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Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014

Tribute: P.C. Joshi

Monday 10 March 2014

[( Tribute

On March 2, 2014, passed away in New Delhi Dr Puran Chand Joshi, the eminent social scientist. He was a Social Science researcher and teacher, policy-adviser as well as social activist, scholar and writer. Well known for his contributions to development and agrarian studies, he was a former Director of the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Born on March 9, 1928 he would have completed 86 years within a week’s time when he breathed his last.

Dr Joshi joined the Lucknow School of Economics and Sociology of the Lucknow University in 1945 and left it in 1955 after doing his BA Hons, MA and Ph.D in Economics from the same School. His Ph.D dissertation on “Agrarian Social Structure and Socio-Economic Development in Post-Colonial India: A Case Study of Uttar Pradesh”, under the guidance of Professor Radhakamal Mukerjee, was based on primary data collected through intensive field work in selected villages from all regions of UP and also secondary data and information—both quantitative and qualitative—from all available sources. Beginning from the Planning Division of the Indian Statistical Institute (1955-57), he spent the longest period in Delhi, first at the Delhi School of Economics (1957-62) and then at the Institute of Economic Growth (1962-91), first as a professor and then for the last four years as the Director.

His involvement in the policy-making exercise at the highest level was as the Chairman, Software Committee for Doordarshan, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. He was also a member of the panel of economists of the Planning Commission and functioned as the Chairman of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He was selected as the President of the Indian Sociological Society and was the editor of the Society’s journal, Sociological Bulletin.

Prof Joshi’s wife, Gouri Joshi (Ruby), formerly a Kathak dancer and teacher, predeceased him two years ago. He is survived by his Sumit, an Associate Professor of Economics, Washington University, daughter-in-law, Kakul, and grandson, Varun.

Dr P.C. Joshi was close to N.C. and Mainstream. Many of his articles and reviews appeared in this journal. As a token of our sincere homage to his abiding memory we reproduce here one of his contributions—based on his keynote address delivered at the National Conference of the Society for Communal Harmony, New Delhi, on September 26-27, 1998—that appeared in the Mainstream Annual 1999. )]

National Regeneration and Conflict Resolution: Some Reflections

p.c. joshi

In the India of today conflict resolution has emerged as an essential condition for national regeneration.

Let me take as my basic premise that regeneration of India should not be interpreted in the sense of return to or restoration of India’s mythical Golden Age. Regeneration can be understood or interpeted meaningfully as a sharp break from obsolete and retrogressive modes of thought, values, norms and patterns of social behaviour and as an affirmation and assimilation of values and ideas relevant for our times and essential for our forward movement.

Our earlier national deliberations on tensions and conflicts, were narrowly focussed, focussed as an exercise on the understanding of the sources of communal tensions and conflicts and on how to contribute towards resolving those tensions and conflicts. They were aimed at creating a wide public awareness in the country as a whole about the enormous suffering and destruction that were and are caused by these conflicts and tensions. They also aimed at affirming the need for providing solace, sense of security and a hope to those who are the sufferers from these conflicts and tensions and who belong to all the communities. But very soon it was felt necessary that if our effort had to bear fruit, we must combine this limited exercise with bolder and moire basic initiatives at higher and broader levels.

It was felt necessary to view communal tension and conflict and, in fact, to view all the various other types of tensions and conflicts that are emerging and exploding in the India of today in the broader perspective of regeneration of India and its challenges and imperatives at the present historic moment. In other words, it was felt that if we were not to get entrapped in mere fire-fighting and fault-finding operations, we must begin to explore the explosion of social tensions and conflicts as the manifestation of unresolved societal problems and contradictions. We must view this explosion as a consequence of a thwarted and unguided social transfor-mation process. We must view this as the logical result of the widening gap between our long cherished vision of a new society and the emerging oppressive and inegalitarian social structure and the economic and political order. It is this widening gap between vision and reality which produces these tensions and which predisposes people towards these tensions and conflicts in an uncontrolled way.

