The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson

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Verso, £12.99

This is a short 200 page book which summarises political events in India from the days of the British imperial rule, through independence and partition to the present day. Anderson attempts a serious feat.

He wants to do this while dealing with the conditions and events which produced the national ideology of India. This both reflects and distorts what he calls a "nationalist discourse".

Anderson wants to understand the state in which the Indian left and liberals have found themselves with the rise of the chauvinist Hindutva vision of society, as well as the parliamentary success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP is a Hindu communalist nationalist party, deeply neoliberal and rabidly anti-Muslim. He argues that the fathers of independence, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, fused the idea of "nation" with the Hindu religion.

The heart of the problem, which Anderson does not discuss is the question of socialist reform or revolution, or how pre- and post-independence India are part of an integral world economy.

Over the years the Indian ruling class have used ideologies of all kinds, but essentially it is the fusion of caste and class that has sowed divisions. This strategy of divide and rule was inherited from the period of British rule.

Britain's colonial rulers could not control the whole of India on their own. They created an army with a ratio of one British army personnel for every two Indians to control the vast sub-continent.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 shocked the British. The mutiny spread to other sections of society and was at its most rebellious in the Northern Delhi region. The rebellious troops wanted a return of the Muslim-origin Mughals who ruled parts of India before the British.

After the mutiny was suppressed, Muslims were considered as suspect and all-Muslim units abolished. By the 1880s the army became the largest employer with over 250,000 men, as well as 150,000 police regulars.

Anderson argues that following the mutiny the British Raj became a "garrison state" that consumed nearly half of state revenues. The army was regularly used for imperial expansion in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia. Some 1.3 million men were mustered to fight in the First World War.

The British wanted to create a "class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" to create a civil service.

Two generations later Anderson argues that the bedrock of the nationalist Congress Party emerged from this class. Initially the Congress remained a pressure group wanting no more than greater self-government under colonial rule. In return this "elite" gave full support for Britain in the First World War.

Later, with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi, full independence became the movement's central demand. Gandhi's active support of strikes and agitations of indigo-labourers in Bihar, farmers and textile-workers in Gujarat built his reputation.

The movement that would eventually push out the British was built out of three phases of independence struggles, in 1919-21, 1930-31 and 1942-43.

The ideological origins of Congress were secular, and during his period in South Africa, Gandhi advocated Hindu-Muslim unity. However once in India he was forced to make concessions to colonial rule that encouraged Hindu-Muslim divisions.

Gandhi's Congress Party continually injected a massive dose of Hindu communalism at every decisive turn in the struggle for independence to stop the success of its rivals, including those of Muslim origin.

Lord Mountbatten, the queen's uncle, attempted to negotiate a post-independence relationship skewed towards British imperial aims.

This plan was rejected by the different sections of the independence movement, creating the conditions for the country to be partitioned into three, primarily into the division along the Hindu/Muslim structures which the British had created and sustained for decades.

Nearly a million people were slaughtered in the process and many more forced to move. The Congress Party which gained most from independence continues with the strategy of divide and rule. Anderson gives a good account of how the "new" Indian ruling class used the imperial state structure and laws to consolidate its power.

The book does not discuss the question of how the left, the large Communist Parties in various Indian states and in agrarian areas large Maoist peasant armies have failed to stop the divisions. Anderson says this maybe needs to be taken up another time.

The book is unintentionally successful in that it gives a clear summary of the fight for independence, partition and its consequences. For this alone, it is worth reading.