Gandhi’s Conscience Keeper (C. Rajagopalachari and Indian Politics)

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Item Code: NAG083
Author: Vasanthi Srinivasan
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788178242460
Pages: 294
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 500 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Gandhi's conscience keeper hailed by mahatma Gandhi as his conscience keeper, chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878-1972; better known as Rajaji) epitomized the practical wisdom, religious, tolerance and statesmanship that Gandhi brought to the nationalist movement. He articulated how Gandhi's ideas and practices could be reconciled with the needs and aspirations of a modern nation-state. His political and philosophical positions were argued in a manner, and with an ideological orientation, strikingly different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru. And yet rajaji remains virtually unknown today. Vasanthi Srivasan presents Rajaji's vision as that of a theocentric liberal. She argues that he tried to temper majoritarian democracy with statesmanship, a free economy with civic virtue, realistic patriotism with genuine internationalism, and secularism with genuine internationalism and secularism with a religiosity derived from the Hindu epics.


Examining his political ideas and actions alongside his literary works, as well as in relation to statesmen ideologues such as Nehru and Periyar, she shows how Rajaji steered clear of ideological dogma and charted an ethic of responsibility. This book will interest general readers as much as scholars of Gandhi, political theory, and Indian politics.


About the Author


Vasanthi Srinivasan is a reader in political science at the University of Hyderabad. She has taught at the college of humanities, Carleton University, Canada. She has been a commonwealth scholar as well as the recipient of a new India foundation fellowship.




Contemporary Indian politics has come to be thought of exclusively as a domain of colliding interests, expedient bargaining, and self-serving manipulation. It is, most certainly, all of these things. It is also, however (and always has been), a domain of ideas-visions and counter-visions, arguments, values, and even ideals-rooted in moral and ethical conceptions of the world, and in understandings about how to act in and through the world. We need only think of some of the central staging grounds of our politics-the viability of our democracy, the sustainability (practical and moral) of our economic ambitions, the place of religion in our public life, our own role in the world today-to see just how constitutive are ideas to each of these debates.


Yet, we function with a very narrow, limited conception of our intellectual inheritance: limited both in our sense of the range of ideas and worldviews which are in play in our present politics, and limited too in the depth and degree of detail through which we are willing to explore this inheritance. Not the least damaging result of this is the deceptive sense of the intellectual aridity of politics in India. The fact is, our practical public men, though believing themselves free of intellectual burdens, are more often than not in thrall to the ideas of the past-and always in ways they don't quite comprehend. We need an intellectual history of modern Indian politics-and yes, a usable one. As part of that still distant ambition, much painstaking work will be necessary to recover the political styles, ideas, and arguments of the past decades.


It is in this context that we are particularly pleased to be able to publish this remarkably original study of C. Rajagopalachari, by a fine young scholar, Vasanthi Srinivasan. To have chosen Rajaji as the subject of one's first book was a brave choice. He is a figure now very much out of fashion, and one hard to make sense of within the procrustean frames that pass as tools for making sense of our politics: Left and Right, secular and religious, national and anti-national, liberal and socialist, conservative and progressive. As we see again and again in the pages of this book, Rajaji is precisely a figure who defies insertion into these elegant if misleading pairings. Some will see him as an economic and political liberal, others as a social conservative, still others as a cultural cosmopolitan. Yet, as we come to see through Vasanthi Srinivasan's able placing of Rajaji in a variety of different contexts-the economic arguments of his time, religious debates, and the deep question of justice for India's women and dalitshis views and actions demand more complex characterization. He was by turns, subversive, conservative, and radical. Through a series of fascinating studies of his writings as well as his practice, Dr Srinivasan elicits for us the fundamental coherence of Rajaji's intellect and action. And she ably shows how, throughout, he sought to be a practitioner of that classically most prized and elusive of all political virtues prudence, practical wisdom.


This is a book that anyone interested in our intellectual and political history will be eagerly grateful for. It is also a book full of insights, oblique and explicit, about our current political predicament. In chapters that present Rajaji's views on the tensions between constitutional rights and majoritarian democracy, his efforts to balance his advocacy of the market and private property with a sense of the state's role in securing justice for the most deprived, his conception of social difference-linguistic, caste, and religious-his ideas on India's international relations, his views about religion and the Hindu epics, and also the severe limitations to his understanding of the family and the rights of women, Dr Srinivasan has written the first extended study that allows us to see Rajaji as an intellectual and political thinker.


