Posted by: Bal Patil | September 3, 2010








Telephone: 30 99 52

Cable address Interrelations

Vasterlanggatan 31111

111 29 Stockholm

August 14, 1974

Mr. BAL Patil

54, Patil Estate

278, Javji Dadaji Marg,



Dear Mr. Patil,

Thank you very much for your good letter which warmed my heart, I read it carefully and also all the other documents and clippings which were attached. I am returning them as you might have need for them. If I can find a set of Asian Drama I will send it to you but I am not sure I have one here.

Concerning information about the Stockholm University Institute for International Economic Studies, I will send you a pamphlet, together with the clippings, under separate cover.

With warm regards,


Gunnar Myrdal




BOMAY 400007

18th Sept.1968

The Editor,

AICC Economic Review,

7, Jantar Mantar Road,



In his article “ Industrial Planning in Developed and Developing Nations” in the issue of August 15, 1968 of the AICC Economic Review Shri Manubhai Shah has made a brief reference to Professor Gunnar Myrdal’s recent book ASIAN DRAMA. The reference is couched in such an amusing imbroglio of cavalier comment that it completely distorts Prof. Myrdal’s thesis about “soft states” besides giving an unfortunate impression that Prof. Myrdal advocates discontinuing further western aid to the South Asian societies.

I wish Shri Manubhai Shah had quoted the source of at least one newspaper review of Prof. Myrdal’s book because judging from the adverse tenor of Shri Shah’s comments these reviews appear to have been uniformly critical of ASIAN DRAMA. I have read several reviews in the Western press, notably, Life of 13.5.1968, Harper’s Magazine of June 1968 and the New Statesman of 19-7-1968 none of which is unfavorable to the book. So far, to my knowledge, only one review of the book, or rather a review based on a P.T.I. report on the publication of the book, has appeared in India, and that is, Shri Shamlal’s in the “Times of India” of 12.3.1968 which again is not unfavorable. Therefore it is rather puzzling as to which “ newspaper review” Shri Shah is referring to.

Now I am reading the book proper three volumes running into 2284 pages and the more I read the more exciting and illuminating becomes the extraordinary insight and learning brought to bear upon the problem of the South Asian underdevelopment, and particularly that of India, by Prof. Myrdal. The book is most appropriately subtitled An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations somewhat on the lines of Adam Smith’s WEALTH OF THE NATIONS, and is bound to become as epoch making. It is impossible to speak of the book but in superlatives so original its approach and so scholarly are its findings. The feelings it evokes can be aptly likened to those of Keats’s in his celebrated poem: On First looking into Chapman’s homer, particularly the lines: “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken,” Asian Drama is indeed a phenomenon.

Now to come to Shri Shah’s criticism that Dr. Myrdal has come to the fantastic conclusion that Asia is a labyrinth of old customs, fossilized social strata and a stagnant society full of trouble and fissiparous, divisive and mutually hostile elements. Dr. Myrdal believes that the Asian societies are totally incapable of absorbing and transforming themselves into a modernized, scientific and technologically advanced industrial society. Because of their feudal past, and prevailing deep social prejudices and inhibitions, these societies have become soft and are incapable of absorbing and sustaining technological change. He has therefore, come to the painful conclusion that none of the western or American countries which are advanced in industrialization and economic development need waster their money, time and energy in assisting these Asian societies into modernizing and industrializations.”  Shri Shah brands this conclusion as “historically incorrect, factually absurd and a distorted view of the whole history.” But the question to be decided first is whether Dr. Myrdal has come to such fantastically sweeping conclusions. It is here where one must presume that the “newspaper reviews” have completely mislead Shri Shah. But surely Shri Shah could have exercised his judgement more patiently particularly since he know Dr. Myrdal to be a “great friend of India”, whether such a friend would be so callously iniquitous in his opinions.

