Aditya Nigam on Thu, 30 Mar 2000 19:37:34 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Paper on globalization.

Dear friend/s,
I am sending this article which Ravi Sundaram may have spoken to you
about. Hope it is relevant to the discussion there.
Aditya Nigam

Notes on Recent Indian Experience

Aditya Nigam
CSDS, Delhi


Once upon a time, radicalism meant the politics of transformation, the
desire to change the present in what could be broadly called a
'pro-people' direction. Whatever its political shade, radicalism was
profoundly anti-systemic and anti-status quo. Things have changed beyond
recognition now. One look at the major movements that can be considered
radical in some way, will reveal that they are now primarily concerned
with saving what exists, rather than changing.  So we have a range of
movements which describe themselves as the Save Narmada Movement (NBA),
Save Independence Movement (Azadi Bachao Andolan), Save Childhood
Movement (Bachpan Bachao Andolan) and so on. Those that have not
self-consciously described themselves as such too, are really involved
in nothing more than saving jobs, saving the public sector, saving
industry, saving the ecology, saving traditional livelihoods, even
saving 'Indian culture' from pollution...the list is endless.
Radicalism, in other words, has been reduced to the fight for status
quo. It is suddenly as if all the gain of past struggles spanning
decades, even centuries, stands the threat of being lost. Some are seen
as threatened directly by the globalization process, while others like
ecology and traditional livelihoods, more generally by the development

If globalization is seen as the acceleration of the general logic of
capital accumulation and the development paradigm that goes with it,
then it can be argued that both the categories of movements really
address two sides of the same process of disempowerment and
dispossession of large sectors of the population. The problem however,
is that this is not so. Those fighting to save the public sector and job
security in the labour market and those resisting displacement to save
their traditional livelihoods, occupy two different terrains. In the
past, the sharp divergences between the trade unions and the Narmada
Bachao Andolan have come out in the open in Gujarat and Maharashtra
occasionally, with the former arguing that the NBA is resisting the
creation of more jobs. There has been considerable hostility in the past
from the Left parties who have accused the NBA of stalling India"s
development and thus playing into the hands of Western powers who want
to keep India backward. In their self-perception the Left parties stood
for the India"s progress and development and movements epitomized by the
NBA represented the "backward looking" forces opposed to modern

By introducing an entirely new regime of time, accelerated to
breathtaking dimensions, what globalization has done is to reduce the
left-wing proponents of development and progress to a kind of
obsolescence - to defensive battles much of the type that many
ecological movements like the NBA have been fighting. What was progress
and development even ten years ago is irretrievably the past now; the
present of course, is not that yet exists but one that is to be - it
exists 'elsewhere', in the West. There is therefore, a sense in which
progress and development have overtaken the Left  which continues to be
temporally located in that past. In relation to the new situation then,
there has also arisen a basis for the thawing of relations between such
diverse and often mutually antagonistic movements as the ones mentioned
above. The re-appearance of imperialism as the "main enemy" on the scene
has provided the possibility of united resistance of all "nationalist
and patriotic forces". The theory of the 'lesser evil' also comes in
handy in this new demonology. There has to be a hierarchy of evils and,
so goes common wisdom, you often have to make common cause with the less
dangerous one in order to defeat the bigger threat. The far-off, unknown
imperialist, who always evokes the memory of colonial rule, is easily
seen as the greater threat in comparison to the more familiar domestic
enemies - khadi-clad politician or industrialist. This could be one
simple explanation of this change in the meaning of radical politics in
contemporary India. But is that really all there is to it? Why despite
such favourable situation, despite the consequent thawing of relations
among these diverse movements, do all these forces find it difficult to
offer such a united resistance? Why, on the contrary, does such a
possibility seem more remote with each passing day?

