Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bal Thackeray, or, Why the Communists Did Nothing


by Saroj Giri
Right where Bal Thackeray was cremated, at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, another event had taken place in June 1970: “a twenty-five-thousand-strong funeral procession marched to Shivaji Park, the Sena stronghold, shouting anti-Shiv Sena slogans,” reports Gyan Prakash in his Mumbai Fables (Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 247). The reason: the murder of Krishna Desai by the Sena in June 5, 1970. Bal Thackeray was supposed to be directly involved in it.
Desai was the sitting Communist Party of India (CPI) MLA from central Bombay, a popular and militant working class leader. He was also one of those who went beyond the diktats of the official CPI leadership, which discouraged self-defence and direct action and could not integrate them in its overall political strategy. That evening of the day he was murdered, it is told that thousands of workers spontaneously came out to avenge the murder. This could have meant they would have ‘liquidated’ Bal Thackeray and his cohorts.
Of course given the leadership’s ‘rule of law’ approach, this was not to happen: the angry workers were told to disperse and the Hriday samrat was born. Thackeray went to town boasting about the murder, promising to carry out more such ‘actions’. Seeing that their leaders can be murdered and nothing happens to the murderer, workers loose morale and think that the communists are not serious about defending their interests. So that when Desai’s widow Sarojini Desai contests in the elections, even a sympathy wave for her dead husband who was a hero for the workers does not fetch her victory. The tide turned: the Sena wins, gets its first legislator from the jaws of communist hold. Large sections of the workers ‘go with the winner’, while the loser, the communists, increasingly fail to resist and retaliate and try to foolishly seek protection of the law and courts.
Earlier, “on September 10, 1967, Thackeray declared in Marmik that his object was the ‘emasculation of the Communists.’ Three months later, the Sena activists attacked the CPI’s Dalvi Building office in Parel. They burned files and threw out the furniture. It was an audacious attack, brazenly carried out to strike at the very heart of the enemy. What was the Communist response? Nothing.” (Prakash, p. 242)
It is out of this ‘nothing’, that void left by the communist leadership, against the will of militant workers, that Thackeray and the Shiv Sena come to life.
And yet today the progressives do not want to ask ‘why was the communist’s response ‘nothing’’. Instead they are busy pointing out Thackeray’s overt qualities, qualities that were anyways meant for public consumption and moreover, for the Sena, proud display. We are told that he epitomised the politics of fear and hatred, how he was a fascist and communal and divisive and so on. There is over-reliance on this kind of a ‘politics of exposure’, which is merely old rehashed wisdom about the Sena and Thackeray. Such hollering is done so seriously that one forgets that it alone changes nothing, does not weaken the Sena, nor even expose it. Nor does it shame the Indian state and security apparatus to now become an ally in your anti-communal or anti-fascist struggle.
The ‘politics of exposure’ is moreover part of a tendency to then present Thackeray as just a mad crazy exception, whom we just need to ‘expose’ and soon the rest of ‘democratic society’ and civil society will shun him to hell. The hollering invests the political atmosphere with such illusions. After all, it is not that the workers who joined the Sena did so since they found the organization ‘democratic’ and upholding the rule of law. Nor will they now leave it since they have finally found that it is ‘fascist’, a gang of thugs etc.
Above all, this hollering tends to make us forget that Thackeray emerges as a tacit ruling class response to a particular conjuncture of the class struggle in Mumbai. So let us instead ask: what could the Indian state and big capital have done when they were faced with the kind of ‘enemy’ like the organised communist working class power which had Bombay in its grips in the 1960s? The Indian state is, officially speaking, bound one way or another by its secularism, labour laws and things like that – which is all fine and creates no real hassles for the ruling classes so long as you have a decrepit left but not fine if you are confronted by a powerful working class movement. The movement was so powerful that even the CPI leadership, given the illusions it had about Indian democracy, feared its most militant sections and power.
Hence to deal with this communist monster you needed a force to ensure two (contradictory) things at the same time. First, decimate or liquidate the working class movement. Second, to maintain, at the same time, the garb of democracy, secularism, and so on. A banana republic or a Pinochet would have concentrated only on the first but here you had the ‘idea of India’ too which had to be uphailed – and to which even sections of CPI leadership not to speak of other progressives and ‘left-liberals’ were deeply attached.
An extra legal force like the Sena was exactly what fitted the bill. Not the right wing vigilante armed gangs cut off from the society to be found in Latin America but one which would have a deep organic connect to ‘society’. Hindutva and the populism of the Marathimanoos ensured this connect. A cross between a vigilante and a grass roots populist movement. Put it this way: Thackeray and the Sena were something like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) emerging from within the underbelly of majoritarian society, articulating its latent organic fissures. I mean, if it is war on terror or against anti-nationals, the state is comfortable in sanctioning murder and extra-judicial killings through extraordinary laws formally passed in Parliament. There is no fear of losing democratic legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream upper middle classes.
