The Rise of Lumpen Bourgeoise
T G Jacob
Emerging Kerala' is the slogan advanced by the mega investment meet hosted/organized by the Government of Kerala during mid-September 2012 at Le Meridian hotel, Ernakulam. It was an action oriented conclave of Indian and international capital facilitated by the political executive of the State. According to the government sources delegates from fifty six countries participated in this conclave. The chief minister repeatedly emphasized that there is no sort of scarcity of financial resources for high speed development of the State. He did not go into how the required resources will be generated but the basic character of the conclave and subsequent governmental level statements leaves no room for any ambiguity on this score. The resources are to flow from external sources for which the only impediment is the level of "infrastructure" (land being made available for investors in areas of their choice is vital part of the "infrastructure"), which is currently considered insufficient to the needs of global capital. The task of the government and all its agencies thus becomes focused on bringing up the level of infrastructure base. As the key agenda is growth of commercial tourism the infrastructure development is to be geared to that. The large majority of the schemes outlined in this conclave related to this agenda. High literacy, natural advantages like beaches, backwaters and mountains are considered eminently suited for this course of economic transformation. In the words of the chief minister what is needed is the political will to embark aggressively on this golden path which now exists,, unlike during the previous periods, in Kerala. In other words, there is supposed to be a political consensus now existing in the State for spectacular growth based on commercial tourism.
To prove that these are not empty words, the government embarked on a show piece project of introducing sea planes to link the backwaters in the State. These planes will take off and land in the different backwaters and each can carry five to seven passengers to convenient tourist enclaves, actual and potential, distributed throughout the State. Of course, this is a high end tourism project promising to further muck up the already shrunken and degraded water bodies system in the State. Probably because the people are aware of this the inaugural flight of the first sea plane could not take place when the people protested against the landing of the inaugural flight. Well, if there is no place to land, it is suicidal for any plane to take off. But this project as well as a host of other tourism promotion projects remains the cardinal components of the projected high speed growth. Needless to say, tourism is being tirelessly promoted as the golden means to achieve 'quality' employment generation and high levels of income generation. Sustained and sufficient push is expected to create a tremendous multiplier effect in the entire economy catapulting the State into a land of milk and honey.
There are a number of international tourist enclaves developed over the last several decades in the State. There is a steady increase in the number of Indian and international tourist arrivals with the result that the place has found a slot in international tourism guides and brochures covering Third World tourism hotspots. Backpack tourists as well as middle class and high end tourists find the place attractive. Drugs (the highland belt of Kerala and the adjoining Ghats areas of the neighboring States are traditionally famous for growing high potency Cannabis which is now a crop yielding astronomical returns due to tourist markets and its nominal illegality). The emergence of international tourism as priority area in the development agenda has institutionalized ganja as a value adding agrarian product with any number of chemical killer drugs as adulterating agents. Earlier its value adding was only for medicinal purposes, now its value adding is mainly for fulfilling the hallucinatory fantasies of tourists. There are chemical laboratories functioning in the high lands for manufacturing killer drugs using ganja as the base material. People of the area know it, the law and order authorities know it, the consumers and smugglers know it. It is grown as a high value cash crop with the aid of irrigation, chemical fertilizers and gun men to protect the crop. The last mentioned input—gun men—is necessary not because the crop has to be protected from the anti-narcotics wing of the police but to protect it from marauders who would like to loot the crop without spending on growing it. In fact, there are periodic big tamashas staged with lot of preplanned publicity in the media by the government forces burning the ganja crops which is supposed to legitimize the Janus face of the bureaucrat bourgeoisie. The policy of the government on drugs and narcotics is incredibly double faced to the level of rank stupidity.
