Atanu Dey On India's Development

Why is India Poor? (Note #382)

What India is today is to a large extent the result of policy choices made by its leaders — especially post India’s independence. Prior to 1947, India’s fortunes were dictated by the British. The British were in India for — not to put too fine a point on it — looting the place. That is totally understandable. Every institution they created was directed towards the final goal of enriching themselves. Colonizers don’t go about colonizing foreign lands out of a sense of altruism. They do it for the moolah.

After independence, however, Indian policy was in the hands of Indians. What were the objectives of these Indians who stood at the helm? I really don’t know. What motivated them? I don’t know for sure. What were their declared motives? I believe it was to lead India to prosperity. Cha-cha Nehru said as much in his famous Tryst with Destiny speech. Talk is cheap. Especially pretty talk. Talk about scaling commanding heights is pretty as a picture, and as cheap as a picture. I have written critically about Cha-cha Nehru and his talk elsewhere. (See Nehru, the Nabob of Cluelessness, for instance.)

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote (Olmstead v US, 1928):

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

I remind myself that the British were the evil minded rulers that all were naturally wary of. What Indians did not realize is the danger of men like Nehru and his descendents.

Despite all Nehru’s pretty speeches, I believe he was motivated by a deep megalomanical zeal to command and control.

Shakespeare’s Mark Anothony says at Ceasar’s funeral, “The evil that men do, lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” Well, we do have the evil they did living after them. My wish is that their pretty speeches were also interred with their bones.

  • http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com TTG

    I find it surprising that your blog is considered as a nominee of best indiblog of the year. So far, the only thing I have seen on your blog is an ability to criticse and put down your fellow men, without any regard for circumstances, or even what is in my point of view, no thought or maturity whatsoever. This makes you so totally part of the very system that causes India to exist in the way it does. India is poor because of its economic choices – yes.
    You write critically of Nehru, because like all Indians it is easy for you to sit and criticize somebody else than to do anything. Nehru was an Oxford elite. The fashion of the time in Oxford was Socialism – i.e. a less extreme form of Communism. Socialism and Communism, by their very nature demand centralisation and control. Nehru, and most of the elites of the time believed that due the shape that India was left in after 1947, the only way to boost investment and fund large projects was to use the government, because there was almost no money in private hands. This was the reasoning behind socialism and centralisation on the large scale. Then, in the 1970s, Nehru’s daughter continued where he left off, and eventually getting frustrated with the democratic process and massive task of educating and developing the country thru a demoratic process, she declared an Emergency and attempted to force her views by dictatorship – but as she learned to her expense, no one person can control a nation as large as ours. The repercussions of their decisions are far-reaching, but that is the very nature of socialism, but they are not irreversible – it is simply a mater of patience – and being totally brainwashed by western media, you expect this change to occur overnight. Your writing represents nothing but the same sort of criticism that Indians have been piling on each other for milennia. All you know how to do is put down somebody else’s achievements, while wallowing in your own inferiorities and mediocrities. In my opinion Nehru made enormous mistakes, and he is definitely at fault. But he was more educated than most of the people around today, and very charismatic, and he had a vision. He foresaw a strong and powerful India, and did what he thought would lead to it. Whether he was wrong or right, his thought process and reasoning are plain. Why do you even bother to write. Please, just leave this place. India will do just fine without people like you dragging her through the mud every second, constantly reminding us of things we already know. It is a travesty against India that your writings are even considered to be of reasonable quality. Your immaturity and ignorance both shine through.

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    TTG, thanks for your extended comment. I am glad that I categorised the post under “Rant (Warning: May Cause Offense)”.

    My aim is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I am very glad for you that you are very comfortable.

    I will respond to the points you raise about Nehru in a future post. But I cannot help with matter of why this blog was nominated–people have different tastes, I suppose. Your valuation of my opinions may differ from those of others, just as my valuation of Cha-cha Nehru differs from yours.

  • gaurav

    i have been following this blog for sometime now and I was certainly pleased with this post. Somehow, I feel, that we Indians are brought up with this mindset that we should not questions authority, or whatever goop a person did in the past should not be discussed. See how we adulate leaders who made us the rut that we are today. Nehru did all he could, a visionary that he was, to seclude us in the world, making us part of an axis that was called “Losers of the world”. At that crucial stage we needed a vision, a vision to grow, to educate etc. and all we got was babudom which threatens to hamper growth at every step that we take.
    I believe it is okay to adualte leaders who brought you freedom, but it is even more important to discuss their wrongs, so that we don’t let another leader screw us up as royally as some others did.
    Is it possible? Only time will tell.

