The BJP’s now 9 year rule at the centre starting from 2014 has given us what its economic philosophy and its practice is: the destruction of the planned development of the country, its statistical system, accompanied by the enormous growth of inequalities within the country. While the country’s economic growth has continued, though not at the pace it claims and certainly lower than the earlier years, it has largely benefited the rich. What has emerged are stark inequalities within the country, India once again recreating the inequalities of the British Raj to now the again in the Billionaire Raj.
Underwriting the policies of the past 9 years, is what Modi has described as his basic philosophy: the state has no business to be in business. This is to be left to the businessmen. All that state has to do is to provide big business with money, captive markets, land, and a working class bound hand foot to capital. This is the ideology of hyper capitalism that the current Modi-BJP government represents, and what the RSS had always argued for.
This was also consistent with RSS positions on the economy before independence. The RSS then welcomed British and foreign capital into India, believing that was the only way to bring industry to India. The RSS, and after its formation the Jana Sangh, stood for unfettered flow of foreign capital into India, and opposed planning of the economy as the “dreaded” socialism. Post independence, it also argued for an India, US and the British axis, an alliance of Christians, Jews and Hindus against the atheist communists and the Muslims.
When we look at the Modi-BJP government’s economic philosophy, the bedrock of the old RSS policies still remains. During the late 80s and 90s. The Swadeshi Manch had a brief sway, creating position papers arguing for a self-reliance model of development, based on only Indian capital. But after the weakening of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and its ideological presence within the RSS and the BJP, this stream no longer has any traction. According to the BJP, foreign capital becomes fully “Indian” or fully Swadeshi by locating its factories in India, not addressing who owns the technology and the knowledge required for production. That is why the BJP slogan of Make in India, and not Made in India. Developing technology is not the challenge, it is only to get global big capital to set up plants here.
What the BJP refuses to understand is that without developing technology required for production, India will always remain a subordinate capitalist state, dependent on the West. This was India’s quest for self-reliance. That is why we had a Planning Commission, advanced science and technical institutes, and a state sector which could take on the task of building a self-reliant Indian industry. Later, it was ICAR/IARI who helped Indian agriculture to attain self-sufficiency in food with which India was living from “ship to mouth”, dependent on the US for food grains and under its pressure to abandon its independent foreign policy.
If we look at India today, we see that wealth and income inequalities have grown as never before after India’s independence. After independence these inequalities had reduced considerably, increasing again with neoliberal policies of the 90s and accelerating further during the last decade under Modi-BJP government: the emergence of a new Billionaire Raj replicating its sharp rich and poor divide. As Thomas Piketty has written, after closing the wealth gap in the decades after independence, the neoliberal policies after the 90s has restored the intense inequalities that existed during British Raj.
Lacking any vision of developing scientific and technological capabilities in the country, the Modi-BJP government's “path” to securing advanced technology has been beseeching foreign capital to set up plants here, with the promise of land, capital and low-cost labour. The Micron chip assembly plant is the latest misadventure, where we will provide 70% of capital while Micron will own 100% of the plant! No transfer of technology, not even a share of the ownership after providing the bulk of the capital for setting up of the plant!
Remember, the Rafale deal, where Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was cut out for a Rafale Anil Ambani tie up and for the promised offsets of Indian supplies? With the not so surprising collapse of the Anil Ambani empire, the BJP government has quietly buried the question of the offsets—meaning Indian content—in the Rafale deal and gone back to HAL for GE’s aero-engine deal for the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA).
The question, is there a method to what might be thought of as purely ad hoc decision making that seems to be the hall mark of the Modi Government? Where important decisions are taken keeping in view the optics of the PM’s foreign visits?
While the optics and winning elections—by hook or crook—are important for the Modi government, there is deeper “economic” thinking behind such policies. Some of it originate in what the Chicago school of economists have been preaching that markets know best, and capitalists know even better. The other is the old-fashioned deification of the capitalists, a kind of bhakti movement for the rich, that only the capitalists and business men create wealth. Not labour, the ones who actually work in the fields and factories. As long as capital supports the BJP, by providing it with money through the completely opaque—opaque only for the people—electoral bond schemes and supports the party in power through its newspapers and TV channels, the government would provide it all support, gutting trade unions, labour, environmental, forest and pollution laws, etc. The state will not only “discipline” labour but also provide capital—from Life Insurance Corporation to the Banks—freely handing out our money to big capital. This is accompanied by dismantling the public sector and hand over its most valuable assets to private capital.
The return to the robber baron mode of running capitalism today is now evident. The public sector banks have suffered huge losses. This is the depositors’ money lent by the banks to private capital that have now disappeared as “non-performing assets” of the banks. Along with their “founders”. This is why public money—our money—is being be pumped into the banks to write off the bank’s losses. In simple terms, this is a huge transfer of wealth from the people to the wealthiest sections of our society. And yes, if non-performing assets was a problem under the Manmohan Singh government, the problem has only grown far worse under the Modi government.