International tourism which originated as a spillover of "flower children" from the beaches of Goa to similar beaches in Kerala during the 1960s has grown tremendously within the last sixty years spreading over not only the beaches but also backwaters, and mountains. This means the emergence of a distinct section of lumpen bourgeoisie, drug related underworld and prostitution rackets, and a lumpen working class which is sickeningly servile. While all this was going on, the successive governments established an elaborate system of tourism infrastructure including a ministry, policy-making bodies and training institutes. Tourism is sought to be made part of the school and college curriculum so that it can be made a part of mass culture. The composition of tourists had changed in the meantime. It is no longer the "flower children" but middle class and high end deciles also started flocking in. Chartered flights from European capitals became regular. Killer drugs entered in a big way along with male prostitution and child prostitution. These are visible characteristics of international tourism in Kerala just as they are in Goa. It is in this sick situation that the political leaderships of successive governments in the State embraced tourism as the way forward to make the place into one flowing with milk and honey. For institutionalizing such a development model no sort of stocktaking was done about the already developed tourist enclaves. There were no investigations into the carrying capacity of this ecologically fragile place and actual and potential impacting on human environment. 'Emerging Kerala' is thus based on unstudied conclusions vulgarizing the resource base of the State. It is parasitism at its worst which is seriously undermining the basic self-respect of the people and land. All the mainstream political parties are unanimous on this unstudied conclusion that tourism is the way for this land and people.
Even while the sea planes project was launched many other interesting reports were claiming space in the media. The most glaring one was the series of infants' deaths in the tribal belt of Attappadi in Palakkad district. This is a continuing phenomenon and the deaths are ascribed to the utter lack of basic nutrition to expectant mothers and utter lack of post natal care/nutrition to mothers and infants. This is not a new thing at all. It had been going on in the tribal belts of the State for a number of decades. Starvation deaths, high mortality rates, low expectation of life, uncared for killer diseases, phenomenon of unwed, abandoned mothers, utter destitution and lack of productive resources are the hallmarks of the tribal communities in the State. In the most recent case of Attappadi it is interesting to note that for the last several decades the whole area had been the activity ground for a host of international funding agencies out to improve the lot of the tribals. The latest major intervention was by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation with a 'development' loan of Rs 217 crore for a population of less than a hundred thousand. The project, named Attappadi Hills Area Development Society, started more than a decade ago, had as its goals the regeneration of the deforested hills and achievement of sustainable living for the tribals who are now a minority in the area. But what happened was the proletarianization of the tribals with no employment security, alienation cf their land and destruction of their erstwhile sustainable agriculture including livestock economy. Land owning, cultivating tribals were converted into helpless victims of nongovernmental imperialist funded 'development' agenda which is now threatening their very survival. Sensitized sections of society are now seriously afraid that these tribes may become extinct if the situation continues like this. The only solution that the government is coming out with is the supply of free rations for a few weeks or some such sops, an utterly contemptible and ridiculous gimmick. The project that was launched with much fanlare ten years back as a pioneering one in the whole country is now wound up with the balance sheet of destroyed traditional agriculture, massive unemployment and all round starvation resulting in starvation deaths.
Dalits constitute almost ten percent of the total population and they were the fighting force of the communist movement in its early days. But the land reforms betrayed them shamelessly. They were agrestic slaves but the communist slogan of "land to the tiller" smoothly omitted this large section of agricultural population by omitting the plantation sector from the ambit of land reforms and tiller defined as tenant. Of course, the Dalits were historically never allowed to lease in land. The continuing struggle for land in Chengara by thousands of Dalits is a great exposure of the hollowness of the 'revolutionary' land reforms of Kerala. Moreover, the three thousand odd landless men, women and children, the men on rubber trees with nooses around their necks and women and children with full kerosene tins threatening to immolate themselves if force was used to evict them, occupying an illegally owned rubber plantation by the Goenka group were terrorized to leave the plantation not by the police but by the goons of the social democratic parties. Activist girls were kidnapped and gang raped, the entire lot of protesters was quarantined to starve them out. But even then the struggle continued. Those who raped and did other atrocities were trade unionists whose logic was that any problem for the management will affect their employment security. The directly following logic is that the struggle of the landless Dalits for survival is anti-working class whose interests are the same as of the Goenkas or Tatas. Social Democracy has reached its rock bottom degeneration in Kerala.
