Relevance of Ayn Rand and Objectivism to India

India’s Mystic Past:

                      One may think as preposterous on my part, looking at the title of this blog, for seriously considering Ayn Rand’s ideas advocating reason, individualism, and capitalism to have any relevance for a country like India which has been dominated by mysticism for centuries. Some may even think that I was naive enough to consider such an idea even in the realm of a remote possibility.

                     This may be true if one considers the mystic history of Indian subcontinent, and in particular, the missed opportunity at the time of independence in 1947, when India had the chance of deciding its future course and to choose an ideology based on reason and individual rights and its corollary of free trade and capitalism.  Unfortunately, India chose neo-mysticism, altruism, and socialism instead.

But, the economic reforms of 1991 by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the subsequent effects of the reforms in the Indian economy, and more particularly in other social aspects in Indian culture, gave me some ideas about the possibility of Rand’s ideas taking roots in Indian culture. Before considering that, a very brief review of Indian History and Culture since independence.

Foreign Cultural Influences in India:

There were many reasons for India choosing neo-mysticism and socialism immediately after independence.  The dominance of mysticism for centuries is one of the reasons.  Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the invasion of India by Mughals, and their rule in India for nearly four centuries, reinforced the dominance of mysticism in Indian culture.  Later when Europeans interacted with India through trade after the discovery of new sea routes, and ultimately when England ruled India for nearly two centuries, Indian culture for the first time came into contact with a culture dominated by reason and science.

The Mughal culture was predominantly a mystic culture with religion as its basis.

“The Mughals invaded India under the leadership of Zahir-ud-Din Babur. In 1526 the battle of Panipat took place and Babur defeated the last Sultan of India, Ibrahim Lodhi. The dynasty founded by him endured for more than three centuries.

Culture under Mughal Dynasty can be characterized by the unproductive nature of the enterprises undertaken by the state, absence of a middle class, poverty of the masses, lack of appreciation by the rulers of the importance of foreign trade and the estrangement between the highly cultured aristocracy and the untutored masses.”

But, the British culture was predominantly based on reason and science.

“The imperial rulers were compassionate enough to introduce European education in India. This ground-breaking impact of British rule in India truly has benefited India in the long run, carving out a prestigious position of India in the world map. Knowledge of English was essential to earn a job in the British bureaucracy, in the British trading firms and of course in the British Army in the officer`s level. Many dignified concepts like parliamentary democracy, the European scientific ideas, industrialization and liberal human philosophy permeated into the Indian brain.

The British had introduced the system of Railways (From Mumbai to Thane at First) in a chain method, with the whole of the country staying witness to placing of railways tracks, railway platforms and railway carriages. Indeed India`s railways, postal services, legal and judicial systems and other government-based services have all been derived primarily from the British administration.”

For a complete list of the contributions of British rule in India see the article: Achievements in British India and The Remarkable Raj

This does mean that the British rule was without blame for the evil and inhuman methods they used while ruling India, but the Mughal emperors were not anything better – and even worse in some respect – compared to their British counterparts.

Mughal Culture or Western Culture – Which is more dominant in India:

India had been influenced by the western culture through the British rule, but the Mughal culture of mysticism has taken strong and deeper root in Indian culture than the British culture, and therefore, the Mughal culture became more influential than the western culture now. This was not surprising since Indian culture, at the time of Mughal invasion, was also a mystic culture but dominated by a different religion. European culture has not been accepted into Indian mind as well as the Mughal culture because it was a culture predominantly based on reason rather than mysticism.  (This subject will require a detailed treatment, and I will defer that to a separate post).

In South India the Mughal rule did not have much of an impact like it had in North India.  This was one of many reasons for the culture of South India being more advanced than North India.  South India moved away from a culture dominated by mysticism toward a culture of reason by the influence of the British rule. (Again, this is a subject that needs an elaborate treatment later).

Here, I should mention that the so called progressive intellectuals, the leftists, while accepting the Mughal culture as part of Indian culture, would not accept any part of the British culture because it was dominated by reason unlike the Mughal culture which was dominated by mysticism. This point confirms what Ayn Rand termed the socialist and communist ideology as neo-mysticism and that their claim of their ideology as “Scientific Socialism” was a fraud.

Intellectual Orientation of Indian Freedom Fighters:

Besides, India’s leaders who were educated in England during the British rule were influenced by the principles of socialism rather than any ideas of free market.  Most of the Indians who went to England for higher studies returned to India as socialists rather than as advocates of free trade and capitalism.  Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and many other leaders were mainly socialists rather than advocates of free trade and free market economy.

