1997 marks the 50th anniversary of the independence of India (and most of South Asia) from colonial rule. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the "mother of all divisions" inflicted on the peoples of the region.

The unity of the people of any country is the single most important factor for their collective well-being and advancement. This legacy of division has played a significant role in the numerous disasters heaped upon the people these past fifty years.

Today, as Indians sum-up the developments since 1947, it is evident that the numerous possibilities that arose as a result of independence have not been realised in any substantial measure. Besides under-development, poverty, massacres and wars, the legacy of the division since 1947 has resulted in the complete negation of the peoples of South Asia, nationally and internationally. Starting with the partition of Punjab and Bengal, every conceivable difference amongst the people has been inflamed, so that they do not develop a common identity and pursue common aims, either as a society or as a collective.

These divisions have continued unabated since 1947, sanctioned and intensified by the economic and political institutions left behind by the colonialists. These institutions have since become anachronistic both in Europe and in India and have entered into a period of chronic crisis. To tide over this enduring crisis, India's rulers have introduced new divisions alongside the old ones.

Fifty years later, India is at a turning point: there is the possibility for the people to take charge and create a new political and economic paradigm favouring their collective interests. There is also the possibility that the present ruling circles, in their pursuit of narrow aims and in their desperation, will plunge the divided people of India into the most tragic chapter of our history yet.

On January 24, 1947, on the eve of partition, Sir Norman P.A. Smith, Director of the Intelligence Bureau of the Indian government wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell as follows:

From the British angle, the game so far has been well played. Both the Congress and the League have been brought into the Central Government. The Indian problem has been thereby placed into its appropriate plane of communalism. An opportunity for orderly evacuation (by Britain) now presents itself.

The fullest advantage must be taken of our present breathing space. Secretary of State's control over civil officers should be abrogated at the earliest possible moment. ...gesture of this kind will help to keep the problem on its correct communal plane....Grave communal disorder must not disturb us into action which would reintroduce anti-British agitation.

The former is a natural, if ghastly, process tending in its own way to the solution of the Indian problem.

(Quoted by J. N. Dixit in Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance: Indo-Pak Relations 1970-1994).

Clearly, the British had prepared their game plan, and the solution to their "Indian problem" transpired according to this. Tragically, the people of India could not avert the outcome that befell them.

Today, we are living in a period of preparation for a much worse tragedy - should the people permit it. Fortunately, the outcome is not yet written in stone. This time, people can and must turn the situation around in their own favour.

Lately, the rulers of India have decided that it is the interests of India's "consumers" that are of paramount importance. In doing so, and in promoting the economic policies of liberalisation and privatisation, an estimated 250 million "consumers" have come to represent India. The remaining 700 million people have ceased to exist in this discourse. The Indian economy, by definition, must be geared towards meeting the needs and the well-being of all its people. This division based on "consumption power" is both self-serving and pernicious. Its promotion, and the accompanying policy measures must be rejected in the interests of all the people of India. The middle-strata, to which these "consumers" belong, must take the lead and demand that the economy must serve all and not just a few.

Today, the United Front, the Congress(I) and the BJP are institutionalising the division of the Indian polity between secular and communal. The conception of a divisible polity is the basis for a system of hierarchical rights and an arbitrary privilege distribution system. It is the basis of negating universal rights because the modern notion of a polity requires the recognition of equal rights and duties for all members of society. Such divisions of the polity into minority and majority, with privileges based on these considerations parallel the preparation of the "communal plane" that the British had accomplished before 1947. Secular or religious, every individual of India is part of its single polity and anyone who promotes the interests of one section to the detriment of the other must be rejected for lacking a vision for a modern India.

At this time it is most important to recognise that the people of India are the victims of these divisions and not the cause. More importantly, they are the ones who can and must overcome these divisions to open the path for India's progress. The work that lies ahead is to enable people to overcome their marginalisation and to participate in the political life of society beyond the role of "voting cattle" and to help build their unity and identity for a common purpose.

The 50th anniversary year is an opportune time for sober reflection on a most important question: what effect has the division of both people and political forces in India had on the greater cause of the emancipation of the Indian people? India's women feel oppressed, its peasants feel oppressed, its workers feel oppressed, its youth see a bleak future, its tribals and dalits can stand their oppression no more, its nationalities feel oppressed, its minorities feel oppressed, and even its majority feels oppressed. If this is the result of these divisions, it forewarns us to make a complete break with that past and to unite to build a common program to overcome these ills.

The unity of the people begins with the individuals and organisations who are working to put the interests of its people at the centre of all developments. In modern times, these interests appear in the form of societal, collective and individual interests. Objectively, individuals and organizations are striving (both spontaneously as well as in a planned manner) to take control of their social and natural environment.

A major obstacle to building the unity of the people is the sectarian and narrow aims that the ruling circles incite, promote, finance and reward as an integral part of maintaining their stranglehold on wealth and power. It is not a minor problem to overcome these entrapments.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of India's independence from Britain, the AIPSG is publishing this book to highlight some of these questions.

This question of unity has also had crucial bearing on the history of the various peoples movements of the past fifty years that have sought to tackle the problems of rights and political power. In order to contribute to the summation of the struggles of the last five decades, we have also tried to deal with the problem of the unity among political forces and activists.