There are many other illustrations of the reality of Kerala which for obvious reasons cannot be listed in a short article. At the same time certain ganeral contours have to be mentioned. One of the main causative factors for the spectacular growth of consumerist economics in the area is the migration to the Arabian Gulf countries which reached its pinnacle during the 1970s and '80s. This migration of skilled and unskilled labor was mainly from the marginal and small peasant class. The oil boom of the Gulf region during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s saw migration of workers not only from Kerala and India but also many other South Asian and South East Asian countiies. Pakistan and Bangladesh are prominent examples of labor suppliers from this region. From within India Kerala became the principal supplier probably due to historical linkages with the Arab world and availability of literate labor power. The direct impact of this migration of millions of youth from this State was the steady flow of thousands of crores of rupees every year resulting in boom in construction activities, steep rise in prices of real estate and spectacular growth of the consumer markets. The growth of the consumer markets did not have anything to do with the basics of the economy which remained structurally backward. But at the same time it became a massive market for modern consumer goods and services which had to necessarily come from outside the State. The Indian big bourgeoisie reaped and is continuing to reap enormous gains from this growth of the Kerala consumer markets. Anywhere you go in Kerala you find feverish construction activities, malls, and migrant labor from other areas. Wages are high and cost of living is also high. Workers from as far off places as Assam and Bengal now come to Kerala just as the Kerala workers once looked forward to the Gulf countries to improve their standard of living.
This migration has presently come to a saturation point and can only decline in the coming days. The moves towards the indigenization of the small business and working population in the Gulf countries are a growing trend, and this has become a nightmare in Kerala. It is irrational to assume that any other way is possible but for the migrants to come back especially taking the background of the growing political instability in the entire West Asia and opening up of large oil deposits in other parts of the world like Africa, South China Sea, Caspian Sea and South America. The question paramount in Kerala now is the possible impact of the return of these migrants and drying up of the flow of petro dollars. The hundreds of thousands of crores that have already come in are mostly sunk in conspicuous consumption including palatial, ugly buildings often bathed in colors toxic to the eyes and sore to the terrain. Also a consumer culture has developed which is alienated from real needs, which in turn produced strong cultural backwash effects like sex trade, alcoholism and a steep rise in the crime rate. In fact, several ministers and MLAs in the present State government are mired in sex racket controversies. The media thrives on this theme and the reading public looks at it voyeuristically. The situation is pretty pitiable in Kerala. Malignant, aggressive Necrophilia has become a mass psychotic character of the place. Crime rate and architecture go hand in hand as external manifestations.
According to the latest crime records bureau data Kerala is not only the first in number of crimes committed per one lakh population but there is a major gap between the first and second ranker. Even places like Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which are considered to be the crime centers of the country, fade into insignificance when compared to Kerala. It is not just in the incidence of crime that Kerala distinguishes itself, but also in the nature of violence involved in crimes. The words "quotation groups" has of late become an inalienable part of the Malayalam lexicon. Of course, these words did not really originate in Kerala. They are English words but in Malayalam there is no need for translation. The words mean groups of youngsters ever ready to execute a crime for a payment. The quotation system has become widespread in the whole State but it is also a highly decentralized one. In every nook and corner of the State it is possible to hire a "quotation group" to execute a violent crime for you if you can pay them the required fee. The fee varies from a few thousands to millions or even crores. Political parties also freely utilize the services of these groups to settle scores and maintain their hegemony in the political balance of power. One of the most notorious of such crimes was recently executed in north Kerala when a popular erstwhile leader of the leading social democratic party was hacked to death in public for his temerity in trying to form a new party. As such this is not something new. Malabar region witnessed hundreds of similar killings in the past as part of the turf war between the CPI(M) and the Hindu right wing who were threatening to erode the support base of the former. All these killings were brutal to the extreme and the weapons used were invariably crude. In the case of the recent Chandrasekhar killing the victim was 51 years old and fifty-one hackings were inflicted on him. It was sadism executed by the quotation group but clearly directed sadism from those who employed them.
