After Karl Marx Indian intelligentsia didn’t progress much!
So, the current crop of Western intellectuals and theorists, names like Eric Hobsbawm and a host of UK and US academics, the names are many don’t command any attention nor the Indian intelligentsia ,whoever they are, care to mention here and grab attention. For that matter Indian economic growth as it is making news, is making news for the World Forum participants, they make up the India’s new generation entrepreneurs, like Bharati Mittal and the Ambani brothers and others like the IT bigwigs carry the day.
So, there is not much room for any historic narrations or the many isms that preceded the present new economy capitlaism.Of course, the there is a new perception of the knowledge driven economy, the IT industries where the brain power counts much in wealth creation. At the same time, there is also much respect and admiration for the new success stories like the Lakshmi Mittal and the Bhraati Mittal types. Anyway, at the level of the intelligentsia, at the level of the bureaucracy and the government, the politicians there are still an entrenched Leftist leaning.
The Left and Right, Indians understand, the Centre- Left, there is a grading acknowledgement. The Congress party is decidedly Centre-Left in its economic approach to development. But for plain Right there is only a minority, for the plain Left, there is a vociferous support from the salaried middle class. As for the poor and the weaker sections, the mass of people, there is now a new surge of casteist, regional chauvinism that makes enormous appeal.But as one Western academic noted there is “the Left and Right remains plainly central” is not strictly relevant to Indian scenario. It is now progressively a tilt towards decidedly a movement towards a plainly Capitalist way forward.
Why Capitalism doesn’t go down well in India?
Our freedom struggle legacy, our socialist experiment and the current lack of articulation, all go to explain the less than admiration for capitalism In India today. India is obviously not a country where you will imagine having such magazines like Fortune or Forbes and the usual routines of Fortune 500 companies list or the world’s most admired companies list or the world’s billionaires list. But lately, these magazines sell widely in India and Indians take pride in the fact that their countrymen regularly make it to this list, one way or other.
First, it was dealing with the Fortune 500 companies; the IT bigwigs take such pride in doing business with these companies. That proves they have arrived on the world stage as companies that matter internationally. So too the now increased preoccupation with the Forbes list. In the latest Forbes list we find 36 Indians as billionaires, Lakshmi Mittal of the the steel fame is at no.5 in the world billionaires list and there are 9 Indians in the world’s top 100 billionaires. Reliance Ambani brothers are in the 14th and 18th rank and the three also figure in the world’s top 100 list. A really proud India must rejoice and there are rejoicing in some circles but there is no public furore as such.
Because the people of India have been growing up in a different India all along, that is at least from the days of Independence. We have had leaders of the freedom movement, who were nurtured in a different environment and even if we exclude Gandhi who practiced a highly austere life style, even the older leaders like Dadabhai Nowroji and Gokhale were men of subdued nature, Indian nature itself seems to be one of this subdued culture. Perhaps, that speaks for the very history of India, Indians had suffered for long economically and politically and India was known for long as a very poor country. There had been a long history of poverty and famines, much deprivation; the social scenario was no better. Thus for an India that was steeped in poverty and exploitation, the idea of a capitalist economy doesn’t come easy. That is the major reason why we, as a people feel ill at ease whenever we see such stories like the million ions and even billions that are now being made and also displayed, openly or otherwise by out new generation IT bigwigs.
A long history of the freedom struggle that was waged on the principles of non-violence and a strong diest of Gandhian economics, the emphasis on village swaraj etc have strongly embedded in our national psyche that militates against any such wholesale talk of economic growth for its own sake.
Thus, we find that even now, the UPA under Manmohan Singh finds itself in an enviable position when it has lost two successive elections in Punjab and Uttarkhand as well as the prospect of certain defeat in the UP. The worry is all the more troublesome for the party has to face the next general elections with no straw to clutch as a record of achievement. There is now an unabashed admission to import wheat and pulses and other essential commodities with practically no import duties, we are so desperate and the agriculture ministry is almost throwing up its hands in total helpless, so confesses the agri minister! to say that there is a surplus sugar production and we have no way to export or stock and stabilize prices, he says, as he did in Bangalore not long ago, that the prospect for the sugarcane farmers is bleak is an admission of total irresponsibility by all accounts. Yet he says so-so blandly and he goes on to preside over some cricket board meeting and busies himself when in town with such a contradictory image of a cricket enthusiast who finds the burden of the agri portfolio sits heavily on his unwilling mind!
We have a Prime Minister who started with so much goodwill but now he is almost forlorn, bereft of any admirers, except his officials who are all retired men who have no jobs and there is practically no political support for his policies that don’t sound like policies at all. He doesn’t speak at all, he seems to groan and even that is so inaudible that for all practical purposes he has given up hopes for reversing the trends, be it the fall in agri production or the rise in inflation rate.