Rajaji was an intellectual because he sought always to articulate an idea of an Indian public good. In that task, today, we need all the help we can get, and, though we are usually forgetful of the fact, we are fortunate in being heirs to one of the more remarkable set of debates in twentieth-century world history over what the public good for a nation like India might and could be. This book is not the last word on Rajaji's often rebarbative complexities. But our hope is that Vasanthi Srinivasan's provocative text will return Rajaji's voice to current discussion, and so help build the possibility of a richer conversation about the ideas through which we want to create our future. We also hope it may stimulate other such studies of other remarkable, if now mostly forgotten, figures in our modern political history, such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Y.S. Srinivasa Sastri, J.B. Kripalani, Ram Manohar Lohia, and, not least, Rajaji's long-time friend-cum-political adversary, E.Y. Ramasami 'Periyar'.


Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, popularly referred to as Rajaji, is best known for his renderings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. As the first Indian governor general, Rajaji commanded much respect for the simplicity, dignity, and wisdom that he brought to his office. While in power-as the premier of Madras from 1937 to 1939 and as chief minister of Madras from 1952 to 1954, he was a darling of the administrators but unpopular among politicians. He was repeatedly suspected of being opportunistic, inconsistent, and cunning. This did not deter Rajaji from thinking and speaking about the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, in the public sphere. He commented on almost every major political event from 1956 till his death in 1972 in Swarajya (a news weekly started by his good friend and fearless critic Khasa Subba Rao), his last piece calling for a summit meeting between India and Pakistan to further the Simla Accord. Published in four volumes, his articles in Swarajya cover a wide range of topics, from Congress's socialism and India's foreign policy on the one hand to contraceptives and classic books on the other. He was always arguing, persuading, negotiating, cajoling, praising, criticizing, and acting on behalf of what he thought was the public good and the national interest, even though some of his views elicited only hostility and derision among his colleagues and intellectuals of the time.


Drawing upon his voluminous political writings, this book analyses Rajaji's views on democracy, free enterprise, the market economy, foreign policy, and social diversity. It argues that a principled statesmanship which balanced individual freedom and civic virtues lay at the root of Rajaji's political vision. Courage and moderation were the hallmarks of his approach to politics. He reasoned not from abstract principles but from concrete and particular circumstances about what is feasible and what might contribute to all-round advantage. At the same time, he was categorical that expediency cannot be the sole criterion when judging what is feasible. Foresight in relation to how things will turn out and a firm commitment to enhancing liberal virtues-such as hard work, liberality, and abiding by the law-had a critical role to play. Since these virtues were rooted in ethics and religion, I will delve into his retellings of the Hindu epics and some Hindu doctrines in order to reveal the 'theocentric liberalism' that lies at the heart of Rajaji's political theory and action.


Exploring the revival of political theory in our time, Dante Germino used the phrase 'theocentric liberalism' to describe a liberal vision that recognizes, alongside freedom and justice, the human quest for transcendence.r He argued that 'the source of modern liberalism's belief in the dignity of man rests ultimately on experiencing our being as existing out of the transcendental ground. Far from introducing new gods or priests, Germino counselled openness to extant myths and symbols of right order across different traditions. His aim was to demythologize the liberal dogmas of freedom and progress, to moderate them. Writing against the background of the Cold War and the arms race, he thought it essential to unmask these symbols of a developed society as being inadequate in articulating the final end of the human search for order and well being. Even though Rajaji spoke within a slightly different context, his overall vision resonates with Germino's notion of theocentric liberalism.


More generally, Rajaji has been both admired and maligned as a conservative; indeed he often described himself as a conservative. Yet, like his broadly liberal vision, Rajaji's conservatism too needs inflection. His arguments for free enterprise and minimal state intervention were directed at Nehru's statism; they were context-specific and did not stem from any ideological dogmatic conservatism. Indeed in the context of the socialist hegemony within which they were articulated, it could be said they were subversive and radical in their time rather than conservative. Nor did Rajaji display conservative sentiments against social or political mobilization by new groups, party politics, , ethnic and cultural pluralism, economic development, international trade and co-operation, and nuclear non-proliferation, Theocentric liberalism, rather than dogmatic conservatism, therefore seems to come closest as a handy label for the body of political ideas articulated by Rajaji.


