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'Development is Linked to Culture and Religion': Book Excerpt from 'The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare'

The discourse of ‘good governance’—like the slogan of the LG Company, ‘Life is Good’—makes us believe that what exists is already good and, therefore, people in quest for an alternative vision of good life are at best utopian, if not fools.


Updated:June 18, 2019, 6:37 PM IST
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'Development is Linked to Culture and Religion': Book Excerpt from 'The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare'
The discourse of ‘good governance’—like the slogan of the LG Company, ‘Life is Good’—makes us believe that what exists is already good and, therefore, people in quest for an alternative vision of good life are at best utopian, if not fools.

'The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare: A Long View of India's 2014 Election', edited by Irfan Ahmad and Pralay Kanungo explores how the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won the 2014 Parliamentary elections with such an unprecedented majority, and what that victory means for politics in general and Indian politics in particular. The book foregrounds the suggestion of a coalescence between the politics of welfare and warfare. 

In turn, the book raises questions regarding representation and social justice in the world's largest democracy.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

The AAP, the BJP, and the Congress all promised new jobs. While the AAP and the BJP promised ‘millions of jobs’, the Congress promised ‘100 million’ (AAP 2014b: 10 ; BJP 2014: 29, 31 ; Congress 2014: 16 ). On the broader economy, too, they were similar as they showed no alternative to a Francis Fukuyama-type of economy.

Because the Congress spearheaded such an economy in the early 1990s and the BJP largely went with it, only the AAP was expected to offer an alternative. However, the AAP did not seem to have given sufficient thought to economy. It simply wished to ‘clean’ the economy that already existed. It was opposed to a tiny branch of capitalism—‘crony capitalism’.

Its vision of economy was ‘neither Left nor Right’ but only ‘in the interest of India’ (AAP: 10). Such a position of the AAP resembles the ‘Third Way’ of Tony Blair, the former United Kingdom (UK) prime minister (BBC 1999). Sociologist Anthony Giddens, ‘Tony Blair’s favorite intellectual’, wrote a book bearing that title, the aim of which was among others, to make the UK ‘a sparking point for creative interaction between’ the unbridled capitalism of ‘the US and’ socialism of ‘Continental Europe’ (Giddens 1998 : ix ).

All three parties favoured entrepreneurs and businesses (AAP: 10; BJP: 29, 30; Congress: 10) with minimum government regulations. To the BJP, the existing regulations signified ‘tax terrorism’ (BJP: 10; the BJP From here onwards, I refer to the manifestos by the name of the party, followed by the page numbers. Thus, Aam Aadmi Party National Manifesto 2014 . Ghaziabad: Aam Aadmi Party, herinafter AAP; Election Manifesto 2014: BJP . New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party, hereinafter BJP; Lok Sabha Elections 2014 Manifesto : Indian National Congress. New Delhi: All India Congress Committee, hereinafter Congress.

The quote is from an endorsement by the editor of The Observer published on the back cover of Gidden’s (1998) book unintentionally admitted that the state also enacted terror because tax is imposed by the state). The AAP simply added ‘honest’ before entrepreneurs and businesses (AAP: 11, 12). Against ‘black money’ they all stood. While the Congress promised to ‘recover’ it, the BJP vowed to ‘bring back black money’ and the AAP wanted its ‘return’ (Congress: 11; BJP: 5; AAP: 12). They all promised to fight corruption and price rise (AAP: 16; BJP: 4; Congress: 15).

They all endorsed public–private partnership in economy (AAP: 11; BJP: 9; Congress: 15). Likewise, all three parties stood for health to all. Even the words deployed in the three manifestos were the same: ‘quality healthcare’ (AAP: 8; BJP: 18; Congress: 10). The promise of education to all was also common. Precise details of how health and education will be delivered were starkly absent, however. Over 90 per cent of the workforce is engaged in the informal or unorganized sector, where the multitude of the poor struggle for their daily lives. No party structurally aimed to better their lot.

The AAP, which claimed to be a party of the common man, showed its utter elitism when it promised to fight casualization of teachers, doctors, and so on (AAP: 15), but said very little about the unorganized sector where, in practice, there was not even an effective contract, which the poor— because of the lack of adequate social–educational capital and their overall location in the asymmetrical social structure—could hardly resort to for their own benefit. The AAP simply stated that it aimed ‘to regularize their working condition and space’ (AAP: 16).

The AAP, the BJP, and the Congress promised to improve the working conditions of the poor multitude without questioning the very violent condition which routinely (re)produced the poor. Moreover, the poor and their concerns were not ends in themselves but a bare means for India’s progress. While for the BJP food security was integral to ‘national security’ (BJP: 15), the AAP stated that it will not ‘disadvantage’ the poor so that they could contribute to ‘India’s prosperity’ (that is, without the poor themselves becoming prosperous) (AAP: 12).

