While these line are being written, in continuation of the BJP-CPI (M) joint meeting in solidarity with Adani, the CPI (M) led Kerala government has given its green signal before the High Court of Kerala for the deployment of Central Forces at Vizhinjam to safeguard the corporate interests of Adani, biggest Indian corporate and world’s third richest according to Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List. For the past four-and-a-half months, Adani’s corporate empire is confronting one of the biggest militant oppositions at Vizhinjam against the superimposition of an ecologically unsustainable, socially devastating and economically unviable Port that is leading to the total destruction of the livelihoods and habitat of the fisherfolk who are among the most oppressed and marginalized communities in Kerala. In the agitation that continues without any let up, more than 3000 fisherfolk are already booked under various charges of nonbailable offenses.
Of course, as far as Kerala’s Pinarayi government, CPI(M)’s remaining bastion, is concerned, this facilitating role in respect of corporate-saffron interests is not at all new. During its first term ending 2021 itself, the Pinarayi government in Kerala has registered 145 UAPA cases and in the process had already laid red carpet for the entry of NIA also to the State. Revealingly, while all chief ministers of opposition-ruled states holding home/police portfolio, abstained from the ‘Chintan Shivir’ held by Union home minister Amit Shah during the last week of October 2022 that called for a pan-Indian policing and opening of NIA office in each state in violation of the Federal provisions of the Constitution, along with Mann, chief minister of Punjab representing AAP which claims to be more committed to the Hindutva agenda than BJP, Pinarayi, the CPI(M) chief minister of Kerala was the only one who attended it.
For, being mired in the irreversible neoliberal track, and following a consecutive victory in the 2021 Kerala Assembly election, it has become well-nigh impossible for CPI (M) to study lessons from its disgraceful political debacle in Bengal. There have been a series of corruption scandals during Pinarayi’s first term in 2016-21 on account of the intensification of neoliberal-corporatisation and the consequent penetration of crony capitalists and multinational consultancies even into the office of the chief minister. Still, taking advantage of the organisational weakness of the Congress-led opposition and backed by a whole set of pro- Hindutva forces supporting BJP/RSS’s slogan of “Congress-mukht Bharat” together with whole-hearted support of corporate media, it was easy for Pinarayi to continue for a second term with a thumbing majority. And immediately after taking charge as chief minister, Pinarayi, reiterated his government’s unequivocal commitment to fulfil the unfinished task in respect of “ease of doing business” for corporate capital appropriately managing all impediments, especially, opposition from labour and environmental movements. It implied a no holds barred further integration with corporate MNCs and global consultancies such as PwC and KPMG during his second term.
Adani’s Vizhinjam Port
The vizhinjam issue which has become one of the core political questions in Kerala today is to be situated in this context. The Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport, entrusted with Adani, is the first Mega Trans-Shipment Container Terminal in India. Being built by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) at a cost of Rs. 7,525 crore (Rs. 5071 crore by State government and Rs. 2454 crore by Adani) under PPP model to be developed on design, build, finance, operate and transfer (DBFOT) model, it was formally begun on December 5, 2015 under the Congress-led Oommen Chandy government. Like other PPP projects, here too, two-thirds of the costs are to be borne by government and the whole profit from the project will go to Gautam Adani for 40 years though his cost-sharing comes to only one-third, for which he can take loans from public sector banks on the basis of mere goodwill, which as usual shall form part of NPAs created by leading crony capitalists in India. Adani will also get an amount of Rs.1685 crore as grant from both centre and state governments in addition to 500 acres of land surrounding the project site worth around Rs. 5000 crore which can be used for real estate businesses. It was in this context that in 2015 Adani claimed that the port would start its operations on September 1, 2018, in a “record time” of less than 1,000 days.