While presenting his rheocentric liberal vision, this book aspires also to provide a taste of the generosity of temperament, imaginativeness, and principled flexibility that shaped it. Above all, 'since politics is often talk and political skill requires wit', as Kenneth Minogue has observed it highlights Rajaji's exceptional felicity in conveying complex ideas through simple but often memorable similes and phrases. For instance, when introducing Hindi as an optional subject in high schools in 1938 while he was premier of the Madras Presidency, Rajaji described it as 'Chutney on a Leaf-to be tasted or left alone Since his political contributions have been pretty much treated like chutney on a leaf and left alone by scholars of Indian political thought, it seems imperative to recover some of that neglected flavour and assess its position and impact within the larger leaf of ideas about politics and life in India.


The number of scholars who have seriously engaged with Rajaji's work is meagre. Among these, A.R.H. Copley is noteworthy for having extensively discussed Rajaji's pre-Independence political career as well as his chief minister ship of Madras after Independence Copley uncovers Rajaji's mixed success with the politics of power, communalism, and principle. He argues that Rajaji's unpopular policies and ideas are best understood in terms of his retreat from a modern, non-casteist outlook (characteristic of his pre-Independence politics) to a more traditional and Gandhian emphasis on morality and material self-restraint anchored in jati dharma (in the post-Independence period). This shift is said to have resulted in a truncated liberalism that stressed individual initiative and free enterprise over economic and social justice. Presenting Rajaji as a conservative who stressed 'gradualism and efficiency', Copley argues that Rajaji was inclined to expediency in politics in the interest of public good rather than of self-interest. Since he confines himself to Rajaji's premiership of the Madras Presidency during 1937-39 and later his chief rninistership over 1952-34, Copley concludes that Rajaji's 'stubborn, lonely and courageous struggle' against Congress rule and statist policies must be reassessed in the light of subsequent developments.


K.T. Narasimhachar illuminates the 'statesman, scholar and sage' that Rajaji was by charting his friendship with the Mahatma, his role as Gandhi's 'conscience keeper', his efforts against untouchability and 'drink evil', his independent positions on Pakistan, Quit India, and Nehru's statism, his crusade against nuclear arms, his compassion for the poor, and his literary and philosophical contributions." While being a comprehensive exposition of Rajaji's views, Narasimhachar's work does not examine them critically. Similarly, B.K. Ahluwalia and Shashi Ahluwalia focus on the friendship between Gandhi and Rajaji, highlighting their mutual affection and respect of Monica Felton provides a charming profile and conveys Rajaji's energetic efforts to launch an opposition party and ban nuclear tests." Rajmohan Gandhi's path breaking biography contains many insights into Rajaji's political skills and courageous actions (that work has in fact partly inspired my book);'? Joanne Waghorne explores his style of political leadership as evident in his renderings of the epics, and argues that he was trying to legitimize the modern Indian state in the light of the ancient ideal of 'Ram Rajya'. Ramachandra Guha's essays draw attention to Rajaji's 'statesmanship of reconciliation'. While the literature cited above contains much merit, the fact remains that there is no systematic critical analysis of Rajaji's political vision and statesmanship; the complex and contradictory nature of his liberal and democratic commitments remains unexplored. The diverse sources that nourished his political thought and practice, be they Western or Indian classics, have not been closely examined. And Rajaji's attempt to anchor liberal citizenship and statesmanship in existing religious and moral norms and practices has not been probed at all within the grand Indian debates around secularism.


While exploring all these aspects, I draw upon some abiding concepts and themes of political philosophy, especially the notions of practical wisdom or prudence, statesmanship, and the role of virtue in politics. Admittedly, Rajaji was not a political philosopher in any systematic sense. Like a great many thinkers within the liberal tradition, his views on human nature and ideal political order appear spasmodically, via an engagement with specific issues and situations, rather than within any coherently outlined philosophy. He had a theoretical bent of mind but espoused no single theory, quoting Plato, Socrates, Burke, Cicero and other thinkers selectively and for the purposes at hand. So I do not try to layout the influence of any specific system of philosophy or any particular philosopher on Rajaji. Rather, I try to illuminate the coherence underlying his political thought and practice through some classical as well as certain contemporary writings in political theory.


Rajaji was more a publicist who dealt with the practical problems of India's liberal democracy. However, his writings reveal that he understood the distinctive nature of political activity, related it to a wider social and economic context, and evolved criteria for judging political institutions and processes. 13 Whether it was about statist socialism or electoral systems or political defections or communalism or foreign policy, he balanced his concern for freedom with a concern for specific civic virtues such as liberality, industriousness, friendship, and respect for the law. He resisted drastic remedies, always preferring the lesser evil; for instance, straightforward adult franchise is in his view better than proportional representation because the latter is more likely to lead to cliques and instability; many countervailing oligarchies of diverse interests are better than a single all-powerful oligarchy of planners or party bosses; inter-party defections are a lesser evil than a legal ban on all defections because that could restrict freedom, and so on. Though vilified as opportunistic and inconsistent, such opinions show a man who was always attentive to the alchemical nature of politics in India, and the judicious need to adapt sane ideas and moral principles to particular and changing circumstances.


