Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Take on LRB Review 'After Nehru' by Perry Anderson

London Review of Books, Vol. 34 No. 15 · 2 August 2012, pp. 21-36

Anderson's piece is an eye-opener for many readers who have not known details of India and Indian history. But as a person who spent his childhood and early youth age in Indian subcontinent, I have some agreements and equal disagreements on his writings. Besides stating its strengths and weaknesses, hereunder I will basically discuss about its relevance to Nepalese socio-political sphere with reference to my own research project 'Security Sector Governance in Nepal'.

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The article is a lengthy detail of post-independence Indian history. It doesn't have specific focus on one pivotal issue. At every page, the reader becomes like a viewer of a lawn-tennis match whose head goes from right side to the left at every shot. Continuously attacking on Nehru's personality, it fails to understand his vital contribution in managing post-Independence India. Yes, he was not able to make India better even if he had the capacity (I agree with Anderson on this), but many countries in such transition lack such personalities that ultimately spirals the achievements down. For instance, South Africa had Mandela to handle transition and Nepal had none to help overcome post-2006 crisis. I fully agree with one of the comments raised by Karuna Mantena below this article. It reads, "Where has hard secularism permanently cured the threats of majoritarian entrenchment and minority exclusion? Where has universal suffrage led to the massive redistribution of wealth that 19th-century liberals feared and socialists hoped for?"

Caste in India and Nepalese Debate

Caste system in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh share almost same characteristics: untouchability, economic backwardness, political underrepresentation etc. But Indian population and social diversity is almost unmanageable by one central authority. It needs proper power to be delegated to the federations, but sadly India does not give strong power to its federations, Anderson also agrees.


In Nepal, the modern unifier PN Shah distributed society on the basis of caste. It was based on a Hindu scripture Manusmriti. Manusmriti envisioned a society to function well only with a proper structure. The sociological theories on Structural Functionalism by Brown and Malinowski and Division of Labour by Emile Durkheim can be said based on such visions of Manusmriti. Because this scripture has stated different roles of people in a society based on the basis of their expertise. Later King PN Shah (1723–1775) divided the society in four layers: Brahmin (responsible to policy-making and intellectual tasks), Kshetri (responsible for warfare and security), Vaishya (responsible for trade and business), and Shudra (responsible for craftsmanship such as ironsmith, goldsmith, weaponsmith etc.). His vision, as stated, was to make society function well with this division of labour. But its defect was that it restricted the upward mobility for the so-called 'lower caste'. It always gave opportunity for the limited Brahmins to stay in decisive level with the King's clan himself satisfied in Kshetri (second) level as the protector of the country. Besides, the worst aspect of this division was 'untouchability', a reason for the decades long lagging behind of the so-called 'Shudra' community. Hence, PN Shah and other successive rulers failed to realise inclusive growth in Nepal while institutionalising the caste system.

Interesting part of caste politics was that this was an Aryan[1] division and it did not include the Mongolians.[2] Hence, the ethnic and indigenous people (highlighted in the minority debate in Nepal now) were not considered in this division. Therefore, Indian and Nepalese caste system should be looked at differently because of Nepal's politico-historical background and the composition of population that was constituted after the gathering of Aryans and Mongolians from two directions.

Another important debate on marginalisation and caste system in Nepal is on recognition and redistribution. Some of the people (even from the so-called lower castes) are economically and politically stronger than other so-called upper caste people. Because only being listed as an upper caste since years doesn't offer proper livelihood for so-called upper caste people. Because of the rugged geography, many people in hinterlands (regardless of caste) are deprived of basic facilities of life whereas those in urban areas and those near to political power centres have been enjoying heydays. So, a false assumption still prevails that states 'all upper caste people are exploiter and all lower caste people are exploited'. One must admit that Brahmins and Kshetris have been controlling state resources since long, but it is not that 'all Brahmins and Kshetris' have been doing so. Such blanket generalisation can be counterproductive in the discourse and may lead the society to an unwanted hostility and polarisation. It is because there are still a number of so-called upper caste Brahmins who want change and justice for the suppressed ones. Pokhrel (2008) (in a book section in Livelihood Insecurity and Social Conflicts in Nepalpresents a good matrix that helps understand this dynamics.


