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A New ‘Black Market of Power’ in Naya Bharat

Two statements within the space of a week, first by Gautam Adani and then Narendra Modi, remind us of the ‘correlation of money and power’ so central to the kind of India that is being built.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never allowed himself to be questioned extensively by anyone except Akshay Kumar (yes, yes, the very same man who can be seen these days marketing bathroom toilet cleaning products and mouth freshener), an amateur psychologist is at a distinct disadvantage trying to profile his persona. But anyone listening to Modi’s self-serving proclamations at Pragati Maidan on July 26 will have no difficulty in concluding that the man has irreversibly slipped into a delusional mode.

It may be just a coincidence that the prime minister’s “Modi ki guarantee” spiel that India would be “the third largest economy in my third term” had already been pre-empted a week earlier by Gautam Adani. According to a report in the Business Standard, the controversial oligarch had told the Adani Enterprises’ AGM in Mumbai on July 18: “While economic cycles are getting increasingly hard to forecast, there is little doubt that India – already the world’s 5th largest economy – will become the world’s third largest economy well before 2030.” That is exactly the timetable the prime minister unveiled to his Pragati Maidan audience. Just to round up the argument, the Hindenburg-bitten tycoon had added: “It is well understood that for any economy to implement policy and lay the foundation of growth, a stable government is critical.” And, for good measure, he declared that “my belief in the growth story of our matrabhumi has never been stronger.” 

It is difficult to say whether any kind of jugalbandi was at work, yet the convergence between the July 18 argument and the July 26 assertion leaves very little to the imagination.

This kind of convergence was anticipated about 80 years ago by Walter Benjamin, the celebrated Jewish dissident in Nazi Germany, when he talked of a “black market of power.” As Benjamin conceptualised it, this black market was characterised by a “correlation of money and power”, so evident in the Germany of the 1930s when all of the country’s industrialists had lined up behind the brutal practitioners of National Socialism. 

In this century, the phenomenon has already manifested itself in many countries where the economy is controlled by “a strong man” and a handful of politically connected oligarchs.

In India, we have our own, slightly refined, version because we have this little irritant called constitutional democracy, which obliges the black marketeers of power to go through the motion of securing public support for their ‘growth model’. As far as the ruling clique is concerned, elections are a necessary nuisance. Not that the prime minister and his cohorts are daunted by the prospect of having to contest elections. Like Lionel Messi proclaimed, after winning the World Cup for Argentina, “We know what to do in every moment. We know how to win a game,” the team from Gujarat too knows a thing or two about winning mandates.

And, as the economy becomes more and more inequitable on their watch, the new rulers of Naya Bharat know how to seduce the plebes. The professional phrase-makers have already coined the lilting rhyme: “Pai, pai, gharib ki bhali (Every paisa in the poor’s interests).” The new oligarchs of Naya Bharat will, of course, permit themselves a sardonic smile. Indeed, a cocksure prime minister has already declared himself the winner of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. 

Inherent in this extravagant claim is a warning to all those who have a constitutional duty to ensure fairness in the system – especially the higher judiciary and the Election Commission – not to take their mandate of protecting norms seriously. Instead, they must be prepared to overlook the regime’s brazenness because the outcome of the contest is pre-ordained, if not pre-arranged. A bully’s perfect boast.

The boast comes naturally because beyond the desi oligarchs, the global moneyed elite sees in Modi’s India an opportunity to grab a piece of the action for itself. Of this global segment, the arms-sellers and dealers are the most visible. This exotic and mysterious band of businessmen have perfected their tool-kit for trapping third world leaders in a seductive bubble, enticing them with illusions of power and potency. After his recent massive weapons deals with the Americans and the French, the prime minister can be counted upon to reclaim his ‘56-inch’ status by asserting that he has bolstered national defence as never before and has unprecedentedly strengthened the capabilities of our valiant soldiers to take on the ‘enemy’. In the same breath, he could well accuse the Congress (with its earlier UPA and now INDIA coalition) of neglecting the needs of our forces and for short-changing the brave soldier.

In the 21st century, ‘strongmen’ need to remain ‘strong’ by procuring ‘cutting-edge’ weapons systems, just as the arms industry in the US and Europe needs to sell their ever-expensive war toys. John Bolton, one of Donald Trump’s national security advisers, alluded to the phenomenon a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal: 

“Sales of weapons systems are an important way the U.S. strengthens its Asian allies, as [French President Emmanuel] Macron understands. Furious at losing a submarine deal with Australia to the U.S. and Britain, he celebrated Bastille Day with Indian Prime Minister Modi, announcing beforehand some $9 billion in weapons sales.”

It is perhaps now easy to understand why Modi has not found the time or the inclination to visit a burning Manipur. All this time, he was soaking in the pomp and spectacle of ‘state visits’ to the US and France. The fabled event manager has allowed himself to be mesmerised by the ‘events’ staged by other managers. Mentally he had travelled as far away as he could from the ugliness that is eating away Manipur society and political order. 

It is inconceivable that the vast surveillance state was unaware of the moral shame so painfully captured in a video. If he had been told about the video or the incident, he did not want to be distracted; if he did not know of it, the pretorian guard would not have wanted to spoil his mood as he was being serenaded on the global stage. And, now it is too late because he simply cannot acknowledge that his trusted home minister had made a mess of a delicate corner of India. A few weeks of moral outrage by bleeding-heart liberals pale in comparison to the aura of a colossus sure-footedly striding the world stage.

As a politician who relishes confrontation, Modi can be expected to talk his way out of the Manipur shame – and the ‘national’ media can be relied upon to reaffirm his credentials as the master of narratives. But in his delusional mode, Modi need not forget that the final narrative is written by the voter.

Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.


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