July 30, 2023

Indian State from a Public Sector Perspective

Sudip Dutta

DUE to the Indian bourgeoisie's incapacity and reluctance to invest in capital-intensive industries, the newly independent Indian state was compelled to assume a productive role, which led to the establishment of the public sector. During its welfare stage until 1991, it acted as the producer and provider of various essential goods, social services, and infrastructure. However, the forced suppression of land reforms created a crisis of realisation and limited the potential for desired growth by the mid-1980s.

Then the advent of neoliberalism marked a significant shift in the economic, political, and ideological perspective of the state. Neoliberalism gradually started transforming the state from a productive entity into a tax-collecting rentier one. Privatisation and disinvestment, characterized by primitive accumulation, was aimed to create a level playing field for global finance by transferring control of key sectors and resources and reducing corporate taxes. These measures led to a transformation of the state's role into that of a rent and revenue collector from the market.

However now, a new era has emerged, marked by a unique mechanism known as the National Monetization Pipeline, where the Indian state is transferring its capacity for extracting rent to corporate entities. While the state is gradually losing its financial strength, the largest corporations are now establishing dominance over the infrastructural assets. They have created monopoly digital realm through digital market platforms such as Amazon and Google. This has given rise to the flourishing of digital rentier capitalism. The state, in this transformation, assumes the role of the custodian.

As the state's material strength diminishes, it inevitably takes on a more authoritarian and despotic shape in order to suppress the superstructure and facilitate a smooth transition. This represents a distinct shift towards an era of financialisation, where the virtual realm supersedes the real, speculation overtakes production, authority surpasses materiality. The journey of this transition is closely intertwined with the evolving relationship between the state and its public sector.

The initial phase of privatisation aimed at disinvesting the public sector, was met with resistance. Despite the Rangarajan Committee's recommendation to sell off public sector undertakings (PSUs), only Maruti Udyog was privatised in the first five years of liberalisation.

However, the neoliberal corporatisation, coupled with the rise of communal and identity politics, brought the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in 1998. This political shift led to the privatisation of several PSUs, including VSNL, Indian Petrochemicals, and BALCO.

But it failed to resolve the immediate crisis. As a result, the NDA government was voted out, and the UPA-I government came to power with the support of left-wing MPs. During this period until 2009, the government relied on the left parties, and privatization was effectively halted. However, in 2009, the left parties withdrew their support from the UPA government. Subsequently, between 2009 and 2014, PSU stakes worth Rs 99,367 crore were disinvested.


The Modi government, in its relentless pursuit of disinvestment, displayed an aggression unprecedented in our nation's history. It dismantled the Planning Commission, which had been the backbone of our country's public sector and planned economy. Additionally, they appointed members affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to key positions on the boards of major Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs).

During the first four and a half years of Modi as prime minister, a staggering 60.24 per cent of the total disinvestment of CPSEs since 1991 took place. The government implemented various derogatory policy measures, such as initial public offerings (IPOs), follow-on public offerings (FPOs), offer for sale (OFS), exchange-traded funds (ETFs), strategic sales, buy-backs, selling through auction, compulsory borrowing and more.

Despite offering lucrative deals to corporate, a new trend was emerging since 2019-20. The achievement of annual disinvestment targets has been declining. In 2019-20, only 55.88 per cent of the target was achieved, followed by a mere 15.59 per cent in 2020-21, and a paltry 5.31 per cent in 2021-22. In a desperate move, the government declared that CPSEs in both strategic and non-strategic sectors would be considered for privatisation.

Despite the challenging circumstances they faced, how did the PSUs actually perform? It is noteworthy that the share of the public sector in GDP during the pre-reform period was 7.6 per cent, and interestingly, from 1990 to 2019, it stood at 7.98 per cent. This indicates that the public sector's contribution to the economy remained relatively stable over time. It is crucial to acknowledge the dedication and resilience of public sector workers who fought tirelessly against all attacks and challenges.

But remarkably, until 1991, the public sector held the largest share in gross capital formation, representing 41 per cent of reinvestment. However, this figure significantly declined to 23 per cent by 2019. Similarly, the share of the public sector in gross savings was 26 per cent during the pre-liberalisation period and plummeted to a mere 5.6 per cent between 1991 and 2018.

This indicates that although the public sector continued to generate profits, it was neither permitted to reinvest these returns to upgrade machinery, equipment, and intellectual property products, nor did it contribute significantly to gross savings.

The question then arises: where did the entirety of the public sector's returns go? The Modi government has employed various means to extract public sector funds to satiate its financial requirements. These include excise duty, custom duty, corporate tax, GST, interest on central government loans, and dividends. The contribution of CPSEs to the central exchequer was at around Rs 997 crore in 1975, while in the fiscal year 2021-22, it soared to Rs 5.07 lakh crore.

It seems they are on a mission to rapidly deplete the resources of these lucrative entities within a few years. However, this is not the end of the story.

The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) introduced by the Modi government in the 2021-22 budget can be marked as a paradigm shift in the operational nature of the Indian state. Through the NMP, the Indian state plans to lease out its monopoly rights over national highways, GAIL pipelines, Powergrid transmission lines, petroleum and product pipelines, railway tracks, major ports, water storage capacities, and more.

The holders of monopoly rights over these assets will now have the freedom to claim rent, which is the share of surplus derived from the entire range of products and services that depend on these assets. This represents a significant paradigm shift in the policy of the privatisation process that has been pursued by successive governments.

In this transforming era, rent is superseding direct productive surplus, expropriation is replacing appropriation, and private capital is assuming control over the material authority of the state. This signifies a transformation where the state relinquishes its direct control over infrastructural assets, allowing private entities to extract rent over all crucial services. The implementation of the NMP serves to facilitate the accumulation of wealth through the imposition of rent, further consolidating capital through various forms of centralization, both horizontally and vertically.


The real laboUr force is the key instrument in bursting this venomous bubble. The Modi government, the custodian of this vulgar agenda, is attacking the labor force from all angles. Through practices such as casualisation, contractualisation and apprenticeships, it is trying to disintegrate, destabilise, dismantle, and disempower the labour force. However, labour is responding to this challenge. Workers from all categories in PSUs are coming together to form unions, and their struggles and solidarity, whether organised or spontaneous, are thriving based on the concrete reality they face.

Undoubtedly, the blatant transfer of the state's capacity to collect rent to private corporations will inevitably result in a disastrous financial crisis and create an anarchic economic state of affairs. In light of this, the primary focus of all resistance movements now should be the anti-privatisation-monetisation agenda.

This agenda aims to preserve and establish social rights over the entire production system. It has the potential to unite all sections of the working class on a single platform, with a collective spirit to combat divisive communal forces and a determination to safeguard the nation from the clutches of these monstrous corporate-fascistic entities.