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
‘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.
Segal sees the existing equilibrium of power as untenable because forces are tending to pull Congress apart. He expects (and hopes) that extreme right-wing elements from Congress will join the Swatantra Party and the Jan Sangh and that some on the left will join the Communist Party, ‘while Congress itself attempts to survive as a party of the centre’, and ‘a new socialist force’ is brought into being by the fusion of socialists in Congress and the existing socialist parties. Evidently, he hopes that such a reformed Congress would be the ‘new modernizing elite’ under continuons pressure from the forces on its left. He refers to the character of ‘the British Model carefully noted by the Indian constitutionalists, viz. ‘the existence of a mobile body of political opinion owing no permanent allegiance to any party and therefore able, by its instinctive reaction against extravagant movements on one side or the other, to keep the vessel on an even keel’. He continues, ‘Perhaps the greatest promise of Indian democracy lies in the existence of such a body of opinion in India, not only within the middle-class but among the Indian masses themselves.’ Segal deludes himself if he thinks that this is anything but a prescription for maintaining the status quo. Moreover, it is unlikely that the polarization of forces in Indian society will allow such a nice balance to be maintained. Hamza Alavi