  • Eroteme

    TTG,
    I am not sure I get what you are saying. Do help me out here.
    -
    In my opinion Nehru made enormous mistakes, and he is definitely at fault. But he was more educated than most of the people around today, and very charismatic, and he had a vision.
    -

    So you do agree with Atanu on this, right? He used different words but not so different to portend something else. What has the educational qualifications of an individual got to do with his being button-holed by posterity for what he did? Would you join hands with Atanu if Mr. Nehru had a B.A. (correspondence) from a university in a remote place in India? What makes us wonder is that inspite of that, he didn’t get us too far. The fact that he is more educated than people around today, reflects that even after 50 years, there isn’t an improvement even in the quality of our leaders! I am not here to argue for Atanu, a job which Atanu can do better than me. What matters is whether a leader serves any purpose if all he can give me is fine words and charisma? A leader needs to be charismatic (we shall argue this later), no doubt. JFK was charismatic. Well, so was Hitler (to the people who believed in him and still do). What purpose does charisma serve beyond convincing a bunch of clueless people that there is a greater possibility that this charismatic person can serve them what s/he promises them? If the person can’t deliver, s/he isn’t much better than the person who kept quite and laid still on the street.
    Everybody has visions (and some land in mental hospitals after they confess to them). The point is how close to that vision can a leader take us. A leader who rushes in with promises and then realises that “you can’t achieve them with a country so big” is plain silly and a dilettante. Would you continue to stand by such a person because of the idealistic belief that “he had vision and courage and charisma”? If a CEO of a corporation promises the shareholders and the public the sky but manages to deliver a handful of dust (he can call it sky-dust), he will most likely be fired.
    What we need to do before we defend or oppose Mr. Nehru, is get our facts clear. Look at India in 1947 and look at India at the end of Nehru’s tenure. Was there a substantial improvement? Was he even beyond the half way mark of his set goals? Did he take ownership wherever he goofed and made amendments to his previous ideas? By “taking off where he left” did Mrs. Gandhi worsen/improve the situation? How many people benefitted from the emergency against those who were affected?
    No point getting emotional. We need to have facts on the table and call a crow a crow. What is the point painting it in colours and calling it a parrot?

  • http://kaisare.net/blog Niket

    I would like to see data, if any, on India’s economy and socio-economic indicators for the years until 1965. I am not convinced that Nehru knew his vision wasn’t working (although NOW we knoe that socialism doesn’t work. Unable to see that might be considered as Nehru’s failure as a “visionary). When India won freedom, there were two “major” schools of thought. It wasn’t until after Nehru’s death that one thought won over the other. Or am I totally clueless about economics?

    I also see no reason to slander Nehru for OUR failings. Its we, the people of India, who have raised the Nehru-Gandhi family to an emperor/moghul status. Atanu, didn’t you previously say that socialism was seared into the Indian psyche? Isn’t it our failing that we choose to elect the socialist over the capitalists? (As expressed by Boudreaux, we don’t really have as much choice in democracy as we think we do)

    In summary, I agree with most points Atanu makes; but I consider a lot of it as my failure as an Indian than Nehru’s failure. If pretty speeches ensures electoral victory (I only partly buy into that idea), is that Nehru’s fault or ours?

  • http://jyote.blospot.com Jyoti I

    Hi Atanu

    One really has to hand it to most of the Indians (top to bottom ) for having been so clueless about everything, so pompous despite their lack of progress, rationalize their deficiencies, so unable to take honest criticism and finally act upon the problems at hand – people are either too poor or too busy with their little lives. In America the people and administration alike have a national societal commitment to making life simpler,safer and better for their people. India is ultimately poor because of its collective apathy, not just economic choices – people are just so clueless about what’s going on and what they should be doing for their society. And they make soppy nationalistic movies that talk about how great a country India is!

  • Uday

    TTG,

    Trite as it may sound, you’ve shot the messenger because you didn’t like the message. Why did you care to post a well structured (though flawed) response that no doubt consumed your precious time, if as you claim the creator of the blog is “wallowing in [his] own mediocrity”.

    Personally, I relate well to Atanu’s writing because I share the same concerns and views that he expresses; his literary skills, constant reflection on history, and attention to detail are rare and admirable. Different individuals have different styles: many people, the most noteworthy of whom is our good President APJ Abdul Kalam, are diehard optimists. Many others are pragmatists and believe in painting a minimalist picture with all its stark nakedness in order to shake and awaken (or shock and awe to use the cliche of our times!). Atanu clearly belongs in the camp of the pragmatists. For all I admire of Kalam, I shake my head in disbelief when even in institutions like IISc, he makes the entire audience repeat some meaningless pledges after him in village schoolmaster style. This is an embarassing side of optimism and positivity gone awry.

