ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL NOTES - PJ James
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03 May 2019

On Rahul Gandhi's Populism

Rahul Gandhi’s promise of a Minimum Guaranteed Income of Rs. 72000 (or Rs. 6000 per month) to 5 crore poor families encompassing 25 crore people as the hallmark of the Congress Manifesto is moderate compared with Modi’s 2014 malicious hoax (the most deceptive of all election stunts ever made by any ruler in history) that promised a deposit of Rs. 15 lakh in the account of every Indians that too within 100 days of his ascendancy to power. Rahul’s scheme can be implemented with an allocation of around Rs. 4 lakh crore every year.

The idea of a minimum guaranteed income is not at all a new and novel one. It belongs to the reformist and philanthropic tradition in bourgeois policy making aimed at camouflaging or diverting attention away from the heinous plunder on people and nature committed by rapacious capital. When the consuming power of the vast majority of people on account of the private nature of accumulation is going down and economy is collapsing due to insufficient demand, prudent bourgeois leaders in the past had put forward such initiatives.

In 1933, on the eve of unleashing his populist program called New Deal to overcome the Great Depression, American President Franklin Roosevelt said: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” Of course, traces of such philanthropic interventions were there in the US even much earlier. To cover up the atrocities and crimes committed against the hapless Red Indians, Thomas Paine, ‘radical’ contemporary of Washington had suggested a ‘minimum guaranteed income’ for all who lost land.

And the advent of the post-war Keynesian welfare state as an ideological weapon against communism had been an enlarged version of the erstwhile philanthropic programs like guaranteed minimum income. When imperialism was thinking of abandoning welfare state in the late 60s US economists like Henry George once again suggested a “guaranteed annual income” which was also supported by Martin Luther King Jr. As neoliberalism began, Galbraith, Samuelson, Tobin and similar well known bourgeois economists started proposing ‘minimum income’. Even Moynihan and Nixon were supporters of the idea.  And to fill the poverty gap in US, Clinton as President proposed “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” and Lula da Silva tried to implement what is called ‘universal basic income’ in Brazil under the name Bolsa Familia during the first decade of this century. Several capitalist countries had resorted to more or less similar populist programs.  All these initiatives have become unsustainable as neoliberalism and neo-colonial plunder advanced further. 

The laws of capital accumulation or the logic of crony capitalism today that has already redefined the role of the state as a ‘facilitator’ of corporatisation are at variance with a pro-people active role of the state. Social spending is to be curtailed for maintaining fiscal and revenue deficits at the desired level. Through superimposed IMF-World Bank diktats such as Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, the state in Afro-Asian Latin American countries are legally banned to actively intervene in the economy. World Bank has been consistently demanding neocolonially dependent comprador regimes like India to fall in line with its market fundamentalism for promotion to a higher ranking in the “ease of doing business index”.

As such, if Rahul Gandhi is to be serious about his proposed minimum income scheme, then his think-tanks should also advise him to have a rethinking on those pro-corporate policies that channel Rs. 2200 crores per day in to the coffers of 9 biggest billionaires in India. If he is still upholding the budgetary policies that granted annual average corporate tax exemptions of Rs. 4 lakh crore and Rs. 6 lakh crore respectively under UPA and NDA governments, then it will be well-nigh impossible for him to implement his promises.

To be precise, even for a philanthropic program as minimum guaranteed income to the people and not to speak of a basic change in bourgeois policies, a reshuffling of the tax-expenditure policies is indispensable. And given his Party’s notorious adherence to neoliberalism, Rahul Gandhi’s minimum income program shall also be doomed as another election stunt.

Modi Government’s Appointment of Nine “Experts”?

Modi government's appointment of 9 “experts” on April 12, from private corporate sector including international and multinational companies through what is euphemistically called “lateral recruitment” to the post of joint secretaries that rank among India’s top bureaucracy is quite unprecedented. Among others, the list includes specialist from even KPMG, the audit firm that is blacklisted by many countries and facing ban in many others for notorious underhand corporate dealings. And 89 names are already shortlisted based on a circular issued on June 11, 2018 by the Dept. of Personnel and Training inviting applications from “talented and motivated” individuals who can “contribute towards nation-building” to be posted in revenue, financial services, economic affairs, agriculture, cooperation and farmers’ welfare, road transport and highway, shipping, environment, forests and climate change, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce. All appointees shall be eligible for salaries, allowances and facilities at par with top bureaucrats and shall be “public servants” for the purpose of conduct rules and such other statutes as notified by the government from time to time.