"Quotation gangs" can be employed not only for committing high profile political murders but for anything and everything. It can be used for settling petty property disputes or sexual jealousy. It can be used for engineering a riot or kidnapping a local elected representative to prevent him for voting in a panchayat or municipal council. The system as such is highly decentralized and it is a perfect model of outsourcing. There are no reliable estimates of the quantum of employment generated by this outsourcing of the actual committing of crimes of all sorts because exact quantification is certainly anathema to such gangs. And it is not possible too. The membership is flexible and necessarily secretive. Youth who wish for a good life in line with the consumerist culture are available everywhere. They are the material for a fascist thug force with the required psychological attributes of sadism and malignant aggressive necrophilia. "Quotation gangs" use modern, high cost automobiles and patronize posh bars and hotels. But they do not generally use precision weapons like guns. Instead, long knives, metal rods, wooden cudgels or even stones are used. The idea is not just to eliminate someone but to inflict the maximum pain in the process. This emerging Kerala tells a lot about the psycho-pathological sickness deepening and spreading roots in the society.
A day before the 'emerging Kerala' conclave there was an edit page interview in The Hindu with the chief minister about the scope, importance and problems of the State in view of the conclave. In this interview of less than a thousand words the chief minister referred to the plentiful availability of financial resources needed for the high speed development of the State at least four times. He did not mention from where the financial resources are to come in this chronically debt ridden State. But the chief minister was euphoric about the availability of resources to acquire land etc for building up infrastructure for tourism growth and was positive that land, identified as a scarce resource, will be procured without any social tensions at above the market prices which itself is unnaturally high because it is a speculative commodity. The chief minister sounded like Aladdin with his wonderful lamp. In this context it will be informative to counter-pose this plentiful availability of finance capital to the conditions existing in the basic economy, i.e., agriculture.
Since the last more than a decade the agricultural sector is in acute crisis. Food production has steadily plummeted to the extent that the State is dependent on outside sources, mainly the other States in the peninsular region, for more than 80% of its basic food requirements. The agriculture that is there is mainly production of cash crops for the market which is all India and international. The production process is highly credit dependent the source of which is both formal and informal. Though the plantation sector here is as old as colonialism the bulk of production of non-food crops like coffee, tea, rubber, coconut, pepper and other spices are done by marginal, small and middle farmers whose numbers come to several millions. Several districts like Idukki and Wayanad are completely cash crops dependent and it is these lower levels of the Western Ghats belt that are the hardest hit in the ongoing agrarian crisis.
The credit, inputs and outputs markets are highly skewed against the millions of small farmers with the result that they are embedded in what is called chronic debt trap. In Wayanad district alone, more than five thousand farmers committed suicide during the last one decade due to insolvency. What is important is that all the products of these farmers are eminently suited for value addition which is currently nonexistent. The cash crop belt is highly profitable for big traders/exporters and processing industries which are mainly outside the State. The geographical division of labor is one of primary production the products markets of which are controlled by external big businesses. This market is highly volatile and subject to outright manipulations by the dominant powers in the market. The agrarian crisis is the product of this grossly irnbalanced market structure victimizing the millions of small farmers to the immense gain of corporate capital.