In 2015, CPI (M) was in opposition, and as usual, led by its leader Pinaryi Vijayan, it vehemently opposed the project alleging Rs. 6000 crore corruption deal between Adani and the Oommen Chandy regime, together with highlighting the unviable and unsustainable economic and ecological issues involved over and above that connected with the loss of livelihood and survival of the oppressed fisher community in and around Vizhinjam. During the 2016 election, among other things, rhetoric against Adani project along with anti-corporate populist slogans were profusely used by the CPI(M) led LDF to hoodwink people and win the election. But once in power, true to its class character, the depoliticised CPI (M) in Kerala which has totally degenerated to ruling class positions, became the staunchest proponent of “dream projects” such as Adani Port and K-Rail, the latter being aborted and abandoned after inflicting much repression and police atrocities on the people.
Meanwhile, in May 2017 when Pinarayi completed one year in office, the CAG Report placed in the Kerala Assembly raised many serious questions regarding the upcoming Adani project. Among other things, the most important were: when the project is completed as envisaged in the contract, Adani will reap a huge profit of around Rs. 80000 crore while the whole burden will fall on the shoulders of state government; while the contract period for PPP projects in general is 30 years, that granted for Adani Port is 40 years which alone will result in Adani gaining an additional Rs. 29217 crore; due to the provision incorporated in the contract for its further extension to another 20 years, the possibility of Adani appropriating an excess profit of Rs. 61095 crore is still there; the Kerala government that bears 67 percent of the total cost will be getting even nominal revenue that too only from the year 2031 onward; and Adani has been given right to pledge the entire project assets to creditors, etc. In brief, according to the CAG, the “state’s interests were not protected while signing the agreement and there were lapses.”
However, to overcome the CAG report and making the Constitutional system a mockery, the Pinarayi government, based on a consensus in the Assembly among CPI (M), Congress and BJP, appointed a judicial commission headed by Justice Rmachandran Nair. The Commission appointed under the Commissions of Enquiry Act in its nearly 100-page report totally whitewashed the contract. However, while accepting the report, the Pinarayi government also stressed that the delay on the part of Adani to complete the first phase of the project by December 2019 could result in the company paying Rs.12 lakh as penalty per day. But this was a diversionary tactic to cool down people’s simmering discontent against Adani, as even now, i.e., as on December 2022, only less than one-third of the project is reportedly completed and to this day no penalty was imposed on Adani.
For instance, while the government without any qualms claims on 70% completion of the project, as per details based on Right to Information as on October 2022, only 18% of the container yard, 33% each of the dredging and breakwater structure protecting harbour from tides and 34% of the installation components are completed. However, the devastation on the livelihoods and survival of the fisher-people has become so horrific even at this preliminary stage of construction. Many people who are already displaced on account of the unscientific construction are dumped in go-downs and schools, and in spite of erstwhile assurances from rooftops, the government has no proper plan to rehabilitate them, nor there is no scheme to provide sustenance or minimum income for those who have lost jobs. And the Pinarayi government is not yet ready to have a proper environment impact study with the mandatory involvement of the victims. As a matter of fact, the disastrous consequences of the port such as financial unviability, ecological devastation and loss of livelihood and habitat of the fisher community, etc. which were repeatedly pointed out even by experts from the Ministry of Environment were purposefully ignored or covered up by both central and state regimes in their eagerness to serve Adani who alone participated in the final tender.
Development as the “Absolute Principle”
Today ‘development’ is an ideological weapon in the hands of neo-fascists and corporates not only to suppress the working class and oppressed, but also to hoodwink the people and to win over a section of the intelligentsia to the side of corporates. Obviously, those self-professed Marxists who pursue the pragmatic approach of development as the key strategy for social advancement could also be seen in the bandwagon of those for whom development is an absolute principle. For them, development propped up by corporate capital and neoliberal market forces is at the centre of all political endeavours which also acts as a means to achieve legitimacy and acceptance in the political sphere. Successful accomplishment of this mainstream paradigm of development also calls for the effective utilisation of external sources of funds and market forces together with dependence neoliberal corporate centres. Both super-exploitation of labour and plunder of nature by most reactionary corporate capital facilitated through a whole set of “investor-friendly” deregulation and liberalisation in labour, tax and environmental laws have become the hall-mark of this neoliberal development.
