Understanding Hindutva neoliberalism in India
Hindutva neoliberalism in India is a specific variant of capitalism that enforces economic and political oligarchy in the name of ethnic and majoritarian nationalism. It liberalises market for few to establish a dominant corporate monopoly. It does not allow complete free-market competition as a distributive mechanism. It allows few crony corporations to control the production processes, coordinate the distribution mechanisms, and determine the nature of demand and supply in the Indian economy.
The laissez-faire led ideological narratives of neoliberalism around ‘free individual’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘free market’ are absent within ‘Hindutva neoliberalism’. The liberal ideals of market forces within neoliberalism are completely absent within the Hindutva variant of neoliberalism in India. It does not completely break away from the 19th-century capitalism but continues with its old foundations.
It provides a new but robust direction to 21st-century capitalism in which the Indian state, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as a political party, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government work together in pursuit of corporate profit. The cultural nationalism of the BJP and its parental body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is a hoax. It marginalises the masses by spreading a false sense of nationalist pride with the help of populist electoral democracy shaped by corporate media.
There is a perceived distinction between Hindutva neoliberalism and worldwide practice of neoliberalism as an ideological project. But there is no contradiction or any confusion between neoliberalism and Hindutva fascism in India. Both the global and national capitalist forces find Hindutva neoliberalism a convenient cannon to capture Indian natural and human resources. The Hindutva neoliberalism, led by the RSS and the BJP, helps to break away from the ‘Washington Consensus’, which advocates the framework of limited ‘capital-labour accord’ for the growth of capitalism.
The Hindutva version of neoliberalism helps in stripping away all workers’ rights and all protective measures by reforming labour laws before and during this pandemic. The limited welfare state has no place within Hindutva neoliberalism. It neither believes in minimum governance nor maximum governance as claimed by Mr Modi; the poster boy of Hindutva neoliberalism. The fascist and authoritarian character of Hindutva neoliberalism is concomitant with the undemocratic tendencies of neoliberalism.
There is absolute corporate consensus between obscurantist Hindutva politics and monopoly capitalism. The Hindutva forces make laws on agriculture, land, labour, water, mineral resources and environment to advance and insulate corporate forces from democratic discontents by declaring all forms of progressive political movements as anti-national.
The Hindutva neoliberalism facilitates capitalism in India by establishing political, social, religious and cultural dominance of Brahminical caste order. The majoritarian social relations controlled by the established caste hierarchy helps neoliberalism to pursue its agendas without any form of political and social barriers. The caste system is not only normalising exploitation but also naturalising all forms of inequalities in India. Such a feudal and authoritarian ideological framework established by caste and its cohesive order provides breathing space to both Hindutva and neoliberalism in India.
Deregulation, privatisation, reduction of corporate tax, dismantling the state command economy, and minimising the government’s roles are common features of both versions of neoliberalism. The global version believes in trade liberalisation, but Hindutva believes in trade monopoly of few compliant corporations. Both work in unison despite minor differences between them.
From Hayekians to Keynesians and from the Geneva School of policymaking to the Chicago School of economists and policymakers were responsible to shape neoliberalism as an ideological project of a capitalist alternative to communism. These ideological adherents have naively believed and afloat the idea that the liberal and welfare path can also defeat fascism and its other authoritarian variants by upholding ‘individual freedom and choice’ as sacrosanct. These neoliberal ideologues have argued that the combination of individual liberties with desire-based capitalist markets can shape the future of democracy and prosperity in society. Such naïve philosophical formulations, economic myopia and political misunderstandings continue to expose itself and its utopian outlook as global neoliberalism continues to assault democracies across the globe.
The global neoliberalism has allied with the most illiberal forces in politics, culture and society today. The neoliberalism’s Hindutva version paves a new path for global neoliberal capitalism, where democracy, state and governments lost their public legitimacy in the popular imagination. This is the best recipe to establish absolute control over people, planet and resources without any form of political resistance.
The ethnic authoritarianism is an invaluable means for global neoliberal capitalism to survive and expand itself with the growth of ethnic politics like Hindutva forces in India. The ethnic politics of Hindutva is not only destroying the unity of working people but also diminishing the citizenship rights of marginalised classes and castes. Such processes weaken the conflicts between labour and capital.
The Karma theory of reincarnation and salvation provides a philosophical foundation to Hindutva neoliberalism by shaping ideas and naturalising it in a way in which individuals blame their Karma for their miseries. Such processes of individualisation of ‘self’ and demonisation of ‘others’ help both Hindutva and neoliberalism in pursuit of their political and economic projects in India.
The culture of neoliberal fragmentation and project of identity-based political mobilisation provides a coherent framework for Hindutva neoliberalism to establish itself as a formidable force in India. Both Hindutva and neoliberalism disciplines citizens and coverts them as mere customers, who are seeking satisfaction, utility and pleasure–as mere consumers of commodities. The wholesale normalisation of the culture of consumerism under Hindutva neoliberalism dehumanises and dismantles societies, where unities and solidarities are becoming elusive.
Therefore, the lynching of Muslims, raping of women, sexual abuse of children, violence against women, Kashmiris, Dalits and tribals are not provoking mass struggles against injustices in India. This callous culture is an outcome of everyday Hindutva neoliberalism, which is practised and promoted by the Modi-led BJP government in India.
The Hindutva neoliberalism marketizes every sphere of life in the name of Hindu cultural nationalism at the cost of India and Indians. Mr Modi and his party follow market-led, media-mediated, management of public opinion as the human development index falls to the bottom of international development pyramid. The manipulation of the public mind with majoritarian dominance and reactionary values, led by Hindutva neoliberalism, failed to obscure the mass miseries and marginalisation in India.
The struggles for unconditional citizenship rights, the farmers’ struggles against corporate control over agriculture, the resistance movements against privatisation and liberalisation, the struggle for justice led by women, students, Dalits, tribals and workers are hopes to reclaim India from Hindutva neoliberalism and its dehumanising values. These resistance movements can only help in deepening constitutional democracy. The struggles are the only ways to repair the broken republic dominated by the Hindutva neoliberalism.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak is a political economist working as Reader in Business Management in the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), UK.