Capitalism, law and surplus population – in the context of the Mundka incident


Industrial accidents are a necessary condition of the capitalist economy, that is, their possibility is an integral part of capitalist life. Their occurrence can be avoided to some extent by legal-administrative reforms and vigilance. There are limits to these reforms, however. The Mundka incident, on the one hand, exemplifies corruption and non-compliance of the law (which attracts the most attention of the well-wishers), and on the other, it is primarily a manifestation of the organic brutality of capitalist industrial life. This brutality reflects the dispensability of individuated workers in an environment of continuous surplusing.

A Note on Premchand and the Proletarian Context


“अब तो शहरों में मजदूरों की मांग है, रुपया रोज खाने को मिलता है, रहने को पक्का घर अलग। अब हम जनिंदारों का धौंस क्यों सहें, क्यों भर पेट खाने को तरसें? —  प्रेमाश्रम (Premashram)

While Premchand’s stories have numerous references to proletarian life, they generally portray a realist sad picture of a rickshaw-puller, of workers and the cesspool of urban life. However, a careful reading of Premashram shows how the presence of wage labour gave peasants of Awadh a context to act transcending the fatalism of rural life. 

The greatness of a fiction writer depends on her awareness of those aspects of reality which are essential to produce its fictionalised model and, of course, on her ability to connect them sensitively to generate such a model, which is then incubated to develop a full-scale narrative. It is not any “scientific knowledge” of the reality, but its sensitive awareness, which helps her uncover and/or discover those irrational and rational socio-psychological aspects, which non-fiction cannot even imagine to reach. 

It is important to remember that reality is not simply the real, i.e., what is, but what is not too, the unreal, the imaginary that stays with us as possibilities — again not just as actual possibilities, but also as remote and abstract possibilities, constituting the horizons of our imagination. Fictions work at the level of those horizons.

Premchand’s Premashram demonstrates his awareness of the rural reality of Awadh and of the constitutive conflicts.  He is able to capture the passive revolution that was changing the rural setting, and emergent class consciousness and solidarity among the rural poor grounded in their everyday class experience and conflicts.

The novel is able to provide us an insight into the antinomies of Indian nationalism too — we have characters representing patriarchal humanism of the rentier class, incipient calculative rural bourgeois landlord interests, enlightened bourgeois utopians, diverse levels of indigenous bureaucratic class, proletarianising peasantry, all feeding into the constitution of this nationalism.

The global context of  socialist movements, the Russian revolution and productive-technological evolution too become important elements in the novel as a constant background and through their discursive contributions. Many critics have of course mentioned this. 

But an element of the contemporary reality which in my view is very crucial to grasp the novel and Premchand’s astuteness has generally been ignored or has not been identified. It is the fact of rural-urban migration and wage labour which in this novel at least exists not as a sign of distress, but as an opportunity and freedom for the rural poor. Migration and wage labour are escape routes that allow the rural poor enough confidence especially among the youth to engage in open conflict with rural oppressors. 

It is not to say that Premchand considers wage labour to be an opportunity for a better life (in many of his stories he has shown the plight of migrants and wage labour). However, he is definitely aware, at least in Premashram, that the rural poor’s militancy is derived to a large extent from the proletarian context.

राजनीतिक विकल्प: चुनावी या आंदोलनकारी (Political Alternatives: Electoral or Movemental)


भेड़िया, भेड़िया: नव-उदारवादी राजतंत्र और उदारवादी वामपंथ


1

“भेड़िया आया, भेड़िया आया” वाली कहानी याद कीजिए। वह एक बच्चे की कहानी है जो ‘भेड़िया आया, भेड़िया आया” का झूठमूठ शोर मचाकर गाँववासियों को इतना तंग करता है कि जब सचमुच भेड़िये आते हैं तो उसको बचाने कोई नहीं आता। पर वह बच्चा गाँववालों से शायद ज्यादा समझदार था। उसे भेड़िए के आने की संभावना का पता था, वो तो बाकियों की तैयारी की परीक्षा ले रहा था, और बता रहा था कि कुछ करो कि भेड़िए के आने की संभावना ही न रहे। आज देखिए, हर जगह ड्रिल होते हैं, युद्ध की तैयारी, आग से बचने की तैयारी, भूकंप के वक्त आप क्या करेंगे उसके लिए तैयारी — इन सब के लिए ड्रिल होते हैं। शायद वह बच्चा अपने समय से आगे था, और यही उसका दोष था।

हम लोगों की स्थिति कुछ गाँववालों की तरह हो गयी है। असल मे हमारी कहानी उनसे भी ज्यादा हास्यास्पद है और दुखांत भी। भेड़िए के आने का डर तो पूंजीवाद में लगातार रहता है, हमें उसके लिए हमेशा सतर्क रहना चाहिए और तैयारी करनी चाहिए — इस तैयारी में भेड़िए के अवतरित होने की संभावना का भी नाश शामिल है। परंतु जो बच्चे पहले “भेड़िया, भेड़िया” चिल्लाते थे, उन्हें बचकाना बोलकर इतना शर्मसार किया जाता था कि उन्होंने भेड़िया देखना ही बंद कर दिया और प्रौढ़ हो गए। या फिर छिपे भेड़ियों ने उन्हें निगल लिया।

हमने आज के लिए अपने आप को कभी तैयार ही नही किया। आज जब भेड़िये छुट्टा घूम रहे हैं और सड़कों पर उन्ही का राज है तो अब हम हैं जो “भेड़िया, भेड़िया” चिल्लाने के अलावा कुछ नहीं कर पा रहे हैं। भेड़िए भी शातिर हो गए हैं — वे चोगा पहन कर घूमते हैं, ताकि हम चिल्लाएँ नहीं। कभी कभी तो ऐसा हो जाता है कि हम जब “भेड़िया, भेड़िया” चिल्लाने लगते हैं तो कई भेड़िए भी हमारे साथ चिल्लाने लगते हैं — अक्सर देखा गया है कि हमारे बच्चे भी ये सब देखकर “भेड़िया भेड़िया” की जगह मोगली की तरह हू-हूआने लगे हैं।

2

शायद हालात इतने बुरे नहीं हैं। देखिए हम आप कितना व्यवस्था को गलिया रहे हैं, कुछ हुआ तो नहीं। जहाँ बुरी है स्थिति वहाँ इतना आप कर सकते हैं? ज्यादा दूर जाने की ज़रूरत नहीं है, पूछिए कश्मीरियों से। हममें से कुछ नामदारों को अब ईनामदार बना रही है व्यवस्था, इससे ज्यादा क्या हो रहा है? हमारे लिए नया नेतृत्व और नई राजनीतिक भाषाएँ तैयार हो रही हैं।

अब प्रशांत भूषण के मामले में ही देखिए, उनके पक्ष में तो अटॉर्नी जनरल भी खड़े हैं यानी सत्ता पक्ष भी खड़ा है। अगर आप ध्यान दें तो सत्ता पक्ष बारंबार न्यायालय की अभिजात्य स्वायत्तता पर प्रश्नचिह्न उठाता है। हमारी सारी दलीलें जो आज हम दे रहे हैं उसका इस्तेमाल सत्तापक्ष न्यायपालिका की अभिजात्य स्वायत्तता के खिलाफ मतैक्य विकसित करने में कर रहा है।

हम न्यायपालिका की अभिजात्यता यानी अपने आप को आलोचना से ऊपर मानने की उसकी प्रवृत्ति के खिलाफ बोल रहे हैं, पर हम उसकी पूर्ण स्वायत्तता को बचाना चाहते हैं। हमारा मानना है कि न्यायपालिका सत्तापक्ष के हित में काम कर रही है, और उसके आलोचकों को हतोत्साहित कर रही है। जबकि ऐसा होना नहीं चाहिए।

दूसरी तरफ, सत्तापक्ष भी न्यायपालिका की अभिजात्यता पर प्रश्न चिह्न उठाता है ताकि न्यायपालिका अपने आपको शासन की तात्कालिक और गतिमान आवश्यकताओं के दायरे में सीमित रखे। इसीलिए न्यायाधीशों की बहाली का अधिकार सत्तापक्ष अपने हाथ मे रखना चाहता है। हम जो माहौल तैयार कर रहे हैं उसका इस्तेमाल सत्तापक्ष न्यायपालिका की स्वायत्तता को सापेक्ष अथवा सीमित करने में करेगा।

