25 January 2009

India Inc. and Modi

My friend and former colleague, Jyotirmaya Sharma, has written the best piece I've seen on the craven 'Modi for PM' slogans raised by Sunil Mittal, Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani recently:

In a brilliant essay, the philosopher George Steiner once remarked: `It is not only that education has shown itself incapable of making sensibility and cognition more resistant to murderous unreason. Far more disturbing, the evidence is that refined intellectuality, artistic virtuosity and appreciation, scientific eminence will collaborate actively with totalitarian demands or, at best, remain indifferent to surrounding sadism. Resplendent concerts, exhibitions in great museums, the publication of learned books, the pursuit of academic research both scientific and humanistic, flourish within close reach of death-camps. Technocratic ingenuity will serve or remain neutral at the call of the inhuman.’ There could be no better description of the march of the high and mighty in the Indian business world parading before the `leader’ in Gujarat, singing his praises and hailing him as a beacon of hope...

This is where the problem lies: in the concept of `hope’. It signifies a possibly reckless investment, an acquisition, what the stock market would call `futures’. Hope becomes operational only when reward and punishment become subject to a gamble or a lottery, where one operates on the assumptions of `shall’, `will’, `if’, and one clings on to the fiction of a shared hope of progress and one or the other melioristic vision... In such a situation, talking of bringing the perpetrators of Godhra and its aftermath to justice is seen as meaninglessly quibbling over the past. It is here that the most potent phrase in the armoury of the Indian middle classes comes into operation: we must move on. There are, of course, dissenters to this vision of hope. There are those who find a Modi, or an Ambani, a Mittal or a Tata peddling nothing more than a transcendental inference. They are the foes of all those who invest in future tenses. They make us understand what Kafka meant when he said that `there is abundance of hope but none for us’.
The piece appeared in Mail Today. I can't find the online link so I'm providing the full text here...

False Hope

Jyotirmaya Sharma


Why a handful of corporate leaders advocating Narendra Modi’s elevation as prime minister should come as a surprise is itself a surprise. It ought to be dismissed as nothing more than a presumptuous utterance, a bit of wish fulfilment, a naked display of the undemocratic credentials of India Inc. and its ever-increasing hubris. Sections of the Indian middle class, technocrats and corporate leaders love Modi just as the same category of people not too long ago loved Hitler. Remove the blot of the concentration camps from Hitler’s biography, and he becomes the idol for all anti-democratic forces through the ages. His was a model for what is mindlessly called `good governance’ these days. He built the foundations for the industrial infrastructure of modern Germany, built the autobahns, and created the structure for Germany’s military might; he was a vegetarian, loved poetry, painted, liked children, and, in the end, did right by his mistress. The only point of dissonance in this otherwise perfect picture is that good governance without democracy is fascism, and good governance without democracy and devoid of liberal institutions is Stalinism. It is this lack of faith in democracy and liberal institutions that joins a wide array of players in the Indian political spectrum and makes them cohabit merrily in destroying the plural ideas of India.

What India is witnessing is a strange amalgam of the traditional as well as the contemporary re-emergence of corporatism. In the contemporary sense, it reflects an urge to shift the centre of gravity of all politics away from the parliamentary system to the groups that dominate modern industrial and post-industrial societies. Of these, labour increasingly is marginalized as an organized, independent group, and hence leaves corporates, entrepreneurs and the government to stake claims to represent politics. In the older fascist sense, firstly, it means an all-embracing vision of an organic, spiritually unified and morally regenerated society constantly arguing for mutual sacrifice in the national interest. The RSS and the BJP and their model of Hindutva has long represented this sort of ideological vision, conflated in recent times with visions of national regeneration through Hindu consolidation and fighting the enemies of progress. These enemies, according to convenience, could vary from America, Muslims, and Christians to China. Modi, without exception, remains the most eloquent exponent and practitioner of this view. Every blip on the national screen, be it terrorism or a communal riot, adds to the strength of those who seek a leader like Modi who is seen as uncompromising and tough.

Another version of corporatism is one where the argument hinges on leaving the producers of wealth alone to do what they do best but under the aegis of the state. It is a version that calls for self-regulation of the producers of wealth under the guidance of the state. This is a thinly veiled argument for despotism, one that argues for leaving those who run the government and the economy unrestricted run of the country, unencumbered by accountability and transparency. All this is done under the pretext of forging a new form of democracy appropriate for our times. The argument is as follows: The corporatist system alone would make the state structure truly representative by ending a fundamentally divisive parliamentary system based on a system of divisive political parties as well as ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities asserting themselves. A corporatist parliament would represent `natural’ – meaning, thereby, economic – social groups instead of abstract geographical and political ones. Hindutva and its diabolical laboratories would be seen as nationalist symbols rather than sectarian or religious ones. A technocratic-bureaucratic system of this sort would argue for faster reform, liberalization and modernization, all in the delusional name of national grandeur and making India a super power.

