Rightwing regime’s neoliberal capitalism creating a ‘New India’ accursed with shocking levels of inequality
Modi’s “New India” is a toxic mixture of Hindutva authoritarianism and neoliberalism in which the rich get richer and State institutions get subverted from within by rightwing elements
As India celebrates the 75th Independence Day, the country is truly at a critical juncture. The ideals of the freedom struggle, which suffused the making of a Republican Constitution and anchored our parliamentary democracy, have got now got eroded. A qualitative change occurred after the BJP-RSS combine acquired the levers of State power. Since 2014, there has been a toxic fusion of Hindutva and neo-liberal capitalism, which poses the most potent threat to all the ideals of the freedom struggle – democracy, secularism and national sovereignty.
The BJP-RSS began the long march to capture all State institutions and subvert them from within to achieve the goal of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. If one goes through the Independence Day speeches of Narendra Modi in the past three years, one can get glimpses of the contours of the “New India” that they envisage.
Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2018 spoke about making a “New India” by 2022. What this “New India” means began to unfold subsequently. In 2019, ten days after the state of Jammu & Kashmir was abolished after being stripped of its special status on August 5, Modi announced proudly in his Independence Day speech that he had accomplished the idea of “One Nation, One Constitution” and the dream of Sardar Patel of “Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat”. This sounded more like the RSS’s ‘Akhand Bharat’.
The same year in December, the Citizenship Amendment Act was enacted in Parliament whereby for the first time, citizenship was linked to religious criteria. This went against the basic concept of citizenship in a secular State.
The following year, in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, on August 5, the foundation ceremony of Ram temple at Ayodhya was conducted by the Prime Minister in the presence of the RSS chief. Modi declared this as ‘a day of freedom’.
In his Independence Day speech ten days later, he announced, “A peaceful culmination has been achieved to the age-old issue of Ram Janmabhoomi”. Behind the “peaceful” culmination lay the trail of violence and bloodshed in which thousands of people lost their lives after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. But for Modi, the temple signified something else also: “Each Indian must sacrifice something or the other in the magnanimous yajna for development”. The temple thus becomes a symbol of ‘national development’ for which every Indian must sacrifice.
The symbols of “New India” thus emerged in the last two years – the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Central Vista with a new Parliament building and the dismantling of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. These perversely signify the assault on secularism, democracy and federalism – in that order.
The “New India” is a toxic mixture of Hindutva authoritarianism and corporate neo-liberalism. The three years since Modi announced the goal of a “New India” have seen steep cuts in corporate taxes, the writing off of loans worth lakhs of crores of rupees of big corporates and plans for dismantling the public sector through large-scale privatization. The three farm laws were railroaded through Parliament to enable corporate entry into agricultural trade and marketing.
An India is being created with obscene levels of inequality.
According to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report of 2021, the share of wealth of the top 1 percent went up to 40.5 percent by end 2020. Another report, the Forbes Report, estimated that the number of billionaires went up from 102 in 2020 to 140 in 2021. This at a time when there is an unprecedented increase in absolute poverty, in both rural and urban areas, due to the pandemic.
In his Independence Day speech last year in 2020, Modi reiterated the slogan of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, implying that the “New India’ will be self-reliant. He said, “As we are one step away from the 75th anniversary of independence, it is essential for the country like India to stand on its own and to become self-reliant”.
The scale of hypocrisy is breathtaking. After Modi’s declaration of self-reliance, the government announced, as part of the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ package, that except in the strategic sectors, all State-owned firms in other sectors would be privatized. Even in the strategic sectors, only a maximum of four public sector enterprises would remain in each sector. The government had earlier announced 100 per cent FDI in defence production. These steps are designed to allow the Indian big corporates and foreign companies to take over the public sector, which was built up using people’s resources. These steps will undermine economic sovereignty.
The aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal policies, of which privatisation of public sector enterprises is a part, has had its pernicious effects on the political system and the attenuation of democracy. The nexus between politics and big business has become more pronounced. The system of electoral bonds exemplifies this nexus.
Parliament stands devalued and large-scale defections are engineered to thwart the electoral mandate and form state governments. ‘New India’ and half-democracy have become synonymous.
The remaking of India is thus proceeding apace, though the appeal of the project has got rather frayed after the callous manner in which the Modi government tackled the pandemic. This “New India” has nothing to do with the creation of a modern, secular society with a scientific temper. It is based on the blueprint of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is being fashioned by those forces who had kept away from the freedom struggle and had no affinity whatsoever with its secular anti-imperialism.
It is no longer possible to hark back to the bourgeois liberal “Idea of India”. The alternative to Hindutva’s “New India” will emerge through a new social compact – a compact which will be forged by the people’s resistance and struggles.
The challenge to the “New India” is already taking shape in the form of class and mass struggles. The historic nine month-old farmers’ struggle has challenged the basis of the corporate Hindutva regime. Earlier, the mass protests against the CAA-NRC showed there is an enlightened citizenry who will not allow majoritarian communalism to prevail.
The working class struggles against privatisation such as the popular struggle against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant are setting new benchmarks; the struggles of the defence production workers, insurance employees and other sectors are all contributing towards a widening resistance to neo-liberal policies.
It is out of this resistance and popular movements that an alternative will emerge. It has to be an alternative based on a left and democratic programme. Such a programme will carry forward the goals of the freedom struggle - political, economic and social emancipation of the people.
What needs to be done is to organise, mobilise and rally the widest sections of the working people and all democratic and secular forces around such an alternative.
Views are personal