न्यायिक अभिजात्यता न्यायिक स्वायत्तता का नतीजा है। पर यह स्वायत्तता पूंजीवादी राजसत्ता की संरचना से पैदा होती है। वर्ग विभाजित समाज की वह देन है जिसके तहत सामाजिक अनुबंध और शांति बनाए रखने के लिए स्वायत्त संस्थाओं की ज़रूरत होती है। परंतु आज नव-उदारवाद के दौर में पूंजीवादी राजसत्ताओं को इस तरह के अनुबंध और शांति बनाए रखने के लिए लगातार विधि-विधान में बदलाव की ज़रूरत पड़ रही है, जिसमें सांस्थानिक स्वायत्तता पूर्ण क्या सापेक्ष भी बनाए रखने में दिक्कत हो रही है।

यह राजसत्ता के निरंतर संकट का दौर है — ऐसा नहीं है कि वह शांति और स्वायत्तता बनाए नहीं रखना चाहती, परंतु उसके लिए स्थायित्व चाहिए। भूमंडलीय पूंजीवादी विकास की धारा राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर स्थायित्व बरकरार रहने नहीं दे रही है। जब सहमति नहीं तो राजसत्ता का आदिमाधार प्रपीड़न काम आता है। और हमारे देश में यही हो रहा है। सत्ताएँ ऐसी सरकारें ला रही हैं जो संकटग्रस्त माहौल में जागती उत्कंठाओं को लामबंध कर उनकी व्यवस्था-विरोधी प्रवृत्ति को कुंद कर व्यवस्थापरक बना दे। आज हमारे साथ भी ऐसा ही हो रहा है — हम व्यवस्था के भूत के संरक्षक हो गए हैं।

सत्ता पक्ष हमारी विडंबना को जानता है — नहीं बोलने में भी नुक़सान है, बोलने में भी नुक़सान है। क्योंकि बोलने के दायरे में ही आज विपक्षवादी राजनीति सिमट गई है — समस्या वहां है। यथास्थिति के तहत समाधान खोजने की यह विडंबना है। हमारी पूरी राजनीति मतचर्चा में सिमट जाती है, संरचनात्मक प्रश्नों पर व्यवहार की गुंजाइश नहीं रहती।

व्यवस्था विपक्ष अथवा वामपंथ को खत्म नहीं कर रही, उन्हें उपयोगी बना रही है। खत्म होने का डर हमें व्यवस्थापरक रूप में उपयोगी बनाता है क्योंकि उस डर के अलग-अलग दर के मुताबिक हम सामाजिक उत्कंठाओं के विभिन्न स्तरों को तात्कालिक अभिव्यक्ति देकर तुष्ट कर देते हैं। अलग-अलग ब्रांड के पक्ष और विपक्ष का व्यस्थापरक उपयोग यही है। नरम से गरम तक, सभी को इस प्रक्रिया में रोज़गार मिलता है — कोई खाली हाथ नहीं रहता। राजनीति का नव-उदारीकरण है ये।

हाँ, ये ज़रूर है कि अब अगर व्यवस्था सचमुच मारने पर उतरेगी तो हम इतने नंगे हो चुके हैं कि कोई खोह नही मिलेगा छुपने को — और ये सब हमारी तथाकथित “सक्रियता” से हुआ है। ये है व्यवस्था का कमाल, जिसका हम भंडाफोड़ करने चले थे।

3

कहाँ पर क्या, कितना बोलना है, अभिव्यक्ति की संरचना बिल्कुल घालमेल हो गई है — आलाप, विलाप, संलाप सब कर्कश एकालाप हो गए हैं। तात्कालिक अभिव्यक्ति और प्रसारण की सुविधा ने हमारे अंदर हमारी राजनीतिक सामाजिक उपस्थिति का स्फीत भाव (inflated sense) पैदा कर दिया है — जिसका पैमाना फ्रेंड लिस्ट, इमोजी और अंगूठे की गिनती से तय होता है।

प्रसिद्ध मीडिया दार्शनिक मार्शल मैक्लुहान ने संदेश पर मीडिया की संरचना के असर को समझ कर ही दो तरह से मीडिया को परिभाषित किया था — “मीडिया इज़ मेसेज” (मीडिया संदेश है) और “मीडिया इज़ मसाज” (मीडिया मालिश है)। यही परिभाषाएँ सोशल मीडिया के लिए भी सटीक हैं। जिस तरह की प्रतिक्रियात्मकता और भाषा की एकरूपता सोशल मीडिया प्लेटफार्म पर दिखती है, और जिस तरह से वे हमारे अंदर उपस्थिति की स्फीत भावना जागृत करती है उसके लिए यह बिल्कुल ही सही है — सोशल मीडिया सामाजिक मालिश है। इसके हमाम में हम सब नंगे हैं और एक दूसरे की मालिश में लगे हैं। ध्यान रहे, मालिश में केवल सहलाना नहीं होता, चोट भी लगती है।

हालांकि प्रतिक्रिया प्राकृतिक नियम है, और प्राकृतिक स्थायित्व के लिए यह ज़रूरी है, समाज और राजनीति में तात्कालिक (इमीडिएट) प्रतिक्रिया यथास्थिति बनाए रखने का साधन मात्र है — व्यवस्थापरक अथवा वर्चस्वीय राजनीतिक क्रिया की वह पूरक है। वह विपक्षीय राजनीति की सीमा दिखाती है।

शायद मार्क्स क्रांतिकारियों को “ओल्ड मोल” (प्राचीन छछूंदर) इसीलिए कहते थे — जो व्यवस्था के अंतर्विरोधों को तीव्र करता हुआ, उसकी नींव को ही खोखला कर देता है, वह सतही तात्कालिकता की क्षणभंगुरता में बहता नहीं है। उसके स्पेक्टेकल की चकाचौंध में अपने आप को बेनकाब नहीं करता है। और यह काम “तात्कालिक” प्रतिनिधत्ववादियों की “खुली” राजनीति से बिल्कुल भिन्न है। इनकी राजनीति तात्कालिकता में शोषितों की व्यवस्था-विरोधी ऊर्जा को तीन-तेरह करने का साधन मात्र बन जाती है। इस अर्थ में प्रतिक्रयात्मक राजनीति को प्रतिक्रियावादी बनने में देर नही लगती और इसी रूप में वह व्यवस्थापरक क्रिया की पूरक है, वह उसी में जड़ित रहती है।

4

आंतोनियो ग्राम्शी के मुताबिक बुद्धिजीवी दो प्रकार के होते हैं। उनके अनुसार जैविक बुद्धिजीवियों और पारंपरिक बुद्धिजीवियों में अंतर होता है। जैविक बुद्धिजीवी किसी न किसी सामाजिक वर्ग से सीधे और मूलतः सचेतन तौर पर जुड़े होते हैं। पारंपरिक बुद्धिजीवी, वर्गीय समाज के उत्पाद होते हुए भी अपने आप को वर्गो और उनके आपसी संघर्षों से परे और ऊपर मानते हैं।

हम “सार्वजनिक बुद्धिजीवियों” को ग्राम्शी के इस पारिभाषिक विभेद में कहां रखेंगे?