In a brilliant essay, the philosopher George Steiner once remarked: `It is not only that education has shown itself incapable of making sensibility and cognition more resistant to murderous unreason. Far more disturbing, the evidence is that refined intellectuality, artistic virtuosity and appreciation, scientific eminence will collaborate actively with totalitarian demands or, at best, remain indifferent to surrounding sadism. Resplendent concerts, exhibitions in great museums, the publication of learned books, the pursuit of academic research both scientific and humanistic, flourish within close reach of death-camps. Technocratic ingenuity will serve or remain neutral at the call of the inhuman.’ There could be no better description of the march of the high and mighty in the Indian business world parading before the `leader’ in Gujarat, singing his praises and hailing him as a beacon of hope. So compelling is the mystique of Modi as someone who can deliver the idea of progress that it now makes even CPM leaders compose panegyrics for the Gujarat leader.

This is where the problem lies: in the concept of `hope’. It signifies a possibly reckless investment, an acquisition, what the stock market would call `futures’. Hope becomes operational only when reward and punishment become subject to a gamble or a lottery, where one operates on the assumptions of `shall’, `will’, `if’, and one clings on to the fiction of a shared hope of progress and one or the other melioristic vision. In the words of these peddlers of hope, the promise of hope becomes the outcome of the wisdom of a few men who think they have seen the `light’ and are now ready to share it with all their less-fortunate brethren. In such a situation, talking of bringing the perpetrators of Godhra and its aftermath to justice is seen as meaninglessly quibbling over the past. It is here that the most potent phrase in the armoury of the Indian middle classes comes into operation: we must move on. There are, of course, dissenters to this vision of hope. There are those who find a Modi, or an Ambani, a Mittal or a Tata peddling nothing more than a transcendental inference. They are the foes of all those who invest in future tenses. They make us understand what Kafka meant when he said that `there is abundance of hope but none for us’.

11 comments:

Itsdifferent said...

This is nothing but Modi bashing, for all you spineless writers, who let innumerable atrocities, and "Nehruvian rate" of growth for 5 decades. You cant digest a person who aims for a sky high growth.
There is no one individual who is perfect in all traits of human character. Modi is a perfect candidate for the PM position, and I see positive future in him. Why not we take it that he would have learnt a good lesson from this "single" incident. In the absence of an alternative, we all should cherish a leader who aspires for such a growth for us to be successful and inch towards 2020 vision and beyond. If India has to regain its glory, which it deserves, and has the potential, we need a leader who can focus such a potential towards a common goal. When you are kicking Modi around with such virulency, can you identify an alternative? With "Con" gress and their inactive and "secular" politics only they can do is bring down the growth rate to the old "Nehruvian" growth rate, because, thats when they can keep the majority population under poverty, uneducated so they can go lie and cheat them to get votes.
I think there is no alternative I can see to Modi, if we have to grow. If you can identify someone as alternative, put them in light, rather than kicking around a potential leader.
We have practiced negativity for so long, lets try positive attitude for a while.

Anonymous said...

These individuals are not only "spineless ", they are "shamesless" too.

Karmasura said...

I agree with 'Itsdifferent'. Trust me, I searched the article four-five times to see if you or Mr. Sharma suggests any alternative or not.

Sadly, there wasn't anything to be found. Which means that while you 'think' it is wrong, you cannot oppose it either. What can be the alternative for Hindutva? What can be the alternative for Moditva?

This is the same old line of Hindutva = Fascism. Hindutva is best the movement of cultural rightists who want the nation to return to its roots. Some of them might be criminals though.

But if your model delivers.. justice as well as progress.. then say what is the need of Hindutva? To expose them, your model of governance needs to click. If we are true patriots, we will join the mainstream if your model clicks. If we don't, and still demand Hindutva, than perhaps you can say that we are Fascists with evil designs and goo in our heads.

world leader pretend said...

