Archive for October, 2009

Linguistic States

Redrawing the Map – Linguistic States (from GUHA)

 As early as 1917, the Party had committed itself to the creation of linguistic provinces in a free India. A separate Andhra circle was formed that year, a separate Sindh circle the following year.

 The rich inheritance of different languages was understood by Nehru and Gandhi. “It is axiomatic that the masses can only grow educationally and culturally through the medium of their own language.”

 In 1947, the views were differing. India had already been divided on the basis of religion – now why language? Existing states would provide examples of harmonious living.

 A committee was set up, which concluded that in the prevailing unsettled conditions, the first and last need of India was that it should be made a nation – everything which helped the growth of nationalism had to go forward, and everything which threw obstacles in the way had to be rejected, or should stand over. The test was applied to linguistic provinces also, and it was judged that they could not be supported.

 The JVP committee held that language was not only a binding force, but also a separating one, and therefore the need of the hour was that it should be discouraged.

Promptly, however, in 1948 and 1949, demands for linguistic autonomy flared up again in Karnataka and Maharashtra. This was especially true of Punjab, where Tara Singh was the principle offender. The most vigorous of movements, however, came from Andhra and the Telugu speakers. Even during colonial rule, the Andhra Mahasabha had worked hard to cultivate an Andhra identity. They undertook street marches, petitions and fasts to urge the congress to accept. One minister resigned. This was vindicated by the elections, where the congress managed to win only 43 seats. Things came to a head when former freedom fighter Sriramulu began a fast unto death, and died. There was general chaos, trains were halted and defaced, property was damaged, people were killed. Nehru was forced to bow, and Andhra Prdesh came into being on 1 October 1953.

 The creation of Andhra led to intensification of demands from other linguistic groups. A States reorganisation committee was founded, which travelled across the length and breadth of India.

The next problem happened in Maharasthra. Bombay tried desperately to keep itself out of Maharashtra, while the Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad called for Bombay to be made the capital of the Maharashtra State.

 Meanwhile, the report of the Committee was submitted in October 1955. It called for a balanced approach; Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam in the Sough; Bihar, UP, MP and Rajasthan in the North; demands for a Sikh state and for Maharashtra were rejected.

 Samyukta Maharashtra was furious; there was seething unrest, which was stoked by the politicians. The leaders of the Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad were arrested, and this was followed by a general strike. Then clashes between the police and protesters began, followed by violent riots. There was further disaffection within the Maharashtrian section of the Congress Party. Finally, when on 1 Novermber the new states came into being, the bilingual State of Bombay was one of them.

 The reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis was a victory of the popular will. Language proved to be a far greater binding force than caste and religion. Once the struggle was won, there was great patronage of the arts and architecture. (E.g, Orissa, Mysore).The struggle redefined what it means to be an Indian and, in retrospect, contributed more to unity than to disintegration. (How would you respond to this? Do you think it holds true? Can you link it to the artices you’ve read?)


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Constitutional Ideals

Ideas of India – Constitutional Ideals

(—Shameless cogging again)


The members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen on the basis of the year’s provincial elections (There were eight women, and also representatives of the princely states).

 Within the Congress there were wide differences. There was hardly any shade of public opinion not represented in the Assembly. Submissions were also requested from the general public, and they were many, divided and vocal. The Constituent Assembly had to adjudicate among thousands of competing claims and demands.

 The Constituent Assembly had more than 300 members, out of which about 20 were the most influential, twelve of whom had law degrees. These included Nehru, Patel (minority rights), Rajendra Prasad (President), Ambedkar, Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar and B.N. Rau (Advisor).

 Some people wished for a Gandhian return to the Panchayati Raj, but under Ambedkar, the individual rather than the village was chosen as the unit.

 A number of foreign models such as the American, the Swiss, the Irish and the British were considered. The Upper House was constituted with a view to act as a check upon the lower house. The President was seen as the nominal head of the State, much like the British sovereign; the Supreme Court was seen as the guardian of the social revolution and the guarantor of civil and minority rights; fiscal federalism was mandated – heavily borrowed from the Act of 1935.

 To the unprejudiced eye, the Constitution was an adaptation of Western principles to Indian ends. The Constitution sought to facilitate national unity and to promote progressive social change. (E.g. freedom of religion v. uniform civil code).