मुझे लगता है कि भारत और विश्व मे बुद्धिजीवियों के लिए जो आज संकट पैदा हुआ है वह उनकी स्वच्छंदता के विरोधाभासी गुण से पैदा हुआ संकट है। यह संकट बुद्धिजीवियो की वाचाल सार्वजनिकता और वर्गोपरि भ्रम का है। सार्वजनिक बुद्धि की यह स्वच्छंदता पूंजीवाद में राजसत्ता के वर्गीय आधार से उसकी भ्रामक सापेक्ष स्वायत्तता की देन है। सार्वजनिक बुद्धि का स्वच्छंद बाज़ार पूंजीवाद की आरंभिक राजनीतिक आत्मा — “स्वतंत्रता, समानता, भाईचारा” — को वैचारिक स्तर पर संजोता है, जिससे कि पूंजी का वैचारिक वर्चस्व बना रहे और उसके असली अर्थ को पैजामा पहनाया जा सके।

पूंजीवाद की नवउदारवादी अवस्था मे पत्रकारिता और प्रकाशन के उद्योग की मदद से सार्वजनिक बुद्धि की स्वच्छन्दता का गहन बाजार पनपता है। परंतु नतीजा यह है कि इस अवस्था के संकट में सब से पहले इन्हीं सार्वजनिक बुद्धिजीवियों पर गाज़ गिरती है — उन्हें अपना वर्गीय आधार तय करना होता है। उनकी सार्वजनिकता और वाचालता उन्हें तानाशाही सत्ता के लिए आसान निशाना बना देती हैं। सत्ता उनकी इस दुर्दशा का इस्तेमाल प्रतिरोध के स्वरों को दबाने के लिए और व्यवस्था की शक्तियों को बटोर कर उसे सुदृढ़ करने के लिए करती है। सार्वजनिक बुद्धिजीवी जवाबी वर्चस्वकारी वर्गीय जैविकता को उभरने से रोकते हैं। बड़े नामों के बचाव में जो वामपंथ और उदारवाद का गठजोड़ पैदा होता है वो “सबाल्टर्न” शक्तियों की रणनीतिक निरंतरता और सुगढ़ता के लिए दिक्कतें पैदा करता है।

नई शिक्षा नीति नहीं, बल्कि शैक्षणिक औद्योगिक नीति


नई राष्ट्रीय शिक्षा नीति 2020 को शिक्षा नीति न कह कर शैक्षणिक औद्योगिक नीति कहना उचित रहेगा।

1984-85 में भारतीय राजसत्ता ने बताया कि पूंजीवाद में शिक्षा (मानव) संसाधन के विकास का एक जरिया है। उसका काम अलग-अलग स्तरों के श्रम संसाधनों की तैयारी करना है। इसी कारण से राजीव गांधी ने मंत्रालय का नाम बदल दिया था ।

2020 में राजसत्ता आपको समझा रही है कि इस तैयारी को करने के लिए शिक्षा का व्यवस्थित औद्योगिकीकरण करना होगा। इसी कारण से अब वह फिर से मंत्रालय को शिक्षा मंत्रालय नाम दे रही है ताकि कोई दुविधा न रहे। मगर हम अब भी भ्रम पाले हुए हैं कि शिक्षा चिंतक बनाती है।

ऐतिहासिक तौर पर भी हम देखें तो पूंजीवाद ने शिक्षण व्यवस्था को इसी रूप में अपने आविर्भाव के पश्चात ढाला था जिससे कि एक तरफ श्रम बाजार के लिए अलग अलग स्तरों के श्रमिकों का रिज़र्व तैयार हो सके; और, दूसरी तरफ उपयोगी ज्ञान का उत्पादन हो सके, जो कि श्रम की उत्पादकता बढ़ाने हेतु तकनीकों (वैज्ञानिक-तकनीक और प्रबंधनात्मक-तकनीक) और मशीनों के निर्माण में मदद करे।

इसके साथ साथ शिक्षा का उपयोग सामाजिक-राजनीतिक प्रबंधन-तकनीक और प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक इडियोलॉजियाँ (विचारधाराएं) पैदा करने में होता है। विज्ञान के साथ-साथ मानविकी, समाजशास्त्र, मनोविज्ञान आदि विषय हमारे लिए बँटे हैं, परन्तु पूंजी अपने अनुसार उन सब को बांध कर उपयोगी बनाता है।

शिक्षा के प्रथम कार्य को मार्क्सवादी परिभाषा में श्रम-शक्ति के पुनरुत्पादन का अंग माना गया है। अभी तक इस पुनरुत्पादन प्रक्रिया का अधिकांश हिस्सा बाज़ार से बाहर पारिवारिक और सामाजिक स्तर पर रखा जाता था। शिक्षा के कई स्तरों को सरकारें अपने हाथ मे रखती थीं और इसी कारण सामान्य पूंजीवादी संचयन प्रक्रिया से वे बाहर या स्वायत्त दिखते थे। मगर तब भी श्रम बाज़ार से शिक्षा का गहरा रिश्ता था। और शायद यह कहना गलत नहीं होगा कि केवल प्रबंधन ही पब्लिक या सरकारी था, और इसकी मूल वजह थी कि पुनरुत्पादन के इतने बड़े कर्त्तव्य को बाजारू अराजकता पर नहीं छोड़ा जा सकता था।

परंतु एक ओर वित्तीयकृत पूंजी लगातार अस्सी के दशक से पूंजीवादी विस्तार के लिए पुनरुत्पादन की परिधि (रिप्रोडक्शन स्फीयर) को पूरे रूप से खोलने पर ज़ोर लगाई हुई थी, तो दूसरी तरफ तकनीकी विकास (खास तौर से सूचना प्रौद्योगिकी) ने इस परिधि के खुले पूंजीवादी प्रबंधन के लिए अस्त्र-शस्त्र तैयार कर दिया था। इसी कारण कोरोना महामारी के अवसर पर स्वास्थ्य और शिक्षा (दोनों ही पुनरुत्पादक परिधि से जुड़े हैं) आज पूंजी संचयन की प्रक्रिया में केंद्रीय उद्योगों के बतौर विकसित होते साफ साफ नज़र आ रहे हैं।

निजीकरण की प्रक्रिया, आईटी और वित्तीय सेक्टर का खुले तौर पर शिक्षा के अंदर प्रवेश यह काफी दिनों से चल ही रह था। नई शिक्षा नीति 2020 इस प्रक्रिया की जन्मदाता नहीं, बल्कि निष्कर्ष हैं। नीतियां और कानून किसी चीज़ की शुरुआत नहीं करतीं वह हमेशा ही निष्कर्ष होती हैं। ज्यादा से ज्यादा वह चल रही भौतिक प्रक्रियाओं को व्यवस्थित कर उन पर सरकारी मुहर लगाती हैं।

Kashmir: 2019 and the “coup-d’etat” of 1953


There is a nostalgia among Indian liberals regarding everything today. Even on the question of Kashmir we are witness to their lamentations – about Kashmiriyat, Nehru etc. However, the rights violations which are happening now are not very dissimilar to what has happened many times in the history of post 1953 Kashmir.

It is not to say that nothing new has happened this time. But it is also not illegitimate to say that the BJP has completed the long-drawn out process that Nehru started on August 9 1953, which Sheikh Abdullah called coup-d’etat, when he, the legitimate Prime Minister of J&K, was deposed and incarcerated. The “legacy of 1953” has once again been upheld in 2019.

What happened on August 5 2019, was new not in the manner in which the Modi government dealt with the democratic rights of Kashmiris. The newness was in the ultimate realisation of the Indian state that it was futile to convince the Kashmiris to forget their right to self-determination.

After 1947, the Indian state allowed plebiscites to ask people to merge with India only in those regions where it was sure to win but not in Kashmir, despite promising it. In Kashmir, the public support to the merger was never tested, because the Indian state was always afraid of losing it. India wanted to use the popularity and opportunism of Sheikh Abdullah who was ardently secular and an opponent of the idea of Muslims constituting a nation to manufacture consent among Kashmiris. But Sheikh resisted being reduced to a mere pawn despite suffering years of incarceration. However, ultimately he succumbed to Indira Gandhi’s pressure and for the sake of his opportunist politics, cohorts and progeny, he became a tool of legitimation for the Indian state in Kashmir.

Article 370 was an instrument to show that Indians respected Kashmiri autonomy. But the Indian state could never “manage” the Kashmiris well even with the help of these Kashmiri intermediaries, and the president’s rule was regularly imposed. The abrogation of Article 370 was the end of the pretense of respecting the Kashmiri will.

