WAR AND DIPLOMACY IN KASHMIR: 1947-48 by C. Dasgupta. Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2002.
WE now know! When leading Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote a book with this striking title (OUP, New York, 1997), the Cold War was already over but people were still seeking answers. As the archives in Russia and the East European countries were opened to the public, Gaddis moved in to fill the gaps. A more localised conflict began around the same time but continues to fester even today. C. Dasgupta’s first book seeks out new evidence that can help explain the genesis of the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. What we now know about the role that third powers played can help to answer some critical questions that have plagued the analysis of the developments of 1947-48.
By citing archival sources only recently declassified in the United Kingdom, the author builds a narrative that is contextualised and cemented with evidence while also being succinct and precise. This book is not a lengthy treatise on Indo-Pak relations. Nor is it one more history of the Kashmir conflict. Its purpose is limited, and that is where its strength lies, in highlighting the regional and global context that determined the interests of the countries involved and their strategies to control the outcome of the crisis.
More recent theoretical work in international relations questions the positivist approach of the dominant schools of thought, namely realism, liberalism, and institutionalism. Such criticism contends that there is no objective reality outside of our own social constructions. Hence, it is asked: if truth has a history, then how can history have a truth? A simplistic yet plausible counter to such a view does not challenge the heterodoxy of this new approach. Rather it is contended that the reading of history brings us closer to the truth. Dasgupta’s book must be treated in this light. With its preface conspicuously missing, the author’s objective is well summarised on the back cover. While he succeeds in questioning many long-held perceptions about the alleged follies of India’s leaders during the critical first two years after independence, he does not attempt to provide any subjective judgments, leaving it to the reader to draw her/his own conclusions.
Dasgupta argues that the British officers serving in India and Pakistan owed their loyalty ultimately to the Crown. British interests in the region had also altered from the days of India’s strategic importance in the ‘British Lake’ of the Indian Ocean. India’s logistical and manpower resources that had fuelled the British Empire were now considered secondary to Pakistan’s strategic location with the possibility of using its airfields in any major war in future. A second reason why Pakistan found favour amongst many planners in London was the need to keep the Muslim world happy, especially with the seething resentment in the Middle East over the creation of Israel. These two reasons contextualised the Kashmir crisis in a larger regional and even Cold War setting.
For instance, Dasgupta draws more than the usual parallel between the Kashmir and Junagadh crises, both of which engendered hostilities in October 1947. Apart from the discrepancy between the religious affiliations of the majority community in either state with that of their respective rulers, the manner in which Junagadh was handled was ominous for future developments in Kashmir. The reluctance of the three service chiefs (who continued to hold office post-independence) to engage in a possible inter-dominion war and the constitution of a Defence Committee of the Cabinet to be chaired by Mountbatten were two such crucial developments. These raise new questions that are yet to be answered. Why were the constitutional positions of the service chiefs not clarified prior to independence? Were the Indian leaders guaranteed something other than what in retrospect can be clearly seen as a situation that would generate dual and conflicting loyalties?
More unfortunate were the conflicting opinions and advice that British officers in the subcontinent extended to London. Field Marshal Auchinleck had virtually accepted the legality of Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union by threatening to issue ‘Stand Down’ orders to British officers when Jinnah planned to send the army into Kashmir. On the other hand, Prime Minister Attlee sent secret telegrams to Liaquat Ali Khan indicating that withdrawal of the raiders should follow ‘if satisfactory results are achieved’.
Again, Dasgupta highlights the contradictions inherent in Mountbatten assuming a mediator’s role in late 1947 even as he remained the Head of State of one of the disputants! Nehru and he diverged on the possible role of the UN as well. While Nehru wanted the UN only to play a supervisory role in a plebiscite, Mountbatten in his bid to mediate suggested that the UN should come into Kashmir in an administrative role as well, thus adhering to Pakistan’s demands.
