whatever strategy of economic development was to be chosen by the state, it had to be inconformity with the newly acquired national Independence and the newly established democratic framework.
No doubt, state power was controlled by a ruling-class coalition of the indigenous bourgeoisie, the rich farmers, and the professional-bureaucratic class. The interests of these classes had to be accommodated in the developmental strategy
The actual strategy of economic development chosen by the state under Nehru’s leadership was a state-planned or ‘mixed’ path of capitalist industrialization. According to it, the state or ‘public’ sector undertook the responsibility for the development of heavy industries and social overheads, with the medium and consumer industries as well as the agriculture being left to the private sector.
The state sector of heavy industries was intended to bring about a pattern of import-substituting industrialization leading to a self-reliant economy
Obviously, this state-planned and state-dependent capitalist industrialization required both capital accumulation and democratic legitimation; this was a historically unprecedented pair of requirements.
In the pioneer capitalist countries (England and France), the democratization of the franchise took place only after the primary or primitive’ accumulation required for the launch of capitalist industrialization had been obtained through a variety of non- democratic, coercive methods of appropriating the means of production from the peasants.
And when it did eventually take place, those capitalist countries were able to secure the democratic legitimation of the state not merely through the institutions of liberal-representative democracy but also through social-democratic or welfare-state measures.
In India, the capital required for setting up the state-controlled heavy industries was obtained through taxation, loans, and foreign assistance, especially from the USSR. The requirement of democratic legitimation of the state and its ‘mixed’ capitalist strategy of economic development was attended to in two ways.
First, the planning of economic development was entrusted to a body of technical experts and bureaucrats who were not directly tied to the requirement of electoral legitimation.
Second, the state leadership gave up the claims to socialism proper dicta or to welfare-state democracy, which some of them had been propagating earlier. Instead, a vaguely defined ideology of a ‘socialistic pattern of society’ was used to secure electoral legitimation for the state, with the ‘public-sector’ heavy industries being presented as the necessary means to take India along an independent or self-reliant ‘middle’ path between free-enterprise capitalism and state-dominated communism.
Nehru genuinely believed that he was leading the construction of a post-colonial, secular- democratic nation-state and launching a ‘socialistic’, ‘third way’ of self-reliant development. There can be no denying that the Nehruvian phase of the Indian nation-state does have a very impressive record of achievements in many areas.
The preservation of the unity and sovereignty of the Indian nation-state and its democratic and secular character is indeed a most significant achievement. Thanks to it reconstruction under the Gandhi-Nehru leadership, the Indian nation- state has been able to produce ‘the most noteworthy spell of democratic governance for about a fifth of mankind for close to a half century’.
Another praiseworthy achievement of the Nehruvian state is its preservation of India’s political sovereignty through an ingenious and impressive foreign policy of non-alignment. Also notable is a certain degree of self-reliance achieved in the heavy industries sector as well as a fairly good infrastructure for further industrialization.
‘Almost alone among non-Communist states,’ writes Sunil Khilnani, ‘it [India’s developmental state] managed to prolong until the 1980s a quite exceptional insulation from the vagaries of the global economy’ (1992: 204). Other accomplishments include the elimination, through land reforms, of some of the most glaring anomalies of feudal landlordism and the establishment of free primary schools and health centres.
Along with these praiseworthy achievements, there have also been some glaring distortions and decelerations in the process of economic change.
The five-year plans, the series of periodically revised industrial policies, and the system of tax reliefs and state financial aid to the private sector, combined with a system of licensing and controls, resulted in the formation of ‘a centralized powerful state, combining its monopoly of the means of repression with a substantial ownership of the means of production, propelling as well as regulating the economy’.
The actual course of economic change, despite the aforementioned achievements, led to a retarded pattern of industrial development and an associated fiscal crisis of the state. This had to do with the growth-inhibiting ‘rationalities’ which were pursued by each of the three major partners of the dominant/ruling-class coalition.
Of them, industrial capitalists pursued their interest in securing inputs from the public sector at below-market prices, export subsidies, etc., while rich farmers managed to obtain subsidized fertilizers and seeds, higher procurement prices, etc. The latter also stalled land reforms’ and derived benefits from the state in the name of the Green Revolution.
The third partner of the coalition, the political-bureaucratic class, reaped ‘ruler’s rents’ and other benefits through state controls and regulations. The newly set-up public sector undertakings also served to increase their power and patronage enormously.