Of course, India being a neo-colonially dependent country, posting of IMF-World Bank pensioners and US-trained technocrats in higher echelons of key policy-making has become an established tradition here. Under the pseudo-nationalist Modi regime, this dependency has intensified further. But the direct recruitment of private-corporate experts from both Indian and multinational sources is a qualitatively new ultra-rightist trend aiming at direct filling of entire administrative machinery with capitalist cronies. It removes even apparent parliamentary control over the country’s administrative machinery (including the IAS, the steel frame(ICS) inherited from colonial masters) and ensures corporate stranglehold over bureaucracy for facilitating the process of corporatisation that flourishes hand in glove with corruption assuming new dimensions under the corporate-saffron rule. And it is logical that these newly recruited corporate nominees shall get precedence over traditional IAS recruits in policy decision-making.

In fact, our neighbour Pakistan had a bitter experience of bureaucratic reforms. In order to weaken the bureaucracy which was a continuation of the “steal frame” inherited from colonial masters, in 1972 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had experimented with lateral entry to senior bureaucratic posts. But contrary to his expectations, it led to a weakening of the whole administration and strengthening of the preeminent position of the military in Pakistan policy-making.

One of the biggest casualties of this corporate-saffron offensive is the constitutionally guaranteed caste-based reservation in recruitment that prevails in India. Of course, since 2014, the Modi govt. has been systematically filling all key policy-making and implementation bodies, councils, and committees of the central government with RSS-affiliated academics, intellectuals, spiritual leaders and even Hindu godmen. The saffron forces have also initiated for a dilution of caste-based reservation through constitutional amendment on economic reservation even as two-thirds of the Class-1 posts in India are already monopolised by the brahmanical upper castes comprising less than 15 percent of the population. The timing of this move is also significant as dalit organisations together with progressive-democratic forces have demanded the extension of reservation even to private sector employment.

This extra-ordinary move should also be viewed in the context of the new conceptualisation with corporate think–tanks of a “de-bureaucratization” or “post-bureaucratic” transformation for bringing the neoliberal state under the direct control of private corporate capital. As a result of corporatisation, a close integration of the top bureaucrats of so called public sector industrial and banking institutions with the CEOs of the private corporate monopolies has already been there. But as the power of the corporate-financial class is growing, it is now striving to bring the entire state apparatus directly under its control.  And Modi, at the behest of his corporate masters has abolished the Planning Commission and transformed it into what is called NITI AYOG. The latest decision by Modi, the most favourite of the corporate class is in continuation of this.

Weaponisation of Space as a Corollary of India’s Transformation as Strategic Junior Partner of US Imperialism

Modi’s mid-day announcement of test-firing of anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile after keeping people in suspense for almost an hour on March 27 is already exposed in Indian media as a “drama” and “publicity mongering” for reaping political mileage in the upcoming Lok Sabha election, and the opposition parties have characterised it as a clear violation of model code of conduct. Response from the international media is also more less the same. News agencies have viewed the “satellite strike” in the context of Indian general election as “mission ahead of Lok Sabha election” and perfectly in tune with the “Balakot air strikes” while some has interpreted it as “poll-eve desperation”. However this is just one aspect of the entire issue.

The major question arises from A-SAT launching is in relation to the saffron regime’s basic departure from India’s declared policy against outright weaponisation of space, though trend towards  its militarisation— using satellites for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions—has been there during the neoliberal period, especially after India’s conversion as US’s strategic junior partner. As a member of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and as an adherent to the UN Resolutions on Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space, from the 1950s onward India upheld space as the common heritage of humankind according to which every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to militarisation and weaponisation of this arena. Thus the Nehruvian approach to the use of space only for peaceful purposes along with non-alignment continued as the official tradition. As such, India has been launching satellites to be used for weather forecasting, communication, agriculture, disaster management, search and rescue operation, telemedicine, etc. And all of India’s prime ministers up to Manmohan Singh (including Vajpayee who revived India’s nuclear weaponisation through Pokhran-II), had to publicly reiterate the need to retain space as a weapons-free sphere.

Even after China’s ASAT test of January 2007, the UPA government, consistent with the erstwhile Nehruvian tradition continued to uphold its declared policy against space weaponisation despite pressures from military establishments in India and US. The then Director General of DRDO V K Saraswat (who as a member of NITI Ayog under Modi is now critical of the UPA of lacking political will) is reported to have submitted a proposal before the Manmohan government to weaponize the outer space, though he himself under instructions from government declared that India will not conduct a physical test to avoid creation of harmful space debris. By that time itself, as reported in the 97th Indian Science Congress held in Trivandrum, Kerala in 2010, India had acquired full-fledged scientific and technical capability for ASAT launching.  In spite of that, during a press conference with Vladimir Putin, Manmohan Singh said: “Our position is similar in that we are not in favour of the weaponization of outer space.” A few days later, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony echoed similar sentiments when he stated, “we have always advocated peaceful use of technology. Thus, we are of the view that weaponization of space must be discouraged.” Moreover, in conformity with the 1985 Conference on Disarmament, India has been repeatedly seeking a ban on space weapons at all international fora. In spite of signs of  fluctuations in policy towards space militarisation under Vajpayee regime, India was consistently adhering to its commitment on weapon-free space in accordance with the agreements that India entered into with several countries including Australia, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, EUMETSAT-1, European Space Agency (ESA), France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, UK, Ukraine, and even USA.