Even military planning was hostage to the conflict of interests. In their zeal to prevent all-out war in which Pakistan would surely have suffered total defeat, Mountbatten and the service chiefs in India persisted in their efforts to convince the cabinet against any large scale offensive, whether on the ground or in the air. Even as Nehru reluctantly agreed to take the matter to the UN he insisted on continuing preparations for a full scale attack. But the service chiefs did not comply in full earnest.
There is also some circumstantial evidence to show that some British officials and even military officers serving India had prior knowledge of Pakistan’s deployment of regular troops in Kashmir which thwarted India’s offensive in the summer of 1948. And the Stand Down instructions were interpreted vastly differently in autumn 1948 when British officers helped to plan and participated in Operation Venus in the Naoshera area. And finally, strategic redeployment of Pakistani forces from West Punjab to the Kashmir theatre in October 1948 followed tip-offs from the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Roy Bucher, that India would not launch an all-out offensive.
In a book on war and diplomacy, it is the evidence presented on the latter that leaves the reader more startled. Conflicting interests is one thing; working against one’s own government’s orders quite another. The narrative of diplomacy in the United Nations during 1948 reveals discrepancies at several levels, which were glossed over in public. First, Noel-Baker, Britain’s Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations who led the British delegation, consistently adopted a pro-Pakistan position despite orders from London for a neutral position. While Attlee rebuked him for such indiscretions, it was too late to change tack in the UNSC.
Second, there were disagreements between the US and the UK as well with Secretary of State Marshall never doubting the legality of the accession and even questioning British attempts to colour the conflict in communal terms. While Noel-Baker was able to win the day most of the time, it is not clear why the US gave Britain so much leeway on the issue. It could be argued, as even the author has done, that the US might have considered the British specialists in the region and therefore, were willing to give Britain the lead.
Two points, however, temper this line of reasoning. First, as the author himself points out, Britain’s absence from the UN Commission on India and Pakistan enabled the US to develop its independent perspective on the issue. This was probably reflected in the August resolution of the Security Council, which contrary to Noel-Baker’s position demanded the withdrawal of all Pakistani forces prior to a referendum. Second, the Americans had earlier in the 1940s shown greater resolution to reshape the world rather than continue with the colonial interests of the European powers. This had been clearly enunciated in the Atlantic Charter of 1941, which hinted at American demands for the British to leave India once the war was over. Why then were the British negotiators permitted to determine the course of events in the UN to such an extent?
Another missing link which can shed more light on the reasons the different players had for adopting their respective positions is the role of India’s Ambassadors and High Commissioners in the capitals of the great powers. This is an area of research open to scholars who want to take Dasgupta’s work forward.
Ultimately, it was the combination of conflicting loyalties, back-channel communications between British military officials, and the willingness to give Pakistan more than its due share of a long leash (as John Dulles himself commented upon) that forced India’s hand in accepting the UNCIP ceasefire proposal of December 1948. It is not ironical then that similar games continue to be played out even in the current version of the conflict. Thus, just as in 1947-48, Pakistan’s ability to control the militants (read raiders) is at present questioned. Similarly, Pakistan’s propensity to implode has been one unfulfilled potential that has worked to its greatest advantage. A reading of the documents from 55 years ago cannot but raise a doubt in the manner in which Pakistan has been branded – a country that would collapse at the slightest instance of things not working to its heart’s content! Nevertheless, Pakistanis could not find everything favourable to them in the evidence that has been uncovered. Auchinleck’s refusal to Jinnah might be a sore point to many Pakistanis who might hypothesise favourable eventualities.
It is imperative that the book’s implicit message does not go unnoticed. It seeks to remind us not of follies of the past, but rather the nature of relations between states situated differently in the international system. The oft-repeated cliché suggests that states have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Not much purpose is served by petitioning other countries to solve our problems and then complaining that they are biased against us. Much of what happened in 1947-48 is recurring in the present and those who argue that the issue is irresolvable without third-party support might need to rethink their strategies.
THE MUSLIMS OF THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT AFTER THE 11TH SEPTEMBER ATTACKS edited by Frédéric Grare. Centre de Sciences Humaines, India Research Press, New Delhi, 2002.
