Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India

Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India

Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India

Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India

Excerpt

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our·pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom."

These were the words with which Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of India's dominant Congress party and the first prime minister of the country, hailed its independence in 1947. Nehru, the aristocratic scion of a long line of Kashmiri brahmans, was himself to be a virtual dynastic founder, with his daughter (Indira) and grandson (Rajiv) to follow him. Nevertheless, he and other Congress leaders had led a long, often militant if nonviolent struggle under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and with planning and public ownership accepted even by the Indian bourgeoisie, the country seemed set on at least a semisocialistic path. Nehru had some basis to proclaim his achievements.

But others were not so optimistic. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, "Babasaheb," son of an untouchable minor military officer, educated to heights that would have been unimaginable for any earlier generation, leader of his people and a vociferous opponent of Nehru's Congress party as the "party of brahmans and the bourgeoisie," had nevertheless been chosen to draft the constitution of the newly independent nation. "On 26 January, 1950," warned Ambedkar before the constituent assembly, referring to the day celebrated as "Republic Day," "we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we shall have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. . . . We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which we have so laboriously built up."

If atrocities against untouchables did not stop, thundered Ambedkar on subsequent occasions to his impoverished and oppressed followers, "I myself will burn the constitution."

Over four decades later, it is Ambedkar's centenary that is celebrated with tumultuous mass meetings rather than Nehru's, and it is the explosions and . . .

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