AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s endorsement of the neoliberal view that the government has no business to be in business at a recent Confederation of Indian Industry event and his pronouncement that AAP is only against crony capitalism — and not capitalism per se — reflects a rightward drift in the party. To suggest that the problem of corruption is only because of malfunctioning governance and has nothing to do with economic policies or the larger trajectory of development is being, at best, naïve.
All corruption scandals that have surfaced in the country over the past few years involve expropriation of common resources by corporations on a massive scale. This plunder of resources, akin to what Karl Marx had characterised as the “primitive accumulation of capital”, was made possible through the collusion of a number of corporates, politicians and bureaucrats and most political parties have presided over this regime of ruthless “primitive accumulation”. While the Congress has facilitated this at the Centre, the BJP has done it in Karnataka and the BJD in Odisha.
It is the popular revulsion against this co-option of all the mainstream parties into a systemic loot of resources that has propelled the anti-corruption movement and led to the emergence of AAP. The party’s leadership is doing a great disservice to the cause by sidestepping a systemic critique of neoliberal capitalism, which generates cronyism, corruption and plunder of resources. Playing to the corporate gallery may help AAP in raising more funds for their Lok Sabha campaign and soften the hostility of the mainstream media, but it will erode its credibility and support among the working people.
AAP should have learnt from the experience of the mainstream Left in this regard. After championing the cause of the exploited and oppressed people for decades, the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal decided in favour of a pro-corporate shift in its policies by the late 1990s. A former chief minister of West Bengal used the chambers of industry platforms to chastise trade unions and pontificate on the inevitability of globalisation. What started as a rightward drift eventually resulted in the Singur-Nandigram fiasco over land acquisition and Special Economic Zones, which turned the rural poor against the Left and led to successive electoral debacles. The faith of the people, once eroded, is difficult to regain.
Given their ideological predilections, political pundits in India are either enamoured by the economic model of the United States or China. The fact is that both of these major economies are ridden with corruption and cronyism. Despite reckless speculation and rampant malpractices, the financial giants of the US were bailed out using trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money after the crash of the housing bubble, thanks to the Wall Street-Treasury complex. A recent exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has revealed how close relatives of the top Chinese leadership and other wealthy businessmen have stashed away wealth in offshore tax havens like the British Virgin Islands. Neoliberal capitalism, whether American free market-style or with Chinese characteristics, has invariably turned out to be of the ‘crony’ variety.
What is needed in India is a political force that can take on entrenched ruling class interests and challenge the corrupt, undemocratic and deeply iniquitous status quo. Drastic reforms, both political and economic are necessary. While passionately arguing for political reforms, AAP is turning its back on the necessity of breaking the collusion between the State and big capital and redefining their inter-relationship on a democratic basis. For the anti-corruption cause, this stand is self-defeating.
Prasenjit Bose is a left-wing economist and activist
The views expressed by the author is personal