Ever too clever by half, he believes common decency is beneath him. In the event, common sense has taken leave of him.

Bombay Stock                      

When, in July, 2021 Father Stan Swamy succumbed to the combined depredations of a venal State machine and a depraved judicial system,  Jaithirth Rao wrote a column in an online newsmagazine which bore a title that to many seemed extraordinary, given the events leading up to the death. ‘Marxist Jesuits are not for Tribal Welfare. India and Indian Catholics both must realise that’ – screamed the caption. I, for one, was not unaware of the stable Rao came out of, of course, and yet I couldn’t help marvelling at the pettiness those two sentences were dripping with. Couldn’t Rao, the true-blue sophisticate, think of a slightly less in-your-face manner of celebrating the death of a frail eighty-four-year old man who was so infirm he needed a sipper – which the benevolent Indian State had so diligently, conscientiously denied him – to drink his tea with? ‘As an external admirer of conservative traditions in the Catholic Church’ – Rao’s own words – surely it was not beyond him to spare a few words of regret at the passing of a decrepit old  — albeit misguided –Jesuit priest who, whatever his other failings,  had  lived his life working with poor tribal communities, clearly not  aspiring to join the well-heeled club of the best and the brightest himself? –But, then, we are being distinctly unfair to righteous Rao here. For, “while publicly donning the robes of supporters, helpers and padrones of the supposedly helpless tribal people”, men like Father Stan Swamy were in fact acting to promote “violent materialism” in Adivasi settlements. Their “so-called help” to those communities was in fact nothing but “a euphemism for manipulation”. “To manipulate tribals and set them up against a powerful State ….. may end up being the most cynical, sordid and dangerous of approaches”. “…Christianity, one of the most spiritually informed religious traditions of the world, can (scarcely) make friends with a violent, atheist, materialist cult”. Indeed, the mission of these ‘liberation theologians” was  to keep — by way of an ungodly mishmash of Christian theology and ‘revolutionary Marxism’ – “the Adivasis worked up with real and imaginary grievances and challenging the Indian State as well as Hindu society”. (Emphasis added.)

That ‘as well as’ is clearly somewhat disingenuous: in Rao’s mind, ‘Hindu society’ is what makes up ‘the Indian State’. If you think this is a stretch, read this: “(Liberation theologians) have to posit the existence of a wicked Hindu, male, hegemonic order that should be overthrown in the revolution that is just round the corner”. You may wonder how a learned discourse around a vile ‘materialist cult’ can suddenly transmogrify into a litany of the injuries done to the high-minded Hindu male. Indeed, but for Rao’s effortless conflating of the country with ‘Hindu society’, how would the interpolation of the (supposedly) unjustly reviled Hindu male into a sermon on the evils of ‘violent materialism’ hold up? If you are still not so sure, look at the message enshrined in the very title of Rao’s article: India and Indian Catholics both must realise that Marxist Jesuits are not for tribal welfare. Obviously, Indian Catholics are not integral to India, for they are at a certain remove from the ‘heart’ of the country which happens to throb to the chant of the real Indian faith, which without a shadow of doubt is the one that Hindus hold dear.

But even more than the virtuous Hindu male, Rao is concerned about the insults heaped by the likes of Stan Swamy upon lily-white ‘market capitalism’. ‘Liberation theologians’ of Swamy’s ilk “are looking for an alternative to market capitalism (how very vile of them!) and reject the position that this economic system has done the best job with respect to poverty reduction”. So Rao’s real problem with Father Stan Swamy seems to be that, rather than being “happy looking to the spiritual needs of their kinfolk and focusing on old-fashioned parish work… (men like him) move away from their home states and turn up in tribal tracts, in order to work on the political consciousness of the people there and guide them towards the new Christian theology that resembles revolutionary Marxism”. –So, finally the neo-conservative comes into his element here. He makes it plain that he will not quietly suffer the challengers of the free market; indeed, that he will uncover the shenanigans of those unholy market disputers with vigour and without relent, and do so with even greater fervour if the contesters happen to be religious pretenders into the bargain.

Indeed, the neo-con and the market fetishist are not only two fully fungible categories – one is really the other’s obverse. And that’s why Rao’s choicest expletives make no distinction between left-wingers and market sceptics.  Last week, on his favourite online platform once again, when he mounted a spirited assault on all the doubters of the current Indian regime’s record of fiscal management, Rao’s gush of fury and vitriol was breath-taking in its intensity.  In ‘Sri Lanka-type abyss in India? It’s a fantasy of the Left that can only be dismissed’, Rao grandly tells his readers why he refuses to call the Indian Left, ‘left-liberal intellectuals’: these blokes, he reminds us, are not only not liberal, they “are far from being intellectual” also.  He therefore calls them ‘lefties’, and is willing to accord them as much respect as an inveterate vegetarian reserves for a three-month-stale mackerel. His antipathy towards the Left is so visceral that he even calls President Biden a ‘lefty” who “has penalised fracking and closed pipelines, has created problems for itself and the whole world”. No question that anyone a touch less perverse than Donald Trump is a lefty in Rao’s books. No question also that the Biden administration’s  reluctance to be at the beck and call of the fossil fuel industry shows him up, in Rao’s eyes, as a numbskull capable of nothing better than pettifoggery. And if Rao’s tirade against even the administration’s admittedly tame efforts at moderating climate change demonstrates anything, it is this: that the neo-con is pathologically incapable of enthusing over anything other than profits.

