Corporate Cronyism with a Communal Face
By Prasenjit Bose
Compared to all the Lok Sabha polls since 1998, the 2014 elections are distinct in one sense. Seldom has the fate of a ruling party been sealed so early on in an election campaign. The Congress is down and out, owing to its misrule, corruption, and deteriorating economic conditions. Who would replace the Congress at the centre still remains an open question.
The people of India are confronted with several important issues. Can the theft of our natural resources, from spectrum and natural gas to coal and iron ore, through corporate cronyism be allowed to continue? Should we continue with an economic strategy which has led to rising inequalities, relentless inflation of essential commodities, industrial slowdown, job losses, and an increase in external vulnerability? Should we allow our democratic institutions to be subverted by the rich and powerful? Should Nirbhayas, Ilavarasans, and Nidos continue to die in crimes based on gender, caste, and race? Should innocents be allowed to be killed in wanton communal violence like in Muzaffarnagar? Or are we to embark on an alternative course, towards a more just, equitable, and genuinely democratic society?
Political events over the past few years reflect a strong desire for change, especially among the youth. The capital city of Delhi witnessed massive street protests, from the anti-corruption movement to the student protests against the gang-rape of a paramedic student in December 2012. This upsurge in discontent, however, has not got channelized in a single direction.
The RSS-BJP is attempting to consolidate the anti-Congress vote through the ‘Modi for PM’ campaign. The propaganda blitz in favour of Narendra Modi is being bankrolled by the big corporates, with crony capitalists like the two Ambanis, Gautam Adani, and others openly coming out in his support. Adani’s private jet is being used by Modi to travel around the country, spending crores of rupees on expensive rallies and media events.
Corporate India was worried with the growing public anger against massive corruption scandals involving big businesses and ruling politicians spilling over into a backlash against the neoliberal regime in its entirety. Their survival-instinct forced them to junk the thoroughly discredited Congress in favour of the Modi-led BJP. Out of the 100 CEOs of companies worth over Rs. 500 crores, surveyed by the Economic Times in September 2013, 74 opted for Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.
Modi has already displayed in Gujarat how the entire state machinery can be made to nakedly serve corporate interests. A CAG report placed in the Gujarat assembly in April 2012 detailed how the state PSUs like the Gujarat State Petronet Limited and Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited have unduly benefitted the Reliance Industries and Adani Power to the tune of Rs. 52 crore and Rs. 160 crore respectively. The report provided further instances of land being granted to companies like Essar Steel, Ford, and L&T at arbitrary rates fixed far below the market value, causing losses of hundreds of crores to the state exchequer.
This corporate loot of resources in Gujarat has continued while over one-third of the children (36%) in Gujarat remained malnourished in 2012 as per another CAG report. Even the women and child development minister of Gujarat conceded in the state assembly last year that there were over 85000 malnourished children in the Ahmedabad district alone. Earlier, while speaking on the prevalence of malnutrition in Gujarat in an interview to the Wall Street Journal in 2012, Modi had said that it was because Gujaratis are vegetarians and middle class girls in the state are more ‘beauty conscious’ than ‘health conscious’!
It is the promise of implementing this brazenly pro-corporate model of development, shorn of any trappings of welfarism, which has attracted widespread support for the ‘Modi for PM’ project from the big businesses. The Sensex is scaling new heights today, despite the slowdown in economic and industrial growth, in anticipation of a Modi victory in the general elections. For the Indian big corporates and finance capital, neither corruption nor communalism is an issue. These rapacious and anti-people classes are only interested in the sustenance of the regime of corporate cronyism.
The Modi-led BJP has no problems with corruption. After a short stint outside, both Yeddyurappa and the Bellary brothers, who are facing criminal charges in Karnataka for illegal land allotment and illegal mining respectively, have been reinducted into the BJP fold. In its desperate bid to grab power, the BJP is also discussing a possible alliance with INLD in Haryana, whose leader Chautala is in jail for the teachers’ recruitment scam.
There has been a systemic attempt to whitewash Modi’s record in Gujarat, as the chief minister who presided over the communal violence in 2002 and who had to be twice reminded by Prime Minister Vajpayee to perform his ‘rajdharma’, irrespective of religion, caste, and creed. A former minister in the Modi cabinet, Maya Kodnani, has been sentenced to jail by the court for 28 years for leading the Naroda Patiya massacre. Last year, ex-DIG Vanzara, who is in jail for the fake encounter cases, reminded Modi in an open letter to “repay the debt which he owes to jailed police officers who endowed him with the halo of Brave Chief Minister”. These facts point towards the serious misuse of the state machinery and subversion of the rule of law under the Modi regime in Gujarat.
And yet, we’re being told that Modi has changed for the better. That a leopard cannot change its spots was seen in Muzaffarnagar last year. Soon after Modi’s right hand man, Amit Shah, was appointed as the BJP’s in-charge for UP, the mandir issue was raked up and the VHP initiated an Ayodha yatra. This provided the perfect setting for a local dispute in Muzaffarnagar to flare up into large scale communal violence, where over 60 innocent persons were killed and over 50000 rendered homeless. The inept and opportunistic SP government in UP and the BJP leadership worked in tandem to polarize the electorate on communal lines. In a rally last November, the BJP felicitated its local MLAs from the region who are accused of instigating communal clashes and may even field them as Loksabha candidates.
The Modi plank, therefore, represents a heady mix of naked backing by the greedy corporates, who have looted and plundered the country’s resources over the past decade, on the one hand and assorted fundamentalists, rioters and crooks, on the other. If this toxic combine succeeds in grabbing power at the centre, India’s democracy will be at peril.
The momentum achieved by the BJP so far is primarily at the cost of the Congress, which has virtually surrendered even before the battle has begun. The forces which are holding out are the regional parties, including the Left parties and the AAP, whose presence is also primarily regional. There are states where these regional forces are likely to do well – like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal, where the BJP will not be able to make much headway. The BJP will also face a stiff challenge from the BSP in UP, AAP in Delhi and Haryana, and JD(U) in Bihar.
In many ways, the outcome of the polls in UP and Bihar would be crucial. In any case, it will not be possible for the BJP to form a government on the basis of the current set of allies alone. If the bigger regional parties refuse to cooperate with the BJP, Modi’s dream of becoming PM cannot materialize. The track record of the regional parties, however, does not evoke much optimism.
The obvious problem with the regional parties is that there is neither a leader nor an alternative development agenda on the basis of which they can come together to present a credible alternative to the BJP. In fact, these regional parties are busy replicating the same set of policies in their respective states as the Congress and BJP, and also displaying the same vices of cronyism and dynastic politics.
The Left parties, which used to be the pole around which non-Congress secular forces have gathered in the past, have themselves got weakened in their strongholds owing to a plethora of political errors by the Left leadership. As a result, the attempted ‘third alternative’ has failed to take off. The AAP had made a promising start in Delhi, but its unrealistic national ambitions coupled with a confused political-economic vision and intransigence in building broader alliances, has severely limited its appeal and influence.
The fragmentation of the secular space in the Indian polity is working to the BJP’s advantage. It remains to be seen whether the secular parties can accomplish in the post-poll situation what could not be achieved in the pre-poll scenario: presenting a credible and progressive policy-based alternative to the people.
Prasenjit Bose is a leftwing economist and political activist, currently based in Kolkata.