This essay is fabulous, but the comments that your blog receives are scary! No one has even begun to understand the problem of the lack of a democratic process in the face of developmental rhetoric that we seem to consume too easily. I don't know how you keep posting things when these horrible freak shows seem to be the only ones reading them.

to those that speak of an india regaining its glory, the essay explains very clearly why that desire is vacuous, "In the older fascist sense, firstly, it means an all-embracing vision of an organic, spiritually unified and morally regenerated society constantly arguing for mutual sacrifice in the national interest."

and to all those searching for an "alternative," the essay is even more critical of you - "In such a situation, talking of bringing the perpetrators of Godhra and its aftermath to justice is seen as meaninglessly quibbling over the past. It is here that the most potent phrase in the armoury of the Indian middle classes comes into operation: we must move on. There are, of course, dissenters to this vision of hope. There are those who find a Modi, or an Ambani, a Mittal or a Tata peddling nothing more than a transcendental inference."

part of the alternative is in finding some sort of justice.

I don't mean to start a flame war as much offer some appreciation as to having your blog to read.

Anonymous said...

There are individuals lecturing India about the need for democracy.
Those same inidviduals have no problem, what so ever, with the Chineses way of governance, that is producing spectacular results for the nation.
The Indian people, that has endured the ordeal of past six decades of incompetence and mediocrity, need not learn from the author, what "Hope" means.
What ever India can boast of today, it owes to the brilliant minds in the Corporates, not to the politicians or the political system.

Eknath said...

Outlook magazine has a great story on the ugly reality of Modi's Gujarat:

http://www.outlookindia.com/fullprint.asp?choice=1&fodname=20090202&fname=Good+for+India+(F)&sid=3

Magazine| Feb 02, 2009

gujarat: development

Strobe-Lit Reality

Modi's industrial dazzle cohabits gathering pools of imperfection

LOLA NAYAR, ARTI SHARMA
Besides industrialists, it seems, very few in civil society want to be ever seen praising Narendra Modi. That makes it tricky trying to understand the real state of Gujarat's development. Though sections of India Inc acclaimed the state's CM as a future prime minister, there are many shades of grey between 'Vibrant Gujarat' and the man whose inaction meant tacit approval of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

Few are able to reconcile the Janus-faced aspects of the man being lauded for good governance, quick decisions and investor-friendliness. For all the voices that paint Gujarat as good for business, there are critics who argue the Modi story is all about good PR, topped with dollops of hype. What, then, is the true picture of the socio-economic development of Gujarat under Modi?

One way to begin is to look behind the veneer of industrial success. Gujarat has been slipping in the overall human development ranking of states, point out experts. Some areas of concern: the fall in average years of schooling, health outcomes, infant mortality, nutrition indicators, environment and rural development—all indices incongruent with the rate of economic development.

The quality of healthcare delivery is worrisome, with people forced to seek costly private sector services in the absence of good public infrastructure. A study by NGO Pratham marks Gujarat as a delinquent state in the quality of education too. "Recent studies show the linkage between economic growth and human development has weakened," states Indira Hirway, director of Ahmedabad-based Centre for Development Alternatives and co-author of the Gujarat human development report, 2004.

As part of a new, yet-to-be-released study, Hirway stresses that while Gujarat has been making some progress in socio-economic indices, the pace is not in tune with other progressive states. Thus, Gujarat has slipped from its No. 17 ranking in 1996 to No. 23 in a decade as far as human development factors go. Gujarat also ranks a poor No. 21 among all states and union territories in the gender development index.

Of course, there are differences of opinion. "You can't expect development benefits to spread very fast. It takes a while to show up in numbers," argues Laveesh Bhandari, director, Indicus Analytics. In Andhra Pradesh, he adds, the steps initiated during TDP rule are showing up now. Echoes Planning Commission member B.N. Yugandhar, "There is some underbelly problem, but the regional differences in Gujarat are much less compared to other states."

An expert on Gujarat, Yugandhar says what goes to help the state are "cultural factors, absence of societal tensions and discrimination, social mobility and entrepreneurship...." There are obviously diametrically opposite views on this. As a socio-economist points out, Modi has failed to "provide greater confidence to the minority community, failed on the rehabilitation front or in creating harmony between different communities".

As for being a magnet for investment, for several decades Gujarat has been working towards that end. Good infrastructure like ports, roads, availability of power and skilled labour are among the factors that aided Gujarat's emergence as a hub for chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery, textiles and manufacturing.

Industry and foreign investors are obviously happy. "Gujarat has had the best labour relations. In comparison with other states, it offers a composite investment climate together with political leadership backed by bureaucratic efficiency," says Amit Mitra of FICCI. In the wake of recent tensions in Maharashtra over domicile issues, there appears to be investment movement towards Gujarat, point out observers.

