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Friday, December 7, 2012

FEARS OF AN INVASION: Anti-imperialism produces strange bedfellows


By Swapan Dasgupta

A quasi-dysfunctional democracy such as India occasionally needs to showcase Parliament’s role in seriously engaging with the pressing issues of the day. The two-day debate in Lok Sabha which resulted in the UPA Government securing a grudging approval of its contentious decision to allow a caveat-ridden 51 per cent foreign investment in retail trade may not have fully restored popular faith in an increasingly discredited political class. But it at least demonstrated that a large number of MPs (particularly the more seasoned parliamentarians) are aware of issues that extend beyond their state and constituency boundaries.

This may not come as a great revelation to those who look beyond stereotypes of the bumptious neta. However, for the more sceptical breed of Indians, particularly those with modernist and cosmopolitan pretensions, a debate such as this forces a realisation that there is a lot of earthy wisdom in India’s political culture than is often admitted.  

True, an understanding of the larger international trends in the retail trade, not least of which was the awareness of the contested business practices of the US-based retail giant Walmart, was also accompanied by a great deal of humbug. In the days to come, particularly if the agricultural procurement policies of some foreign retail companies has an unsettling effect on the rural economy of Uttar Pradesh, both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati may be confronted by awkward questions centred on their covert deal to permit a move they held to be anti-farmer and anti-small business. Likewise, if Walmart or any other large retail chain decides to make their presence felt too fast and too aggressively in the National Capital, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit may find herself challenged by small traders apprehensive of the future.

This is not an unreal prospect. A feature of the determined BJP-Left-Trinamool onslaught against FDI in retail was the invocation of fear. It was suggested that the presence of supermarkets in the large towns would destroy the livelihood of the corner grocery shop, curtail employment, contribute to distortions in agricultural procurement and, in the long run, herald monopolistic practices by the likes of Walmart—already a symbol of ugly Western capitalism. The Nationalist Congress Party’s Praful Patel may have been quite right to remind everyone that India’s entry into the World Trade Organisation had been accompanied by similar alarmist propaganda by both the BJP and the Left. But public memory is woefully short and it is quite likely that the same drama may be re-enacted. The only difference is that while globalisation was a slow, invisible process, the changes in the business rules of retail trade may be a more visible process. If the Shiv Sena does indeed plan to carry out its threat to smash up any foreign retail chains that dare set up shop in Maharashtra, this particular ‘reform’ may actually witness additional drama.

The Lok Sabha debate also witnessed unending references to the East India Company that came to India as traders and ended up as rulers. Gurudas Das Gupta of the CPI was particularly emphatic in his assertion that the likes of Walmart also have a political agenda, and that the foreigner could end up exercising control over the way Indians run their democracy.

It is touching to note that despite 20 years of deregulation and the visible success of some facets of economic liberalisation, the rhetoric of the Left hasn’t really evolved. Indeed, it can be said with some amusement that it has made some unlikely converts in the BJP. There was little in Murli Manohar Joshi’s amusingly distracted intervention that the Comrades would have taken serious objection to. Joshi’s searing indictment of the new imperialism of Walmart, et al, was, however, accompanied by a touching celebration of the unchanging nature of 5,000 years of Indian agricultural techniques. What new technology and techniques can the American firms impart to the Indian farmer who banks on inherited knowledge? Anti-imperialism, it would seem, produces strange bedfellows.

Some reassurance that the Indian Right isn’t merely Marxism plus the cow was, fortunately, provided by Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj who was at her eloquent and statesman-like best on both days—quite a contrast from Sonia Gandhi who was seen actively endorsing the puerile heckling of Harsimrat  Badal by a Congress MP from Punjab. Swaraj at least clarified that her party wasn’t opposed to FDI in infrastructure and high-tech but only to the sale of dal and rice to the Indian consumer. At least some facets of the NDA inheritance has been preserved by the BJP.