Practical wisdom within the political realm has been amplified by, among others, political philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Burke, all of whom Rajaji read and admired. Usually, this variety of practical wisdom is conflated with Machiavellian cunning or villainy or opportunism. Practical people are admired for not setting their goals too high and succeeding somehow in what they do. This common sense understanding stems from the fact that practical wisdom essentially consists in being responsive to circumstances. Analysing the history of prudence, Eugene Garver observes that one of the perennial problems of prudence involves distinguishing such responsiveness from mere cleverness or plain opportunism so that adaptability and flexibility do not entail abandoning principles altogether. Aristotle was among the first to theorize practical wisdom or prudence and distinguish it from the theoretical sciences on the one hand and the productive arts on the other. The theoretical sciences investigate realities which are eternal and indestructible. Metaphysics, mathematics, and physics, which study existence in general and physical nature in particular, seek to understand the principles underlying these realities. Prudence, in contrast, is about the variable and the contingent. While scientific knowledge involves a demonstration from first principles, prudence involves deliberating on how to act under changing circumstances. In contrast, the productive arts or techne concern producing things which fulfill a need: crafts and other arts employ skills which are oriented to efficient production. Prudence, unlike these, is oriented to excellent and virtuous actions that have no end outside themselves. For Aristotle, prudence is a function of character and good actions gain value from the excellence of the doer, whereas theoretical excellence or technical virtuosity need not refer to a person's character. Politics and ethics provide many opportunities for reflecting upon and practising what Aristotle regarded as prudence, or phronesis.


Focusing specifically on the reasoning process, Garver argues that prudential reasoning is halfway between an ethics of principles and an ethics of consequences. But does halfway mean a compromise between principles and consequences? Or does prudence involve principles, but of a different kind? Garver distinguishes prudential reasoning from algorithmic reasoning on the one hand, and heuristic reasoning on the other in algorithmic reasoning, correct results happen if the specified method is followed. In moral terms, this means that if an action follows from a good and true principle, then it is right and good. Kant's categorical imperative, which says that one must always act in such a way that the maxim of one's action can be made into a law, is a typical example of an algorithmic rule. In practice, algorithmic reason ensues in an ethics of conscience and a politics of conviction. As Max Weber clarified it, the man who pursues an ethics of absolute principles directs the whole of his political conduct towards the securing of an ideal without rational calculation of the means. Is the individual actor is only concerned with the puriry of intentions. Usually, utopian projects to achieve perfect freedom or justice or material prosperity or religious salvation qualify as being within this domain.


By contrast, in heuristic thinking results justify the method; if something works, then it is good. Everything may be tried at least once to see what works. Conventionally, this ensues in an ethics and Politics where ends justify the means. This approach is synonymous with what is usually called Machiavellianism. Certain crude forms of communism, which affirm the dictatorship of the proletariat, fit this. More recently, policy sciences which emphasize technical methods for problem-solving also exemplify this mode of thinking. What is common is an emphasis on the efficiency of certain means to achieve a goal. What could be halfway between these? Max Weber argued for an ethic of responsibility wherein the political actor is aware of the unintended consequences that mark the world of action. Such an actor governs and justifies his actions not solely by the integrity of intentions but also by thinking through the probable consequences of his conduct and actions. He also assesses whether certain ends are desirable or possible at all. To do this, a person may resort to either empirical facts or historical data. In addition, such actors may also go a step further and assess the metaphysical and moral implications involved in affirming certain ideals.


Practical understanding or phronesis is not completely intuitive or esoteric. Garver argues that there are rules and methods of prudential reasoning which are neither algorithmic nor heuristic. For instance, Machiavelli's advice to the prince to rely on one's own troops rather than mercenaries is a rule of prudence. Unlike an algorithmic rule, it does not guarantee rightness. Unlike a heuristic rule, it does not guarantee success either. Or, Socrates' maxim that an unexamined life is not worth living is similarly best understood as a prudential rule for it requires adapting to circumstances and does not guarantee felicity either. Both cases require interpretation and judicious application and guarantee neither popular success nor abstract rightness: Garver notes that prudential rules do not guarantee results, nor does their validity arise from their success. And yet they are indispensable in moral and political contexts in which rightness does not flow from good principles or success alone. They show that political and moral reasoning and actions are always open to debate and judgment.


