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Recognise This Face?

Amit Bhaduri

In post-colonial societies, decolonisation merely changed the direction of a centuries-long violent hunt for natural resources. The more successful of the newly independent nations join the march of development only to become colonisers themselves. The formerly colonised countries are relatively new in the race, so the direction and the target of the hunt changes. Regions inside the country are identified for the hunt of natural resources. Imperialism turns inwards, and the latecomers in the race wage war against their own citizens, but this time in the name of developing them. With the hunt for resources turning inwards, history begins to repeat itself, but this time perhaps as a farce.

Amit Bhaduri (abhaduri40@hotmail.com) is professor emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

t is an ancient war, and it goes on. It might have started in our pre-history, in some distant and obscure past as fights between immediate neighbours over control of surrounding territories to collect food, hunt or water. It was a complex fight for survival, both against human adversaries in a hostile environ ment and learning at the same time to be a part of it. It was indeed a delicate balance. Nature was still nature, not just a depo sitory of natural resources, and humans like other species had to be both for and against n ature in their struggle for survival. That balance tipped somewhere. The march of civilisation came to be defined almost exclusively as a process of conquest of nature by man, and his increasing domination over all his surroundings, including other human beings. The development of powerful technology made war on both man and nature easier, and civilisation came to be driven by the arrogance of growing technological power which made civilised man feel like Caesar, I come, I see, I conquer. In this rush for extending control, it was indeed an even headier feeling when the special target was rival human beings. Slaves were the most valued prize of wars. And, yet, all along there have been v oices of scepticism against this arrogance of power expressed in different ways. They failed to change the course, but inspired many to think differently. Spinoza added an almost new dimension to western p hilosophy by insisting that the ethics of man can only have meaning as part of the beautiful grand design of nature. For the poet Blake, beauty was in the splendour of naturalness. The conventional system of knowledge codified in the west dismissed an intellectual tradition that considered nature animate as simply metaphysical. This was incompatible in every way with the ruthless exploitation of nature in the name of progress.

In 20th century India M K Gandhi b ecame its most original and vocal exponent. In opposing colonialism as an outcome of western civilisation, he articulated a philosophical position in which the principle of non-violence extended beyond human beings to nature. His distrust of machine civilisation, of material progress, even of modern science went far beyond modern environmentalism. It was rooted in a system of belief in which nature was animate and, one with man (and god). He propounded his personal, political, moral and economic philosophy from this point of view, which even most of his disciples found hard to accept wholeheartedly; indeed its practicability remains u ncertain to date. In some ways Gandhi was the culmination of a long Indian intellectual tradition that also had echoes in some little traditions of the west. More interestingly perhaps, it was also a source of inspiration for a few great scientific insights. At the beginning of the 20th century J C Bose (a close friend of Rabindranath Tagore, sharing in some ways a similar outlook), one of the earliest pathfinders of modern bio-physics, thought of laboratory experiments to show that plants and trees are living and, capable of carrying messages through electrical impulses. Nevertheless the view that nature is animate has remained at best at the margin of our consciousness. The dominant system of modern knowledge has on o ccasions been as unforgiving to this view as the medieval church had been to the heresy of those opposed its theology. This is understandable because machine civilisation is founded largely on this dominant system of knowledge with a view to conquer nature, not to live in harmony with it. Most recently, misgivings have been articu lated politically by various shades of the Green movement. They question the c onsequences of this ruthless conquest of nature as the integral part of civilisation, and yet, seldom pose directly the p olitically defining question, who is civilising whom and for what purpose? It has always been a politically loaded question that refuses to go away in a world where the loot and plunder of nature and


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of people are often far too visible. It is most blatant when military force is openly applied; less obvious when it operates through the market mechanism, trade or diplomacy. However, the end result is broadly the same, colonisation of nature and of those who have been living as a part of it for resources to feed mostly the already civilised. The problem came into sharper focus as imperialism in the modern context. From the economic point of view, it was less important in that pre-industrial age to engage in the steady exploitation of nature for securing cheap sources of raw materials. Consequently, the predisposition of pre-capitalist imperial expansion was more towards short-term loot and plunder and political subjugation for the glory of the invading imperial power. Ritualistic gifts and tributes were more symbols of sub servience, not particularly useful for the imperial economy. Things began to change when long distance trade routes on sea made a more or less steady supply from distant lands possible. Portugal and Spain led the way and other European powers followed. In the process, ambitions for the glorification of the empire through terri torial expansion began to get inseparably intertwined through trade with an economic motive. This indeed was the h istorical watershed, as the expansionist powers entered a twilight period of balance, when the feudal status of the empire enhanced by plunder and loot co exis ted with the establishment of colonies.