Indeed, a considerable part of the debate was taken up by the question of political inheritance. The BJP made much of the fact that in 2002 the then Congress Chief Whip Priyaranjan Das Munshi had described FDI in retail as “anti-national” and that Manmohan Singh had opposed any such move a decade ago. On its part, Kapil Sibal beamed in self-satisfaction as he pointed out that it was Murasoli Maran, the Commerce Minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Government, who had first mooted the issue of FDI in retail, and that the NDA manifesto of 2004 promised to allow 26 per cent FDI in that sector. 

If the intention of the debate was to demonstrate that inconsistency is the hallmark of partisan politics, Indians who observed the debate would surely have come away with the conclusion that politicians aren’t doctrinaire. In taking the positions they did, both the Government and the Opposition had one eye on public opinion. This is natural considering that no one really knows how long the minority government will survive. But is there any reason to believe Mulayam Singh Yadav’s cryptic observation that the UPA will soon realise that reforms that affect too many people will be rejected by the electorate?

There are no simple answers. Nor is it wise to compare this week’s debate with the kerfuffle over the Indo-US nuclear accord when the Lok Sabha was divided along broadly similar lines. The nuclear deal, as it was perceived by the middle classes who were remotely interested in it, was all about India’s relationship with the US. It was about the continuing efficacy of anti-Americanism at a time when the cosmopolitan Indian never had it so good. In opposing it blindly, the BJP was completely out of step with its natural supporters and it paid the price in urban India in the 2009 general election.

The retail FDI debate took place in a different environment. It happened at a time when few are wildly optimistic about the short-term prospects of the economy. It was also held in the backdrop of an intense public furore over corruption and crony capitalism. The Congress obviously calculated that ‘reforms’ is the big idea that will transform the negativity and rekindle hope in the future. That is what Charan Singh’s grandson meant when he spoke about his faith in the larger process of parivartan.

Will the voters buy this logic? Alternatively, will they prefer to view the Congress’ belated faith in reforms as a last ditch attempt to divert attention from three years of paralysis and the enrichment of a favoured few?

Anticipating the future is hazardous and prone to misjudgements. The Government has come out of its bunker and gambled on the potential appeal of a big idea called ‘reform’. Whatever its other shortcomings, it is at least forward looking. The BJP cannot hope to counter this by good speeches and platitudes. To prevail, it has to also proffer its version of the good life.

The Telegraph, December 7, 2012 

9 comments:

SMS said...

After 65 years of independence we are still trying to retain barriers against globalisation and competition. At the same time we want to be known and recognised as a global player. We want to be permanent member of the security council. What dichotomy. In one side we use plethora of MNC products but when it comes to FDI in retail we panic. We use Colgate toothpaste. We drive Suzuki car, We take photos with Nikon and Sony. We travel in Boeing and Airbus planes. We keep accounts in Citi Bank. We drive Honda motorbikes. We use Viagra for our libido. We play cricket. We travel in Volvo buses. Our industrialists own big industrial empires abroad. Look at Laxmi Mittal, the biggest steel producer in the world. He operates freely across the globe.Our food sufficiency is due to Dr. Norman Borlaug. We have no problems then. So what do you want? Should we drive a third class car like Ambassador only and use only Neem datan and go to the maidans for ablution. My country men, wake up. This is 21st century. You have to integrate with the world. Enough of anti development and anti technology rhetoric. Recognise the reality. See what China has done in a short span. Shall we languish at the bottom of the development index?

Anonymous said...

" new technology and techniques " imported for agriculture , horticulture are absolutely fine. That way many professors from Agricultural Colleges in India have been routinely making trips to ISRAEL to refurbish their knowledge.

It is useless mulish India that adamantinely treated ISRAEL as a pariah for several decades.Cho Ramaswamy's late father ( an exceptionally brilliant Agriculture & Horticulture Expert having won some rare award Krishi something I don't recall) tried very hard in building cordial relations with ISRAEL as India would then have not faced food , water scarcity, wastage etc that kapil sibals & congressis are so belatedly haranguing about as if the world itself came into existence only when murasoli maran went to Europe.

Indian Establishment stoutly refused to appease votebanks' violent prejudices. For quite sometime India has lost its self sufficiency in pulses. Most of it come from Myanmar & Canada.