The working classes or even Naxals are however a different matter, trickier to handle. It is difficult to paint the working classes in textile mills of central Bombay as anti-national and hence for the state to move against it – particularly, when the working classes are consciously portraying themselves as a class in an organised fashion, as a ‘class-for-itself’, and are also politically represented in legislatures and are also largely ‘Hindu’. Decimating working class struggle is of the highest importance and yet executing it demands utmost discretion, a higher level of cunning.
The extra-legal decimating force cannot therefore take the shape of a formal law, even an extraordinary one through an act of Parliament and so on. ‘Society’ then has to ‘produce’ such a force from within its organic underbelly – hence, while enacting the most general interests of capital, Thackeray was not someone who could be a hired goon for the capitalists and mill owners of Mumbai. A hired goon or henchman would only defend particular interests of specific capitalists and industrialists. Thackeray did that too – Rahul Bajaj recalls how Thackeray ‘sorted out’ a workers-related issue at his manufacturing facility. There must be many such cases of ‘sorting out’ by the Sena.
But beyond a point Thackeray ‘rises above’ these individual cases and becomes a higher presence, Hriday Samrat. Or, ‘Maharashtra’s patriarch’, as HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh put it and whose loss he wants to mourn. The point is clear: why would a banker mourn the death of ‘a patriarch’? We have here a much deeper conduit between the (upper caste Hindu) underbelly and (publicly acknowledged) capitalist class interests – Hindutva and the general interests of capital merge in Thackeray.
Moreover, Thackeray could enact all this in the name of the ordinary Marathi manoos. What is not so common knowledge is that he also made liberal use of the anti-Brahman language and symbolism from Jotirao Phule when “he ridicules the pompousness of the Brahmin cultural establishment and ‘high society’” (Thomas Blom Hansen, Wages of Violence, p. 199). If this was not enough, Blom Hansen reports that CPI leader Dange was once invited to share dais with Thackeray, to tremendous applause. And that the ‘socialist’ George Fernandes was a family friend of the Thackeray clan. Further also that the Sena flirted for some time with the idea of ‘practical socialism’ in the early 1980s.
This deep nexus between the Sena and the Indian state and big capital does not however seem credible to many progressives. The word they use is ‘collusion’ between the state and the Hindutva forces. This suggests that the nexus is not deep enough and you expect that when the fascist thugs come for your life you can still be saved by the state – since the state is constitutionally bound to do that for you! Thus when the Sena came gunning for them, the CPI leadership was indeed looking for a way to convert a clearly anti-communist offensive, nay a murder plan, of the Sena and the ruling classes, into a case of a wider attack on the so-called secular fabric of the nation and so on.
Well, did the secular fabric and the Indian state come to the rescue of the communists? It didn’t: the secular fabric turned the other way, just the manner in which Indian security forces often look the other way when hapless Muslims appeal for help in a riot situation. The difference with Muslims is that the communists are targeted first. Indeed the Shiv Sena phenomenon is a clear case of ‘first they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist…’. And yet there is today a veiled attempt to avoid probing the period when communists were face to face with the Sena. We need to revisit the communist strategy and find out why the response was ‘nothing’, above all keeping in mind that an anti-communal front cannot be where communists should be taking refuge.
But ‘revisiting communist strategy’ is not to now utter postcolonial inanities like ‘the communists emphasized the class question too much and never really understood caste, or religion or identities’. It is not to validate what in ‘cultural studies’ is called ‘the problem of translation’, that class is supposedly a Euro-centric category and cannot comprehend Indian social reality. Instead it is to state that there is really no problem of translation.
The problem of translation was not for the communists but for Thackeray: isn’t it common knowledge that he had to resort to the language and politics of class, that he had to take up the interests of the workers and lower castes, in order to institute his ‘identity politics’. He was forced to do that – he had to translate his identity politics into class lines in order to gain entry into the ‘communist stronghold’ of central Bombay. As the political scientist Aryama pointed out to me, unlike ‘fascists’, the Shiv Sena did not really crush the working class movement. It rechanneled the movement along ‘safe’ lines of Marathi manoos, anti-Muslim politics and so on.
It was not emphasis on class and the problem of translation which undid the communists but a half-hearted emphasis – there was emphasis on the working class ‘issues’ but not on class power, on the organised power of the working class led by the vanguard party. Working class power would have given us a different scenario after Desai’s murder. That is, in a bizarre twist, it was the Sena which would mobilize workers’ ‘militancy’, now misdirected, rather than the CPI leadership which ditched both ground level leaders like Desai and other workers by instead relying on the supposed rule of law and Indian constitutional, legal protection and so on.