The Nehru and subsequent Congress regimes tried to reduce Sheikh Abdullah, a hero to a pawn by imprisoning him; the Modi government might elevate the Abdullah progeny – pawns – into heroes, by the same method. The charges against Farooq Abdullah and imprisonment of other Kashmiri leaders might perhaps serve the purpose of making him and other pro-India Kashmiri leaders more respectable and better equipped to dialogue with the defiant Kashmiri population. Governor Satya Pal Malik succinctly puts:

“I have gone to jail 30 times, whoever goes to jail will come out shining as a future leader. They can take political benefit of detentions in future. Don’t you want new political leaders to emerge in Kashmir?…They are not detained too far from their homes. I was lodged in a jail far away from my home. If those detained have brains, they will reap the political benefit of the detention. I am wishing them well….Those who go to jail become political leaders. The longer they stay the more they will brag in elections. So, if you sympathise with their political careers, don’t question the detention.”

1953 and 2019: Uncanny Similarities?

In 1957, Sheikh Abdullah wrote a letter to United Nations Security Council giving a chilling account of what was then happening in Kashmir. At that time he was “completing [his] third year of incarceration in a detention camp in the State where [he has] been whisked off as a result of coup-d’etat of 9th Aug. 1953.”

I reproduce the excerpts of the letter, giving subtitles to different portions that will help in comparing Nehru’s or pre-Modi attitudes towards Kashmir with Modi’s.

The Indo-Pak Dispute over Kashmir

Kashmir, unfortunately, is the root cause which deeply embitters the relations be­tween India and Pakistan and in any conflict this State is bound to be the first casualty. No peaceful progress is possible within the State unless this dispute is finally and amicably settled. These are weighty considerations and no one who has the real good of the State at heart can lose sight of these factors. For some time past I had therefore been pressing for an early settlement of this dispute with Pakistan…. Indian reaction was averse to this approach and her resentment towards me gradually culminated in positive hostility.

Corruption and Coup-d’etat

Disruption and factionalism in our ranks and corrup­tion of our people was therefore resorted to by India for breaking our unity and thus achieving its nefarious end. The plot culminated in the coup-d’etat on 9th Aug. 1953. In the early hours of that night I and my cabinet were dis­missed without a confidence motion of the Assembly by the legally and constitutionally questionable fiat of the Head of the State. I was put under arrest along with another Minister of my cabinet and am now under continued deten­tion nearly for the last three years without trial and with­out even a charge.

“A free license to shoot at sight and commit all other possible atrocities on the defenseless people”

Simultaneously with my arrest thousands of my followers and co-workers, including Deputy Ministers, high-ranking Gazetted Officers, respectable business men, law­yers, Members of the Assembly and public men of high position in life were clapped into prison. All manners of repressive measures were let loose in order to crush the spontaneous uprising of the people throughout the valley. Indian Central Reserve Police and army as well as the militia, and the special police were given a free license to shoot at sight and commit all other possible atrocities on the defenseless people – thousands were beaten or starved in the jails in order to break them into submission-the number of those killed was officially reported to be 36 al­though the public version puts it very much higher. No judicial enquiry was held to investigate into these atrocities which include among their victims even pregnant women and children. More than a score of Assembly members was detained without charge and many others kept under house arrest.

No greater fraud on democracy can be conceived!

It was under these bloodcurdling circumstances that a session of the Assembly was called to record its approval of the coup and a vote of confidence in the new government. From prison I sent telegraphic requests to the President of the Union of India, to its Prime Minister and to the Speaker of the Assembly to allow me to appear before the House and face a motion of no-confidence in a democratic manner but no heed was paid to it. Thus almost with a pistol on the necks of the Assembly Members and with massacre and terrorism all over the Valley, a vote of confidence for the Govt. pitchforked into office with the help of Indian bayonets was secured. No greater fraud on democracy can be conceived! What moral, legal or constitutional value this fraudulent act has need hardly be explained.

Thus India manoeuvered to remove those elements from the Kashmir scene which she thought stood in the way of her anti-Kashmiri designs and subsequently sought rati­fication of accession through the Assembly. To say the least, it is a fraud upon the people, betrayal of their right of self-determination and gross breach of international commitments and promises.

The Reasons of State

In March 1956, the Prime Minister of India made a public declaration ruling out plebiscite in Kashmir. It has shocked the world conscience and stunned the people of Kashmir to whom innumerable assurances had been held out that they will shape their own destiny through a fa and impartial plebiscite.

Reasons advanced for this face volte are that Pakistan has joined SEATO received Arms Aid from America and signed the Baghdad Pact. The absurdity of the argument is patent. Whatever Pakistan may do or might have done, that can be no valid reason for denying the Kashmiris the exercise of their right of self-determination in order to shape their own future. Secondly, India’s Prime Minister has hinted that a vote in favour of Pakistan will rouse communal passions in India and endanger the security of its Muslim minority. This argument is also untenable. Is India’s secularism so skin deep that it will collapse like a pack of cards as soon as Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination? One may as well ask: Are Kashmiris to be held as hostages for fair treatment of Muslim minority under the so-called Secular Democracy of India? Were India’s oft repeated promises to the people of Kashmir that they alone shall have the right to decide their own future through an impartial and fair plebiscite intended to be implemented only in case a vote in her favour was certain?

Progress – “Nothing can be farther from truth.”

India has repeatedly claimed that Kashmir is fast progressing and that the political uncertainties ended. Nothing can be farther from truth. Kashmir is at present ruled by monstrous laws which have crippled all political and social life in the State and paralysed all progress. A law­less law of Preventive Detention has been promulgated in the State with the sanction of the President of the Republic of India which has stifled all civil liberties. This law author­izes arrests and detention for a period of five years without trial or even without disclosing the grounds of detention. Free and frequent use is made of this law of the jungle. Respectable citizens and political workers have been arrested under this law on the excuse of having publicized the speeches of opposition members delivered in the legislature or even legitimately organising support for the opposition in the House. Members of the Assembly who expressed their intention of crossing the floor in the House were put under arrest. In certain cases resignations were extorted under the pressure of this monstrous law and instances are not wanting where the members were publicly threat­ened of getting them involved in fabricated criminal cases if they failed to support the Govt. party.

“Corrupting public life and thereby purchasing the public conscience”

Indian money is being lavishly used for organising gangsters for looting, insulting and publicly flogging respectable citizens who do not see eye to eye with the ruling party. Colossal amounts borrowed on interest from India are used in corrupting public life and thereby purchasing the public conscience. It is however, gratifying to note that all these dirty methods have so far failed to corrupt the people into submission, and with one voice they demand the fulfilment of the promise made to them by India, Pakistan and United Nations to exercise their right of self-determination in a free and democratic manner.

The Hostility of the Press and “A Virtual Iron Curtain over the Valley”

The Indian press almost without exception, is positively hostile to all tendencies in favour of the plebiscite. Any Indian newspaper writing in favour of the fulfilment of the promise held out by India to the people of Kashmir or criticising the present administration in Kashmir is imme­diately bribed or blacklisted and its entry into the State banned. Foreign correspondents are seldom allowed in and if and when such a journalist finds his way to the Valley every precaution is taken that he does not get a peep into the realities of the situation. There is a virtual Iron Curtain over the Valley. No citizen dare to approach a visitor to acquaint him with the tale of his misery for fear of gestapo and subsequent torture. I challenge anyone to refute it. Under an impartial agency the scathing sea of resentment of Kashmiris will be unleashed and a real picture will come to light in those circumstances alone. Recent civic elections held in Srinagar and in Jammu afford a proof positive of oppressive and fraudulent practices of the ruling party in Kashmir. Muslim organisations and political bodies with overwhelming Muslim membership completely boycotted these elections. Some Hindu op­position organisations however contested these elections against the ruling party. The Hindu press both in and outside the State has published a surprising account of corruption, malpractices, impersonation and fraudulent methods used in these elections by the ruling party. It was through these shady means that the ruling party has secured all the seats in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and majority in the Jammu Corporation.

“A potential powder magazine”

Kashmiris are facing untold miseries during the present phase of their history. No progress-economic or political-is possible under such circumstances. Kashmir has become an oozing sore in the bodypolitic of the sub­continent. It has embittered beyond measure relations be­tween the two countries. The two armies facing each other across the cease-fire line, constitute a potential powder magazine which may flare up any time into a devastating war. Its consequences are too grim to imagine. In such an eventuality Kashmir will be wiped out completely-and far worse may happen. Is the world conscience so dead as not to wake up in time.

