PREM SINGH | 2 OCTOBER, 2019
A Gandhian Way of Changing Corporate Politics
It is true that Modi has appropriated Gandhi, but that should not matter
With the announcement of the election results last May, deep concerns were voiced by many as to what Narendra Modi’s victory portends for the Indian Constitution and democracy. We have often heard from secular and progressive friends that we are wading through dark times. The crisis is indeed deep: constitutional institutions are being devalued, the economy is on the verge of collapse, the whole country is beset by saffron fascism, forces of resistance are waning…
So, a call is made to unite pro-people democratic forces and intensify the struggle. Different ideological groups have their own beliefs but still make efforts to build the solidarity of the democratic forces and deepen the nature of the struggle. They are constantly active in holding protest events or movements. If despite all this, Narendra Modi won the general election for a second consecutive term, with an absolute majority, the crisis needs to be understood a little more deeply. Only then can a path to its solution be found.
It’s a plain truth that the Bharatiya Janata Party has come to power through democracy. Although democracy is only one among the three fundamental values of the Constitution —socialism, secularism, democracy— it is also unique. Under this system, this vision, elections are held to central and state legislatures, panchayats and municipal bodies, various types of labour-employee-officer organisations, farmer or student organisations, social organisations, institutions, trusts, political parties, etc. The democratic method is also adopted in the process of making policies and laws, and in the process of justice.
Obviously, the entire gamut of activities in the country and the world should be conducted democratically, under the vision of democracy. Present day corporate politics, which thrives on the power of democracy, is in fact a bad sign for the Constitution of India and for democracy. Modi’s politics is a fierce hallmark of this very corporate politics, which appears all pervasive today in the country.
It is further a plain truth that the prevailing corporate politics stands contrary to the basic concepts and beliefs of the Indian Constitution. Instead of this invalid politics, there is a dire need for a new, constitutionally agreed politics, to be established with the power of democracy. The political leadership —which has made democracy a medium of constitutionally invalid politics— will not be ready for this venture. This is a big problem, but an even bigger problem is that India’s intellectual class still does not understand the need for an alternative to the current corporate politics. Rather, when the opportunity arises, it shows great readiness to discard ideas of alternative politics, as against corporate politics, as seen in the actions of non-governmental organisations.
Despite the suicides of millions of peasants, the layoffs of innumerable labourers, the immense number of unemployed young and old, hardly any eminent scholar of the country is willing to say conclusively that corporate politics, which of course has its own political economy, should be eliminated from the country.
In the aftermath of the general election, the analysis was presented that the opposition had not “really” fought the election. It remained completely scattered and indecisive until the last moment. The government’s corporate-savvy economic policies and ludicrous decisions about the economy naturally gave rise to great dissatisfaction among farmers, labourers, small and middle-scale businessmen and unemployed youth, but this dissatisfaction was rendered powerless by a vague and wavering opposition. The Congress, which started down the road of privatisation-liberalisation in 1991, was seen as being ready for two tenures of the Modi government, due to its confidence in corporate politics. Only when Congress governments were formed in three states without much hard work, did the lure of returning to power in 2019 grip the party.
But the Modi government, by imparting momentum to its narrative of a Hindu Rashtra (nation or state) in a ‘now or never’ manner, diffused the inherent causality of corporate politics. The precipitous Congress stepped on the path of the Hindu Nation, which had to be fruitless. The regional satraps who came to power only through democracy had killed their reputation long ago, by killing the same democracy. Some of them managed to win in their states by defeating their rivals of similar nature, but the overall result was once again the BJP's absolute majority.
The election proved that the cutting-off of public dissatisfaction arising from corporate economic policies is the narrative of the Hindu Nation (and of Hindu Nationalism). It is axiomatic that the BJP will continue to get the immediate and far-reaching benefit of this phenomenon— no matter how many verbal attacks are launched against saffron fascism.
There are still many arrows left in the quiver of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP to clear the path. After Ayodhya it is the turn of Kashi and Mathura, is an announcement often made. And they will have no problem uncovering or inventing many other small temple/mosque disputes. After Aurangzeb, it may be the turn of Akbar or any other Muslim ruler before or after him. This does not seem far fetched given the way the character of the post-Vajpayee RSS/BJP has emerged. The cow is always there— it will be worshipped, tortured, slaughtered, and milked continuously in service of the Hindu Nation.
And this project of the RSS/BJP is in perfect harmony with the consumerist-capitalist system of the day. If the global capitalist power establishment really experiences a crisis to its existence in India, from any corner, it can shoot a few arrows directly from its own quiver. For example, granting India permanent membership to the Security Council, letting the Olympic Games be held in India, giving a Nobel Peace Prize or something similar to a leader who advocates the capitalist system, etc.
Keep in mind, that in the era of corporate politics, the meaning of education and an education system is being devalued in such a way that a true voice cannot be born in favour of constitutional and human values. The marketism (bazarwad) of the last three decades has already shredded long traditions of tolerance and brotherhood to a great extent.
Many people from civil society are waging a fight against Modi and his bhakts or devotees on various social media forums. They did this work with vigour during the general election campaign and even before. Their anti-Modi opposition often comes in the form of jokes. This situation suits Modi: do not get challenged in elections, even if you keep getting turned into a joke! Similarly, the opposition of most intellectuals is also of a retail nature. Intellectuals react to what Modi says and does, that too mostly by favouring another political party or leader.
