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Billionaire Raj

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
08 Mar 2021

The Government is on a “Sell-India” Mission

Capital accumulation in the hands of our billionaire-citizens is a double-edged sword. When given a regenerative quality with concern for society it can add to the wealth of the nation and contribute to social welfare. It can bail out the government in times of crisis. But, when capital moves into the hands of fewer and fewer people, it kills the smaller economic players, destabilizes the social order, and ruins our value-systems. When millionaires alone thrive, tensions mount. Joseph Schumpeter spoke of “creative destruction” as productive; but what we see today is the decline and death of the average man’s economy. The new farm laws are “death warrant” for farmers, cries Kejriwal. What the farmers are afraid is of “corporate greed”, says Susan Saradon. Gigantic silos have already been built for the farmers’ grain by Adani and other billionaires. They are ready to buy up the nation!

Look at the US.  When the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Carnegies built canals, railroads, and steamships for America, they were appreciated, says James Crabtree in his “The Billionaire Raj”  (Harper Collins, Noida, 2018, Pg. 23). But, when people began to understand that they were robbing the nation, they were called “Robber Barons”.

The Trinamool Congress accuses the BJP Government of being on a “sell India” mission: Public Sector Undertakings like Shipping Corporation, airlines, banks, steel mills, telecoms, refineries, toll roads, power stations (Crabtree xvii). There were rumours of even national monuments, jails and social welfare schemes being handed over to the billionaires, so that the Hindutva Government could concentrate on Ayodhya temple, Kashmir crushing, Pakistan bashing, Kumbha melas, Cow Science, MLAs purchases, and Election bribes.  Manoj Jha says, what the Prime Minister is asking of his countrymen is not Atmanirbhar but  “Atmasamarpan”, which really amounts to collective suicide. He was referring to today’s petrol price. If the earlier License Raj stood for inefficiency, poor quality, and lack of competitive quality (Ibid 40), the present administration is known for its ‘insensitivity’, irrationality, arrogance, and insolence. 

An Unequal Competition between Ambani-Adani Groups and the Poor Farmer  

In 2010 there were just 49, dollar billionaires in India. In 7 years they grew to be 100, just behind America, China and Russia. In 2017 their assets were worth $479 billion. There has been a mushrooming of dollar millionaires too, the number rising to178, 000. In Russia, those who grew wealthy by appropriating national wealth are called ‘oligarchs’. In India, the same type of people who marched ahead on software or mining have also been referred to as ‘Bollygarchs’, pointing to the power they exert on the Government (Ibid xvi). Parliamentarian-tycoons are on the increase (Ibid 37); however, the growth they have launched has been “economically disruptive, socially bruising and environmentally destructive” (Ibid xix). 

We daily hear of scandals, kickbacks, ignoring of environmental laws, soaring of commodity prices. Money-games keep people busy and contended, and forgetful of deeper issues. Political parties need money to win elections; they need a lot more money to keep themselves in power. So, the politics of ideas has come to be banished, and the politics of bribes has taken over. Laws are framed to keep tycoons in control of the flow of wealth, leaving space for diverting a portion for the political bosses (Ibid xxi). The dash for cash has begun (Ibid 141). Crony capitalism is here to stay.  

Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur and Guwahati airports have gone to the Adanis. Venality rises in connection with  coal and telecom licenses to the billionaires (Ibid 9).  No wonder that they have earned names like Baron, Boss, Magnate, Mogul, Titan, and Tycoon (Ibid xxii).  They know how to lubricate the enforcing machinery of the Government. A house raid is for bribe-collection (Ibid 48).

Wrong Bets, Wrong Priorities

Ruchir Sharma says, “Socialism today is for the rich”, bailing them out when they are in financial trouble and offering stimulus when the economy is sluggish.  Cold capitalism is for the labourer: low wages, low prices for farms products. A headline reads, “It is time for India to rein in its robber barons” (Ibid xxiv). But that happens.  The Administration wants to do the opposite: to keep close to money-magicians. Modiji sought to be the ‘best man’ for Trump elections with his ‘Namaste Trump’ lavishness at Ahmedabad. The Municipal corporation spent 9 crores; 17 crores, in addition, for artists, transport, and volunteers. But Modiji in this case exposed his “poor betting instincts”. He bet on the wrong horse.   

His “relevance perception” seems to be equally weak, building a 1,000-crore Central Vista in Delhi, amidst the cruellest pandemic and the severest economic downturn since Independence. Kamal Hassan questions the need of a Great Parliament House when people are going hungry. If Modiji is going to be remembered for a  beautiful Parliament House, he will be more remembered for bypassing Parliament procedures and  rushing laws without adequate discussion.  If the aesthetic quality of the Central Vista will win world attention, so will the fact that its builder made his home state Gujarat the fourth most polluted in India.  

Enriching billionaires goes with promoting a 1,100-crore temple at Ayodhya, the President Kovind giving 5 lakhs and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan giving one. Are these priorities right today, before the pressing needs of the poor?

Business Bosses “Manage the Government than Manage Innovation”

Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze see India slipping behind even Bangladesh in human development, child nutrition, and women’s health programmes. The Asian Tigers invested generously in health and education, which ensured a future to their economy. India is sliding down like Latin America due to mounting inequality (Ibid 69).  Further, every move in India calls ‘for facilitation money’: for admission into schools or hospitals, water connection, birth registration, marriage license, or death certificate (Ibid105). Benami and Hawala transactions are considered normal. The World Bank estimated a few years ago that one fifth of India’s GDP was black; others say, two thirds (Ibid 107). Milan Vaishnav sees corruption linked with the procedures related to tapping of natural resources, minerals, land, and funding of political parties (Ibid 110). There are middle men to facilitate all these underhand transactions (Ibid 113). Foreign investors who adapt, flourish. 

