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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Saffron Neo-liberalism

Saffron Neo-liberalism
Vol - XLIX No. 31, August 02, 2014 | Anand Teltumbde

Margin Speak

Vol - XLIX No. 31
August 2, 2014
Table of Contents
An aggressive drive towards neo-liberal economic reforms alongside consolidation of the Bharatiya Janata Party's political constituency with the spread of hegemonic Hindutva through sociocultural channels is on the cards.

Anand Teltumbde ( is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Narendra Damodardas Modi symbolised the finesse of Indian democracy on 26 May 2014, the day he was sworn in as India’s 15th prime minister, inasmuch as he showed how a person coming from a humble background could occupy the highest executive office of the Indian state. Notwithstanding the fact that the process of catapulting him to this high pedestal has been one of the costliest in the world (estimated at Rs 10,000 crore), Modi’s rise could well be flaunted by his backers as a feat of Indian democracy. The electoral process involved Modi addressing rallies at 5,800 locations, travelling a blistering 3,00,000 km, which included 1,350 locations covered by rallies using 3D holographic projection technology through which more than 100 places could be addressed simultaneously. The advertisement blitzkrieg through all possible media was so complete that even children sang “abki baar, Modi sarkar” and “achchhe din aane wale hai”, and, of course, backed by an army of lakhs of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres, who ensured that, if required, specific places could be duly lubricated with blood, as in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and Kokrajhar in Assam. There may hardly be any parallel to this intricate process of wooing voters, even in the developed democracies.

As such, there is nothing new in this except for the scale and that precisely makes all the difference. Indeed, the last elections have been different in many ways. Leave aside the process, the outcome has been stunning. Thanks to our wonderful first-past-the-post election system that, even in theory, makes a mockery of people’s representation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored 282, which came to 53% the total number of seats, with 31% of the votes cast, well above the majority mark, and broke the spell of the coalition era which many people thought had come to stay. Adding the seats won by its allies, the tally rises to 334. As a matter of fact, there is hardly any opposition left to the BJP in the Lok Sabha, except for the Left, the Congress having been really a poor copy of the BJP as far as economic policy matters are concerned. Thus, BJP is in a situation where it can do what it wants. The apprehension of the spectre of fascism felt by many has turned into a veritable possibility. Will India turn into a fascist state? Will it become a Hindu state? Will it be a prison house for the religious minorities?

Logic of Capital

Modi ran his campaign in a presidential style, bragging and boasting about himself, but after election, he displayed a changed persona. While entering Parliament House for his confirmation as the party’s parliamentary leader, he literally prostrated himself at its steps calling it a temple of democracy, and while speaking inside, swore by the Constitution as a sacred document and declared that his government would be dedicated to the poor, youth and women. He scored further points by inviting the heads of the states of all neighbouring countries and paid his first visit abroad to Bhutan, in symbolic expression that he particularly values friendly relations with neighbouring countries. The sixth Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) summit at Fortaleza in Brazil led to the creation of a development bank which could catalyse trade and development within the BRICS member countries. Internally, he has taken several steps to discipline the bureaucracy; he has even told the bureaucrats to resist political interference by ministers and Members of Parliament.

The pheku of yesterday has gone totally silent, engaging himself with utmost seriousness in the business of governance, opening his mouth only at the end of a month in office to claim that “67 years of previous governments is nothing compared to one month, but I do want to say that in the last month, our entire team has devoted every single moment for the welfare of the people”. Indeed, many things could be said in his favour that have impressed people to believe that he could act independently of the RSS or the BJP and may thereby land up doing good things for the people.

Actually, Modi has been setting the ground for the creation of opportunities for trade and investment for the benefit of big business, which invested heavily in him. While the reforms have always been sold in the name of the people and justified with the dubious “trickle-down” theory, they are actually meant to promote the interests of capital through the laissez-faire economy and are therefore anti-labour. Privatisation of public sector units, commercialisation of public services, handing over of natural resources to the private sector, reliance on the market mechanism for pricing, fiscal measures to incapacitate the state to undertake any economic activity and thereby promote private interests, are the typical contents of neo-liberal policies.