THE slim volume under review is aimed at the post 11 September 2001 scenario, mainly in the South Asian subcontinent and its Muslim population. Unfortunately, the region was already mired in religious, political and ethnic strife much before the 9/11 disaster in the US. Terrorism, including cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, had already set new standards of depravity in the region. The storm troopers of so-called Islam had communalized the polity and diplomacy through their various misadventures during the past decade. The volume on 9/11 and its impact on Muslims of the Indian subcontinent is based on the research carried out soon after the tragedy in November 2001.
A large part of it appears to be so familiar to the reader that it ends up telling us nothing new. The reasons are obvious. Most of it is based on press coverage, which was not only extensive but also widely read by the educated urban elite. Despite this limitation, the four reports in the volume on 9/11 manage to raise some pertinent questions.
While talking about Indian Muslims in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, Adil Mehdi reminds us of the Khilafat upsurge during the First World War. The support and sympathy for the Taliban regime among the Muslims in the subcontinent, particularly in Pakistan, shows parallels to the Khilafat movement in support of the Sultan of Turkey, whom a section of Muslims considered to be the Khalifa of Islam. Like Kemal Pasha in Turkey, the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces with US support took control within Afghanistan. The pace of events was so fast that the mobilization of solidarity for the Taliban in Pakistan ran out of wind. Notably, the Muslims in India were not as vocal in their support, except for some isolated statements from expected quarters; there was no mass mobilization in any part of India.
However, the implication of September 11 was crucial in other ways, particularly given the present political dispensation and its communal agenda. The political party in power found in this tragedy an opportunity to teach its own ‘fifth columnists’ a lesson. Some of them have made statements like ‘all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’ and the post September 11 scenario easily adds credibility to such devious thinking. Mehdi is right in his assessment of the Shahi Imam and his influence among the Muslims of India. His outburst at one of his Friday khutbas did not evoke any mass response beyond the confines of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. However, his strategic location and association with the medieval mosque attracts the national media, lending legitimacy to his utterances. There can be no doubt that the majority of Muslims, like any sensitive human being, felt outraged at the macabre event of 9/11, yet they found serious flaws in US foreign policy towards the Islamic world. All this has been extensively documented in the report on Indian Muslims and 9/11.
Frederic Grare deals in detail with the Pakistani Islamic outfits and their much too expected support for the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Despite some violent protests, it was clear that the majority of people found it expedient to go along with the official position. Ironically, Pakistan was co-opted as an important US ally in its fight against global terrorism, its dismal track record on this issue notwithstanding. One is surprised and shocked to see that the war against global terrorism has provided no respite to India from cross-border violence. Some of the hypothetical possibilities raised by Grare have proved wrong, as General Musharraf continues with great impunity to project terrorism in Kashmir as a freedom struggle.
In her report on the impact of September 11 on Muslims from the Indian subcontinent in New York, Aminah Mohammad Arif traces the detailed background of the various migrant communities from the region. One is struck by the reaction of some Muslims from the area who felt that they would have been brutally massacred in their country of origin had a tragedy of this magnitude taken place there. Such a perception can be linked to declining levels of tolerance and communalization of polity and life over the last few years.
The 9/11 tragedy has undoubtedly added to the woes of the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. The community’s relationship with the state has become uneasy as reflected in the degrading abuse of human values during the Gujarat riots. The prime minister would not have dared make a statement that ‘wherever Muslims live, they create disharmony,’ but for the dominant revulsion against so-called Islamic terrorism.
S. Irfan Habib
COMMUNITY AND IDENTITIES: Contemporary Discourses on Culture and Politics in India edited by Surinder S. Jodhka. Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2001.
THE enterprise is a worthy one. The essays in this volume set themselves the task of interrogating the concept of community and situating it within contemporary political processes in India. Truth is, the concept was never fully rescued from those older, wearisome theorisations of the unchanging and autonomous Indian village. Any attempt to weed out the conceptual dead ends is, therefore, welcome. Especially given the fact that new social mobilizations and academic debates over the last decade and more have catapulted notions of community, culture and identity to the political centrestage.