High Noon of Expansion

However, that twilight period was a pre lude to the high noon of expansion, which was soon to begin. Economic compulsions began to upset the balance with the development of industrial capitalism. As factory production conquered local artisan p ro duction and, increasingly harnessed mecha nical energy to augment pheno menally the capacity to produce, a larger supply of raw materials was needed on the one hand to feed factories, and, on the other, larger markets for selling industrial products became essential. Rising international economic competition among the then industrial powers of Europe led to a search for cheaper raw materials in distant lands. At home wages were restrained

as far as possible by a powerful capitalist class resulting in a slow rate of expansion of domestic market, which was unable to absorb the rapidly increasing industrial production of the factory system. Capitalism turned outwards in search of cheap raw materials as well as markets. At this stage imperialism became the defining face of capitalism. The metropolis of capitalism was a group of industrialised capitalist nations who were constantly e ngaged in trade wars, but at times went to war among themselves over control of f oreign territories. However, several variations within this broad historical pattern took place over time. Direct and continuous application of open military force on a large scale over longish period to achieve these ends was cumbersome, often far too costly. While imperialistic terror, which was unleashed on the natives whenever necessary, a lways remained a handy method, a more insidious option was to present imperialism with a more human face. Between these two extremes of direct repression and co-option, the variations that occu rred were tinged with prejudices about race, influence of the climate and the power of local resistance. They were reflected in the variety of ways the colonies were set up and administered. It might help at this point to think in terms of an analytical metaphor from the theory of games. Use of open force of short duration is like a one shot game in which the two parties expect to encounter only once. In these circumstances it is a natural economic strategy to extract in one e ncounter as much as possible quick plunder and loot, leaving behind a devastated land. However, when the encounter is expected to recur over time, the territory has to be cleared of native resistance by genocide for the colonisers to settle permanently on the same land. Or, a steady supply and a market outlet for the metro polis have to be assured like in a strategy devised for repeated games. Typically this tends to be more cooperative in character with both sides coming to terms with their strategic mutual dependence in enlightened self-interest. However, this comforting outcome requires the parties to have more or less equal power (e g, access to e ffective counter strategies) to inflict

sufficient damage, so that the nature of s trategic interdependence is driven home to both parties.

The postulate of nearly equal power is hardly the most relevant case for understanding the history of imperialism. I nstead of voluntary cooperation in enligh tened self-interest, serious deviations b ecame inevitable due to unequal power of the players. The more powerful could beat the less powerful into various degrees of submission which often looked like a voluntary collaboration of the players of unequal power. The colonised collaborate with the coloniser resulting in various forms of unequal patron client (or p rin cipal agent) relationships. How ever, such collaboration is invariably partial, both in terms of citizens rights in the colonies and in scope. It is never the case that the entire colonised people become the client. I mperialism typically creates and relies on a subset of the colonised p opu lation by p rivileging them in various ways. As the counterpoint to the collaborating com prador class, imperialism also creates as u nderbelly a vast mass of the exploited and o ppressed, the real victims of imperialism. Privilege by its very definition is exclusive and restricted to a select few; indeed if extended to include all or most, it ceases to be a privilege! With imperialism poised for its long haul, the colonial administration has to be compatible with the long-term interest of the colonisers by reshaping particularly the educational and legal structures. Land as property had to be r estructured, giving the colonial state a special position (eminent domain). The hegemonic culture that gradually gets e ntrenched through this process of exclusion of the majority becomes the only culture that the comprador class cares to know. They breathe and live in this dominant cultural climate as if it is like natural air. Indeed, the victory of imperialism is complete when it conquers not only the land, but colonises the minds of a large enough comprador class through whom it administers justice in the colonies. As the administering agent of imperial power, the comprador class is founded on privileges that they have to defend in their own self-interest. The