A Plea to International Institutions

If a member of the world organisation is so easily to denounce international commitments and trample over without qualms the human rights of millions it will, I am afraid, deal a death blow on the effectiveness of the Security Council, will shock the confidence of small nations in the world organisation and endanger world peace.

On behalf of the millions of Kashmiris and in the name of peace and progress of hundreds of millions of the sub-continent I appeal to your Excellencies to firmly stand by the pledges of the Security Council and execute its deci­sion. I also appeal to the freedom loving countries of the world, to those who have signed the United Nations Charter and pledged themselves to honour it in word and deed as well as to those nations whose leaders have fought and given their lives to establish people’s right of self-deter­mination, to rise above international differences’ and disputes and lend a firm and unanimous support to the right of four million down-trodden Kashmiris and allow them to decide their own future in a free and democratic atmosphere. That alone will end the agony of the people of Kashmir and eliminate a grave danger to peace.

The Taming of the Shrew: India’s Left in the 2019 Elections


“…the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

– Bertolt Brecht

“Procrustes, or the Stretcher …had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travellers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched their limbs to make them fit it; if they were longer than the bed, he lopped off a portion. Theseus served him as he had served others.”
– Bulfinch’s Mythology

1. Elections are procrustean rituals in an institutionalised democracy to contain and channel the social (over)flow and productivise it to manufacture a government and its legitimacy. By recursive re-discretisation of the social flow into manageable units, the citizenry is recomposed. In these elections, it is not the public that elects the government but the state that reassembles the public to produce the government. This reconstituted public gets the government that it deserves.

2. In the elections of 2019, against the right wing politics of communal polarisation, the left liberals in India have been seeking to pose a different sort of polarisation. Either you are on this side or that side. It doesn’t matter even if some who are on this side, earlier they were on the other and next time again they may fall there, whenever the juggling of elections happens and post-electoral alliances are made. For them, the poles are poles, stuck to the ground.

3. Hence, there is more to the 2019 elections for our nationalist left liberals. As they themselves say, it is a historic moment. And it is indeed something historic that liberal manichaeism seeks to achieve. If BJP is, what they say, a fascist party, then the liberals are imagining something unique in these elections – of defeating fascists in the elections. The fascist regimes, classically, might have come through elections, but have never been eliminated in them.

4. Now, the only strategy that seems to achieve this is by ensuring that votes are not divided (for which a Manichean binary is necessary). Marx’s dictum that all such phrases of not splitting votes and that the reactionaries might win because of the split are meant to dupe the proletariat seems outdated for the doomsday New Left. They want to defeat neoliberal authoritarianism through the procrusteanism of liberal democracy, while the right seeks to synchronise them.

5. However, by posing and making these elections as a two party contest, our marginalised left liberals are binding themselves to the dangerous game of attracting the median voter. In a bipolar contest the result is a more and more identity of opposites. And when much of the opposition is already centred on non-oppositional disagreements rather than based on any principled opposition, the difference is internal. You are but an image of your opponent.

6. They identify the hindutva brigade as a fascist pole, against which they want to see everyone else together. However, this ideal has never been realised, perhaps fortunately for the benefit of the left liberals themselves. The divided regional forces whether in NDA or outside are the only respite against homogenised authoritarianism in the country. From within liberal democracy, the intensification of regionalist localism, along with institutionalised parliamentarianism are the only safeguards left against the hindutva brigade. This is what left liberals don’t realise when they indulge in their anti-fascist rhetoric. Anyway, with this rhetoric they don’t impress anyone but themselves. The major regional forces whenever they take up this rhetoric seriously, they use it merely as a bargaining chip against centrism.

7. The right wing forces have been the main agencies to recompose the relationship between state and civil society across the globe – of combining authoritarianism with liberal democracy. Only by a complete profanation of institutions that emerged in earlier regimes of accumulation that capital can reproduce the state in the neoliberal conjuncture. The barriers must be broken time and again to refinancialise the social factory – the neat divisions between different socio-economic spheres, between productive and reproductive regimes are obsolete and costly. These barriers that managed the surplus/ superfluous population through much-acclaimed welfarism are not required now – they must integrate to form a continuous reserve army. The desacralisation of liberal social-administrative spheres is part of this process. In recent years the right wing attack that directly concerned the left liberals has been in academia. The academia is increasingly made market friendly, not allowing any section of population to take perpetual “study leave”. It is not the quality that matters but quantity – production for production’s sake. Ultimately all of us produce data, and are data ourselves.

8. The left in the name of defending the “gains” is caught up in a contradictory position of defending the status quo. The right-wing forces, on the other, by attacking those gains show far more clear understanding of the contradictions that they expose. They defend the status quo by eliminating those contradictions and expose the brutal structure in its naked form. But this naked coercion would need a new regime of legitimation, because a long-term overexposure of its coercive apparatus can be a doom for the whole system. One of the gains of the right wing onslaught is to regiment the progressive forces and make them complicit in preserving the status quo, by bringing legitimation back to the structure. The cover-up of gains and incremental progress provides the structure a long life. ‘Defending the gains’ doesn’t always need to be a defence of the socio-administrative structure that provisioned those gains. They can be a ground to recognise, expand and generate more cracks in the structure, and create more crises for its reproduction. And in this negation develops a new grammar of social relations. But for left liberals there is no alternative (TINA) – Liberal democracy or Fascism!

9. In an interview to New Left Review in 1975, Communist thinker and leader K Damodaran lamented the failure of Indian left to differentiate between state and government, and hence, their inability to understand their relationship too. There are some who confuse between state and government to pose the impossibility of immediate political actions and there are others who find this confusion very productive, when haloed as the relative autonomy of the state and the political, to justify indulgence in bourgeois polity.

10. In fact, this confusion is one of the means through which the state avoids an overexposure. It is how it camouflages itself in the everydayness of governmentality. The state’s mood fluctuations, given a constant reshuffling in the relationship between the political and the economic, emerge as multiple political fetish-forms, as political forces, and even regimes. You can worship the state in whichever form you like – if nothing suits you, you pronounce it, you will get what you need – a new form! The spirit of state is fathomless and boundless – all political forms, their enthronement, dethronement or re-enthronement combine to constitute “the rhythm of the spirit”. The magic of capitalist state works on only one principle, which Prince Tancredi Falconeri pronounced –

“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi” (“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”) – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo)

The Game of Pursuit, Or the Chowkidar-Chor Narrative


अत्तुं वाञ्छति शांभवो गणपतेराखुं क्षुधार्तः फणी
तं च क्रौंचरिपो: शिखी गिरिसुतासिंहोऽपि नागाशनम्।
इत्थं यत्र परिग्रहस्य घटना शंभोरपि स्याद्गृहे
तत्रान्यस्य कथं न भावि जगतो यस्मात्स्वरूपं हि तत्॥

“The snake on the body of Siva, oppressed with hunger, wishes to eat Ganapati’s mouse; him (the snake) Kartikeya’s peacock wishes to devour; while Parvati’s lion (her vehicle) desires to make a meal of the elephant (mouthed Ganapati-mistaken for an elephant): when such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?”

Thus Panchatantra takes the game of pursuit as “the nature of the world” and teaches the strategies and tactics to survive and win in the fields of commerce, state affairs and everyday life. If that was true of the ancient centuries of Indian history, what can we say of our own conjuncture. Our daily lives are proof of this, and so is our politics. But Panchatantra’s time had a solace that the plans or evil intentions did not often succeed, and hence the world continued to exist:

सर्पाणां च खलानां च परद्रव्यापहारिणाम् ।
अभिप्राया न सिध्यन्ति तेनेदं वर्तते जगत् ॥

But today there is no escape. We are all chowkidars (security guards), and, therefore, are chors (thieves) – of course, relatively.

I

Games People Play

The chowkidar-chor narrative is an opportunistic discursive instrument to impress upon the public to garner votes. But why does it have an appeal? Because, it is the folklore (katha) of our times, an articulation of our prevailing common sense, as Gramsci would put. It is so organic that it can be called infantile. Why not, even a child finds a voice in this dialectical narrative. Isn’t it the same game of chor-police that children play, where every child knows that the chor and the police are floating signifiers?