On the contrary Prof. Myrdal’s observations in the Postscript to the book dealing with the period, January 1, 1966-June 30, 1967 are quite explicit on this count of Western aid. Prof. Myrdal says” “Despite India’s mounting difficulties, there are no signs that the rich countries are getting ready to come forward with increased financial aid.  In fact, there are no definite signs the they intend to maintain their present level of assistance except that attempts are being made to keep up temporarily the level of food aid, even though the ability of United States to deliver grains from surpluses under P.L.480 is vanishing.” (p.1833). What is more ominous according to Myrdal is that “her greater distress will put her under stronger pressure from the Western Countries, and particularly the United States, to abandon her efforts to realize a “Socialist Pattern of Society” (p.1834)  But Prof. Myrdal is optimistic that if India is fortunate to get a “number of really good crops, it is not impossible that the articulate strata of the population will become fired by a new determination to tackle with firmness and efficiency the Social and Economic reforms needed for national consolidation and economic development.” (Emphasis added)

At the same time Prof. Myrdal believes that the Asian countries will experience increasing difficulties in obtaining long-term capital. He says: “the old competitive international private market, particularly for long-term capital at fixed rates, has almost disappeared…. The unstable international political situation has discouraged private loans to foreign counties. And the political and economic uncertainties in newly independent countries such as those Asia have weakened confidence that obligations to foreign capitalists will always be honoured.” (P.661 ff.)

Now to come to the concept of “soft states” as formulated by Prof.Myrdal. It is in considering this problem that Prof. Myrdal make his most penetrating observations. He says: “From the standpoint and economic development the contrast   between the countries that retained a democratic form of government and those that moved toward authoritarianism is more apparent than real. In any case, it is not possible to say that one form of government has proved more conducive to the application of policies of economic and social reform than the other. On the contrary, the various political systems in the region are strikingly similar in their inability or unwilling ness to institute fundamental reforms and enforce social development. Whether democratic or authoritarian, they are all in this sense “ soft states.” (P.779)

Prof.. Myrdal explains: “When we characterize these countries as “soft states” we mean that, throughout the region, national governments require extraordinarily little of their citizens. (Emphasis added) There are few obligations either to do things   in the interest. Even those obligations that do exist are enforced inadequately if at all.   This low level of social discipline is one of the most fundamental differences between the South Asian countries today and Western countries at the beginning of their industrialization…. (p.896). Further he adds significantly; “Moreover, no South Asian country has an administration prepared to enforece new rules, even when these rules are not very revolutionary… Nonetheless it is beyond doubt that rapid development will be exceedingly difficult to engender without an increase in social discipline in all strata and even in the villages…. It is, therefore disturbing that all the plans are silent on this point…On the whole the need for greater discipline is avoided in public discussion – much more in fact than in Gandhi’s time, for he often upbraided his people for laziness, uncleanliness, and general lack of orderliness.” (P.898 ff.) (Emphasis added)

One of the great merits of Prof.Myrdal’s  analysis of the  South Asian situation is that his observation  have been advanced  in an inquiring spirit of scientific investigation. If at all  any of his  observations seem to be harsh or unpalatable  the  harshness is due rather to the rigourousness of a tested hypothesis  than  a personal opinion. Prof.Myrdal’s attitude towards Western aid and the value he attaches thereto is made quite clear in his discussion of the possibility of a communist revolution in the South Asian countries in the event of increasing misery. After upbraiding the Western intellectuals for having been influenced by Marx “ in some ways more deeply than the communists, who disclose a more sophisticated appreciation of how revolutions occur and how can be spurred and directed.” Prof. Myrdal goes on to express his  “Profound scepticism” in regard to the validity of any forecasts about future political developments in the South Asian region especial.Those based on such glib nations about the behavious of the  masses.” But he adds; “It is quite possible that in the long run several countries, or perhaps, all of South Asia, will waver more in the Communist direction and even come under communist dictatorships. It is also possible that the Western countries by generous aid policies may succeed in strengthening   anti-Communist regimes, Sometimes without any favourable efforts on the economic situation of the masses, but whatever happens, the casual mechanism will be complex, and different from country to country. Poverty, inequality and a lack of development have no foreordained and definite roles in the process.” And Prof. Myrdal pointedly concludes that “ it is regrettable that Western writers, who should know better and who have a sympathetic regard for the down trodden masses in the South Asian countries, feel that they have to appeal to anti -Communist sentiment among their nations in order to get a hearing for their plea for more moral solidarity among the people of the world.” (P.796 ff.)