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nterests of the principal and the agent are i now fused in an i ncentive compatible system of exploitation. In consequence, economic exploitation of the excluded majority is structurally embedded, and continues as a matter of routine in the business as usual manner. State terror is hidden, except when state autho rity is challenged. With apparent peace ruling in colonies, it becomes natural to reverse the language. Those who o ppose imperialist structural terror are termed terroists! Initially imperialism was a class project. From its early phase of procuring foreign luxury goods for the aristocracy at home by trade or loot to the later phase when cheap sources of raw materials and f oreign market became a compulsion for factory owners, imperialist expansion had predominantly been driven by the interest of the upper classes. From being a class project it began to change character and appeared as a more inclusive nationalist project when the economic advantages of imperial exploitation of the colonial p eri phery started percolating down to the working class at home. The labour a risto cracy at home became the counterpart of the comprador class in the colonies. Yet another escape route to greater economic opportunity was opened for the poor at home through settlements as colonisers in other foreign lands cleared through genocide and largescale extermination or dispossession of the original inhabitants (North and several countries of South America, Australia). This transformation of imperialism from predominantly a class to a nationa list project dealt a double blow to inter national working class movements. The i nterest of the labour aristocracy became increasingly distinct from that of the vast mass of working people especially in the colonies, and the labour movements b ecame divided along nationalistic lines. Eruption of imperialist wars among rival capitalist powers could now count on the support of the working class in a country as a nationalist cause of the warring country. In times of open military conflict, it becomes the patriotic duty of all citizens, in relatively peaceful times of milder trade wars, it continues to express itself through xenophobia. And yet, despite all the turns and twists of history, the fundamental aspect and the

very reason for the existence of imperialism hardly changed. The ancient war goes on driven today by that same hunt for natural resources and conquest of other people, gathering further momentum by an increasingly powerful technology. N either post-industrial societies nor postcolonial countries disengaged themselves from this continuous war. The consumerist culture of post-industrial countries becomes essential for providing a market for their large corporations. The political s ystem of democracy is acclaimed for contributing to rising mass consumption by i nvading natural resources everywhere under various guises of legal and illegal trade, which trample on the d emocratic rights of those who cannot d efend them. In post-colonial societies, decolonisation merely changed the direction but not the goal of this violent hunt for natural r esources. As countries that were once formal or informal colonies gain political i ndependence, the more successful among them join the march of civilisation in the name of development only to become colonisers themselves. The irony of history does not end there. The formerly colonised countries are relatively new in the race, and handicapped by an inherited past of economic and military weakness in a world of stronger competitors. And so the direction and the target of the hunt change. If a lack of strength does not

a llow them to conquer other lands and people, regions inside the country are identified for the hunt of natural resources. Imperialism turns inwards, and the latecomers in the race wage war against their own citizen, but this time in the name of d eveloping them.

History Repeating Itself

Nevertheless, with the hunt for resources turning inwards history begins to repeat itself, but this time perhaps as a farce. Development again becomes a class project despite attempts at giving it the face of a nationalist project. Attempts converge on projecting national prestige on the international scene as the main goal, and m arket-driven rapid growth for which the hunt for natural resource becomes the essential means. This class project is made to appear inclusive and nationalistic by privileging a select minority which gains disproportionately from this pattern of rapid growth. A new post-colonial comprador class soon emerges from the old privileged comprador class. However this time the task is easier because their mind has already been suitably colonised. It supports this process through the control of the bureaucracy, the media, while d omestic and foreign big business, multilateral agencies like the World Bank, the I nternational Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) make

