"Our basic aim is to create an ideal 'welfare state' on a socialistic pattern, a classless society in which none is exploited, where there is no class conflict, regional rivalry or groupism. Our object is to promote individual initiative and social and moral orientation of people. In short, we are to evolve an entirely new pattern of our social, cultural, ethical and economic outlook of our entire nation." —Pt. Nehru in his Presidential address to the A.I.C.C. Lahore in 1929.
Socialism is essentially a humanitarian ideal. It seeks to bridge the ever widening a gap between the rich and the poor by bringing about a better-ordering of the means of production and distribution. It is always sceptical of the welfare content of private ownership and, therefore, advocates collective ownership for the maximization of collective welfare. In India we speak of 'Democratic Socialism' believing in Evolutionary Socialism and the inevitability of a happy marriage between the 'collective spirit' and the individual spirit'. Like democracy, Socialism has also lost the sharp edge of its meanings; it is almost like a flute on which everybody can play his own tune.
The Indian approach to Socialism, as conceived by Gandhi and particularly by Nehru is India's distinct contribution to the world socialist movement. India does not believe in extremism, Capitalism and Communism. Between these two extreme forms of society, there must be a common ground acceptable to both the opposing groups.
India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was an M.A. in Agricultural Economics. He devoutly studied Karl Marx and Lenin, but he favored the socialism which co-existed with democracy and capitalism, as in the U.S.A., the U.K. and the Scandinavian countries. So, Nehru opted for 'Democratic Socialism'. Now what is 'Democratic Socialism’? For an answer to this question we should remember that the constitution of India has defined the social and economic goals of national policy. Now democracy champions the cause of free enterprise and individual liberty whereas socialism insists on state ownership of the means of production and distribution. In a bid to establish an equalitarian society with justice to all. Pandit Nehru evolved a compromise formula known as 'democratic socialism'.
Democratic socialism aims at following a middle course between one extreme of individualism-cum-capitalism and the other extreme of communism-cum-totalitarianism. However, it is no easy matter to pursue the middle path in a parliamentary democracy like India where there are numerous political parties and regional and parochial groups sufficient to disintegrate the unified national interests. Still we arc trying to reconcile the implications of both democracy and socialism, to evolve programmes which postulate state action in defined spheres of state activity for elimination of social and economic inequalities.
To ensure success for democratic socialism in India, there are certain requirements which must be followed provision of equal facilities to all sections of the people; prevention of concentration of economic power in a few hands through state regulation and legislation; elimination of monopolies and monopolistic trends in business, industrial or other organizations, progressive extension of the public sector in key industries and power generation and public control over significant areas of economic power; maximum utilization of technology for increasing production and lessening the burdens of manual labour. In the social sphere, the aim is the elimination of social inequalities through legislation and extensive state-implemented welfare activities.
India firmly believes that if Socialism stands for 'common welfare', every country of the world must become socialistic. India's path to the attainment of the goal of socialism is the thorny and precarious path of democracy, without invoking in our minds the horrors of a regimented totalitarian community.
The history of democratic socialism in India is, in a way, the history of the evolution of the principles of the Congress Party; to be more precise, it is the evolution of the socialistic thinking of one man, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's 'Man of Destiny'. In the beginning, Nehru was deeply moved by Marxism. His passion for socialism originated from his intense desire to wipe out the tears of poverty and to establish a just and equitable socio-economic structure on Soviet pattern. But maturity with advancement of age made him increasingly incredulous of any creed or dogma. He felt that socialism had adapted itself to the changing condition in India.
It was in 1931 at Karachi session of the A.I.C.C. that under the Presidentship of Nehruji, the Congress Party took a positive step in the direction of introducing Socialism in India by resolving the nationalization of the key industries and other measures to lessen the gulf between the rich and the poor. However, it was Subhash Chandra Bose, who gave a concrete shape to Socialism in terms of economic development in his Presidential address at the Haripur Session. He instituted the National Planning Committee with Nehru as the head of the Committee. The struggle for freedom, the independence and the holocaust of partition gave a new urgency to the social and economic problems of the country. However, neither our constitution nor the Five-year-Plans make any explicit reference to the idea of Socialism. It was only towards the end of 1954 in the Avadi Congress that Socialism asserted itself in the official resolution of each Congress Session, for 'Socialistic Pattern of Society',
Ever since, India launched the Five-year plans, till his death in May 1964, Mr. Nehru was not tired of repeating that Socialism is the ultimate goal of India. Late Mr. Lai Bahadur Shastri also strove for it. No body can deny that the objectives of the democratic socialism are very noble and worth-pursuing, for they spring from a positive respect for law and recognition of human dignity. Democratic socialism presupposes that economic development and social amelioration should take place simultaneously within the frame work of national constitution.
And yet anybody who closely analyses the pronouncements in Socialism in India, including those of Nehru, would surely be confounded by a sense of unreality and vagueness, of ambivalence and evasiveness which surround them. In other words Nehru's democratic socialism is not based on a strong foundation. The idea of socialism hi India, the Socialism of the Nehru era, has emerged as a rather weak and hollow reed that may not withstand the prevailing strong winds, and into which any one can blow any kind of music. A great discomforting feature is that the in equality of wealth and economic power has tended to increase. Conditions of economic monopoly still exist; there is continued prevalence of the socio-economic evils of bureaucratic corruption and administrative incompetence the prevailing tone of social behavior is unmistakably that of private profit and acquisitiveness.
The co-operative movement, with its democratic basis, can play a vital role in the realization of democratic socialism, which provides for an orderly transition from a capitalistic to a socialistic economy. In our Plans, the Co-operative Movement is accorded a prominent place in rural economy where the traditional agricultural economy of zamindars and money-lenders and conventional methods of agriculture has transformed into the new technology oriented methods and facilities of agricultural credit, marketing, processing of commodities and distributions and sale of food grains.
In fine, the implementation of democratic socialism should conform to Indian values and traditions of life. Our approach should be cautious, very cautious. The Bhubaneswar Congress resolution sums up the Congress ideal of Democratic Socialism which should be the effort of every Indian national to fructify, ''………. a society wherein poverty, disease, and ignorance shall be eliminated wherein property and privilege in any form occupy If strictly limited place, wherein all citizens have equal Opportunities and wherein ethical and spiritual values contribute to the enrichment of the individual and community life".