January 30, 2022

Modi Government: Converting Bose to a Hologram and Forgetting his Vision

Prabir Purkayastha

EVERY year, this is the time that the Modi government and the BJP has a serious problem. Its claims of being the nationalist party founders against the brutal reality of almost having no leader of any stature that stood up to the British in India's freedom struggle. That is why its attempt to appropriate any leader of stature, even if they belong to the other political streams. It started with Sardar Patel and the statue of unity; it then continued with Dr Ambedkar on his 125th birth anniversary; now it is the turn of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Of course, the BJP can legitimately claim Savarkar. Even if Savarkar, after an initial history of struggle against the British, tarnished his reputation by writing letters during his imprisonment vowing allegiance to the British Raj. But how much can you flog one sole nationalist icon, against a pantheon of such figures that any stream in the national movement can muster—from the Congress to the socialists, the communists, the dravid and dalit movements? The problem for the BJP is worse: they not only have to invent a past in the national movement which they simply do not have. But they also have to appropriate these icons against the publicly contempt these icons expressed in their speeches and writings of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha (the Jan Sangh did not exist then was formed in 1951 after Gandhi's assassination).

Modi has always been believed that pomp and show can overcome the flimsy basis of his claims. That is why the majesty of the statue of unity and its enormous size at an expenditure of Rs 3,000 crore. Something that the Sardar would have found completely wasteful. The statue's size was to cover up for Patel being a lifelong Congress leader and instrumental in banning RSS after Gandhi's assassination. Netaji seems to be an afterthought this time: not even a statue, only a hologram! Missing a stature, Modi resorted to the gimmick—copied from his election campaigns—of a holographic image of Netaji's statue. All it did, was to show up this event for what it was: an attempt to appropriate a leader who had a deep contempt for the vision of the RSS and its leaders.

The one legacy of Netaji in India's freedom struggle was the formation of the planning committee, which was formed when he was the president of Congress. Meghnad Saha, the physicist and close to the communists, had asked Bose to set up such a planning committee. Bose asked Nehru, as a fellow socialist, as he also saw himself, to head the planning committee. This planning committee was formed in 1937 by Bose that after independence, became the ‘planning commission’.

One of the first acts of the Modi government—announced "appropriately" in his first Republic Day speech as PM—was to dismantle the planning commission and replace it with the toothless and vacuous Niti Aayog. Dismantle the true legacy of Bose with his holographic image: a game of light and shadows without any substance. This is increasingly becoming the Modi government's true legacy!

Ambedkar, speaking to the ‘constituent assembly’, emphasised that democracy meant both social and economic democracy. In their vision, all three—Bose, Nehru and Ambedkar—made clear that they drew their inspiration of socialist society from the Soviet Union, even if they did not agree with communism. Bose saw planning and building of a public sector as an absolute necessity for India's industrial and agricultural regeneration. He also saw it as an instrument of redistribution of the benefits of development to all sections of society. It is only by State intervention in the economy that he felt an independent India would be able to free India from absolute poverty, famine, abysmal life expectancy and illiteracy that the British colonial rule had imposed on India.

People with no history in the national movement forget the state that two centuries of British rule had left India in. It had completely destroyed India's industry, made India an importer of almost all advanced industrial goods, tied its economy to the British.

To break free from the stranglehold of the British, India had to do three things. It needed to plan its economic resources, the State needed to build the heavy industries sector, and it had to build the critical human resources required in any national development by investing in education and research. This was the vision that Bose set up and placed in his presidential address to the Haripura Congress in March 1938. This is the vision he repeated a few months later in August of the same year in his interaction with Meghnad Saha on his vision of planning and industrialisation of India. This was the common vision that Saha, Bose and Nehru shared of Indian planning and industrialisation of India. They drew their inspiration from the Soviet experiments with planned development after the October revolution. Saha fell out with Nehru later on his compromise with British and big Indian capital and was elected to the Indian Parliament with the support of the Communist Party.

For those who want to dismiss India's achievement in its initial years and want to minimise the role of the British in de-industrialising India, here are some figures. Mughal India was about 25-30 per cent of the global economy (Angus Maddison's estimates). No, India's economic share in the global economy did not fall with the Muslim rule as the RSS, Modi and others in the BJP would have us believe. It fell only with the British colonial rule coming down from 25-30 per cent of the global economy to about seven-eight per cent. This was accompanied by 80 per cent of its people below the poverty line, and life expectancy of 32 and its people prey to repeated famines. With independence and the five-year plans, from importing 90 per cent of its industrial goods in 1947 to halving that in 1960, and importing only nine per cent by 1974. Life expectancy rose from 32 to about 50 years in this period.

Contrast this with the vision of the RSS. In all their writings, there is no mention of the Indian economy, the key issue before the independence movement. For Golwalkar and his colleagues, the fight was against not the British but the Muslims and the secularists in creating a Hindu India. As we have written earlier, when Golwalkar defines the nation, he talks about land, race, religion, culture and language, never about the economy. In his concept of the nation, economic freedom and foreign capital controlling the Indian economy was a non-issue.

Not surprisingly, the RSS was quite happy with the British capital. It railed the policies of independent India that made the task of developing an independent economy a core task of the state. For them, planning was hated socialism, and that is why after Modi won, his first major task was the dismantling of the planning commission, the legacy as much of Bose as Nehru. That is why the BJP government believes that we can import technology without the need to develop it here. Foreign capital will develop India without the Indian State needing to do anything but make land and labour available to it cheaply.

This is the vision of the Modi government that believes in Bose as a hologram, or at best a statue. That is why we are now headed from self-reliance, the goal of the independence movement, to a future with only ‘Reliance’ and other crony capitalists of the party in power. That is why we are seeing the top 10 per cent in India share of the total national income grow to 57 per cent, while the share of the bottom 50 per cent has gone down to 13 per cent (Oxfam's World Inequality Report, 2022). This is Modi's India, where light and shadows replace reality.