Walking On Two Legs?

Neoliberalism, Hindutva and Revolutionary Movement

Subhash Gatade

[Following is a shortened version of a speech delivered by the author at the Sixth Conference of Human Rights Forum. The conference took place around sixth death anniversay of late K Balagopal, who played a key role in the formation of the Forum. The 6th Conference of HRF was held in Adoni, Kurnool, AP, in the second week of October, 2015]

Politics as the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued is always underpinned by hybrid philosophies. Perhaps the best example in recent memory which bears testimony to this seems to be the present dispensation at the centre which on the one hand still sticks to the Exclusivist / majoritarian worldview of Hindutva Supremacism and is simultaneously busy furthering the neoliberal agenda under the glib talk of development.

It is abundantly clear that it hits no qualms in projecting its relationship with a self-proclaimed cultural organisation called RSS—which openly abhors the pluralist tradition of this part of South Asia, which has been an admirer of the policies and persona of Hitler and Mussolini, which had kept itself aloof from the independence struggle, had opposed making of the constitution under the chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar and had instead proposed that Manusmriti be made into independent India's constitution and is engaged today in a corporate friendly agenda which is characterised by deregulation of economy, liberalisation of trade and industry, privatisation of state owned enterprises marked by massive tax cuts for the corporates, reduction of social services and other welfare programes, downsizing of government, anti-unionisation drive to 'boost productivity', removal of controls on global financial and trade flows.

The grand metamorphosis of Mr Narendra Modi, from a 'polariser' to a 'development man' seems to symbolise this new juncture in Indian politics. He leads a parliament which has the lowest representation of minorities since independence and a ruling party which does not have a single elected member from the biggest minority community in the country. Indians have been witness to a strange paradox that many members of the ruling psirty have been found to be valorising Nathuram Godse, the assassin of M G Gandhi and spewing venom against the minorities on the floor of the august house.

Everyone knows it but not everyone would like to remember it these days that Mr Modi who has completed around one and half year being Prime Minister of this country remained under scanner of national and international human rights organisations for his alleged complicity/connivance or inaction (luring the infamous riots, variously described as carnage/genocide) when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat and was shunned by the leading western countries for similar reasons for more than a decade. And a case is still pending before the Supreme Court of the country filed by Ms Zakia Jaffery, widow of the ex-Congress MP Ahsan Jaffery who was killed by a rampaging mob of Hindutva fanatics in 2002, which similarly calls into question his alleged role during the riots.

In fact whatever might be the claims of the PR agencies or the spin doctors close to the government—who are busy telling the outside world that how Modi has helped raise India's prestige at the international level (forget the fact that his government's attempts to play big brother in neighbouring Nepal has alienated all the mainstream parties from it)—it is for everyone to see that the effects of his ascent at the social level have been devastating.

The mob lynching of a poor Muslim because of a rumour that he was eating beef, in a village not very far from the national capital, and the manner in which the whole barbaric event is being rationalised by different sections of the ruling party and the continued silence maintained by the PM for a long time who is supposed to be an avid social media user is the latest sign of this state of affairs. What was surprising that he had time to tweet a condolence message when son of a famours singer died abroad but he perhaps did not feel the need to show similar concern when poor Akhlaq was lynched by the people.

Any stocktaking of the unfolding situation brings home few stark facts that with his ascent
—   the alleged fringe elements of the rightwing which effectively are part of a continuum have got a new boost / legitimacy,
—   with two writers/activists killed within a span of nine months and several others receiving threats and intimidations and supposedly a 'hit list' in circulation, India has of late started imitating one of its Islamist neighbours where bloggers are being hounded and killed and cultural programmes are being bombed supposedly to protect the sanctity of religion,
—   today attempts to foment communal tensions in newer areas are on leading to what the government itself has admitted that there has been 25 per cent increase in communal incidents,
—   the hurt sentiment brigade has unleashed a series of bans prompting a hindi newspaper to say that under this dispensation 'bans are raining',
—   retrogade changes in curriculum have been undertaken with people with dubious academic credentials being given responsibilities in key institutions,
—   there has been a conscious attack on provisions meant for the vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society in very many ways and there is conscious withdrawal of state from social welfare activities,
—   every effort is being made to put profit at the centre instead of people's welfare and a free play is being given to the market forces.