So, Rao is “a tad happy (why only a tad, one wonders!) that I live in a country where lefties, who are enormously influential elsewhere, and who used to be influential here also, are being ignored”. What is it that so warms the cockles of Rao’s heart? “Thank God she (Nirmala Sitharaman) did not listen to them” when they advocated greater government spending when the Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging ordinary people’s livelihoods and lives. Of course, Rao, the finance whiz-kid, doesn’t consider it necessary to argue his case, or even to tell his unskilled readers how spending more money during 2020-21 might perhaps have sent India hurtling down the abyss. Why should he have to make his case, pray? Aren’t his words good enough and more? So, he asserts with perfect conviction that “India’s sobriety and balanced approach …. ranks as one of the better national economic policies anywhere in the world.” Again, “RBI has, on balance, been quite sensible, smart and admirably transparent”. No comparison with any other national economy, any other Central bank, is offered, no stats cited – because none of that is necessary when the Oracle speaks.  – Jathirth Rao’s article of 25 July 2022 is a masterclass in sweet conceit and (un)deserved immodesty.

But what in the lefties’ behaviour in the present context so irks Rao? Presumably, their distrust of the all-healing talents of the Market that every sensible guy everywhere in the world loves to  worship. “Much as lefties may not like financialisation, trust me markets are pretty accurate predictors of coming events”. Well, of course. Who doesn’t remember the great IL&FS saga which is not quite four years old yet? Till August 2018, two of India’s three top-drawer credit rating companies continued to award to the company’s borrowings – both the short-term as well as the long-term ones – close to the highest possible rating grades, making it possible for IL&FS to rake in more cash by way of fresh loans and market debt, even as it had started defaulting on a few maturing liabilities in the existing portfolio already. In other words, the market, the All-Knowing Godhead, continued to behave  as though all was well within a company whose management had virtually hollowed it out by then. Yet, within the month of confirming those juicy credit ratings, the same agencies scaled the same ratings down by 8 or 9 notches at one go – to junk grades. And then there was the deluge. “Accurate predictor of coming events”, indeed! And we are not even turning to still more humongous failures of market intelligence which lie well within recent memory – the ENRON disaster, for example, or India’s very own Satyam fiasco. In all such cases, the market never predicted the real outcomes – it covered them up very diligently. Indeed, the great market  meltdown of 2008-09 had happened precisely because the market had wilfully blind-folded itself, so that all intimations of an Armageddon were cheerfully decrypted as good tidings.

The other nuggets of wisdom this great apostle of the Market dispenses are speculative at best, for example the fiat that to say that a weak rupee may lead to inflation “is a joke”. Another formidable fiat: “A weak rupee is good. All countries that have had good growth rates have maintained undervalued currencies”. No need is felt to qualify, or even to elaborate upon, it. Paasche and Laspeyres indices are grandly mentioned, but not explained, probably because every lay reader needs to be ‘well acquainted’ with these concepts at a minimum. Rao enjoins upon the Finance Minster to not lower taxes on petroleum products, because to do so would again be embracing a ‘misguided approach to inflation’. Extraordinarily in this discussion, there is not even a nod to the plight of the masses of ordinary Indians today who are perforce skipping meals, skimping on all but the very basic necessities, and are taking kids out of school. Poor, unwashed Indians are not even mentioned, no doubt because the market evangelist has no use for them. It is important to remember that Rao went to Chicago – the haven for market fundamentalists of the Milton Friedman kind – for his degree. Can we afford to forget how, after the abomination of the 1973 Chilean coup financed and orchestrated by the CIA – Friedman’s disciples laid waste to the Chilean economy in a matter of only a few years, so that Chile turned soon into one of the world’s most unequal societies? Thank god Chile is now slowly, painfully emerging out of that obscene morass of cynicism and hopelessness.

Convictions aside, one suspects Rao is not above being economical with the truth either. One would like to be enlightened on his source when he claims that the lefties’ “hero Comrade Lenin believed in deliberately exacerbating crises in order to discredit the bourgeois State”. Or maybe like macroeconomic theory, history too can today do with axioms rather than explication? After all, haven’t we decided that India is now ripe for the rewriting of history?

Anjan Basu writes about culture and the politics of culture. He can be reached at basuanjan52@gmail.com


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