Monday, 19 November 2012

Bal Thackeray, George Fernandes and India's 'damaged modernity'

George Fernandes slept on Chowpatty beach before managing to gain a subsistence wage as a proof-reader. Bal Thackeray had to leave School in the sixth Standard because his family couldn't afford the fees. He too was barely making a living as a cartoonist with, the Leftist, Free Press Journal. R.K. Laxman (R.K. Naryan's younger brother), a colleague of his, was forced to leave because he wouldn't undertake not to make fun of Communists . Thackeray too was forced out because of his stand against South Indian immigrants. Along with Fernandes and a few others he set up a short lived magazine before finally gaining success on his own.
Both Fernandes and Thackeray were from educated families. Thackeray's father had attended Calcutta University while Fernandes's father belonged to Mangalore's educated upper middle class.  Yet Independent India offered them little. The Gandhian gerontocracy was firmly committed to the notion that the younger generation should be poorer and have worse prospects than they themselves had enjoyed. The Communist gerontocracy went a step further and dreamed of the blood of the young incarnadining not just City streets but also remote forest paths.
Independent Leftists, like Krishna Menon were either utterly mad or, like J.P & Lohia, committed to a Gadarening nativist stupidity which showed no signs of ever bottoming out.
 Fernandes, who embraced Socialism as an alternative to the Priesthood, might have had the makings of an acolyte but even that offer was no longer on the table. The sand of Chowpatty beach still clung to him and the future surely lay with Old Etonians like Kumaramangalam or Barristocrats like Jyoti Basu.  Fernandes developed into an All India leader at a young age by default not the Grace and Favor of a well entrenched Leftist Establishment. Meanwhile, Thackeray was taking  a different route, accepting Mrs. Gandhi's Emergency and concentrating on being a big fish in a small pond. The escalation of sharp practice by Industry during the Emergency, however, was bound to create a Worker backlash which the gerontocratic Communist-led Unions would be unable to capitalize on. However, Fernandes and Thackeray understood that the cards were stacked against the Mumbai textile workers and came out against Datta Samant's over-bold initiative. After the Police joined the Strike, it became clear that the Center would prefer to simply destroy the Textile industry in Mumbai rather than permit the emergence of an Independent Union movement.
The tragedy here is that India needed to follow Hong Kong and Singapore and South Korea in continually upgrading and improving conditions for workers as part of a properly thought out program of Urban planning. Querulous old people had neither the enthusiasm nor basic cognitive skills to envision or implement any such thing. People like Fernandes and Thackeray, in the Sixties and early Seventies, could have been part of this process. Perhaps their role in destroying the Indian Labor movement counts as a contribution. But, the greater fault, surely, lies with the gerontocratic nature of both Nationalist and Socialist ideologies in their various Indian incarnations.
I suppose the truth is, Thackeray and Fernandes, and the late unlamented Chandra Shekhar, had impressive political careers precisely because were incapable of changing the fundamental nature of Political Power- viz. the banding together of senile 'primal fathers' against potentially rebellious sons. This, it seems to me, is the true source of India's timeless 'damaged modernity'.


Anonymous said...

'The tragedy here is that India needed to follow Hong Kong and Singapore and South Korea in continually upgrading and improving conditions for workers as part of a properly thought out program of Urban planning.'
What are you talking about- Jamshedpur- that's a Corporate City which has seen plenty of communal riots- Modinagar- another Company town where workers have been displaced?
Please look at the policies of the Govt of Hong Kong- cracking down on corruption in the administration, building huge Housing projects- or Singapore- huge investment in Public housing, transport, Education- same in South Korea which had much lower Income disparity than India- these conditions were and are radically missing from India. Simply labeling everybody a 'gerontocrat' is not helpful. It was Sanjay Gandhi's slogan. Perhaps you would have preferred his rule?

windwheel said...

I guess Lalit Maken was Delhi's own Sanjay Gandhi style Thackeray. Could he have improved things for Delhi's workers? Was he really killed by Khalistanis or was it some intra-Congress intrigue? I don't know. What is strange that few Delhiites- including Economists and Civil Servants- had any idea how Civic Planning worked. Okay there was the complication of division of powers- but the question remains- did anyone actually have a plan for the place?
There's a story of Rajiv Gandhi meeting the DLF Chief by chance when he was returning from a visit to a country property of his own. I've no idea whether Gurgaon is long term viable but how can Urbanization on such a scale arise from an accidental meeting? I'm feeling pretty old myself and have to say- maybe my generation just neglected the spatial aspect to Econ.