Sunday, 1 June 2014

Akeel Bilgrami on Modi

Prof Akeel Bilgrami writes-
'In the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, the term “fascist” came to be associated with two defining features. First, the finding of an external enemy within a nation (in the case of Germany, the Jews, the gypsies) and despising and subjugating them. Second, what Mussolini offered as an explicit definition of fascism: the fusion of the interests of corporations and the state. I ask the reader to look at Modi’s record with Muslims and his avowed economic programme and decide for herself where the lack of intelligence really lies. '
Is Bilgrami correct?
Let us look at the facts. The word Fascist, in the 1920's, as popularized by Mussolini had nothing at all to do with Jews. It did however have everything to do with
1) Defeating the Communists and other Leftists who
a) had opposed Italy's participation in the War
b) aimed at Bolshevik style Revolution. Mussolini was a  former Socialist who supported the War and had the backing of the Army for this reason.
2) Stressing the role of the Military and seeking for a revival of Imperial glory. This was to be done by making Business Corporations and Trade Unions and other elements of Civil Society- including the Education system and, after the signing of the Lateran treaty, even the Church- subordinate to the interests of an expansionist State. Mussolini's 'Corporatism' meant subordinating, not fusing, the interests of the Capitalists to the greater glory of the Nation.

Which other European countries could be described as Fascist?
1) Hungary. Bela Kun had led a Communist Revolution. With help from the armies of neighboring countries like Romania and Czechoslavakia, Admiral Horthy launched a 'White Terror' and became Regent.  Kun and many of his comrades were Jewish but Horthy wasn't Anti Semitic because Jews had traditionally been loyal to the dynasty.
2) Germany also faced the problem of Red Insurrection which was put down by 'Freikorps'- disbanded soldiers. The size of the Army had been drastically cut by the Peace Treaty. Hence, the German Army wanted a 'force multiplier' in the shape of a Mass Movement. They were also keen on projecting the 'stab in the back theory' so as to absolve themselves of War guilt. Hitler was a paid agent of the Army when he joined the Nazi party. Luddendorf was beside him during the Munich Putsch. But, the mentally unstable Luddendorf refused to go to jail to pose as a martyr and so Hitler gained salience.  Hitler's path to power was paved by Generals like Schliecher (whom Hitler killed) and Blomberg (whom he hounded out of the Army in disgrace) and all this happened when Hindenburg was President. Hitler had no particular love for the Corporates. They and the German Army however agreed to subordinate themselves to the State- which, thanks to them, Hitler came to embody.
3) Spain. The Left came to power and went a little crazy. General Franco, with help from Mussolini and Hitler, invaded from Morocco having first declared the Virgin Mary to be the Captain General of his Army. But Franco wasn't serving Corporate interests. Primo de Rivera's idiotic Falangism hurt Corporates. Unlike the First World War, the Second War was a period of stagnation for Spain. It was only after ditching the ideologues that Spain, from the Fifites onward, took a Technocratic direction under American tutelage. Franco wasn't particularly anti-Semitic.
4) The Romanian Iron Guard- vicious anti semites but they thought they were serving the Archangel Michael, not the Corporations. They considered Capitalism sinful.
5) Pilsudski's 'Sanation' in Poland featured massive State action. Hiter's Germany did see Privatization but Corporations had to serve the interests of the State. Had German Capital been in the same parlous state as Poland's, Hitler and Blomberg and so on would have gone the Pilsudski route. Indeed, to a certain extent, they did.

One can multiply instances but one conclusion is inescapable. Inter-war Fascism was a product of-
1) Fear of Communist Revolution and/or invasion or subversion by the Soviets. The Military had a disproportionate say and they considered Capital to be a junior partner.  Some military men, but also some Business men like Henry Ford, came to believe in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'- i.e. a paranoid fantasy in which the Jews controlled both the Kremlin and Walll Street and were aiming to destroy Spiritual 'Christianity' or 'Aryan Values' by 'Materialist' ideologies like 'Capitalism' and 'Communism'.

2) Anger at or anxieties arising out of the Peace treaties. Defeated powers looked to get back territory by Armed Might; Victorious powers sought to keep their gains by the same means.

