Economic Development and Communalism:
A crucial question which at the present historical juncture in India demands critical enquiry and analysis is the relation between the ongoing process of economic development and the rise of communalism— the particular forms and social manifestations it is assuming in our economy and polity. The professional economists or those concerned with the task of shaping the path of economic change (the planners, the statesmen, the bureaucrats) seem mainly concerned with the economic—material and financial—performance of the economy, leaving the swift changes in the institutional factors that are engulfing the society to the analytical domain of history, sociology or politics. Communalism is one such theme—seen as a disorganising aberration, an irrational, destructive force which obstructs and distorts the regular movement of development and which, it is believed, would be dissolved or extinguished with the advance of science and education and with material progress. What is evident, however, looking at the experience of the developed West, Socialist as well as the Third World is that advances in science and technology have not necessarily dissolved the social divisions and discriminatory practices based on religion, community, language, caste and creed. In our own country, in particular, neither education nor material progress has eliminated the social discriminatory proceses. In fact, they have continued to emerge— and even been accentuated—in different forms, requiring different content and meaning, operating in complex-manners in the society, with very different manifestations and consequences. Communalism today has a different and more complex basis and produces diverse influences on the social and material spheres than in the old days.
What in fact is the basis for this sanguine and confident premise that economic development unleashes a liberating force that dissolves such dissensions in society? Our views on economic progress have been greatly influenced by the theoretical approaches to the analysis of the development process and the specific historical experience of capitalist accumulation in the nineteenth century, particularly with
* Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 8-9, August-September 1990