The people were jolted out of their “achchhe din” reverie by the railway budget that came within days, hiking the passenger railway fares and freight rates steeply by 14.2% and 6.5%, respectively, which would impose a further burden of inflation on an already troubled people. Whether it is signalling dilution of the civil Nuclear Liability Act in line with US demands, deferment of the food security scheme by three months, permitting 100% foreign direct investment in high-speed train systems, suburban corridors and dedicated freight line projects, or policy overhaul in the petroleum sector to woo foreign investment, all these policy changes conform to textbook neo-liberalism. Although these policies were introduced and implemented by the Congress, they will now witness an accelerated pace of implementation.

Whither Hindutva?

Modi had maintained a calculated silence on Hindutva, this in order to sharpen his projection on “development”. But as an ardent RSS activist, as certified by the RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, he can never forget the Hindutva agenda of transforming India into a Hindu nation. This agenda could be advanced in many ways. While the Ram Janmabhoomi movement or the post-Godhra massacre of Muslims are the rabid ways to polarise people for direct electoral gains, there could be a softer approach to surreptitiously transform institutions in line with Hindutva. Hard Hindutva disrupts normal life and the business of profit-making. Moreover, with such a massive mandate, it is really not needed. Modi therefore would not favour communal strife vitiating the investment climate. However, the hydra-headed Sangh Parivar, already intoxicated by his win, will create such problems at the ground level, as in the case of the murder of a Muslim youth Mohsin Shaikh in Pune, which may be difficult to control. Modi will certainly take a soft approach towards Hindutva by systematically saffronising institutions, as he did in Gujarat. A clear case is the appointment of   Y Sudershan Rao, a little-known retired professor of history and tourism management from Kakatiya University, as the new chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. This worthy had the foolhardiness to discover goodness in the “Indian Caste System” and proclaim a research agenda to determine dates of the events in the Mahabharata.

Contrary to the commonplace notion, neo-liberalism is not incompatible with ideological Hindutva; their proclivities with regard to individualism and the social Darwinist attitude fairly coincide. The affinity between Hindutva and fascism likewise is too well known to be elaborated upon. At its core, fascism stands for state authoritarianism, intimidation by conservative-minded extralegal groups, national chauvinism, submission of individuals and groups to a larger-than-life leader, and a Darwinian view of social life, which almost characterises the protagonists of Hindutva. You have to just think of M S Golwalkar, the venerable ideologue of Hindutva, to realise it. At their core, Hindutva, neo-liberalism and fascism are complementary. And this complementariness is exemplarily manifested in Narendra Modi. Ashis Nandy, the noted sociologist had found in him, when Modi was a nobody, “a classic, clinical case of a fascist”. Whether it is asking the governors of Kerala, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh to quit in blatant contravention of a Supreme Court ruling, or insinuating abrogation of the Article 370 relating to the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, or adoption of the uniform civil code, or the promulgation of an ordinance for changing the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, merely to appoint Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary, the fascist streak in Modi cannot be missed. He has removed all potential opposition within the party by installing his man, Amit Shah, as the party chief and is cultivating direct rapport with the bureaucracy to drive past the political class.

On the Cards

Saffron neo-liberalism is an aggressive drive towards neo-liberal economic reforms with a simultaneous push towards consolidating the Sangh Parivar’s political constituency with the spread of hegemonic Hindutva through sociocultural channels. It includes privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation and complete facilitation of capital, which would entail a closer relationship with the neighbouring countries to create a better business climate and expand international trade avenues. The nationalistic jingoism associated with the BJP would be calibrated by these considerations. The controversial Vaidik episode should be seen within this strategic perspective. Ved Pratap Vaidik, whether he is technically an RSS man or not, was commissioned to engage in a track-2 dialogue with Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed camouflaging it with what he blurted on Kashmir. Saffron neo-liberalism will entail a revamp of labour laws, simplification of other laws, and amendments to the Constitution in order to make India more business friendly. It would mean easing land acquisition and freeing the natural resources of the country to be plundered by capital. It would mean progressively positioning Hindutva supporters at all important nodes in the bureaucracy and saffronising educational and other research institutions. In order to stem any dissent in the bud, it would mean strengthening of the internal security apparatus and “zero tolerance” of any resistance. All this is to happen under the unified command of one supreme leader, Narendra Modi.

Should this plan falter, it would mean switching to militant Hindutva.

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