This paper will tentatively explore the shifts in meaning(s) of radical
politics and the need for radical political theory to grasp their
significance if it is to effectively challenge onslaughts on peoples'
livelihoods and rights. Clearly this paper cannot even pretend be a
complete catalogue of the changes, let alone provide an exhaustive
analysis. In a sense, the notes here represent a preliminary attempt at
raising some of the pressing issues with all its attendant risks. Do the
twin processes of globalization and of the 'increased political
assertions of identity' advance or undermine the cause of Indian
democracy? This paper argues that neither process is actually univocal
and is therefore, full of contradictory potentialities for the future -
both, of Indian democracy and of radical politics. Today, even the most
hidebound position will find it expedient to assert that
socio-historical processes are neither univocal nor unilinear. And yet,
what does it mean beyond that express level of banality? What do I mean,
for instance, when I say that the process of globalization speaks with
more than one voice? I think there are at least two things implied in
the assertion. First, that the processes referred to as globalization
are many and despite the existence of a unipolar world, they present
anything but a monolith. The question really, is of the vantage point
from where we choose to look at them and here, I will argue, the vantage
point of the nation-state cannot be the ground for erecting any radical
politics and that the greatest defeats of recent times can be at least
partly (I would say, largely) attributed to this circumstance. Second,
that the perceptions of and responses to these processes are likely to
be just as diverse, depending once again on the social location of the
agents.  Just as early colonial capitalism did not begin writing its
script on a fresh and clean slate, so the present round of
'globalization' will have to negotiate its advance in each region
separately. Therefore, whether or not globalization has a single author,
there is really no point debating that authorial intention which is
without doubt imperialist. If ours is the epoch of the death of the
Author-Subject, it is also the epoch of the emergence of a new type of
subject - the reader-subject. This is a crucial shift even in cognitive
terms, if history is not to be seen merely as the outcome of the grand
conspiracies of imperialism. What is crucial in this instance, is the
way the readers - the new players - understand globalization, twist its
meaning, play it around for their own purposes. Which potentialities
fructify will therefore, eventually depend critically upon the strategic
options adopted by the politics that identifies itself as radical. And
the efficacy of these choices will depend upon a thorough rethinking of
the entire hierarchy of evils that permanently fixes enemies and friends
and allies in such a way that constrains rather than enables. Needless
to say, this hierarchy of evils can only be thought afresh, if we
undertake the stupendous task of rethinking our entire conceptual
paraphernalia on which it is based.

Political and academic opinion is quite clearly divided into a
pro-globalization and an anti-globalization camp. And Indian radicalism
is largely identified with the latter. The more strident one's
opposition to globalization, the greater one's claim to radicalism. The
pitfalls of this position, I will suggest, are such that they are bound
to lead to a defense of the status quo, and eventually even of the
nation-state.  Radicalism appears here to be talking a language similar
to that of many other defenders of the status quo, or worse, of
right-wing parties - however much it may feel uncomfortable about the
fact. That the anti-globalization/anti-imperialist banner is being
claimed equally by the Hindu Right is demonstrated time and again. This
was the case with the Swadeshi platform of the RSS 'family'; it is so
now after the nuclear explosions when an 'anti-imperialist' sentiment
seems to have burst forth.  Left and radical parties still have to
repeatedly tell themselves that theirs is the genuinely anti-imperialist
position; that the Hindu Right is not sincere about its position and
will eventually compromise with imperialism or that it is already
preparing to 'surrender'.  There is a certain discomfort in pushing the
anti-nuclear argument, itself arrived at after considerable
prevarication, because of this apparent fear of imperialism.  Surely,
there must be something more to differentiate a radical from a
right-wing position: they cannot possibly be identical in every other
respect except for the "sincerity" of one and the "insincerity" of the
other. One may argue in times of an ascendant tide of radicalism that
its opponents find it difficult to formally rebut their position and
therefore disguise theirs in radical verbiage, but this is not an
argument that can be sustained in the present conjuncture of worldwide

Undoubtedly, there is a core of injustice to globalization as it
involves a restructuring of global power relations to the benefit of
metropolitan capital to the disadvantage of all others. And yet, there
are possibilities that present themselves to third world radicalism and
the labour movement, precisely because it lacks a single voice. For
instance, the whole debate on labour rights could be brought back on the
agenda of a government that was steamrolling the structural adjustment
programme, post-Marrakesh (i.e. after the signing of the GATT
agreement), almost entirely due to the fact that the spectre of the
'social clause' was raised by representatives of the metropolitan
powers. It was they, and surely not out of altruism, who raised the
question of universal labour standards and in so doing, forced the issue
on the agenda of the trade unions too. Until then, it was just there as
a routine question in resolutions criticising the labour policy of the
government. The urgency with which the question of the defense of the
public sector was taken up was hardly visible on questions of child
labour or unorganized labour, for instance. How the fact of the
metropolitan powers raising these issues is viewed depends upon the
vantage point one adopts and from the vantage point of the nation-state
it is bound to become an inevitable constraint. The radical project, I
will argue, can only be revived if and when it can delink its fate from
that of the nation-state. This can be accomplished only through a
thorough going critique of the nationalist project in India, as such and
by rethinking the generally posited easy and necessary relationship
between nationalism and anti-imperialism.

In this context, the renewed political assertions of identity themselves
need to be seen as interrogations of the dominant project of Indian
nationalism embodied in the post-independence state. This nationalism
actually continued to preserve an upper-caste Hindu hegemony in an
abstract universalist constitutional language. Once that project is
problematized, questions are likely to emerge in very different light
with very different priorities, as they indeed are. It can then throw
into question the very hierarchy of evils defined by radical, left-wing
common sense and lead to the emergence of a very different agenda. These
interrogations then, already occupy a postnationalist terrain in that
sense, even though they are not yet theoretically articulated as such.