The key-phrase in the above quotation is ‘ sometimes without any favourable effects on the economic situation of the masses’ because it reflects very acutely the ardent concern shown by the author in the primacy of the economic well being of the masses throughout the book. It is extremely important to note that even massive Western aid may not be of any avail if at the same time indigenous discipline is not forthcoming and also there is not a certain economic equalization, which Prof. Myrdal puts as a precondition to development.

On the equality issue Prof. Myrdal is quite explicit.  As to the question whether there is any conflict between economic equalization and economic progress Prof. Myrdal answers in the negative. He says: “First, economic equality is typically the outcome of social inequality, and the reverse is also true. This being the cause, a decrease in economic, inequality would tend to bring about a decrease in social inequality, and since the latter phenomenon in all its forms is detrimental to productivity, the effect on economic development would be beneficial. Secondly, since a large part of the population – on the Indian peninsula particularly – suffers from malnutrition and the lack of elementary health and educational facilities, it is clear that a decline in living levels in the lower brackets would have a detrimental effect on labour output and efficiency, and thus on production. Conversely, measure that encouraged essential consumption in the lower strata would raise productivity, even if they involved reducing income available to the higher strata. Thirdly… it is generally agreed that in South Asia much more than in the West during the early stages of its industrialization people in the higher income brackets indulge in conspicuous consumption and investments that do not contribute to raising the national product…. Fourthly, the independent value of greater economic- and social equality has to be weighed on the scales. In view of the miserably low levels of living that prevail at the base of the income pyramid, this value should be much higher than in the Western countries, where incomes generally are higher and extensive social security systems ensure that most of the population will be adequately provided for. “ (pp.747-48)

Prof. Myrdal also stresses the pertinence of the equality issue to education. He says: “ The greater the poverty of a country, the more difficult it in to achieve equality in education: but it is precisely in such a country that greater social and economic equality is essential for the creation of conditions favourable to development; (p.1805) And so importantly does this impinge on any proposed reform in education that in Prof. Myrdal’s view the “outcome of the widely publicized “race” with communist China will largely depend on whether the South Asian Countries, with their varying political system, have the same  determination as China to reform their educational institutions.”  (P.1828)

In coming to grips with the issue of equality Prof. Myrdal has crossed a diplomatic barrier.  Saying that the Western observers have shown much ambivalence toward this problem Prof. Myrdal points out that “there has been little determined criticism, and the equality issue is studiously avoided when community development, cooperation, and rural uplift generally are under discussion.” He concludes: It is evident that diplomacy has been a major concern in most of the writings on the various programmes of democratic planning.” (P.891)