But the volume doesn’t quite live up to its own ambitions. While it is fairly successful in the first part of the task – of outlining the career of the concept – there’s not much left for the reader once that is done. The second and far more challenging part of engaging with the idea of community to make sense of contemporary political reality is inadequately attempted and only partially realised.
In her survey of the concept of community in Indian social sciences, Carol Upadhya makes the most lucid presentation of the volume. She pursues the notion through theoretical shifts and debates with analytical rigour and a keen sense of irony. She shows how traditional sociological theories have romanticised the community as the authentic social unit and political agent, and how they have reproduced the older dichotomies: community versus state and market, community versus individual, East versus West, irrational versus rational, traditional versus modern, spiritual versus materialistic, culture versus economy. Upadhya warns that these themes continue to recur in Indian sociological literature even today, although in increasingly disguised forms. It is true that most sociologists of recent vintage draw attention to the historicity of particular identities and recognize that communities are not internally homogeneous and harmonious bodies but are characterized by conflict, oppression, exploitation and patriarchy.
Even so, Upadhya points out, the foundational concept of ‘community’ has not been adequately contested. Instead, it is given a new lease of life in recent political and historical writings. Several scholars, especially those linked to the subaltern school, posit the existence of a ‘real’ submerged community, denied and repressed by a non-authentic and all powerful state, itself a product of an imported ‘modernity’. As scholarly undertakings appear to end up invoking the very oppositions they problematise at the outset, Upadhya frames a niggling question: Is there no way out of the dichotomy trap?
The project flags after that, despite Javeed Alam who takes on a crucial political question upfront: ‘Is caste appeal casteism?’ The way we answer that question, Alam argues, is crucial to understanding the politics of the oppressed in India today. He is ready with his own answer: An appeal to caste for political mobilisation or for votes does not necessarily constitute casteism. He admits that the battle being fought by the underprivileged in the many sites of Indian democracy today is for ‘bourgeois equality’, a juristic not substantive equality. For instance, Kanshi Ram does not ask for land reforms; he wants Dalits to have power in just the same way as the savarnas have always exercised it over others. Yes, there is instability of alliances and opportunistic shifts of positions as well. But, Alam says, the untidiness of the battle must not be allowed to take away from the fact that it is part of the process of extension of democracy, as we know it, in India.
Later in the volume, Anupama Roy also makes the effort to imbue her subject, ‘community, women citizens and a women’s politics’, with a contemporary resonance. She rues the implications of the anti-Mandal movement and the Hindutva upsurge for the articulation of a radical women’s politics. The dominant discourse produces the citizen in a manner that marks it as upper caste, Hindu and male. It reinforces truncated notions of ‘women’, Roy argues, based on a series of marginalisations.
For the rest, the volume lacks lustre. It also lacks rigorous editing – there are too many typographical errors and the chapter by Sasheej Hegde is likely to take the average reader unawares by its sheer opaqueness. But what the book lacks most is a more direct engagement with ‘communalism’. The mobilization and construction of the ‘Hindu’ identity in India figures only as a backdrop in some contributions in this volume. Surely a work on the ‘contemporary discourses on culture and politics in India’ cannot skirt a more direct involvement with the theoretical and political questions that the politics of Hindutva has thrown at us in recent times. None of the contributors really picks up that particular gauntlet. Needless to say, the book sorely misses that intellectual forthrightness.
COMPETING NATIONALISMS IN SOUTH ASIA: Essays for Asghar Ali Engineer edited by Paul R. Brass and Achin Vanaik. Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2002.
THIS book is divided into four parts dealing with nationalist thought and practice, secularism and Hindutva, commentaries on past and contemporary dilemmas of nationhood and, civil society in India. Albeit varying in the tenor of their arguments, the essays in this book are commonly committed to the goal of ‘democratic decency’.
