Atanu Dey On India's Development

Was Nehru a Dictator?

There’s an interesting discussion going on at The Acorn which got started following an article by Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times. The Acorn says:

Just as it is wrong to blame the United States for Pakistan’s failure, it is wrong to credit Nehru with India’s relative success. Assessing Nehru’s role in India’s development requires the space of several books. But one would think it reasonable to credit several hundred million ordinary people of India for doing little things right that contributed to their country being where it is. It is also reasonable to blame a small number of people for doing big things wrong that left India much behind what it could have been.


The comments to the post are interesting, as I said before. Here’s a bit from Pragmatic:

Obviously, Nehru made mistakes, huge ones, and they can’t be condoned. But let us give credit where it is due. Also, can we name any other country except India, where the leaders who fought for independence from colonial masters didn’t become dictators. And I have personally heard this from guys from all third-world countries, who wish that they had a leader like Nehru. Even Pakistanis and Bangladeshis talk about it in private.

I have never quite understood the claim that Nehru was not a dictator. I did not know the man personally, but I am told that he was quite the authoritarian. After all, he was from a rich family and was used to having his way around. Joining the struggle for political freedom is not inconsistent with a desire to be the ruler. In fact, the powerful natives in India had to have the desire to rule the natives as much as the foreigners must have had. It is the desire to rule, to control, to wield power over others that motivates people to colonize others. And it is that same desire that motivates the powerful among the natives to get the incumbents out of their thrones because they want to get on. I am not entirely sure that to the low man on the totem pole it makes any difference as to what the color of the skin or the national origin of the ruler is. In either event, they are the ruled. Further evidence for this is easy to find in India. A significant section of the Indian population is quite happy to have a white-skinned Italian-born woman as the ruler of India.

I consider Nehru as a faux-British and I am reasonably sure that he considered himself to be British. He was continuing to shoulder the white-man’s burden, so to speak. Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka the Mahatma, elevated Nehru to be the ruler of India. A happy transition of power from the white sahibs to the brown sahib — though mind you, Nehru was not as brown as the average Indian. I have a sneaky feeling that if Nehru was really dark, he would not have been Gandhi’s blue-eyed boy.

Anyway, back to Pragmatic’s claim that Nehru did not become a dictator. I wonder. You know, if I had 99 percent of the people bowing and scraping in front of me, and doing my bidding without question, I don’t think I would have to impose a dictatorship. It is costly to maintain an army to control a population — which is what a dictator is forced to do. So why bother being a dictator when you can easily enough win any “election.”

The true test would have been if Nehru had lived long enough and if his popularity had dwindled to the point where he had lost an election. Then we could have judged whether he was a true believer in democracy or not. But alas, the good die young. Or at least they don’t live long enough for people to figure that they were not so good after all.

Nehru’s daughter, however, did live long enough to validate my conjecture above. As long as her popularity won her elections, she was happy to be a democratically elected leader. Lost one election and BANG! the immediate transformation into a dictator. Ascribing superior moral motives to Nehru’s not becoming a dictator is a hasty conjecture. Operationally, one cannot distinguish the actions of one who has almost absolute power democratically from one who is a dictator whose power flows from the barrel of a gun. I would rather be the average person who lives in a functioning economy, than be the average person who lives in a “democracy” ruled by well-meaning but intellectually challenged morons who run make it impossible for me to feed and educate my children.

Another commenter, Oldtimer, says:

I don’t give Nehru credit for our democracy. I’d say that dictatorship does not work on Indian soil — for long, at any rate. Indians might not have understood freedoms as post-Enlightenment Europe understood them, but they resisted oppression for centuries.

Indians resisted oppression? Really now. You could have fooled me! Indians have been subjugated for centuries. And that too by forces far weaker than themselves. At the height of British power, there were hardly any British in India. Perhaps maybe one British for 10,000 Indians. Indians resisting oppression is a joke. If the Indians wanted, they could have had the British for breakfast one morning and still felt hungry. But they meekly went about being the subjects of Britain for nearly a century. The British were not even pushed out; they left because the cost of colonization was not worth the benefits any more.

Anyway, Nitin responded to some of the comments and added:

It is not so much about dictatorship vs democracy. It was about clear-headed, purposeful policies vs wrong-headed, muddled ones. Democracy shouldn’t be used as an excuse to condone bad leadership.

I will write about why democracy fails in India (and works in many other places) separately, as I had promised at the end of my last post. It is too often that one has to hear the lame excuse for India’s dismal economy: it’s because India is a democracy. Wait, so is the US and many other prosperous European countries. But they are not desperately poor. So why drag democracy into it?

Moving on, Rahul Bajoria wrote, “Yes, India under Nehru followed a socialist path, which would not have worked for long. But his ideas were on the lines of industrialization, which itself were not completely flawed.” That is wrong. Wronggity wrong wrong wrong.

Nehru’s industrialization was completely flawed. First is was import substitution industrialization. ISI was bad for India and it is bad for any country (including the different ISI in our neighboring country.) I will not go into that here. Industrialization is good. But state controlled industrialization is a foxtrotting disaster. It has to be from first principles, and it is in practice. Yes, the USSR is a shining example of that sort of thing.

Industrialization which occurs naturally in an economy where the people are economically free leads to prosperity. The US did not have state controlled industrialization and precisely because of that became the greatest industrialized economy the world has ever seen.

Until India wakes up to the fact that Nehruvian socialism and Nehruvian industrialization have been unmitigated disasters, India is not going very far along the road to development. Even now the government has not realized that state control is inconsistent with and antithetical to growth and development.

  • http://jihadwatch.org/ Notsure

    Not by a long shot.
    Indira/Rajiv/ by all means

  • AGWorld

    Completely!

    He overruled Sardar, the Army and everyone else on his China madness and was a total despot economically.

    Milton Friedman has written about how, during Nehru’s time, economists and planners opposed to nehru’s asinine economic policies were muzzled or put behind bars.

    Democratic he ain’t

  • AGWorld

    And its not Nehruvian socialism — its Nehruvian Stalinism (absolute control, centralisation in government, control over expression, with externment of dissent).

  • amar

    Atanu,

    Indians have been subjugated for centuries. And that too by forces far weaker than themselves.

    Why? Why? Why?

    Is the answer to the above why(s) related to the following:


    I will write about why democracy fails in India (and works in many other places)

    Kindly explain.
    Regards,

  • Vaidehi

    Atanu:

    ” You know, if I had 99 percent of the people bowing and scraping in front of me, and doing my bidding without question, I don’t think I would have to impose a dictatorship. It is costly to maintain an army to control a population — which is what a dictator is forced to do. So why bother being a dictator when you can easily enough win any “election.”

    Absolutely spot on !
    About the overhyped Indira Gandhi, an IAS officer (retired) who was an eye witness when she was going to be arrested following Shah Commission Enquiry said:
    ” she showed her true mean self then, spitting on the person and literally ordering him to touch her feet….”

    The charlatan godmen don’t command my respect. Nevertheless, I felt elated when Rajiv Gandhi escorted by Buta Singh ( desperate to win an election) got kicked on his forehead by a “Kicking Saint Atop A Tree “

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