Corporate capital in India, in its role as necessary agents and partners of global capital, need not be bothered if the primary producers commit suicide. If some commit suicide others will be there. Or, it can be a means to promote corporatization of land ownership itself. Or, agricultural land can be converted to more profit yielding business enterprises like tourism. In fact, an incredible scheme of the State government to promote international tourism in Attappadi is to beg every international tourist to plant a tree each in the deforested hills named after the birthday astrological star of the tourist (according to the Brahminical astrological universe of Kerala there is a specific tree for every birth star).The exact saplings will be gifted by the government tourism department after verifying the birth day of the tourists and being part of the social forestry project is expected to be a powerful appeal to their environmental consciousness about saving the region and planet. The tribals will nurture the trees and photographic proof about the growth of the trees will be mailed to the individual tree star owners every year!
Even a peripheral glance at the agrarian crisis will illustrate that it is the dynamics of the market structure that is driving the primary producers to suicide. There is absolute insecurity for the growers to the point of agriculture becoming a gamble. The prices of agricultural inputs which are predominantly produced by big businesses keeps on steadily increasing while the product prices are highly unpredictable and subject to periodic crashes dictated by the profit craze of the corporate lobbies. This is not a typical Kerala situation but a general model of accumulation of corporate businesses at the expense of the primary sector. When it comes to the completely market dependent farmers of cash crops, like in Wayanad or Idukki, the impact of market control is deadly resulting in self-annihilation. Such districts and areas are distributed all over the country. Suicides of farmers are in terms of hundreds of thousands and the predominantly corporate owned media is simply acting the role of a cat replete with creamy milk.
Understanding a crisis also gives clear pointers to its resolution. The governments in Kerala, irrespective of different colors of flags, cannot afford to ignore their vote banks with total impunity. When the victims protest, there are bound to be 'packages' to alleviate the misery. In Kerala this took the shape of temporary debt moratoriums which is only scratching the surface of the issue at hand. The issue is the structure of the market mechanism and agricultural production processes that created the market structure in the first place. Even temporary debt reliefs can only apply to the organized banking sector and they cannot go on with it forever. The unorganized banking sector, popularly known as 'blade finance', is the more popular source of loans and it is pure and simple thug enterprise driven by muscle power and utter helplessness of the victims. There are laws curtailing the scope of this thug empire but they are simply not applicable on the ground level. Police officers, other government employees, professional traditional money lenders, local toughs, political operators—anyone can be a blade company. They are hyper active decentralized power centers with hands in every pie. Farmers are not their only victims, anyone in need of money is their victim and in an insanely consumerist society quite a large number of people will be pressed for financial liquidity.
What is required is creating a situation where the primary producers need not take loans to survive. In the context of Kerala this means drastic changes in the production processes and rescuing the value adding processes and trade from the clutches of the present monopoly structure which serves only the interests of corporate capital. On both counts it needs the political will to challenge the existing market structure, not some cheaply populist 'packages' and insulting freebies. The primary producers must have the rights over what they produce which needs new organizational structures to replace the present super profit driven corporate running of the economy. Ultimately only such a course can lead to self-reliance, maximum welfare of the maximum number of people, and peace. Violence is endemic to the present situation which is subjecting the overwhelming majority of productive people to ruthless bleeding by a small minority controlling the market forces. Kerala, being a most 'globalized' region in the sub-continent provides a clear illustration of this conjectural phase of imperialist capitalism. 'Emerging Kerala' is caught in this vicious trap.
[A correction to the tourism planners and the government of Kerala: The slogan "God's own country" is a very old one and it is outright plagiarism when used in tourism advertisements for Kerala. This was the slogan widely used by the Yankee headhunters during their campaigns against the original inhabitants of North America during the 19th century. These slave masters, dazzled by the immense resources and land area, characterized North America as God's own country and themselves as God's own people/chosen people, which became a rationale for exterminating the ancient civilizations and peoples/infidels. Please correct this shameful plagiarism at least at this late stage. Otherwise, it is an incorrigible shame for 'literate' Kerala, especially as the godfathers of the original slogan were a ruthlessly murderous lot. Tourism planners and apologists ought not to be so illiterate.]
Frontier, Autumn Number
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013
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