So when did ‘direct action’ become a purely fascist trait, as the progressives are telling us today? Here is today a left which turns its back on working class history apparently because class is not an adequate category for Indian reality and so on – something which does not follow from actual facts. Perhaps, it was such a decrepit left which convinced those like Namdeo Dhasal to join the Sena rather than the left – for the Dalit Panthers did also use direct action as a way to defend the interests of Dalit working classes. The communist tradition has a strong place as much for direct action as for direct democracy – you however cannot have one without the other. This needs to be reasserted.
Direct action can be critiqued. But such a critique cannot be geared towards suggesting that we should now come under the mediation of the rule of law and the constitution – and then refuse to see how these latter cannot be upheld at the expense of the workers’ power. Thackeray’s direct action was to ultimately defend the mediation of the rule of law, facilitate its normal functioning and preserve the status quo. It was an exception meant to reinscribe the rule. It was the Hindutva thug’s AFSPA – extraordinary law to ensure the return to ordinary laws, to ‘peace and development’.
The communist workers and the Dalit Panthers’ ‘direct action’ is merely a (Hegelian) move to recognize the Sena’s ‘direct action’, the Hindutva thug’s AFSPA to be an integral part of the normal functioning of the law and the norm. The pro-state (or democratic/parliamentary) left, including many social movements, fails to recognize it as such and is in denial. It treats the Sena’s ‘direct action’ as an aberration from ‘our constitution’ or ‘democratic tradition’ or ‘the idea of India’ – it hence rushes to the state and the rule of law to seek ‘correction of this aberration’, seek legal protection and in the process claim to be democratic and peace-loving and so on. It would have been fine if this was done to strategically build a powerful wider movement. Instead it reduces the entire movement to just this. This is clear, for example, from the way it equates ‘direct action’ by the communists with that of the fascists.
This has historical parallels. After the collapse of Nazism, western liberals tried to present Nazism as an aberration, as something which just happened – if only we would not forget how horrible fascism was, we could stop it from repeating itself. Marxists, in particular the Soviet countries, treated fascism as a live possibility so long as the bourgeoisie was in power. So the Soviets would not merely build memorials to the victims of a past event, which we should not forget, but emphasise that the war against fascism is an ongoing one. Fascism is not in that sense a historically singular aberration.
Moreover when it came to the communist resistance to Nazism, the Soviets were equated to the Nazis. So we are told you have the Nazi concentration camps, but you also have Soviet concentration camps! We cannot take these claims at face value as simple statement of facts. At another level, we must seriously take Slavoj Zizek’s provocation: “in today’s era of hedonist permissivity as the ruling ideology, the time is coming for the Left to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently “Fascist” about these values” (‘The True Hollywood Left’ ).
The rejection of direct action by equating it with fascist tactics therefore is not just a simple and sincere way to counter the Sena offensive. It conceals a refusal to open up a whole history of communist and working class resistance in Mumbai which used ‘similar’ tactics – including by the Dalit Panthers. We are very good in upholding the cultural heritage of the left movement, right fromtamashas to nukkad nataks to the poems and songs from IPTA. If these are not to become mere cultural artefacts and floating images, we must uncover the history of very real battles that have been fought, street by street, factory after factory, chawl after chawl.
Perhaps lot of the questions about organization, agency, mass mobilization, vanguard; about class struggle and identity/caste and so on can be better addressed through an account of these struggles. Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar’s work is highly commendable in this respect but we need more work in this area which would directly tell us about communist organizing rather than provide only an ‘ethnography of labour’ (One Hundred Years, One Hundred Voices: The Millworkers of Girangaon, An Oral History, Seagull, Kolkata, 2004). An elementary aspect of workers insurgency is waiting to be written. Perhaps this will also help us expand our approach to understanding revolutionary struggle beyond the Tebhagas and Telanganas and the Naxalbaris – particularly, if one is really serious about ‘the urban perspective’.
To start with, we might want to find more about Krishna Desai’s Lok Seva Dal about which we are told by Prakash: “Desai founded the Lok Seva Dal as much to counter the Sena’s ideological appeal as to confront its physical force. With these twin purposes in mind, the Lok Seva Dal held political-education classes as well as organized physical exercise programs and games. Since the party leadership offered no support, Desai raised money locally to pay for expenses” (p. 245). Now, are you about to tell me that the “organised physical exercise programs and games” reminds you of a RSS shakha?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

