'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Jairus Banaji - Reclaiming India for democracy
The BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha election of 2014 was the
result of a strategy that concentrated single-mindedly on building up Narendra
Modi as a national leader who could salvage India from what the media projected
as the mess created by the Congress Party during the previous three or four
years. That regime was marred by corruption scandals and a pervasive sense that
Manmohan Singh had failed to rein in corrupt ministers and allies. Modi, by
contrast, hero of hardline ‘Hindu’ extremists, man with a vision for India’s
‘development’ (and so on), could be packaged and sold to the Indian electorate
in all of those multiple guises.
And that is exactly what they did, sell Mr.
Modi to India, calling on vast resources to fight a campaign made up by a
blitzkrieg of mammoth election rallies, huge sums paid to the media for
coverage, publicity and news, the strong and visible backing of the country’s
best known industrial leaders, and massive grassroots mobilisation by RSS
cadre. The message was simple: Congress was corrupt and couldn’t be trusted; in
fact, Congress had misruled India for the past sixty-plus years.
Forgotten in all this was the campaign slogan the BJP had
chosen for the 2004 national election — ‘India Shining’. Because that came at
the tailend of a period when the BJP and its allies had formed the government
at the Centre, no claims could be made that India was still a desperately poor
country. On the contrary, the public had to be convinced that the country had
made huge strides under the NDA. Not acknowledged here was the obvious fact
that India’s reintegration into the world economy started with reforms promoted
by a Congress government.
If the early nineties were one watershed, one that led eventually
to the ‘aspirational’ narrative constructed by the right wing in 2014, Gujarat
2002 was the other one and altogether more sinister. The violence in Gujarat
was concentrated ‘in districts or constituencies where the BJP faced the
greatest electoral competition’, showing how shockingly calculated the use of
mass, communal, violence could become.
A bloc between classes: On one internal estimate a third of Mr. Modi’s vote share in the Lok Sabha
election of 2014 came from RSS supporters. ‘Out of roughly 31 per cent vote
share of BJP, 10 per cent are hardcore RSS supporters’, said K.N. Govindacharya
in an interview given to CatchNews in June this year. But if
true, this also shows that support was more widely spread than the traditional
bastions of Hindutva supporters.
Narendra Modi rode the wave of revulsion
against what voters were persuaded to believe was a manifestly corrupt and
failing government on the back of a social bloc drawn from very different
classes of Indian society. Large-scale industrial capital was an early and
strong pro-Modi constituency, since it saw in him an extreme and authoritarian
version of neo-liberalism. Big business wanted him to scrap the rural
resistance to industrial expansion and resolve the squeeze on resources by cutting
subsidies to the poor.
No less enthused was a sprawling middle class moulded by
the consumerism of the nineties. Their nationalism, both strident and vacuous,
lay in a different galaxy from the great vision of a struggling India depicted
in Rossellini’s documentary of 1959 Matri Bhumi. The post-’90s middle class
lacked solidarity with the vast mass of its own people. Just as crucially, it
had grown up with a deference to all forms of authority and was easy prey to
media manipulation. Also enlisted in Mr. Modi’s ‘bloc’ was the vast army of
deracinated jobless youth in villages, towns and cities who looked on the new
superman as some messiah of employment, convinced there really was something
like a ‘Gujarat model’ that would generate millions of jobs.
All of these
diverse ‘interests’ melded in the redemptive figure created by the TV anchors
of a national hero who had moved beyond the circles of Gujarati chauvinism and
beyond his ‘tainted’ past to achieve national stature and perform miracles on a
much bigger stage.
End of the wave: Of course, the miracles haven’t transpired. There is a growing sense that the
centralisation of power in the hands of ‘one man’ and a sheer lack of
competence at the level of the PMO have triggered a breakdown in the normal
routines of government and caused disaffection in the ranks of the bureaucracy.