Labour, Social Clause and Nationalism
One of the most classic instances of the 'aporias' of radical politics
at the present moment - thanks to its implication in the politics of the
nation-state - is the Indian debate on the social clause. The most
interesting aspect of this debate is the amnesia that frames
radical/left-wing responses. There seems to be no recollection of the
fact that the first faltering steps towards introducing factory and
labour legislations in this country were the product of a 'trade war' in
the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century. Those were the days
when the textile barons of Manchester and Lancashire were pushing for
factory reforms within India, faced as they were with competition from
India's nascent textile industry.  This amnesia is itself a feature that
needs to be theorized. However, let us leave that for now and return to
our narrative.

As the final negotiations to the Uruguay Round on the General Agreement
of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) came to an end and the accord was to be
signed, the representatives of the metropolitan countries produced their
trump card: Trade could genuinely be free, they argued, only when all
conditions were equal.  Third world exporters have the 'unfair
advantage' of cheap labour whom they endlessly exploit through the
existence of practices like bonded and child labour, through non-payment
of minimum wages and the denial of trade union rights. They can
therefore outprice their competitors from the first world, they averred.
Hesitatingly and falteringly, the third world elites and government
representatives registered their mildest protest. On April 13, on the
eve of signing the GATT accord, the Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) did unanimously adopt a declaration. Cautiously
worded, the document "emphasized the need to combat protectionism and to
avoid its assuming new forms in the future", while taking into account
"the fact that many opportunities and challenges were arising from
positive developments in the global economic situation particularly with
the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round."  Official statements
from the Indian government were few and far between. It was only in
August, almost four months after the signing of the accord that the
government set up a commission headed by Subramaniam Swamy, a former
Commerce Minister, to deal with the issues arising out of the social
clause and recommend what position to take. Soon after taking up the
responsibility, Swamy argued for taking the middle path. He argued that
"the shrill denunciation of what is now known as the social clause does
not benefit India since even if such a clause does not become part of
the to-be-formed WTO, de facto, US and European companies have started
to sign export contracts with Indian companies after ascertaining if
they meet acceptable labour standards...In my view, rather than flatly
rejecting or completely surrendering on the issue of social clause, we
must pursue a middle path of seeking to modify the US and European
countries' rigid stand..."  Only very gradually did the third
world/developing countries governments manage to come out with a
collective position in the form of the Delhi Declaration. In the Fifth
Conference of the Labour Ministers of Non-Aligned and Other Developing
Countries, held in New Delhi in January 1995, the declaration was
adopted that expressed "deep concern about the serious post-Marrakesh
efforts at seeking to establish linkage between international trade and
enforcement of labour standards through the imposition of the social
clause."  Ironically, the most "forthright position" in defense of the
national capitalists was taken by the trade unions who claimed to
steadfastly stand for workers' interests and rights. All the major trade
unions attending the 32nd Session of the Standing Labour Committee,
namely the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade
Union Congress (AITUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC),
Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), United Trade
Union Congress (UTUC), Trade Union Coordination Committee (TUCC) and the
UTUC (Lenin Sarani) gave their unstinted support to the government in
the name of anti-imperialism. "Though normally on all other policy
matters, given the direction of overall government policy, the unions
and the government are at opposite poles," said the CPI-M organ,  "the
social clause is a singular issue on which there is unanimity not only
among the trade unions and employers, but also on support to the
government for wanting to reject the US move."   The central trade
unions even went to the extent of appealing to the Fifth Conference of
Labour Ministers of Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries,
expressing their resolute "opposition to the linking of  'labour
standards' to trade as a non-tariff protectionist measure."  The
position of the trade unions was therefore, not simply a tactical one
taken among themselves but amounted to an unconditional declaration of
support to the government, leaving no bargaining possibility whatsoever.
It did not matter at all that precious little had been done by the
government on this front for close to five decades. It did not matter
that for almost five decades the Indian nation-state had no time or
inclination to think either about its toilers or its children. What
mattered was the 'fact' that imperialism was blackmailing the 'nation'
and the 'working class' was historically destined to play its
'anti-imperialist' role. Never mind of course, the fact that no one ever
asked this mythical  'working class' what it wanted. Parenthetically, we
may note that while there has been a lot of talk by the advocates of
globalization about the 'immense possibility' contained within it for
third world industrialists/exporters, it was the left-wing economists
and theorists who argued practically from the standpoint of the national
bourgeoisie that such was not the case. They claimed that it would mean
unmitigated disaster for the nation as a whole. And if it is disastrous
for 'the nation' it must also be so for all those who comprise it. All
this of course, even as the "national" bourgeoisie continued to
negotiate its alliances and collaboration with transnational companies.
One relevant case here is that of the owner of the Ranbaxy
pharmaceutical group Mohan Singh, who provided the financial back-up and
the office space for the National Working Group on Patent Laws (and
intellectual property rights) peopled mostly by CPI-M
activist-intellectuals. At least for a section of the Ranbaxy group,
however, this was the way to increase bargaining pressures for
international collaborations which they finally pulled through and then
subsequently lost interest in the issue.  It is interesting therefore,
that neither the government nor the industrialists, against whom the
social clause was aimed, ever attacked the social clause in a forthright
manner. Their strategy was more of finding and utilizing the spaces
within. It was left to the trade unions then to do the same.