One can see it as a regime which essentially is walking on two legs.

The growing neoliberal offensive couched in the language of 'development' accompanied by (as and when necessary) communal tensions supposedly to further drive a wedge between different sections of the toiling masses, so that the broader issues of deprivation and pauperisation do not get raised at any level is the new normal.

As one can see this tactics has served them well till date.

Despite the growing realisation that they have befooled people by false promises—remember the much discussed promise that they will bring back black money—despite their U-turns on many key issues, despite the fact that prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed in recent times, one does not see much anger coming out on streets, because people can see the politics of 'us' versus 'them' is in full swing. People seem to be more worried about what is in neighbour's plate and what s/he is wearing and not concerned with the fact that her/his own plate is rather empty.

Around a year ago well-known documentary film maker Anand Patwardhan, in his speech titled 'We and Our Nationhood Redefined'—which was a memorial lecture at the editors' guild—had thrown light on the 'development model' of Modi and shown glimpse of what was in store for the Indian people.

Perhaps it would be opportune here to quote his observations then about the unfolding nature of these developments:

"[H]anding over common resources by interlinking of rivers, mining projects and disinvestment corroborated by the stock market is not enough. The ideology must sink roots. The Gujarat State Standard VIIIth Social Science Textbook of 2013 in it's 8th Chapter of 'Our Economy' is evidence of the pervasive ideas of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation as panacea for all the problems India faces today.

Consumer rights are showcased, a few individual cases of poor girls and boys making it to an IIT of a just system, while on the other hand mechanisms and policies pertaining to food distribution, education, health care are deliberately downgraded and withdrawn. The idea that the Welfare State has failed its citizens is sold through the mechanism of the Public Private Partnership, to pave the way for the take-over of public assets by private interests. In this scenario a rags to riches story is the icing on a cake that few will actually taste. Modi's triumph as a chaiwala boy becoming the PM fits the bill.

The current regime is in place to rapidly subsume any and all citizen's rights at a faster pace than what the UPA could manage. Assurances of rapid environmental clearances for mega projects, weakening safeguards in the Land Acquisition Act, withdrawal of the Gram Sabha's right to decide the fate of mega-projects by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, handing over large tracts of reserved forest land to corporates like Adani, amending the Coastal Regulation Zone to allow coastal lands to fall into the hands of builders, promoting the production of petrol and diesel driven consumer cars and expanding the already vast network of expensive highways and flyovers, increasing the Foreign Direct Investment in Defense and Retail, accompanied by the dismantling of elements of welfare like the withdrawal of free medicines in Maharashtra merely two days after the new BJP government is sworn in and the alarmingly high rate of malnutrition in the model Slate of Gujarat—these are a few symptoms of a phenomenon reminiscent of the close embrace between Hitler's Germany and the mega-business of his day."

It will be around a year shortly when these observations were shared with the wider public and looking back one can see the new pace acquired by the government in implementing those policies which further marginalise the already marginalised and poor.

Gone are the days when the 2002 riots and the growing normalisation of brutality had infuriated a section of the leading capitalists who had expressed their disapproval of the ambience in the state, today as everyone can see all of them have fallen in line and there is complete change of scene. A recap of statements issued by leaders of industry then would rather seem unbelievable today. Here is an example which is worth sharing :
What is happening there and the way the situation is being handled is definitely not right. These kinds of things are bound to have a negative impact on investment climate in Gujarat and the country as a whole.
—Sanjiv Goenka, President, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), quoted in a report, 'Industry hurt, but does not moan', in The Asian Age, April 4, 2002
Internationally, we have lost our name as a secular country. I am ashamed to have seen this in our century. The chief minister must take responsibility and resign. If the powers in Delhi are supporting him, it is unacceptable. If politicians have prevented the police from doing their duties, it cannot be tolerated. Some heads have to roll.
— Deepak Parekh, Chairman, HDFC and an industry leader,
in The Times of India,
March 26, 2002.