The Pinarayi regime in Kerala is an ardent protagonist of this mainstream development paradigm. Like the corporate-saffron fascist central regime, it also has no qualms to characterise those who criticise the official development prognosis as “anti-nationals” and even “terrorists”. Pinarayi Vijayan had even threatened to impose State’s Goonda Act on those who oppose his pet development projects. Within a few days of his ascendance to power in mid-2016, he had appointed Gita Gopinath, the Harvard neoliberal economist, who later elevated to the position of Chief Economist of IMF, as his economic advisor. KPMG, one among the “big four” multinational consultancies (which is also a consultant to IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and ADB) was entrusted with the task of preparing a blueprint in consonance with the implementation of “ease of doing business” in Kerala.
This was followed by a series of neoliberal initiatives on the part of the state government. The 1999 KIIB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) Act was amended to transform it as a “super-cabinet” or a corporate-bureaucratic super-body capable of taking policy decisions pertaining to development independent of legislative control. To speed up the corporate-facilitation, the CEO of this corporate entity was given even additional charge as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister. It was entrusted with the task of mobilising investment funds through “Masala Bonds” from global corporate financiers, and for laying red carpet for the unfettered entry of foreign capital into Kerala. On May17, 2019 Pinarayi even went to London Stock Exchange (the only Chief Minister in India credited with this neoliberal role) for inaugurating the issuing ceremony of Masala Bonds floated by KIIFB.
When Modi regime through a midnight session of the parliament in June 2017 superimposed the neoliberal GST that took away States’ Constitutional/Federal right of resource mobilisation that ultimately pushed them into unresolvable financial crisis and curtailed the scope of even state budgets altogether, Pinarayi government became its biggest proponent and was the first among the Indian states to uphold it. This led to an abrupt collapse of Kerala’s tax revenue and an acute resource crunch for the State. Following CPI(M)’s embrace of the neoliberal, pro-corporate GST, Kerala’s total accumulated state domestic debt since state formation in 1956 that stood around Rs. 1.5 lakh crore in 2016 had more than doubled within a span of just five years reaching the staggering figure of around Rs. 3.5 lakh crore by the beginning of 2021 when Pinarayi regime completed its first term. The resulting fiscal crisis is being used as a convenient justification for Pinarayi government’s increased dependence on neo-colonial financial institutions such as World Bank, ADB, AIIB as well as on other global speculative-financial sources like bond markets, subjecting the state to far-right neoliberal conditionalities as dictated by global creditors and financial speculators.
In the guise of development and infrastructure growth, since 2016 the CPI (M) led LDF has unleashed a number “dream projects” — airport, highways, deep-sea fishing, high-speed rail, industrial corridors, etc.– led by private-corporate capital on PPP basis whose essence, as already noted, is super-exploitation of workers and unprecedented corporate plunder of nature. As the most favoured method of accumulation by corporates under neoliberalism today, in Kerala the PPP model ‘development’ is resulting in horrific levels of wealth appropriation by corporates on the one hand, and unprecedented pauperisation of the toiling masses, displacement of the people from their habitat, catastrophic impact on ecology including flooding and frequent landslides along western ghats, coastal erosion, and so on leading to further marginalisation of the oppressed and vulnerable communities.
Corporatisation Paves the Way for Saffronisation
Today, the landless oppressed sections in Kerala society such as dalits, adivasis and fisher-people, who were already driven to the peripheries of society on account of the much trumpeted land reforms of the EMS ministry during 1957-59, have become all the more vulnerable due to this super-imposed development amidst government’s sermons on their empowerment. And the over-enthusiasm on the part of the CPI (M) led government to transform Kerala into a hub of corporate financiers has paved the for free entry of corporate agents and multinational consultancies into the corridors of power including the office of the chief minister leading to many allegations that opened up new avenues for Modi regime to unleash central enforcement and investigative agencies in Kerala and against senior bureaucrats and ministers during Pinarayi regime’s first term itself.