There were however, certain dissenting voices from the margins. For
instance, Srilatha Swaminadhan of the Rajasthan Kisan Sangathan argued
that the fight over the social clause was between two sets of exploiters
wanting a larger slice of the pie at the expense of the toiling peoples
of the world and that if the Indian workers wanted to improve their lot
they should use this opportunity. They should "fight and insist on the
linkage of the social clause with multilateral trade agreements" and to
"continue to add more and more demands of  the workers to be linked to
multilateral trade agreements."  Sujata Gothoskar of the Workers'
Solidarity Centre, Mumbai even recalled the anti-worker attitude of the
nationalist leadership to the move for factory legislation and the
enactment of the Indian Factories Act (1881) and argued that the workers
could not possibly have a stake in such a nation. She did see problems
in the institution of the social clause, its monitoring, its use or
misuse and underlined the need for evolving an independent
worker-oriented position.  Thomas Kocherry, Chairperson of the National
Fishworkers' Forum, which has been leading militant struggles of the
fisherfolk in the wake of liberalization gave expression to his
ambivalence: "On the one hand, it is clear that the real motivations of
the developed countries are dubious, on the other hand, the failure of
our government in protecting workers makes one wonder whether it is an
opportunity to be exploited." One extreme reaction has also come from
some NGOs, particularly those working on issues of child labour. Notable
among them is the Bachpan Bachao Andolan and the South Asian Coalition
Against Child Servitude, who decided to use the social clause in what
appears to be quite a naive and unproblematic way. Quite unmindful of
the power play involved in international trade, many NGOs have even lent
themselves to the business of certifying products made without the use
of child labour.
On the other side, it soon became clear that the working class and
workers' organizations and trade unions of the first world countries
were rallying around the positions of their own governments  demanding
the enforcement of the social clause, the linking of labour standards
with international trade. The ostensible logic of their position was
pro-labour - they wanted third world labour to have minimum rights too.
Yet, there was something more to it which was revealed in the American
case during the NAFTA debate. The fear that NAFTA would lead to the
movement of US capital to the low wage areas of Mexico aggravating
domestic unemployment, was played upon by the maverick presidential
candidate Ross Perot in his metaphor of the "giant sucking sound across
the border". The stand of the US unions exemplified the position of
almost all the Northern trade unions.  But in the middle of this
apparently unified voice of metropolitan labour and capital, there came
another, from the World Bank. This position was spelt out in its annual
World Development Report, 1995 entitled Workers in an Integrating World.
While the Bank celebrates globalization in the report by claiming that
"these are revolutionary times in the global economy", in the same
breath it expresses unease that  "there are fears of rising insecurity
as technological change, expanding international interactions, and the
decline of traditional community structures seem to threaten jobs,
wages, and support for the elderly."  These are precisely the type of
changes that have led to growing casualization and informalization in
countries where structural adjustment programmes and neo-liberal
economic policies have been implemented, including the United States
itself. These are also changes that, in countries like India, are bound
to aggravate conditions that the 'social clause' seeks to 'rectify'. But
the Bank is opposed to the social clause: "it is best to keep
multilateral trade agreements confined to directly trade-related issues
to prevent protectionist interests from misusing such links to reduce
the trade that workers in low and middle-income countries need if their
incomes are to rise."  So it suggests that the best way to ensure
optimum labour standards in any given country, is to institutionalize
"free trade unionism" and collective bargaining. Workers' organizations
can then themselves negotiate with the employers and the government. The
Bank"s position needs to be studied and understood more seriously, but
it does seem that because it is entrusted with the task of forcing the
debtor countries to open up their economies, it probably finds it
difficult to sustain its propagation of the free-market and support the
social clause at the same time - a constraint that does not exist for
the Western nation-states. There are also indications that there has
been an acute awareness that, if the experience of the past is any
guide, structural adjustment programmes cannot be simply railroaded and
that high degrees of destitution can lead to political instability and
eventually jeopardize the very success of these programmes. In fact the
arch conservative journal The Economist devoted two full articles to
comment on the WDR `95 further strengthening its anti-social clause and
pro-unionism position.