Rajaji articulated many prudential maxims too. Consider his view that 'what we must keep in mind as an inflexible rule is not to be the first to do the wrong or dangerous thing. As we will see, he often appealed to a rule about avoiding extremes and choosing the lesser evil. Following his hero Samuel Johnson, he urged that one must not resist doing immediate good for fear of a remote evil. Similarly, his advice to pursue 'not peace at any cost but friendship at any price' qualifies as a prudential rule. All these rules require judicious weighing of the possible courses of action in a given context. They are right not in an abstract sense, but only when attuned to concrete circumstances. And yet they do not counsel expediency or elevate success; often, being the first to do the wrong or dangerous thing, such as making a pre-emptive strike or pursuing peace at any cost, may be a surer route to success; in urging the opposite, Rajaji displays the Weberian ethic of responsibility. He was unequivocal in his view that practical wisdom, while being tuned to changing circumstances, must be grounded and justified in terms of the public good. As he put it, 'if men were condemned to demonstrate rigid consistency on what they stand for, through half a entury, dogmatism would be the rule in public life which would be a reduction and absurdum.. I venture to confess and claim that I have an accommodating mind, but one that does not forget truth or the public weal at any point.


Because practical wisdom or phronesis involves reasoning about proper means in particular and contingent contexts of action, it is fine-tuned through the experience of actually acting in such situations and reflecting upon them. Through repeated performance and reflection, one becomes skilled at judging the relevant particulars and figuring out how things will turn out within different courses of action. The usual expression of this, as Michael Oakeshort noted, is a normal or customary way of doing things. Even though prudence appears imprecise or uncertain or only a matter of opinion, it is in fact knowledge manifest as taste or connoisseurship. Isaiah Berlin puts it differently when he says that practical reason involves a capacity for synthesis rather than analysis, for it is knowledge in the sense in which trainers know their animals or parents their children or conductors their orchestras, as opposed to that in which chemists know the contents of their test tubes or mathematicians know the rules that their symbols obey.


As a crucial site of practical reason, political thought and action in relation to a regime, as well as in relation to specific laws and policies, require statesmen. Statesmen are those who combine moral virtue with practical intelligence, experience, and knowledge of the particular circumstances of their city and people. Aristotle emphasized the role of statesmen in founding, preserving, and improving a regime. Burke stressed the more modest task of preserving and improving an existing one; he argued that the statesman is one who can perform the amazing feat of being always guided by circumstances while never losing sight of principles. To be a leader, Weber said similarly, a politician must combine the opposites of passion and distanced judgment.


Though statesmanship is not a concept much discussed or popular among contemporary democratic theorists, it is worth recalling that classical liberal thinkers often admitted its political necessity. Rousseau, the patron saint of radical democrats, noted the necessity for legislators and of great men to guide others. Realizing that statesmanship must be made compatible with democracy; the founding fathers of America tried to constitutionalize it by creating legitimate political spaces where it could shine. They also realized that statesmen must be open, diffused among many, ready to effect compromise, and patient with democracy to be of utility. Thus, while statesmen may have a founding role in forging regimes and constitutions, it is their role in discerning and educating public opinion that is distinctly liberal.


Instead of relying on superior claims to wisdom or status, they must claim authority through their merit and effort, work through democratic institutions, and continuously explain themselves to the people. Whether by discerning the common good lurking in popular debates or by judging the right course of action in the absence of complete knowledge, statesmen aid democratic citizenship. Rajaji explicitly recognized the need for democracy to be guided by statesmen towards good government. He realized also the need to balance liberty with civic virtues, courage with moderation, and expediency with forethought when shaping laws and policies. This is why he argued both for freedom of trade and trusteeship. While building on self-interest, it was also necessary to enlighten it. He often hinted that promoting friendship between citizens was as important as promoting social justice. Indo-Pakistan relations and Kashmir were only two instances wherein he was far ahead of his contemporaries in discerning the common good.


But did he always manage to get the balance right between liberty and virtue, expediency and foresight, courage and moderation? What do his successes and failures reveal about the risks and dilemmas of statesmanship in a democracy? Rajaji refused to write an autobiography on the grounds that 'one cannot help trying to show oneself in a good light'. Comparing himself to a matchstick, he described his smallness as his strength and argued that one must realize the insignificance of one's own life in the vastness of space. But this humility was tempered by the idea that man with his mind and spirit may be the universe's link to God, and that the 'human species can and ought to function as if they were the ultimate blossom of the tree of the universe. This is perhaps why he was drawn to both contemplation and action, taking religion and politics equally seriously.


