* Editorial 1
It spells double danger — threatening India’s secular and democratic standing and miring the economy deeper in crisis
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Hindutva “nationalism” unlike anti-colonial nationalism does not comprehend economics. The reason is simple. Central to anti-colonial nationalism was an understanding of colonial exploitation. This is why it distinguished between all previous rulers and the colonial rulers: previous rulers had appropriated economic surplus from the peasantry and spent it domestically, thereby generating employment; colonialism expropriated surplus from the peasantry and shipped most of it abroad which destroyed domestic employment. Hindutva obliterates this basic distinction, putting the Mughals and the British on a par, because it does not comprehend economics.
A discourse shift
This ironically has been its forte. In a period in which neo-liberal capitalism has lost its steam, the corporate-financial oligarchy wants an ideological prop different from the one it had used earlier, namely the promise of a high GDP growth and its potentially beneficial effect for all. This no longer suffices when growth slackens. Orienting state policy in favour of this oligarchy and yet preventing any revolt from below requires a discourse shift, which Hindutva provides. This is the basis of the formation of the corporate-Hindutva alliance which currently rules the country.
Had Hindutva been more economics-savvy and attempted to tinker with the economic regime to overcome the crisis that has arisen essentially because of the contradictions of neo-liberalism (though aggravated by blunders such as demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, or GST), its usefulness to the corporates would have been limited. This alliance would have got ruptured. But Hindutva’s ignorance in economic matters has stood it in good stead vis-à-vis the corporates; and the alliance continues.
This shift of discourse is from one bequeathed by the anti-colonial struggle, where political formations vied with one another in projecting the relief they promised to the people, to one of hyper-nationalism that has little in common with anti-colonial nationalism, and largely sidesteps the material conditions of life of the people. It harks back rather to a European hyper-nationalism that reached its culmination during the inter-war years.
Such a shift is unprecedented in Indian politics which is why the Opposition has become so incapacitated. The Left, committed to the old discourse, has been stunned; it is now just beginning to stir. The Congress is unable to make up its mind whether to stick to the old discourse, or to follow, however grudgingly, the new discourse of Hindutva hyper-nationalism.
The importance of this discourse shift was clearly manifest during the recent Lok Sabha elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party had lost ground prior to it; and a powerful peasant movement was building up threatening its continuance in power. But Pulwama and the Balakot strike, strengthening the hyper-nationalist discourse, gave it a fresh lease of life. The same peasants, who had marched against the government in Delhi just days before the elections, voted for its continuance.
The usefulness of this discourse shift to the corporate-financial oligarchy is obvious from recent developments. In the lee of the dilution of Articles 370 and 35A, which amounts to a forcible annexation of Jammu and Kashmir and which stokes Hindutva hyper-nationalism, the government has introduced corporate tax concessions worth ₹1.45 lakh crore, ostensibly to overcome the economy’s crisis. Whatever opposition one would have normally expected to this gratuitous transfer of public funds to corporate pockets, is drowned out in the din of hyper-nationalism celebrating the “triumph” in Kashmir.
The fact that this tax-concession will have a negative effect on the level of activity in the economy, and hence on employment and output, though obvious, is scarcely articulated. Since the tax-concession will not be financed by a larger fiscal deficit, as that would alienate globalised finance capital which the government is loath to do, it will have to pinch resources from the working people. Any income-shift from the working people to the corporates, however, ceteris paribus reduces consumption demand in the economy.
This is because the propensity to consume out of income is higher for working people than for corporates who keep their extra income partly as undistributed profits; even out of the dividends distributed out of such extra income the propensity to consume is low. And since corporate investment depends on the expected growth in the size of the market, which a rise in the current post-tax profits does not change an iota, there will be no additional investment that would be caused by such tax concessions. Hence the overall aggregate demand will decline, worsening the crisis. What is more, with such a decline in aggregate demand, investment in the next period will decline, accentuating the downward spiral of the economy.
This crisis itself has been caused by the enormous increase in income inequality that neo-liberal capitalism has brought about, not just in India but the world over. It has shifted incomes from the working people, namely peasants, workers, artisans, craftsmen, and fishermen, towards the corporate-financial oligarchy. The demand-contracting effects of this shift had been offset for long by a set of contingent factors, mainly asset price bubbles, both in India and globally. But with the decline of such factors, the crisis has manifested itself, with Narendra Modi’s demonetisation and GST only compounding the problem arising from the structural infirmity of neo-liberal capitalism. And now the government’s solution to the crisis is to further shift incomes from the working people to the corporates which caused the crisis in the first place.