Whether or not these are proposals that the Bank will ever push any
government to adopt, depends not just on how serious it is about them
but also on how serious others are about them and how much they can push
it in that direction. Take for instance, the pressure brought upon it on
the Sardar Sarovar Dam issue that has forced it suspend funding to it
for some time and concede some ground at some level. If the World Bank
has finally been forced to set up a World Commission on Large Dams to
examine the entire question of big dams, which includes Medha Patkar and
L. C. Jain, it is precisely because of the pressure brought upon it -
not only from the movements within but also internationally. We do not
yet know what will come out of it but it is certainly an important

So we now have basically five different positions actually being
articulated in very interesting ways.
1) The pro-globalization, pro-social-clause position of the Western
2) The anti-globalization, anti-social clause position of the Indian
trade unions and Left parties
3) The pro-globalization, anti-social clause position of the Indian
government and elites and the World Bank. Supported by a section of
conservative opinion represented by say, The Economist.
4) The anti-globalization, pro-social-clause position articulated by
some representatives of the unorganized sector workers. This is not
really a 'pro social-clause' position as it argues for making use of the
opportunity but does not repose any faith in the powers that seek to
impose it. It also includes many ambivalent voices. Included in this
category of responses should also be the Northern trade unions many of
whom stand opposed to globalization in more complicated ways but support
the social clause.
5) The somewhat unclear stand on globalization, of the pro social clause
NGOs working on child labour.

It is interesting that the organized trade unions representing the
organized sector workers, especially the public sector, have adopted the
more unhesitatingly outspoken nationalist position. They are after all,
not affected by any of the issues being raised in the package on
international labour standards. Child labour, bonded labour, below
subsistence wages and lack of union rights are not what they are
fighting for. It is precisely where these issues are of critical
importance, and where precious little has been done in the last five
decades, that the attitude to the social clause is more complicated. It
is precisely there that the stake in the 'nation' is the least- at best
it is ambiguous. It is reminiscent in many ways, of the situation at the
time of the nationalist movement when important leaders of the backward
castes and dalits (the untouchable castes) exhibited a similar
ambivalence towards the nationalists. It reminds us once again of the
ways in which hegemonic constructions of nationalism work to exclude the
already marginalized. It may in fact, be useful to mention here that
even the attitude to the GATT agreement itself, has not elicited the
unanimous opposition that would have been expected. Sharad Joshi's
Shetkari Sangathan has, for instance been arguing that Indian farmers
should make use of the opportunities presented by the accord. I may also
mention in parenthesis that, the NBA which leads the movement of another
marginalized, even excluded section, displays a likewise ambiguous
stance towards nationalism and has not hesitated to use international
fora to raise what many would consider  “India"s internal matter”.

If there was any merit to the dominant nationalist position during the
anticolonial struggle - though this is itself a matter of serious
contention in our troubled present - there is no way it can be seen as a
simple embodiment of anti-imperialism today. If it was possible then to
indefinitely defer the claims of the subaltern/marginalized sections in
the name of national independence, it was because there was at least a
possibility that free India would mean the emancipation of these
sections also. Fifty years after the independent Indian nation-state
came into existence, and precisely at a time when it is being challenged
by the very excluded sections, the desire to do so can only be seen as a
suspect effort to defend the privileges of the Indian capitalist elite
and worse, the brahminical Hindu elite.

What the entire debate brings out, in my opinion, is the highly complex
nature of the present conjuncture. It underlines the impossibility of
defining radicalism with reference to the stance on one or even a set of
issues. Most importantly, it throws into question the entire nationalist
radical project that: (a) privileges anti-imperialism as the defining
feature of radicalism and (b) sees the nation-state as the only locus of
conducting an anti-imperialist struggle. It also demands a questioning
of the very idea of actually existing Indian nationhood and the place it
assigns to the toilers in it. It is important to recognize that it is
precisely such an idea of nationhood that makes it possible for the
ruling elite to brand the Narmada Bachao Andolan also as anti-national,
on the ostensible plea that they are blocking "national development" and

That the stand of the Left parties is not simply a knee-jerk position
but backed by a kind of theoretical articulation is evident from the
following statement by a theorist of the orthodoxy. Aijaz Ahmed, despite
his deep marxist suspicions of nationalism says, "But a blanket contempt
for all nationalisms tends to slide over the question of imperialism. I
think that those who are fighting against imperialism cannot just forego
their nationalism. They have to go through it, transform their
nation-state in tangible ways..."  Or further, that "...there is
something profoundly democratic about anticolonial nationalisms" because
they politicize populations that have hitherto remained outside the
domains of modern politics. This idea that  they have to go through it,
that it is only through the nation-state that the struggle against
imperialism can be legitimately conducted is precisely what is at issue

