Decline In Institutional Governance Rooted In Partition ~ susanta kumar sur
TWO excellent Perspective page articles, ‘The wolf at the door’ (28 May) by Rajinder Puri and ‘No place for the hapless commoner’ (31 May) by Seema Mustafa, deserve the strongest commendation. Readers, I am sure, will generally agree with their observations on corruption and the deterioration in institutional governance in India.
The sordid state of affairs has provoked the veteran journalist, Mr Puri. to sound the alarm bell ~ “Corruption is so rampant that it reveals not a crisis of legality, but of morality. All institutions have collapsed and there is no governance worth the name. Separatist insurgencies and terrorism are not abating….. hostile neighbouring countries continue to subvert our national security”.
Ms Mustafa has underlined the sickening condition of institutional governance ~ “Something wrong is happening in Indian democracy. Institutions, instead of being strengthened, are being weakened by acts of omission and commission. Corruption has corroded them… All through this, commoners continue to suffer”.
Such disparaging remarks on institutional governance, expressed by two eminent journalists, ought to stir every Indian citizen. At stake is the future of the nation. Let all of us actively support the measures recommended by Mr Puri to stem the rot. However, I am convinced that the roots of most of the ills that plague the nation can be traced to the wrongdoings at the time of Partition.
One of Mr Puri&’s suggestions runs thus ~ “A proper inter-state council must be formed to ensure federalism. There must be genuine devolution of power…” The fact of the matter is that ‘genuine devolution of power’ and ‘federalism’ in partitioned independent India, led by Nehru&’s Congress government, was buried on 28 April 1947 when the Union Powers Committee of the then Constituent Assembly (CA) presented its first report. (B Shiva Rao (ed), The Framing of India&’s Constitution: Select Documents, vol. II, 1967, p 743-47). Jinnah&’s Muslim League did not participate in the Constituent Assembly as a mark of political protest. It was chaired by the Gandhi loyalist Rajendra Prasad, whose Powers Committee interpreted three common subjects ~ Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications. The first report effectively converted the Union Centre into something very different from what the Cabinet Mission had planned for the United Indian Federation. Contrary to their initial acceptance of the United Indian Federation Plan, Gandhi and Nehru, influenced by the British, suddenly changed their views from the middle of June 1946. Since then, till Mountbatten&’s tenure as Viceroy, the Congress continued to insist on a strong Union Centre, instead of an agreed modality to ensure genuine federalism, embodied in the Plan. This divergence of views between the Congress and the League, cunningly manipulated by the then colonial masters, ultimately resulted in the Partition of India.
Following successful steering of the Powers Committee towards concentrating practically all powers under the Union Centre, Nehru&’s Congress geared up to get rid of Jinnah. The Muslim League leader was still trying to avert physical partition on the basis of parity over External Defence between the Pakistan provinces and Hindustan provinces without any virtual division of the Indian Army. On 1 May 1947 ~ after Nehru&’s and Patel&’s previous rejection of ‘parity’ ideas on 22 April and 25 April respectively ~ Patel told the Viceroy bluntly: “If you raise this question of parity you will incur the everlasting enmity of Congress; that is the one thing we have been fighting against and will never agree to”. On 21 May 1947, Nehru&’s closest friend, Krishna Menon made it clear to the Viceroy that “we (Congress) want to be rid of him (Jinnah)”. (Transfer of Power: 1942-47, vol. 10, p 364, 381, 424-26, 540, 940).
The scripted political drama was enacted to protect their chief money-bag&’s (GD Birla) interest in Hindu majority western part of the then Bengal Province. Birla was extracting his quid pro quo from the power-hungry elite of the Congress in lieu of his unrevealed services rendered since July 1935 as the covert intermediary between the British and Gandhi&’s Congress for Britain&’s secret assent to leave Hindu India under Congress rule. As a result, Nehru and Gandhi&’s Congress did not allow Bengal to remain undivided despite Jinnah&’s press statement on 9 May 1947 in The Hindu in favour of the province to stay united. The Congress high command almost forced the communal division of Bengal with an eye on the eventual division of Bengal and Punjab. Commoners, however, did not know at that time that Nehru ~ 20 months ahead of actual Partition and seven months before the Great Calcutta killing ~ had secretly reaffirmed the Congress assent for the communal division of these two provinces to the Labour Prime Minister, Attlee&’s personal messenger, Major Woodrow Wyatt. Gandhi initially agreed with the Churchill camp in July 1935.
After usurping all the powers at the Union Centre, Nehru&’s Congress government had served a body-blow to an already emaciated West Bengal on the night of 15 August 1947. By a Gazette notification on that date, the Government of India had arbitrarily reduced West Bengal&’s share of the Jute Export Tax from 65 per cent to 20 per cent though all the jute mills were located in that province. The state’s share of the income-tax divisible pool was curtailed from 20 per cent to 12 per cent, though East Bengal&’s contribution to united Bengal&’s total income-tax collection was less than 5 per cent. Furthermore, after Partition, Nehru had deliberately played the anti-provincialism card for not allowing the return of four western Hindu majority districts of united Bengal ~ illogically ceded to Bihar in 1912 to penalise Bengal for their opposition to Curzon&’s Bengal partition scheme ~ to West Bengal. Neither did he consider to return the Cachar district of old Bengal to West Bengal from Assam.
Nehru&’s Congress precipitated several issues ~ shortage of land area for settling millions of East Bengal Hindus who were driven away by the Pakistan regime; the imminent food shortage created by the Centrally imposed reduction of the rice growing area and driving millions to penury; and diversion of a major part of arable land to jute cultivation to sustain the supply of raw jute to the hundreds of jute mills in West Bengal, then the country&’s largest foreign exchange earner. The same Nehru, who had rejected the idea of population exchange for East Bengal, but sweet-talked to East Bengal Hindus before Partition, began to treat the refugees from East Bengal as intruders.
Ms Mustafa concluded her piece by saying: “Honest persons live outside the pale. They have no place in the glittering world of the power elite, as they are looked at with suspicion of being ‘outsiders’ in more ways then one… In this new India, perhaps even Gandhi would admit that his words ‘I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet’ are far too idealistic”.
To elucidate the real meaning of Gandhi&’s words, I wish to quote from John Glendevon&’s book on Lord Linlithgow ~ “The Viceroy had conveyed to Birla and Mahadeo Desai (Gandhi&’s private secretary) his surprise at the contrast in tone between Gandhi&’s personal letters to him and the kind of statement which the Mahatma was making in public. The Viceroy was assured that he need not take latter remarks too seriously as they are meant to appeal to the public.” (The Viceroy at Bay ~ Lord Linlithgow in India, 1936-1943, p 166).
It is fervently to be hoped that Indians will come forward to respond overwhelmingly in support of Mr Puri&’s proposal as “there is a wolf stalking this nation. Once it pounces, there will be no time to think”.
The writer is a freelance contributor