By exercising its licensing, regulative, and controlling role in a selective manner, this class has been able to prevent any class-based challenge from industrialists and traders. In this way, as pointed out by Bardhan, the autonomy of the Indian state is reflected more often in its regulatory (and hence patronage-dispensing) than developmental role.
It must nevertheless be acknowledged that the Nehruvian state did set up a regime of curbs on monopoly houses and of some transfers ‘not only to the landed rich, but also to broad sections of the peasantry, the working class, and to a minuscule extent, even to the rural poor’.
Even though the monopoly houses did actually gain from the operations of the Nehruvian state, the latter did not officially identify the ‘national interests’ with the interests of any particular social class.
Specifically, the relative autonomy of the Indian economy from metropolitan capital was maintained.
This was obviously beneficial to Indian economy in general and to the domestic bourgeois and proto-bourgeois groups in particular in the 1950s and 1960s. However, in the 1970s, when the world economy went through a pronounced transnationalization of production, the opportunities it provided were not seized by India’s state-bureaucratically managed strategy of import-substituting industrialization.
Re-imagining the Nation-State- Majoritarian Democracy and Economic Liberalization Since the late 1980 and early 1990s, both domestic regulation of private capital and the protection of the Indian economy from penetration by foreign capital have been supplanted by a regime of economic liberalization, which provides for, among other things, domestic deregulation of private-sector enterprises, import liberalization, export facilitation, privatization or ‘disinvestment’ of profitable public-sector units, and the opening up of the domestic economy to foreign private capital.
Underlying this change is a shift in the legitimizing ideology of the state from one of a ‘socialistic pattern of society’ to that of a market-friendly, liberalized, open-door economy. Associated with this, there is also a shift in the ideology of the electoral legitimation of the State.
The state has moved from the secular/pluralist notions of nationalism and democracy to religious-majoritarian redefinitions of these terms.
These post-1980 shifts were the political responses of state leaders to a series of crises affecting the legitimacy, governability, and fiscal viability of the nation-state—crises in the making of which some of their own earlier actions and some of the actions of their predecessors had played a role.
In the latter part of the 1960s, there was an intense power struggle within the Congress party between Indira Gandhi and a powerful group of (regional) state-level bosses who had initially backed her rise to leadership.
The former proved victorious through some clever left- leaning, populist moves, which undercut the power of the state-level bosses of the party and undermined the norms and procedures of inner-party democracy.
In the name of a left-leaning populism, Gandhi’s government nationalized the large banks and abolished the privy purses of the former rulers of the princely states.
These steps were put to good use by Indira Gandhi in the 1971 parliamentary elections, when, bypassing the regular party organization and its regional ‘vote-banks’, she made direct appeals to the electorate in the name of a populist- socialist programme of garibi hatao (poverty removal). The huge electoral success of this strategy contributed to over centralization of power in her hands.
This had adverse effects on both the democratic functioning of the Congress party and on the federal framework of the relationship between centre and states. At the same time, the masses, who had given electoral support to garibi hatao, started popular movements (especially in Bihar and Gujarat) demanding radical reforms from the government.
Those protest movements had the backing of the urban middle class as well as the rural ‘vote banks’, whom Indira Gandhi had defeated in the elections. Neither the ruling Congress party nor the governmental bureaucracy was prepared to translate populist radicalism into any programme for the structural transformation of society in favour of the poor.
In the wake of the ensuing ‘steep decline in the legitimacy of the government in an unusually short time’, the government under Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency (1975-7) and exhorted people to suspend their political rights to enable the government to bring about socio-economic change.
Freed from democratic pressures, the government undertook or supported, among other things, such measures as the eviction of beggars from the big cities and forced sterilization of the poor in some urban locales. Some ideas were also floated in favour of a Brazilian-type liberalization of the economy.
Indira Gandhi’s party was voted out of power in the 1977 elections. The victorious but heterogeneous Janata coalition fell apart after just three years of running the government. In 1980, Indira Gandhi and her party were returned to power.
This time, the challenge to the power of the central government headed by her came from regionalist movements in the Punjab, Telugu Desham, Assam, and, indeed, Kashmir. These were vertically, and not horizontally mobilized movements, which combined the numerical strength of the poor and the financial resources of the well-to-do.