If the discussion in the earlier section on the social clause shows that
there is already a challenge to the notion of a unified national
interest and that correspondingly, there are different responses to
globalization, then that should lead us to ask further questions about
the idea of nationhood. For, it shows that there is no single unified
ground - the  'working class' - from where radicalism can speak, and
that the responses can be most effectively formulated from the social
location of the actors. It shows that existence as an unorganized sector
worker or an organized public sector worker can crucially determine the
extent of stake one has in the nation. But then we are already on sticky
terrain. Why would the location of an actor as an unorganized sector
weaver, for instance, be the more important ground from where s/he would
choose to act? If the weaver is simultaneously an OBC (Other Backward
Caste - a group of castes who have fought for affirmative action to
ensure jobs for them, and have been at the centre of what is known as
the Mandal commission controversy), or a Muslim or considers him/herself
a Hindu, situated further in some specific geographic locale, could s/he
not respond as a member of any of these social groups/communities? And
if it is possible that as a Muslim or a Dalit, the problem more pressing
is not really one of an abstract entity called globalization but, say of
self-respect  or the right to life, would that aspiration be any less
legitimate or radical? By what authority can it be decreed that X and
not Y should be the focus of radical political mobilization? Can we
continue to smugly inhabit a transcendental space from where we can lay
down the agenda of radicalism, which cannot but be based on the denial
of lived experience? In other words, the unravelling of the nation
itself implies the "coming out" of issues proscribed by hegemonic
nationalism so far - with all its attendant problems. If that happens,
it is doubtful whether our assumption of imperialism being the main
enemy/danger/threat for all can remain intact.

This brings us back to the question posed at the beginning of this
paper: why has the "possibility" of a nationalist, anti-imperialist
mobilization against globalization not materialized? Precisely because,
it seems, the "main-ness" of the threat is felt differently now that the
proscribing authority is crumbling. Ironically, the trajectory of
left-wing radicalism is moving in the opposite direction to that of the
Indian nation. For left-wing investment in Indian nationalism has been
growing in inverse proportion to its unravelling. Since the decade of
the 1980s, this assertion has assumed forms and has adopted a language
that has marked a serious rupture from those of popular struggles of
earlier decades. The struggle of the `sixties and the `seventies arose
around issues of price-rise, corruption, wages and land, but despite
their militant forms, they remained within the framework of the Indian
nation. At best they challenged the class domination of the capitalists
and landlords in their rhetoric and in the transgression of the
institutional mechanisms of redressal but never went beyond the confines
of the idea of nationhood. The culturally coded power of the upper
castes and their continuing stranglehold could never be challenged
within the sanitized secular language of modern politics. So, for
example, the slogan of  "land to the tiller" that became the hallmark of
agrarian radicalism from the days of the Telengana movement of the
1940s, remained a movement that never touched the Dalits. Kancha Ilaiah
has argued that because they were not cultivating castes who owned at
least the implements of cultivation, the Dalits remained outside the
pale of such radicalism.  Along with nationalism then, it is probably
the unreflexive use of imported categories like "class" that are being
challenged today. Naturally then, left-wing nationalism would tend to
have increasingly diminishing purchase on such protests of the subaltern
and marginalized sections.
[The above is an edited version of a paper that was written more than
two years ago. Many developments have taken place in the meanwhile. Some
of the things discussed in this paper have become clearer. One instance
of the problematic nature of anti-imperialism and its easy relationship
with nationalism, is illustrated in a communication I reproduce below.]

Post Script

[For the general information of friends, I am attaching this extremely
interesting note sent by someone who has been alert to the dangers of a
naïve anti-imperialism, as an appendix. Comments within square brackets
are mine]

GLOBALIZATION AND HINDUTVA: A comment from an activist

Benaras, India
January 20, 2000 (Posted on SACW dated 21/1/2000)

Recently, an e-mail message from New Delhi ?
subject: WTO DG Mike Moore faces protestors in India ?
was widely distributed on various anti-globalization listservs as well
as some progressive and radical news services.

The message (attached below) provides a brief description about a recent
anti-WTO protest in India and an "open letter" to WTO Director-General Mike
Moore, signed by six organizations. Superficially, the post is simple
enough: a short account of a protest against the schemes of Mike Moore and
the WTO, as well as an accompanying Open Letter whose rhetoric is common to
activists involved in anti-globalization movements ("biopiracy," "Wicked
Trade Organization," "pawn in the hands of the United States," etc.).