Modi's insistence on efficiency, experts say, is reflected in the healthy condition of most state-owned enterprises.There are, however, many who feel Modi's highly centralised style of functioning and decision-making could lead to "disruption of the internal system within the government".

Experts say Gujarat's success in attracting investments started over two decades back, though rising sharply in the past five to eight years to put it among top investment destinations. In 2008, of the Rs 1,48,521-crore worth projects commissioned in India, Gujarat had an impressive 22 per cent share, according to Shashikant Hegde, ceo of ProjectsToday. This is largely attributed to the commissioning of Reliance's Rs 26,000-crore export-oriented refinery. Of course, as far as all those huge MOUs signed with Gujarat go, actual implementation remains to be seen.

For all the investment inflow, Gujarat does not figure among the top five states in employment generation or new manufacturing units. It is only in the last few years that more manufacturing units are coming up, in part thanks to remittances from overseas Gujaratis. Behind the hype, there is a growing worry that the global recession could hit Gujarat's export thrust. Already, the state has been witnessing job losses in the gems and jewellery and textile sectors, besides a dip in petrochemicals demand overseas. Unless Modi puts in place a policy framework for diversification into new industries, experts fear the global slowdown could lead to a deceleration in Gujarat's economic growth.

The question remains: but for the Gujarati spirit of entrepreneurship and absence of pervasive corruption, could Modi have achieved as much as he is credited with? As a bureaucrat put it, "Send Modi to Bihar and see if he can work the same success."

Anonymous said...

Agree with I agree with 'Itsdifferent', hope Mr. Modi becomes the PM.

Itsdifferent said...

Eknath
Appreciate the Outlook posting. This is what the press does, interviews few critics and makes it big. The problem I see with all of these type of reporting is, they can find faults all over. Just look at the last line, if it is true, had Gujarat been on this level of progress right after independance?
Instead of sending Modi to Bihar, lets send him to the center. Why? because it is unfortunate that we are divided along the Language lines as states, and so the author might very well knows, that Modi cannot ever contest in election there, leave alone leading that state, because, Biharis will see him as Guajarati, and wont vote. Thats not the case with the Center, the Party has a choice.
So, the Media really has a responsibiltiy here for the next election, rather than denigrating an individual who had achieved so much of success and trying to kick him around, weigh all the positives and negatives of all the individuals who they think are eligible for the PM position. That would have been the right attitude. Congress government has flushed all the progress and growth it inherited in the toilet, in spite of the so called best minds in power in the name of MMS and PC, but what happened, it was Lalu Prasad who showed the country what is possible. Its a different story, that he was not able to do the same in his own state.
Congress is not the way forward, enough with their cowardice. Communists are lost, as they seem to have two faces, one when they face China and one towards India, they have shown again and again in WB and Kerala.
We have a powerful 2020 vision, and global situation right now has given us a tremendous opportunity for us to regain our past glory, so the Media should forget its petty differences and biases and focus on the right things. Portray the right leader, Congress will keep the people under the poverty line, the regional parties will cling to power at any cost, so we need a national alternative at this time for sure. If the so called educated and geniuses are going to kick around, one potential leader we have to achieve our vision, what do we expect from the uneducated and downtrodden folks. They are going to vote for color TVs, one Kg of rice, free electricity and other free stuff, ignoring the Man who called on all the farmers and have directly and boldly told them, that they pay their taxes in time, pay for electricity in return of 24 hours of electricity and clean governance. All we need to do is put all these in a table of comparison, educate the masses, and let them choose, rather than our own prejudices spill through the pen.
check this out, everyone is welcome to contribute, promise it to be very positive. http://2020dreams.blogspot.com/

Chevalier said...

Your blog seems to have some weird visitors. Thanks for the link to the Jyotirmaya essay, though.

It's eerie how 'Return to the roots' and 'firm hand' are the exact same phrases used by every idiot through the ages that sets his/her country back for decades/centuries: in Iran before the 'revolution' in the 1970s, in Afghanistan with the Taliban in the 1980s/90s, or in Florence with Savonarola and the bonfire of the vanities in the 15th century.

We know what happened after each one of those 'return to the roots'. As Santayana said, those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

fiercepothead said...

yes,indeed,there are some aliens on your blog. thanks for the post. Modi deserves to be tried,first.

Anonymous said...

As a non-indian american and amature indophile, I cannot help but draw the obvious similarities between American's Democrats and Republicans and India's Congress and BJP.
America's, and much of the world's, economy is now experiencing the effects of 8 yrs of unregulated coporatism under the conservative Bush Administration. I see no reason to belive India under a corporatist stucture would fair any better.