This narrative resonates with the psyche of our times. And thus, instead of simply condemning it we must take it as a symptom of the sickness that afflicts our social body or more correctly, a sign of its (un)healthiness. It is only by accessing the materiality of our social body through a critical understanding of such narratives, that we can access the healthy sections of our social body whose nourishment is our only hope. In other words, this narrative is a key to unlock “the healthy nucleus that exists in ‘common sense’”(Gramsci). Its analysis and critical retelling can trigger a much wanted alienation effect in this hyper-immediate responsive world by providing space-time to objectively understand ourselves – the nature of our world. Only thus can emerge the good sense, and the critical sense. It can be a parable for meditations and to develop mediations to grasp the material element of immediate consciousness and spontaneous philosophies of our times.

The lore reveals the stark nature of the neoliberal conjuncture – a near universal feeling of being hunted, and a universal aspiration of becoming a hunter. This game of pursuit-evasion is at the heart of the political and cultural milieu of our conjuncture. Everybody tries to put herself in a position of the pursuer but must evade other pursuers-evaders. “When such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?” She can make sense of her existential crisis through such narratives, and learn to live with it. But then, even to transcend this crisis, its understanding is needed, for which what is the better beginning than these narratives themselves – the expressions of this crisis.

More than any institution and organization, it is this narrative that captures and productivises the anxieties of the (post)modern man. An institution lacks the plasticity that an empty narrative or metaphor like this has. The latter can homogenise all experiences by providing them a minimal, but universal form – it adjusts itself to any situation, while an institution must chisel the experiences to fit them.

II

The Neoliberal State

As a parable, the chowkidar-chor narrative further reveals in a condensed form two sequential and defining characteristics of the (post) modern state that has emerged throughout the globe – especially with the recent right-wing assertions. Firstly, it reveals the nature of the neoliberal state in its bare form – the state’s reduction to chowkidari. And, secondly, its gradual disembodiment and dispersal. Besides the chowkidar (an agent of the state) everybody is a potential chor. Thus, everybody seeks to become a chowkidar. Hence, the agency of the state expands. The state universalizes itself by dissolving itself into every individual. We are the state unto ourselves and others.

So, capital attains the dissolution of the state, while communists are still fighting over statist or anti-statist paths. However, this dissolution is attained by universalization of the state. You will never be able to pinpoint the presence of the state, but it is always present in every nook and corner of our being. It is present through our anxieties and alertness, and their institutionalisation. A globally extended and internally-intended lean (re)produced state is a post-fordist state based on self-and-peer surveillance.

Following Michael Taussig (The Magic of the State, 1997), we can perhaps assert that the state’s presence expands with its disembodiment. The spirit of the state, freed from any particular form, potentially can possess every form. That’s the Magic of the State in the age of Finance and Information. The state, as a node of capitalist accumulation and regulation, seeps into every societal relationship universally equalising them. They all find their universal articulation in the minimalist relationship of the hunter and the hunted, of the chowkidar and the chor.

III

Internal Relations

न विना पार्थिवो भृत्यैर्न भृत्याः पार्थिवं विना ।
तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनः ॥
अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः ।
स्वामिसेवकयोरेवं वृत्तिचक्रं प्रवर्तते ॥

According to our ancient wisdom, certain relationships are like that of a nave and spokes in a wheel. अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः. “The nave is supported by the spokes and the spokes are planted into the nave.” The nave and the spokes are mutually dependent. This dependence is not external, but तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनम्॥. They are in the relationship of mutual constitutivity. Panchatantra thus explains the nature of the master-slave dialectic. Similar is the relationship between a chowkidar (security guard) and a chor (thief), they constitute one another. Both identities are meaningful only in their relationship. So a chowkidar is himself only in relation to a chor, and a chor in relation to a chowkidar. Hence, the chowkidar must have a chor to pose himself as a chowkidar.

Even if the wheel of relationship turns, which frequently does, the only change will be that the chor will slide to the spokes and become a chowkidar, and the chowkidar will try to cling to the nave and become a chor. Moreover, as the wheel runs infinitely faster in the age of information and as the time-span for completing a cycle becomes smaller, who knows better than our head chowkidar, the chowkidar and the chor become identical.

IV

Chinese Wisdom

The positive opposition in the cycle is caught up in its grammar and its continuity. It can never transcend the binary from within the narrative. The criticism must destroy the enclosures of the narrative freeing the flow of the negative from the chains of positive productivism. The circularity of power can be ruptured only by first recognising its foundation. The great Chinese sage, Lao Tsu provides a hint:

Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void.

It is in the emptiness and void of the hub that the reason for the nave, spokes and the wheel is found.

With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void.

It is only in that void that the rationale for the existence of a clay bowl resides.

Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.

It is the space enclosed by windows, doors and concrete walls that gives meaning to enclosures.

So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness rises
From whatever is not.

It is this “whatever is not” that must be grasped to unravel the closed circularity of power, which seeks to absorb the negative therein, to positivise and productivise it, enclose it within the dualism of closed circularity.

[Note: Texts and Translations from Panchatantra have been taken from MR Kale (1912), Pancatantra of Visnusarman, Delhi: MLBD. (Reprint 2015) There are variations both in original texts and interpretations in various published versions of Panchatantra, but the narratival tenor and ideas are more-or-less same.]

The Economics of India’s Cow Fetishism


I think what intensified bovine politics in India is achieving is a sort of primitive accumulation in the livestock industry. It goes remarkably well with the concentration and centralisation of money and tax economies through the more formal measures like GST and demonetisation. These measures kill the autonomy of dispersed economic structures and fit them to the suction nodes of the neoliberal net of finance capital. The liberal and Keynesian economists have criticised many of these measures on the ground that they will destroy local economies and federal autonomy. Same well-meaning experts are criticising the way livestock policies have recently been formulated. The fascistic nature of their implementation is quite evident. However, the tangible structural change that is being effected through these measures are lost sight of in the overpowering moralism in these criticisms.

In a recent article in The Mint, some relevant statistics have been brought together. The authors rightly contends,

“It emerges that economics rather than religion drives cattle ownership in India. After adjusting for wealth inequality, cattle ownership shows a similar pattern across religions. Expectation of milk yields is what drives cattle ownership in India.”

They provide pertinent facts about the livestock economy and the negative impacts that the new policies and bovine politics have made on this economy.

“Female animals under two years would be expected to grow into milk-giving cattle. Breeding cows are still in their milk cycle. Everything else apart from these two categories can be described as non-milk animals. Only 15% of households own non-milk animals in India. This is half of the overall cattle ownership figure of 30%. Again, the figures are not very different across religions. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to guess where the non-milk bovines end up. They are the supply for India’s multi-billion dollar beef industry. It has been an unacknowledged but convenient arrangement. Most owners sell their non-milk cattle without asking questions about the end use. This is why the local cattle trade is crucial for India’s livestock economy. A government ban on sale of animals for slaughter in local markets, and vigilante mobs attacking those transporting cattle in the name of gau raksha, can destroy this arrangement. Everybody with stakes in the livestock economy would suffer as costs go up due to a pile-up of non-milk animals.”

However, the destruction of this existing arrangement is bound to proliferate new arrangements in the livestock industry. The unconcentrated dispersed cattle ownership based industry might lead to a greater degree of concentration and centralisation. The “local” cattle trade and meat businesses may give space to a more centralised livestock, meat and milk industry.

Hence, if till now it was economics, not religion that shaped cattle ownership and trade, then we must admit that it continues to be so. The economics behind restrictions, banning and lynchings must be recognised and revealed.

Demonetisation: Maturing Capitalism?


Radical Notes

“…it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” – Karl Marx (1)

“We do not think or plan in piecemeal, but in full-scale design. It is just that we are revealing our cards gradually…” – Narendra Modi (2)

The left-liberal intelligentsia in India is clearly in a quite precarious state, if it finds ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s criticism of demonetisation as the most competent response to the Modi Government’s move. The daily peddling by left social media activists of the criticisms that mainstream economists are making of demonetisation is a symptom of the Indian left’s lost confidence (if it ever had any). Even those who have come up with more erudite responses are lost in the grammar of the move — its immediate performance and effects — and have concluded that demonetisation is poor, bad and ignorant economics. Coming from a chaiwala, what else can it be!!!