At the same time Prof. Myrdal is acutely aware of the paramount important of the

control of population in economic growth. He concludes that a  “consideration of the economic effects of population trends should give the governments of the South Asian countries strong reasons for instituting as soon and as vigorously as possible policy measures to get birth control practiced among the masses of the people.” (p.1472). He draws attention to a “ tendency among political leaders to draw false conclusions from Western experience, and assume vaguely that birth control will spread spontaneously with industrialization, urbanization, and raising levels of living” (p.1509) As regards fertility decline he makes a searching conservation which we would do well to bear constantly in mind when considering the demographic trends in our country. He says: “ although urbanization and popular education have advanced, these changes… seem to have little or no casual relationship to the decline in mortality. We shall also find that the high rate of fertility is largely “ autonomous” in the same sense that mortality is. A significant decline in fertility wills thus not occure spontaneously because of changes in levels of income and living. Any such reduction would have to result from policy measures designed to spread birth control. In the absence of such measures on a comprehensive scale, South Asia will continue to experience a high and rising rate of natural population increase.” (pp.1391-92). Prof. Myrdal emphasizes that the “ population explosion is the most important social change that has taken place in South Asia in the; post-war era… The possibility now exists that the spread of birth control will be the greatest change in the next few decades, gradually making reforms and development easier to accomplish. But whether the birth rate will decrease, and decrease rapidly, within the next decade must seen uncertain.” (p.1530)

A most valuable point made by Prof. Myrdal in the context of industrialization is concerning the strategic importance of crafts and cottage industries. He says: “But because of the low level of industrialization from which these countries been and the rapid population increase, modern industry, even if it grows at an extremely rapid rate, cannot absorb more than a small fraction of the natural increment in the labour force for decades ahead. This situation arises both because the direct expansionary impact of modern industrial growth on employment is likely to be slight in the early phases and because the risk of backwash on traditional manufacturing is substantial. (p.1202) (emphasis added) Small- scale industry too will become less capable of absorbing additional labour the more it is modernized. Therefore, agricultures mainly, and traditional practices will have to bear the burden of the rapidly increasing labour force. Prof. Myrdal observes, “ It is frequently overlooked that protection and advancement of craft enterprises do not always conflict with the aim of modernization. With some important qualifications… the Gandhian position could be given an interlligible rationale even in a modern context.”  (p.1214) Further he says: “There was an essential element of rationality in Gandhi’s social and economic gospel, and the programme of promoting cottage, industry as they have evolved in the post-war ers have come more and more to represent purposeful and realistic planning for development.

As will be clear from the above a distinctive aspect of ASIAN DRAHA is the insight shown by the author in the social and economic philosophy of Gandhiji. Prof. Myrdal sums up the Gandhian ethose in these words: “Gandhi, although he strove to and actually did maintain and over the years even intensified- his ties with tradition and religion, was in this context (of equality) more than in any other a true Westernized liberal, indeed, a radical and a revolutionary, whose demand for drastic changes in the social and economic order was heard throughout the subcontinent. Until Gandhi’s crusade, social and economic reforms were discussed very little, either in India or anywhere else South Asia. Gandhi’s egalitarianism became one of the links between him and rationalistic intellectuals of Nehru’s type who were relatively unconcerned with tradition and religion.” (p.754). (emphasis added).

But Prof. Myrdal thinks that the Gandhian legacy is complex particularly in regard to economic equality. He observes that Gandhiji by ‘his stress on the principle of trusteeship, and his friendliness toward many in exalted economic positions, (he) established a pattern of radicalism in talk but conservation in action that is still very much a part of the Indian scene’. (p.750) (emphasis added).

Yet Prof. Myrdal has no doubts as regards the essential Gandhian faith in economic equality. He points out that Gandhiji firmly believed that freedom would be followed swiftly by social and economic revolution. “ To him such a revolution was inevitable.” And if drastic reforms were not introduced with the drawn of independence Gandhiji feared violent uprising of the suffering multitudes. Prof. Myrdal quotes Gandhiji;  ‘ A non-violent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists. The contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor, labouring class cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same power as the richest in the land. A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give and sharing them for the common good.” (P.786-87)

And in stressing the need for engending popular enthusiasm for schools as community centers and teachers as intellectual and moral leaders Prof. Myrdal pays the handsomest compliment to the pervasive influence Gandhiji had. He says: “ This is not the first time in the course of this study that the writer has found himself thinking that not only India, but the other South Asian countries as well have need of another Gandhi- or rather a great number of them – who would away the upper classes and would walk the country roads and inspire the people in their villages.” (p.1824) (Emphasis added).