Yet, each of them invoked the Constitution, the preamble of which (cited by the AAP) calls India a ‘socialist’ republic. Is not the written word ‘socialist’ vacuous in the Constitution, or—to invoke Plato—an orphan which ‘rolls about all over the place, falling into the hands of those who have no concern with it’ (Plato 1956 : 275 )

Let me close this section on economy with a theoretical reflection on ‘development’, which the Congress, the BJP, and the AAP were all wedded to, the last one somewhat differently. While the slogan of the Congress manifesto, appearing on its every page, was ‘Each Hand Power, Each Hand Development’, the subtitle of the BJP’s manifesto was ‘Support of All; Development of All’.

Clearly, ‘development’ is one of the rare concepts that enjoys legitimacy and acceptability across party lines. While only a few would probably contest that economic betterment and technological advances have become central to the idea of a good life under the capitalist modern nation-states, the near sacral status and the sheer power enjoyed by the concept of development in a post-colonial state such as India may make many sceptical of the prefix ‘post’ in ‘post-colonial’.

Historically, the term ‘development’ came into circulation precisely at a moment when the colonial empire was about to formally end. It became a key concept for the ex-colonial masters and new nationalist rulers to collaborate and benefit mutually (Rahnema 1997: ix ; also see Escobar 1997). Thus, the beginning of development was not the end of colonialism but its transformed continuation in a new world order controlled by the West and enunciated in a different vocabulary.

This was at once political–economic, intellectual, social, even spiritual. Based on interviews with colonial officers of the British Empire—who had worked in Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere, and many of whom had joined the development industry after the formal decolonization—Uma Kothari (2006) rightly traces the historical link between development industry and the British Empire, arguing how the discourses (along with the functionaries) of colonial administration got transformed into ‘development’ (see Chapter 4).

This was no less true in the case of the ‘Middle East’, itself an imperial term (Ahmad 2011: 30–1). Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary (1945–51), held that ‘the only way to preserve British influence [over the Middle East] would be through measures of economic development which would raise the standards of living of ordinary people’ (Louis 1984: 17). Important in this quote is not the claim to improve the condition of ordinary people but, under its pretext, to perpetuate the British influence.

To the continued appeal of the concept of development was added the notion of ‘good governance’ by international organizations such as the World Bank. The ‘good governance’ doctrine came into massive circulation from the mid-1990s onwards (Hansen and Stepputat 2001: 1–2 ).

Apparently unhappy with the ‘good governance’ mantra, the AAP proposed ‘self-governance’ (AAP: 3). However, far from being an alternative to ‘good governance’, ‘self-governance’ was, in fact, largely its substitute because, if translated into English, the book Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal, key leader of the AAP, would be ‘self-rule’ and not ‘self-governance’. My point is that the AAP, too adopted—if not actually copied—the dominant vulgate of governance, which cannot be historically and analytically delinked from that of ‘development’. The discourse of ‘good governance’—like the slogan of the LG Company, ‘Life is Good’—makes us believe that what exists is already good and, therefore, people in quest for an alternative vision of good life are at best Utopian, if not fools. Linked to development is the notion of religion.

In contemporary discussions, they are often depicted as not only two separate but oppositional entities. Several media groups and journalists sympathetic— wittingly or otherwise—to the BJP argued how it gave top priority in its manifesto to development over religion. Religion was relegated to the backstage, appearing only at the far end (half a page), just before conclusion (BJP: 41). At stake here is the attempt to show that the BJP was in favour of a secular goal like ‘development’, not religion.

The media fashioned this separation between religion and development even as the BJP leaders themselves saw the two as deeply connected. Read the following conversation between journalist Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Murli Manohar Joshi, a top BJP leader who also chaired its manifesto committee. While discussing the BJP manifesto, Dutt asked Joshi: ‘Has development trumped identity politics?’ Joshi denied any Ahmad shift.

Persisting with her predetermined narrative of development, she asked him again: ‘Is there an ideological confusion, as ninety per cent of manifesto deals with development?’, whereas the BJP leader, Amit Shah, made hate speech against Muslims. Let us recall Joshi’s words, mentioned in Chapter 1: ‘Barkha jī [a word for respect], you have every right to be confused. But you have no right to confuse the people and me’ (NDTV 2014a).

Dutt discarded the coupling of development and Hindutva, which had been made plainly by Joshi, to recast development sans Hindutva as the key issue. My larger point is that development is necessarily linked to culture and religion. It is common sense in anthropology to say that development, or for that matter economics, is not merely economic. As tourism, travel,commodities, services, institutions, places, and ideas are religious, so are development and economy. In fact, pure economy is a misnomer; it is always political economy (Ahmad 2013b). As politics and religion are linked, so are religion and development (cf. Chapter 1 0).

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