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The Politics of India Since Independence

The first edition of this book was written between 1986 and 1989. It built upon my own work of the previous 27 years on Indian politics, ethnicity and nationalism, and political economy as well as that of my colleagues who had written on these subjects during the previous three decades. The central theme of the first edition concerned the consequences of increasing efforts by the country's national leaders to centralize power, decision making, and control of economic resources in one of the most culturally diverse and socially fragmented agrarian societies in the world. These centralizing drives, intensified in the post-Nehru era, had increasingly contrary effects. The effectiveness of political organizations had eroded, ethnic, religious, caste, and other cultural and regional conflicts had heightened, and the ability of the central government to implement in the states and localities economic plans and programs designed in New Delhi had declined. These consequences suggested the existence of a systemic crisis in the Indian polity which, I argued, would not be easily resolved. I had, however, also argued that alternative paths towards such a resolution existed within Indian political and economic thought and political practices and that an alternative leadership might yet arise to seek such a resolution, basing itself on India's own traditions.
In the four years since the final revisions on the original manuscript were made, the several crises evident then intensified to that turning point signified by the Greek meaning of the term crisis. That is, the Indian polity had reached a turning point in its post-Independence history. The old political order dominated by the Congress and parties sprung from it was in decay. These parties lacked effective or popular leadership, compelling ideals, and local organization.
An alternative leadership did indeed arise in the intervening years, self-consciously basing itself on India's Hindu traditions while pursuing even more relentlessly a Western ideal model of building a strong, centralized, militarily powerful state, possessing nuclear weapons, able to bring order to the country while commanding the respect of the great nations of the contemporary world. Unlike its decaying rivals, the RSS family of organizations including the BJP and the VHP have effective leadership, dedicated party cadres, and a coherent ideology of "Hindutva" or militant Hindu nationalism. Moreover, it demonstrated an ability to mobilize large masses of the Hindu population around its subsidiary goals, principally the removal of the mosque at Ayodhya and its replacement by a temple to the Hindu god Ram. In the process, the movement led by the RSS family of organizations also deliberately contributed to the communalization and political polarization of the Hindu and Muslim populations of the northern and western parts of the country, brought to a peak by the destruction of the Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992 and its violent aftermath.