Crisis sans Managers

Opinions are differing about the degree of prospective shrinkage of the economy, although there is no doubt that India is experiencing a considerably negative rate of growth. The crudely unplanned manner in which the lockdown was imposed at only four hours’ notice has revealed only the casualness of the Narendra Modi government and the way it was announced through bugles, conch shells etc only aggravated the impact of the corona virus. It is well known that the demonetisation weakened the economy and particularly harmed the small-scale sector, ruining many enterprises. It is also common knowledge that the slowdown had started much earlier than the spread of the pandemic. The Modi government tried to contain the slowdown by the grotesque measure of enlarging the concessions to the corporate groups, declaring that this would boost private investment and create jobs. But this did not happen. There was one course left to the government, taxing the super-rich effectively and allowing the money to boost the level of domestic demand effectively through public investment. But this was repugnant to Narendra Modi and his colleagues. Trying to explain away the downturn solely in terms of the pandemic only speaks of the ignorance of the finance minister. The so-called Rs 20 trillion package, announced with much fanfare, has been exposed as an artificially inflated balloon; the actual share of government expenditure is only about 5 percent of this colossal amount. Next comes the question of the non-performing assets of public sector banks. Common sense suggests that big bank defaulters should be properly punished and if necessary, should be sent to prison. But such a proposition is simply heart-rending to Modi, Amit Shah or Nirmala Sitharaman, because the defaulters are in general big corporate groups, on whom Narendra Modi and his party can rely for financial support. The indiscriminate repression on social activists-branded ‘Urban Naxals’ by Modi’s men—rampant killing of dissenters in fake encounters, killing of human beings in the name of ‘cow protection’—all these phenomena are symptoms of weakness, not strength of the government. To maintain his unwieldy empire, Narendra Modi must go on resorting to such measures. The Kafeel Khan affair is now well known and Khan has had to leave Uttar Pradesh immediately after his release for fear of being killed in an ‘encounter’ by Yogi Adityanath’s police. This is only one indication of the nature of Modi rule. On the economic front, another point must be raised. Over the last three decades, inequality in the distribution of income and other assets has been growing and when the neo-liberals were boasting about India’s high GDP growth, this inequality was on the rise. Narendra Modi has been able to intensify this process. It can be asserted safely that the impact of the slowdown in growth will not be shared by the top five to ten percent of the population, and that the index of inequality—whatever index is used—will rise. Suggestions by economists, many of them not radicals, will continue to be ignored, because they do not fall in line with what the Ambanis, Adanis and Tatas think. Now, in order to counteract Chinese influence in Asia, Modi is trying to woo the governments of the USA and Japan, rather shamelessly, giving evidence of his passionate devotion to the principle of self-reliance. Tragically the people of India are living in a grotesque world in which human dignity is continually degraded and human misery even in material terms is growing. There is a glimmer of hope, however. Numerous instances in this country and elsewhere show that the voice of human conscience against oppression—religious, recial, linguistic, economic—has not died down.

Vol. 53, No. 12, sep 20 - 26, 2020