Monday, August 14, 2017

A Toxic Punch of Market and the 'Political'

Satyaki Roy


We are in the midst of a change. India has adopted GST in whatsoever diluted version it may be, it is considered to be the biggest tax reform in post-Independent India.  At midnight the Prime Minister of India invokes a different tryst with destiny this time: it is not the old India awaking to life and freedom as the world sleeps but a new one which awakes to the cause of unbridled uniform market, the nation subsumes freedom and life to the destiny of free market. Milton Friedman the 1976 Nobel prize winner in his 'Free to Choose' describes  how market coordinates society without any central authority and argues that market outcomes are independent of gender, class, race and religion of the transacting parties: 'When you buy your pencil or daily bread you don't know whether the pencil was made or the wheat was grown by a white man or a black man by a Chinese or an Indian. As a result the price mechanism enables people to cooperate peacefully in one phase of their life while each one goes about his own business in respect of everything else'. Friedman's market however didn't remain untouched from the 'business in respect of everything else'. We have market but also there is a process of defining the 'political'.

How does GST go with cow vigilantism? How can one reconcile the fact that last year's Economic Survey identifies leather industry as one of the prospective candidate for India's export growth and on the other hand this is the industry along with its peripherals in the rural economy has been badly hit by cow vigilantes in the recent past. Why is it so that the authority in the JNU wants to brew nationalism in the university by installing an army tank while the defence ministry of India allows hundred per cent  foreign direct investment in the defence industry. And in the midst of all these uncomfortable questions if you dare to be confused your love for the nation fails the litmus test. Remember when the liberals and intellectuals, critics and skeptics, oppressed and dissenters are unable to uphold the cause of redefining India's nationalism the national flag would be appropriated by kawaris who can save this country from the evils of secularism!

Despite the fact that these contradictions exist howsoever erratic they might appear to be they are not incongruous. Liberals of the world were busy liberating the market. The freedom of individual in this case is located in the neutrality of market and any intervention on the part of the state is an irritant in the free flow of goods and services. Human beings should be free to compete with each other and the neoliberal state intervenes to create the 'market society'. The society seems to be subsumed within the economy which is the sphere of exchange and the state is identified with the 'political'. The depoliticisation of the society in course of liberalism and the failure to make a distinction between the economic sphere and the 'political' was the key critique of liberalism as propounded by the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in his highly controversial work The Concept of the Political. Schmitt was a prominent legal scholar in post-World War I Germany and one of the leading theorists during the Weimar period. He joined the Nazi Party in 1933 along with Martin Heidegger and  became a defender of the Nazi regime. But his concept of 'political' drew attention across political spectrum from the extreme right on the one hand and the French and Italian left on the other hand.

One needs to distinguish 'politics' from 'political' and identifying 'political' with something pertaining to the state is utterly mistaken notion. According to Schmitt " Let us assume that in the realm of morality the final distinctions are between good and evil, in aesthetics beautiful and ugly, in economics profitable and unprofitable. The question then is whether there is also a special distinction which can serve as a simple criterion of the political and of what it consists and as such can speak clearly for itself. The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy confused with or mistaken for others." The 'political' therefore is the providence of identifying enemy and friend and this distinction need not have to be derived from moral, aesthetic, economic or other distinctions. Nonetheless conflicts on other spheres can be represented by various subjects who are active in political reality which may or may not be related to state. Carving out a distinction between enemy and friend therefore is a continuous process of defining the 'political'. Market creates competitors but not enemies. 'An enemy exists only when at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity'. And harping on a distinction that re-creates the political may not be necessarily conflicting to the 'neutrality' of the market. The realm of economic rationality has to be subsumed into this 'political' and the utmost importance of individual freedom resting on the neutral domain as per the liberal design has to be replaced by a conflicting collectivity. 

The apparent contradictory trends in the current political dispensation manifests a toxic mix of advancing neoliberalism and a parallel effort in defining the new political. Historically right wing rulers often define the enemy as an evil outsider and that provides a leeway in pacifying the internal contradictions of economy and society in the name of nationalism. The existence of the 'other' confirms the legitimacy of the state. At the same time identifying 'other' within the national realm reinforces the distinction between enemy and friend if the 'other' within can be identified with the 'other' outside. Our nationalism is redefined, it is no more a politics that brings together people across caste class religion and linguistic identities against imperialism. We seem to be comfortable in compromising our interests by internalizing the interests of global capital. We boast our friendship with the US and Israel showing a marked departure from our earlier notions of friend and enemy. The martyrs of the freedom movement and the fight against imperialism is increasingly pushed to oblivion. Our sense of patriotism today is increasingly predicated on hatred towards Pakistan which is in any case a failed state and more so a glaring example of the ill fate of a theocratic state.  More and more it is as if jawans and tanks at the border are the sole signifier of our strength and patriotism. It has a rather deeper implication. It seems to suggest excepting the jawans as if all others are beneficiaries of the Indian state. They have no contribution in building our nation no reciprocity in exchange of the safety they enjoy and therefore any voice of dissent from them can be legitimately ignored. It is only the jawans who can claim the right to speak and have the privileged right to shout on others in orchestrated evening TV debates, although real problems of entitlements of theirs are hardly heard! The nation and its pride is not about what it creates, how it values its citizens and so on but it is only about how it protects its territorial boundaries. 

Erosion of economic boundaries is what neoliberal globalisation promises but the same process weakens the legitimacy of the nation state defined by territorial boundaries. Countries that have adopted electoral democracy faces a severe problem in this context. On the one hand they internalize the imperatives of global capital but the fallout of opening up of economic borders hurts the majority of the working people and hence poses a threat to renewal of popular support through electoral process. The activation of the 'political' in the form of redefining friend and enemy comes in rescue in this case and at least temporarily displaces the crisis. This is backed by heightened  authoritarianism and fascistic tendencies where decisiveness becomes a pride in itself howsoever vacuous it might be in substance. The 'political' legitimizes the authority that entails decisions that are singular, absolute and final. The mainstream media suddenly becomes less interested on growth figures, stagnating industry, frustrating employment situation, hardly any debate on farmers' plight or workers right appear in prime time discussions. As if beef eaters, Kashmiris and JNU students are the biggest threat of our country!

A counter narrative in this context is an activation of a 'political' of a different order. It can't be a quest for a neutral space. Friends and enemies as conflicting collectivity emerge with a different configuration altogether. It is the few who appropriates the wealth created by the toilers of our country, it is for the interest of the few, factories, land, mines, seeds, public services, defence are put to sale. It is this few who invokes war and make profit by selling arms to both parties. It is this few who survive and gain through divisive politics of communal violence. 
This few is the enemy..... and the rest are friends.


The author is Associate Professor at ISID, New Delhi.

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