In our view, Modinomics is a legitimate successor to Manmohanomics — it is a continuity entrenched in the dynamic needs of capitalist accumulation. Post 1990, India has seen governments of all colours, but the coherence of the Indian state has rarely faltered on the economic front. The rulers with all their electoral compulsions have succeeded in maintaining, if not accelerating, the neoliberal regime. However, this does not mean the political shade is merely external and cosmetic — politics in an electoral democracy is all about reshuffling social anxieties and interests in a manner that allows the state system to self-reproduce.(3)

Financial Expropriation and the Emergence of a Debtfare State

Demonetisation is a misnomer. It is not an attack on money by demonetising economies. Rather, it is a spectacular yet momentary unravelling and strengthening of the adamantine chain around so-called economic independence and growth in capitalism. In fact, it is a heightened expansion of money as financial and political-economic control. It is an effort to assess and consolidate the expanse of economic activities and transactions and thwart any possibility of parallel economic regimes. Delegitimising particular denominations of currency becomes a means to reclaim those activities, and reassert money as a universal measure of value, not as a means to autonomise particular levels of economy, by treating it as a mere facilitator of exchange or a means of hoarding. Money creates boundaries only to expand and cross them. Money measures the immeasurable, it equalises the most unequal. It institutes hidden connections between phenomena quite remote from one another — the vertical control however is revealed only at particular junctures of economic development through the action of state. In our opinion, demonetisation is an assertion of the universality of “universal equivalence”, i.e., money. This means consolidation of the linkages between layers of social relationships in the economy — strengthening of the neoliberal concentration and centralisation of capital.

There are two chief processes that define the neoliberal regime of capitalist accumulation, and demonetisation is remarkably connected with both of them. These processes are financialisation and informalisation, which in the present heat of the demonetisation debate, have been popularly dubbed as cashlessness and black/parallel economy respectively.

Financialisation has three main features. First, non-financial corporations increasingly financialise themselves, relying on retained profits and open financial markets for investments, rather than on banks. Even their wage bill “is frequently financed through the issuing of commercial paper in open markets.” Second, there is a restructuring of the banking operations by re-orienting them towards mediating “in open markets to earn fees, commissions and profits from trading”, on the one hand, and towards individuals/households “to obtain profits from lending but also from handling savings and financial assets”, on the other. With the active help of state through legislative measures and encouragement, the banks mobilise personal savings for peddling in stock markets.(4)

Lastly, and most importantly, in recent years “the personal revenue of workers and households across social classes” has been increasingly financialised. On the one hand, this specifically signifies that there has been a substantial increase in personal and household debts for various life needs – consumption, housing, health, education, etc. On the other hand, it shows there has been an expansion in the range of financial asset holdings — for medical and life insurance, pension and old-age benefits, various short- and long-term money market investments, etc. This relates obviously to a withdrawal of state-supported public provisions in the form of subsidies and direct benefits, and hence their privatisation. So, we find a tremendous increase in the involvement of banking and other financial institutions in mediating household consumption, while they have obtained a full freedom to channel “household savings to financial markets, thus extracting financial profits”.

Profiteering through financial transactions between banks and households has a predatory character. Profit here is not raised in the sphere of production, but through “the systematic extraction of financial profits out of the revenue of workers and other social layers”. This is what has been termed as “financial expropriation”. (5)

The current demonetisation move is nothing less than a full-scale financial expropriation in operation. The move has in one go forced small and big cash hoarders run to line up in the queue to reveal and officialise their savings. The government is not allowing these savers to exchange and repossess the whole amount of their savings in cash. This is not simply due to any unpreparedness or erratic behaviour on the part of the Indian state and Reserve Bank of India, as many have alleged. In fact, it is a remarkable move to institutionalise a financialised relationship between the banks and households. Of course, it is too early to judge if demonetisation has really succeeded in altering “nation’s conduct”. But its motive is pretty clear, as finance minister Arun Jaitley has time and again pronounced: “This one decision that has ensured that a lot of money has come into the banking system, a lot of informal savings have become formal now, and therefore, the tendency to invest these more formal savings in instruments that you keep an eye on is also increasing.” Demonetisation is a kind of encouragement to “ordinary citizens to channelise their savings into the market which indirectly would then contribute to the process of national development rather than be blocked only in dead assets”.(6)

Demonetisation is clearing the ground for a systematisation of “cannibalistic capitalism” in India by proliferating secondary forms of exploitation which are not directly linked to production but are financial mechanisms to expropriate. The Indian economy is massively based upon underemployed and under-waged surplus population that constitute the unorganised and informal labour relations. This makes it a very fertile ground for cannibalism that marked the US economy, which was based on the proliferation of various financial mechanisms of expropriation — nay, a financial inclusion of the hitherto excluded. In fact, we see in this move of demonetising specific denominations of the currency an emergence of the debtfare state.

Susan Soederberg defines a debtfare state as one that “legitimates, normalizes, depoliticizes and mediates the tensions emerging from cannibalistic capitalism”. It deregulates finance and provides legal machinery to protect and strengthen banks, thus facilitating an intensification and expansion of “forms of predatory practices.” The debtfare state enhances “the social power of money by legally and morally permitting credit card issuers (banks) to generate enormous amounts of income from uncapped interest rates and by continually extending plastic money to those who fall within Marx’s category of the surplus population: the partially employed (underemployed) or wholly unemployed”. The impact on the labour regime is also significant as “surplus workers” are subjected “to the disciplinary requirements of the market, such as compelling them to find and accept any form of work to continue to be “trustworthy” creditors”.(7)

Demonetisation in 2016 might mark a drastic emergence of a full-scale debtfare state by financially including the massive community of unbanked individuals and households through mobile, e-payment and plastic money. However, this has not happened suddenly. The insistence of the subsequent governments to profile Indian citizens through a unique identification system called AADHAAR and linking it with their everyday economic activities, despite the Indian judiciary pronouncing such moves illegitimate, was already an indication towards building a panopticon, which will make everybody useful and watched under the system. The banking and tax institutions had already started utilising this data. With demonetisation, now that the banks have acquired a full command over the finance of Indian households, a grand system of financial discipline and punishment can be effectively generated. With the proliferation of plastic and mobile/e-connections, our consumption and activities will be regulated, and we will pay for our own regulation.

This connects to the second aspect of neoliberalism, i.e. the process of informalisation, or the generalisation of informality destroying its sectoral and transitional character.

Informalisation and Consolidation

“With the junking of the old high-value currency, the parallel economy has become part of the formal system” – Arun Jaitley (8)

Everybody is talking about the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, which is heavily dependent on cash transactions. But there is scarcely any analysis that shows how it is shaping the location of informality in the whole economy. Is it an end of informality — of the exploitation of cheap labour? Certainly not. It is an increase in the real subsumption of informality — it is a revelation that sectoral dualism sustained through segmented economies, if not fully illusory, is merely at the levels of appearance and form. The indirect exploitation of surplus population as cheap labour by capitalist firms by accepting the relative autonomy or sectoralisation of informality perhaps needs regimentation today to further expand capital accumulation. Through the so-called demonetization move, capital is arguably seeking to consolidate itself by vertically integrating the horizontalised relationship between formal and informal. It exposes the vulnerabilities of particular capitals seeking to hide their localised parallel levels accounted for in the official bookkeeping only as leakages in the system.

Managing money circulation is about networking and facilitating economic activities and transactions — production and circulation. The left-liberal intelligentsia, including many “Marxists”, are only talking about the impact of demonetisation as immediately experienced. At best, they are prognosticating a dampening of activities and demands, which will have adverse effects on growth. They are only remotely touching on the policy’s essential connection with the changing contours of the regime of accumulation. Leftists are right in noting the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, but they have been unable to account for how it is shaping the regime in which informalisation is central.

It has been frequently noted, and quite rightly, that under neoliberalism the economy moves towards informalisation. The formal sector and employment are not growing, while informality is increasingly being embedded in the supply chains of the economy. That is why the informalisation of work processes is considered among the chief characteristics of the neoliberal economy.

