April 13, 2014

On the BJP’s Election Manifesto

Prabhat Patnaik

THERE is nothing surprising about a party that believes itself to be riding the crest of an electoral wave by appearing to be all things to all persons, delaying the release of its election manifesto almost until the elections have actually started. Since a manifesto is supposed to state what a party specifically stands for, the fear is that any such explicit statement would break the spell. But this fact also points to something else. A situation where a party can ride a wave by being all things to all persons, even without clearly specifying what it stands for, is one where unreason has overridden reason, where the projection of an individual as a “messiah” has overridden the need for theoretical articulation of positions, where there has been, to borrow a phrase from the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukacs, a “destruction of reason”. Whether or not such a situation prevails in India today, and it most certainly does not, the BJP believes that it does. It wishes to carry forward whatever tendency exists in contemporary India towards a “destruction of reason”. It is the harbinger of the kind of “irrationalism” that underlies fascism. As a communal-fascist party it wallows in such “irrationalism”. Not surprisingly, it almost did not come out with an election manifesto. And the manifesto it has come out with, again not surprisingly, is brimming with platitudes. The differentia specifica it claims vis-a-vis other bourgeois parties is its promise of better “governance”, a term as meaningless and vacuous as any. Indeed it means all things to all persons. So in one sense the BJP’s manifesto adds little to its state of manifesto-less-ness. The usual culprits are there in its manifesto: the demand for a uniform civil code, plan to construct a Ram temple at Ayodhya, opposition to cow slaughter, and the like, though couched this time in somewhat more “modern” lingo (perhaps on the advice of its Public Relations managers). And there are sentences that mean precious little, like the one that promises that the BJP will "remove bottlenecks and missing links in all sectors, activities and services; focus on proper planning and execution for right outcomes; strive for scale and speed with futuristic vision; and build institutions for today and tomorrow." PRO-CORPORATE THRUST But even underlying these platitudes there is an unmistakable pro-corporate thrust which reflects the BJP’s new avatar. The BJP always had a communal agenda. The BJP also always had, in common with all bourgeois parties, an acquiescence with the neo-liberal agenda even when it talked about improving people’s lives. But this time there is an explicit pro-corporate thrust, which is the quid pro quo for corporate capital’s promotion of Modi. The BJP, always a communal party, has now got the backing of the corporate-financial elite of the country as never before. There is thus an unprecedented alliance of corporate capital with communal-fascism, making a bid for power which is stronger than ever before in post-independence India. To be sure, international finance capital, though warming to this alliance (witness the British representative’s enthusiasm over Modi), is not yet fully persuaded by it, as is evident for instance from the London Economist’s editorial on him. But it does not take much for international finance capital, and imperialism generally, to throw its support behind a fascist outfit, despite initial reservations, if such an outfit demonstrates its strength on the ground. In Ukraine for instance a government, with several fascist ministers, has taken power by overthrowing a legitimately elected president, and by jettisoning a European Union-backed proposal for a peaceful resolution of the stand-off between the ousted president and his opponents; and yet the imperialist countries, including the EU, have simply thrown their weight behind this new government. Of the numerous instances of deference to corporate interests in the BJP manifesto, I shall single out just three. The first relates to the Public-Private-Partnership model for building infrastructure, a typical World Bank idea promoted assiduously by the current deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, which, apart from being ethically questionable (economist Joseph Stiglitz had called it “private profiteering at government’s expense”), has been a miserable failure in terms of infrastructure promotion. And yet the BJP which makes much noise about infrastructure can think of no better way of ensuring infrastructure development than promoting PPP. Though it uses another vacuous term “People-Public-Private-Partnerships” (PPPP) to hide this fact, it has simply taken over a shop-worn and failed UPA policy, and one whose domestic exponent is a person whom the last NDA government had removed from a responsible government position under pressure from the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (of which nothing is heard these days). There had been a time when JRD Tata had marched in public against communalism; but corporate capital has now “adjusted” to communal-fascism. Likewise there had been a time when elements within the BJP, under the influence of the RSS-backed Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, had expressed reservations towards some aspects of neo-liberal policies, notably the TRIPs agreement; but now the BJP, and its mentor the RSS, have thrown their lot with the corporate-financial elite and the neo-liberal policies it espouses. This mutual “adjustment” which underlies the corporate media’s projection of Modi as a modern-day “messiah”, and which explains the lavishness with which the Modi campaign is being run, is reflective paradoxically of the crisis of neo-liberalism in the country. As far as the workers, agricultural labourers, peasants, and petty producers are