The 2019 Lok Sabha elections will tell us whether the combination of capitalism plus Hindutva can be successfully sold to the masses
The good thing about the last four years is that the masks are off. There’s no question of the ruling party being just for vikas, or development. What we get is vikas as a subset of Hindutva.
The regime, as seen by its ideologues, is best characterized in the words of the historian Roger Griffin as a “revolutionary form of nationalism bent on mobilizing all ‘healthy’ social and political energies to resist the onslaught of ‘decadence’ so as to achieve the goal of national rebirth".
It is a counter-revolution where nationalism, tradition and religion are used to paper over the gross inequalities, rampant exploitation and the glaring contradictions of Indian society. Why else, at the moment of its recent triumph in Uttar Pradesh, did they install Yogi Adityanath as the state’s chief minister? For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), vikas and Hindutva march hand in hand. They believe economic development is needed for the creation of a strong state, able to take its “rightful" place on the world stage, a seat denied to it by 1,200 years of slavery.
Of course, it’s another matter altogether whether the Modi government has the capability to carry out such a transformation and whether the opposition has played up its numerous failings.
So, on the one hand, we have an attempt to emulate the East Asian model of development, particularly the Chinese model. Where else did Modi copy his “cooperative federalism" from, if not from the Chinese policy of making regions compete with each other in attracting investment?
The East Asian states, during their periods of rapid development, all had autocratic regimes which were able to rise above sectional interests to enforce a model of state-directed development. The Modi government too, in its efforts to frog-march the informal sector into the formal economy, in its attempt to clean up the real estate sector, in enforcing the bankruptcy law, in cracking down on shell companies, in forcing the entire nation to queue up for demonetization, has tried to overcome the “soft state" tag that has plagued India since Independence.
On the other hand, Hindutva’s storm-troopers have carried out a spate of lynchings and provocations against minorities and dissidents. A “long march through the institutions" is taking shape, with adherents to the regime’s ideology being put in places of power. Critics of the regime are labelled “anti-national" and “urban Naxals" and portrayed as fifth columnists out to deny the Indian nation’s ascent to glory.
Who benefits from these policies? Big business, both national and international, is solidly behind Modi. A recent Economic Times report said the BJP was able to garner almost 20 times the funds raised by the Congress in 2017-18.
Big business supports the attempt to relax land, labour and environmental laws, they welcome the gains in market share that will come about by the assault on the informal sector. Even in the social programmes, they note with satisfaction that some of them are cosmetic, while in others, there’s much scope for private sector participation. Modi is capitalism’s champion. And if Hindutva succeeds in diverting the masses from interfering with the process of capital accumulation, so much the better.
It’s a different matter for small businesses, especially in the informal sector. Once the BJP’s traditional vote bank, they have been badly affected by demonetization and the goods and services tax (GST). But this is a conservative class that has no love lost for liberal values.
That brings us to the masses, riven by caste and creed and language. The central economic problem here is that it’s very difficult to create enough decent jobs for the additions to the workforce as well as for those fleeing unviable farms.
And in a society where the richest 10% own three-quarters of the nation’s wealth, talk of inclusive development is hogwash. Hence the BJP’s electoral focus on Hindutva and the revival of talk about building the Ram mandir.
The 2019 Lok Sabha elections will tell us whether the combination of capitalism plus Hindutva can be successfully sold to the masses. As for the liberals, both in India and in the US, they should reflect that it is their policies that paved the way for both Modi and Trump.
Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets