The Crisis of India. Ronald Segal. Penguin Books. 5s.

Ronald Segal’s heart is in the right place. His compassion for the poverty-stricken masses of India is mixed with anger at their (apparent) apathy and submissiveness and at the failure of the ruling elite to generate popular enthusiasm in tackling the tasks of economic development. He is appalled by India’s disembodied democracy.

‘No number of Five Year Plans’, writes Segal, ‘can achieve fundamental change in India without the recruitment of voluntary popular effort. A government that attempts to conceal economic inequalities with the incantations of socialism may reassure itself of its ultimately noble intentions, but is likely to strain too far the faith of the starving. . . The crisis of Indian poverty and backwardness is not a distant one.’

Segal sees danger ahead in the growing forces of regional loyalties as well as in the vigorous growth of right-wing political movements, in particular the Jan Sangh, the party of militant Hinduism. ‘If democracy does not take a new course . . . a gradual dissipation of national authority, while the problems merely mount, must in the end produce the very appetite for centralized authority which it seems to deny.’

Segal’s analysis, however, is both diffuse and ambiguous. He speaks of the growing disparity between rich and poor. But he fails to focus clearly on the extreme concentration of capital that has taken place and the economic and political power of Indian monopoly capitalism. He has little to say about the vast extension of foreign capital (in particular us and British capital), its power and influence in India and its intimate ties with domestic Indian capitalism. His discussion of the influence of religion and the caste system (which, together with a potted history describing its origins, occupies more than half of the book) and his references to the ‘traditional elite’, conceal the influence of landownership on the pattern of power and politics in rural India.