by on 16.05.21

It may of course be argued that providing a larger rescue package would have enlarged the fiscal deficit ratio even more and this would have been unacceptable to global finance and its institutions like the IMF. But while this argument has much relevance for other third world countries, the Indian case cannot be explained in this manner.

The Indian State did not even push for such measures; it was under no compulsion, either by the IMF or through the beginning of a deluge of financial outflows, to rein in its expenditure, even within the neoliberal framework. Its parsimony therefore can only be attributed to its utter lack of concern for the working people. This brings us back therefore to the contrast in ruling class behaviour towards the poor between the Indian and the Western cases.

At least three factors can be adduced as underlying this contrast. The first is the lack of bargaining strength of the Indian working people, the overwhelming majority of whom consists of unorganized workers. The levels of unemployment are exceedingly high, and the “employment rationing” among the work-force takes the form not of some being fully employed and others being fully unemployed, but rather of each one being employed for only a part of the time.

Organising the workers becomes doubly difficult under these circumstances, first, because of the sheer magnitude of unemployment, and, second, because of the fact that this unemployment affects such a large number of people over whom it is spread thinly. The labour laws rushed through the parliament by the Modi government during the pandemic will only make matters worse for the workers.

The question may be raised: even if the organisations of workers, peasants, and agricultural labourers may be weak, they can after all put political pressure on the government by voting against it during elections; indeed the very fear of this happening should make the government sensitive to their needs, and hence sympathetic to their plight. But here we come to the second factor, that is particularly relevant in the case of the Modi government. Its confidence in dividing the people along communal lines, in bringing about a majoritarian consolidation behind itself is so absolute that it thinks it can afford to be unconcerned about the conditions of the working people qua working people.

No matter if the lockdown declared is draconian, no matter if it is declared at four hours’ notice, no matter if lakhs of migrant workers are thrown into the streets trekking their way back to their villages, no matter if they are denied any assistance and are forced to slog it out doing arduous manual work under the MGNREGS to earn their daily bread, come election time their votes can be garnered by the ruling party through communal polarisation; or so that party thinks. It is this thinking which makes it totally unresponsive to the material needs of the working people.

The third factor is the tradition of unconcern towards the poor and the working people that has characterised Indian society for long because of the caste-system. The working people belong largely to the depressed, so-called “lower castes”, and the insensitivity towards the “lower castes” carries over into an insensitivity towards the needs of the working people.

The anti-colonial struggle, occurring within a historical context of advancing socialism, had to a significant degree overcome this attitude, and created the vision of an India where people enjoyed equal rights as citizens irrespective of caste, class, religion or gender. But with the change that has occurred in the historical context in a regressive direction, the old prejudices are back with a vengeance.

It is noteworthy that G D Birla had once written a letter to some of his fellow industrialists that they should not flaunt their wealth so openly, for that would turn public opinion against them. It is a sign of the change that has occurred in the historical context, that a top industrialist of today can flaunt his wealth by having a massive, multi-storey mansion in the middle of Mumbai; and instead of being pilloried for it, he is hailed by none other than the prime minister as a valued “wealth-creator”! 

Posted in: Business, Taxation
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