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Fashioning Development

Fashioning Development Developing India: An Intellectual and Social History by Benjamin Zachariah; Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2005; TIRTHANKAR ROY The book seeks to understand the rhetoric of development in India fashioned around the inter-war period. It does not claim to be a complete account, rather selects from some of the main strands. What holds a large part of the raw material together is a concern with colonialism as a vehicle of change, a desire to qualify

Reviews

Fashioning Development

Developing India: An Intellectual and Social History

by Benjamin Zachariah; Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2005; pp xv + 334, Rs 650.

TIRTHANKAR ROY

T
he book seeks to understand the rhetoric of development in India fashioned around the inter-war period. It does not claim to be a complete account, rather selects from some of the main strands. What holds a large part of the raw material together is a concern with colonialism as a vehicle of change, a desire to qualify “modernisation”, and a desire to question the link between modernisation and westernisation. These were concerns that became prominent in the context of a colonised people trying to find a distinct national self. The question of “where we go from here?” was bound up closely with “what are we like?”. The context of nation-building is more important in this work than the content of the ideas discussed. The idea of “developing India” explored here does not really link up with informed knowledge or study of any reallife economy. It links up instead with another idea, that of the nation. The book is about discourses of development that had nationalism, rather than economics, at the centre. It is really a contribution to the intellectual history of nationalism.

The book deserves to be essential reading for students of Indian nationalism. It is elegantly written, extraordinarily detailed, and analytically polished. Intellectual history of the time has often paid too much importance to the class character of those who articulated views on development. This study succeeds in breaking those boundaries, showing substantial commonness between groups that did not necessarily communicate or collaborate, a commonness that arose from a shared project. What was that project? The argument is that the idea of development was not a new construct, but it drew upon and incorporated older concerns and conventions. The principal concern was that of seeking a distinct Indian content and an Indian path of development, while at the same time seeking legitimacy from the imperialists themselves by presenting that content in the language of economics and science. At a more general level, the study claims to offer a more nuanced view of indigenous modernity than is available in the historiography of nationalism, which, by delegitimising the modern-as-western, at times “tends towards an empowerment of a variety of positions which justify often reactionary, obscurantist or ethnocentric positions as ‘indigenous’ ” (p 11).

The inevitably twisted intellectual journey towards modernisation with an Indian face is traced here with three large examples: the qualified endorsement of colonial policies from within imperialist circles, Gandhian thought as preached by J C Kumarappa, and the intellectual productions of the nationalist mainstream. The mix between “indigenist” content and technical packaging varied. In Gandhi’s thought, indigenism prevailed over packaging. Indeed, the package in which the arguments were presented proved “leaky” at times. In a reformed imperialist view, as well as that of the nationalist mainstream, indigenism was a less important factor than the form of argumentation. Here, world economic and political trends mattered more than Indian tradition in this project that sought the distinctively Indian path, but tradition played a strategic role too.

Seeking Regeneration

The two initial chapters and the conclusions state the problem, set out the historical context and present the arguments. The three core chapters deal with the casestudies. The chapter titled ‘A Reformed Imperium’ discusses a set of views that arose within the intellectual arm of the bureaucracy, among civil servants and observers like Malcolm Darling, Penderel Moon and Theodore Gregory. Shaken by the Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s and peasant unrest, the colonial state’s long-held claim to be the caretaker of the Indian village collapsed in the 1930s. Defence of the empire needed to be founded on a critique of the empire. Rural reconstruction was still the axis of development. Belief in bureaucratic capacity and scepticism about democracy were the other imperial inheritances that persisted. But a larger and different role of the government in the future development path was conceded, and a moral element was sometimes added to the reconstruction project.

The moral/ethical content took centre stage in Gandhian thought, which is the subject of the next chapter. Rural regeneration was again the main issue, but from a standpoint that saw the village community as the good tradition threatened by industrialism. Intellectuals close to the Congress, or writings that emanated from the nationalist mainstream, produced the third set of writings on development discussed here. It is argued, convincingly, that conceptions of development were distinct from and more diverse than planning. That said, I do not completely understand the logic of clubbing “middle class intellectuals” (why “middle class” by the way), National Planning Committee, Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress Socialists and the Bombay Plan team in one basket. The first consisted of professionals, the next three were mainly political entities, and the fifth were capitalists. Surely their training, understanding, intention and approach would be different. The commonness is stressed rather more in the book than the differences. Bridging these differences was the idea that science, technology and economics were essential tools of nationbuilding, irrespective of the precise contents of strategy. However, it was painstakingly pointed out by some of the scientists themselves, that this reliance on science was not to be confused with westernisation. Indeed, it was even a return to the true and ancient Indian view of life.

Missing Voices

The precise logic employed in selecting views on development for discussion in this book remains unclear to me. The potential pool is very large. In the 1930s, anyone with something to say on “nation”

Economic and Political Weekly April 1, 2006 said something on “development”, and vice versa. The book omits many voices. Two significant omissions are Rabindranath Tagore’s accent on education for development, and a growing body of professionals creating a discipline called “rural economics” which was to have its own journal very soon. Why select the ones that figure here? The selection cannot be driven by the political effect of these ideas, for the reformed imperialists did not have much political effect. On the other hand, a different ranking of ideas based on information content or current relevance might have been used, but Kumarappa’s interpretation of Gandhi would not amount to much by those benchmarks. What I am driving at is that, ideas are not all equal.

But the book treats them as if they were all equal, equality being attained by their shared interest in the nationalist project. Any statement on development that made a reference to nation-building would qualify for inclusion in this work, because it ignores relevance and knowledge-content as other benchmarks that one might use in motivating a history of ideas. This practice, of studying an idea (development) just because it cites another (nation), places too many thinkers and too many thoughts on the same plane, and is not helpful in answering why some ideas return, some get heard more, some last longer, and some have a bigger effect than others.

EPW

Email: tirthankar_roy@yahoo.co.in

Economic and Political Weekly April 1, 2006

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