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The Rise and Fall of Chandrababu Naidu, Western Poster Boy; Parrots that Read Tarot; a Brothel in Mumbai; How the British Destroyed India

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

April 4

Sainath tells me he’s had difficulty sleeping since he covered the suicides in Andhra Pradesh from the late 90s on. All told, he’s visited 300 families in which a suicide has occurred.
How did it all begin? From the early 90s forward, zero investment and a collapse of credit ravaged Indian agriculture. The landless poor saw working days crash as a result. Crippling rises in the costs of seed, fertilizer, utilities, pesticide and water crushed small farms. New user fees sent health costs soaring, and such costs have become a huge component of rural family debt. Newly commercialized education destroyed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of women, as families, given the narrowed options, favored sons over daughters. Farm kids simply dropped out.

Ruin metastasized. Sainath showed me an 8×10 picture he’d made of a woman, Aruna, positioning a photograph of her husband Bangaru Ramachari among the implements he made for farmers, getting payment in kind. Amid the slump he’d no customers for two years. He’d died of hunger, too proud to admit, in his last week before he collapsed, that he’d not eaten for five days.
The shift from food crops to cash crops, backed by the World Bank, produced another harvest of disaster. New entrepreneurs replacing old government-run networks sold bad seeds that would not germinate.

“The suicides”, Sainath says, “are a symptom of vast agrarian distress. For every farmer who has committed suicide there are thousands more facing the same huge crisis who have not taken their lives. In fact, we will never know how many suicides there have been, since there are so many ways of not counting them. We do know that in seven or eight states since ’97 and ’98 and most particularly since 2000 farmers have taken their lives by the thousand. In the single district of Anantapur, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, so beloved by the neoliberals because of its “reforms”, over 3,000 farmers have taken their lives between 1997/98 and 2003.

Increasingly, from 1999-2000 Sainath and some vigilant local journalists noticed a mismatch between what they were seeing in the fields and the official data. Narasimha Reddy, who works for the biggest Telugu newspaper, Eenadu (with a circulation of around one million), started writing about this gap. The government stats were saying that suicides due to “distress” were no more than 54 statewide in 2000. This was strange because when Narasimha and Sainath went to villages to investigate suicides they’d routinely find six or seven. That rattled them. Then they started looking more closely at the death statistics, and they found out what the bureaucrats were doing, first as conspiracy, then out of habit.

Now, the overwhelming method of suicide was by drinking pesticide dumped on farmers by the government. The journalists found that the police had listed these as “suicides due to stomach ache”. Sometimes they said that the pain of the stomach ache “had prompted the victims to take pesticide”.

Other methods of concealment included counting a death as suicide, but not a “distress” suicide. Or as an “accident”. Or as a death due to natural causes or accident. Many of those killing themselves were women running small farms in the absence of husbands who were looking for work elsewhere, or who had taken their own lives. But because these women rarely owned the land themselves, they weren’t classified as farmers, so their suicides were not counted as farm-related.

Then there’s the stigma of suicide. Many families don’t want it, and that’s a big factor in suppressing the numbers. Again, legally speaking, post mortems are free, but to prove that a relative committed suicide the police extort money from family members to pay for the autopsy. Officials undercount suicides among dalits and landless laborers or among migrant farmers who’ve given up, gone to a town and – severed from their social setting –- killed themselves.

While these farmers were being driven to suicide by the thousand in Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, the state’s chief minister, was being iconized in the western press as the apex posterboy for neoliberal “reform”. The Wall Street Journal hailed him as “a model for fellow state leaders”. Time crowned him “South Asian of the year”. Bill Gates called on Naidu. So did Bill Clinton. So did Paul O’Neill. John Wolfenson, president of the World Bank, tossed him loan upon loan.

The press projected onto Naidu all their fantasies of what a neoliberal modernizer should be, building an IT-based economy in “Cyberabad”. Oppression of women? Naidu’s fixed that, crowed The Financial Times: “In a country where lower caste women are locked out of decision-making, the government of Andhra Pradesh is sponsoring a social revolution…. Women now dominate the village square”.

Indeed, World Bank officials clapped their hands as Naidu kicked aside the panchayats – democratically elected village councils – and announced he was empowering women in new local organizations. What could be wrong with that? Plenty. The new outfits usually turned out to be small coteries with the right connections, which got Naidu’s patronage and which filched or wasted the money while the genuinely democratic panchayats were sidelined and starved of funding. The collapse of democracy – that is, the framework for collective action to combat disaster – in the countryside contributed to the terrible harvest of death.