Sudhir Chandra concentrates on Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi’s ‘The classical poets of Gujarat and their influence on modern society and morals.’ Chandra suggests that even though the historiography of modern India has reduced the significance of this text by only giving it regional importance, he himself has chosen to highlight the strengths and weaknesses, and the insights and limits of Tripathi’s endeavours. Whereas Tripathi had sought to build a ‘transformative fiction’ to change popular consciousness, to establish an indigenous yet modern vision of egalitarianism and political and social freedom, the discrepancy between his treatment of the Muslims and the Marathas reflects his ‘cognitive blindness’.
Arguing that political and social structures that make civic nationalism a possibility are much stronger than they are imagined to be, the next essay has a positive undertone. Sikata Banerjee suggests that it is ‘performance not ideology’ that matters. She stresses that the failure to fulfil election promises can create an atmosphere of resentment, evidenced by the verdict of the 1996 polls, when the Congress-RPI-SP alliance was able to draw on the contradictions inherent in the BJP/Shiv Sena combine, and cause crucial swings in OBC, Dalit, Muslim and low and middle income non-Dalit votes.
Anwar Alam assesses the current discourse on secularism in India. In his appreciation of the Ashis Nandy, T.N. Madan and M.N. Srinivas analysis of the ‘official secularism’ of the Nehruvian state, he disagrees with the proposition that the main culprit creating dilemmas in the present world has been the ‘westernness’ of Nehru’s state secularism. Instead, he argues that the weakness of the Nehruvian state lies in its Hindu bias and accommodation to Brahminical influences, which he holds responsible for promoting a Brahminical Hinduism, foremost in the area of ‘cultural policy. His conclusive stance can be summed up in his own words: ‘Only the ideal of building a secular democratic nation can stem the tide of communal fascism in the country’ (p. 87).
The organised persecution of Christians in Gujarat is dealt with in detail in the article by Ghanshyam Shah in which he evaluates the events in the Dangs district of Gujarat where the Christians of Gujarat allegedly desire to create another Nagaland or Mizoram. While exploring the turmoil created in the Dangs by the ‘reconversion’ attempts of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shah exposes the politics of reconversion as problematic and conflict generating.
The essay by Virginia Van Dyke takes up the question of renunciation. The notion of sadhus has assumed a contradictory character and the processes by which sadhus are redefining their identities and social functions are in accordance with their changing interests. While the VHP and its associated allies argue that the sadhus have only reluctantly entered the political arena in order to purify politics and to reform a corrupt institution, the underlying reasons are often far more complex.
Interrogating Mahatma Gandhi’s attitude to the language question, David Lelyveld highlights Gandhi’s sensitive affirmation of an Urdu influenced ‘Hindustani’ as the potential unifier of India as a nation. He depicts Gandhi as ultimately attempting to establish a new linguistic order to challenge the dominance of English.
Rajni Kothari’s optimism rises above, what he senses as, the bleakness rendered by a ‘deep vacuum in civil society.’ He asserts that India’s complex diversity and pluralism will not let Hinduism overpower either its civil society or the state.
Outlining some of the complexities of conflict resolution and negotiations in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, Jayadeva Uyangoda’s essay attempts to identify possible difficulties in a negotiated settlement that a productive conflict resolution process might address. Civil violence in Sri Lanka has turned into a sustainable way of life and patterns of violence have become so institutionalized that a constructive process of conflict resolution seems distant. Nevertheless, Uyangoda firmly believes that an extension of the ceasefire agreement might generate processes that the warring parties will find difficult to counter.
An alternative suggested by some Pakistani scholars, of reconstructing Pakistani identity on the basis of territorial rather than religious nationalism, forms the theme of Mubarak Ali’s essay. For him, the imagining of Pakistan as a nation can neither be done through the prism of the two-nation theory nor through an Islamised version of a ‘Pakistani ideology’.
