What kind of India will we have when an “industrial corridor” runs from Delhi to Mumbai and another from Chennai to Bangalore?
Who will benefit most and who will lose most from the $1 trillion in infrastructure investment that Finance Minister P. Chidambaram deems necessary in the next decade?
What will be the impact of a Chernobyl/Fukushima-style disaster at an Indian nuclear power plant?
How will unrestricted foreign investment in the Indian economy change our politics?
How will the Land Acquisition Bill now before Parliament change Indian society?
The answers to those questions should cause general alarm, for in every case they portend disaster.
The lion’s share of the benefits of “development” will flow to a small group of super-rich Indians and their foreign partners. There will be increased employment opportunities for all Indians but that will be poor compensation for a range of devastating costs. “Development” as currently conceived will poison our land, air and water, ravage the country’s natural heritage, destroy the intricate balances on which our social coherence rests, and sell our economic and political freedom to a corrupt global elite.
We do not have to imagine many of the dangers; China illustrates in grim detail the future we are building.
Three decades ago China had a poor but largely egalitarian society under a brutally authoritarian regime (a norm throughout its well-recorded history). “Economic liberalization,” the magic potion now being pushed on India, softened the oppressions to some degree but also made Chinese society the most unequal in the world.
This is how it happened.
Massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) created a new class of super-rich Chinese so wedded to their own and foreign interests as to be completely alienated from their own people: an astounding 80 per cent of the country’s millionaires have either emigrated or plan to do so.
The urge to flee abroad has good reason. Their wealth has been built on the expropriation of the land from millions of poor farmers and the exploitation of some 280 million “migrant workers” who powered China’s manufacturing boom but continue to live hand to mouth in urban areas without residency rights or social services. Almost all wealthy Chinese are related to corrupt members of the Communist Party, and many have done nothing more to earn their fortunes than gamble with embezzled public funds in real estate, commodities and stock markets. The enormous asset bubbles they have created are now moving towards collapse, and there is little hope the regime will be able to bring them to a soft landing. When the inevitable crash comes, the modern version of China’s traditional “peasant rebellions” will surely target the rich; it makes sense for them to leave.
Much of the country they leave behind will be a toxic wasteland. The tens of thousands of dead pigs, ducks and dogs that have floated down Chinese rivers in recent months are only the most graphic indicators of the poisonous nature of China’s widely hailed growth. The hazardous air pollution in many Chinese cities, the deadly contaminants in the soil and groundwater of many agrarian areas and the recently discovered “disappearance” of some 27,000 small rivers underline why the rich plan to flee.
There is a broad misconception that despite these heavy costs China has risen to the status of a super-Power-in-waiting. The reality is the opposite: its rapid economic growth has left China virtually incapable of facing foreign pressures. The much vaunted “workshop to the world” now has over 50 per cent of its exports in the hands of foreign corporations, and an even larger proportion of its manufacturing tied into transnational production chains. In short, foreign corporations effectively control the Chinese economy and the Communist mandarins know it. The fact that corporate biggies kowtow to Beijing only indicates that they will do anything for profit.
These scary facts explain China’s regional belligerence over the last two years: like its Mini-me counterpart in Pyongyang, the regime in Beijing is hoping that its growling and snapping will be mistaken for strength and perhaps help rally domestic support in dealing with the impending crises.
It is very clear that the proponents of “economic reforms” in India do not recognize what has happened in China as cautionary. At last year’s Mumbai “summit” of Indian business leaders under the aegis of the World Economic Forum Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries called for the government to get out of the way of business. “In today’s world” he declared, “everything is instantaneous, everything needs to happen now.” State and Central governments in India should “align and move a lot faster” in making decisions affecting business.
