Monday, July 2, 2018

Market intellectuals The vacant middle. By Mukul Kesavan

Pundits will tell you that a lot of them endorsed Narendra Modi (and his baggage train of violent vigilantes and drilled Golwalkarites) in 2014 because they thought he would privatize Air India. Even when once pro-Modi commentators shyly channel buyer's remorse about the prime minister, they end by writing that if Modi were to sell off Air India, he would repay their political investment in him, renew their faith in the National Democratic Alliance and refresh Modi's credentials as a modernizer or 'reformer' or whatever the latest term of art is for Davos Man.

Selling Air India is shorthand for economic rationality. Economic rationality is a mantra which, chanted loudly enough, builds a wall of noise which keeps the soundtrack of lynchings and suicides off-stage. These casualties can be waved away as acceptable collateral damage, the price India must pay for a muscular leader capable of selling the short-term pain of market rationality to the masses.

Elected sadhvis, sadhus, mahants and pant-shirt bigots tell us exactly what they think of Muslims, Christians and Dalits and what they plan to do to them; WhatsApp mobs kill people in the name of protecting cows from slaughter or children from abduction; a vigilante with a history of violent affray is elevated by the ruling party to the chief ministership of India's most populated province and still these opinion-mongers see and hear nothing. Where others hear mobs shouting 'maar', ' kaat', these high priests of the invisible hand, these pragmatic centrists, these world-weary veterans of the wars against the License Raj, cup their ears and and hear the aspiring masses chanting 'Mar-ket, mar-ket, mar-ket!'

Some of these sages can claim the virtue of consistency. One, for example, candidly admitted that he endorsed Modi in 2014 because he thought that communalism was an acceptable price to pay for economic growth. Four years down the line he said he would do it again because the lack of economic growth was due to global trends, not Modi's policies; the gau rakshasas and their lynched victims were statistically insignificant and, best of all, there had been no State-sponsored pogroms on Modi's watch.

This smooth willingness to grant Modi absolution for not delivering on his original promise, economic growth, while blandly normalizing the savagery that bloomed around this regime's footprint, is one way in which the discourse of economic reform is used: to clear a space for barbarism. It also has the advantage of deodorizing the pundit's journey to the smelly reaches of the Hindu Right... read more: