IN the cacophony of pre-election decibels in the Indian media there is a risk of ignoring a shadowy agenda few are prepared to admit or discuss. It has to do with the imminent threat of corporate fascism intensifying in the country after the next elections.
The popular construct — Congress is secular and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) communal — is a cliché that may have been mildly valid once.
The question today is, what else are the interests of India’s two main parties apart from their overused parochial binary? A probable answer might be that both pander to common corporate interests, domestic as well as foreign. And they serve the interests with scant regard for probity.
As far as corruption goes, both parties have been caught with their hands in the till siphoning money from dubious arms imports and issuing industrial licences with assured windfall profits to their chosen ones.
This, however, encompasses just one aspect of the problem. Former World Bank chief and neocon guru Paul Wolfowitz set the agenda for the Third World in this regard.
In India, the Wolfowitz prescription has given rise to Baba Ramdevs and Anna Hazares. They together with a host of NGOs want to clean up the country’s pervasive corruption. So try to imagine a clean neocon economic model for India, uninterrupted by the distortions of corruption, and you would perhaps end up in Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. He is fasting against inflated electricity bills that people are routinely handed by the newly privatised utilities.
However, only about 30 odd per cent of Indians can or do pay their utility bills. The rest live on divine mercy, usually without electricity or even water. Many of them go to quacks, for example to Nirmal Baba. He runs a TV channel and prescribes rasgullas and gulab jamuns whose consumption would cure the travails dogging his million-plus followers. India’s corporate agenda seems as entrenched as it is kept undiscussed. Few see a link between it and an increasingly policed and militarised nation. The agenda came to the fore with the advent of Dr Manmohan Singh who first uncorked the neocon genie. Of course, the Congress could not have passed its very first pro-market budget in 1992 without brazenly cheating parliament.
The Narasimha Rao government should have been thrown out that day but it scraped through in a tight vote (when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister) by bribing a few tribal MPs. The tribal MPs went to jail and Singh went to the IMF.
The election of Dr Singh to the Rajya Sabha itself was disputed in the courts as he was not a resident of Assam, the state he claimed to belong to. The mandatory requirement of optimum domicile was subsequently deleted to suit corporate interests. Singh remains the only prime minister never to have been elected to the Lok Sabha. So much for exigencies of business calling the shots in India.
A glimpse of the polity he set into motion showed up in the so-called Nira Radia tapes, the consequence of illegal phone tapping. The taped conversations were essentially rooted in a bitter business rivalry that was then going on between the Ambani brothers.
There is a conversation about a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, a certain Mr Clean who was a former editor of a newspaper and who made many brownie points by exposing the Congress party’s financial scandals and by writing tomes of essays on how Muslims had messed up the country.
How could he be quietly re-elected from Uttar Pradesh by a combination of pro-Hindutva and pro-Muslim parties? This was the discussion tapped between two well-connected corporate brokers. His election was important so that he could represent one of the Ambani brothers in their business dispute in the Rajya Sabha, or so the taped conversation revealed.
On its part, the 13-day BJP government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1996 signed a controversial agreement with the American Enron group for a gas-based power unit in Maharashtra. The project was a financial fiasco, but it helped project the BJP as a pro-business party to the world and to its would-be domestic patrons. It returned to power with a successful coalition.
In the cacophony of parochial formulae (Hindu, Muslim, caste etc.) about the coming polls something vital has gone unnoticed. The politically assertive backward castes — Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar together with nearly all the southern Indian parties have signed up with the corporate agenda.
In other words, the traditional baniya-Brahmin alliance, monopolised by the predominantly upper caste Congress and the BJP, is giving way to new corporate alliances involving emerging centres of power courtesy the backward castes.
As the media goes on discussing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s communal, anti-Muslim identity, I am convinced that he is least likely to supervise another slaughter of Muslims. He has bigger fish to fry. And that is why he has the support of an unprecedented number of powerful tycoons.
The next corporate agenda will be probably unleashed against the most impoverished tribespeople of Chhattisgarh and Orissa after the elections where the people have been demanding an end to the age-old exploitative “baniya-contractor-politician nexus”.
However, given the fact that police and military are the only public-sector agencies that seem to have unlimited job vacancies in an otherwise depressed state of economy, it would not be too difficult for Modi or any other middle-caste leader, to mount the imminent assault on India’s poor to seize their land, water and minerals. Congress and BJP will be there to help.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.