In this background it was felt that any unimaginative strategy of resolving these tensions by protecting and perpetuating the status quo would not work. In fact, by ignoring, denying or suppressing the growing tensions and conflicts we may only succeed in strenthenging repressive and authoritarian trends within the dominant state and societal structure. A more imaginative approach is required in terms of refashioning our development paradigm and strategy, our institutions and structures under the stimulus provided by social ferment and social awakening and in response to social pressures and shocks administered by reality. In short, we must learn to transform tension and conflicts into a source of creative energy and into a force for national regeneration. Indeed, it is often the loss of hope, sense of direction and perspective and, above all, the system failure which turns disillusionment and disenchantment of the people into a self-destructive force. It is the task of enlightened elements of the intelligentsia to help in trans-forming the energy unleashed through tensions and conflicts into a regenerating and reinte-grating force.

One of the greatest revolutionaries of the last century had aptly foreseen that the tensions and conflicts between the privileged and the underprivileged/unprivileged could either lead to “mutual destruction of the contending groups or to creative reconstruction of society”. (Karl Marx) It is through the mediation of enlightened elements among the intelligentsia that the awakening created by tensions and conflicts can be harnessed for what he had called ‘the creative reconstitution of society’ or what was later termed as ‘creative social engineering’.

Our public discourse today has to take note of the vastly changed world climate and the ideological and political landscape which requires a reconsideration of the older categories of understanding of our problems. We must also revise our earlier established terms of public discourse. Much has changed at the world level which must have its impact on the national discourse.

The post-colonial demarcation of the world into the First World, the Second World and the Third World, indicative of the loss of hegemony of the First World over the rest of the world, has been drastically altered. Does it indicate a re-emergence of the West as the dominant actor and even within the West, the retreat of the concept of social equality, of the Welfare State and of the experiment in the democratic, planned order? The dismantling of the welfare state, the primary to market-driven globalisation and opening up of the economies, societies and polities of the erstwhile Second and Third Worlds have given birth to a new post-modern orientation undermining every premise, every assumption, every pillar as it were of what we had known as the edifice of modern society. Does it herald the beginning of a new age of liberation or a throw-back into newer forms of dependence and loss of autonomy for our part of the world?

Our entire view of our future, which had emerged from the ferment of our renaissance and the freedom struggle, our view of nationlism, nation-state and national autonomy in economic, social and political terms is challenged by new terms of discourse which are being set not by us but for us by those who claim to be the guardians of a new global vision and a new global order.

The concept of a good life and the concept of a good society, the concept of an economic, political and cultural model which will operationalise this concept of the good society for our people, it seems as if all these are predetermined for us by the Western consumer society and civilisation; and they are not a matter of choice for us through our autonomous thinking and feeling.

There is no doubt that India, which is opening up to the global impact, has to enter a phase of reconsidering, rethinking and reorientation. Much that is there in our own inherited legacy, our economic, social, political and cultural models requires to be reoriented in the light of the new aspirations, new challenges and new possibilities. But there can neither be complete uprooting from our own moorings nor surrender to the ideology of restoration of a mythical Golden Age. In which sense continuity must prevail and in what sense a break with the past is imperative—all this requires a fresh national dialogue and discourse. But at what level and between whom must the national discourse take place? There was earlier the division, as Gandhiji had once said, between the English- speaking Indians and the Indians who did not speak or understand the English language. In his very inimitable style Gandhiji had said that the English-speaking minority of Indians committed the unpardonable sin of thinking that they alone represented India. In fact, they thought they alone were India, and the rest of India was just at the receiving end. I think that too is a legacy of the past that was questioned. And when we think of our public discourse today, we have to think how far this legacy, which the invasion of globalism is further accentuating and enhancing, will help in solving the tensions and conflicts in which we are trapped and caught today. It is in this context that the terrain of real public discourse, as of resilient politics, has virtually shifted from the metropolitan centres to the regional and local levels.

What an epoch-making change it denotes, politically, socially and culturally and what a drastic turn from the idiom, mood and terms of public discourse of earlier decades both before and after independence! This has not yet been fully grasped either by the power elite or by the academic community or the media. There is the resurgance of the subaltern, agrarian masses, who are struggling for their livelihood under formidable pressures on the scarce resources of land, forests, firewood, fuel, water, credit and non-land opportunities. There is the resurgence of the oppressed castes, of the oppressed half of the Indian humanity—the womenfolk, the hitherto marginalised tribal communities and of the local communities who are virtually powerless despite being regarded as the source of power in a democratic polity. The issues of alienation from power-centres at the top and how the weight of the top crushes those at the bottom are being raised by the have-nots. Indeed, this vast world of the deprived and the underprivileged at the bottom has undergone an inner turmoil and transformation, the sweep and intensity of which has still to be captured by the written word, or by the new electronic media, both of which are prisoners of the elite world.