    In any society, you have brilliant intellectuals at extreme ends of the spectrum. In the US, there is a brilliant mind like Pat Buchanan who is farther right than even Fox News. And then there is an ultimate dissident like Noam Chomsky, who proves that freedom of speech lives on in all its glory, despite the Patriot Act. While proponents of one political camp despise the extreme voices and views of the opposite, no one dares seriously accuse the other of mediocrity or petty frustrations. Extremely bright people have extremely strong views. It simply comes with the territory and it is very poor argumentative style to belittle dramatically contrarian viewpoints to your own without addressing the facts presented. Since you mentioned maturity, it is my take that true intellectual maturity comes from hearing and absorbing views of both sides — the inspirers brimming over with positivity, and the realists who attempt to jar observers into action.

  • Uday

    I could write at length on many follies in your comments, but I will dwell on a random two:

    (a) Your reference to Indira Gandhi: “eventually getting frustrated with the democratic process and massive task of educating and developing the country thru a demoratic process, she declared an Emergency”. This is inaccurate and a distortion of the truth. It is well accepted that her imposing the Emergency was due to the 1975 Allahabad High Court ruling that found her guilty of illegal election practices. However frustrated anyone gets does not afford them the *slightest* authority to abrogate constitutional rights.

    (b) You mention: “and being totally brainwashed by western media, you expect this change to occur overnight”. If I can assume “western” here to mean US and British media, Atanu’s views are extremely distant and independent from what I read. I would love to see a quote and/or a reference that shows views expressed on this blog influenced by an op. ed. or substantive article in the Western media. I don’t know Atanu personally, but I see in him a very talented person who chose to return to India to walk his talk. In fact the (relative) success he saw first hand in the west is what likely caused him to want to seek and contribute to what went wrong back home. In no small measure, that starts by knowing where the follies are.

  • http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com Tarun

    *Rubs hands with glee*
    This is the kind of debate I enjoy.

    Atanu
    1) I will part-apologise for my personal attacks – because I tend to get carried away emotionally. Sorry about that. But as you say, your article was a rant and may inflame, and I guess I fell for the bait, and attempted to flame right back. Not excusable, but it’s done.

    2) What makes you think that I am ‘comfortable’?

    Eroteme
    I agree with Atanu that Nehru ruined India in its 20th Century Avatar, from an ECONOMIC point of view. Socialism is just plain awful. But all of us have the luxury of hindsight. In the 1950s, the USSR was perceived as being as strong as America. Let’s not forget they initiated the Space Race. So why not look to them for some model? Socialism was also quite fashionable in England. So naturally he’d pick it up – you combine his views with those of Gandhi’s and your have a recipe for economic disaster. I do agree, that his view were absolutely stupid. You know this, I know this – we have the benefit of hindsight, the Internet and much better education than existed in the 1950s. But he didn’t. So get over it. He screwed up. Duh. However, he was enlightened enough to understand that Democracy is the only way to manage a country as divisive and as unruly as ours. And despite the views on this site, our democracy is anything but a sham.
    I personally hate the fact that our country adopted socialism. But that’s how things stand. And Mrs Gandhi definitely worsened the situation – she is more responsible for today’s mess than her father.

    Jyoti
    Nice try and attributing these qualities to Indians only. You want us to look to America, where they put metal detectors in schools because teenagers are killing each other and can’t distinguish between Austria and Australia, and argue over whether we’re related to primates as the model for development? A country that has tortured people as much as Saddam Hussein, violated all Geneva conventions? This country is making life better for everybody? Is that why India has to waste money on defence spending, to counter American-made Pakistani F-16s, Stinger missiles and spy satellites? This country which is working for the betterment of humanity chooses a dictatorship as an ally. It supports monarchs in Arabia who supress their populace. If this country is so amazing, how come all its leaders have been old, white, rich men mostly from political families? Why are only 8 of the 50 state governors women? How come there are lots of poor people who lack proper medical care because they have no insurance? This is exactly what I mean by brainwashed people. Apathy? Isn’t buying products made in countries where people work at gunpoint apathy? But the average american is just happy to get his iPod at a cheaper price.
    ** Continued below**

  • http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com Tarun

    **Continued from Above**

    Uday
    You mention the micro-event which led to the emergency. What is the emergency known for? Forced birth-control, the reigning in of the Media, the clearing of slums. What were these for? Simply to be vicious and tyrannical? Or did they indicate what was going on in Indira’s head. She got fed up with trying to convince people to have less babies, she just went ahead and did it. She got fed up of the constant bickering and criticism that is a part of democracy so she tries to stop it. Further, people seem to think that I was justifying Indira Gandhi’s actions. I was not.
    Plus most of the views expressed here are the same views expressed in most western media. A fatalistic and disgusted view of what India is. And this is not a new view.