But as long as the government succeeds in keeping alive the Hindutva hyper-nationalist discourse, it can manage to divert attention from its economic mistakes. The real question is: how did it succeed in marketing its hyper-nationalist discourse?
While there are multiple reasons for it, one must not underestimate the pervasive inculcation of fear and insecurity in the minds of the people. Any criticism of the government, or any presentation of the other side of an argument, brings in charges of “sedition”, anti-nationalism, and belonging to the “tukde-tukde” gang, with little relief from the judiciary which typically follows the executive; political opponents are threatened by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation for alleged financial misdemeanours; and then there is the army of “trolls” and hoodlums that can be unleashed on anyone, with the police generally looking the other way. In this context, and given the virtually complete capitulation of the media to the project of Hindutva hyper-nationalism, only one side of the picture gets presented; not surprisingly this side is taken by many as the truth.
The counter-productiveness of following a pro-corporate and anti-working people income distribution strategy in the midst of a crisis caused by inadequate aggregate demand, will become apparent over time; but this will only spawn even greater Hindutva hyper-nationalist mega projects. The idea is to “shock and awe” people in order to distract attention from the economy and camouflage the government’s economic failures.
This however entails a double danger to the country. The Hindutva hyper-nationalist “shock-and awe” mega projects, such as “one country-one language”, or a National Register of Citizens for the country as a whole, or the Citizenship Amendment Bill, pose a threat to our very existence as a secular and democratic society and polity; at the same time the pro-corporate and anti-working-people economic policies would mire the economy deeper in crisis. Since such economic policies stimulate the “shock-and-awe” projects, the country is caught in a vicious dialectic which will continue until the tide turns.
Prabhat Patnaik is Professor Emeritus, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
There is scope for India-Bangladesh ties to move to the next level, based on cooperation, coordination and consolidation
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will make her first official visit to India from October 3-6, post the general elections in Bangladesh (December 2018) and India (May 2019). She will address the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit followed by the bilateral visit. India and Bangladesh today enjoy one of the best periods of their relationship, with positive development in the areas of diplomatic, political, economic and security relations.
Despite gains, the issues
The current Bangladesh government has uprooted security threats and acts of insurgency against India and today, the India-Bangladesh border is one of India’s most secured. The signing of the Land Boundary Agreement in 2015 was a milestone, where the two neighbours amicably resolved a long-outstanding issue.
Bilateral trade was a little over $9 billion in FY 2017-18 and Bangladeshi exports increased by 42.91%, reaching $1.25 billion in FY 2018-2019. Removal of non-tariff barriers will help Bangladeshi exports such as harmonising the standards for goods accepted by India. In 2018, in addition to the 660 MW of power imported by Bangladesh, Indian export of electricity increased by another 500 MW. A 1,600 MW power station with a dedicated transmission system is being developed to boost power trade.
Land routes have gained popularity over air travel, and are preferred by 85.6% of Bangladeshis visiting India. Train services on the Dhaka-Kolkata and Kolkata-Khulna are doing well, while a third, on the Agartala-Akhaura route, is under construction. Five additional bus services were introduced in 2018; this March, the first ever Dhaka-Kolkata cruise ship was launched. Bangladeshi tourists accounted for 21.6% of the total percentage of tourists visiting India in 2018 (83.7% tourists and 10.28% medical patients). Today, Bangladesh contributes 50% of India’s health tourism revenue.
A few major outstanding issues still remain, with the most pressing being the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s refusal to endorse water-sharing terms agreed upon by Prime Minister Modi in 2015 has resulted in the current impasse. A lack of water has affected 100,000 hectares of land, with contamination affecting the soil; the increased cost of pesticides and irrigation has made farming less profitable. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has left out 1.9 million Assamese from the list with a group labelled as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” living in Assam post-1971. Bangladesh remains firm in its stance that no migrants travelled to Assam illegally during the 1971 war of independence and that the controversial NRC risks hurting relations.
Border killings have decreased. India’s Border Security Force (BSF) claims that most of the firing is in self-defence in tackling cattle trafficking. However, since the ban by India on cattle export, cattle trade has fallen from 23 lakh in 2013 to 75,000 till the end of May this year — which makes the argument unconvincing. International rules of engagement entail that military action must be “proportional to provocation”, which makes such killings a serious violation of human rights. It must not be forgotten that in 2018, the BSF DG had said: “Relations between India and Bangladesh and the two border guarding forces are at their best right now.”