As for his colleagues, there is utter disappointment for their contribution to this dismal scenario. The finance minister, though puts up a brave face, his mantra of 9-10 per cent growth, as Kuldip Nayar, the veteran journalist notes,” the love for globalization that most Cabinet ministers and Congress leaders have look like part of the corporate sector”. In fact, some of the more bright Cabinet ministers are making fast wealth, some openly and some not so openly but the public know well who these ministers are. They, these ministers, seem to be taking their ministerial jobs as enabling ones for their private pursuit of wealth. Some are already billionaires and others are fast racing towards this target, some openly soliciting business or twisting state policy to enable some businesses to take roots in the country so that they would stand to benefit in the long run. It is this obnoxious practice that is really bringing this government a bad name, not the very concept of Capitalism or private sector or the real people who invest and make their billions.
Not even those innocent or gullible ministers and politicians who made their ill-gotten wealth through corruptions or corrupt deals or their names are suspiciously linked to the many scandals that are now periodically making the headlines. The latest is the Hasan Ali Khan’s multi crore money laundering racket in which some politicians names are linked.
Our economy as it is growing is certainly marching towards a full-fledged Capitalist economic system and in principle we don’t have any criticism of the system on that count. After all, the world over we see the same movement, even in Russia and China we see the same trend. The Russian oligarchs are now in dire straights, sooner or later they have to behave and fall in line with an orderly private economic model in tune with the globalization forces. So too in China. Now, they have come out with a law for recognizing and legitimizing private property. The new private property law might seem an ideological embarrassment but it is not. Almost similar to what is happening in India at present; the obsession with economic growth in China has led to “thousands of protest every month in China by poor farmers outraged at expropriation of their land for piffling or no compensation”(The Economist, March 10th 2007).Doesn’t this sound similar to the current protests and official confusion and apathy in India?
Even now, the Chinese peasants can’t sell their lands, as the lands are not as of now their private property. They have no marketable rights to the land they farm. If they have the rights, says the same Economist editorial, the presently underemployed farmers might find productive work! Nor the farmers now can now ledge their lands to borrow loans or invest funds in land development. It is almost like in India s at present, our farmers might have private ownership rights but they seem just notional, they don’t have access to funds, nor there any incentive for them to borrow or invest or boost productivity. Our land rights don’t amount to much in practical terms, right?
In China land is “collectively” owned still. Peasants just have been given short (30-year) lease. Even outside the countryside there is still confusion about who owns what enterprises, individuals or the local government or party unit. There is no rule of law, the judiciary is not independent.
In India, though we have a Western type democracy, rule of law, independent judiciary and free press etc, citizen’s rights and citizen’s perceptions of what an elected government can do and actually does are wide apart whether you are in a particular class structure or outside of it. The political class stands out as a class apart. There is so much of compromise with evil doers, big time corruption still goes unpunished, even undetected, and these corrupt and” tainted” ministers make up this democratically elected government.
So, private capitalism is not fully operational in the sense in which the American capitalism is. In the USA with all its deficiencies, there is transparency in corporate governance. Microsoft has to face anti-trust laws, the big corporate crimes are tried and the big names hand-cuffed and sent to jail! That is, in a significant sense, a triumph of Capitalism’s capacity to deliver. To create wealth in a legal and transparent way. American capitalism has transformed the world economy, the very process of globalization, the movement of finance across the nationalist borders, the coming of the IT revolution, the software services exports, now the BPO revolution has enhanced the world economy’s efficiency to create wealth and share wealth with the more efficiency brainworkers, the knowledge workers.
Indian economy, its current growth status, as a test case is a testimony to the triumph of modern day Capitalism. Yes, there are serious limitations to what an unregulated private sector economy can do and undo. But then again, the current stock exchange scandals, the money laundering, the present stage of corruption, political corruption in particular, are more damaging to the cause of the common man, the downtrodden and the poor than what the private sector captains are doing.
Yes, the time has time but it looks still like a long distance runner, the power of capitalism to deliver according to the rule book. But then it seems a better alternative to what we have in the name of a highly corrupt and highly inefficient public sector-driven economic growth.
Unfortunately, we don’t have economic and other experts to articulate a more comprehensive vision. Yes, the inclusive growth models, as we have in the hands of our bureaucrats is found wanting in its all-encompassing vision. Neither our Left intellectuals any consolation. A review of, for instance, a book by Ashok Mitra (A Prattler’s tale: Bengal, Marxism, Governance) exposes the author’s many contradictions and” lack of civility expected from a bhadralok”(Suhash Charavarty) in the Outlook. A great pity. Most Indian economists are like Mitra, pretend as Marxists and yet serve the government. The same trend continues. India is poorer for not having intellectually honest articulators for the people who grope in the dark, with so much happening for the good and not so good!
Indian people have to be fully aware of experts debating about the merits and demerits of capitalism. Especially from our own Western-educated or NRI influenced experts and intellectuals. From the UK there is no dearth of intellectuals to argue against capitalism today. But in India, it doesn’t make sense to talk of anything against capitalism or for any pretence of Marxism. Indian economy has made fast growth thanks to capitalist, private sector corporate investments and also the coming of the IT revolution.
In UK and even the USA the IT skills of the younger generation of engineers and software professionals that draws much envy and also superficial criticism of our economic reforms policies. It is another thing that our governments, at the Centre and in the states are not doing enough in public policy implementation to address the specific goals of agri growth and also employment generation. The central thesis remains unchallenged. That globalization and capitalism has done much good for the rising Indian middle class as well as the poor classes as well, in urban and rural India.