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collaboration exceptionally attractive in fin an cial terms in the poor countries. In the process, the show of democracy becomes a form that is increasingly devoid of popular content, a shadow without substance. By its own logic, the violent hunt f ollows the international pecking order of power. Among the new entrants to this race, a relatively more powerful country like C hina has greater ability to externalise its hunt for resources compared to a less power ful country like India. In this perverted nationalist project, achieving a higher rate of economic growth becomes synonymous with the speed with which the country climbs up the ladder of power. However, higher growth driven by this logic also means greater pressure for procuring natural resources by dispossessing those fellow citizens who are unfortunate enough to live in areas of abundant natural r esources. With effortless ease the old colonial logic of a white mans burden r eturns to haunt the one time colonies. A civilised class consisting of corporate leaders, sleek media persons and the wheeler-dealer politicians with a pliant class of bureaucrats, join hands to civilise and develop the uncivilised. Even ethnic details of the old colonial ideology are not left out. The centuriesold ancient homeland of the adivasis (about 8% of the population) in resource rich regions and the dalits (16%) who are treated as rejects of the Hindu society together are among the poorest in rural India. Together they constitute just about a quarter of the total population, but account for more than half of those who fell prey to the violently predatory growth process. Dispossessed of their land, homes, livelihoods, families, close-knit communities and common properties, this ethnic war of the master race continues to relentlessly civilise the primitives. This is done legally or illegally, with or without the faade of democracy by using state power. When the law of the land protects inalienable land rights to tribal communities (the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, PESA 1996, etc), corporations with the aid of state power overcomes this hurdle to development by manufactur ing consent at gun point or, simply by ignoring it. When dalits are dispossessed, our democracy consoles them with the false compassion of reservation.

Developmental Terrorism
Developmental terrorism on this massive scale is camouflaged by a liberalised and globalised market economy. Irrespective of the ideological colour of the political party in power, the states and the centre join this hunt with great patriotism to dispossess the poor for making India (or their respective states) an emerging global power. National and multinational corporations are viewed as the muscle powers needed to win the race in countries like India. They are enabled with special economic steroids by granting them almost free land, water bodies and rivers, mineral resources, forests, mountains, coast lines and anything else they might fancy, with the democratic government in India at their service to acquire for them mining resources and provide special economic zones (SEZs). This becomes the public purpose for private wealth, and corporate wealth grows at a dizzying rate with poverty stricken India producing billionaires at an alarmingly high rate. They are presented as the face of emergent India which the world is expected to admire. Irrevocably, however, the balance of power must shift in this process. Increasingly powerful corporations take charge of this gangrenous growth process with their

money power to further cripple a sick demo cracy. Under the empty shell of a multi party democracy, a new script is written to reverse the balance of power. The principal becomes the agent and the agent the prin cipal. Corporations do not merely stop at bribing operators of the state apparatus, the politicians, the judges and the bureaucrats; they begin to dictate terms and replace them openly. Laws proposed for the SEZs where corporations would rule supreme, read almost like the chronicle of the death of Indian demo cracy foretold. And, yet, unprecedented growth in a hollow democracy is dangled before the people, while both government and c orpo rations systematically deform every a spect of the democratic polity. A new script has been written about Indias m iraculous achievements, combining high growth with democracy that is presented to the audience.

Three Acts
Act I: Despite an overwhelmingly large number of poor, over 60% of the Members of Parliament are multimillionaires who are there to represent the poor majority. A good part of their millions is made in land, and other natural resource-related deals. These include legal and illegal mining,

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estruction of forests, rivers, coast lines, and d fertile multicrop land, and real estate projects for making Indian cities world class. Act II: As a result, representation through elections in Parliament becomes prohibitively expensive ruling out the participation of ordinary citizens. (Some estimates put the price of entry to the electo ral process at an average of Rs 8 crore per contestant, which goes up to nearly Rs 30 crore for contestants from the bigger parties.) Consequently all major parlia men tary political parties upholding our demo cracy are in the game of raising enormous funds mostly through land and natural resource-related deals. Regional governments cheered by the federal state race to the bottom with increasingly f avourable terms in natural resource deals, while corporations return the f avour with big m oney to restrict the entry of unwanted ordinary citizens to the charmed circle of the political class. Parliamentary parties, irrespective of the colour and rhetoric, help emergent corporate India to hollow out a democracy, a form left devoid of any democratic content.