Since 2010, India has approved three lines of credit to Bangladesh of $7.362 billion to finance development projects. Due to bureaucratic red tape, just $442 million has been disbursed till December 2018. While Bangladesh has been slow in implementation, India’s requirement of the disbursement process to be approved by India’s Exim Bank has not helped either. During Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi in 2017, two defence pacts were signed; in 2018, India extended a credit line of $500 million to purchase armaments; two memoranda of understanding were also signed for cooperation between the naval forces.
Subject of Rohingya
The Rohingya issue and India’s remarks in 2017 on the issue have been upsetting for Bangladesh which has been facing the challenge of providing shelter to more than a million Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution by one of the world’s most brutal military regimes. The recent visit to Dhaka by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (August 19-21), saw a marked departure in India’s position; he had said then: “We agreed that safe, speedy and sustainable return of displaced persons (Rohingyas) is in the national interest of all three countries - Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.” However, it is China that is mediating when, given its geographical proximity, it is India which is ideally positioned to play a positive role in regional leadership.
India-Bangladesh relations have matured in the last decade with development in many areas of cooperation. In a neighbourhood where distrust and cynicism prevail over friendship and hope, the relationship between the two countries has given hope for optimism. But the sooner existing challenges are resolved, the better it is. On the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly late last month, Mr. Modi assured Sheikh Hasina that she would not need to worry about the NRC and water-sharing as bilateral relations are very good. It is now time to walk the talk.
The shared colonial legacy, history and socio-cultural bonds demand that the political leadership of the two countries inject momentum into India-Bangladesh relations. Sheikh Hasina’s trip to India will hopefully help relations graduate to the next level of strengthening the three Cs: cooperation, coordination, and consolidation.
Syed Munir Khasru is Chairman of the international think tank, The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG)
Supreme Court’s order on anti-atrocities law is a caution against entering legislative domain
After last year’s amendments aimed at nullifying the effect of a Supreme Court judgment that was seen as diluting the law against atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the apex court’s decision recalling the earlier verdict may not appear very significant. However, the latest order by a three-judge Bench on the Centre’s petition seeking a review is more than a mere academic exercise. Its sound reasoning and sympathetic reconsideration have fortified the legislative measure to restore the law on atrocities committed on Dalits as originally conceived by Parliament. The March 2018 decision laid down three new rules as safeguards against the Act’s possible misuse: that the bar on anticipatory bail under Section 18 need not prevent courts from granting advance bail; that a person can be arrested only if the “appointing authority” (in the case of a public servant) or the SP (in the case of others) approves such arrest; and that there should be a preliminary enquiry into all complaints. It caused an uproar among Dalits, and a nation-wide protest in August last year turned violent in some places. There was political clamour for Parliament’s intervention to restore the anti-atrocities law to its original rigour. That the Bench declined to stay its own order when a review was sought spurred the government into action.
There was widespread criticism then that the BJP’s perceived espousal of upper caste interests and its weak submissions in court had led to the verdict. It was even argued that the Centre was under political compulsion to undo the perception that the interests of the SCs and STs were in danger. The court’s re-examination, on the contrary, is anchored in sound principles. It first underscores that special laws for the protection of SC and ST communities flow from social realities, the discrimination they still face and the circumstances that preclude them from mustering the courage to lodge a complaint in the first place. The court assails the assumption that SC/ST members are more likely to give false complaints than the general population (as evidenced by the fact that there is no preliminary enquiry or prior sanction for arrest envisaged for other complaints). In other words, the additional “safeguards” against the alleged abuse of law by Dalits is another form of discrimination, the court has pointed out. Further, it rejects the idea of treating Dalits as people prone to lodging false complaints. The directions for getting an authority’s sanction for arrest or holding a preliminary enquiry for this class of cases alone are extra-statutory, and clearly amount to the judiciary engaging in legislation. The review is a timely reminder that the top court’s power to pass any order required to uphold justice cannot be used to give directives contrary to existing laws or to supplant them altogether.