On December 27, 2002, Keith Bradsher of the New York Times issued a worshipful resume of Naidu’s assets and achievements, selecting for particular mention the asset that Bradsher deemed vital to Naidu’s political grip on Andhra Pradesh. “Naidu and his allies”, Bradsher breathlessly confided to the NYT’s readers, “speak Telugu, a language spoken only in this state and by a few people in two adjacent states”. What Bradsher was saying was that Naidu spoke the same language as the other 70 million inhabitants of Andhra Pradesh. It was as though someone ascribed Tony Blair’s political successes in the United Kingdom to his command of English.

Apart from Naidu’s wondrous fluency in his native tongue, Bradsher fixed upon other achievements likely to excite an American business readership: “Mr. Naidu”, he excitedly confides, “ has succeeded in raising electricity prices here by 70 percent” and “has enacted a law requiring union leaders to be workers from the factory or office they represent… Andhra Pradesh has also relaxed some of the restrictions on laying off workers”.

In the spring of 2004 the Naidu balloon exploded with a gigantic thunderclap. The Indian poor entered his field of vision decisively, even as they shattered the expectations of almost every national political pundit. Rarely has a posterboy been more humiliatingly peeled from the billboards and tossed in the gutter. Naidu’s elected coalition plummeted from 202 seats to a quarter of that number.

The verdict, from landless poor to farmers to rural women to the denizens of Cyberabad, was well nigh unanimous: the Naidu model had been a disaster for Andhra Pradesh, as statistics had been inexorably recording even during his glory years. Economic growth was abysmal and other vital statistics equally wretched. The 5,000 suicides remain the prime epitaph for a politician hailed in the West more than any other Indian as the harbinger of neoliberal triumph. Only the Argentinean collapse was as brutal a rebuff to elite opinion.

April 5

My big evening in Calicut, sponsored by the extremely militant Bank Clerks’ Union. There’s a full house, I’m glad to say, with Muslim clerics front row right, Hindu fundamentalists, secularist leftists, Christians of various stripes. Kerala is a third Muslim, a third Hindu and a third Christian the latter faith being brought to the Malabar coast in 60 AD by Thomas the Doubting Apostle, no doubt plaguing the navigator with anxious questions.

The meeting is chaired by the local member of the federal parliament, Veerendrakumar, an energetic man in his sixties who also controls Mathrubhumi. I let fly for an hour on the topic of the war in Iraq. It seems to go down well. Sainath speaks too, reminding the audience that back in 1916, when the British invaded Mesopotamia, their force was mostly Indian soldiers, most of whom were captured by the Turks and died in forced labor building railroads.

April 6

We drive north back to Wyanad, back to St. George’s Battery for a last night, winding our way up to 3,000 feet in the Western Ghats, then the next day with Sudhi at the wheel of the Ambassador we set off north again into the state of Karnataka, north east through Mysore to Bangalore, hailed by the Friedmans of this world as India’s prime rendezvous with the future, where the cyber-coolies toil night and day in the huge call centers.

The Hindu’s classifieds tell the story: “Call Center Placement based US/UK, req’d for Chennai and Blr, Sal up to Rs 1800/m, age 17 to 29.) Any degree, walkin”. “ACDA of Chennai wants to hire Part-time faculty to teach Accent Neutralisation and American Accent.”
Later in The Hindu) come the matrimonial classifieds. “Hindu Parkaakulam, Moopanaar/Udayar 23/167, B.A. Fine Arts, doing M.A. MASSCOMM, goodlooking, wheatish complexion, girl from well-to-do family in business seeks well settled groom in business. Early marriage. Send horoscope/photo.” And on down the packed columns to “Karkatha Pillai 30/MCA/employed in TNEB seeks employed guy of same caste”. These were all from the Tamil section, with others allocated to Marathi, Bengali and “Cosmopolitan” where we find “K–, 33/155/fair MNC innocent divorcee. Brahmin 35-38 preferably Hyd/Abroad without encumbrances”, plus an e-address @yahoo and a box address at The Hindu in Chennai.

Sainath says such references to innocence – frequent in the matrimonial classifieds – are intended to convey the fact that the advertiser is still a virgin. Since some of the male matrimonials also mention innocence in divorce I’d assumed this meant simply that the advertiser was claiming to be the injured party.