    The point I was making, as one of the other commenters has said, is that Slandering Nehru is pointless. It is pretty common knowledge that India is poor because of Socialism. Was that simply one man’s ideology? Where were the rest of the 600 million Indians at that time? It is also obvious to anybody with half a brain that this Socialism is so ingrained in Indians, that it’s hard to bring about a change. But not impossible. The generations that lived and worked under socialism at its peak are now dying out. This has nothing to with our culture, and those who do believe it is are part of the problem.
    This argument of ‘telling it like it is’ is nonsense. You will say how little India has progressed. And I will say the reverse. Our points of view will never converge in the short-term. This is my country, it’s made me what I am, and I intend to better it. But simply harping on the first 50 years of its development – a drop in the bucket for land that has been continuously occupied for 2000 years minimum – is not going to encourage or inspire anybody to make things better. Simply saying “India sucks, all of you Indians are (a)pathetic” is not going make anybody do anything. They simply shrug, react defensively and say that nothing will ever change. How about you try a new approach: Highlight what has changed, what has improved. Maybe all that Indians need after a milennia of cynicism is some inspiration? Of course, since you only seem to see death and destruction around you, what achievements have occured may be completely ignored.
    America, the protector of the downtrodden and pursuer of life,liberty and happiness? Ha. Don’t make me puke. This country didn’t let black and white people drink from the same water fountains, or attend the same schools until the 1960s. A form of Apartheid… but no, America says it is the greatest country in the world, so of course, it must be true.

  • http://jyote.blogspot.com Jyoti I

    “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development” – Aristotle.

    The point is not about blindly aping America, but
    trying to understand the kind of societal orientation that has gotten them to where they are now. America has been characterized by continuing good governance for a long time (despite its weaknesses and ugly past), which India lacks. Most of what you point to seems to be related to the current administration which is ruled by a President who is as dumb and insensitive as they go. But the fact is: people in America enjoy a greater common denominator of decent living and gender equality than they do in India – anyone can see that and the point here is to understand why so. India may have more women in politics, but they are as corrupt as the men – that’s what they do to survive. Indian women (and men) perpetrate crimes on other women – is that your idea of a gender equal society? How does it help to know the difference between Austria and Australia; children in India don’t know about what happens outside their villages, or what their own rights are? Americans have problems with guns in school, but there are aware people who are actively trying to deal with social problems like these. How much is the average Indian enlightened and involved with his own societal problems for that matter. The wealth Americans have created goes beyond money – it is a wealth of rules, laws and a system that they work for, and it is hard work to go beyond one’s own short term benefits and work for the system. The average American is aware of what happens in his own country and his rights and responsibilities – why place on them the moral burden of other countries that have screwed up their internal affairs? Americans have a legacy of good governance and are trying to continuously improve on their own common good. I cannot say that for the average Indian – the average Indian basically does not care what happens beyond his home and hearth. I am not standing up for the Americans here, but an impassionate observation shows that they have largely got it right. The difference is in short term and long term thinking – which the average Indian and the Indian leaders lack. Life is a struggle and a fight in India, but it is the collective apathy, greed, and divisiveness among Indians that has made it so; which could have been avoided. I am really not surprised that we were ruled for the past two thousand years. One can emulate good ideas and avoid the bad ones. To be intellectually honest – we lack the humility to acknowledge our own shortcomings and correct them, yet all we can see is the limitations of others.

  • http://jyote.blogspot.com Jyoti I

    For clarification, the above rejoinder was addressed to Tarun who tried to bring up a few pertinent points about the US

    Jyoti

  • Venkat Ramanan

    Hey Atanu!
    Great Post! Please do write more so that many people come to know about “pre-chacha” and “post-chacha” India.
    BTB TTG, You may have come to Atanu’s site through the IndiBlogs website for the first time and that makes your views lopsided. you have to read completely what Atanu has been byting in the past years. Yes, He is a critic, but a construtive critic. Again, I am not arguing for Atanu, but I find his points truly relevant to the society and very much connected. He is very well an Indian and he would stay here, even if someone asks him to go back to the US. Again, the points that he brought out as saying that people were more interested in chacha for his charishma is being reflected in your post when you say “He is an Oxford Elite….”. Born in a rich family and educated in Oxford, does if qualify him for ruling India? What does an Oxford education mean for a poor Indian?
    A little digression from this post – do we need some stringent criterion for our netas? like the IAS, do we need a PAS? (Political Administration System). We find that it’s the IAS officers who perform all the duties for the politicians. when they can do it, why politicians at all? It’s high time some radical change comes up or we would still be saying “India will be a super power in 2020, India will be a World Power bla bla bla” but filthy politicians will be making India more poorer and sick.
    -Venkat

  • http://www.ecogito.net/anil Anil Kandangath

    Atanu,
    I would be able to appreciate your post better if you could describe the specific things that Nehru did which are the cause of India’s poverty today. (This is not a flamebait – I am truly curious to follow your line of reasoning)

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