Political interference in the Reserve Bank’s jealously guarded autonomy even
led the Bank’s employees to go on mass leave. PM Modi is beginning to face a
crisis of credibility in terms of his much vaunted ability to deliver on either
investments or jobs. Manufacturing remains sluggish, there have been no major
inflows of foreign capital despite innumerable jaunts to attract investment.
The government’s defeat on (its own more aggressively pro-business version of)
the Land Acquisition bill has been a major blow to his image in business
circles and to his earlier assurances to big industrial groups. Frayed by the
looming sense of non-performance, the government’s despair has started to show
as even international credit-rating agencies can be lambasted for being
‘anti-national’ because they warn government to stem the growing culture of
Spurred by a lack of capital accumulation and massive
resource deficit, the finance minister targets the most vulnerable sections:
the budget has slashed expenditures on health, education and welfare schemes
for women and children, the employment guarantees under NREGA are being
sabotaged by withholding wages, and empowerment schemes for women are slated
for termination. Inflation is rampant in essential commodities, including major
protein sources for the mass of the population. Energy prices have soared in
cities like Bombay. The banks are struggling with a gargantuan backwash of bad
loans. And crude prices have come down by over 50 per cent, but none of that
has been or will be passed on to the public in social sector spending.
A programme of mass welfare: PM Modi’s defeat in Bihar reflected a confluence of all these factors, apart
from any conscious rejection of hate politics. It was a master stroke for
Nitish Kumar to appropriate the slogan of ‘development’ and abruptly terminate
the BJP’s rhetorical monopoly over it. But if the Bihar result is going to be
translatable into the return of a genuinely democratic, more strongly secular
regime at the Centre in 2019, not only will a coalition have to be built in
conditions fraught with traditional rivalries between the potential allies of
such a coalition, but a unified Opposition will absolutely have to reach out to
the electorate with a programme that boldly commits itself to sweeping reforms
like universal health care and breaks decisively with the stagnation of real
wages that has characterised the past two decades.
In U.P. where the main contenders may well be the BJP and
BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), the realignment has to comprise a broad pro-poor
alliance that includes not only Dalits and Muslims, but the mass of
impoverished groups among the OBCs, those who have gained the least from the
Mandal quotas. Ms Mayawati can, like Mr. Kumar, attract the women’s vote across
caste lines. She can make education a pivotal issue, promising to reclaim
publicly funded education, not least for the lakhs of school girls across the
At an all-India level, a pro-poor secular alliance ought to
make mass welfare, equality, and an expanding culture of democracy the central
planks of its vision for India. That also means much wider union coverage and
stronger union rights. India’s integration into world economy cannot be
construed as justifying policies that shift the burden of national survival to
the poor in the form of further squeezes on consumption, low wages, appalling
conditions of life, hostility to unions, environmental catastrophe, and so on.
As long as future governments in India are beholden to big
business, the best one can hope for is to have an industrial policy geared to
encouraging only those large enterprises that can exploit global economies of
scale, even as they are forced to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and
required by law to allow for strong worker organisation at plant and company
level. At other scales of enterprise, governments committed to boosting the
home market should encourage the growth of state, private and worker-managed enterprises
that integrate job creation with the building of a green economy geared to
social needs, taking its cue from the ‘massive expansion of rural public works
programmes’ that followed the introduction of NREGA in 2006.
India needs huge public investment in health, housing,
agriculture and renewable energy, and this can only be funded by taxing the
rich (widening the tax net to include agriculture and the ‘informal sector’)
and rebalancing spending priorities. Malnutrition remains widespread, the state
of education is appalling, child labour continues unabated, and the state
machinery is a bastion of unfettered violence against the most vulnerable
groups in India. And no new government committed to a stronger democracy can
postpone key legislation that still hangs fire, notably the Women’s Reservation
Bill and the Communal Violence Bill. The opposition parties will need to start
thinking about all this from now so that as 2019 approaches they have a solid