My heart NEVER bled or bleeds for mulayams , mayawathis , communists & congressis. Let the West sell its technology but let it not sell churchianity. Already there is an unhealthy glut of churchianity in India.

Let us also not turn amnesiac about Bt.cotton , genetically altered brinjals that toilet worshipping jairam rameshes tried very hard in introducing.

Widespread use of pesticides have already rendered soil in India bereft of its rich nutrients.Today one has to consume minimum 8 oranges to derive nutritive benefits that a single orange could supply ONCE UPON A TIME.

Indians' craze for ostentatious living & Ratan Tata's frenzied haste in crowning himself as some inventor of special cheap cars have created a huge hunger for fuel. Hence large cultivable lands within India were usurped to plant lots of diesel fuel plants (JATROPHA).

Land & water have become almost unavailable in India. Too many churches & holiday resorts have sprouted in Hindus' Holy Haridhvar, Rishikesh & so forth.

Anonymous said...

Apropos SMS's comments that read like indian primary school level debates.

Do REMEMBER there is absolutely no altruistic motive involved. They benefit much more from us the consumers called Indians ( HINDUS).

In the bargain we have already paid a heavy price. With ISRAEL & JEWS , CHINA & JAPAN we stand to benefit. As they do not CONVERT.

Anonymous said...

I have really come to like the ARABS as they are so sure of their objectives. They are very HONEST. They engage the christian west no doubt but NEVER go overboard. ARABS cannot be bought with natty suits & ties whereas INDIANS are ever willing to do so.

I am EXTREMELY GRATEFUL towards the ARABS for NOT giving citizenship & voting rights to utterly useless GODDAMNED indians or south-asians if you prefer. I am MORE SURE than ARABS indians / south asians would have made a thorough mess of the ARAB countries.

Drug trafficking , adulteration , RAPES , crimes & misdemeanours are PUNISHED not tolerated / condoned like indians citing horoscopes & karma gobbledygook.

ARABS also have undergone colonising & rapacious plundering by the West. It is not as if India alone underwent invasions.

YET , they have woken up owing to ALLAH's GRACE. They engage CHINA , JAPAN etc. They are not "fanatics" as ratcheted by media.

Should some of them happen to marry more than one wife they do so by MARRYING.

Unlike holier than thou indians & converted christians who have lots of concubines & paramours on the sly. WITHIN & WITHOUT office buildings. Lying they are "busy in quarterly presentations & half yearly projections".

Anonymous said...

Useless media is hell bent on focussing exclusively on aberrations & extremes.

I have seen many Kuwaiti women driving , shopping & dining in swanky restaurants . coffee shops ALONE not necessarily chaperoned by a male or their mates. Clad in their traditional attire or any casual wear they decide to wear. Some smoke many don't. Whereas in India & among Indians such women have always been considered pushovers " available".

ARABS MAKE BABIES.

HINDUS have long given up as there is nothing but gloom & doom to wake up to in GODFORSAKEN india for hindus.

Anonymous said...

I have personally SEEN many loving couples among ARABS. They seldom WORRRRY & WORRRYYYYY planning & planning about future. Us Indians are full of sighs & lugubrious SIGHS & everlasting anxieties , worries.

One young Syrian married a girl of his choice , YESS they select their brides unlike us indians marrying cluelessly & producing one or two equally CLUELESSLY.

Was ecstatic when she delivered. And spontaneously told me :-

" She has undergone all pain of carrying & delivering. Hence my wife ALONE HAS THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE my child's NAME ".

During weekends & after office hours they enjoy life TOGETHER by going out , travelling whatever.

Indians are wedded to their qualifications , designations & offices. Perennially work on strategy planning , board meetings, half yearly projections & three quarterly presentations. Satiate their LUST by devouring bollykolly priyanka chopras, karishma , kareena kapoors urmila matondkars . With the mandatory "sacred threads" present on their GODFORSAKEN UNCOUTH bodies or lying within the chest of drawers.

Anonymous said...