Some 'Fascist' countries had an 'internal enemy', some did not. What they shared in common was Militaristic rule and a willingness to abandon International Treaties and the League of Nations in pursuit of their National Interest. When people thought of Hitler or Franco or Mussolini, they didn't think- 'oh that fellow is in the pocket of Big Business and his only other passion is killing some specific minority'. 
Instead, what people thought was 'that nutjob is willing to start a World War to expand his territory. He will ruin his own country- including its Businessmen- but he doesn't care.'
Suppose Hitler was a puppet of Big Business. Then, there would have been no War. Just pay the German industrialists to rein in Hitler. After all, money is what those guys care about, right? France and England had plenty of money to buy peace. They didn't use their money in that way because it couldn't be used in that way. Big Business wasn't in charge in Germany. Hitler was- but only because people like General Blomberg had come to see that he would push through the Army's maximal program better than they could do so themselves because
a) he was simply more ruthless
b) he could pose as the Charlie Chaplin like 'Little Corporal' whom the English assumed would be anti-War because he'd experienced its horrors himself.

Now let us look at Modi. Is he in the pockets of Big Business? No. Adani is a junior partner in the development of Gujarat. Jindal, the former Congress M.P, wasn't anybody's junior partner. Manmohan scarcely wanted Coalgate. Yet it happened. The country got no benefit whatsoever. 
Some people can make money even in a failed State. However, the Business Sector as a whole goes down the toilet.
It is undeniable that Corporates, as a class, backed Modi this time round. What was the alternative? If the Economy continues to stagnate- which it would have done because Congress didn't even have a P.M candidate- then many of them either go bankrupt or have to severely retrench. If Growth gets back on track- which it will under Modi simply because he isn't a senile idiot- most of them will be able to raise money and get back to profitability. It is an Existential question. 

What about Bilgrami's second assertion- viz. Modi has risen to power by attacking an 'external enemy within the Nation'? Surely the secret of his electoral win is that he himself was attacked by all other parties as that very 'external enemy'? This split the Muslim vote. Furthermore, there was a 'counter polarization' amongst Hindus because 'Secular' politicians, with great cynicism, were claiming to have given Muslims a special most favored status. 
Still, the fact remains, people have voted for Modi because they believe he's a 'Good Governance' man who will treat everyone equally and not play caste/creed vote-bank politics.  
If Bilgrami were correct, wealthy Muslims would now be fleeing the country. To my certain knowledge, they are not doing this. Instead, we see Muslim N.R.I businessmen ramping up their investment plans and planning to spend more time in India and not just Gujarat or Rajasthan or M.P or the N.C.R either. People are talking of opportunities in U.P and Bihar.

Bilgrami is a nice guy. He writes well. But, if he wants to challenge Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum on their own home turf, he will have to up his game. I suggest he make a deep study of my blog. That will enstoopidify him sufficiently to come into his own.


  1. Read the full article. Bilgrami is saying that Congress and BJP are identical. This is a more nuanced view.
    'Another pundit (Victor Mallet, Financial Times, May 22) revealingly says: “Educated Muslims in India are willing to give Modi a chance.” It reveals first of all that the educated urban Muslim stands politically apart from the mass of other Muslims, a fact that goes back a long time. Jinnah’s form of nationalist politics as it developed in the post-Khilafat period (indeed it was motivated to combat the dynamic effects of the mass mobilisation of Muslims during the Khilafat movement) represented precisely such careerist Muslims, mostly from Uttar Pradesh, continuing, as Maulana Azad had pointed out, an aspiration that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had first formulated many decades earlier. But what it further reveals is that those same educated urban Muslims who in their separatist politics under Jinnah were expressing an anxiety about their prospects for jobs in a united India dominated by a Hindu majority, are now confusedly expecting that a Hindu majoritarian ideologue because of his zeal for metropolitan “development” will create a scenario that provides them with jobs. '

    1. I don't get this. Either 'Educated Muslims' are involved in contested rent-seeking for jobs in the Bureaucracy and Political appointments or they have higher productivity and can get good income without rent-seeking. In a stagnant economy, they do better with Muslim League politics. In an expanding industrial economy they do better with 'Good Governance' type politics.
      In a stagnant economy, the 'educated Muslim' extracts surplus from the uneducated fellow through bureaucratic rents. In a growing industrial economy not Credentialised education but work skills determine one's 'efficiency wage' which- if 'Good Governance' is followed- soon exceeds petty bureaucratic rents.
      Bilgrami is puzzled that 'educated Muslims' might support Modi. The puzzle disappears if these 'educated Muslims' have job-skills and not just Credentials for rent-contestation.