However, I write this message to draw attention to some of the groups
who have signed on to the Open Letter. Three of the six groups that I
have been able to identify are widely-recognized front groups affiliated
with the Hindu Right in India, while a fourth has supported the current
ruling party which represents the interests of those right-wingers. I
have not yet been able to identify the other two groups, but they
obviously have no qualms associating with the Hindu right-wing, at least
on the evidence of the letter.

The Hindu Right, comprised of a network of affiliated organizations
collectively known as the "sangh parivar", is led by the fascistic RSS
(Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). The RSS-VHP-BJP combine and their
affiliates promote the idea of a "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu homeland) which
manifests itself in a militant anti-secular, anti-Muslim and, more
recently, anti-Christian posture. The attack on the Babri Masjid in
Ayodhya in 1992, is one infamous recent chapter of the movement, while
the assassination of  Mahatma Gandhi, for his alleged appeasement of
Muslims, is another well-known post-independence bookmark (although
Gandhi, like other historical figures, has been appropriated by the
parivar for their purposes).

The sangh parivar has recently stepped up its rhetoric and attacks
against Christians while continuing to stir up anti-Muslim and
anti-secular sentiments (it goes without saying that the Hindu Right is
also militantly anti-communist and anti-feminist). The sangh parivar is
the heart of a well-organized Hindu Right mass movement in India which
is implicated in all aspects of Indian society, and whose political arm
governs the country as well as many key states. To speak cautiously, the
movement has fascist overtones, although many progressive activists in
India would not hesitate to label the Hindu Right as out-and-out

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Akhil
Bhartiya Vidayarthi Prishad (ABVP), signees to the open letter to Mike
Moore-are all openly part of the sangh parivar movement.

The SJM encourages the production and consumption of domestically
produced goods, appropriating the swadeshi legacy of the Indian freedom
movement. The BMS is a labour front, founded to counter so-called
"communist" inspired ideas of class-struggle. It stresses harmonious,
paternal relations with management in the "national interest" (much like
other right-wing and fascist trade unions in modern history). The ABVP
is the student wing of the parivar, which likewise wishes to
re-structure the relationship between students, teachers and college
administrators on the family model while purposely downplaying radical
student politics and

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) is a farmers' organization
which is seemingly independent of the parivar. However, it is
sympathetic to the BJP, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh where
it has provided electoral support on more than one occasion. The BKS,
like the other two groups signing on to the open letter (Laghu Udyog
Bharati and Swamajvadi Abhiyan) apparently have no problems identifying
with clearly identified Hindu Right organizations like the SJM, BMS and

To be sure, elements of the Hindu Right do genuinely oppose
globalization, and more-often-than-not employ anti-colonial,
anti-imperialist rhetoric in doing so. However, the anti-globalization
posture is tied to a wider agenda which seeks to scapegoat so-called
"pseudo-secularists" and "anti-national" Muslims and Christians for the
nation's problems.

Interestingly, the BJP, the largest party of the current ruling
coalition government, has embraced free-market "reforms" and has
recently passed a whole series of privatization and de-regulation bills,
which makes the pleadings of the open letter below all that much more
[This may not be right, for there are different strands within the Hindu
right and the ones signing the statement are the more xenophobically
nationalist. The ABVP has recently even been doing an Indian version of
the Taliban  in some North Indian cities, threatening couples appearing
to enjoy Valentine's Day or issuing fatwas to girls wearing western
clothes. Some colleges have already fallen in line and  have enforced
the dress code dictated by them.]

The anti-WTO posture of elements of the Hindu Right is similar to existence
of chauvinistic right-wingers like Pat Buchanan in the USA, or the array of
anti-immigrant, far-right politicians in Europe who are also outspoken
opponents of globalization. (Admittedly, these are imperfect analogies, and
I use them simply to provide a basic frame of reference for readers who
might not be familiar with India's political culture.)

The existence of far-right opponents of globalization is something that
various progressive opponents of globalization have been reckoning with
in the past few years. I refer here to a recent statement of the
People's Global Action against "Free" Trade movement (PGA) who squarely
addressed the issue at their conference in Bangalore last summer:

"We reject all forms and systems of domination and discrimination
including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious
fundamentalism of all creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all human
beings. [T]he denunciation of "free" trade without an analysis of
patriarchy, racism and processes of homogenization is a basic element of
the discourse of the (extreme) right, and perfectly compatible with
simplistic explanations of complex realities and with the
personification of the effects of capitalism (such as conspiracy
theories, anti-Semitism, etc.) that inevitably lead to fascism,
witch-hunting and oppressive chauvinist traditionalism.  [The] PGA
rejects all reactionary forms of resistance to capitalism." [PGA
Bulletin, Issue #4, October 1999]

Undoubtedly, there is a militant, progressive, grassroots and radical
resistance to capitalist globalization in India, and I will forward a
quick article I recently wrote on the topic after this post. The PGA has
also posted accounts of recent protests on which my own article heavily

I encourage people receiving this note to re-post it to lists and
individuals who may have received the original post below without knowing
about the right-wing connections of the protesting organizations signed on
to the Open Letter to Mike Moore. It is important to stay informed about
all movements against the WTO and globalization ? including the reactionary
ones. But this note is being posted in the interests of providing some
necessary context which the original message was missing.

