(An in-depth look at what Modi’s favourite slogans about FDI, ‘cleanliness' and workers, mean for workers’ rights, and a clean environment.)
Central to Modi’s mesmerising election rhetoric of ‘achchhe din’ were two key promises: checking price-rise and eliminating corruption. Post elections, these promises have conspicuously gone missing from Modi’s speeches, the two slogans that now dominate and virtually define Modispeak are “make in India” and “clean India”. The two slogans formed the main theme of Modi’s 15 August Lal Quila address and also of his first US mission as PM and now thanks to India’s ‘Modi’fied media the slogans are everywhere. Add to this the ‘Shrameva Jayate’ (Victorious Workers) slogan he has wedded to his ‘Make in India’ rhetoric.
What do these slogans tell us about Modi’s unfolding agenda? It is quite clear that Modi finds it inconvenient to talk about prices now. It is also understandable that having won an election on the so-called ‘development’ plank, he cannot afford, or does not even need, to focus on the vicious Sanghi agenda of ‘love jihad’ and ‘cow protection’. There are plenty of other leaders in BJP or organisations in the Sangh brigade to do that. So while the foot soldiers of the Sangh brigade and the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are busy spreading the communal and jingoistic venom with impunity, Modi waxes eloquent about FDI and cleanliness.
Modi and his men would like us to believe that the ‘make in India’ mission is modelled on China’s experience of using FDI to emerge as a spectacular manufacturing hub. Modi is however keenly aware that given India’s bitter historical memories of colonial drain and plunder, and the more recent experiences of MNC-led devastation and arm-twisting (Union Carbide, Enron, Vodaphone, to name only a few), the common people are not too enamoured of the idea of FDI. He is therefore trying to give the whole thing a false ‘nationalistic’ spin by explaining FDI as “First Develop India”. There could not possibly be a more false and fraudulent claim. Development of a country of India’s dimensions has to be powered from within and indiscriminate foreign investment can only leave a trail of damage and dependence, not development and public welfare.
Before we start invoking the case of China, we must remember a few facts. By the time China started attracting FDI in manufacturing, it had already laid a solid infrastructure of both social capital and physical infrastructure through decades of post-revolution land reforms and socio-economic reconstruction. It never relied on FDI to come to China and develop the Chinese economy. Much of the FDI in China is made by the non-resident Chinese. And when China sensed trouble in the world market in the wake of the recent global economic crisis, it immediately redirected its attention to expanding the domestic market by effecting significant wage increases. Also China has a much more effective regulatory framework to deal with FDI. Yet as we all know, increasing FDI in China has also added to the country’s share of problems whether in terms of damage to environment and public health or social inequality and regional disparity.
India does not match China on any of these counts. The three D’s Modi is dangling before foreign investors (democracy, demography and demand) cannot hide the 4th unstated D which stands for ‘desperation’ and this desperation can only further reduce India’s strength and bargaining power while handling FDI. To attract FDI, Modi government has already succumbed to the pressure of the American pharmaceutical lobby by relaxing price-controls on life-saving drugs and agreeing to American monitoring of India’s patent laws. And when Modi offers ‘Democracy’ as an incentive for FDI, it becomes clear that what he has in mind is just the majority he has won in this election and not the democratic right of the Indian peasant, worker and consumer to defend their rights and resources in the face of corporate aggression. By advocating liberalised labour laws, diluted environmental norms and an aggressive land acquisition approach, Modi has actually made it clear that he is all for regimentation of democracy in India to facilitate indiscriminate deregulated FDI.
Modi’s ‘clean India’ mission is another exercise in obfuscation and trivialisation of a major public concern. While everybody must be encouraged to keep the environs clean and hygienic, clearly the drive for cleanliness in this era of toxic capitalism can neither begin nor end with a few leaders and celebrities wielding the broom for the benefit of the camera. At a time when the whole world is grappling with climate change and environmental safety and protection, the biggest question is how India deals with industrial pollution and corporate-driven degradation of the environment. Improved public hygiene also requires a massive overhaul of our sanitation network and mechanism and the key issues that we face concern as much the state of sanitation workers – the indignity, low wages and abysmal conditions they have to experience even in this 21st century – as the state of the sanitation and waste management infrastructure.
For Modi, the ‘clean India mission’ is not just another mega propaganda spectacle, it is also a desperate attempt to try and appropriate the Gandhian legacy and also legitimise the RSS and its agenda. Modi would like to single out the issue of cleanliness from the Gandhi legacy of anti-colonial mass awakening, economic self-reliance and communal harmony and project himself now as an inheritor of Gandhi just as he has been attempting so far to appropriate the legacy of Sardar Patel. And while Modi hogged the limelight with the cleanliness agenda on Gandhi’s birthday, his government quietly engineered a coup on the following day by forcing the Doordarshan to televise the Vijaya Dashami speech of the RSS chief even as Modi took the radio route to address the people on the same day.
No previous NDA government ever dared to let the public broadcaster be openly misused as a propaganda organ of the RSS and no Indian PM has ever addressed the nation on a Hindu festival day. Prime Ministers and Presidents have been addressing the nation year after year on the national occasions of Independence Day and Republic Day. But using the Vijaya Dashmai occasion – which is not just a Hindu religious day, but the foundation day of the RSS – to address the people through AIR and DD, the public broadcaster, is a brazen misuse of power in the service of the RSS and its agenda and vision to make India into a Hindu Rashtra.
When the Modi regime becomes a platform to promote indiscriminate FDI and systematic RSS penetration, the clean India campaign will have to be directed as much against the dirt on the road as against the threats to democracy and secularism.