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Charter of Human Responsibilities




Exploring the Concept Of Internal Colonisation
~ Sachchidanand Sinha*

Edited By: Daya Lalvani

Originally, the idea of ‘internal colony’ was an extrapolation of the idea that empires and colonies created the pre-condition for the development and expansion of the capitalist system in Europe, based on new industries. The assertion - that imperialism was not the last phase of capitalism, as propounded by Lenin, but was the pre-condition for the development and expansion of the capitalist system in Europe – was made by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. In the context of India, important national leaders such as Dadabhai Naoroji had earlier held the view that the prosperity of Great Britain, to a great extent, was based on the draining of the wealth of India. The expansion of European powers in India, South East Asia and the Americas, so closely antedate the industrial revolution in England and other European nations, and the nature of the economic relation between them so clearly show the nexus between imperialism and the rise of capitalism, that this view is accepted almost universally.

Holding on to this view, Dr. Lohia almost dismissed the idea that India could develop its economy on the lines of Western Europe. The capital base in India was so meagre that the development on the basis of large-scale industries could have little prospect in India. Perhaps this pessimism, besides certain negative features of large-scale industries, induced Lohia to propose industrialization with ‘small machine technology run by diesel and electricity’.

Notwithstanding this pessimism, though on a very small scale, the growth of modern heavy industries was already visible in certain parts of India. Around certain port cities, such as Calcutta (Kolkata), Madras (Chennai) and Bombay (Mumbai) where the British had initially made their toe-hold, some modern heavy industries were being developed. In the mid-nineteenth century, railways began to be developed starting from Bombay. Not only was cotton textile industry with new technology growing around Bombay, and jute industry around Calcutta, but also many industries of metallurgy were developing around the port cities. But what was common to all this development was its reliance for minerals, raw materials and cheap labour in areas deep inside the country, spread in far-flung areas of Jharkhand (earlier in Bihar), Madhya Pradesh, Orissa (Odisha), Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Andhra, Karnataka, etc. The relation between the industrial centres - i.e., of Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, etc., and the far-flung areas from which they derived minerals, agricultural raw materials and cheap labour was almost identical with the relation that had existed in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries between Britain, France, Germany, etc., with their colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Just as the imperial powers had used indentured labourers from India to develop farms and mines in South Africa, Guiana and Mauritius, in the same way they transported tribals from the villages of Jharkhand to settle them in tea gardens of Bengal and Assam. The low paid workers in the textile mills of Calcutta, Bombay, etc., too came from all the four corners of India, mainly from the poverty-stricken areas of Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Andhra, Satara and Konkan in Maharashtra. The pattern was the same. Only the transfer of manpower and resources was taking place within the nation itself. Hence, the idea of empires without conquest. The internal colonial relation appears as a replica of the imperial relation predating the industrial revolution in Europe.

To avoid transportation of raw materials involving huge bulk, sugar factories started getting set up in areas where sugarcane was grown - Bihar was among the earliest sugar producing areas. Similarly, textile mills came up in Nagpur in Vidarbha, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, both areas of cotton farming. Certain areas like Kanpur were also developed, being areas surrounded by sources of some raw materials. But the main industrial hubs were the coastal areas where the British had made their early foot-hold such as Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Consideration of economy in transportation made them to develop centres for the manufacture of indigo and saltpetre in remote areas of Bihar. To promote this interest, they forced the peasants of Champaran to plant indigo on nearly one-sixth of their total cultivated area. It was this forced cultivation, which in the early twentieth century, brought Mahatma Gandhi to Champaran in Bihar.

With the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, there developed a new industrial hub around Delhi. Being the capital of the country, it soon got connected with the rest of the country through modern transportation network – comprising roads and railways. It also developed other infrastructure - such as water supply, electricity, inner transport and shopping complexes. As the capital of the country, it naturally brought in a large body of men connected with administration, and military and police personnel. Thus there arose a big market, which attracted a great deal of manufacturing activities in and around Delhi; stretching to large areas of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Economically, a few centres, such as Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and lately Delhi, stood in the same relation to the far-flung areas of the country, such as Bihar, as the imperial centres of Europe stood in relation to the empires and colonies that had developed in North and South America, Asia and Africa.