The conflicts between these vertically mobilized united regions/ states and the centre led Indira Gandhi to make a shift in her own mobilizational strategy from a horizontal to a vertical approach, which included a religious-majoritarian approach. This was obviously a shift away from secularism.
There was also a simultaneous shift away from the socialistic, ‘poverty removal’ role (or promises) of the state towards a new role, namely the liberalization of the economy The government successfully negotiated ‘for the largest loan ever granted by the IMF’ and took steps to liberalize imports, ‘automatically’ license some twenty important industries, and decontrol the pricing of certain industrial products.
In the final phase of Indira Gandhi’s rule, then, there was a certain shift in the ideology of the Indian nation-state away from secular-socialist democracy and nationalism towards a religious-majoritarian conception of nationalism and democracy and a vaguely conceived idea of a liberalized economy.
An insight into the nature of the association between economic liberalization and the religious-majoritarian redefinition of the democratic nation-state may be gained from the following observation by Atul Kohli:
Those who wanted to argue for business interests faced a dilemma: in a poor democracy like India, how do you mobilize the support of the majority, who are after all very poor? One solution to this puzzle was to cut the majority-minority pie at a different angle. If the poor were majority by the criterion of wealth, Hindus were the religious majority.
Appeals to the majority religious community against minority communities, then, can be an alternative strategy for seeking electoral majorities by downplaying class issues [1989: 309].
The religious-majoritarian approach to electoral democracy and nation building is professed and practiced in an unambiguous way by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is leading the ruling coalition of parties at the present.
That approach is a distortion of secular, pluralist democracy in the sense that it upholds one of the basic principles of the latter, namely that of majority rule, by dissociating it from what in fact is its twin, inseparable principle, namely that of the inviolability of the fundamental rights of the minority, be it a present minority or some future minority—of conscience, opinion, belief, religion, or even disbelief in any religion.
The policy of economic liberalization has also been continued and progressively stepped up under all the succeeding governments since the late 1980s.
The proximate reason for the change of track by the post-colonial, developmental nation-state on to a path of economic liberalization, entailing a closer integration into the global market economy, was the escalation of the government’s fiscal deficit, which culminated in a very severe balance-of-payments crisis in 1991.
In that year, India did not have enough foreign-exchange reserves to pay for its imports for even two weeks. The loans which the Indian government successfully negotiated with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to meet the crisis were tied to the conditionalities requiring India to follow a programme of short-term macro-economic stabilization measures and long-term ‘structural adjustment and reform’, whereby the state is rolled back from the arena of production and regulation and the economy is left to be shaped by private initiative and the private sector rather than by state intervention or the public sector.
This programme includes, besides the devaluation of the rupee, steps to curb inflation and to reduce the government’s fiscal deficit (by reducing its subsidies and capital expenditures and by disinvestment of the shares of profitable public-sector units) and liberalize or free private capital from the regime of regulations, quotas, licenses, controls, import-restrictions, etc.
Another important feature of the new policy is the opening up of the Indian economy to foreign private capital, be it productive capital or finance capital.
An assessment of the pros and cons of this liberalizing ‘structural adjustment programme’, which the Indian nation-state has been pursuing since its fiscal and foreign-debt crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, is beyond the scope. It is, however, pertinent to mention some of the ways in which these liberalizing reforms may be seen to be intimating a fundamental change in the nature and role of the nation-state.
First, the state is withdrawing from long-term developmental activity and is now yielding space to the private sector. For instance, the capital expenditure of the central government showed a steady decline from 5.9 per cent of the GDP in 1990-1 to 3.6 per cent in 1994-5. Second, the state is changing from a market-controlling to a market-friendly institution.
Liberalization, to state the obvious, frees market forces from the erstwhile regime of state controls. Finally and most importantly, the nation-state is losing, to a considerable extent, the ‘post-colonial’ relative autonomy which it has hitherto had vis-a-vis metropolitan capital.
For instance, as acknowledged by the World Bank in its 1995 Economic Memorandum on India, the conditions on portfolio investment by foreign institutional investors … are much more liberal in India than in Korea … Taiwan and China’.
Yet it needs to be asserted that a not-too-insignificant measure of effective political autonomy is still available to the nation-state of India as it is to developing countries—a measure of autonomy that, alas, does not find appropriate reflection in the current liberalizing regime of structural adjustments and reforms!