Yoginder Sikand brings out the ideology of the Jama’at-i-Islami Jammu Kashmir (JIJK) vis-a-vis the complexities involved with the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India following partition. The writings of Sayyed Ali Geelani, the founder of the JIJK, in a two volume prison diary (in Urdu) titled ‘Rudad-e-Khafas’ (Records of the Jail) emerge more as an inspiratory and instructive guide for the youth of Jammu and Kashmir rather than reflecting his literary prowess. Yoginder Sikand, however, concurs with Geelani in advocating a political solution to the vexed issue rather than using violent means.
Authoritarian-exclusivist agendas, religious intolerance, obscurantism and fundamentalism are phenomena which have affected all parts of the globe, although to varying degrees. This collection, where the range of attitudes displayed range from ‘optimism through stoicism to pessimism,’ seeks to explicate the linkages between militant Hindu nationalism and fascism. Though Paul R. Brass and Achin Vanaik have played safe and consciously refrained from using the term fascism to describe the ideological and organisational forms of militant Hindu nationalism, one wonders why they could not have been as forthright as several of their authors who clearly acknowledge similarities between the two.
FEDERALISM WITHOUT A CENTRE: The Impact of Political and Economic Reform on India’s Federal System by Lawrence Saez. Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2002.
OUR federal political structure comprising a range of formal institutions such as state and national legislatures, national finance commission, planning commission, national development council, inter-state council and numerous other inter-state coordinating bodies remains the most distinctive feature of Indian democratic politics. It is also the subject of intense debate which the introduction of new economic policies in the last decade has given a whole new dimension to. The book under review takes up the debate besides providing an overview of Indian federalism at work.
Federalism was adopted by the constituent assembly in recognition of the regional heterogeneity of India. Its adherence to the concept of ‘cooperative federalism’, i.e., the allocation of constitutional power between the central governments and the states, is explained by the author in the form of then prevailing situation in post-partition India. There was an urgent need felt among the members of the constituent assembly to assuage communal sectarianism, deal effectively with acute food crisis, integrate the princely states in India, and undertake the task of initiating and implementing the policies for industrial and agricultural development.
The author notes, however, that there were some members, though in a minority, who did advocate greater decentralization. Those belonging to the Congress were clearly inspired by the Gandhian notion of panchayat or village based federation as envisaged in Gandhi’s 1946 memorandum to the constitution committee of the Congress. The all India presence of Congress as the dominant party and the absence of strong regional or provincially-based political parties, especially after the departure of the Muslim League, has been advanced by Saez as the most plausible explanation as to why the constituent assembly finally adopted a constitution which was ‘both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances.’
The above, Saez argues, explains why the term ‘union’ substituted ‘federal’ in the Indian Constitution, making it distinct from the ‘model’ federal constitution of the USA or for that matter from those of Canada, Australia and Switzerland. A dual polity was adopted with a single citizenship. The Constitution was to be much less rigid in nature. Under Article 249, the Parliament was empowered to legislate on state subjects in the ‘national interest’ even during ‘normal’ times if the Rajya Sabha passed a resolution to that effect. The constitutional provisions relating to the division of subjects (which privileged the Centre), imposition of emergency (national, state and financial), the appointment and tenure of governor and the functionaries of the all India services, taxation and revenue distribution between the Centre and the states, also contributed to the difficulty in promoting the federal idea in the early years of Indian Independence in the classic institutional sense.
Saez is not surprised that as early as in the 1950s the first irritants erupted in the form of the popular demands for the reorganization of the states on a common linguistic basis, partially conceded by the state reorganization commission in 1955. Punjab was the last state to be divided in 1966. (Clearly this book was written before the recent bifurcations of U.P., M.P., and Bihar) The rise and growth of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu greatly contributed to the movement against what was dubbed as imposition of Hindi from above by the Centre resulting ultimately in the adoption of the three language formula the Parliament in 1963. Subsequently in 1969, the ruling DMK lobbied for setting up by the Rajamannar Commission [RC] to examine the working of the Constitution and recommend changes in the allocation of powers between the Union government and the states. The RC based its report on responses by the then chief ministers, different party leaders, and all representatives of Tamil Nadu in the Parliament and the state legislature about the true nature of Indian federalism. It observed that ‘ there are unitary trends and in the allocation of powers there is a strong bias and tilting of the scales in favour of the centre.’ It attributed the presence of the Congress as the ruling party both at the Centre and in most states as responsible for ‘the development of the unitary trends.’
