Calcutta Notebook


This year's parliamentary polls have many interesting things to offer. In the immediate aftermath of the polls, Jagdish Bhagwati, the well-known economist who has been consistently championing the cause of globalization, i.e. of subservience of the Indian economy to western powers—the global meltdown of 2008 has not changed his attitude—has hailed the victory of Narendra Modi as "India's second revolution", the first one being the beginning of reform in 1991. But the achievements of the first revolution are quite a few. One of these is well illustrated by the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, commonly known as the Arjun Sengupta Commission, which said that in 2004-05, 77 % of the population had a per capita daily expenditure of less than Rs 20. Another achievement must also be noted. The number of Indian billionaires (in terms of dollars) rose sharply, surpassing Japan, France, Italy and China. The Congress Government, despite its policy of building up SEZs and transferring resources to the private corporate groups in the name of development and industrialization, had, however, introduced packages like the NREGP, the Forest Act, the Food Security Act, the Right to Information Act and the Midday Meal Programme. No doubt the implementation of these has so long been very much unsatisfactory as yet, but they have given the people some space for self-assertion and respect. It can be shown that with some more inputs like bricks, timber, cement, iron and steel, the NREGP can be transformed into a programme of creation of productive assets in the countryside. But the corporate lobby wants to do away with such things. Their spokesmen have been talking about the huge drain on public exchequer caused by the NREGP and the Food Security. These talks, however, have a hidden agenda. If the money spent on Food Security and NREGP is withdrawn, it will be easier for the state to grant more liberal tax concessions to the corporate tycoons. It is out of this expectation that the big business houses of the country seems to have discarded the Congress and supported Narendra Modi and his party—The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to one report, the BJP has spent more than 50 billion of rupees on the advertising ballyhoo and it is anybody's guess where this money has come from.

The media in general have hailed Modi victory as "epoch-making" and "historic". But the fact is that the BJP has got only 31.2 % of total votes polled. In India's parliamentary history, there has been at least eight past occasions (1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1971, 1977, 1980 and 1984) when one single party got an absolute majority in the polls, but the vote shares of the victorious party ranged from 40.8%to 48.1%. Modi's victory, in this sense, may be called historic—absolute majority with only 31.2 % votes.

Bhagwati is an indefeatagible champion of the Gujarat model of development. It may be that he is deliberately ignorant of the fact that in terms of human development index or physical quality of life index, Gujarat is still only a middle-ranking state in India and Narendra Modi's stewardship has not been able to lift it at all as far as the PQLI is concerned. Of course an economist who, in the early phase of his professional career, advocated a path of industrialization that was for all practical purposes a theory of efficient neo-colonialism cannot possibly talk otherwise. Giving the Indian corporate majors and their senior foreign partners the maximum scope for profit accumulation is the surest way to the elimination of poverty—this is the notion that has led Bhagwati and his acolytes to attack Profesor Amartya Sen. Professor Sen has made an unforgivable blunder by arguing that wooing the corporate sector is not necessarily the best way of removal of poverty. Again, by allowing 100% Foreign Direct Investment in the vital sector of defence, Modi has further demonstrated whose interests he is going to serve. Here lies the essence of Modi's nationalism and patriotism. It is saddening that some well known economists have thrown overboard their conscience while advocating a repetition of the Gujarat model all over the country. Forcing the Muslims and other minorities to live under perpetual fear pshychosis is one important feature of the Gujarat model, because securing the complete hegemony of the corporate houses requires some sort of jingoism and communal passion serves the purpose. To these economists, perhaps this is also a laudable objective that India must achieve.

For one thing the support base of the BJP right now does not consist only of those to whom their Hindu identity is nobler than the Indian identity. But the  ideology of Hindutva is very much there. It is highly improbable that Gujarat model, the model of the Indian big business can be implemented all over India and a reduction in the entitlement of the broad masses of the people in order to fatten the billionaires in the name of growth will continue without resistance. In this case, the ideology of Hindutva may be pursued with greater vigour, in a manner similar to the slaughter of Jews in Nazi Germany. The pre-poll incident in Muzaffarnigar of Uttar Pradesh, which took many lives and rendered many more homelss, is certainly an indication of the things to come. All said and done, the BJP has been able to distort the psyche of the urban middle classes and may use this achievement to persecute the Muslims and other religious minorities. As the economic crisis deepens, the ideology of Hindutva may come handy to tackle it. After all, isn't religion 'the heart of a heartless world'?

Vol. 47, No. 1, Jul 13 - 19, 2014