Born in 1878 in Thorapalli village, near Hosur, to Chakravarti Venkatarya, a Tamil Brahmin Iyengar who was the munsif-a headman who mainly collected land tax and wrote reports to district officialsRajaji was schooled in Hosur's government school. Though he complained of an impaired vision, his father refused to buy him spectacles because he believed no one under forty-five needed glasses. At the age of 11, Rajaji was packed off to Bangalore's Central College, from where he matriculated at 13. Here he was introduced to English literature by John Guthrie Tait, a Scotsman. He also sought out and befriended Navaratna Rama Rao, a friendship that would last seventy years. Rajaji later traced his love of English literature to his teacher and best friend.


After graduating from Madras University (despite failing in Tamil), he began to study law in 1896 and passed the Bachelor of Law exam in 1900. In between, he married Alarmelu Mangammal or Manga, a girl of 10 that his mother had chosen for him, with whom he had five children. He set up practice in Salem and soon gained repute as a good lawyer. At the time of the Bengal partition, Rajaji went to Calcutta for the 1906 December session of the Indian National Congress, following this up by going to Surat, where he was disappointed to see his hero, Tilak, marginalized. In Salem, Rajaji came to be involved in social reform efforts, founding the Salem lodge of the Freemasons and continuing his successful law practice which consisted mostly in defending small-time criminals. He read Gandhi's Hind Swaraj and Thoreau's tract on civil disobedience over this period. Moved by news about Gandhi's wife and sons being arrested for peacefully opposing a racial tax in South Africa, he reprinted Gandhi's fail Experiences at his own expense. In its Introduction he ranked Gandhi with the 'avatars', a description that he would repeat several times afterwards. Joining the Home Rule League in 1916, he began organizing public meetings and stood for Tilak's position of conditional support to the war, against Annie Besant's and Gandhi's unconditional support. He also became the chairman of Salem's Municipal Council, where he discovered a talent for managing public finances.


His hosting of Gandhi in 1919 and Gandhi's conceiving of a nationwide satyagraha against the RowlattActs via a dream that he had in Rajaji's Madras house was the first and most decisive turning point in what would turn out into a long and eventful political journey. After organizing a successful Satyagraha in the South in April 1919, Rajaji gave up his law practice and became 'Gandhi's warrior from the South'-as Rajmohan Gandhi puts it. He enthusiastically took up the cause of khadi, pushed for prohibition, and fought against untouchability. Over his first term in jail in December 1921 (for his participation in noncooperation), he carried, besides tooth powder, cloves, paper, and a pen, a brass cup and kooja (water jug), asthma mixture, some bedding and clothes, the Bible, Shakespeare, Tayumanavar, the Tamil Mahabharata, R.C.Roy's Mahabharata in English, and Robimon Crusoe.? Apart from catching up with reading and the Gandhian routine of spinning, he wrestled with his soul while in jail, trying to purify himself and praying for a vision of the Supreme One, but found his mind wandering to his deceased wife, and to his family and friends outside. In his jail diary he observed that even those convicted of grave moral offences were well-enough behaved and showed little lewdness of spirit, that the Brahmin cooks in jail were as bad as their counterparts in the world outside, that eating was the chief event in prison, and that there was much that could be written about the behavior of flies in Vellore jail. He also rendered Plato's 'Trial and Death of Socrates' and 'Crito' into Tamil.


After his release he edited-since Gandhi was still in jail-Young India and spiritedly opposed 'council entry' at the Gaya Congress in December 1922 against Congressmen like C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru. was here that Gandhi's secretary called him 'Rajaji', a name that would stick. After opposing council entry for one more year, he gave up in May 1923, following a compromise that allowed Swarajists within the Congress to enter councils-'? Following Gandhi's view that those who opposed council entry must engage in constructive work, he opened an ashram in a small village near Salem and busied himself with spreading spinning and prohibition. In 1925 he violated his decision to boycott courts in order to defend a Harijan devotee who had been convicted because he had entered a temple in a 'fit of devotion'. In April 1930 he led the Salt Satyagraha in the South, marching from Trichy to Vedaranyam on the Tanjore seaboard. He was arrested there for holding prayer meetings, was released briefly, and jailed again because he would not agree to a bond specifying peaceful behavior? He was released in 1931, only to be sent back to jail in 1932 for distributing Satyagraha leaflets. During Gandhi's epic fast against separate electorates for untouchables, Rajaji played a crucial role in getting an agreement between Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar. In June 1933 Rajaji's younger daughter Lakshmi was married to one of Gandhi's four sons, Devdas Gandhi, the couple having had to wait for six years at the Mahatma's behest.


