(An in-depth look at what Modi’s favourite slogans about FDI, ‘cleanliness’ and workers, mean for workers’ rights, and a clean environment.)
Central to Modi’s mesmerising election rhetoric of ‘achchhe din’ were two key promises: checking price-rise and eliminating corruption. Post elections, these promises have conspicuously gone missing from Modi’s speeches, the two slogans that now dominate and virtually define Modispeak are “make in India” and “clean India”. The two slogans formed the main theme of Modi’s 15 August Lal Quila address and also of his first US mission as PM and now thanks to India’s ‘Modi’fied media the slogans are everywhere. Add to this the ‘Shrameva Jayate’ (Victorious Workers) slogan he has wedded to his ‘Make in India’ rhetoric.
What do these slogans tell us about Modi’s unfolding agenda? It is quite clear that Modi finds it inconvenient to talk about prices now. It is also understandable that having won an election on the so-called ‘development’ plank, he cannot afford, or does not even need, to focus on the vicious Sanghi agenda of ‘love jihad’ and ‘cow protection’. There are plenty of other leaders in BJP or organisations in the Sangh brigade to do that. So while the foot soldiers of the Sangh brigade and the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are busy spreading the communal and jingoistic venom with impunity, Modi waxes eloquent about FDI and cleanliness.
The China Experience
Modi and his men would like us to believe that the ‘make in India’ mission is modelled on China’s experience of using FDI to emerge as a spectacular manufacturing hub. Modi is however keenly aware that given India’s bitter historical memories of colonial drain and plunder, and the more recent experiences of MNC-led devastation and arm-twisting (Union Carbide, Enron, Vodaphone, to name only a few), the common people are not too enamoured of the idea of FDI. He is therefore trying to give the whole thing a false ‘nationalistic’ spin by explaining FDI as “First Develop India”. There could not possibly be a more false and fraudulent claim. Development of a country of India’s dimensions has to be powered from within and indiscriminate foreign investment can only leave a trail of damage and dependence, not development and public welfare.
Before we start invoking the case of China, we must remember a few facts. By the time China started attracting FDI in manufacturing, it had already laid a solid infrastructure of both social capital and physical infrastructure through decades of post-revolution land reforms and socio-economic reconstruction. It never relied on FDI to come to China and develop the Chinese economy. Much of the FDI in China is made by the non-resident Chinese. And when China sensed trouble in the world market in the wake of the recent global economic crisis, it immediately redirected its attention to expanding the domestic market by effecting significant wage increases. Also China has a much more effective regulatory framework to deal with FDI. Yet as we all know, increasing FDI in China has also added to the country’s share of problems whether in terms of damage to environment and public health or social inequality and regional disparity.