Such defaults to the banks by big capital, has been accompanied by flight, not only of capital but also of the capitalists, eg., Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi, to name only a few. And yes, the United Kingdom and the City of London where Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya now reside, are part of the biggest tax havens of the world, the United Kingdom.
Prabhat Patnaik in his analysis of the relationship between big capital and fascism in Germany has pointed out that while all capitalists supported the rise of fascism in Germany, some were much more strident supporters of Hitler than others. As he points out, it was not a qualitative difference but a difference in the degree of support. Adani and Ambani, the two capitalist houses that have grown the most during the Modi-BJP regime of the last decade, also show a similar phenomenon. It is not surprising that Adani’s companies have now been exposed for jacking up the value of their shares and using these shares to borrow huge premium of their shares through bonds, capital infusion, etc. The Hindenburg Report raised the issue, which SEBI has also been investigating, that a number of companies who are investing in Adani’s shares are possibly “related parties” to the Adani family. Therefore, they are in violation of the legal requirement that in a Public Limited Company, the promoters and their related parties cannot hold 75% or more shares. This is what makes circular trade between promoters and shareholders possible, leading to manipulating the company’s share prices.
What are the measures that Modi-BJP government introduced to help in transferring wealth to big capital? It reduced taxes on earnings of big capital, the direct taxes, while simultaneously increasing taxes on people’s consumption, or what are called indirect taxes. On top of that, it virtually gifted land, tax holidays of different kinds in the name of new investments, other incentives, as well as using public money to fund private capital. It also systematically starved the state governments of development funds, forcing them to hand over ports and other infrastructure projects to private capital. To cap it all, it drastically weakened all the protections that had been created over a long period: sabotaging environmental protection, forest dwellers rights, labour rights and other similar protections.
Not only has Indian capital benefited from this but so also foreign capital. Almost all capital controls have been removed, with foreign investors being offered terms that capital nowhere—even in the weakest of banana republics—have been offered. The most blatant example is the recent Micron Deal, where Modi-BJP government has promised to cover 70% cost of the plant while Micron, USA, will own 100% of the plant. This is for setting up a chip “packaging and assembly” plant, which is at the low-end of the electronics manufacturing sector and far removed from a chip fabrication plant that the Modi-BJP government has been tom-toming about for some time.
With the collapse of the Anil Ambani group, who had been made Rafale’s business and technology transfer partners, the transfer of technology of the Rafale fighter aircrafts was also a fiasco. After spurning Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in the Rafale deal, Modi-BJP government has now been forced to go back to HAL as GE’s technology partner for the aero-engine. HAL already has a technology transfer agreement with GE, which has now been upgraded.
So how has the Modi-BJP government managed to retain its electoral edge in spite of such an adverse impact on the vast majority of the people? There are three policies that it has followed are:
1) Destroy the statistical system that India built post-independence in order to hide the bad news of increased inequalities, malnutrition and lack of education among the people.
2) Weaponise hatred against the minorities and waging an economic war against these communities, the time-tested fascist tactic of dividing the poor. Muslims are abandoning rearing of cattle and selling meat, leading to a significant weakening of their finances.
3) Instead of building schemes that can lead to a permanent change in the livelihood of the people, use direct transfers of money or physical benefits. In direct transfer schemes, even if such schemes require significant financial support from the state governments, brand them as a PM scheme of this or that, so to the electorate it appears as a direct transfer by the PM to the people!
This has been accompanied by a huge social media apparatus that BJP has built using its paid and unpaid “volunteers”, and its troll brigade. The idea is to use a megaphone in the digital space to drown out critical voices. Along with the social media apparatus, the BJP and its followers have also weaponised the law, using it against critical voices in the media and public intellectuals. Frivolous complaints are filed against such voices in different legal jurisdictions, with police acting promptly, investigating such claims and filing charge sheets. Many newspersons have been arrested and some even charged under UAPA, eg., Siddique Kappan. Compare this with their “inaction” when BJP-RSS functionaries are involved, as we witnessed recently in the Brij Bhushan Singh, the Wrestling Federation’s Chief’s case. Those media houses that have spoken up, have seen Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax raids. Regional press has been muzzled by threats of withdrawal of Government advertisements, a major source of revenue for small papers. And along with the coercive apparatus of the state, the strong arm goon squads are also active, the most common being the Cow Protection Vigilantes operating under police protection and quite often paid out of newly created cow welfare budgets.
The larger picture is that while large sections of the people are being pauperised, the government seeks positive support through direct transfers just before elections. Rest of the time, the BJP and its many senas, and vigilante groups fracture communities. If the minorities—Muslims and Christians—can be targeted through riots and other acts of violence, this can be used to rally the Hindus around the BJP during the elections. A classic neofascist agenda.