I have personally SEEN many loving couples among ARABS. They seldom WORRRRY & WORRRYYYYY planning & planning about future. Us Indians are full of sighs & lugubrious SIGHS & everlasting anxieties , worries.

One young Syrian married a girl of his choice , YESS they select their brides unlike us indians marrying cluelessly & producing one or two equally CLUELESSLY.

Was ecstatic when she delivered. And spontaneously told me :-

" She has undergone all pain of carrying & delivering. Hence my wife ALONE HAS THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE my child's NAME ".

During weekends & after office hours they enjoy life TOGETHER by going out , travelling whatever.

Indians are wedded to their qualifications , designations & offices. Perennially work on strategy planning , board meetings, half yearly projections & three quarterly presentations. Satiate their LUST by devouring bollykolly priyanka chopras, karishma , kareena kapoors urmila matondkars . With the mandatory "sacred threads" present on their GODFORSAKEN UNCOUTH bodies or lying within the chest of drawers.

Anonymous said...

In Gujarat today it is an open secret both muslims & hindus have come together under the leadership of Sri.Narendra Modi.

But as I always maintain the evangelical brigade poses the grave threat. One such converted christian allegedly " working to uplift the tribals in Gujarat " said the following to a reporter:-

" Narendra Modi no doubt is the best today.

HoweveRRRRRRRR , Narendra Modi is a HINDU , the hindutva ......".

Trust me , don't get swayed by their qualifications or lack of them. Christians worldwide tenaciously hold on to the (sic)ludicrous belief that all the people of this world should be converted into christians as Jesus Christ would reappear ONLY THEN.

They never lose sight of this goal. Hence would not be deterred by one Graham Staines' death. Recall his allegedly bereaved widow Mrs. Graham Staines clad in a saree proclaimed " she had forgiven those who caused the death of Graham Staines ".

This SICK UNHEALTHY ITCH to uplift
the non christians has only one cure. They should not be allowed to enter our country to build a single church or bring in a single Holy Bible. Those indians owing allegiance to churchianity along with sonia gandi etc should be deported to UK , USA , Australia etc. Let them thrust Bibles , feed & clothe them , provide jobs & look after them permanently.

Multinationals should not be a given an inch of land within Bharath. Including Walmart , Carrefour. Too many churches are there in India. Let those be demolished to set up their stores.

For jairam ramesh toilets are more sacred than Hindus' Temples.

Hindus & Muslims should join hands along with China , Taleban & Pakistan declaring multinational companies & shops are more sacred than churches.

Anonymous said...

In Gujarat today it is an open secret both muslims & hindus have come together under the leadership of Sri.Narendra Modi.

But as I always maintain the evangelical brigade poses the grave threat. One such converted christian allegedly " working to uplift the tribals in Gujarat " said the following to a reporter:-

" Narendra Modi no doubt is the best today.

HoweveRRRRRRRR , Narendra Modi is a HINDU , the hindutva ......".

Trust me , don't get swayed by their qualifications or lack of them. Christians worldwide tenaciously hold on to the (sic)ludicrous belief that all the people of this world should be converted into christians as Jesus Christ would reappear ONLY THEN.

They never lose sight of this goal. Hence would not be deterred by one Graham Staines' death. Recall his allegedly bereaved widow Mrs. Graham Staines clad in a saree proclaimed " she had forgiven those who caused the death of Graham Staines ".

This SICK UNHEALTHY ITCH to uplift
the non christians has only one cure. They should not be allowed to enter our country to build a single church or bring in a single Holy Bible. Those indians owing allegiance to churchianity along with sonia gandi etc should be deported to UK , USA , Australia etc. Let them thrust Bibles , feed & clothe them , provide jobs & look after them permanently.

Multinationals should not be given an inch of land within Bharath. Including Walmart , Carrefour. Too many churches are there in India. Let those be demolished to set up their stores.

For jairam ramesh toilets are more sacred than Hindus' Temples.

Hindus & Muslims should join hands along with China , Taleban & Pakistan declaring multinational companies & shops are more sacred than churches.