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Nigel Harris


(Spring 1964)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.16, Spring 1964, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Hindu Culture, Economic Development and Economic Planning in India
K. William Kapp
Asia Publishing House, 45s.

Professor Kapp’s book is a collection of essays (or lectures) written in recent years and very loosely grouped round the theme of development. The approach is primarily towards non-technical theoretical analysis, and the political bias is roughly the dead centre of American economic thought, best exemplified by Galbraith and, in more extreme fashion, the modern corporatists (or – the non-American – Myrdal). The book is divided into three sections, covering first the relationship between traditional Hinduism and modern Indian development efforts, and the need for a good civil service in development; second, problems of evaluating criteria for development investment; and third, an essay in the history of economic thought, one on social costs (following the author’s earlier book), and a defence of planning. The list of contents will exhibit the degree of interest likely to a general reader, or even one intersted in Indian development.

Professor Kapp has taken as his title the concern of the first three essays, so presumably he considers these to be his main contribution. Here, he starts with the sensible (but dull) observation that social institutions inhibit development. But then, instead of analysing in concrete terms how this is so, how, say, one particular social institution (like land ownership, village organisation, caste structure as the organisisation of people rather than what he deals with, a religious conception) prevents the sort of activity that seems from the outside to be in the interests of the majority of the community concerned, Kapp proceeds to give us a quick sketchy picture of something he calls ‘Hinduism’ – an activity analogous to giving a forty-page sketch of ‘European culture’. His Hinduism, primarily from written sources, adds up to a series of rather vague generalisations, completely abstracted from historical behaviour, from the multitudinous variety exhibited within India, and from any estimate of likely behaviour under a variety of stimuli. The approach is not very illuminating, as well as holding out little hope for self-supporting development. When faced with this sort of analysis, one always wonders what such writers make of the medieval Christian prohibition of usury – why was this not an absolute barrier to development? Hinduism forbids the slaughter of cows, so Mysore peasants sell their cows to Muslims for slaughter. And so on – love will find a way. Short-term cultural resistances certainly exist, but ultimately self-interest (even when expressed in queer ways), even if operated through caste, counts even more. So what holds India back? As Kapp says, partly her social structure, which is a collection of men (rather than ideas or dicta), balanced in a particular power structure which validates the infinite variety called Hinduism. There the directions for research becomes a little clearer than evocations of a transparent and, as with all ‘cultures’, ambivalent Hinduism. For the rest, the essays are competent, careful and cautious.

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Last updated: 10 April 2010