This was the result of the success of the recent Russian Revolution in 1917 (actually it was a Putsch rather than a revolution) and Socialism was the dominant ideology then in Europe. Ludwig von Mises, one of the greatest economists of all time, pointed out in the 1920s that “socialism is the watchword of our day. The socialist idea dominates the modern spirit. The masses approve of it; it has set its seal upon our time. When history comes to tell our story, it will write above the chapter, ‘The Epoch of Socialism.”

Political and Economic Principles Dominant in India since Independence:  

There were three significant aspects that one should bear in mind about the political and economic principles that were dominant in Indian culture since Independence.

The first is the contradiction in the Indian Constitution between its two salient features, the Fundamental Rights (Part III of the constitution) and Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV of the constitution).  The principle of Fundamental Rights was an attempt to “strive to achieve the values of liberty” and the Directive Principles of State Policy are “directions given to the State to guide the establishment of an economic and social democracy …. They set forth the humanitarian and socialist instructions that were the aim of social revolution.” The concept of fundamental rights was itself diluted by adding “Economic Rights.”  The goals of the directive principles of state policy can only be achieved by violating the principles of fundamental rights.

Also, “article 31C, added by the 25th Amendment in 1971, provided that any law made to give effect to the Directive Principles in Article 39(b)–(c) would not be invalid on the grounds that they derogated from the Fundamental Rights conferred by Articles 14, 19 and 31.” So the concept of fundamental right was just an ornament that one needed to preserve the appearance for cosmetic purposes rather to serve any real purpose.

To understand the way in which the political class and judicial class understood this concept of conflict and contradictions between these two aspects, read the article, and also note the evasive nature of that article as well:  Conflict between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.

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Economic Rights Means only this, and nothing else.

To understand the nature of the dilution of fundamental right and the nature and source of fundamental right, I would refer the reader to two articles of Ayn Rand, “Man’s rights” and Collectivized “Rights.”

The second aspect of India’s culture since independence was Jawaharlal Nehru’s choice of Soviet Union’s model of development for India based on socialistic principles with a planned economy as predominant principle with the Government owning and operating the “commanding heights” of the economy like Steel, coal, heavy industries, etc.

The third aspect was what was called “Licence Raj or the Permit Raj” that refers to the elaborate licences, regulations and accompanying red tape that were required to set up and run businesses in India between 1947 and 1990.

Many would disagree to the suggestion that India is a socialist country. Considering the fact that the percentage of GDP contributed by the public sector undertaking is less than 10%, this may be true. But they leave the question about what kind of country India is unanswered with the unstated assumption that India is a mixed economy, which is true, but still, there is an unstated question here, mixer of what? The obvious unstated answer is mixer of freedom and control, but the truth is, it is a mixer of socialism and fascism with the concept of Licence Raj or the Permit Raj as the fascist element.  If we define those terms of socialism, fascism, statism, and capitalism, this would be clear to anyone with a common sense and would be clearer if one has an active mind capable of understanding abstract concepts.

Capitalism: An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

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Socialism:  Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

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Fascism:  A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Statism: Concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government often extending to government ownership of industry.

Source:  Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Anyone having any objection to me calling India as a fascist socialist country rather than a country that has anything to do with capitalism?  I want anyone who tries to blame any economic or other ills of India as a consequence of Capitalism, please think twice.

The Economic Reforms of 1991 was a fundamental reversal of the economic policies since Independence. Those reforms, though taken under some compulsion rather than any conviction on the part of politicians and intellectuals, Narasimha Rao needed great courage to reverse the trend of nearly 45 years of socialist and fascist policies.  He was even accused of selling the country to foreign rulers and multinationals.  And because of his reforms, I consider him the greatest Prime Minister India has ever had, at least on the basis of his economic policies. How and why I think those economic reforms of 1991 by the then Prime Minister of India Mr. Narasimha Rao opened the possibility of Ayn Rand’s ideas having some influence in India and its culture in foreseeable the future? That would be answered in my next post.

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4 thoughts on “Relevance of Ayn Rand and Objectivism to India

  1. You are right , it was the British who first introduced India to reason.Some research ought to be done about the role of the Greeks who accompaned Alexander to India. Did they introduce India to the Aristotelian philosophy. ? We are aware of Greek medicine in India.What about the Portuguese who arrived in India before the British? What was their cotribution? Hindus have always been collectivist by nature. Karna nad Ek Lavya in Mahabharat were heroes/individualists of their time. Look at the shabby treatment they received.Draupadi was shared by 5 brothers. .The Hindu Joint family system is the Kindergarten of socialism and communism.It is only natural that Gandhi. Nehru and others chose socialism for India. I enjoyed your article. Many thanks.

    1. No, I am not a lawyer. I studied Statistics in college. Being an admirer of Ayn Rand, I read a lot of articles in every branch of humanities or social sciences, including law.

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