The RC recommended reworking the federal relations by transferring some Union subjects to the state list in the seventh schedule of the Constitution. Further it recommended the abolition of Articles 249,356 and 357 of the Indian Constitution, the latter two providing for the extension of the executive power of the Union government to determine and act on a failure of the constitutional order in any state. Finally, the commission called for the vesting of the residuary power of legislation and taxation solely with the state legislatures.
Centre-state relations came under close scrutiny once again in 1977 in the form of a memorandum on centre-state relations submitted by the left front government in West Bengal. Following in the footsteps of the RC, this memorandum too dubbed the Indian constitution as ‘essentially unitary in character’ as it empowered the federal government ‘with some powers at the expense of the autonomy of the states.’ Significantly, it argued that the decentralization of powers would pave the way for the outlet of the democratic urges at the regional level thus helping to ‘ward off fissiparous tendencies instead of encouraging them.’
The decline of the Congress both in ideological and institutional terms in the late 1960s was evident in its poor performance in the 1967 general elections. Indira Gandhi in particular promoted a centralist leadership while resorting to the use of a plebiscitary mode of politics. In the process she ‘systemically eliminated actual and potential party rivals.’ As this applied to the regional party leadership of Congress as well what eventually emerged, according to Saez, was an example of the ‘patrimonial federalism’. This ‘hyper-accentuation of the centralist character of the Congress’ eroded the ability of the state-level leaders to ‘effectively articulate regional sentiments and aspirations within the party.’
Moreover the breakdown of the social coalition so assiduously built up over the first three decades of Indian independence meant that the Congress, despite remaining in power both at the Centre and in most of the states, no longer remained the natural party of governance. The increased level of the electoral participation of the peripheral social groups in civil society along with the economic empowerment of the neo-rich intermediate peasant castes paved the way for the ‘growth of regional parties as well as national parties with a concentrated regional base’ – a process aptly called ‘Indianization of India’.
The rise and growth of the regional parties like DMK, AIDMK, SAD, NC, AGP, TDP in the decades of 1970s and ’80s accentuated the demands for decentralization in the form of an increased sharing of sovereignty. The author views the formation of the Sarkaria Commission (SC) in June 1983 to investigate the state of centre-state relations in this context besides noting its coincidence with the passing of the Anandpur Sahib resolution by SAD as well as the March 1983 conclave of opposition parties held in Bangalore. (More recently the National Conference government adopted the State Autonomy Committee Report reiterating the recommendations regarding the restriction of the jurisdiction of the Centre to defence, communication and foreign affairs in the case of J&K).
Like the RC, the SC also based its study on a detailed questionnaire to all the state governments, political parties and the community leaders on issues related to economic and social planning, industry, commerce and inter-governmental relations. Defining federalism as a ‘dynamic process of cooperation and shared action between two or more levels of government with increasing inter-dependence and centrist trends,’ the SC underlined the significance of the Congress in understanding the federal relations in the first two decades of independence by viewing them essentially as ‘an intra-party arrangement of the Congress.’ The emergence of a new generation of career politicians or ‘vote contractors’ in the Congress radically transformed state level politics with the emergence of ‘the shifting loyalties of factions owing allegiance to an individual and less to any ideal.’ In the opinion of the SC, the stifling of state level politics led to the promotion of ‘sub-nationalism in a manner that tends to strengthen divisive forces and weaken the unity and integrity of the country.’