In December 1988, we had held a National Seminar on Nation-Building, Development Process and Communication with the theme ‘In Search of India’s Renaissance’—and the venue was New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan. That seminar was attended by a little more than 400 eminent experts from all fields and they deliberated on different aspects of the national scene for five days under the able guidance of P.N. Haksar who is no more with us. The papers prepared for the seminar and its deliberations are available in two volumes published on behalf of the National Preparatory Committee. And yet from the vantage point of today, anyone reading those volumes can discern how certain basic dimensions of the fast changing Indian reality had escaped the attention of the very eminent experts. The seminar had not anticipated the drastic change in the political landscape very soon after it was held. Even though this was very conspicuous, the most important missing element in the deliberations of the seminar participants was the emergence of the people below as a major factor in national politics and in national affairs. Their complete ignorance of the vast ferment at the bottom levels of society and the tremendous hiatus between the thinking of the elite at the top and the masses below had rendered the entire exercise in many ways as an academic one in the somewhat disapproving sense of the term. This alienation of the elite from the people was confirmed by the 35 regional and local seminars had workshops, which were subsequently held in 15 States following the National Seminar within a period of a few months. These regional and local seminars were an eye-opener of the vast distance between the totalising perspectives from above and the people’s perceptions from below. How to bridge the gap and distance between the two was the most challenging problem posed by these 35 regional and local seminars and workshops.

If a similar series of workshops are held in different parts of the country, closer to villages, closer to smaller towns where the common people live their lives, then we would ourselves find them eye-openers and see how much remote, alienated we are from what is happening at the grassroots of Indian society.

So I think that our Agenda for Action in terms of resolving tensions and conflicts that are seething this country at the present moment will be suggested and dictated by what our understanding is about the very imperative of the process of India’s regeneration. And to give some kind of depth, some kind of realism and some kind of solid base to this understanding, it is required that before the agenda is drawn at the central level, at the national level, about what the malady is, what the perspective is and what needs to be done; a dialogue amongst ourselves has to be followed up by a kind of dialogue with the common people of this country. And it is from that dialogue that some kind of a viable perspective about the present and the future can emerge. The little that we know from the various kinds of field studies or the fact-finding studies that have been contributed by political activists, social activists, social scientists working at the grassroots level and assembling, contributing a lot of information, data and insight about what the common people feel about their problems, there is this conviction that we need a kind of total reconsideration of the economic models, political models and cultural models with which we are operating today.

For instance, there is this concept of economic reform or the concept of the new economic model. And I think if we have to convert this vast ferment on economic issues into a creative force, we have to redefine our concept of economic reform. We have to ask whether our concept of economic reform is still not very restrictive. Does it make room for the vast millions of this country who are keen to seek an entry into the world of economic opportunities? Does it restrict the economic opportunities only to the fast expanding middle classes constituted by 250 million Indians? Does it also expand these reforms and enlarge their scope so as to reach the deprived and the underprivileged at the lower orders of society? In fact, the deepening, the broadening and the enlarging of the concept of economic reform is on the agenda. But our discussions on economic reform are so much dominated by the singleminded drive for integrating ourselves with the global economy and society. No doubt we must expand our horizons and build bridges between the national and the global. But the national must get linked up with the global, not wholly in terms of the power elite of the West, but on our terms.

At the same time there is a much more powerful process at work today. And that is the process which requires that the national perspective must encompass the regional and the local dimensions. What is required is the enlargement of the national perspective so as to comprehend and encompass the people at the regional and local levels. In the United States of America they have a slogan: “all politics is local”. If the local dimension is so important for a highly organised and centralised US polity, then how much more important is the local dimension for a highly localised and region-specific set-up like ours. We must develop this idea further into a formulation: “all economics is primarily local”. I think it is much more relevant for us today where local communities are being rediscovered as the backbone of the Indian nation.

