There is a popular title song from the film ‘Hum Hindustani‘ sung by Mukesh that raises several interesting questions about the whole development debate.
The mood of the song is doubtless high modernist: ‘aao mehnat ko apna imaan banaen, dono haathon ko apna bhagwaan banaen’ and ‘aaj purani zanjeeron ko tod chuke hain, kya dekhen us manzil ko jo chhhod chuke hain…chand ke dar pe ja pahuncha hai aaj zamana, nae jagat se hum bhi naata jod chuke hain’. More so than Western narratives of modernity, postcolonial ones are marked by an intricate relationship with ‘tradition’–it is not only that tradition is seen as ‘old’ and ‘outmoded’ such that the new can be fenced, but also that the construction of the old is a selective and political exercise. Authors like Kwaku Korang interpret this relationship as supplying authenticity to the first wave of postcolonial leaders, and by extension their methods, thereby grounding their lineage as ‘tradition’ as opposed to other competing ones.
Then there is the modernist conception of nature as either a blank slate to be ‘peopled’ or as a barrier to development to be overcome through human action and ingenuity: ‘abhi palatna hai rukh kitne dariyaon ka, kitne parbat raahon se hai aaj hatane’. The results of this thinking are clearly apparent today. *in a remarkable shot from the song, the camera focuses for a few seconds on the smoke billowing out of a factory chimney. incredible that the image was probably viewed then with pride.*
So, how is one to understand this song and the more general set of ideas it represented from the vantage point of India in the 21st century?
One reaction is to view the social-environment together and consider the song as part of an idealogical edifice that went alongside the rule of a new indigenous bureaucracy that placed itself as the gatekeepers of the nation’s resources; helping bleed them dry. This would be the site of the postdevelopment critique, something that shines through powerfully in the writings of Illich, Escobar et al. This is the idea that development has functioned as a rationale for the authoritarian rule of elites coupled with crony capitalists.
And this view will be correct, though not complete. Because as Walter Benjamin reminds us, such wish images of development do not belong to the state or capital alone. The collective desire for the new overflows the available practices of development. It has a progressive essence that ties together a critique of the present with an–unnamed–agenda for change: ‘Har zarra hai moti aankh utha kar dekho, maati mein sona hai haath bada kar dekho…Ram ki is dharti ko Gautam ki bhoomi ko [particularist, ok] sapnon se bhi pyaara Hindustan banaen’. It is for this reason that this song disturbs, rankles, but it also resonates and excites.