Why was India’s economy not growing faster in the first post-Independence decades after independence? My research revealed that elitism was a major factor in India’s very limited success (or failure) after 1947.
In my book Visions of DevelopmentI argued that the Nehrus governments sought an industrial future that was Western-style for India. This was not in keeping with the daily realities of many poor rural and urban dwellers. It also went against the goals of some freedom fighters. Most notably GandhiHe was a proponent of development that focuses on village life, agriculture, and cottage industries. This model is now a footnote in history textbooks.
Despite trying to excite the masses with their vision of an industrial future they failed. Economic development was slow until the 1990s.
The current approach of world leaders to addressing the environment crisis is similar to the Nehruvian approach towards development. Many politicians, scientists, commentators, as well as scientists, are trying to sell the world’s masses a vision that promises a better future. Everything revolves aroundGreen growth and technological solutions for environmental decay
This vision will ensure that our economies can continue to thrive. Growing infinitelyClean technology is making it possible. This is achieved by increasing the world’s economy and not by distributing resources more evenly. a position entrenchedIn the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At events such the recent COP26 summit, leaders paint a picture that shows a United FrontThis is the consensus view. The only question that remains is how fast we can get to the destination.
What is wrong with this vision? It focuses too heavily on climate change, which is only one of the many. several environmental crisesThe world is facing a crisis that is somewhat conducive to technological solutions. Other crises include Loss of biodiversity(which is partially, but This is by no means the only way.(caused by climate change) soil degradationThere are no obvious technological solutions. Some technologies we use for combating climate change actually worsen the problem. Biodiversity crisis.
This is not to mention the environmental impact of all tech solutions, including the production of concrete and steel used in the construction of wind turbines or the mining. rare earth metalsMany clean technologies that are required for electric car battery batteries are no longer available.
These points help us to see more clearly the common-sense conclusion about infinite growth on an finite planet This is absurd. Our civilisation The two have not been separatedIts economic growth comes from the extraction and use of natural resources. The current path to net Zero is further paved. Accelerating extraction. This background makes it clear that green growth is not the solution to the environment crisis.
However, ordinary people are not expected not to question the wisdom of green development in the same way that the Indian masses weren’t supposed to question the Nehruvian vision for industrial development to the West. Today’s global politics on climate change and Nehruvian socialism both rely upon an essentially antidemocratic model in governance. The elites design the blueprints, and society implements them. The discussion about the future should be held behind closed doors. Only a few can discuss how to achieve it, but no one else can.
An elitist aesthetics
The Nehrus governments invested heavily on the visual marketing of the future vision. They created the Films Division of IndiaA filmmaking unit that would produce thousands upon thousands of short films in more than 15 languages. Many of these films dealt with developmental themes. The requirement that the films be screened in cinemas throughout India was in place for decades was a law.
India’s literacy rate was only 12% at Independence. These films were one way for the government to communicate directly with the citizens. My research led me to conclude that the lack of development in Nehrus India was partly due to the polarisation of experts and the masses.
The films sought beauty in development. Documentaries like Our Industrial AgeThe film showed the cinemagoers images showing glistening heavy machinery and zoomed into their intricate motion. The giant dam walls were shot against the sky from low angles and cut with images showing temples. This depicted the taming nature as a spiritual endeavor, as in the documentary Bhakra Nangal.
The Films Division brought in a Walt Disney animator as a leader of an animation unit that could envision future worlds. The animated film Shadow and SubstanceThe viewers could see from an alien spaceship how India developed over many decades into an economic powerhouse.
Images that capture our imagination are key to the mainstream solutions to the environmental crises we face today. When I began writing about environment for magazines and newspapers, I noticed that editors would include stock photos with my texts. Many of the images they chose featured solar panels and wind turbines, which are the iconic symbols of civilisation’s progress towards net zero emissions. Our advertising landscape is dominated by sleek-looking electric cars and other green products. Green sells.
These images of a greener future, however, are misleading just like the Films Divisions documentaries from half a century ago. They make clean energy sources beautiful and discourage debate. Instead, they offer ready-made solutions for us to rally around. This is especially true if such images are used within the context of confident messaging.
Films Divisions documentary images of beautiful, industrial tomorrows were almost always accompanied with a commentator voice that told viewers what to think. In a documentary on economic planning, the commentators said that we are changing the face and future of our ancient land. The voice was confident and leaves no room for doubt. It was the voice from a state that didn’t expect its citizens would participate in shaping the country’s future.
This is what makes today’s elites so confident about the environment crisis. A lot of media coverage and mainstream debate about the environmental crisis is dominated by a strong belief in the green growth narrative, and in the central role that technology plays in transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy. This makes it difficult to question the dominant model.
Who are the elites of the world?
The Films Divisions documentaries spoke to elite politicians and civil servants from a small demographic. They were predominantly male, of high-caste, middle-class urban dwellers, who often had been educated either in England or in elite Indian schools.
Although it may seem like the current elites who decide how the world will tackle the environmental crisis are all the same, they are far more diverse. They include politicians from the left to right, business leaders and scientists as well as commentators, journalists, scientists, and commentators from every continent. But these elites also share important commonalities. Many of them attended elite universities that were focused on developing leaders. You don’t usually become a leader by being too outspoken, which is why elite universities are so important. Rarely, encourageTheir students are encouraged to break from the mainstream.
Elites are not always the same. Many creative people were attracted to the Films Division, some of which went on to have successful careers in Bollywood. It’s not surprising that some of the division’s filmmakers were willing to push the limits. This was especially evident in the 1960s when artists such S. SukhdevAnd S.N.S. SastryThe government sponsored documentaries became a mirror for government, pointing out the flaws of Nehruvian socialistism.
One of the films made during this period. Explorer, by the experimental filmmaker Pramod Pati, even contained a full-screen sign that read f*ck censorship.
Today, many of the world’s most influential elites are also questioning green growth. Numerous scholars and commentators are questioning the logic of green-growth. Pointedto the unsustainable nature of our current economic system, and suggested the idea DegrowthAlternatives
Gandhi, degrowth, and the war against climate change
This view recognizes that inevitability of growth is not possible and calls for a slowing down of the extraction natural resources that fuel our economies. This would cause some sectors to shrink. Degrowth is a way to stop obsessing about GDP and find new ways of measuring the health and success in our economies.
However, this does not mean that poor people should become worse off. Degrowth is a way to end poverty More equitable distributionWe should use the resources that we already have, rather than expanding the global economy (and with them, resource extractions and environmental decay) further.
Degrowth is an alternative option to green growth. Just as Gandhi’s idea was quickly dismissed by the West, so too is degrowth today.
I spoke with filmmakers who worked on Films Division documentaries in the 1950s and 1960s about the urgency that drove their efforts. There was no time for debate about what India should do in the future as it was fighting poverty and underdevelopment.
Today’s elites also speak out against climate change. They also don’t want citizens thinking too hard about alternative narratives to the one of green growth and clean technology. If there is one lesson we can take from India’s past experience in dealing with the environment crisis, it is that alternatives should not be dismissed. Or else, we might waste precious time moving in the wrong direction and end up not getting closer to our goal.
Peter Sutoris PhD is an environmental analyst based at University College London. He is also the author of Visions of Development(Oxford University Press). Educating for an Anthropocene(The MIT Press). He tweets @PSutoris. More information about his research can also be found at www.petersutoris.com.