Ending the colonial rule of British imperialism, India won its independence and established itself as a sovereign, socialist, democratic republic on January 26, 1950. In the last half century India experienced three wars, two year-long national emergencies and severe natural and man-made calamities. Yet, India’s maturing democracy and its multi-ethnic, pluralistic character weathered those 50 years.
Independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, put forward the still relevant idea of “unity in diversity.” His socialist credentials and pro-Soviet Union stance had great influence among India’s poor and working masses. Nehru even adopted a five-year plan for development projects and public sector enterprises. The public sector flourished. Money from these enterprises went to the development of social services.
This scenario lasted until 1991, when the Congress Party government under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimharao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh adopted “neo-liberal” globalization policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The private sector was touted as the only remedy for the ailments of the Indian economy. Without any public debate or discussion, even in Parliament, they opened the doors for foreign, as well as Indian, monopoly corporations to dominate the economy. The role of the public sector became minimal and public enterprises began to close. “Profit” became the slogan for not only business but the government as well.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was another reason for this drastic change. Indian rulers tossed out any ideas of socialism and swung to the other extreme – market capitalism. The ruling parties, who once administered the national economy on the basis of socialist thinking, turned “reformers.”
Successive governments continued these policies. When the extreme far right Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) forces jumped into the government driver’s seat, “reform” gave way to a more extreme situation where huge amounts of kickbacks from multinational corporations began to flow. Politicians and ministers became middlemen for corporate and private interests.
While they demagogically linked their policies with “democracy,” preaching the benefits of a “global economic village,” the minimal hard-won democratic rights of workers and the people began to decline. Democracy suffered at the altar of private profit, although Indian democracy “experts” have failed miserably to realize the situation.
As a result of these “reform” policies, states and regions are now competing against each other. Regional political parties have taken on new importance, but many are using caste, religion and language as their main weapons to divide the Indian people.
Some, like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK), and Dalit Panthers preach “new love” towards dalits (the lowest caste, formerly referred to as “untouchables”) to capture power. But, for example, in Uttar Pradesh, one of the large states in India, these “dalit parties” and the far-right hindutva forces work hand in glove. They will not resolve any discrimination that dalits face, only safeguard multinational corporate interests.
The Indian people still largely depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Agricultural growth leads to rural prosperity, which in turn leads to more buying power, and that triggers higher industrial growth. But during the current corporate globalization process agriculture has seen negative growth, despite campaign promises by many bourgeois political parties to help the agricultural sector. Capital invested in Indian agriculture has declined from 17 percent in 1980 to 9 percent now. This trend has had a negative impact across the economy.
The displacement of rural and tribal peoples – as in the case of the anti-people Narmada dam project, where hundreds of thousands of people will be displaced – is also part of the neo-liberal picture. Although the movement of the people of Narmada carries considerable moral power, this alone is unable to get them redress. Their democratic resistance is often brutally attacked not only by the ruling class but in particular by right-wing political organizations.
Democratic rights of students – from pre-school to university – are also in question. The education sector is rapidly being privatized. Before 1991, education was public. Now universities are being told to privatize. Poor students cannot get access to higher education even if they are academically qualified. The neo-liberal pressure to privatize also affects curriculum. One prominent report claimed there is no need to teach humanities and social sciences at the university level, and recommended that students learn only business-oriented subjects.
These are just a few examples of how neo-liberal (or, as some may call it – neo-colonial) globalization endangers democracy and the yearnings of poor and working people.
M.K.N. Moorthy is the publisher of a progressive Malayalam-language publication in Kerala, India, and a freelance correspondent for the World/Mundo. He can be reached at email@example.com