In this edition of The Hindu there are five pages of such classified like “Karkatha Vellala B. Tech. 27/175, software engineer, Wikpro Bangalore at present Belgium, parents seek proposals from Diploma/Degree holders fair-looking vegetarian of upper middle class willing to go abroad, send biodata with horoscope”. Who wants to end up with a mismatch in the zodiac?

These matrimonial ads, seeking wives as well as husbands, from men, aren’t on the fringe of the national culture, but in its dead center, as is the poor situation of Indian women overall. Most Indian marriages are arranged, from poor up to wealthy families. Of course there are love marriages and these days some Indian women find a way out of parental pressure to marry, via prolonged stints of education abroad in the U.S., UK or Australia.

I passed an ad on a wall for “parrot readings 25 R”. I thought this was a misprint for Tarot, but no. Apparently the parrot’s handler lays out the Tarot pack, the parrot takes a sideways squint at the customer, and then does a power point presentation with his beak. Maybe Sainath was pulling my leg but the sign definitely did say parrot, and I’ve known some pretty smart parrots in my time.

Bangalore may be the modern face of India, but it’s paralyzed by traffic. Nothing moves. International businesses are having to relocate into the hinterland. There is, so our host Ashwin Mahesh tells us genially, no central traffic authority. Ashwin, ex-NASA researcher, educated at UW, then with a stint at NASA’s Goddard Center under his belt, returned to India to run a fine, public interest website, indiatogether. From the 16th floor of South Tower, where he and his wife live, we are well situated to review the grid-locked traffic. Ashwin has already modeled some ideas for traffic relief which are under consideration.

April 7

Chennai. Here I am on the coast of Coromandel. At last a city with the feel and pace of an older time. We go to the guesthouse of the Asian College of Journalism. I give a talk to the students. Then off to terrific Chettinad restaurant, though in my order I foolishly include curried partridge, which is disappointing as all partridges have been for the 34 years since I ate a good one, braised in whiskey and cream. I drive around with Ashwin, who’s come from Bangalore to visit his parents. We drive through the Theosophy Canter, the sanctuary of Annie Besant, also of a banyan of international repute, though now dying. Then we pace about on what is officially classified as the third longest beach in the world. There aren’t many women, and no one in bathing dress.
The great tsunami of last Christmas washed in over this beach and about 3/4ths of a km inland, with a total of 40 lives or so lost in all of Chennai.

April 8

We go down to a heritage center south of Chennai called Dakshina Chitra, which is really good, with excellent reconstructions of vernacular Indian architecture of an earlier time in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Looking at the wooden buildings reminds me of how much Indian architecture of the past fifty years is truly awful.

I distinguish architecture here from landscape. Indian landscapes, whether rural or urban are certainly what one might call “thick”, just as most American landscapes are “thin”. In India, from a foot in front of one’s nose to the horizon, there are infinite medleys of planes and perspectives. There is no thin air, no emptiness. There’s the street life, the endless small shop displays and signage, the billboards above, the animals, the stalls, the cars and busses overtaking each other at 60 miles an hour.

The overall effect is endlessly inspiriting, with palette after palette of tumultuous greens, blues, yellows, pinks and reds deployed on saris, racks of clothes, aging advertisements. Someone who is tired of an Indian streetscape or country road is truly tired of life. But the architecture itself is mostly drab cinderblock. The moving spirit of Dakshina Chitra, an American woman called Deborah Thiagarajan (she is married to a Chettinad businessman), puts it very well in her essay on domestic architecture in Tamil Nadu (in an excellent little book, Traditional and Vernacular Architecture, published by the Madras Craft Foundation):

“By the early 1950s the whole urban architecture scene had changed. Trained Indian architects were beginning to emerge on the scene. In the expanding cities there was no looking back to any form or more traditional Indian architecture or to the culturally more dynamic forms of public architecture such as the so-called Indo Saracenic architecture of Madras that flowered in public spaces in the last part of the nineteenth century. “The introduction of cement into India in approximately 1933, coupled with the increased availability of steel, unleashed a new aesthetic and range of architectural use. Lime began to be phased out and practically died out in the cities by the 1950s. The new material was a craze, but not one which was used well. There was a total confusion among Indian architects and they produced a full generation of faceless, characterless architecture in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s.“Indian architects and the Indian schools of architecture in the South failed the public. The quote by a famous civil servant, Gurusaday Dutt, from Bengal at the turn of the century says it all: ‘The education that Calcutta University imparted in those days taught me to consider every old value or form in the country as a product of barbarism or superstition’.”