And this brings one to the seminal thesis of ASIAN DRAMA that any significant development can materialize only through an attitudinal and institutional approach towards modernization ideals, which have been used as value premises in the book. These ideals include rationality, planning, rise in productivity per head, rise in levels of living, social and economic equalization, national independence and democracy at the grass roots. Prof. Myrdal thinks that developmental planning in these countries is too much concerned with physical inputs and physical investment. But our attitudes and institutionals are just as important.

But this institutional approach has to be contra-distinguished from the “modern approach” to development as typified in emphasis on ‘ investment in man” in the educational sphere.  Overemphasis on higher education rather than on vocational schools, in his opinion, reduces labour force’s participation in productive fields.

Prof. Myrdal thus explains his fundamental assumption: “ The deficiencies in attitudes and institutions are viewed as being caused by each other and by the deficiencies in (1) productivity and incomes, (2) conditions of production, and (3) levels of living:  these in turn have resulted, in part, from the inherited framework of (4) attitudes and (5) institutions. Our analysis assumes that the people in these countries are not by nature different from those who have had a more fortunate economic fate; their circumstances are simply the result of different conditions of living and working both now and in the past.’ (p.1866)

And again it is Prof. Myrdal’s conviction that “social study must be comprehensive enough to be adequate to reality, and that this reality is very different in South Asia from what it is in the West.’ (p.1835) Yet Prof. Myrdal is deeply aware of the different weightage  given to different and interdependent valuations of conditions conducive to

development, which makes it difficult to arrive at an accurate casual interrelationship. He considers, there, that “subject to this inescapable indeterminacy, the movement of the whole social system upwards is what all of us in fact mean by development.  There is no escape from this, if we want to be “realistic” (P.1868) (emphasis author’s).

It is this indeterminancy, which renders vague the concept of ‘development’ according to the author. It is one of the great merits of the book that it makes clear the conceptual difference between the terms ‘ developments and ‘underdevelopments’. Prof. Myrdal thinks that the characterization of the underdeveloped regions as developing countries” is one of the “diplomatic euphemisms” because the rich countries do not consider the description “ underdeveloped” as sufficiently tactful. In his opinion the use of the term “ developing countries” is logically inexact because it presupposes “ that these very poor countries are now developing and implies that they will continue to developing and thus begs an important question. As he puts it succinctly  “ To ascertain whether development is under way, and to throw light on whether a country has real possibilities for further development and on how this can be brought about, must be among the purposes of study. Definite answers to these questions should not, to say the least, be assumed a prior by means of a loaded definition of a country’s present situation.” Similarly the terms such as “newly developing countries” and “lessor developed countries” are also called by him as logical misnomers and misleading because they tend to “de-emphasize the actual differences between the rich and the poor countries. “As put bluntly by him: “All these terms express an escapist attitude…(which) introduces a temptation to deviate from clear thinking, which must be bluntly honest and face the real issues.” (P.1839ff.)

Such is the conceptual and scientific spirit in which the whole of ASIAN DRAMA is stage. I have quoted extensively because to compress would have meant doing damage to the original, and also to bring home what sort of an impassioned and humanitarian and with all a scientific concern that prompted Prof. Myrdal is knowing why the South Asian countries have remained stagnant despite an illusion of ‘development’, and in the course of doing so offering certain most valuable pointers towards urgent and fundamental reform.

In the light of these observations it is regrettable that Shri Shah’s article gives an unfortunate impression that in Prof.Myrdal’s opinion India is incurable. All that Prof. Myrdal has done is a careful diagnosis; it is a signal merit of his diagnostic skill that it, at the same time, prescribes certain remedial measures. If the prognosis is uncertain it cannot be clearly his fault. But to have put one’s finger so precisely on the ills afflicting the underdeveloped nations is no mean achievement.

Yours faithfully,

Bal  Patil


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: