A new mission
I VIVIDLY recall the spirit of the times – the latter half of the ’50s – in which Seminar made its appearance. It was a spirit, essentially, of hope and promise, often of elation but tinged with anxiety about the fragility of that very hope and promise. Jawaharlal Nehru himself described the spirit of the time in his Maulana Azad Lecture in 1959 as follows: ‘India today presents a very mixed picture of hope and anguish, of remarkable advances and, at the same time, of inertia, of a new spirit and also the dead hand of the past and of privilege, of an overall and growing unity and many disruptive tendencies. Withal there is a great vitality and a ferment in people’s minds and activities.’ Seminar was born out of this vitality and the ferment in the minds of men and became a mirror held up to India’s political life. It was a forum for lively discussion and debate on the great issues agitating the mind of the nation.
As regards issues there was no dearth of them. It was the heyday of Indian democracy. The excitement of practising democracy in the developing society of India, with all its diversities and intricate social and economic problems in the full flood of intellectual and political freedom was a heady experience for the country. Romesh and Raj Thapar caught the mood of the country and ventured into the Seminar project with a sense of intellectual adventure and a mission of understanding, clarifying, expounding and interpreting this mood and the major issues clamouring for articulation.
The question as to whether parliamentary democracy embodied in the Constitution and propounded with intense faith and passion by Jawaharlal Nehru would be applicable to the conditions of India and be able to solve our problems was being asked by people with an underlying spirit of scepticism. The Thapars were attracted by Nehru’s audacity in projecting democracy not only as a system suitable for India, but the only system that would keep the country together and enable it to discover its inherent genius and strength. They were enchanted by the presentation of democracy as Democratic Socialism with the distinctive content of Socialism in which they saw a method of transforming India peaceably into a modern nation. The originality of Nehruvian democracy was its close alliance with Socialist thought and objectives together with a strong element of Gandhian principles and methods.
The novelty of this amalgam of ideas excited the Thapars as much as it did Nehru. Indeed Gandhian ideas provided Indian democracy with a moral dimension which made it join on kindly to the historical past and the philosophical heritage of India and thus acceptable to the masses immersed in poverty and ignorance, giving them the hope of being uplifted from their wretched condition without having to wade through revolutionary bloodshed and chaos.
It was the novelty and audacity of this Indian experiment that made the world sit up to the phenomenon of a new India and that possessed the Thapars with missionary zeal. In issue after issue of Seminar they discussed various aspects of this Indian experiment – social, political and economic – the process of the growth of the party system, the nature of the administrative machinery, the nature and quality of the leadership, economic planning for the country as a whole, rural development and agricultural reforms, the question of the public sector versus the private sector, the problems of nationalisation of industries, banking, insurance and so on, the development of science and technology for the transformation of an ancient, caste-ridden society, and above all, the Nehruvian philosophy behind all these.
The Thapars were also taken up with the integral linking of these basic domestic issues with the international questions of the day. If in regard to the domestic system Nehru asked the question, ‘Why should I make a choice between the Russian and American system? Middle way or mixed economy is inevitable,’ he asked with regard to the Cold War divisions of the world, ‘Why should I align with one side or another because the world is moving inevitably to a one world and it is for this one world that India should work.’
The theory and the policy of non-alignment was born out of this intuitive analysis of the international situation and the destined role of India as an independent force in this emerging world order. Seminar did devote various numbers to issues of foreign policy. It is not often fully realized even by Indians that non-alignment as an approach to world affairs and as a foreign policy was evolved by Nehru in the Asian context and it was to issues like the Korean war and Indo-China crisis that the policy was first applied.
In fact it was in the crucible of Asia that non-alignment was tested as a new policy before it was adopted by Nasser, Tito and Nehru at their Brioni meeting and projected as an international movement at the first Conference of Nonaligned Nations at Belgrade. That this movement influenced the peaceful denouement of the Cold War is a fact, though not recognized by the super powers. Now that the Cold War is over, non-alignment remains relevant to the new international order and is desperately needed by the developing nations which have emerged from one kind of colonialism or another in order to maintain the essence of their independence as nations.
Indeed, if the world after the Cold War is not to slip into a new unipolar hegemonic system, it would seem that non-alignment will have to be revived and revivified as a steadying and balancing force in this pluralistic world. Seminar thus may have a new mission to perform in the world of today and tomorrow which would be in continuation with the originality of the mission it performed in the earlier period.
I can imagine how Romesh and Raj would have awakened to this new mission with their sparkling ideas and scintillating pens. Like Words-worth in the aftermath of the French Revolution, they would not have poetically bemoaned:
‘Whither has fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?’
Instead, they would have hitched their wagon to the star of a new vision and to a new dream for India and the world.