According to him, there are four types of people: non-poor and non-discriminated, non-poor but discriminated, poor but non-discriminated, poor and also discriminated. Stating practically, the first type of people are at upper level and the fourth type of people suffer much. The fourth type of people includes not only the so-called lower castes, but also the so-called upper ones.

But India has a huge population that cannot be managed centrally. Moreover, federal system there does not delegate adequate power to subnational authorities. This is why caste system has been a major hurdle in its socio-economic development and political representation. Nepal is on the way to become a federal country and it should be aware on the pros and cons of this system. India can be one lesson for this socio-economically similar country.

Relevance to Post-war Nepal

Anderson mentions that 'there was no overthrow of the Raj, but a transfer of power by it to Congress as its successor'. The same has happened to Nepal after the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1990. There was a 'said democracy' that strengthened people's role in sovereignty, but indeed political leaders used this opportunity to control over resources. Low literacy rate and immaturity of democracy contributed to their ill-motive whereas low level of political conscience in people was another factor in making it so.

Even after the dethroning of the Shah King in 2006, unipolar power centre (the palace) changed into multipolar (political parties). But power never got transferred to the people as there is no formal constitution to state that people have achieved something. As Anderson argues, Indian constitution was not home-grown but an imported one. The same was there for Nepal. In 1990, a 35-member Constituent Assembly was formed to draft a new constitution. It did so but people did not feel ownership over that. On that constitutional ground, monarchy was highly powerful. Later, civil war erupted with demand of new constitution. Even after the political change in 2006, some of the security acts (such as Army Act) was amended but just to strip the King of the military power. Critics yet believe that the new Army Act is also insufficient to address security problems in the country.

Anderson presents all dimensions of Indian politics in one piece. Be it in India, Sri Lanka or Nepal, of course, nepotism and cronyism have been inseparable parts of South Asian politics since long. But one important point to note is undemocratic behaviour of India after independence. India defeated the British Raj, but modern day India in practising its Raj in South Asia with interventionist diplomacy. Let us look at South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India did not let China be a member of it even the other countries were raising voices for it. Indeed, China's entrance as a member country in SAARC could have contributed to a good power balance in this regional regime.

Many characteristics of post-independence India match with those of post-war Nepal. For example, 'emotional nationalism' of Nehru matches with the nationalism that has been in rising debate in Kathmandu. As modern day world is interconnected unprecedentedly, nationalism that excludes spaces for international actors cannot sustain long. May be Nepal's security system should learn from this.

The same resemblance as observed by Anderson in post-independence India can be seen in misrepresentation of people in parliamentary system in post-war Nepal. It also consists of corrupt people and criminals, even if not in equal percentage as in India. Another important discussion is on the debates on secularism in post-independence India from where post-war Nepal can learn a lot. Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism is a hot debate in Indian academia these days. This concept can be related to this researcher's project on Security Sector Governance in Nepal. Nepal Army has been following Hinduism in its every function. Its daily practices, military exercises, insignia and symbols are based on Hinduism. Military training begin every day after early morning worship to Hindu deities and Hindu goddesses are considered holy power-giver to this institution. Sarcastically, the country is officially a secular Federal Democratic Republic. In this context, I wrote a piece in Nagarik Daily on Hindutva and Nepali Security System with a focus on inclusion debates. If any non-Hindu is in Nepal Army, s/he may not feel sense of possession to such a military which only practices Hindu tradition in a secular country. However, exploring the positive and negative effects of what Hinduism offered to the Nepalese military system would be an interesting topic of investigation in future.
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[1] Aryans are the people who shifted from Indian subcontinent to Nepal centuries ago and observed Hindu tradition.
[2] Mongolians are the people who shifted from Sino-Tibetan parts to Nepal centuries ago and observed their indigenous religions.

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