But with the ascendancy of far-right Hindutva regime in 2014 and India’s further degeneration under US diktats led to former’s intensified integration with US military and strategic interests. In view of the expansionist threat from China including its inter-continental infrastructure project called “One Belt One Road”, US started encouraging the comprador Modi regime to display India’s capability in anti-satellite weaponry as a counter to China’s ASAT weapons that reduce US military effectiveness in the Indo-Pacific Region. As a clear departure from erstwhile policy, at US insistence space weaponisation also became an agenda under US-India Strategic Partnership. In September 2018, both US Secretary of State Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mattis in their US-India “2+2”ministerial dialogue with their Indian counterparts in Delhi decided to “integrate space into the broader US-India Strategic Partnership” and to address space security in the guise of responding to China’s growing military capabilities. ASAT launching by the ultra-rightist saffron Indian regime is the logical culmination of this closer coordination with US. And unlike in the past, under Trump and Modi both the aerospace industries/military industrial complexes in US  and saffronised Indian military establishment are in proper coordination especially against Chinese expansionist designs.

Of course, the timing of this US-backed ASAT launching by Modi is dictated by petty political aims of winning the upcoming elections. But in essence, Modi’s move is consistent with its saffron-fascistisation of everything including life and nature. Its move away from disarmament and de-nuclearisation is also consistent with this. At the same time, the cool response from imperialist corporate media, especially that from US on this weaponisation of space by the saffron-chauvinist Modi regime is very revealing indeed.

Corporate Speculators Skyrocket Sensex to Bolster Winning Prospects of Chowkidar of Super-Rich

India’s economic fundamentals are in a downward spiral. Agriculture and industry are in doldrums. Demonetisation and GST have sucked out the life-blood of the people and broken their backbone. Economic growth rate is the lowest since 2008. Unemployment is the highest in five decades. In terms of UN global indices pertaining to hunger, malnutrition, poverty, happiness, etc., India’s position is the worst compared to all neighbouring countries and even much below that of the ‘least developed sub-Saharan’ African countries. During the last five years, inequality and wealth concentration have jumped to epic proportions. India under Modi has become the most corrupt country in Asia. Social and political tensions are mounting for obvious reasons.

It is in this context that global financial speculators backed by corporate media are working overtime to paint a rosy picture of India by boosting up the Indian stock market and driving up the Sensex to an all time peak at around 39000 points. To facilitate this in view of the upcoming general election, global financial speculators ( so called FII) sponsored by Morgan Stanley and others have already channelled around Rs 50000 crore in to the  highly foreign-dependent  Indian stock market. In the process, while share prices of Reliance, other corporate companies, and new generation banks are bubbling, that of almost all the PSUs are revealingly collapsing. More interestingly, while the Indian Sensex without having any valid economic basis is thus artificially boosted, while all the stock markets in Asia including that of China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia are recording negative trends due to the prevailing global downturn.

The usual trend among stock market the world over during elections is to have a wait-and-watch approach. However, contrary to this, the most corrupt corporate speculators and crony capitalists, both Indian and foreign, who have multiplied their wealth over the past few years and who expect that Modi regime shall stay in power are bent on creating a feel-good factor regarding the Indian economy under his rule. In case of a critical situation, they are confident of repatriating their investment to safe havens on account of the unfettered freedom for capital flight already granted to this traitorous class. 

No doubt, it is the heinous and calculated move on the part of this most parasitic strata of financial cronies that has led to the crossing of the Sensex to another landmark on the World Fools Day.

CPI (M)’s Journey from London School of Economics to London Stock Exchange

Kerala is marketed as a hub of Global Speculators and Crony Capitalists!!

If Jyoti Basu former West Bengal chief minister and PB member of CPI (M) created history in his speech at the London School of Economics in the early 1990s through the revelation on “globalization as an irreversible process” by invoking the TINA factor when even Congress chief ministers were tight-lipped on the neoliberal offensive launched by Manmohan Singh, today CPI(M) PB member Pinarayi Vijayan  who rules Kerala is again creating history as the first Indian chief minister attending the listing ceremony of KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board—a neoliberal SPV for attracting corporate funds) masala bonds in the London Stock Exchange scheduled on May 17.