The far-right neoliberal orientation pertaining to economic policies on the part of the Pinarayi government, in tandem with the merger between the most reactionary corporate capital and Manuvadi Hindutva at the central level today has its logical political ramifications in Kerala too. For instance, firmly upholding the CPI (M) Central Committee Resolution of November4, 1990 calling for a 10 percent Economic Reservation in government jobs, the Pinarayi government was the first among Indian states to enforce 10 percent economic reservation in government jobs — a long-cherished demand on the part of the upper caste Hindus (mainly Nairs in Kerala) and elite Syrian Christians — undermining the Constitutionally mandated caste-based reservation. Obviously, the unholy partnership between Pinarayi-led CPI (M) and the anti-communist and communal Kerala Congress (the party of the elite Syrian Christians) with the latter being ingeniously inducted as a LDF coalition partner on the eve of 2021 Assembly election, pushing the UDF on the defensive in the electoral politics should be seen as part of this strategy. Obviously, the concerted campaign on Islamophobia and “love jihad” unleashed by Sanghi-Christian (Chrisanghi) elites in Kerala and CPI (M)’s tacit support to it with a view to consolidating upper caste Hindu-Christian votes, etc., no doubt, are ultimately serving broader corporate-saffron fascist agenda in the state.
Under Pinarayi regime, Kerala also witnessed a steady process of saffronisation of the administration and police force as effective tools for suppressing people’s struggles and dealing with political opposition. For instance, Kerala had no history of “fake encounter killings” after the 1970s till the ascendance of the Pinarayi regime in mid-2016. Despite Kerala not having any “Maoist threat”, in gross disregard of ‘rule of law’, police under Pinarayi government committed eight cold-blooded murders through fake encounters. As against CPI (M)’s declared opposition to the draconian UAPA, Pinarayi government had no hesitation to impose it even on CPI (M)’s own student activists for allegedly holding, ‘Maoist’ pamphlets, even when there is ruling by the Supreme Court that possessing such literature is not at all a crime. Custodial deaths and lock-up tortures have also become frequent and no course-correction was there on this by Home ministry headed by Pinarayi. On the other hand, the regime had two attempts to give extra-ordinary powers to police: first was to put police above civilian administration through the establishment of Police Commissionerates; second was the move towards Police Act Amendment. On both occasions, the chief minister had to withdraw the moves mainly on account of stiff opposition from leaders of CPI (the second main partner in LDF), the latter even going to the extent of characterising Pinarayi as “dhoti-clad Modi” at that time, even while playing second fiddle to his neoliberal offensives.
In the background of CPI (M)’s debacle in West Bengal where it led the government for 34 years till 2011, many well-meaning people thought that the CPI (M) would study lessons from its Bengal experience. It is only a wishful thinking as a party subjected to the laws of motion or logic of corporatisation/saffronisation and hence depoliticised in the process has no escape from it. Even now, as per reports coming from Bengal, at several levels, even in these dark days when Saffron-fascism is on its biggest offensive, there is overt and covert understanding and cooperation between both CPI (M) and BJP at many levels. For instance, in the recent cooperative elections in east-Midnapur, where Nandigram, CPI(M)’s ‘waterloo’ is situated, under the cover of Save Cooperative Platform (Samabay Bachao Manch), a flourishing alliance between both has been there. Like the CPI (M) in Bengal that is reluctant to designate RSS-led BJP, instead of TMC, as the principal enemy, CPI (M)’s Kerala unit led by Pinarayi, has also been pursuing a ‘soft approach’ to the corporate-saffron fascist forces.
