The Adani Saga: With global ambitions, Mr Adani, come global standards

In their reckoning, the Modi-Adani alliance, which sits at the heart of the corporate-Hindutva alliance, is the nation

The Adani Saga: With global ambitions, Mr Adani, come global standards

Prabhat Patnaik

Embattled industrialist Gautam Adani says the Hindenburg allegations of fraud against him are an attack on India. Likewise, the Union government has labelled the BBC documentary on Narendra Modi and his role in the Gujarat 2002 riots a product of the colonial mindset and an attack on the Indian nation. Adani wouldn’t have dared equate himself with the nation, as indeed Modi has done, unless he was certain of Modi’s support on this.

Modi and Adani see themselves, and each other, as embodiments of the nation. In their reckoning, the Modi-Adani alliance, which sits at the heart of the corporate-Hindutva alliance, is the nation. The fortunes of the nation, it follows from that premise, requires Modi to remain politically supreme and Adani to flourish in the economic realm. This construct of the nation cannot afford a deviation from this paradigm.

Indeed, Modi’s ideology lies precisely in this total inversion of reason. The Modi-Adani duo, it follows, can never be accused of acting immorally or unethically, since whatever they do is ipso facto in the nation’s interest, and the nation’s interest is always supreme except in the eyes of “anti-nationals” or of the “nation’s enemies”; so, the accusation of immorality or unethical behaviour can never be laid at their door.

The Modi government’s economic policy has often been termed, with good reason, as being utterly callous towards the people, and devoted to its ‘cronies’. The fact that nationalised financial institutions like the State Bank of India (SBI) and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India have been blatantly used to promote the project of building up a private empire, has often been a target of attack.

The fact that tax breaks have been provided to big capital and those breaks offset by curtailing welfare expenditure has been rightly described as ‘cronyism’. But this is cronyism with a difference—it’s cronyism buttressed by a majoritarian ideology. Under the Modi dispensation, ‘crony capitalism’ has become an economic strategy and is pursued confidently as being in ‘national interest’.

Some have wondered whether the South Korean strategy of promoting chaebols parallels the Modi government’s promotion of the Adanis and Ambanis (as historian Adam Tooze writes in The Wire). There is, however, a basic difference. In the case of South Korea, as in the case of post-war Japan, there was a whole paraphernalia of state institutions liaising with monopoly groups, both to guide the latter’s decision-making and also to facilitate the empire-building. It was, in short, an institutional arrangement; in the Indian context, there is no such arrangement in place, just a close nexus between the supremo and the business tycoon, which opens all doors for the latter.

This is also the difference between the Indian example and Nazi Germany, where again there was a nexus between the leaders of the ruling party and business houses. But in Nazi Germany, prior to the war (during the war, of course, production across different units had to be coordinated and had to meet specific targets, for which there was a degree of ‘planning’), different Nazi leaders were aligned to different business houses, and among whom, there was rivalry. Some business houses lost out when the leaders with whom they were closely associated lost influence, a phenomenon captured in Luchino Visconti’s film The Damned.

This was a very different scenario therefore from the Indian one where there is one indisputably top leader having a close nexus with one particular business house which in turn registers sensational growth. Thus, while the close nexus between the political leadership and big corporate capital is a common feature of all fascist and fascistic governments, because of which Mussolini is supposed to have defined fascism as the “merger of State and corporate power”.

Capitalism, however, is not sufficiently subject to manipulation to be fully dominated even by an alliance between a couple of top business and political magnates. If capitalism within a country could be cordoned off completely, then it is arguable that within this cordoned off domain the writ of that politician-tycoon alliance could run unhindered. But such cordoning off, always difficult, becomes impossible when we are dealing with a globalised system.

The business tycoon remains loath to stay confined to the domestic economy, for then he runs the risk of losing out to other tycoons in the competitive race, and hence being swallowed by them. And the moment the tycoon, cossetted at home by proximity to the political leader, ventures into the international arena, international competition takes over, and any transgression of capitalist business ethics becomes open to penalties. This happens not because of any respect for ethics, but because of rivalry between different business magnates. This is exactly what has happened to the Adanis.

This business house itself may be saved by the extension of support from the State, though even such support becomes difficult when affairs of the business house are subject to the glare of international “opinion”; the difficulty is greatly enhanced when a country’s economy requires substantial amounts of foreign financial inflows to manage its balance of payments: such inflows will dry up if foreign financial investors get scared by the demonstration of incompetence on the part of the regulatory authorities of the country that allow even fraudulent means of amassing wealth to go unpunished.

But even if this business house survives, the Modi government’s cockiness would be gone. Not instituting an inquiry into the affairs of the Adani empire would be impossible; likewise, an inquiry that finds the Adanis to be lily-white will carry no credibility in global financial circles.

Hence, Adani will have to face some punitive action no matter how light. When the crony faces punitive action, the “boss” will find it difficult to continue the same relationship with that particular crony; and it would be difficult for the government even to advance the claim any longer that the “nation” is being wellserved by the Modi-Adani alliance, and, by implication, by the Corporate-Hindutva alliance.

This entire episode has been a particular manifestation of the contradiction between the globalisation of capital and any notion of the nation-State, including what purports to be, though implicitly, a “Hindu” nation-State.

The contradiction arises not because globalisation is a rectifying process that brooks no wrong-doing; it arises because under globalisation, competition between capitals occurs at a level where no single nation-State can snuff it out.

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