Modi and Us
Modi, like a colossus, straddles India. His triumphant ride from Gujarat to Delhi supersedes the Rath Yatra of Advani – he seized the throne, while all Advani could do was leave blood in his wake. Modi has vanquished India. His acolytes say that whatever happened in 2002 in Gujarat is in the past. The future is in Development.
What is meant by Modi’s Development? There are two ways to gauge this. First, one can look at Gujarat – where Business has indeed thrived, but the livelihood of the ordinary people remains mediocre, where labor conditions are abysmal and environmental protections withdrawn. Second, one can go and find the theory of Modi’s Development. This is easily found in the writings of the head of his new Niti Aayog – Columbia University Professor Arvind Panagariya. The most important suggestions are for what Panagariya calls Track 1 reforms. Let us look at three points:
(1)Eviscerate labor laws. “Track 1 reforms require, first and foremost, the reform of India’s labor laws,” writes Panagariya. “Highly rigid labor laws have made entrepreneurs terrified of hiring workers.” Since the 1990s, the courts have whittled down the right to strike and other protections given to workers. But Modi’s Development requires more. It requires freedom for capital to fire labor as well as freedom for capital to declare bankruptcy and liquidate its labor force.
(2)Expand Privatization. The BJP’s Vajpayee government had set up a Ministry for Disinvestment, with the great warrior of the Right Arun Shourie in the minister’s seat. He went a long way toward the asset stripping of Indian industry. The Congress-led UPA was too embarrassed to do the job with such brazenness. It chose more refined ways to do the same kind of thing. Panagariya thinks the Congress simply didn’t go fast enough (besides in 2006, the UPA had to shelve its disinvestment program after the DMK felt smarted by the Neyveli Lignite deal). He wants more. “The government must restart efforts to privatize public-sector enterprises, especially those engaged in such activities as manufacturing fertilizers, chemicals and electronic and engineering goods.” Little divides the UPA’s Montek Singh Ahluwalia from Panagariya. It is merely that the BJP government is not hamstrung by the wiles of the regional parties or the ideological opposition from the Left.
(3)Privatize Education. One of the most serious gestures made by Panagariya has been his call for the privatization of higher education. In June 2014, he wrote that the government “should abolish such government bodies as the University Grants Commission, which set and enforce standards for all Indian universities.” There is a need, he wrote, for the government to “end its own bureaucratic stranglehold on the university system.” What would replace it? Some modest regulation of a largely fee-for-service educational industry.
In essence, the mechanism to end poverty – which Modi has said is his major goal – is by freeing up the private sector to create jobs. The policies that Modi wants to install in India are precisely what have created a drought in global employment, according to the International Labour Organisation and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
Modi has said that it is poverty that he wants to fight, that social suffocation of India’s diversity is not his goal. Nonetheless, Modi’s election has strengthened the forces of suffocation, who now give full vent to their ludicrous yet dangerous ideology. There is always a whiff of fascism that hangs over the BJP’s allies. From Muzaffarnagar to Muzaffarpur, from the rhetoric of Varun Gandhi to Niranjan Jyoti, the evidence of this intolerance is evident. But these epigones of Modi are not new to the Indian stage. Advani would froth from the mouth during his Ramjanambhoomi campaign, as would Vajpayee in his Goa speech in 2002 (“Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others. Instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others”). The emotional register of the BJP and its Sangh Parivar is viciousness – it cannot speak without bearing its fangs.
Reading about the BJP can be monotonous. Most of the literature concentrates on the biliousness of its leadership – the kind of statements made by them, the awful positions they take on social and economic issues. There is a tendency to believe that if one merely exposes the kind of views of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the population will come to its senses, abandon them and flee to more liberal political parties. Such a view asserts that the people are deluded. But is this a sufficient analysis of the current situation, particularly when the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are quite willing to broadcast their most offensive ideology to the widest audience? Shouldn’t we have a deeper sense of the social processes at play that attract the forces of neo-liberal Hindutva? What are the classes that are drawn to the BJP, which caste fragments find their politics appealing? What are the ruling class sections that have given themselves over to the BJP, and not just those who are with the BJP now and would – opportunistically – be with the Congress later? More research is needed, surveys of the mohallas of UP where the BJP has been able to establish itself, surveys of the provincial college campuses where its student wing has been able to secure a base. Such work is essential. It would teach us how to better confront the Sangh Parivar.
We cannot defeat the Right by being horrified by it. Patient assessment of its strength and patient work to build our own ranks are both essential. Unities of the popular classes have to be built as the only antidote against the Right. But these unities cannot be built on wishful thinking alone. They require hard work and hard thought. They require the kind of labor unity that could be glimpsed in the nation-wide coal strike and the local stoppages in different sectors; the kind of alignment of women’s groups and agricultural workers’ groups against the destruction of rural employment. These are bold maneuvers to build popular confidence and a popular will against neo-liberalism and Hindutva. The only real alternative vests in the growth of a united and bold Left. Anything else is palliative.
Vijay Prashad is the Chief Editor at LeftWord Books. He is the author, most recently, of No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (LeftWord, 2015) and a columnist for Frontline, al-Araby al-Jadeed and BirGün.