All that is passe.

There is no denying the fact that the corporates must be feeling vindicated that they made a right choice when they decided to project Mr Modi as future PM way back in 2009 itself when the western world had closed their doors before him or investigations were still on under a Special Investigating Team constituted under the directions of the Supreme Court to look into his alleged role in the infamous carnage of 2002.

In his write-up 'How Mr Modi's voodoo economics will twist India's destiny' (http://wwr\>'/l/66l5.html) Prof Amitabh Bhattacharya writes :
"...[T]oday, the country can "rightfully" qualify for the dubious distinction of having the biggest divide between the haves and have-nots. While a sizeable number of Indians belong to the group of world's richest individuals, the country is also home to world's largest number of most impoverished people.
Owners of capital are creating wealth for themselves at a much faster rate than the growth of the economy. Without any progressive wealth tax the economic inequality in India is obviously set to increase even faster. The Modi government even removed wealth tax in the 2015-16 budget..."

Rise and further rise of Gautam Adani, is rather symptomatic of the closeness of the corporate honchos to the government. Perhaps it is for the first time in independent India's around seventy years journey that a particular Corporate leader seems to be accompanying the PM on every foreign trip.

In New York, Adani sat in the audience as Modi addressed the United Nations, and he visited Japan, Australia and France at the same time as the prime minister. He was with the prime minister in Brazil, according to the Hindustan Times, and he visited Bhutan with Modi, according to World Trade Scanner. The company denied both news reports.

Adani, 52, has travelled with Modi in the past year more than any other billionaire, helping him emerge as the most prominent face of India Inc to the wider world. His wealth has more than quadrupled since Modi announced his candidacy in September 2013, tlie biggest gain among the country's elite.

Gone also are the days when a section of RSS leadership led by the likes of Dattopant Thegadi had played 'spoilsport' during NDA-I regime led by Vajpayee under the vague 'Swadeshi' concerns, today under a new leadership RSS has decided to support the same policies which it had earlier opposed—which would, further marginalise the already exploited, oppressed—in return for a promise that they would like the government move ahead on their 'cultural agenda'. One very well knows that cultural agenda is another euphemism for carving out a Hindu Rashtra out of a plural/secular/democratic India.

For lay persons the unfolding picture is a bit difficult to comprehend where yesterday's 'Swadeshi' loving Pracharaks and Swayamsevaks have turned into master salespersons to showcase India and are busy giving red carpet treatment to desi-videsi corporates. BJP which had maintained strange ambivalence about the economic policies of the government when in opposition is rushing to embrace them projecting to the outside world that they have been the original liberalisers. It is also a bit incomprehensible to the ordinary people how the corporate bosses of the country and from outside are ready to digest peddling of mythology as science and history.

In fact as far as corporate interests are concerned, which today manifests themselves in the model of neoliberalism unfolding, here, fascination for Hindu nationalism, Hindutva or similar exclucivist ideologies is mere coincidental. The primary concern is to serve logic of capital which subsists on profits. To put it bluntly, neoliberalism which is basically 'capitalism with its gloves off' has demonstrated that it has tremendous flexibility and can operate under spectrum of circumstances, ranging from a monarchy to a model of liberal democracy. History bears witness to the fact that Chile's dictator Pinochet executed it through coercive violence—which was the first 'great experiment at neoliberal state formation' whereas Margaret Thatcher achieved it through the organisation of democratic consent.

Vol. 48, No. 19, Nov 15 - 21, 2015