Why the Corporate Czars are Silent over increasing attacks on Social Fabric and rising Communalism
Celebrity actors and players share an interesting commonality in this part of South Asia.
Their moral compass normally veers towards the ‘righteousness’ of the rich, powerful and the influential.
Lynching of innocent people on the streets for their faith, social and governmental hounding of lovers belonging to different communities, call for genocide of religious minorities from public forums and similar hate filled acts, nothing normally impinges on their conscience.
Corporate elites are qualitatively no different.
Occasionally, there are feeble voices of disagreements also.
What Kiran Mazumdar Shaw – founder of India’s largest biopharmaceutical company Biocon – did was exactly this only. She expressed her indignation about growing religious divide in the country and underlined how it would be detrimental to India’s global leadership in ITBT ( Information Technology and Bio Technology)
Definitely her statement which was couched in ‘economic terms’ was very mild, but it did not stop attacks by right-wing trolls.
The immediate trigger for her decision to speak out might have been the denial of permission to non-Hindu traders to carry on business around temples but the issue was simmering since quite some time.
There were many voices of support as well but none from the community of corporates expressed solidarity with her.
Speak No Evil, See No Evil
This silence by the powerful has nothing exceptional about it.
Would it be apt to say that their dictum for these times has become ‘Speak No Evil, See No Evil and Hear No Evil’
Perhaps Rahul Bajaj’s last public appearance can be seen as a classic example wherein he had asked few tough questions to Amit Shah about mass lynching, glorification of Gandhi’s assassins or the atmosphere of fear in the industry, which was followed by complete silence from Indian Corporate world’s Who’s Who – who had gathered there – as if what the late Bajaj was talking was tale from another planet. (https://thewire.in/government/rahul-bajaj-amit-shah-dissent-pragya-thakur)
Forget larger constitutional issues or social problems, this docility / passivity of these corporate leaders extends to their own personal matters as well.
It was only last year that a magazine close to the ruling establishment made wild allegations against a blue chip company like Infosys and called it ‘anti national’ or accused it of helping ‘naxals, tukde tukde gang’ etc. The mere fact that the Income Tax portal, which the leading blue chip company was managing for the government, faced technical problems for few months, was reason enough for the RSS affiliate to unleash at attack on Infosys.. (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/infosys-with-anti-national-forces-ally-of-tukde-tukde-gang-rss-linked-journal-7489281/)
Around same time Tatas and many leading business houses (https://www.livemint.com/news/india/piyush-goyal-faces-heat-for-criticism-of-businesses-including-tata-11628934780425.html) were branded as not doing enough for national interests, in a public meeting addressed by Piyush Goyal, a close confidant of Modi-Shah.
What happened later was an eye-opener, despite the fact that the charges were baseless and unfounded (-do-) it did not even provoke both the Companies to counter this malafide campaign or send a letter of disapproval to the concerned persons.
With no complaint from the ‘aggrieved party’ the matter just ended at that. .
‘Hum Do, Hamare Do’
One plausible explanation could be that the silence of these corporate elites is grounded in the carrot and stick policy of the ruling dispensation.
Providing special favours to groups ready to fall in line or unleashing the might of various investigation agencies – right from Income Tax, ED to the CBI – against the recalcitrant groups is a known secret at least with this regime.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile to recall how the GMR group – which was once number one in the airport operator group – which managed the highly profitable Mumbai airport as well and was reluctant to hand it over to the Adanis ,was persuaded to do so.
One knows every big corporate group has skeletons in its cupboard and a vindictive government knows very well how to discipline such groups.
It was an apt description by Rahul Gandhi, ex-President of the Congress who openly said in parliament how the Modi-Shah dispensation is a ‘Hum Do – Hamare Do’ govt ; alluding to the big two Corporate houses in the country who have made it really big in recent years..
The metamorphosis of the Adani group from a non-descript entity in early years of 2000 to a global player is lesson worth studying.
How Adani progressed in around two decades is a separate story.