    2. Bilgrami writes- 'The zeal for this particular form of development is not a novelty of Modi’s either. It was an explicit aspiration of the previous government, with P. Chidambaram preposterously declaring (Tehelka interview, May 31, 2008) that he wanted 85 per cent of India to become cities. Preposterous not only because of the impertinence of an aspiration to transform within a few years the agrarian forms of livelihood that have defined a society for millennia, but because of its brazen indifference to the immiseration that it brings in its wake through the dispossession of countless people of their land and their livelihood.'

      He seems unaware that 60 % of farmers want to give up farming altogether while the majority of the rest see it as only one revenue stream among many. No doubt there are forest tribes engaged in subsistence farming who may abhor the cash nexus for good reason. However, their percentage of the population might be around 7 % at best and, clearly, a different set of policies are needed to safeguard their ethos. This might involve 'eco-tourism' or cultivation of niche cash crops like quinoa- i.e. it might be knowledge based and hi-tech and thus itself depend on urbanisation and industrialisation which is what the majority of farmers themselves want.
      Chidambaram- an old Leftist- says silly things. If Modi does infrastructure properly then we get industrialized ribbon developments within reach of the majority of farmers so they get diversified earnings such that they can better service loans or generate funds for Income and Capital boosting investment- i.e. wealth gains remain in their hands.

    3. Bilgrami writes- 'In 2004, the mass of Indian people repudiated the pretence of an emergent and luminous India. This time they have not. The diagnosis is not hard to find. It is true that in 2004 the Congress party was galvanised by an impressively energetic campaign almost single-handedly by Sonia Gandhi, a form of leadership it wholly lacked in the current election. But the underlying explanation is to be found in the very continuities I have been insisting on. The effects of neo-liberal economic policies pursued by both major parties and their coalitional partners over this entire span have created deep dissatisfaction among the Indian electorate with whichever of them held power.'
      In 2004, Sonia and Rahul looked more Westernized and neo-Liberal than Vajpayee and Murli Manohar and other such senile dhoti-wallahs. In 2009, Manmohan looked ten times more neo-liberal than Advani. This time Rahul refused to throw his hat into the ring for the Prime Ministership. Manmohan was simply too old. So Modi won even though he isn't 'neo-Liberal' but a pragmatic Nationalist of a familiar vernacular kind.
      The Communists- for whom neo-Liberal is a term of abuse (most Indians don't know what Liberalism is, let alone neo-Liberalism)- have been wiped out.
      It seems, Indian electorate is deeply satisfied with whatever it is Bilgrami hates. The only question is, who can give them more of it? The answer is- a strong PM who doesn't listen to stupid NGO type shitheads and worthless 'Public Intellectual' shitheads like Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and, now, Akeel Bilgrami.

  2. The essence of Fascism is the cult of the All Wise Leader. Modi is that leader.The Economy is reviving purely on the basis of Animal Spirits on the part of Investors. However, sooner or later, Investors expect to get paid. Where will the money come from? What measures is Modi taking to ensure that it is not at the expense of the resources owned by the Poor?
    Manmohan Singh was the darling of Dalal Street at one time. But, ultimately, Capital demanded its pound of flesh. Hence Coalgate and so on. But even that wasn't enough. That is why Modi has been put in. For a while, you will have the appearance of 'Growth'. But what happens when the house of cards collapses? Fascism is the opposite of Social Democracy because it inevitably lurches from Crisis to Crisis and, when the times get tough, either the 'internal enemy' or the external enemy is targeted.

    1. I think I understand what you are getting at. I can get why a febrile Capital Market might Hero worship some charismatic proponent of Voodoo economics.
      In this case, however, I can't see it. Fascism and Communism and Political Correctness are about Preference Falsification- pretending you really care about 'Purity of the Race' or 'Injustice' or 'Secularism' or whatever. But, to my mind it is Bilgrami and his ilk who are guilty of this. Their big grouse against Modi is that he didn't put on a skull-cap and that shows he's deeply Evil. That's gesture politics. The guys who voted for him, on the other hand, probably did so because they genuinely wanted to have more money in their pockets. Not a particularly noble motive- but it's the sort of Preferences that Social Democracy ought to be responding to not Nussbaum type shite or Bilgrami type stupidity.