With a picture of Che Guevera on their Facebook page, Occupy Dalal street has 36 likes, a far cry from the hundreds of supporters of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) who took over Zuccotti park in New York on September 17. A month later the ‘Occupy’ protests spread across the world like wildfire, however Occupy Dalal Street hasn’t sparked off more than a whimper.
Many activists and sociologists say it is a protest that has come too early for our still growing capitalist economy. “There is still a lot of euphoria attached with the middle class that gains from our capitalist structure. If there was a protest it could be arranged by the Gandhians or leftists, but this sort of a protest is not a priority right now in India,” says Shekhar Singh, member of National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information.
Though India saw its share of protests with the anti-corruption, Anna Hazare movement, the anger against greedy capitalism, targeting traders or financial dealings does not rise till a scam is exposed. “In Wall Street they are protesting against the worst form of crony capitalism where the government is helping out banks. The only time India had a brush with a similar problem was when the 2G-scam was uncovered,” says Singh.
Crony capitalism apart, people’s anger against those who are advantaged and influential cannot be ignored, say experts. “What OWS and the anti-corruption movement in India have in common is people’s anger against the privileged and the powerful colluding. However, an Occupy Dalal St. movement is unlikely to strike a chord in India,” says Sumita Kale of economic research firm Indicus Analytics.
Its soon to be released FinancialScape estimates show that just 1-2% of urban Indian households have investment directly in the stock market as shares, less than 5% of SEC-A urban households and between 1-2% of SEC-B urban households directly invest in stocks. The figures are similar for mutual fund investments.
“While every Indian suffers corruption somewhere in his/her life, a very small proportion of people are affected by stock market collusions,” adds Kale. Even as a Rajat Gupta, charged with insider trading, gives investors the jitters, these are not immediate concerns for the Indian stockholder. “People don’t think that industry is breaking their back like in the US and the UK,” says trade analyst Rajesh Jain.
Former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan feels that there is “no problem as of now” in the Indian economy. “The protests in the US were because the share holders lost money and jobs, and those who were managing the funds were compensated lavishly, but the share holders weren’t. There is this sense of frustration also because their inability to reach a solution with rising debt and expenditure,” says Jalan. “This is not the case in India, though we may have frustration over issues like administration or reforms.”
Through a people power movement, this frustration can find a vent, but it can also hint at causing damage. An Occupy Mumbai site (occupymumbai.co.nr) states that it plans to “peacefully protest against the Indian government’s ...abuse of human rights, rampant corruption and oppression of it’s people”. On the same site it says, “India is encouraged to give the right to bear arms back to its citizens.” E-mails to the organisers of the website were unreturned. “The most naïve class in India is the middle class. The poor know what real politics is,” says Singh.
Parliamentary democracy is a sanity factor that keeps protests fanned by social networks and the media in check, says sociologist Susan Visvanathan of JNU. While institutionalised corporate greed is not the target in our country, thanks to the economic inequality in India, there are far weightier issues to deal with. “Poverty is where the real debate lies. Almost 80% of our country is still dependent on agriculture and agricultural products. Copious consumption which we see in cities is still a small niche, that can attract protests,” says Visvanathan.