These burgeoning industrial centres offered jobs on a vast scale, partly in new industries and administrative services, and on a larger scale in lower paid jobs in construction and carriages. Naturally, capital got attracted to these areas and states like Bihar remained starved of capital and industrial development. This is a scenario, which replicates the scenario of early industrialization on a world scale, where, countries like Britain, Germany, France, etc., in Europe got completely transformed during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, while most of the colonial and subjugated nations experienced pauperization, resulting in chronic malnutrition and occasional famines. This could easily be seen today in the unequal development in various regions of the country. While Bombay, which is the capital of Maharashtra, is among the most affluent urban centres of the country - with a highly modernized industrial sector in Vidarbha, which is also a part of Maharashtra, farmers have been committing suicide regularly owing to poverty and indebtedness. This also partly reflects the unequal relation between agriculture and industry. This whole relationship could be termed as a system of internal colonialism. Bihar (which at the time when the book The Internal Colony was written also included Jharkhand) was a typical example of an ‘internal colony’, which was sought to be highlighted in the book.

That the imperial domination of the world - with total control over the natural resources of the subject countries was the essential condition for the spectacular growth of industries in Western Europe and the USA, is clearly indicated by certain recent developments. All the major industrial nations of Europe and the USA are now experiencing sharp decline in their rates of growth. There is stagnation and also inflation, the persistence of which appears puzzling. But this could be easily explained by a consideration of the shrinking of the area of original domination by the old industrialized nations. Interestingly, contrasted with the decline in the old industrial nations, some of the nations, which had earlier been under western domination, have experienced spurt in their annual rates of growth. Among these are India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Incidentally, these are the nations comprising the new conglomerate known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). China in some years registered an annual GDP growth of up to twelve percent. Even India aspired to an annual growth rate of ten percent. Most of the major auto manufactures and engineering firms belonging to the USA, Japan and Europe have set up their industries in India and China. 

It has to be noted that each of the nations in the new alignment BRICS, have an internal colony, i.e., backward areas with cheap labour and abundant raw materials. Except for Russia, each of them had been, in the past, under the domination of the western powers. Though Russia never came under the domination of another European power, it had all the time a vast internal colony. The Bolsheviks, who came to power in 1917, had made a promise to give all the nationalities under its domination, the right to secede. Though some have seceded since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a vast area (larger than any empire ever held by a country), with abundant natural resources, including natural gas, oil and coal, is still held by it. Brazil has the largest tropical forest cover in the world, an abundance of agricultural land and large unexplored areas with potentiality of mineral resources. South Africa had always been a land of ample natural resources, which till recently had been an internal colony of the white settlers, but now is under a black majority, since the end of apartheid. China had always been a great imperial power, except for a short interlude of European domination. It has vast deposits of coal and several other minerals essential for many modern industries. Together with its cheap and abundant manpower, it has emerged as the largest industrial economy after the United States. But typically, its areas of prosperity are again comparatively small and confined to areas around some major coastal cities and Beijing. All these point to a shift of economic power from external colonialism to internal colonialism.

Since the motive force of a capitalist economy is to keep on expanding production and sales, sooner or later it has to come up against a paucity of markets, reflected earlier in depressions, since there is always a gap between the bulk of goods produced and the purchasing power. History is full of attempts, temporarily to get over this problem since the nineteenth century. But a more serious problem is that production involves natural resources such as coal, oil or natural gas, various kinds of minerals and forest and agricultural products. Earth has only limited stocks of the ability to produce many of these raw materials. So sooner or later the productive process must slow down and ultimately come to a halt. The old imperialist powers had been facing the latter kind of constraints as the era of imperial domination was coming to an end since the middle of the twentieth century. That was the time when the newly liberated large economies had their heyday, reflected in their comparatively high growth rates. The slowing down of the growth rates in India and China recently may be an indication that the era of abundant natural resources and also cheap labour in them, too may be coming to an end.