The Bengal debacle of CPI (M) was not an overnight development. Among many factors including affinity to upper caste elitism, the most important was CPI (M)’s ideological-political bankruptcy arising from its adherence to neoliberal corporatisation culminating in the 2007 Singur-Nandigram police firing and massacres. As is widely discussed, when Rao-Manmohan team initiated neoliberal-globalisation in the 1990s, it was Jyoti Basu, the then CPI (M) chief minister of West Bengal who came forward as its wholehearted proponent. It was on account of this uncompromising commitment to corporate capital, that he was offered prime ministership during the ruling-class political crisis of the mid-1990s. By the end of the 1990s when Vajpayee government laid the foundation for GST, the biggest neoliberal tax-reform as part of the beginning of the ‘second generation of globalisation’ in India, Asim Das Gupta, the finance minister of Basu was appointed as the chairman of the Empowered Committee in charge of fulfilling that task. Without much elaboration, suffice it to say that the final political outcome of this neoliberal trajectory has been its great defeat in 2011 and eventual decline and downfall since then in the absence of an alternative political perspective to corporate fascism.
Fascism and Social Democracy as “Twin Brothers”?
Without much elaboration, coming to CPI (M)’s de-politicisation and degeneration to ruling class politics and its further decay as associates of corporate- saffron fascism are all to be located in a broader historical perspective. Of course, since the time of Comintern (Communist International), CPI (M) like parties who had gone over to the side of financial oligarchy after betraying the working class and oppressed have been characterised as Social Democrats in Marxist parlance. When the most reactionary and terrorist elements of finance capital resorted to fascism during the interwar period, fascists in Europe could also be seen relying on the active support of Social Democracy.
At that time, vehemently attacking the affinity of many self-professed communist parties towards the fascist financial oligarchy in power, leaders of the Comintern used to describe fascism and social democracy as “twin brothers”, arguing that ‘fascism depends on the active support of social democracy and that social democracy depends on the active support of fascism’. Often Social Democracy was interpreted as “moderate wing of fascism”. When Social Democratic parties took a position of openly supporting fascists towards the second half of the 1920s, the Sixth Congress of the Comintern held in 1928 even went to the extent of branding them as “Social Fascists”.
Therefore, saffron-fascist forces in India allying with social democratic parties like CPI (M) and vice versa in the neo-fascist context is not a new phenomenon, as it is a historical fact amply proved during the dark days of classical fascism in Europe. Of course, the material basis of fascism or neo-fascism (i.e., fascism under neo-liberalism) is the tyranny of corporate capital which may use any reactionary, racial, chauvinistic, revivalist, religious fundamentalist, xenophobic and obscurantist ideology as its political-ideological depending on the concrete historical context of countries. For instance, today neo-fascism effectively utilises Evangelism in the Americas, Political Islam in West Asia, Zionism in Israel, Hindutva in India, Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar as its ideology.
Ironically, when RSS, the longest-running and biggest fascist organisation, through its political tool BJP, and merging itself with most reactionary corporate capital, is holding the reins of power and controls the entire macro and micro sphere of social life, according to CPI (M), as outlined in its latest documents, fascism is yet to come to India though “symptoms of fascism” are there. This approach on the part of CPI (M) to wait for fascism that is yet to come to India is politically suited to it, as it is also implementing same very same far-right neoliberal policies wherever and whenever they are in power. Today Kerala is witnessing its concrete manifestations.
In spite of a heroic history of renaissance and social reform movements together with Left advancement in the yester years, today Kerala, like the other parts of India is going through a critical phase in its history. A progressive-democratic political stream capable to put forward a people’s alternative to neoliberalism and saffron-fascist offensive is still weak in Kerala. Kerala context is more vulnerable compared to neighbouring Tamil Nadu where a powerful regional ruling class party capable to challenge the fascists is there. On the other hand, the objective situation created by the weakness of the ruling class opposition led by Congress is convenient for the depoliticised Kerala CPI (M) to pursue neoliberal corporatisation even allying itself with the saffron fascists. In this critical situation, it is high time on the part of all Left, progressive, democratic, struggling forces, to go for a resolute ideological-political campaign and take up the political-organisational steps based on a minimum program against corporate-saffron fascism and its actual implementers in Kerala, the CPI (M) led Pinarayi regime. Such an initiative shall enthuse all working and oppressed peoples including women, anti-caste, secular and democratic forces to rally round for a people’s sustainable development alternative in harmony with nature too.
P J James is general secretary of CPI ML (Red Star)