After 1947 a new era had dawned for India. Colonial rule was over and now a journey towards overcoming the colonial legacy of poverty, illiteracy, social inequality, injustice, and economic underdevelopment. The task of nation-building was taken by the people with the confidence to succeed.
The basic goal of the new leadership was to strengthen and consolidate the Unity of India. Indian-ness had to be developed by acknowledging the multiple diversity of India and giving space to all Indians in the Union. Along with political freedom, social and economic development too was needed. The Indian planners realized that unhampered market forces couldn’t lead to an independent national economy. thus since 1955, the public sector was seen as the device for this.
The second task was to change the caste and untouchability-ridden rural society. Females had no right to education and had to face social oppression. In spite of this, the Indian leaders decided to pursue a policy of building a democratic, civil libertarian society. This was an innovation as other countries that saw economic development had limited civil liberties in the early stage.
Colonial Legacy and Economic Exploitation
Colonial Britain transformed India both economically and in other spheres. The country saw the introduction of railways, communication, transportation, finance, architecture, law and order, and education. All these developments were positive but since they operated under the colonial framework some have called them “Development of Underdevelopment”. They strengthened the colonial economic structure that led to poverty and subordination to Britain. India’s development since 1947 has been influenced by this legacy.
The colonial structure of India led to the following changes in its economy: India became integrated into the world economy due to colonization but its economic interests were wholly subordinate to Britain. Secondly, India became an importer of high technology goods and an exporter of raw materials. This was done to suit the British economy. This international division of labor was done deliberately by Britain to force India to become subservient to it.
The third feature, Low investment in the economy for expansion from the surplus generated due to economic activity. The post-independence trend shows a high difference between them. A large part of the surplus would be usurped by landlords and colonial government and misspent.
Finally, the drain of wealth due to the potential surplus and investment capital being unilaterally sent to Britain. India got no returns from this in any form. The lack of state support for agriculture and industry which is a norm seen in most independent countries too led to the exploitation.
The state of agriculture in the colonial era was the worst. No capital was invested in improving productivity. The government was only interested in revenue collection. The agrarian structure was dominated by landlords who controlled 70% of the land. The sub-infeudation, landless farming, sharecropping, and tenancy were seen in the ryotwari and zamindari areas.
The peasants had no incentive to invest in agriculture. Landless peasants were on the rise and fragmentation of landholdings made it difficult to even have subsistence farming. Even the rich farmers preferred becoming landlords or moneylenders and rack-renting farmers was considered a safer investment than investing inland.
Agriculture became globalized as food crops reached global markets due to colonization. However Indian agriculture saw neglect in the field of agriculture education. It also neglected investment in machinery, instruments, fertilizers, and soil erosion techniques. Irrigation was the only field that saw improvement as nearly 27% of the cultivated area was irrigated, but India had always been advanced in irrigation cultivation.
Industries were another sector of the economy that remained backward. The high rural to urban population ratio was a sign of this. Indian artisans and handicrafts collapsed due to the free trade policy with Britain and the machine-made goods of Britain. These artisans moved to agriculture for subsistence. The high index of import of machine instruments and tools also is a sign of the backwardness of industry. Gross underdevelopment was seen in electricity production and banking. Cotton and jute were the most labor-intensive industries and iron and steel were to be developed by the 20th century.
Foreign capital controlled industries and was responsible for the negative effects. Industrial development was lopsided and caused a regional imbalance in incomes. The spread of road and rail lines didn’t lead to corresponding industrial spread. It only aided further colonization as rail lines were to transport raw materials to ports for exports and deliver imports to interior regions. The needs of the Indian industry were ignored. Most of the managerial and technical manpower of the country were Non-Indian, this was due to the lack of technical education facilities in India.
A strong indigenous capitalist class grew in India by 1914. The Indian entrepreneurs unlike other colonies weren’t junior partners of foreign capitalists or intermediaries between foreign capital and the Indian market but had an independent base. They soon dominated the Indian market and nearly all the small-scale industries were controlled by Indians.
Thus poor industrialization, low agriculture productivity, and apart from these high mortality rates, poor education facilities, and low healthcare and food security were the legacy of the colonial state in India.
Contrasting image of Colonialism
The Colonial forces produced several contrasting features in India. They built upon the Mughal administration and created a unified administrative system in India. But this was used to crush the people’s aspirations.
The army and the civil service were created as apolitical institutions and so separated from the rest of the population. Due to the government’s strategy, they were made subordinate to the population. This indirectly has benefited India even after independence than Pakistan which saw a wave of military uprisings.
The education system too had contrasting features, on one hand, it was introduced to refine Indian tastes and culture. But it also contributed to making Indians trained for clerical administrative jobs than intellectual work. English language-based education suppressed the growth of Indian languages and even in the post-independence period created conflicts.
British policy on administration and education had an indirect positive aspect as it created a unified nation and India-wide intelligentsia that shared a common outlook on polity and society and thought in national terms.
The constitutional reforms introduced by Britain were for reforming institutions and making them more democratic and responsive. However, they were used as instruments to divide the main political opponent, Indian National Congress. They also provided full powers to the executive to remain in charge and take decisions as it wanted. Indians could be nominated or elected but the narrow vote and the opaque nomination policy defeated these initiatives. Benevolent despotism is what British constitutional reforms succeeded in creating.
Under British rule, the bureaucracy got full power to make decisions without political consideration. Mostly such decisions were against the public interest. The excesses committed by the bureaucracy too were never probed. This steel frame of the civil service created by the British to stop national movements has continued to oppose reforms even in independent India.