It was only last week that news came in that State Bank of India has underwritten the entire debt requirement of 12,770 crore for the Navi Mumbai International Airport project which is a Adani airport now. ( https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/sbi-underwrites-the-entire-debt-of-12770-crore-of-adanis-navi-mumbai-airport/article65271859.ece )
Unpacking the ‘Corporat-Hindutva Alliance’ what Professor Prabhat Patnaik tell is worth emphasising According to him.”’.[I]n a period in which neo-liberal capitalism has lost its steam, the corporate-financial oligarchy wants an ideological prop different from the one it had used earlier, namely the promise of a high GDP growth and its potentially beneficial effect for all. This no longer suffices when growth slackens. Orienting state policy in favour of this oligarchy and yet preventing any revolt from below requires a discourse shift, which Hindutva provides. This is the basis of the formation of the corporate-Hindutva alliance which currently rules the country.’ (https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/decoding-the-corporate-hindutva-alliance/article29577507.ece)
Biggest versus Strongest Democracy
Silence or docility of the Corporate elites in the biggest democracy in the world can easily be contrasted with that belonging to the strongest Democracy in the world namely USA.
We can recall how the Corporates there resisted Trump’s ‘White Supremacist’ policies in their own ways. An example from the early years of Trump Presidency would suffice.
Flush with victory and rearing to fulfil his agenda of immigration ban on select Muslim majority countries, Trump suddenly announced this ban which created havoc with thousands of people stranded at different airports.
Not to be silenced the Corporate groups there – and their number was not insignificant – challenged this ‘unjust order’.
Right from Airbnb which offered free housing to people affected by the ban (https://www.airbnb.com/weaccept?af=14383374&c=tw_us_gen_brand) to google which created a crisis fund to support imm immigrant-rights organizations (https://www.upworthy.com/15-companies-that-took-bold-stands-against-trumps-immigration-ban), a section of the Corporates preferred to be heard – knowing very well the price it involved.
What happened to Boeing was before them which had to face fall in share prices because of a stand in favour of trade agreements (December 2016) – which was contrary to what Trump envisaged. (-do-)
Can the difference be explained on the basis of the hollowing out of institutions here – which were already not very strong – and the way the ruling dispensation has ruthlessly used them to browbeat political opponents or cover up all its acts of omission and commission?
One also needs to look at the difference of trajectories of similar entities.
As opposed to advanced societies where [f]reemarket thinking and liberalism have gone hand in hand, economic interests are interlocked with interest in the maintenance of cultural hierarchies and the Hindu supremacies that the lynchings claim to defend. ‘
It is rather a sad commentary on the state of affairs here that the Judiciary which offered a ray of hope to the deprived and the persecuted has also not found itself up to the mark. The manner in which the electoral bond issue is lying before it unaddressed since few years, the way it has allowed overnight dissolution of a state and its being turned into union territories etc could be said to be few of the pointers to the state of affairs.
Remember despite its own limitations the American judiciary did give many a sleepless nights to the machinations of Trump who wanted to tinker with it.
The fascination of the Corporate elites towards Modi extends much behind the NDA days.
Perhaps it need to be reminded that in the early years of the second decade, when Modi was CM of Gujarat and UPA was still leading a successful government at the centre, many leading Corporate bosses had readily joined these summits and even wished/ rather proclaimed that Modi will become a PM of India.
Modi’s complete embrace of the Neoliberal model, his open invitation to industrialists to come to Gujarat and a promise to be sensitive towards their concerns, the industrial peace which had been achieved under his regime ( thanks to the repression and coercion of trade union activities) and the rise of a highly polarised society as a culmination of 2002 riots under his watch, as opposed to UPA governments slow rediscovery and retracing of welfare era policies, or its reluctance to giving free play to market forces, including its enactment of the Land bill, which made it difficult for the Corporates to get land, all had enhanced Modi’s popularity among the Corporates.
Perhaps the last clinching thing was the benefits of a polarised society available to the industrialists.
Strategists of capital can envisage very well that possibility of massive protests on issues of hunger, basic survival etc – as a consequence of these Neoliberal policies is always a live thing. People cannot always be fed merely on slogans of a ‘New India’
And any such united struggle by the people can play havoc with the future of the profit making machine inherited, furthered by the Corporate honchoos.
Neighbouring Sri Lanka – once considered a model of Neoliberal path – is facing upheaval of sorts from its own people.
Whether one wants to admit it or not this is a faustian bargain of a different kind where Corporates have been given free rein to make money and Hindutva Supremacists forces / formation are busy spreading their ‘cultural writ’ far and wide.
Subhash Gatade is a social activist