The report recognizes that ‘there is considerable truth in the saying that undue centralization leads to blood pressure at the Centre and anaemia at the periphery. The inevitable result is morbidity and inefficiency.’ It proposed that an informal convention of consulting the state governments whenever the Union Parliament intends to enact on a subject in the concurrent list ‘should be strictly adhered to, except in rare and exceptional cases of extreme urgency or emergency.’ On the appointment of governors, the SC recommended that the appointees should be ‘eminent in some walk of life, should be a person from outside of the state, and should be detached and not too intimately connected with local politics of the state.’ It also held as desirable that ‘a politician from the ruling party at the Union is not appointed as governor of a state which is being run by some other party or a combination of other parties.’
More significantly, the SC sought to curb the political abuse of Article 356 by recommending its use only ‘in extreme cases, as a measure of last resort, when all available alternatives fail to prevent or rectify a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state.’ The SC categorically asked for an amendment to this Article, so that state assemblies cannot be dissolved either by the president or the governor ‘before the proclamation issued under Article 356(1) has been laid before Parliament and it has had an opportunity to consider it.’ As institutional reform the SC recommended the constitution of the Inter-State Council (ISC), the reconstitution of the national development council and the revival of the regional councils to enable both centre and states to work out consensus on federal issues. At the grassroots level it recommended the restructuring of the local level, self-governing panchayati raj institutions to create a third tier of government.
In the aftermath of significant party realignments both at the federal and the state level heralding an era of coalition politics in India, the ISC was finally constituted by Janata Dal government in 1990. However, it can hardly be viewed as ‘an independent high-powered body, including professional representatives who would be able to provide academic inputs and a more objective view on Centre-state issues’ as recommended by the SC. It is no surprise then that in all its five meetings to date – it was to meet at least twice as per the prescription – the ISC has little to show. Of the 130 recommendations without change and 25 recommendations with reservations suggested by SC, so far only two have been actually implemented. One of these two being the constitution of ISC itself and the other being the introduction of local self governing bodies vide the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.
Saez holds that the failure of inter-governmental bodies like ISC is best understood in terms of post-1991 policies of economic liberalization. While effecting a series of incremental fiscal reforms, the emphasis has been on increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as portfolio equity investment (PEI) by resorting to the neo-liberal policies of privatization, deregulation and decontrol. In the process as the different states vie against each other for FDI and PEI, the original model of cooperative federalism based on the idea of the inter-governmental cooperation has increasingly given way to inter-jurisdictional competition.
While states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat with developed infrastructure and better governance have become magnets for all forms of investment, the BIMARU states like Bihar and UP have lost out. Not only they do not attract any investment but also suffer due to dwindling central grants. In this changed fiscal environment with coalition politics firmly in place the author concludes that the ‘existing inter-governmental institutions in India have not been able to adapt to the emerging inter-jurisdictional competition among the states.’ What is needed is to constitute inter-jurisdictional institutions ‘to attract foreign investment into a number of regions’ by promoting certain sectors like telecommunications, oil production and consumer non-durables. Moreover the states should be given greater financial power to collect the corporate, land use and sales tax to enable them to grow on their own to achieve ‘the optimal level’ of centralization and decentralization in a coalitional political system.
The book revolves around the perennial debate about ‘the optimal level’ of centralization and decentralization in Indian polity while adding new dimensions to it. The study, however, suffers from certain limitations. One, a major part of the book takes up the analysis of the nature of the recommendations of SC and the role of the ISC despite the insignificant part played by these bodies in shaping the emerging trends of the centre-state relationships. Two, the author seems to be shifting focus when he undertakes a comparative study of the political economy of China with that of India ostensibly to suggest the policy measures for the success of NEP which is an altogether different issue. The chapters devoted to the study of the working of the energy, banking and telecommunications sectors in this regard hardly gel with either the content or form of the book. Three, the book would have gained with some editing as the same theoretical contentions, viz, the shift of focus from ‘inter-governmental cooperation’ to ‘inter-jurisdictional competition’ among the states are repeated ad nauseum. Then references; this reviewer found many errors with the volume number given of the journals. Five, there is no reference either to the constitution review committee or the recent debate.