There was a bias towards the centre – the three lists. This was because of the existing system, the prevailing chaos, and the need for economic reform and equalisation among states.

 As far as rights of the minorities went, the demand for separate electorates was rejected. In the end, even the Muslims came around. The women also did not ask for separate electorates, asking instead for social justice. However, reservation for the Untouchables was there. (Throwing open of temples etc.) Jaipal, the tribal leader, also wanted reservations for tribals. This was acceded to.

 The language question was very contentious. It was vociferously argued that the national language should be Hindustani and that the Constitution should be in Hindi. (Hindustani was an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu). The politicians of the North wanted Hindi, those of the South wanted English. Nehru thought Hindustani could be a uniting factor. Partition killed the case for Hindustani. The move to Sanskritise Hindi grew in pace, and became fanatical. This led to furious debates on the floor of the house. In the end, a compromise was reached: the official language was designated Hindi, but for fifteen years the English language would be used for all official purposes.

 The three warnings of Ambedkar:

1)      The place of popular protest in a democracy – no more civil disobedience.

2)      Unthinking submission to a charismatic leader.

3)      Not to be content with merely a political democracy.

 Chew on these:

Have the objectives remained the same?

What kind of changes have our constitutional ideas gone through?

What did they represent then and what to they represent now?

What is the genesis of these things that become our ideals?

 Are they the product of colonialism (in what manner?) Do you think the constitution is a shared ideal?

What is its role in the imagination of india?

How has the changing imagination of india affected our ideals?

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Peasant UpriSingh

Peasant Uprisings

In a span of 117 years it has been estimated that there were around 110 uprisings. The first accounts of peasant uprisings thus came to be written up as administrative documents – dispatches on counter-insurgency operations, investigations etc. (Were these reports were used for understanding subsequent uprisings?)

 Was the fact that the recording of these uprisings were done in adinstrative documents the reason behind the peasant being denied his position as a subject of history?  Did it convert what could have been, in a sense, history, into an element of administrative concern? Can we.  therefore, say that peasant insurgency was assimilated as an element in the career of colonialism, and the peasant was denied recognition as a subject of history in his own right ?

 What about the argument of the peasant as the maker of his own rebellion and the attribution of a consciousness to him (and the consequential rejection of the idea that these uprisings were purely spontaneous)? Is there merit in such claims?  How does one view these peasant movements in light of the nationalist ideas that charismatic leaders were indispensable, and the Marxist view that these were in some ways pre-political movements?

 Can we argue that Hobsbawm’s pre-political societies is a European concept which does not translate well into the “Indian” context because the relationship between landlord and peasant was one of dominance and subordination, of extraction of surplus by pre-determined means and therefore, it was a political relationship of a feudal type which derived its material sustenance from pre-capitalist conditions of production and its legitimacy from a traditional culture still paramount in the superstructure? (Phew!)

 What is the role of  administrative and revenue collection changes brought about by the likes of the Permanent Revenue Settlement? Can we argue that under the British, landlordism was revitalised, and the local landed gentry gained in power and therefore, as a direct result of this, peasant indebtedness grew? Furthermore, is it feasible to say that due to lack of rent laws, enforceable ceilings, and co-ordination between the harvest and the fiscal calendars, and with the development of a market economy, the landlords turned into moneylenders?

 Is this an effective rejoinder? The relationship became deeply political in nature, and there was no way for the peasant to launch himself into grievance redressal projects in a fit of absent-mindedness. Subversion had immense risks inherent – hence, no uprising could take place without proper temporising (not spontaneous). Armed rebellion was undertaken only as a last resort, after deputations and peaceful demonstrations had failed. There was consultation, meetings of clan elders, conventions, gatherings etc. – only when consensus among the entire community was reached did the actual uprising take place (attributes consciousness).

 Such insurgency affirmed its political character by its negative and inversive procedure, attempting to force a mutual substitution of the dominant and the dominated in the power structure. It did not lack in leadership, aim, or even a programme, although these were not sophisticated.

You may find this useful-

Some Notes on Peasant Uprisings (thanks due to Gautam!) Peasant Uprisings (some Notes on) (click to download)

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