As a singular event, Covid-19 could be an opportunity for a total political and economic reconfiguration. Instead, Modi capitalizes on daily fatality statistics (short term chaos) and uses the fear of death as the basis of his strategies; best exemplified by his death discourses directed at the nation. Faced with an emerging humanitarian catastrophe (long term focus), the national response is woefully inadequate.
To conceal his policy paralysis, which has resulted in the steep decline of GDP, the PM has transmuted the outbreak into a “good and nice pandemic.” The Modi regime, with its penchant for spectacle, has declared battle against covid-19—while imposing a State of Exception (created by Carl Schmitt, crown jurist of the Third Reich) to thrive on the rhetoric of an unclean enemy. While the mortality rate of TB patients in India —1630 deaths per day—is ignored, Covid-19’s mortality of 3 percent to 5 percent provides the pretext for an unprecedented and underprepared scale of lockdown. In doing so, the most vulnerable—urban workers, peasants and agricultural laborers—are targeted as the enemy; transformed as the living dead to be enslaved for capitalist exploitation.
As the lockdown’s surgical oppression continues to perpetuate the ignominy of the living dead, they are forced to wander along India’s agriculture wastelands. The agricultural workers income has plummeted, depleted by the systematic withdrawal of government support for the sector. Coupled with urban unemployment, this creates a “synchronous downward movement of the earning capacity of the entire working population” (Prof. Prabhat Patnaik). And so the agricultural laborer is again forced to seek employment in cities, enabling urban capitalists to increase their wealth by offering even lower wages.
Wages suppressed by market conditions have been legitimatized by ordinances permitting unlimited wage reduction and increased working hours. All in the name of the “good and nice pandemic.” The vista of displaced workers trudging along is a testament to Modi’s deplorable inability to feed the working class. The National Sample Survey shows that 62% of displaced workers are unable to achieve the nutritional threshold of 2100 calories necessary for urban workers, and 2200 calories for workers in the rural sector. A slight improvement on the calorie-intake “inside the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp”(Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis, P 38). The loose cannon of a promise maker (PM) Modi has conceptualized a perpetual battle against a pandemic, and lead India to the 102nd position out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index.
Economic policies, dictated by capitalists and implemented by the increasingly racialised Indian state, have created a skeletonized crew of displaced workers as captive citizens. They are impelled to live on bare sustenance; low-hanging fruit for exploitation by the emerging fusion of the Indian state and capital. The capitalists, served by the pliant Modi, have triggered a “race to the bottom” with “downward equalization of wages” (Istvan Meszarios). To further maximize exploitation, a carte blanche has also been graciously awarded to the States, facilitating reduced wages and increased working hours. The diminishing wage component of the GDP appears as increasing surplus value, so the capitalists can pump dollars into their coffers. Riding the crest of this surplus wave and cronyism, the total number of dollar -millionaires in India has reached 382,000. Slightly higher than 350,000 being the number of farmer suicides. A large part of this morbid statistical dichotomy can be attributed to the sharp drop in the share of India’s national income going to rural households. The upward transfer is legal, but this legitimized theft evidently has lethal consequences—facilitated by laws, ordinances, tax waivers, loan write-offs, deep cuts in social expenditure, and budgetary gimmicks declared through demagogic death discourses, post-lockdown.
Rural poverty and an increase in the wealth accumulation of Indian crony millionaires are the direct outcome of an uncontrolled exploitation of labor, enabled by the BJP regime for capitalists. The peasant hosts—stripped of alternate modes of survival, kettled, and kept barely alive (colonial Temple wages)—are made dependent on capitalist parasites for employment. To increase this abhorrent dependency, the State conveniently withdraws from its social responsibility (read: elected obligation) to provide employment to the constantly burgeoning work force. Living to die working, never to stop working, is their ‘acche din’ fate. This slow march of the peasantry to inevitable death is hastened by labor reforms abolishing minimum wage and health and safety legislation.
Modi’s labour reforms for capital is a verbatim manifestation of the 1995 World Bank Report, Workers in an Integrating World, for middle and low-income economies with large agricultural or informal sectors. The Indian Puppet Minister has conceded sovereign policy space by adapting and implementing measures that enhance poverty, at the behest of the US hegemon. If globalization, understood in Kissinger’s words, “is to strengthen US hegemony”—then Modi serves the empire.
With Parliament stifled by the ethnic majority; the Supreme Court morphing into a silent court; dissidents like Sudha Bharadwaj, and Dr. Anand Teltumbde, and student leaders like Meeran Haider, and Safoor Zargar, labeled as anti-national and imprisoned by the authoritarian regime—Brand Modi has structured a racialised sovereignty to serve the Empire, with a State of Exception imposed with impunity. A “good and nice pandemic” reconfigured to “breed inequality of income earned and wealth owned, between the very rich capitalists and the mass of working people” (Marx). Under the guise of leading a battle, Modi has instead attacked the poor and extended the dominion of poverty lusted after by the World Bank, on behalf of the US hegemon.
Modi would not be the first leader to capitalize on his own failures. So, if it still snows in Davos this year, Modi will be feted as the author who scripted the Indian theatre of hunger, famine and death.
Vinod Kumar Edachery works with a strategic advisory in the Middle East. He believes that neoliberalism creates inequality and transfers wealth to the hegemony. Email: email@example.com