Better infrastructure for water management to break the droughts, floods cycle is needed
If Bihar is struggling to stay afloat in the ongoing monsoon, its distress can be traced to poor infrastructure and a lack of administrative preparedness. Even large parts of the capital, Patna, have been paralysed without power and communications, as the State government tries to drain its streets of water, and critical rations are distributed by boat and helicopter. The rain has not spared the more affluent residents either; those living in upscale localities including the Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, have been rescued. But the plight of people in a dozen other districts, many of them struggling with underdevelopment, is much worse. Across Bihar, there has been a significant loss of life and property. Scenes of similar distress have been reported from some other States as well, notably eastern Uttar Pradesh. The monsoon is expected to withdraw after October 10, more than a month behind normal, and its overhang is consistent with the prevalent scientific view on the effects of a changing climate: extreme rainfall and drought occurring at an increased frequency. Normal patterns will become less common in coming years, according to the current consensus. This alarming outlook calls for a far-sighted national response, with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, given the responsibility of coordinating the efforts of other Ministries in charge of housing, urban and rural development, water management, and agriculture, as well as State governments.
Indian cities are attracting heavy investments in several spheres, but State and municipal administrations have not matched their ambitions for development with capacity building and infrastructure creation. They must focus on ensuring the safety of citizens and durability of economic assets. Ignoring urban planning and adaptation is proving costly, and losses are sapping the vitality of the economy. In its Cities and Climate Change report, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change pointed to flooding as a key danger, apart from drought and heat islands. This is particularly true of urban centres through which rivers flow — such as Patna — and are often located on the coast, facing the additional threat of cyclones. India’s cities should work towards solutions that use engineering and ecology to contain the excess water from rain and put it to good use. This could be in the form of new lakes and bioswales, which are vegetated channels to manage rainwater. There is no better time to create such green infrastructure than today, as water management is a priority programme of the NDA government. States should be able to find financial and technical linkages to put up flood-handling structures. In Bihar’s case, coordination with Nepal to track monsoon flows is also vital, since big Gangetic rivers originate in the Himalayan region.
Whether it was design or destiny that propelled Mahatma Gandhi to the forefront of the Indian freedom movement is anybody’s guess (‘Mahatma@150’ special pages, “The pulse of a legacy in an age of heroics”, October 2). Whatever said and done, his overwhelming presence was the vital glue for freedom fighters, regardless of their political or religious differences, to fight on. They spoke in one clear voice. Gandhiji will continue to be revered as the first exponent of non-violence. At the same time, the contribution of other patriots cannot be overlooked. The spirit of Gandhiji’s sacrifice has gradually begun to fade away from the minds of the current generation on account of western influences in almost every walk of life. How this can be countered would be interesting as Gandhian ideals are timeless and have a place in the world.
Almost all the leaders of every political party have marched to Gandhi memorials to pay their floral and oral tributes. It is indeed time for introspection rather than ostentatious celebration as whatever that was dear to the Mahatma to keep India’s social fabric from fraying is getting weakened. Caste and communal divisions are sharper than before. Had the Mahatma lived longer, he would have greatly grieved over the unprincipled chase and fight for power. “My life is my message,” said the legendary advocate of truth and non-violence. Let the leaders of today emulate at least a couple of his teachings instead of merely mouthing empty eulogies.
The Indian media has become subservient to the ruling dispensation with hardly much space being given to the almost non-existent political Opposition. Perhaps the media and media houses believe that the country is heading towards one-party rule; so currying favour with it will serve its interests well. The media today is no longer even-handed, nor does it have the will to speak up against the government’s wrong policies and actions. It will be interesting to see how long a few upright media houses can hold their ground in the current milieu (Editorial page, “What would Gandhi say about the Indian media?” October 2).
Gandhiji would definitely have been more than happy to see how the Indian media has shaped in terms of its technological prowess. But it was Gandhi who said, “India is not Calcutta and Bombay; India lives in her seven thousand villages”. To what extent are voices from here (mainly those of farmers, rural women and the marginalised sections) being heard? How many farmers, rural women and communities who are still hidden being given importance in studios? The heated debates that are telecast do not contribute much in long-term impact. Showcasing the grass-roots is important too.
The Mahatma’s birth anniversary is an occasion to take stock of his teachings and to evaluate how far we have lived up to his teachings.
In actual practice, it has become an annual ritual as we have forgotten to live up to his ideals. We are interested only in using his name for our relevance and photo-ops. Those who matter continue to fool those on the other side of the divide by raising false hopes of a better future that never seems to materialise.
The lifestyle of Gandhiji — ‘long-distance’ walking, dietary habits, periodic fasting and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol — assumes far more relevance today as non-communicable diseases are emerging as a major threat in India. This assumes importance as the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020 places importance on lifestyle choices. It was the Mahatma who said: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold or silver.”