Most Indian domestic interiors that I saw were not uplifting, indeed often tasteless, and seemed to have very little connection to the richness of India’s older architectural past. Indeed the new Hindu temples, erupting with high-relief polychrome processions of gods, humans and beasts were a joy after the etiolated modernism that passes for cutting edge design. Sainath disagrees strongly. Every new temple to him means another advance of Hindu ultra-nationalism, religious intolerance, the persistence of caste. “But Sainath”, I argue, “in a couple of centuries these Hindu temples will look wonderful, even to your eyes”. But he’ll have none of it and sternly lead me off to the admittedly wonderful eighth-century monolithic temples south of Madras at Mahabalipuram.

April 10

I give a talk at the Asian College of Journaliskm on the war in Iraq. There’s a fine turnout and many questions. N. Ram, the editor in chief of The Hindu, which sponsored the event, is unable to attend, with the rather good excuse that he was meeting the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jibao, touring Bangalore and Chennai that week.

The Hindu, circulation a million plus, and now Sainath’s home port, maintains decent standards and reminds me somewhat of the London Times thirty years ago, when a salvo from the editorial page could alter the contours of a whole political battlefield. Ram invites Sainath and me to drop by his house in Chennai the next day, and we do so. When we arrive, his charming wife said that he cannot be with us for a few minutes because he is finishing his editorial on China-Indian relations.

She says this with a tinge of gravity, of reverence for the solemn rite of editorial composition that takes me back to the distant years in the 60s when the presses at The London Times would be held while the editor in chief, William Haley, wrestled unrighteousness to the ground in the “first leader”, as the prime editorial was called in England in those days. These days editorials count for nothing in the U.S. Few read them except for press secretaries and lobbyists. They have no weight.

In due course Ram emerges from his editorial labors, looking weighty, and treats us to an interesting disquisition, which I correctly assess to be the burden of his impending editorial, on the evolution of Chinese-Indian relations since the late 40s. Then he shifts to a description of his shock when he was attending the reunion of his class of 68 of the Columbia Journalism School last year and at a meeting to discuss the burning issues of the day he heard not a word of condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, so Ram rose to his feet and denounced it himself. He said there were several hisses from other J School grads. It was bracing to find a newspaper editor – probably India’s premier editor – in terms of political clout – talking like that; bracing too to hear later that in his younger days Ram endorsed a strike at The Hindu and was promptly exiled from The Hindu’s premises by his father, then the newspaper’s boss.

April 11

Back to Mumbai. Sainath’s friend Sudarshan invites me to APNE-AAP, a foundation he runs, in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district along the Falkland Road. The Foundation has some rooms in an old school, and these are now filled with cheerful kids. The idea is to give children of prostitutes a chance to get out of the life, get some education, get a chance. It’s the dearest dream of the prostitutes, many of whom haven’t much hope of living past 35, taken off by AIDS or TB. The woman working at the drop-in house get the prostitutes ration cards, take them to hospital, run savings accounts – over 200 when I was there – for them where they can squirrel away ten rupees (25 cents) or so a day for their kids.

Without such help the prostitutes get turned away by hospitals and kindred bureaucracies. Already there are 150 kids who’ve graduated, and 65 currently in attendance. Only one graduate has gone into her mother’s line of business. I like the atmosphere, mercifully free of social worker sanctimony. APNE-AAP’s staff, Manju Vyas, Preethi, Diplai and Bimbla, are all in good spirits and very impressive.

We walk over to a huge old brothel built by the British a hundred years ago for their garrison. Back then the prostitutes were Tibetan or Japanese. These days they’re from Nepal or Bangladesh. The middlemen procuring the girls from their parents get 20,000 rupees or more from the madams. The rooms in the brothel are about 10 foot by 10 foot, with two tiers of beds and families of four or five cooking and chatting. When a customer shows up and forks over his 50 rupees they presumably stand outside. The girls greet us in friendly style and some of them covertly slide over their ten rupees to the AAPNE-AAP women, out of sight of husband, or pimp, or madam. It costs residents 50 rupees a day to rent a bed. Five rupees buy you a bucket of water. Electricity costs 150 rupees a month.

