The following are excerpts from a January 1990 interview with Sri Dharampal, a trailblazing researcher of various aspects of the British colonial rule of India. His patient and extraordinary forays into India’s pre-British education system, agriculture, and science and technology have remained as invaluable guides for current and future generations of researchers and scholars.
The interview was conducted by another contemporary stalwart, Sri S.R. Ramaswamy (SRR) and first published in the Utthana Kannada monthly. Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.
SRR: The feeling of idealism and the nationalist impulse that animated all Indians during the freedom struggle did not sustain later. Why?
Dharampal (DP): It is true that in the pre-independence days, there was a kind of supernatural enthusiasm among our people. However, its roots were on the plane of emotion, and did not have firm moorings in reality. Neither was it possible to build anything that was long lasting in that era…Leaders like Gandhi did build some foundations for national reconstruction…However, that work of reconstruction did not begin. That is the tragedy…
It is unsurprising that the edifice that Gandhi had built up crumbled so soon. In fact, Gandhi himself was aware of this eventuality. This is because the mentality of the political leadership that came to power was completely different. The so-called intellectuals of the country had already been westernized for about four-five generations. Now, their Western bias became more pronounced.
This Janus-faced view of the Indian society was further watered and fertilized by spreading malicious propaganda such as, “in terms of progress, there is a gap of three hundred years between India and the West.”
SRR: Let us set aside the progress of the West for a moment. What are the reasons for our leaders not giving importance to the aspirations of our own people?
DP: There was a necessity for a parallel revolution in our institutions in tandem with our freedom struggle. We should have sought ways to free ourselves from Western influences in this realm. However, our leaders did not show any interest in working in this area.
In fact, we can give any number of instances to show how emasculated and listless our leadership had become in that period.
Remember that a big controversy arose when someone like Girijashankar Bajpai was appointed as the Foreign Secretary. I have heard prominent Congressmen saying, “But what can we do? We don’t have any competent people!”
When the discussion about India’s Presidentship came up, Azad and others proposed Rajaji’s name; Nehru favoured Rajendra Prasad. These were the words of Nehru on that occasion: “When Rajaji was Governor General, he often used to have confusions on how to conduct himself when foreign dignitaries visited India. It is only much later that he learnt decorum and etiquette. In future, he might perhaps become eligible to occupy high office.”
In other words, even the President of India must have the approval of foreigners!
Numerous instances show how deep-rooted this political outlook of Nehru was. In 1944, when Nehru was in Ahmednagar jail, he received a parcel from Governor General Wavell containing three or four books. Wavell’s accompanying note read: “As per Edward Thompson’s wishes, I have included two of his books for your perusal. I have also kept a poetry collection.”
Even this minor incident created a huge disquiet in Nehru’s mind: “Should I or should I not tell others that Wavell has sent me these books? If people learn about this incident, won’t they misunderstand me?”
In this fashion, Nehru had become alienated from himself.
Around 1945, I heard Congress leaders speaking as follows: “How can we freely speak our mind in the Congress Working Committee meetings?”
Isn’t there no topic under the sun apart from politics? Can’t politicians speak about music, art, and literature? Should they compulsively remain aloof from these basic and natural habits of conversation?
SRR: Our political leaders are people’s representatives, right? Given this, are there any other reasons our national reconstruction has not happened?
DP: When we attained independence, our political leaders of the time told our people, “Your job is over. Now, go back to your work. We will look after the running of the country.”
There is no reason to single out Nehru. However, like Jawaharlal Nehru, there were thousands of Westernised Indians who thought like him. Nehru was simply their mouthpiece.
Of course, you can ask this question: didn’t the common people applaud Nehru? True, people clapped for him. But the same people appreciated him because he was Gandhi’s follower. They did not investigate the other facets of Nehru’s personality, they did not bother to dig deep into the worldview he had cultivated within himself. Thus, it doesn’t logically follow that people, just because they praised him, accepted his outlook and worldview in toto.
In those days, our political leadership did not invite the masses to join in the great task of national reconstruction. Thus, people stayed afar, they continue to stay afar.
From one perspective, we can say that the educated and elite classes of North India had lost their cultural moorings even before the arrival of the British. We can also say that this level of cultural alienation had not taken such deep roots in South India.
Although leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan originally hailed from a rustic background, his thinking eventually became influenced by urbanization.
As the years rolled by, one of the main reasons why the British became increasingly dismayed in India was precisely due to this reason: a good section of Indians adopted their idiom.
When Morarji Desai came to power, he had declared as follows: “There is no shortcoming in our system. Those who exercise power should be clean. That’s about it.” However, since 1950, we have given the levers of power to this “clean” brigade, right? This selfsame brigade is the root cause of several of our current problems.
The summary of all this is as follows: we have not clearly understood the roots of this perversion. No comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon has been done so far. It appears that the only solution is to completely discard popular opinions and accepted notions in public discourse. Once this is done, we can choose only those facets of our heritage and society that conform to the Indian tradition. This approach to our national reconstruction might eventually become successful.
To be continued
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