‘Those Who’ve Tried To Change The System Via Elections Have Ended Up Being Changed By It’

[Common to capitalist politics, and especially in the areas of semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries dominated in comprador fashion by imerialism, is the currency of bribes, corruption, gangs and cartels all of which fuel the political system with gross threats and extreme illicit wealth.  Responding to inquiries about how this works in India, which has recently been visited by prominent anti-corruption campaigns, Arundhati Roy sums up some key points which illuminate this corruption in India and in many other countries. The interview appears in Outlook India Magazine, November 26, 2012.

On the anti-corruption movement that has implications for politics, media and the national discourse

In August last yearArundhati Roy wrote a piece that raised important questions about the Anna Hazare movement. A lot has changed since then and Arvind Kejriwal and Anna have taken divergent paths. Kejriwal will launch a political party on November 26 and in the last few months he has, along with lawyer Prashant Bhushan, taken on powerful politicians and corporates. Saba Naqvi sent Arundhati five questions on e-mail to get her views on what is an evolving situation that has implications for politics, media and the national discourse. Here are Arundhati’s very detailed answers.

What do you make of these many corruption exposes and do you see this as a healthy development?

It’s an interesting development. The good thing about it is that it gives us an insight into how the networks of power connect and interlock. The worrying thing is that each scam pushes the last one out of the way, and life goes on. If all we will get out of it is an extra-acrimonious election campaign, it can only raise the bar of what our rulers know we can tolerate, or be conned into tolerating. Scams smaller than a few lakh crores will not even catch our attention. In election season, for political parties to accuse each other of corruption or doing shady deals with corporations is not new—remember the BJP and the Shiv Sena’s campaign against Enron? Advani called it ‘Looting through liberalisation’. They won that election in Maharashtra, scrapped the contract between Enron and the Congress government, and then signed a far worse one!
"Each scam pushes the last out of the way. If all it ends in is an extra-acrimonious election campaign, it’ll only raise the bar of what our rulers think we can tolerate."
Also worrying is the fact that some of these ‘exposes’ are strategic leaks from politicians and business houses who are spilling the beans on each other, hoping to get ahead of their rivals. Sometimes it’s across party lines, sometimes it’s intra-party jockeying. It’s being done brilliantly, and those who are being used as clearing houses to front these campaigns may not always be aware that this is the case. If in this process there was some attrition and corrupt people were being weeded out of the political arena, it would have been encouraging. But those who have been ‘exposed’—Salman Khurshid, Robert Vadra, Gadkari—have actually been embraced tighter by their parties. Politicians are aware of the fact that being accused or even convicted of corruption does not always make a dent in their popularity. Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Jaganmohan Reddy—they remain hugely popular leaders despite the charges that have been brought against them. While ordinary people are infuriated by corruption, it does seem as though when it comes to voting, their calculations are more shrewd, more complicated. They don’t necessarily vote for Nice Folks.

Why do you think stories that the media knew about but never carried or paid a price for carrying are suddenly coming out like a rash and new details are emerging in the process?

Just because there is a new kid in town, we mustn’t forget that some media houses and several other groups and individuals, at cost to themselves, have played a part in exposing major scams, like the Commonwealth games, 2G and Coal-gate, which shone the light on private corporations and sections of the media as well. Ironically, the Anna Hazare movement last year concentrated solely on politicians and let the others off the hook. But you’re right, there are cases in which the facts were known, but they remained unpublished until now. And suddenly it’s raining corruption scams now—some are even being recycled. Corruption has become so blatant, so pathological that those involved don’t even try very hard to hide their tracks. Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have all played an important part in making it hard for the media to elide the issue. But the sudden rash of exposes also has to do with the growing competition between the various coalitions of politicians, mega corporations and the media houses they own. For example, I do believe there is some substance to the speculation that the expose of Gadkari has to do with Narendra Modi—backed by big business—positioning himself to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and trying to get hostile lobbies out of the way. Now since it’s the era of corruption and balancesheets—blood is passe. It’s strange how often you hear commentators saying that it’s time to move on from the Sangh parivar’s Gujarat pogrom against Muslims in 2002 and to look ahead. The Congress party-led ’84 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi has been forgotten too. Killers and fascists are OK as long as they are not financially corrupt? What the newest anti-corruption movement led by Kejriwal and Bhushan is doing is important work that ought really to be done by the media and investigation agencies, and by people pressurising the system from outside. I’m not sure a new political party that is going to fight elections is the right vehicle. Given how elections work in India, given the amount of money and the machinations that go into them, what does this decision to stand for elections mean? There is a reason why the big political parties gleefully invite everybody to stand for elections. They know they control the arena, they want to turn newcomers into clowns in their circus, and wear them down by having to perform endlessly before a carnivorous media.
"While ordinary people are infuriated by corruption, it seems, when it comes to voting, their calculations are more shrewd. They don’t always vote for Nice Folks."
Many have walked this plank before. If, for example, Kejriwal’s party wins just a few seats, or none at all, what would it imply? That the majority of Indian people are pro-corruption? What stands exposed in all of this, other than the grand nexus between politicians and business houses, is that the media is struggling with its role as the ‘Fourth Estate’. A new political party, however good or honest, is not going to be able to resolve that anytime soon, because that is a structural problem. The media is hobbled by its economics. Recently in an interview, Vineet Jain of the Times Group was disarmingly frank when he said the Times Group was not in the business of news, but in the business of advertising. Apart from this, we have the problem of paid news and of outright ownership. Industrialists have always owned newspapers, but the scale of the operation has changed. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), for example, recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels. Sometimes it’s the other way around: we have media houses own mining companies. Dainik Bhaskar, with a readership of 17 million, owns 69 companies with interests in mining, power generation, real estate and textiles. And then, of course, we have the newspapers and TV channels owned by politicians like Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, Jaganmohan Reddy and others.
As the boundary between big business, big politics and news melts away, it’s becoming harder for journalists and reporters to do what was once considered an almost sacred duty—to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That ideal has been more or less turned on its head.

‘Being against corruption is not ideology’. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

Can anti-corruption be a valid plank for a political party?

I don’t think so. Corrupt politicians have shown themselves to be hugely popular. I hope Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan’s party will have more to its plank than just anti-corruption.
"Since it’s the corruption and balancesheets era, blood is passe. We are asked to move on from the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat and to look ahead."
I think the middle-class definition of corruption—as a sort of accounting problem—isn’t necessarily everybody else’s definition. Corruption is a symptom of a widening gap between the powerful and the powerless which, in India, is one of the worst in the world. That is what needs to be addressed. Moral policing, or even actual policing, can’t be a solution. What is that meant to achieve? Making an unjust system cleaner and more efficient? Setting up a parallel government with tens of thousands of police and bureaucrats, which is what the Jan Lokpal Bill envisages, will not solve the problem. Have our police and bureaucrats shown themselves to be guardians of the poor? Which pool will these new, honest souls be culled from? In a country where a majority of the population is illegitimate in the ways in which they live and work, the Jan Lokpal Bill could easily become a weapon in the hands of the middle classes—“Remove these filthy illegal slums, clear away these illegal vendors crowding the pavements”—and so on. The point is how do we define corruption? If a corporate house pays a thousand crore bribe to secure a contract for a coal-field, it’s corruption. If a voter takes a thousand rupees to vote for a particular politician, it’s corruption too. If a samosa-seller pays a cop a hundred-rupee bribe for a place on the pavement, that too is corruption. But are they all the same thing? I do not mean to suggest that there shouldn’t be a grievance redressal mechanism to monitor corruption, of course there should be. But that will not solve the big problem, because the big players only become better at covering their tracks.
For a political party to view the politics of this vast and complex country through the lens of corruption is—to put it politely—inadequate. Can we understand or address the politics of caste and class, ethnicity, gender, religious chauvinism, the whole of our political history, the current process of environmental devastation—and the other myriad things that make India’s engine work, or not work—all through the narrow, brittle lens of corruption? They can only be addressed if you know your people, if you have vision and ideology, not by just changing the props or costumes activists wear on stage when one or the other group accuses them of something or the other. Being against corruption is not in itself a political ideology. Even corrupt people will say they’re against corruption.
Change will come. It has to. But I doubt it will be ushered in by a new political party hoping to change the system by winning elections. Because those who have tried to change the system that way have ended up being changed by it—look what happened to the Communist parties. I think the insurrections taking place in the countryside will move towards the cities, not under any single banner, not in some orderly or revolutionary way, necessarily. It will not be pretty. But it’s inevitable.

