Friday, January 04, 2013

Birth of a Modern State

One thing reading Stanley Wolpert's India has done for me is convince me just how traumatic and painful cultural transformation is, especially when it's intrinsic to the creation of a state.

The most central figure in the creation of the modern Indian state is Gandhi, but he's a strange figure, in many ways highly westernized and influenced by Christ and Tolstoy, who transformed himself into a hybrid of Hindu mystic and sometimes brilliant politician. He made several critical decisions which played a key role in doing exactly what he wanted to avoid: partition of India. His decision to withdraw from politics and spin cotton for ten years alienated him from Jinnah and others who might have avoided that. Choosing against Britain in World War II made him implacable enemies in Britain. In the end, though, he chose to accept a constitution that placated Jinnah and the British:

The 1946 Cabinet Mission's three-tiered federal scheme was India's last hope for independent reincarnation as a single state. Jinnah actually agreed to accept it, even though his "Pakistan" remained only inchoate within its Muslim-majority "group" of provinces on the northwest and northeast. Gandhi had blessed the plan as a "faithful fulfillment" of British promises to India, but Nehru and Patel publicly refused to concede that it would in any way diminish the "total sovereignty" of the Constituent Assembly that was still to be convened in New Delhi, and would then be free to devise whatever Constitution its majority wished. After that fateful press conference, in August 1946, Jinnah abandoned hope of peaceful reconciliation with Congress, calling upon his Muslim League cadres to launch "direct action."

Stanley Wolpert. India: Third Edition, With a New Preface (Kindle Locations 1161-1163). Kindle Edition.

In the end, the centrifugal tendencies that had made India a vulnerable giant for thousands of years fractured it yet again.