Final Act III: This theatre of democracy is set in the final act against the background of globalisation, with the media and academia and opinion makers of all sorts helping to project a well crafted image of the Indian nation as an emerging global power. From Kashmir to Manipur it again becomes the patriotic duty of every citizen to support this nationalist project. Occasionally reality intrudes and the script is interrupted. The play looks u nconvincing when thousands die in a gas tragedy and democratic government has to crawl in front of large international c orporations in full view of the audience. However, the audience soon realises that it is their patriotic duty not to send wrong signals that might vitiate the inter national i nvestment climate essential for growth. So the play of the emergent g lobal power goes on. The script convinces the audience that widening disparities among classes is not a matter of shame, but a matter of pride. Under the slogan of public private partnership, the private bestows privileges on a

few while the public abandons the poor. By privatising basic needs like schooling and health, children from privileged classes go to schools with world class facilities, the rich have access to world class healthcare, and corporate controlled media f ocuses on these achievements keeping miserable poverty invisible. It is at best a footnote to this script, better overlooked, that this emergent global power would lead the world with the maximum number of undernourished, crippled and illiterate children by the middle of the 21st century. Our middle class is a creature of this m edia, and is dazzled by its own image of glamour. It is an insidious process because our middle as well as our political classes ultimately become a victim of the delusion they helped to create. They prepare willingly to secede from the poor majority in the country. And, yet, it is no more than a delusion, no matter how well crafted and sleekly presented. Will we be forced to recognise the true face in the mirror? Or, the well crafted mirror will continue to delude us until we are overcome by a v iolent turn of history?

Job Opportunities at IGIDR, Mumbai Faculty Positions

The Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) was established by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in the year 1987 as an advanced research Institute for the study of national and global development issues. The Institute is recognized as a Deemed University under Section 3 of the UGC Act and offers M.Sc. Programme in Economics, M.Phil./Ph.D., and External Ph.D in Development Studies. The Institute is governed by a Board of Management (BoM) consisting of distinguished academicians and policy makers in the country. The Chairman of the BoM is the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. The Institute is located on a beautiful 14-acre campus at Goregaon (E), Mumbai. IGIDR has highly qualified faculty and researchers including several Ph.Ds from reputed Indian and foreign universities. Professor S. Mahendra Dev is the Director (Vice-Chancellor) of the Institute. The primary focus of its research is in the areas of macro & monetary economics, banking, finance, micro-economics, agriculture, industry, energy and environment, international trade experimental and behavioral economics, apart from all major sub-fields in Economics. The Institute wishes to recruit Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors to strengthen its in-house team. For these positions we are looking for candidates with Ph.D degrees from reputed Indian or foreign university or equivalent, strong publication record and teaching or research experience in its thrust areas. The compensation details are given below: i) Professor : (PB: `37400-67000; AGP: `10500) ii) Associate Professor : (PB: `37400-67000; AGP: `9500) iii) Assistant Professor : (PB: `15600-39100; AGP: `8000) The minimum qualification shall be as per the IGIDR guidelines as indicated below: i) For appointment as Professor, one should have a Ph.D with first class or equivalent at the preceding degree with a very good academic record and a minimum of 10 years experience of which at least four years should be at the level of Associate Professor in reputed institutions(s). ii) For appointment as Associate Professor, one should have a Ph.D with first class or equivalent at the preceding degree in the appropriate branch with a very good academic record throughout and a minimum of six years teaching/research experience of which at least three years should be at the level of Assistant Professor in reputed institution(s). iii) For appointment as Assistant Professor, one should have a Ph.D with a first class or equivalent at the preceding degree in the appropriate branch with a very good academic record throughout and at least three years research/teaching experience, excluding the experience gained while pursuing Ph.D. Additionally, Institute provides housing in the campus. Faculty is permitted to undertake consultancy assignments for 52 days a year on share basis. Institute is likely to implement a Professional Development Scheme, under which each faculty member shall be entitled for `4,00,000/- to be used in three years for various professional development activities as per the policy of the Institute. Institute also provides a comprehensive family group medical insurance and is likely to implement a group employee term insurance cover very soon. Those interested may send detailed current C.V. indicating details of publications and three references by 31st December, 2010 to: Jai Mohan Pandit Registrar Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Santosh Nagar, Film City Road, Goregaon (E), Mumbai-400065 Email : careers@igidr.ac.in; Website: http://www.igidr.ac.in Phone: 91-22-28401336(D)/28416505 Fax: 91-22-28402752/28416399


november 20, 2010 vol xlv no 47 EPW Economic & Political Weekly