Sections of the ruling class see the current exposes as ‘anarchy’. After the Ambani, KG basin and oil issue was raised, there were some commentaries about Kejriwal and “his leftist” friends. Your comments on this.

By ‘anarchy’, I presume they mean chaos, which is not what anarchy means. May I say that what the ruling classes are engaged in today, that is anarchy, by their definition. (By the way, I don’t know which of Arvind Kejriwal’s friends is a ‘leftist’.) Or are we now supposed to collapse ‘chaos’, ‘anarchy’ and the ‘left’ into one big ball of wax?
"As boundaries between big business, politics and news melt, journos find it harder to do what was once sacred duty: comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable."
I want to make just one very simple suggestion, and it is far from radical. Let’s say it is just a common minimum programme. We have become a country that is more or less run by private corporations. Let’s look at two of the biggest corporations who rule us today: Reliance and Tatas. Mukesh Ambani, who holds a majority controlling share in RIL, is personally worth $20 billion. RIL has a market capitalisation of $47 billion. Its business interests include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, SEZs, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. It has a controlling interest in 27 TV news and entertainment channels. It has endowed chairs in foreign universities worth millions of dollars.
The Tatas run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, phone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, and a major brand of iodised salt. The Tatas are also hugely invested in foreign universities.
I don’t think that there are corporations like these elsewhere in the world—none with this range of business interests, that control our lives so minutely, that can hold us to ransom and can shut us down as a country if they are unhappy with the deals they are being given. This is the biggest danger facing us.
What our economists like to call a level playing field is actually a machine spinning with a centrifugal force that funnels the poor out like disposable residue, and concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands, which is why 100 people have wealth equivalent to 25 per cent of the GDP and hundreds of millions live on less than `20 a day. It is why most of our children suffer from severe malnutrition, why two lakh farmers have killed themselves and why India is home to a majority of the world’s poor.
"Unless mega corporations are reined in, unless cross-ownership of business is regulated, unless media is freed from its control, we are headed for a shipwreck."
Whether you are Communist, Capitalist, Gandhian, Hindutva-ist, Islamist, Feminist, Ambedkarite, Environmentalist, whether you are a farmer, a businessman, journalist, writer, poet, or fool, even if you believe in privatisation and in the new economy—whatever—if you have a modicum of concern or affection, leave alone love, for this country, surely you must see that this is the clear and present danger? Even if these corporations and politicians were scrupulously honest, it is an absurd situation for a country to be in. Unless mega corporations are reined in and limited by legislation, unless the levers of such untrammelled power (which includes the power to buy politics and policymaking, justice, elections and the news) is taken away from them, unless the cross-ownership of businesses is regulated, unless the media is freed from the absolute control of big business, we are headed for a shipwreck. No amount of noise, no amount of anti-corruption campaigns, no amount of elections can stop that.

You have in the past described the system as “hollowed out”. In that case do you see all this as a pantomime?

Pantomime is a harsh word. I see what is happening now as part of the unrest, anger and frustration that is building up in the country. Sometimes the noisiness of it makes it hard to see clearly. But unless we look things in the eye—instead of heading off in strange quixotic directions—we can look forward to the civil war, which has already begun, reaching our doorsteps very soon.