Already both India and China have been trying to acquire new sources of supply in those countries which had earlier been dominated by the western powers, especially in Africa. In 2011 Fertilizer Association of India had urged the Government of India to create a ‘Sovereign Wealth Fund’ to acquire mineral assets abroad (The Hindu, December 14, 2011). India also joined hands with America along with Brazil at the World Trade Organization in July 2011 to force China to abandon its policy of restricting export of certain raw materials essential for steel, aluminium and chemical industries (The Hindu, Kolkata; February 1, 2012). All these point to the ultimate limits of growth which a nation aspiring to high levels of industrialization cannot ignore.

The so-called modern industrial growth does not create new basic assets which could become a source of real durable wealth. It merely changes their nature – with its slow process of growth and change, with its green cover – into consumable assets where the natural processes of growth and decay come to a dead end. Since nature’s bounties – mineral bearing rocks, the natural forests, the rivers, the streams and the waterfalls are not unlimited or perpetual – owing to transformation brought about by new human industry, and damage done to them – they must get exhausted. The ecological disaster that we are facing today is a warning that we are nearing a dead end. While thinking of development of a nation or a state in the present era, we cannot overlook this overarching scenario.

Though the division of Bihar, with almost the whole of the mineral bearing areas and most of the forested areas going to Jharkhand, has been bemoaned by many, in the new ecological perspective it may actually appear a good riddance. It forces on Bihar a new regimen, which could make it more healthy and self-reliant. Bihar has ample resources for a healthy development, if only it stops wailing and carping and gets ready to raise itself by its boot-straps as an economically autonomous region, with only minimal and essential exchanges with other regions.

Having one of the most fertile lands in the world, and ample sources of water supply, it could have not only surplus of food grains and fruits of various kinds, but also be a source of fishery and dairy products on a vast scale. Even at its dismal state of production, Bihar has been selling milk products to Delhi and other states. It can also revive its cotton and silk industry, which once were its pride. For this it will have to revive its sericulture and handloom industry. Bihar was once the leading producer of sugar in the country; there is no reason why it could not become a major sugar producer again. The land and the human resources are there. For traction, it will have to shift to traditional bullocks carts and bullock drawn ploughs, which in any case will become cheaper and cheaper compared to the diesel driven tractors and trucks which will become even more costly as the sources of fossil fuel get scarcer. For other sources of energy, Bihar will have to depend on biomass, wind and solar power. For this, their direct use would be preferred to their conversion to electric power and its expensive transmission and re-conversion to motive power. In this line of development, its meagre urbanization, which has been counted as a weakness, will prove to be an asset, as villages and clusters of villages develop towards a clean, healthy and self-sustaining co-operative economy. In a world teetering on the edge of ecological disaster, Bihar, if it develops in the direction of a low energy, self-sustaining economic growth, may become an example to others in India and the world.

Since the sixth century B.C. to almost the eighth century, India was equated with Bihar. From the Nanda to Maurya, Gupta and Pala period, it had been the centre of political power and hub of learning when Nalanda and Vikramashila attracted students from all over the world. With its self-sustaining green economy, it may again become a world leader. Only through this path-breaking new line of development will Bihar have any future and could become a role model for the rest of the country and the world. But all this calls for a non-capitalist mode of development, because the capitalist system is sustained by a limitless escalation of consumption and consequently by a drive to grab everything in the biosphere and underneath the earth’s surface, to meet its unappeasable appetite. The land of Buddha and Ashoka, and lately of Gandhi, has to find a new path for itself and others.

* * * *

* Sachchidanand Sinha is based in Bihar. He is a prolific writer, socialist thinker and major author of books on socialism. He is associated with the socialist movement and JP movement.




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South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy