A brief summary of part of Arundhati Roy’s ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ – In which she explores some of the consequences of neoliberal economic development in India.
‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’
The era of the privatisation of everything has made the Indian economy one of the fasted growing in the world and most of this wealth has gushed up to India’s Corporate Elite.
In India today, a nation of 1.2 billion people, one hundred people own assets equivalent to 25% of the GDP, while a 300 million strong middle class live among the ghosts of the 250 00 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed and live on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.
The most egregious expression of this inequality is Antilla, a building on Altamount Road in Mumbai which belongs to India’s richest man Mukesh Ambanni. It is the most expensive dwelling ever built: it has 27 floors, including 6 for parking, 3 helipads, 600 servants and a 27 story vertical wall of grass. Ambanni is worth $20 billion dollars and his company, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has a market capitalisation of $47 billion.
Ambanni’s RIL Corporation is one of a handful which run India, some of the others being Tata and Vedanta, the later of which are truly global in scope – Tata, for example, runs more than one hundred companies in 80 countries.
The consequence of this concentration of wealth, is an increase in corruption, or as Roy puts it – ‘As gush up continues, so more money flows through the institutions of government’. As an example, in 2011, a corrupt minister of communications and information undervalued 2G phone licences by $40 billion dollars, to the benefit of the telecommunications companies which now profit from them, effectively costing Indian taxpayers $40 billion of revenue.
How the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies
The way this typically works is that a corrupt government official signs a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.
Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business.
This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)
In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects, as indicated in the case study below:
Tata Steel in Chhattisgarh, North East India
Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU with Tata Steel, a vigilante militia was established (known as the Salwa Judum). Organised by the state government and funded by Tata Steel the Salwa Judum initiated a ground clearance operation to eradicate the local forest peoples so Tata could set up its steel plant.
The Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through 600 local villages forcing 50 000 people into police camps and displacing a further 350 000. To keep these displaced persons in check, the government then deployed 200 000 paramilitary troops to the region to make sure that it remained a stable climate for investment and economic growth.
According to Roy the government has labelled these people ‘Maoist Rebels’, but in reality they are just displaced peoples.
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