As the informal sector has always thrived on surplus population exploited as cheap labour, “hiring-and-firing” is the norm there. What the pre-neoliberal phase had done was to secure an organised labour force that through its demand stability could sustain the domestic market. In many regions, however, a vast rural and urban informal sector was allowed to develop to reproduce surplus population. But the economic planning was avowedly geared towards formalisation. This vast surplus of labour and an increase in the organic composition of capital led to a crisis of the prolonged interregnum of planned capitalism, and a decline in the profitability rate. Technological transformations found the stable workforce in the so-called formal sector over-skilled and a hindrance to further accumulation. The formal sector was increasingly considered to be exclusionary unable to accommodate the growing surplus population allowing over-exploitative hidden economies to flourish. This led to an ascendancy of neoliberal market fundamentalism, which essentially attacked the formal-informal duality by legitimising informality. The aim was to take advantage of overpopulated living labour and utilise technological innovations that made skills redundant and required equi-skilled cogs in the wheel. Through initial structural adjustment programmes these surplus population-based informal sectors were linked with the formal corporate structures in the supply chain. In this scenario, instruments like the time-tested putting-out system, which capitalised and destroyed the old guild system, started becoming handy once again. It was through these instruments that cheap labour arrangements and regimes that existed locally were subsumed to avoid costlier and inflexible labour regimes that pre-neoliberal planning had generated.

However, despite the obvious hierarchical relationship between transnational corporate structures and local industrial set-ups that mobilised surplus labour, this relationship remained externalised becoming barriers to capitalist consolidation — concentration and centralisation of capital. Local laws that were promulgated to stabilise the labour force in the earlier regime became hurdles for capital mobility and accumulation in labour surplus economies. It was to avoid these hurdles that smaller and informal units were networked, but informalisation now has to be internalised and these units must be incorporated to survive intense competition. The parcellised production and distribution is not permanently beneficial. Also needed is “the concentration of already formed capitals, the destruction of their individual independence, the expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, the transformation of many small capitals into a few large ones”.(9)

Banking and finance that institutionalise the power of money facilitate the concentration and centralisation of capital today by regimenting individual capitals — big and small — and compel them to submit to the general needs of capitalist accumulation. The multiple layers of industrial forms — formal and informal — generate clogs in the real-time mobility of financialised capital. The informal set-up provides many smaller units with legal and trans-legal comparative advantages allowing them a kind of relative autonomy from legitimate competition. Being based on cash transactions they become autonomous from the institutionalised finance and public credit, while fully utilising the currency issued by these institutions. It was only through monetary and banking reforms that these economies could be contained within the structure.

We would do well to remember that one of the major battles capital has had to wage time and again is that of labour reforms. At the present juncture, especially in countries like India, numerous legal “number filters” have been imposed that grant smaller industrial units a freedom to disregard minimal labour standards, which bigger units have to at least legally maintain. Only by coordinating with these smaller units and utilising a labour contractual system the corporate sector could evade the imposition and draw the benefits. There has been a continuous demand to remove these filters, so that the benefits that the informal sector has — to openly exploit surplus population as cheap labour — could be generalised. Only through such generalisation can the processes of concentration and centralisation become effective.

Of course, the formal sector incorporated informal entities and relationships to evade the hazards of regulation. The way cheap labour-power was bought and exploited in the informal sector was an object of envy and is the benchmark for the formal sector entities to model the labour regime and demand for deregulation from the state. The state and the formal industrial regime have been long trying to achieve this. Despite being able to utilise informality to their advantage, the formal sector has been subject to humiliating bargaining tactics of smaller entities in the informal sector. The diverse local industrial regimes in which these entities function create difficulties for formal and bigger players in the value chains. Moreover, the ancillary interests are able to effectively compete with the corporate interests on the basis of their lower technical capabilities and cheap labour, thus leading to difficulties in the consolidation and centralisation of capital.

As labour reforms become more conflictual, with increasing defensive struggles of workers in the formal sector, monetary policies like demonetisation go a long way in regimenting “informal” and “small” capitalist interests. The wages of the unbanked population whom these entities have over exploited are all paid in cash. Demonetisation attempts to mobilise the advantages of these entities, which will now be totally subservient to formal processes. It is self-evident that any monetary tactic that affects cash flows would have an immediate effect on the cash-based informal economy. Amartya Sen is correct when he says, “At one stroke the move declares all Indians — indeed all holders of Indian currency — as possibly crooks, unless they can establish they are not.” (10) However, it is not totally wrong to say that a large section of this economy is always black as transactions and contracts there are not formally accounted for, and a substantial portion of income generated remains untaxed. But does this mean demonetisation will lead towards formality?

The notion of (in)formality is loaded with all kinds of connotations. And it is pretty confusing when we dichotomise formal and informal. In the production and distribution networks that define today’s economy we find this dichotomy resolved very efficiently. If legal systems tend to dampen flexible transactional and contractual relationships, informality (beyond the regulated formal relationships) seeps in to transcend rigidity. As a system, the formal-informal relationships constitute enormous value chains. However, if we discretise these relationships, it is not difficult to find clear examples of dichotomies in them, which actually define an intense competitive regime within the value chains — intra- and inter-sectoral competition. The entities in the informal zones of the value chain compete among themselves and also with entities in the formal zone.

Through demonetisation a process of verticalisation has been effectuated and the formal nodes would now act as concentration and centralisation of informal advantages. The state acting on behalf of capital in general is disciplining the devious and particularising nature of informality. Neoliberalism is a project to look after the general needs of capital in today’s conjuncture. Demonetisation is a decisive step in that direction.

Conclusion: Vulnerabilities

“…the magnitude of the global economic crisis at times is not felt in India because of strong (parallel) economy of black money.” – Akhilesh Yadav (11)

Post-2007-08, countries throughout the globe have been struggling to set their respective houses in order. That the so-called parallel cash-based economies in India cushioned the impact of the global crisis at the national level, acting as clogs that minimised the strains of the impact, is a strange truth. However, in order to sustain a higher growth these economies with their particularities will have to be incorporated into the formal system, and their comparative advantages annulled through their generalisation. What we see today is the neoliberal urge to mainstream and generalise informality and make it a ground for systematic capital accumulation, with concentration and centralisation as its vehicle. Hence, it is in this regard that the moves like demonetisation become effective instruments. But this would destroy the clogging effects of local and parallel economies. Hence, it would eventually minimise their ability to cushion against global vulnerabilities.

Notes and References

(1) Karl Marx, “Preface to the First German Edition,” Capital I, Collected Works, Volume 35, Progress Publishers, Moscow, p. 9.

(2) “Indira Gandhi lacked courage to demonetise, we are paying for it: Modi to his party MPs”, Indian Express (Dec 17, 2016).

(3) The political institutional ascendancy of rightwing jingoistic assertions is not any return to protectionism, rather it mobilises and productivises the general precarity to restrengthen neoliberalisation. By a reactionary generalisation of fear and terror that the mobility of capital and its crisis creates, it helps the system to reconsolidate its base against any radical statism and revolutionary anti-statism. The phenomena of Modi, Brexit, Le Pen and Trump will actually help in the final dismantling of the vestiges of older protectionist labour regimes in the name of making local economies and labour markets competitive, so that capital finds the locality docile for investment.

(4) Costas Lapavitsas (2013), “The financialization of capitalism: ‘Profiting without producing’”, City, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp 792–805.

(5) Ibid.

(6) “Demonetisation is changing nation’s conduct: Jaitley“, The Hindu (Dec 24, 2016).

(7) Susan Soederberg (2013)The US Debtfare State and the Credit Card Industry: Forging Spaces of Dispossession, Antipode Vol. 45 No. 2, pp 493–512.

(8) “Digital payments will help lower fiscal deficit: Arun Jaitley”, LiveMint (Dec 25, 2016).

(9) Karl Marx, op cit, p. 621.

(10) “Interview: Demonetisation move declares all Indians as possible crooks, unless they can establish otherwise, says Amartya Sen”, Indian Express (Nov 26 2016).

(11) “Black money helped Indian economy during global recession: Akhilesh Yadav”, Indian Express (Nov 15 2016).