Cronyism is not new. Are we now seeing the politics of business turning into politics of business?

MOdani has entered the political lexicon of India. Rahul Gandhi latest 635503390602977283?s=20">do Adopt this expression already prevalent in your party’s social media Campaign‘Hum Adani ke hain koun’, and the opposition in parliamentary chorus demanding a JPC probe into the Gautam Adani mess.

I can claim a small hand in popularizing this expression Video, social media postsAnd a Article After the Hindenburg revelations. However, I didn’t coin the term. I heard it for the first time from my friend, farmer activist and socialist leader Dr. Sunilam from Madhya Pradesh, who has been using it for a few years. Congress Seva Dal President Laljibhai Desai and my fellow traveler during the Bharat Jodo Yatra told me that he had coined the term when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Thankfully, the folk songs and political slogans have remained ‘copyleft’.

Modani is a slogan, a clever word-play, a political weapon to help shift the attention of the opposition from a personal and unqualified attack on the PM to scathing criticism of his alleged nexus with big business. Summing up Modi and Adani in the same word is a brilliant rhetorical device to establish the closeness they clearly enjoy. In a political culture sensitive to accusations of ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ (and for an earlier generation, ‘Tata Birla ki sarkar’), this could be the masterstroke the opposition has been waiting for.

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Modani as a concept

Modani is not just a slang word. It is at least potentially a political concept that describes and analyzes what it criticizes. The concept names the latest phase in the political economy of India, the distinctive diversity of the relationship between economic and political power that characterizes the current government. Its applicability is beyond the Central Government. This helps us to understand the political-business nexus developing at the state level. I doubt it can surpass Modi and Adani. This concept is here to stay and deserves an expansion.

First things first: There is nothing new about the nexus between business and politics in India. It goes back to the beginning of Indian democracy, or even earlier if you look at the history of our freedom struggle. The first decade of our democratic polity was marred by major political scandals involving secret links between political leaders and businessmen. From the fall of former Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon and the low-profile Nagarwala scandal to Bofors, 2G and Rafale, allegations of corruption linked to the nexus between business and politics have been a bedrock of Indian politics.

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Business-politics relations enter a complex phase

A recent academic volume, business and politics in india, edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, Atul Kohli and Kanta Murali, helps us understand how the relationship has changed over the years. The various essays in this book track the changes in this regard across time, states and regions. The editors describe the period leading up to the 1990s as a phase where businesses exercised a ‘selective veto’ on matters directly related to their business interests in political decision-making. After liberalization in 1991, we entered the second phase, where the influence of trade extended to the ‘general agenda setting’ of the country’s policies.

These scholars conclude that the business-politics relationship has entered an even deeper phase with Modi coming to power in 2014. They characterize this as a phase where business exercises ‘partial hegemony’ over government policies and party politics.

I would suggest an improvement here. ‘Hegemony’, full or partial, revives the old Marxist notion of the state dancing at the behest of its capitalist masters. This image fails to recognize the autonomy and primacy of politics, even when it is linked to big business. Modani isn’t just a catchy name for this latest phase, It also recognizes the importance of political power in this regard.

Let us look into some of the features of this Modani model. First, this stage represents an open and direct engagement between political leaders and businessmen. This is in stark contrast to the hypocrisy of the so-called socialist state (there was none, never was) when relations with businessmen were kept out of public glare. Big business is now openly seen as a stakeholder not only in economic policy in the region concerned but also in industries such as health, education and agriculture, which was unimaginable in the past.

When Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, the pictures of him flying with Adani represent a sea change in our public culture. The change is equally visible in state politics, especially among the wealthy in the South and West.

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A Select Pro-Business Transition

Second, the Modani model represents a shift from pro-market policies to selective pro-business politics. Pro-market policies have become a point of convergence for all governments since the 1990s, including the United Front, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). There were serious allegations of selective pro-business bias in these policies. Still, as Ashutosh Varshney notesThe latest phase of selective promotion by some business houses represents a qualitative change.

Pranab Bardhan, an astute scholar of India’s political economy, characteristic of It is in the form of crony-oligarchic capitalism which is against the spirit of open market competition. writer Harish Damodaran Call This is “collective capitalism”.

According to Bardhan, India is now a “low-productivity oligarchy-autocratic economy”. During this phase, India has not produced a true global champion who can compete in the international market. Most crony oligarchs in this latest phase operate primarily in non-traded goods or highly regulated ‘rent-thick’ sectors. Political patronage helps protect them from external competition in the name of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. It also supports them to eliminate domestic competition. This new model of capitalism is not just working against the poor; This works against the logic of free competition in an open market economy.

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Rise of a sharp new inequality

The third feature is the rapid growth of a new kind of inequality. Needless to say, capitalism does not pride itself on equality, nor are we a country that can claim to practice equality, be it gender or caste or class. Recent world inequality report and Oxfam reports A fresh reminder of the extent of growing inequality in our country.

The Modani model has institutionalized inequality in a new way. To fall back on Bardhan, our kind of inequality generates a “Latin American-style ‘conclave economy’ where a limited sector caters to a wealthy elite seeking relatively capital-intensive and skill-intensive goods”. , while much of the general economy suffers. From insufficient demand and underutilization of capacity, and thus less aggregate investment and employment. Recently, Viral Acharya, former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, drew Attention For the role of the Big Five—Reliance, Tata, Birla, Adani and Bharti—in charging artificially high prices and driving up inflation. This form of inequality also comes in the way of the economic growth that a capitalist economy seeks to achieve.

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Exposing ‘environmentally illiterate’ processes

Fourth, the Modani model is about a new kind of systematic short-circuit of political patronage and environmental clearances. It is no secret that despite its rhetoric on the environment and occasional greenwashing (especially on solar power, mainly in favor of Adani), this government has systematically dismantled many environmental safeguards – From land acquisition to coastal regulation to forest rights – that last four decades.

Country’s leading environmental activist Ashish Kothari holds the present government responsible for this. free “Environmentally illiterate processes”. India was ranked 155 in 2014th (out of 178) in a global environmental protection index. Thanks to modani model, now we are at the bottom, 180th out of 180 latest ranking In 2022. Our performance has dropped on each indicator,

Finally, all this does not make the Indian state a weak state, as Marxist theory would have us believe. For a better understanding of political economy under Modi, we should read Karl Marx’s own thoughts on the European emperor Louis Bonaparte, rather than the stylistic theories of the state propounded by Marx’s followers. Collusion with business does not make Modi a weak ruler. We are witnessing the rise of a strong, extractive, mercenary politics that dominates the capitalist class rather than subdue them.

The Modani model calls for a new theory of a state that is simultaneously powerful and weak – powerful in its protection and punishment but weak in its regulatory capacity – and of political power that is more autonomous and separate from the bourgeoisie than before. be more closely related. first imagined.

There is a fundamental contradiction in capitalist democracy: democracy pushes for political equality while a capitalist economy pulls it in the opposite direction. The Modani model brings this carefully hidden contradiction to the fore in sharp relief. Are ‘democratic’ politics now a mechanism to secure majority support for a regime that primarily works for a small minority?

Yogendra Yadav is one of the founders of Jai Kisan Andolan and Swaraj India. He tweeted @_YogendraYadav. Thoughts are personal.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)