By August 1933 it was back to jail again for Rajaji. In 1934 he canvassed for the Congress for the provincial elections and became the premier of Madras Presidency in 1937. This tenure saw him pushing forth with Hindi and prohibition, introducing an innovative sales tax, an act to protect tenant-peasants against zamindars, and a cautious Temple Entry Indemnity Bill. He also contended with the nonBrahmin movement and Andhra separatism, prudently though somewhat harshly, In 1939 he resigned due to the British Raj's intransigence to respond to Congress' demands for Independence in return for wartime cooperation.


From 1940 he began to steer away from the Mahatma, striving for a national government in return for a politically satisfactory declaration at the end of the war. Failing to elicit 'greatness of conduct' from Britain, he joined the Mahatma's civil disobedience in 1940 and went to jail again, for the sixth time. By 1942 his distance from the Mahatma became more pronounced in that Rajaji opposed the Quit India Movement, pressed for a settlement with the Muslim League, and counselled-given the looming threat of a Japanese invasion-accepting Stafford Cripps' proposal Even though some Congress leaders sympathized with his positions, he alienated many more and lost the confidence of the Congress, especially in Tamil Nadu. But the formula he worked out for autonomy and plebiscite in Muslim-majority provinces in 1943 was to be acclaimed for its foresight, though M.A. Jinnah had rejected it.


When Independence came, Rajaji was reclaimed by Nehru and others for the governorship of West Bengal in 1947, and then for governor generalship from 1948 till 1950. He then accepted minister ship without a portfolio, became home minister after Patel's death, and retired to Madras in 1951. In these positions Rajaji piloted the controversial Press (Objectionable Matters) Bill in 1951 and extended the Preventive Detention Act. After the Congress's shaky performance at the elections in Madras, Rajaji was persuaded to lead the party as chief minister of Madras from 1952 to 1954. In this tenure he presided over the formation of Andhra Pradesh and launched a controversial educational scheme that would seal his political career in office.


Retiring at, he proceeded relentlessly to criticize Nehru's socialism, resigned from the Congress Party in 1956, launched the Swatantra Party in 1959, and canvassed for it in the 1962 and 1967 elections. He roused Tamils against the imposition of Hindi, campaigned for banning nuclear tests, visited America to persuade Kennedy in 1962 to ban tests, attacked Indira Gandhi's socialist opportunism and authoritarianism, and advocated freeing the economy from the licence permit quota raj for over a decade. It might appear that with the opening up of the Indian economy and the erosion of Congress dominance, Rajaji's thought has become redundant since some of what he envisioned has been realized. But his many insights about democracy, electoral politics, and foreign policy are far from outdated, quite apart from being important within any serious historical understanding of Indian political thought and culture. The tension between constitutional freedoms and majoritarian democracy that he addressed is still a live issue. He believed that a robust democracy must not only draw in new groups but also sustain and deepen the rule of law and minority rights.


Recalling his views on India's democracy, the first chapter explores his vision of a healthy democracy anchored in a vigorous parliament, a strong opposition, vigilant citizenry, and spirited statesmen. It lays out the political context in which he launched his critique of one-party democracy represented by the Congress. He combined boldness and moderation in his proposals to reinvigorate parliament, build a con-servative party, and make elections more efficient. His emphasis on the need for statesmanship to guide democracy towards good government is more problematic and is critically examined here. What do statesmen do towards this end? What are some of the difficulties inherent in pursuing statesmanship?


While Rajaji's tirades against the permit licence raj make him a hero of the nee-liberals, the ethical basis of his economic views is usually neglected. Through an analysis of his assessments of agrarian and industrial policies, the second chapter argues that he was no mere ideologue of private property and free trade but only harkened to prudence in economic policy. He believed that the profit motive and open competition were better means for achieving general economic well being than bureaucratic control and protectionism. Focusing on his economic initiatives, I show that he combined caution and courage in figuring out the proper role of state intervention and market forces in varying contexts. While attending to his abiding concern for the poorest, I probe how he wanted to promote justice without aggravating conflict and, to the extent possible, by fostering friendship and liberality between classes.