Jaggi Singh
January 20, 2000
Benaras, India
(based in Montreal)

----------original post----------

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2000 10:31:51 -0800
From: Anuradha Mittal [Note that the address is of
Food First, a radical NGO, working on issues related to globalization.]
Subject: [asia-apec 1378] WTO DG faces protestors in India

New Delhi, Jan 11
While more than 200 activists were staging a demonstration outside,
three protestors sneaked into a heavily guarded venue session of the
Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Partnership Meet 2000, here
today. WTO Director General Mike Moore had just finished speaking when
an activist walked to the dias and spoke against the dangers of allowing
WTO to police the world economy and also criticised the Indian
industrialists for joining hands with "an evil force".

Mr Mike Moore is in New Delhi on an invitation of the CII.

Taking the delegates attending the conference by surprise, the three
activists distributed to the delegates a copy of an open letter to the
WTO Director General. Terming the WTO as a "Wicked Trade Organisation",
the activists said that the recent protests on the streets at Seattle
had clearly demonstrated that trade was not the answer for human
development. "The protests that began in Seattle will now be seen in
India," they said.

A copy of the open letter to Mr Mike Moore is appended below:


Jan 11, 2000

Mr Mike Moore
Director General
World Trade Organization.

Dear Mr Moore,

We have tolerated enough. For several years now, the people of India
have been a mute witness to the systematic effort of the rich countries
to recolonise the developing world under the garb of free trade. Over
the years, the WTO has legitimised under TRIPs the steal, grab and
plunder of biological wealth and traditional knowledge from India. Your
patent laws have been designed to facilitate biopiracy from the
biodiversity rich countries. We are aware that almost 90 per cent of
India's estimated 45,000 plant species and 81,000 animal species are
already stored illegally in the United States.

To protect the economic interests of a few million farmers on either
side of the Atlantic, the WTO has reached an Agreement on Agriculture,
which is aimed at marginalising the 550 million Indian farmers and
putting the country's food security at an unmanageable risk. For us, the
survival of our small and marginal farmers, forming the backbone of the
economy, is as essential as protecting the democratic traditions of this
great nation.

A majority of the small-scale industries in India have already closed
down. The pharmaceutical sector, which made available medicines within
easy reach of the people, is at the verge of closure. Multi-national
companies, which your organisation essentially represents, have already
embarked on the process of loot and repatriation of resources. And if
the past tradition is any indication, we know that after you quit the
WTO, you too will join one of these companies. Your interest in
furthering the cause of these companies is, therefore, obvious.

As if this is not enough, you are bringing in labour, environment and
multilateral investment within the gambit of the WTO. In any case,
Seattle has clearly demonstrated that you are merely a pawn in the hands
of the United States. Unabashedly, you addressed joint press
conferences  with the US Trade Representative. You behaved as if she was
your boss. You threw all the democratic norms to wind by permitting the
US to hijack the global forum. The WTO is, as a placard being carried by
a protestor on the streets of Seattle read: "Wicked Trade Organisation."

Your agents in India, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and
the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI),
perpetuate the unequal doctrine on unsuspecting and gullible masses. For
your kind information, many of the people you support have already
sucked the national exchequer dry. For instance, the non-performing
assets of the nationalised banks in India, milked dry by a few
industrialists, stand at a staggering Rs 5,00,000 million !! [Note,
contra Jaggi, that the rhetoric is also anti-capitalist and not merely

The WTO protects the criminals. We cannot allow this to go on forever.
Let this be a warning from the people of India. We will not allow a
global system, which actually protects and supports the rich and the
powerful at the cost of the lives of millions of poor and hungry.
Mahatma Gandhi has taught us that tolerance of injustice is a crime. We
will, therefore, no longer accept any sort of coercion, threat and

You are perhaps aware that we have had a long history of driving out the
pirates and the colonial masters. And we will do it once again, if need
[Of course, the irony is that the first time it happened, these
organizations were abstainees. Both, the RSS, and the individuals
associated with the running of the present government, including the
Prime Minister, stayed studiously away from the anticolonial struggle,
where apparently Gandhi taught them to fight injustice!]
Swadeshi Jagran Manch
Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh
Akhil Bhartiya Vidayarthi Prishad
Bhartiya Kisan Sangh
Laghu Udyog Bharati
Swamajvadi Abhiyan

-----end of message-----

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