concerned, neo-liberalism always spelled a crisis for them , even though, taking this phase as a whole, they may have been better off in some periods within it than in others. But this crisis has now spread to the urban middle class as well, sections of which had done well out of it (holding out the promise to other sections of the middle class that they too might become beneficiaries). The sharp decline in growth rate and hence in employment opportunities, including for the middle class, has alienated even this segment. To overcome this alienation, an attempt is being made to present the crisis not as a crisis of neo-liberalism but as a crisis of “governance”. It is being suggested that it is not neo-liberalism which is at fault but Manmohan Singh who has been at the helm: put somebody else at the helm, some person like Modi who can provide better “governance”, and the economic travails would be over. There is a strong element of irony here. Till the other day Manmohan Singh was the darling of the corporate-financial elite. Now, like Ghasiram Kotwal in Vijay Tendulkar’s celebrated Marathi play, he is being unceremoniously dumped by the same corporate-financial elite, being made the scapegoat for the failure of neo-liberalism. And as for the Congress, since it can disown neither neo-liberalism, nor Manmohan Singh, it simply denies the crisis itself and insists on things being hunky-dory, which obviously lacks credibility with the people, reducing that party to its current sorry state. The second instance of appeasing corporate interests relates to environment clearance. Much has been said of the “Gujarat model of development”, but what is scarcely ever mentioned is that Gujarat is the most polluted state in India. The Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) for industrial clusters put Ankleswar’s industrial area at the top of the list of critically polluted areas in 2009. In 2011 and 2013, the Vapi industrial area in Gujarat was at the top of the list. The free run given to corporate capital in Gujarat in the name of “development” has meant turning a blind eye to the environmental pollution it generates. The BJP now wishes to replicate this at the national level. What the manifesto states is: “Decision making on environmental clearances will be made transparent as well as time-bound” (emphasis in the original). Clearly the idea is to obtain speedy clearance rather than prevent environmental degradation. In fact the manifesto goes on to add: “Frame the environment laws in a manner that provides no scope for confusion and will lead to speedy clearance of proposals without delay”, which again suggests that clearance is more important than environmental protection. Interestingly, the manifesto says that “performance review, social and environmental audit would be mandated for all government schemes and programmes”. But there is no suggestion of mandating similar social and environmental audit for private corporate schemes and programmes, which underscores the pro-corporate bias. ENFEEBLING THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT The third instance relates to the introduction of “labour market flexibility”. For quite some time now there has been immense pressure from the World Bank and other such organisations as well as from the corporate-financial elite to introduce absolute freedom of hire and fire in Indian manufacturing industry. An immense amount of dishonest research has been funded by all these organisations to “prove” that India’s manufacturing growth has been held up because of lack of this freedom for the employers, which goes by the name of “labour market flexibility”; and intrepid researchers (of whom mercifully the country still has many) have had no problems in pointing out that these research findings have been completely bogus. What is equally striking is that restrictions on the right to “sack”, which too are by no means absolute under present laws but only entail proper prior notice, apply to only about 4 percent of the work-force; and even the establishments employing them have been shifting to low-paid contract labour and to “outsourcing” to Victorian-era sweat-shops. And yet there is much hullabaloo that India has been “suffering” because of the absence of “labour market flexibility”. The BJP manifesto promises “labour market flexibility”. There is however an issue of translation here. Just as the euphemism “labour market flexibility” is used to denote unrestricted right to sack employees, likewise the introduction of “labour market flexibility” is always referred to as “amending the outdated labour laws”. And lo and behold, the manifesto talks not just of undertaking “labour reforms” but of bringing together “all stakeholders to review our labour laws which are outdated, complicated and even contradictory”. Under the same labour laws there has been manufacturing growth far in excess of what is happening today (which amounts to virtual stagnation). The obvious conclusion therefore is that it is not the labour laws but something else that accounts for the stagnation. But the BJP is out to please the corporate-financial elite and hence it must present it with the unrestricted freedom to retrench employees. The question may be asked: if even the limited legal protection against retrenchment is available to only 4 percent of the workforce, those engaged in large factories, then why should it matter so much even to corporate capital? The answer lies in the fact that these large factories, unlike the sweat shops, are precisely the ones where the workers are still capable of some industrial action. The objective of amending labour laws therefore is not that it would stimulate any investment or growth (which in any case depend largely upon demand conditions), but that it would enfeeble the trade union movement. This is what corporate capital wants and the BJP is promising to deliver.