The third chapter traces the evolution of Rajaji's views on India's official language, communal and caste politics, and linguistic reorganization. It argues that, confronted with the powerful and passionate claims of different linguistic and religious communities, his practical wisdom counselled managing differences rather than mastering or suppressing them. He argued that imposing uniformity is always the greater evil in a multilingual and multi-ethnic context. He was unequivocal in his view that the tyranny of the majority, either in the name of religion or language, was unjust. He held that majority rule can be democratic only when it emerges from 'even mixtures' of majorities and minorities of different kinds. The task of democratic statesmanship was to strike a mean between forced homogeneity and separatist diversity. But did he always succeed in balancing the expediency, fairness, and all-round advantage that he suggested? Or, as Ambedkar pointed out, was he magnanimous towards some groups and not others?


The fourth chapter picks up his bold proposals on Kashmir, IndiaPakistan relations, and the nuclear test ban, among other issues. It highlights the way he combined mature patriotism with wise internationalism. His capacity for independent thinking, willingness to choose the lesser evil, and capacity for unilateral acts of magnanimity and friendship are very evident in the area of international relations. Given the outstanding continuity of issues between his time and ours, did he overestimate the scope for statesmanship in foreign policy, or is there a deficit of courage and farsightedness in general? One area in which Rajaji fell short of his own practical wisdom is the private realm of the family. His positions on contraception, population control, and the gendered division of labour are all based on a conservative notion of woman's difference and show that even the most judicious and fair-minded of statesmen may be in the thrall of sexual convention and prejudice. He failed to get the balance right between liberty and virtue in this context.


Chapters six and seven deal with Rajaji's appeal to Hindu epics and religion as the main sources of his practical and spiritual wisdom. Translating the epics into Tamil during moments of political wilderness, he displayed much wisdom in relation to human emotion and moral virtue. How do the epics educate us in practical wisdom? How does this education contribute to liberal politics? Rajaji's openness towards devotional Hinduism sets him apart from those who were deeply embarrassed by idol worship. He argued that religion provided the foundation for moral virtues and must be fostered. But, unlike Gandhi, Rajaji saw religion as providing only the form, not the content, of practical action. This raises fascinating questions about whether Rajaji was guilty of an instrumental view of religion. Was he raising fundamental questions but retracting from radical answers, as the non-Brahmin Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader C.N. Annadurai alleged? What was the role he envisaged for religion in energizing politics?


The thematic treatment of Rajaji's ideas followed within this book reflects the fact that he repeatedly dealt with many persistent political and moral issues over a long period of time. Whether it was democracy or decontrol or Hindi or the formation of linguistic states or India Pakistan relations, his views matured with experience and reflection. Secondly, though Rajaji quoted select Western thinkers (Cicero, Burke, Aristotle, Socrates) and authorities (the Bible), when he discussed free government or private property or moral virtues or human nature he did not reflect upon or adopt the larger metaphysics or historical assumptions underlying these sources. His central concern was with the Indian epics and the Hindu religion; these are what he wrote about most extensively, and they, rather than any larger systems of philosophy or religion, are therefore the subject of focus here.




Series editors preface

Authors preface and acknowledgements




My smallness is my strength



Guiding India's 'one footed democracy


Democracy and trust


One-footed democracy?


Oligarchy: of greater and lesser evils


Fire bell at midnight: the nuisance of an opposition


A brake party: the Swatantra interlude


The constitution as a looking glass


Freedom and virtues


Nationalize elections


People must exercise the will to be free


Chandramati's invisible jewel?


Statesmen guiding democracy



Freeing the economy from slogan socialism


Beyond slogan socialism


The licence permit quota raj


Public interest and private enterprise


Cordial relations between classes


Ideas about taxation


Libido dominandi and prosperophobia


Enlightened self interest


Injustice without appeal?



Majorities and minorities: language and caste politics


Hindi as the national language


Communal identities and separatism


The tribal idea of linguistic states


The path of least resistance: caste reform and the scheduled castes



Courage and foresight in foreign policy


Kashmir and the liquid truths of politics


Beyond the miserable misanthropy of Anti-pakistanism


The road to relations with china


The west and international relations


Nuclear weapons and the arms race


Rajaji as statesman



The eternal urge to dependence? Women and the family


On sex distinctions


The plight of women


Women: either kerosene lamps or the morning sun



The epics and practical wisdom


The Mahabharata and the Ramayana


of great and true heroes


The vanity of human wishes


The subtleties of dharma


Women of India will not give up the sita story


The sanctity of friendship



Rajaji's theocentric liberalism


Idol worship


Rajaji, annadurai, and periyar on everyday Hinduism


On science and religion


The gita as a railway guide


Morality and religion


Gandhi's conscience keeper?


Teocentric liberalism









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