After an hour or so I bid them adieu and go off to the Royal Yacht Club to read for an hour or two before Sainath and his wife Sonia throw me a farewell dinner. Three weeks earlier Sainath has give me Rajani Palme Dutt’s India Today, in a revised edition put out in 1970, not long before Dutt died. The first edition had been commissioned by Victor Gollancz, of Left Book Club fame, who was so terrified of being charged with sedition that he forced Palme Dutt to blue pencil many passages, including excision of all references to revolution, including the phrase “industrial revolution”.

In his years on the Daily Worker, my father knew Palme Dutt well when the latter was the prime theoretician and intellectual commissar of the British Communist Party. If you skip the predictable boilerplate and ideological postures to be expected of a CP high-up in the 1940s, India Today is an absorbing history and a corrective to any nostalgia for the days or the Raj, or to the current nonsense about its benign role purveyed by such choristers of Empire as Niall Ferguson.

In an early chapter Palme Dutt cites admiring travelers such as Tavernier, traveling around India in the seventeenth century, remarking that “even in the smallest villages rice, flour, butter, milk, beans and other vegetables, sugar and other sweetmeats, dry and liquid, can be procured in abundance”. Many travelers at the time extolled Bengal as marvelous in the abundance of its resources, the advanced nature of its crafts. By the 1920s, after nearly two centuries of British rule, India was a byword for the vast abyss of its all-pervading poverty. “The average Indian income”, wrote two economists in 1924, “is just enough either to feed two men in every three of the population, or give them all two in place of every three meals they need, on condition they all consent to go naked, liver out of doors all the year round, have no amusement or recreation, and want nothing else but food, and that the lowest, the coarsest, the least nutritious”.

The British devastation of India was initially achieved by the simple means of taxing it into destitution. In the last year of the last Indian ruler of Bengal, in 1764-5, the land revenue realized was 817,000 pounds sterling. Within a few years of British rule the population had shrunk by one-third through famine, in which ten million perished in 1770 and a third of the country into “a jungle inhabited by wild beasts”. Nonetheless, by 1771-2 the Bengal revenues had risen to 2,341,000 pounds sterling. As Warren Hastings reported to the Court of the Directors of the East India Company in 1772 with bracing frankness,

“Notwithstanding the loss of at least one-third of the inhabitants of the province, and the consequent decrease of the cultivation, the net collections of the year 1771 exceeded even those of 1768… It was naturally to be expected that the diminution of the revenue should have kept an equal pace with the other consequences of so great a calamity. That it did not was owing to its being violently kept up to its former standard”.

The British destroyed the old manufacturing towns and the economy of the villages. In Palme Dutt’s words, “The millions of ruined artisans and craftsmen, spinners, weavers, potters, smelters, smiths, alike from the towns and the villages, had no alternative save to crowd into agriculture”… India was “forced to the status of agricultural colony of British manufacturing capitalism”, whose ideologues then invoked Malthus to explain India’s degraded condition.

The Gateway to India, outside my window, slowly became a silhouette in the twilight, as homeless families settled down in its shadow for the night. I put Palme Dutt’s book down and prepared to leave for Sainath and Sonia’s apartment.

As we wait for friends to arrive, Sainath reminds me of the bit in Tacitus’ Annals where he describes how condemned people were recruited to serve as candles at Nero’s parties: “they were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle”. “What sort of sensibility”, Sainath broods, “did it require to pop another fig in your mouth as one more human being went up in flames?”

And by the same token, Sainath asks what sort of indifference has it required for India’s rich – and the very rich in India are the among the richest on the planet – to disport while millions starved not far off, and thousands of peasants killed themselves, some of them less than 50 miles from Mumbai where much of India’s wealth is concentrated, and where “theme weddings” costing millions have been the rage. Last year an Indian steel billionaire, Lakshmi Mittal, and his wife Usha promised their daughter Vanisha a spectacular wedding. They cashed the promise by renting Vaux le Vicomte and Versailles in France for the nuptials. The six-day long wedding bash cost over $80 million and was attended by more than 1,200 guests including leading Indian industrialists and celebrities from the Bollywood film scene.

Just as interesting, I remark to Sainath, as the festivities and excesses of the rich is the mindset of the policy makers, the intellectual formulators of neoliberal policies that they know well will cause terrible suffering. What processes of self-exculpation insulate them from a policy (say, planned shrinkage of India’s small farmers by 40 per cent) and the execution of that policy, inflicting – terrible privations and early death on millions.