Even while advocating for democracy against fascism, their words do not express strength, the reason being that they often do this selectively. Take an example from India’s neighbourhood. Last year the President of China decided to remain President for life. Hardly any of India’s anti-fascist intellectuals opposed or criticised the decision. Human rights or civil rights organisations around the world criticised the Chinese leadership as usual on the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. But intellectuals advocating democracy and civil rights against saffron fascism did not take notice of the incident.
Democracy and the Constitution cannot be restored through unconnected and selective opposition of a retail nature. It has become a pastime, which confuses transformative public consciousness, and does not allow it to reach a decision.
The struggle for independence against colonialism became dynamic and fruitful only when an overall decision was taken in favour of freedom in the entire Indian subcontinent. The character of neocolonialism is more complex than colonialism. Here, along with national resources, the national life of a country is handed over to imperialist control by the ruling class. In this way, corporate politics acts as a weapon of the neocolonialist power structure. The goal of emancipation from neocolonialism can be achieved only the country overall decides to achieve it. But India’s civil society activists and intellectuals remain satisfied with their role as mere opponents within the neocolonialist system. They do not try to come out of this system and challenge it.
Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, had challenged the critics and opponents of the New Economic Policies saying that if there was an alternative to this sort of economy, they should come forward with a proposal to achieve the same. This challenge remains unanswered to date. It is not only that India’s intellectuals do not want to give up the special facilities available in the realm of neocolonialism— they do not accept any economy or model of progress that does not pass through the path of capitalism. So, behind this dishonest economy and model of development, the masses must seethe.
Such intellectuals preserve a place in the mainstream media by keeping a place within the system. They earn the name of being ‘public intellectuals’ despite writing and speaking only in English. Whereas those few intellectuals who are decisively opposed to this system, have gradually lost their place in the mainstream media. They are not fully welcomed even on alternative media platforms or the social media.
It is equally a plain truth that neocolonialism is an injustice to most Indian people. Gandhi mobilised the strength of ordinary Indians, and forced all the currents and voices of that era to surrender to the goal of freedom. The naysaying elements caused harm to the extent of breaking up the country, but they could prevent the people from achieving their freedom.
Likewise, freedom from neocolonialism can be achieved only when the united strength of ordinary Indian people compels civil society, intellectuals and leaders towards that goal. Gandhi did this difficult work during the colonial era. But it is not necessary to have a Gandhi in every phase of human history. We have Gandhi’s civil disobedience, a potent mode of action against an unjust system. It is true that Modi has appropriated Gandhi, but that should not matter. There are many scholars in the anti-Modi camp who denounce Gandhi. And there are many fraudulent scholars who do business out of Gandhism. All this will keep on going in India with Gandhi.
True soldiers of freedom from neocolonialism can draw inspiration from Gandhi’s methodology of resistance to injustice. It is not necessary to accept Gandhi’s ideology or philosophy— the focus is on Gandhi’s way of resistance to injustice. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia wrote about it saying:
“The greatest revolution of our time is, therefore, a procedural revolution, removal of injustice through a mode of action characterized by justice. The question here is not so much the contents of justice as the mode to achieve it. Constitutional and orderly processes are often not enough. They are then transgressed by the use of weapons. In order that it should not happen and that man should not ever get thrown around between ballot and bullet, this procedural revolution of civil disobedience has emerged. At the head of all revolutions of our time stands this revolution of Satyagrah against weapons although it has in actual effect made only a faltering appearance to date.” (‘Marx, Gandhi and Socialism’, pp. xxxi-xxxii, Samata Vidyalaya Nyasa, Hyderabad, 1963.)
This method can effectively unite the ordinary Indian public living in the grip of neocolonialism. It may happen that under pressure from the ordinary people of India, the country’s intellectuals share in the task of supporting and building an economy and model of development that develops upwards from below, not from top to bottom.
It is true that consumerist capitalism has captured the hearts of people the world over, through its strong and omnipresent network. The system has captured even those people’s hearts at the cost of whose civil rights it operates— even their right to life. The pioneers and beneficiaries of this system are crazy about the freedom to be “happy” more and more, at the cost of the natural freedom of being a human being. Are people with money happy? To what extent, and at what cost?
Even under colonialism, a thick layer of paranoia and hegemony had accumulated over the hearts of the people. The freedom movement’s various stages and the various streams active in them broke the layers, and freed the hearts of the colonised. Gandhi did this great work of changing the hearts of the people. Lohia reviewed Gandhi’s concept of a change of heart in the politics of transformation, stating that “Gandhiji spent just about a year of his life changing the hearts of Smuts, Irwin and Birla, while he devoted over four decades to putting courage into and thereby changing the hearts of tens of millions of people all over the world.” (Ibid p.156.)
Gandhi instilled the idea of freedom from colonialism in the hearts of crores of people in the colonised world, along with Indians. To some extent this effort also touched the hearts of the people of the colonising powers. Even after Gandhi’s assassination, his idea of civil disobedience and a change of heart continued to inspire people and groups the world over whose freedom to be human or civic beings had been violated.
The idea of freedom from neocolonialist clutches can still find a place in people’s hearts, including in India, by taking inspiration from Gandhi.
Prem Singh, a former Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, teaches Hindi at Delhi University.