Similarly, the political model. There are so many discussions about recasting the Constitution or of doing this and doing that. But I think it is not in the concerns of those who are thinking of a new kind of breakthrough at the political level that the desired breakthrough has to be in terms of and in the direction of enlarging the political process. It is not their concern that the political process must encompass the underprivileged and the unprivileged, whether they belong to the lower castes or womenfolk or the marginalised tribal communities or the more distant areas of the country which are remote from the centres of power. The task is to bring about decentralisation of power. It is to shift the centres of power closer to the lives of the people and closer to where the people can influence it and where they can be partners in the exercise of power. In fact, we must have a participatory structure of power in which the people are partners in decision-making rather than being at the receiving end only. Genuine empowerment of the people as a key to the regeneration process and as an essential condition of the deepening and broadening of our democratic polity is on the agenda today. But how to bring this about is the question. In fact, most of the tensions and conflicts arise because of the exclusion of the highly awakened masses from deliberating over issues regarding their own well-being. The common people are the objects of the decision-making done by others rather than the active agents in the making and unmaking of decisions for the re-making of their own future.

Similarly, we must give some thought to the cultural model. We have seen the giant cultural communication revolution which has in a period of a decade or a decade-and-a-half completely transformed our life, specially in metropolitan India. Electronic media, specially TV, has emerged as a weapon of great transforming force, but in what direction is it taking us? In a direction of complete homogenisation? In a direction of destruction of our innate cultural capabilities and our identities and making us passive viewers exposed to the idiot box? Is it going to be an era of this kind of homogenisation, or is it going to be an era of the flowering of our cultural plurality and the flowering of the multi-sided cultural genius of the people at all levels? I think we need a cultural model, a communi-cation model which can facilitate this expression of unity in diversity, of plurality in the midst of cultural give and take and which does not suppress this cultural flowering.

In a way, just as at the political level we need a political instrumentality which enables and empowers, similarly we need an instrumentality at the educational level. The key to the new era of expanding opportunities is new education. So much has been said about reforming the economy. But to a large extent the key to the reform of the economy lies in the sphere of education. Whether the people are to be kept outside the gates of the new economic opportunity or are allowed entry into the arena of new economic opportunity, the deciding factor is their educational level and the quality of education received by them. Exploiting new opportunities depends upon the people’s level of skills and capabilities. Their skills and capabilities are going to be decided by what kind of educational system we have. Our educational system is such that even the informal schooling which they had received for centuries to become producers, whether in the field of agriculture or in other fields, that tradition of informal skills and capabilities was destroyed without providing new institutions of learning productive skills. New possibilities of informal and formal learning have emerged today through the new technology that is available and through the new methods of learning that are available. New skills and capabilities can be acquired today by the people which can enable them to become participants in this new economic revolution, to benefit from this new economic revolution. So whether the common people will be allowed entry into the new economic revolution or will be kept out of it is determined in the sphere of education. I think if there is inertia, if there is ignorance and there is a kind of obsolescence in any particular field, it is in the field of education. So the key to the new era is: what is going to be the character of this regeneration process?

Regeneration is an irreversible process. Regeneration is something which has already taken place, it is in no one’s control. People are awakening to the fact of their deprivation and their exclusion from a good life. There is a new ferment in the country at all levels. But in which direction will it be channelised? Will it be a ferment which will be kept imprisoned and confined only to 250 million Indians who have created for themselves enclaves of affluence in the midst of mass deprivation? One of the greatest American philosophers who visited this country, Noam Chomsky, had got a shock of his life when he found that a small affluent elite of this country had created for itself an island of prosperity where nothing that was a available to the affluent in America, the most affluent country, was unavailable to them. But this affluence, which is not shared with the have-nots, has created a tremendous insecurity for the affluent elite. The tiny minority of the affluent is alienated from the huge mass of the deprived. So the fear of their own people from whom they have seceded creates a tremendous sense of insecurity among them. They ask for protection from the guardians of law and order. They want their security machinery to be strengthened. You find posh colonies have a security check-up like what you come across when you enter Vigyan Bhawan or other government establishments or VIP residences. Gone are the days when there was free flow and intermingling of people of all communities.

The rich have already seceded from the larger community of Indians. They have created a new privileged sector for themselves. They are keen to integrate themselves with the elite of the developed countries, becoming citizens of the world while losing the citizenship of the country to which they belong. We often try to mystify this whole phenomenon of an India in a ferment by trying to interpret it only in terms of tensions and conflicts as if these are created by the vast multitude. I think we must have a clear and full picture, a clarity about what is the deeper meaning of these tensions and conflicts. To what extent are these tensions and conflicts embedded in the very nature of the new economic and cultural model which accentuated this dual society? These are the question which must become the central issues of our national discourse today.

[Based on the keynote address delivered at the National Conference of the Society for Communal Harmony (New Delhi, September 26-27, 1998)]