When I got back to the U.S., I picked up in a second hand bookstore in Olympia, Washington, a history of the neoliberal antecedent to what has been happening in India and much of the Third World these last thirty years, as recorded in J.L. and Barbara Hammond’s books The Village Labourer, and The Town Labourer, originally published in 1911 and 1917 respectively, the first set dedicated to Gilbert Murray. I got them in beautiful little Guild paperback editions published in the late 1940s. I’d often seen them cited by E.P. Thompson and others, but never read them. They’re marvelous histories, giving clear and vivid accounts of how “enclosures” actually worked and the horrors they caused in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England. A local aristocrat, reeling under his gambling debts, simply sent in a petition to Parliament that the lands he had in mind (say, three or four villages all previously held under the common field system) simply become his. His request was duly reviewed by his cronies, including his creditors, and through it sailed. Though later the petition had to be put up on the church door, initially the first the villagers might hear about it was when their new landlord apprised them of what they had lost and he had gained.

Then the Hammonds trace the evictions, the repressions, and ultimately transportation to Australia. “The nightmare that punishment was growing gentle and attractive to the poor came to haunt the mind of the governing class. It was founded on the belief that as human wretchedness was increasing, there was a sort of law of Malthus, by which human endurance tended to outgrow the resources of repression”.

Transportation to Australia wasn’t enough. The poor might see that as relief. The hell of transportation had to be augmented by the penal settlements (reduplicated in the Andamans, where the British sent Indian nationalists, mostly to certain death).

“And this system”, the Hammonds wrote, “was not the invention of some Nero or Caligula; it was the system imposed by men of gentle and refined manners, who talked to each other in the language of Virgil and Lucan, liberty and justice, who admired the sensibility of Euripides and Plutarch, who put down the abominations of the Slave Trade, and allowed Clive and Warren Hastings to be indicted at the bar of public opinion; and it was imposed by them from the belief that as the poor were becoming poorer, only a system of punishment that was becoming more brutal could deter them from crime”.The English peasantry was destroyed. Thanks to the Great Revolution the French peasantry survived. The Indian peasantry survives too. Sainath once wrote a little series of five marvelous vignettes of leaders of five rural rebellions against the British. As he emphasizes, the Indian rebellions were above all rural, starting with the great rebellions of May 1857.

India became independent on August 15, 1947, after nearly two centuries of colonial rule. There was not a day the villages were quiet in that period. What the Brits call ‘The Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857, was actually the greatest agrarian uprising the world had seen, at least until China got into the act.

The uprising of 1857 came when the villages exploded. The ‘sepoy’ (a British corruption of the Indian sipahi or soldier) was simply a peasant in uniform, who could not but reflect the mood of his village. For instance, in the province of Oudh, where there was great anger at the new land revenue system imposed by the British, almost every agricultural family had a representative in the army.

When the rural masses rose in millions, the business elite of Bombay and Calcutta held prayers – for the success of the British in quelling the rebellion! This is not to say that there was no revolt in the cities. Just that the explosion was from the villages and towns and that the elites – just as they are today – are on the wrong side. The big difference a city-based Gandhi made to the freedom struggle was bringing the rural masses into the organized political process on the scale he did. With that, Gandhi converted the Congress from a tea party into a political party. The entry of the millions of rural Indians is what made the difference.
“Through these decades”, as Sainath says, “the rural poor have kept democracy alive in India. They go out and change governments. The backbone has always been rural”.

And it still is.

Since the early to mid-70s the bandwagon of neoliberalism has been rolling along. I think we’re due a history of the whole disastrous arc since 1973 till today . The 1970s saw capital’s victorious counterattack on plans for a new world economic order and more equitable commodity pricing. By the end of the decade, the crucial UN agencies such as UNCTAD were well on their way to the sidelines. As the postwar boom peaked and began to subside capital began to inflict upon the planet’s face the new arrangements, amid whose baneful consequence millions today endure or sink beneath their weight. Public assets were seized and looted in the name of “liberalization” and “reform”, internal markets taken by storm, economies devastated by free trade.

Out there in the real world of poor farmers on the lip of ruin, the neoliberal model imposed by the World Bank and by infatuated “reformers” across the world over the past twenty years has failed decisively, just as it has across so much of Latin America and the Third World. Let us dare to hope that across the next generation we will welcome a gathering counterattack on neoliberalism and a new path, along which scouting parties and bold detachments are already on the march.

 

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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