January 2012, Week 3


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Capitalism's Real Gravediggers

    Beware the `Gush-Up Gospel' Behind India's

By Arundhati Roy
January 19, 2012


Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or
a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived
on Altamount Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet
menace, things have not been the same. "Here we are,"
the friend who took me there said, "pay your respects
to our new ruler." [Antilla Mansion on Altamount Road
in Mumbai] Antilla Mansion on Altamount Road in Mumbai

Antilla belongs to India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani.
I'd read about this, the most expensive dwelling ever
built, the 27 floors, three helipads, nine lifts,
hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums,
six floors of parking, and the 600 servants. Nothing
had prepared me for the vertical lawn - a soaring wall
of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was
dry in patches, bits had fallen off in neat rectangles.
Clearly, "trickle down" had not worked.

But "gush-up" has. That's why in a nation of 1.2bn,
India's 100 richest people own assets equivalent to a
quarter of gross domestic product.

The word on the street (and in The New York Times) is,
or at least was, that the Ambanis were not living in
Antilla. Perhaps they are there now, but people still
whisper about ghosts and bad luck, vastu and feng shui.
I think it's all Marx's fault. Capitalism, he said, "
... has conjured up such gigantic means of production
and of exchange, it is like the sorcerer who is no
longer able to control the powers of the nether world
whom he has called up by his spells".

In India, the 300m of us who belong to the new,
post-"reforms" middle class - the market - live side by
side with the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who
have killed themselves, and of the 800m who have been
impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And
who survive on less than 50 cents a day.

Mr Ambani is personally worth more than $20bn. He has a
controlling majority stake in Reliance Industries
Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation
of Rs2.41tn ($47bn) and an array of global business
interests. RIL has a 95 per cent stake in Infotel,
which a few weeks ago bought a major share in a media
group that runs television news and entertainment
channels. Infotel owns the only national 4G broadband
licence. He also has a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations, some family-
owned, some not, that run India. Some of the others are
Tata, Jindal, Vedanta, Mittal, Infosys, Essar and the
other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh's brother Anil.
Their race for growth has spilt across Europe, central
Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Tatas, for example,
run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are
one of India's largest private-sector power companies.

Since the cross-ownership of businesses is not
restricted by the "gush-up gospel" rules, the more you
have, the more you can have. Meanwhile, scandal after
scandal has exposed, in painful detail, how
corporations buy politicians, judges, bureaucrats and
media houses, hollowing out democracy, retaining only
its rituals. Huge reserves of bauxite, iron ore, oil
and natural gas worth trillions of dollars were sold to
corporations for a pittance, defying even the twisted
logic of the free market. Cartels of corrupt
politicians and corporations have colluded to
underestimate the quantity of reserves, and the actual
market value of public assets, leading to the siphoning
off of billions of dollars of public money. Then
there's the land grab - the forced displacement of
communities, of millions of people whose lands are
being appropriated by the state and handed to private
enterprise. (The concept of inviolability of private
property rarely applies to the property of the poor.)
Mass revolts have broken out, many of them armed. The
government has indicated that it will deploy the army
to quell them.

Corporations have their own sly strategy to deal with
dissent. With a minuscule percentage of their profits
they run hospitals, educational institutes and trusts,
which in turn fund NGOs, academics, journalists,
artists, film-makers, literary festivals and even
protest movements. It is a way of using charity to lure
opinion-makers into their sphere of influence. Of
infiltrating normality, colonising ordinariness, so
that challenging them seems as absurd (or as esoteric)
as challenging "reality" itself. From here, it's a
quick, easy step to "there is no alternative".

The Tatas run two of the largest charitable trusts in
India. (They donated $50m to that needy institution the
Harvard Business School.) The Jindals, with a major
stake in mining, metals and power, run the Jindal
Global Law School, and will soon open the Jindal School
of Government and Public Policy. Financed by profits
from the software giant Infosys, the New India
Foundation gives prizes and fellowships to social

Capitalism's real gravediggers, it turns out, are not
Marx's revolutionary proletariat but its own delusional
cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith.

Having worked out how to manage the government, the
opposition, the courts, the media and liberal opinion,
what remains to be dealt with is the growing unrest,
the threat of "people power". How do you domesticate
it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you
vacuum up people's fury and redirect it into blind
alleys? The largely middle-class, overtly nationalist
anti-corruption movement in India led by Anna Hazare is
a good example. A round-the-clock, corporate-sponsored
media campaign proclaimed it to be "the voice of the
people". It called for a law that undermined even the
remaining dregs of democracy. Unlike the Occupy Wall
Street movement, it did not breathe a word against
privatisation, corporate monopolies or economic
"reforms". Its principal media backers successfully
turned the spotlight away from huge corporate
corruption scandals and used the public mauling of
politicians to call for the further withdrawal of
discretionary powers from government, for more reforms
and more privatisation.

After two decades of these "reforms" and of phenomenal
but jobless growth, India has more malnourished
children than anywhere else in the world, and more poor
people in eight of its states than 26 countries of sub-
Saharan Africa put together. And now the international
financial crisis is closing in. The growth rate has
plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is
pulling out.

Capitalism's real gravediggers, it turns out, are not
Marx's revolutionary proletariat but its own delusional
cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. They
seem to have difficulty comprehending reality or
grasping the science of climate change, which says,
quite simply, that capitalism (including the Chinese
variety) is destroying the planet.

"Trickle down" failed. Now "gush-up" is in trouble too.
As early stars appear in Mumbai's darkening sky, guards
in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies
appear outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The
lights blaze on. Perhaps it is time for the ghosts to
come out and play.

c 2012 ZNet

Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She
studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives,
and has worked as a film designer, actor, and
screenplay writer in India. Her latest book, Listening
to Grasshoppers: Fields Notes on Democracy, is a
collection of recent essays. A tenth anniversary
edition of her novel, The God of Small Things (Random
House), for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize,
was recently released. She is also the author of
numerous nonfiction titles, including An Ordinary
Person's Guide to Empire.


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