The general fatigue with arrogant Babus made Ambani’s demand pleasing to the gallery, but in view of our history it is a dangerous proposition. Indian businessmen pursuing their own interests untroubled by national political concerns were primarily responsible for British success in colonizing, ruling and indeed, Partitioning India. Robert Clive borrowed the money to bribe Mir Jafar at Plassey from Jagat Seth of Calcutta, the wealthiest banker of Mughal India. In the 150 years that followed, every expansion of British rule happened with the collaboration of Indian financiers and dalals too engrossed in their own profit to see what they were doing to the country. Such people even helped arrange the “communal riots” that killed over a million people at Partition, and they have continued to be foreign proxies in independent India.
It is frightening that all this is unseen in the push for “economic reforms” to attract greater foreign investment in India. Even recent examples of anti-national behavior by Indian businessmen have been swept under the rug.
Consider, for example, that the Ruia brothers of ESSAR felt no compunction in helping Hutchinson-Whampoa, a Hong Kong based conglomerate with close links to China’s People’s Liberation Army, to enter the Indian telecom market; nor did they feel the need to keep New Delhi in the picture when structuring a deal in the Cayman Islands to sell their joint venture to British telephone giant Vodafone. Now, when money laundering is a major national issue, Vodafone is set to roll out the “m-pesa,” its mobile telephone “currency” that will make it impossible for the government to track payments to violent subversive groups in the country. (The rollout is set to begin in the troubled Northeast!) Meanwhile, ESSAR agents have been caught making payments to Naxalites.
Mukesh Ambani is another recent example. Today’s richest Indian felt comfortable blindsiding the Indian government in signing a deal in the British Prime Minister’s office to allow BP, perhaps the most predatory of the major oil companies, entry into our strategic energy sector. Reliance got $8 billion from that deal but India was left with an unpredictable and serious security threat.
The blindness to security aspects of investment decisions has become endemic. Some people are even pushing to open the Indian defence industry to FDI at a time when a former Chief of Army Staff is suspected of treasonous collusion with foreign arms suppliers and a former Air Force Chief is under active investigation for corrupting a procurement process. Perhaps decision-makers in the Finance Ministry should each be given a desktop copy of US President Dwight Eisenhower's speech warning of the threat to American democracy from the "military industrial complex."
This state of affairs is more than a failure of policy-making, governance and Intelligence; it points to a wholesale loss of political dharma. That is also the reason for the unending series of “scams” our politicians generate. Instead of the selfless and visionary leaders of the pre-independence era the Indian political class now seems to produce only insatiably greedy and corrupt individuals devoted to nothing but their own profit.
Those who retain their basic integrity have tended to be, like the current Prime Minister, technocrats with little sense of history or the long-term interests and needs of Indian society. Mr. Singh’s speech at his alma mater in Britain a few years ago, and the direction of his economic reforms illustrate the extent of that intellectual vapidity. The Supreme Court’s green lighting of the nuclear plant at Koodankulam and the multidimensional idiocy of Justice Markandey Katju indicate that the judiciary suffers the same disease. In other areas, especially the vitally important realm of mass media, the falling away from integrity and excellence has been scandalous.
Unless we understand why this has happened and take remedial measures, our future will stand on sand.
Fortunately, we do not have to look far for an accurate diagnosis. The Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 2, Verses 62-63 says that a focus on material objects breeds sensory desires that are inevitably frustrated and cause a delusive state of mind. A deluded mind cannot remember, and without memory human intelligence loses its power of discrimination; with that, the “Self itself is lost.”
During the colonial era the national focus on freedom brought out the best in our leaders; since independence the predominant concern with “development” defined entirely in material terms has called out the very worst. The votaries of “development” have no historical memory. They do not remember how India was colonized and the terrible price exacted by foreign rule. In their delusional state they dismiss Gandhi’s specific warnings about industrialization and are blind to the fact that the global environmental and economic crises confirm his prediction of disaster.
