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The Socialist Opposition in Nehruvian India 1947–1964

Boris Niclas-Tölle

This book examines the political and developmental thought of the democratic socialist opposition party of India during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It thereby contributes to a modern global history of political ideas and examines the role of Marxism, Gandhi and modernisation theory for the political development of India during the Cold War. The study focuses on the modernisation policies implemented by the Nehru government: Increasingly facing competing claims from Nehru to be pursuing socialist policies after the mid-1950s, the movement eventually broke apart and large numbers of socialists were assimilated by the Congress Party where they continued to shape Indian politics.
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4. New Ideas and Dispersion 1954–1964


4.1 Introduction

In this chapter I discuss the gradual shift of the interpretive sovereignty of socialism from the Socialist Party (SPI) towards the Congress Party (INC) between 1952 and 1964. I argue that efforts to indigenise and “Asianise” the SPI’s understanding of socialism could not increase the party’s public appeal. Meanwhile, a consciously competing claim of the Nehru government that it was pursuing a socialist policy served to gradually oust and assimilate the increasingly discordant socialist opposition. Therefore, I discuss the efforts to redefine the SPI’s domestic and international political position before I turn my attention towards the unfolding development policies of “High-Nehruvianism” during the second half of the 1950s.277

Having achieved results far below their expectations in the first Indian general election of 1951–52, the socialists began to question the foundation of their political programme. In the first part of this chapter, I discuss the consequential attempt to indigenise Indian socialism and to demarcate it against communism. The SPI leaders cleansed their socialist philosophy of Marxism and Dialectic Materialism and instead proclaimed a Gandhian decentralised development model driven by an idealist concept of Asian spiritualism. This resulted in an officially declared paradigm change, which should have transformed Indian socialism from a political programme to realise an Indian welfare state into an idealist philosophy to promote a culture of democracy and anti-totalitarianism. However, this radical transformation attempt, which I describe as a “Gandhist turn”, could not convince the majority of socialists and led...

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