Jayant Sinha wrote that billionaire cronies make wealth “because of their ability to manage the government rather than mange innovation”!! “This is a collusive system.” Every rule is made to bend (Ibid 61). Raghuram Rajan speaks of “Resource Raj” diverting money from deals in land, coal, and natural resources. Again, wealth can be captured from intellectual property claims, through parliamentary lobbying, by creation of cartels and monopolies, and from real estate deals (Ibid 63-4). Critics can be silenced.  Companies place “intelligence” agencies in Delhi for lobbying for tax reduction and price hiking. Moreover, tycoons own hospitals, schools, and newspapers which give them ample opportunities for doing favours to devious politicians (Ibid 65). Such anomalies had been growing under the Congress regime, especially during its later coalition days. But they have reached giddy heights under the BJP regime, after it suppressed investigative journalism (Ibid 76).

Voting is No More about Intelligent Choices between Candidates, but Helpless Choice between Bribes and Intimidation

As elections in four states come closer, money moves and liquor flows. Ideologies play less and less role in influencing decisions; vote goes to the highest bidder. BJP has put that tradition on a sure foot. They themselves  admit having spent $7.1 in 2014. Most people say, much more. In any case, during the UP elections two million barrels of alcohol and 2,725 kilograms of drugs were seized (Ibid 137). With such a culture created, no wonder that one fifth of the politicians elected in 2014 had ‘serious’ criminal records. 

The voters themselves are to be held responsible. For them, ability to exert physical force when useful is the most convincing sign of strength on the part of the local Strong Man. His political supporters get protection from opponents and assistance from an inactive government machinery. Milan Vaishnav says, people vote for criminals “because” of, not “in spite” of crime (Ibid 142). 

Once elected as a member of the Ruling Party, all one’s crimes are washed away. But, of course, the negative image remains in the popular mind. Politicians are no more respected in today’s society (Ibid 143). But the unprincipled are happy enough with the opportunities they gain: cheap land, favourable tax status, liquor licenses, police protection, lenient treatment from the judiciary (Ibid 144). 

BJP Aberrations Had Earlier Roots

It is no use blaming the BJP alone. They have merely brought together and taken fuller advantage of earlier aberrations. Jayalalitha’s populism in Tamilnadu, for example, was built entirely on handouts and freebies:  farmers’ loan waiver, laptops, food grinders, free seeds, sheep and goats (Ibid 151). Once she had established her hold, she grew imperious and vindictive, constantly surrounded by toadies and supplicants (Ibid 152), much like the present Mogul court in Delhi. 

Similarly, there was much display of renunciation, with Jayalalitha drawing one rupee salary as Chief Minister, while owning $8 million, and many times more in assets, including a house with 700 pairs of shoes, 10,000 saris, gold, and jewellery. Aberrations in the North were different, though equally embarrassing: goonda raj, patronised violence, rape instances, caste tensions, and communal clashes (Ibid 131). The BJP has tapped deeper into the political possibilities of these resources.                              

Nehru had a rooted distrust of Indian business communities.  Hence their hatred for Nehru and his family. But time has proved that his caution was right. In any case, Banias and Marwaris developed early enough the skills needed to navigate the bureaucracy during the Congress period (Ibid 210). Over-invoicing deals and over-valuing imports had become normal (Ibid 188). According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, what India came to have was a “government of contractors, by contractors, for contractors” (Ibid 163). They knew how to get pliant bankers into decision-making positions (Ibid 193) and to persuade politicians to favour their proposals. Everything worked with the right kind of relationships (Ibid 220). It was socialism with a “Bania touch”. 

However, with the BJP taking over in 2014, the billionaire fortunes skyrocketed. Inequality grew rapidly. Once inequalities harden, as Brazil has found, it is difficult to change (Ibid 72). Thomas Piketty insists that if  inequality becomes severe, the economy becomes unsustainable. The only solution is a fair share of taxation for the rich (Ibid 72). 

A Radical Poriborton (Change) is Required 

Modi said in Madison Square, New York, in 2014, that the Indians had been slaves for 1000-1200 years. He was referring to the rule of the Muslims, the British and the English-speaking elite. He was posing as though his Hindu majoritarian rule had liberated India for the first time! (Ibid 278). But where has he led us? All he can boast today is of an economic growth of 0.4% and Atmanirbhar in toy Industry!! Modiji promises a lot, but accomplishes little. Arun Shourie, his one-time admirer says, “More is said than done!!”  What keeps winning public attention is his insensitivity to the farmers, Muslims, Dalits, tribals, minorities, and neighbouring states.  

His colleagues too belong to the category of people who make big claims over petty achievements, e.g. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan appearing with Ramdev’s Coronil for COVID-19. Similarly, Yogiji boasts about “Atmanirbhar UP”, possibly referring to his handling of the Law and Order situation, with countless police encounters which involved loss of many lives. No one speaks of ‘Achhe Din’ any more. No hope! All we hear is about hasty arrests, jail terms, bail conditions, insult to protesters. 

In Bengal, Modiji called for a Poriborton, radical change. That is what India is waiting for. Rahul promises to send the RSS-led government back to their home base in Nagpur,  with the “wounded vanity of the government” (SC) tamed and leadership chastened. Though many have commented on Modiji’s hardworking habits, no one has commented on his intelligence, competence, far-sightedness or other leadership qualities (Ibid 284). A change may be helpful to the country, and the time may have come…before the entire land is sold out to a handful of billionaires.  India’s 1.3 billion people have to make a choice between a Yoga Master and a Ruler who believes in Raj Dharma. 

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