Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Colonialism: Janus Faced": Prof Gopal Guru's Ambedkarite argument on the Manmohan speech

Prof. Gopal Guru added the missing piece to the entire "Did British Colonialism have a beneficial side to it" argument today in the TOI. In a brilliantly articulated essay, Prof Guru talks about how " Liberalism forms the ideological continuity between an imperialist nation state and the colonies. ". He articulates how the language of rights, hitherto unknown in Indian society, the "earlier society based on the language of obligation" was wrought into the Indian governance setups due to the influence of liberalism.

He says, "The creation of the modern public sphere by the colonialist did promise conditions for the realisation of these rights. These enabling conditions prompted Dalit-Bahujan leaders to start the self-respect movement that primarily sought to contest caste in civil society. Mainstream nationalists of all political shades were either indifferent or completely opposed to self-respect movement. They were generally reluctant to take up the caste issue, as they, including Gandhi, wanted to avoid any fragmentary impact on the nationalist movement. The mainstream nationalist response was directed against the colonial configuration of power. The Dalit-Bahujan response was primarily directed against the local configuration of power — capitalism and Brahminism. The Dalit-Bahujan perspective, thus, offers a critique of both orientalism and apologists for colonialism. Within this framework, they argued as to how Hindutva and even mainstream nationalists can justify their fight against their inferior treatment at the hands of the orientalist while the latter themselves sought to inferiorise Dalits and shudra masses."

Yet, he argues the Dalit Bahujan leaders did not abandon the fight against British colonialism's rapacious character either. "However, Dalit-Bahujan leaders did not disempower Dalits and Bahujan masses by divesting power from them to the benevolence of the British colonialists. This was evident from their critique of the British Raj that they offered from time to time. They often severely criticised the British for their callousness and insincerity in responding to Dalit questions."

In my opinion, Prof Gopal Guru has a well articulated point. From the perspective of the teeming millions of India subjugated to the throes of crass and iniquitous casteism, the issue and notion of "self-respect" was greater in importance than "self-rule" (the main "muddha" of the mainstream nationalist movement), even if it didn't result in the leaders of the "self-respect" movement ending up buttressing the pro-British line. In contrast, they were equally anti-imperialist, but articulated their protest against colonialism not by straitjacketing every issue within the "self-rule is paramount" paradigm. If "Swaraj was their birth right", self-respect and dignity were rights of paramountcy themselves. The British encounter, in its own "unintended" ways, brought about tenets of liberalism (themselves a result of the Enlightenment) to the dark annals of Indian society. There is a lot of truth in this argument.

Yet, this doesn't absolve Manmohan Singh's speech "extolling" "good governance" by the British. I would still continue in Prof Patnaik's 'Dr Singh is a neoliberal intellectual" vein. If Dr Singh had the gumption to speak the language of Phule and Ambedkar in his speech at Oxford, it would have made sense, but what Dr Singh said in Oxford can still not be interpreted in the Ambedkarite context.

3 comments:

no one said...

Well-done Srini. Keep maintaining this page and continue with putting contemporary issues. I just read Dr. Gopal Guru’s article. I almost completely agree with him. But it really has nothing to do with good governance of British Raj. Yes, if we look back, we find some beneficial consequences for the Dalit movement. It gained some strength out of the situation. But that is simply because they utilized the situation. It was an opportunity for them and they used it in their favour; good for them, good for us and good for the country. But it was no benevolent action from the side of the ruler. I cannot believe that the British assumed any moral responsibility to empower the Dalits. You see, when we look at any historical phenomenon, there is a fundamental difference between just stating the end results as good or bad on one hand and explaining the direction and objective of the process on the other. Some people may talk about the railways, bridges and townships established by the British Raj. But these are again components of the end results. So my point is, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate a historical phenomenon by looking at the end results. We need to analyse the process. Think about the Quit India movement. People thought that they should take the advantage of the chaotic situation and hit the enemy hard when it was weak during the Second World War. Now suppose that we got independence at that time. That would have been a good end result. But can you really say that the phenomenon of the Second World War was good because you have a beneficial consequence? In fact Second World War partly helped us get our independence. But I don’t think that qualifies it to be a desirable historical event in itself.

srinivasan said...

Dear Chander,

Please call me and explain in detail

ramesh chitha

srinivasan said...

Dear Chander,

Pl call me and explain in detail

ramesh chitha