Though the CPI(M) then had only 38 MPs, it was the bold investor-friendly and pro-corporate policies including “joint ventures” (forerunners of today’s PPPs, the most heinous form of corporate plunder) along with threats to labour unions of ‘stern action’ that made Basu acceptable as the 1996 consensus candidate for Indian prime minister for the ruling classes. Though he could not become the PM, he reiterated his position among other things by co-opting the MIT-returned Asim Dasgupta as finance minister of West Bengal, who led the Empowered Committee for pioneering the anti-federal and pro-corporate GST till 2008.

In the same vein, today after a quarter century, CPI (M)’s remaining chief minister is becoming the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of neoliberal centers for transforming Kerala as an attractive destination for deregulated and corrupt transnational money-spinning speculators encompassing a wide spectrum of self-professed asset managers, insurance companies, pension funds, banks, stock brokers and so on who are supposed to invest in the so called masala bonds issued by KIIFB.

Alarmed at the wide accolades that Pinarayi is getting from neoliberal centres and crony capitalists for his efforts to spread red carpet for them to Kerala, the opposition Congress, especially in view of the ongoing election, is raising a hue and cry of the whole issue with allegations of corruption. However, even as corruption is inherent to corporatization and financialisation, being adherents of neoliberal developmentalism, obviously the Congress has no alternative to Kerala’s mounting dependence on foreign speculators, international debt markets and neocolonial institutions including World Bank and ADB.

It is the task of the working class, all oppressed and progressive democratic forces to come forward exposing the manner in which the reins of the economy are transferred to the foreign parasitic classes and put forward a political alternative that requires a fundamental restructuring of the system including a reversal of the depoliticizing of development itself.

US Imperialism Strengthens Its Neo-Liberal Offensive by Nominating Trump Loyalist as World Bank President

David Malpass, known Trump loyalist and US Treasury’s under-secretary for international affairs is the new World Bank President. Nominating him Trump said: “America is the largest contributor to the World Bank. My administration has made it a top priority to ensure that US taxpayers’ dollars are spent effectively and wisely.”

As everybody knows, the Bretton Woods twins namely, the IMF and the World Bank are the two economic arms of US imperialism, the supreme arbiter of the post-war neo-colonial world order.  As the largest shareholder with 16 percent of the voting power, it is the US that nominates the World Bank’s president since its founding and winning the backing of majority of World Bank shareholders made up of 188 countries including that of EU is usually formal.

Though Malpass is a junior in US bureaucratic hierarchy, comprador regimes in the neo-colonially dependent Afro-Asian-Latin American countries are bound to pursue his diktats in letter and spirit.  As Trump bluntly hinted, it shall be the duty of the new incumbent to pry open the economies of the dependent countries and enforce the neo-colonial rules of the game and ensure super-profits for MNCs especially for those emanating from the US by smashing trade unions, imposing tax liberalisations, privatising public sectors and thus achieving what is called ‘ease of doing business’ for transnational corporate capital. And as a diehard neo-conservative, Malpass has to toe his master’s line by effectively using the contemporary world economic crisis and geopolitical tensions as opportunities for super-imposing ultra-rightist and market fundamentalist policies.

A Regret Cannot Exonerate Britain from the Colonial Crimes Committed by It

As the 100th anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre by British imperialism is approaching, in response to the demand of a cross-section of the British MPs for an "unequivocal apology", Theresa May has made a belated "regret" that is far short of a formal apology, even as the reactionary Conservative Party came forward strongly defending General Dyer who led this massacre firing rifles into the crowd on April 13, 1919.

In fact, Jallianwala Bagh is only one among the innumerable crimes committed on the India people by British imperialism. The Wagon Tragedy of 1921 was another massacre in which almost a hundred Mappila patriots, who resisted British colonialists and their Indian agents, the upper-caste Hindu landlords, were saffocated to death by imperial police.

Probably, the biggest and the worst massacre was that of the Bengal Famine of 1943 that according to British records killed 40 lakh Indians consequent on Churchill's order of diversion of food to British soldiers. While talking on the Bengal Famine in 1943, Churchill said: " I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits."

The same mindset has been there for all colonialists who cherished the theory of 'white man's burden'. For instance, as a justification to exterminate the Red Indians, George Washington upheld more or less similar views as that of Churchill. For, Washington said :" (Red) Indians have nothing human except in shape...The gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire, both being beasts of prey tho' they differ in shape"

The problem with May and her likes is this colonial mindset rooted in extreme contempt for the colonized. That is why, to appease the defenders of Dyer, she refrains from making an apology. British imperialists fully know that tendering apology for one massacre will force them to apologise for all the crimes against humanity that they committed not only in Asia but in Africa and all over the world in their mad pursuit of building up what Rudyard Kipling, the poet of British imperialism said 'the empire upon which the sun never set'. 

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Kabeer Katlat

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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.