The widely deluded state of the Indian elite is not all grim and earnest; there is comedy in its manic desire to become ersatz Europeans. Editors of “elite” newspapers see nothing weird in routinely using photographs of Europeans to illustrate Indian stories. The advertising industry cleaves to the idea – unsupported by any evidence – that Indian consumers are most powerfully induced to buy by salacious depictions of European models and mores. English television channels imitate their Western counterparts in breast-beating coverage of individual cases of child abuse, rape and murder but routinely ignore the millions of baby deaths that make India one of the most dangerous place in the world to be an infant.
Largely because of that dementia in the mass media, Indians in general do not see that the country's mounting wave of crime and corruption is driven by the social dislocation and moral confusions of its “development.” Harsh new laws and punishments will not make a whit of difference if we do not change the nature and patterns of economic growth to support the stability and coherence of our society.
How realistic is it to expect that we can change a model of “development” that has gained such weight and momentum?
It is entirely realistic, for our democratic processes allow it: but we must initiate and support the necessary political action.
The remedial process must begin with the awareness that British rule of India did not end in 1947; the people who took power were Brown Sahibs incapable of charting an independent Indian route to modernity. They have remained emotionally wedded to the British and perhaps even been in their pay. A look through Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings, especially his letters explaining the world to teenaged Indira, illustrate just how little he knew/understood/cared about traditional India. The contempt Markandey Katju sprays on all Indians is bred from that same combination, and unfortunately, it is widespread among our so-called “secular” elite.
A major reason for their dismissive attitude is the narrow, intolerant concepts spread under the rubric of Hindutva by the Hindu Mahasabha and its modern progeny, the Sangh Parivar. Having seen the damage caused by their interpretation of the Hindu ethos, Indians in the national mainstream have very rightly rejected it as subversive and dangerous. But they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, for in rejecting Hindutva, they have dismissed Hinduism itself. They have closed themselves off from a broad and generous tradition that offers an alternative to Western style “development.”
Perhaps the best way to delineate the difference between the Hindu and the Hindutva approaches is to look at their attitudes to India’s Muslim and Christian minorities. The Hindu attitude is to blur the differences and emphasize commonalities; Hindutvadis underline differences and demand dominance for their own beliefs.
The difference is rooted in history.
Conversions to other religions, especially those won by the sword or under the compulsions of power, appear in the long Hindu view as the unavoidable price of meeting existential challenges. Only by Indians walking in the shoes of the invasive Other will we be able to know how to respond; that has been at the heart of the tremendous Indian capacity for assimilation. The Hindutva approach springs from the British attempt to divide Indians on the basis of religion. Its offensive and unsupportable demand for social dominance is essentially an expression of insecurity and fear; it weakens India.
That difference between considering Muslims and Christians as part of a general Indian alliance in dealing with global realities and seeing them as traitors in waiting reflects a deeper division.
The silent confidence of the Hindu mainstream is embedded in the faith that Truth alone will triumph. Missionaries can use every dirty trick to win followers but in the end, the great verities of India’s eternal faith will prevail. In that context, individual responsibility is no more or less than to preserve personal dharma, to be honest in thought and deed, to understand that in all things God works for the ultimate victory of the Good.
In contrast, the Hindutva approach is totally Semitic. It is based on the belief that the defence and propagation of socially dominant Hinduism is necessary to ensure the survival of their faith. It reacts to conversions with hatred and violence. It has no faith that human destiny is eternally governed by a deeper and stronger moral reality.
The net result of these differences is that today no figure, party or movement brings the mainstream Hindu perspective into politics as Mahatma Gandhi did; our "development" is rooted in confusion.
If we are to resolve the internal contradictions of Bharat that is India and make it a meaningful global presence it is imperative to bring clarity to our concept of development. Who are we as a people and what do we want to become and/or do in the world?
To achieve that clarity we must wean the Hindutvadis into a more generous consideration of Sanatana Dharma and bring the so-called "secular forces" to reflect on the value and worth of that ancient tradition.
Part 4 of this essay will look at how we can effect those changes. Read Part 1 and Part 2