26/03/08

chemistry between the right hand and the left: why the indian left hates the market without actually having been there

part of a very perceptive comment (made by someone using the pseudonym 'xtraview') that i found here:
Its like being an Indian leftist, whose either parents are in public sector or wife or brother or aspiring sons. Who truly beleives that market is bad. In all his earnest he plead to the state for providing for the poor, or open a NGO. Sometimes, in rage organize labor and prepare masses to revolt (incidentally organized labor is just 5 % in India, the left contribute to secure their interests and job security at the cost of 95% who are in unorganized sector)
My question is why is the left is against the market?
The answer to this won't be found in the 'ethical framework' but somewhere else.
I can only give you a hint ' look at the middle class composition (70 percent depend upon state either for salary, or subsidy, or protection', the NGOs, left intellectuals and we are part of this)
The whole debate on capitalism, imperialism which occupy indian intellectual minds...is coming fron a Country where the sequence of development had been State, then civil society and then market. Unlike the West (Origin of Marxist thoughts)that followed the sequence of State-market-civil society (that developed a critique of market excesses).
So, what is in the market...that is resisted? (read pranab bardhan on this)
Is it fear of competetion. The loss of the priviledges...

But what caste has got to do with it?
This has more to do with the 'ethics'. If you go beyond the caste data to the caste narratives, you will find three distinct yet dominant strands. i.e the Pride (in relation to other caste), Jealousy (if someone from caste deemed low comes in the neighborhood with a bigger Bunglow) and Fear (of society, of losing face, more pronounced at the time of marriage- the perpetuation link).

Now remove caste out of it, then what we have is Pride (as a relational concept) manifestating in a patron-client mindset, squeezing individuality out, seeking or dispensing favor rather than exercising 'citizenship'
Jealousy (inability to accept others as equal) manifesting itself in the form of 'lack of trust' giving rise to flea market economy...giving rise to moms and pop's stores rather that accumulated enterprises (I do accept that things are changing a little though a miniscule proportion among urban elites).
Fear (of losing face to 'invisible' yet formidable society) manifesting itself in the dearth of individuality and entrepreneurship, being overly path-dependent, just look at the dating system, how hard it is to win over a girl or boy by manifesting individuality, but so easy to find the partner for life by just conforming (I am not saying it's essentially bad though)

This is just a glimpse of how entrenched caste is, even extracting an ethical framework is not devoid of it. That leaves us to the question of what to do with it...atleast at the individual level. Can we jettison caste alltogether, I don't think its wise (more so when any attempt may reinforce it further). If I have to take a high moral ground, I will say that what we can and should do is to create a renewed vision for the society, a collective aspiration for the kind of society we would like to have now, the kind of society we want to live in – and indeed, the question of who 'we' are? When I pay bribe to get my work done or just speak in english to get past the guard, in essence I am legitimizing a system that indirectly perpetuate caste system. Why not instead of using 'connections' we exercise our 'citizenship'?

By having a vison it may be much easier to agree on the values that would characterize Indian society - such as equality diversity, solidarity, treating people by 'who they are', not by 'what they have' and so on –in this way we can harmonize conflicting claims much beter rather than raking the past and getting divided in camps of -for or against caste or reservations. Its time to recognize that a Brahmin is not a conspirator and neither does a Dalit incompetent. We as an individual are entwined within a system that dispense rent, to some more than the others.
The question remains 'whether we can ever have the courage to stop seeking rent? The irony is often we have more incentives rather than the courage.
'Individual insecurity' is yet another manifestation of the caste.

7 comments:

junglibandar said...

"But what caste has got to do with it?
This has more to do with the 'ethics'. If you go beyond the caste data to the caste narratives, you will find three distinct yet dominant strands. i.e the Pride (in relation to other caste), Jealousy (if someone from caste deemed low comes in the neighborhood with a bigger Bunglow) and Fear (of society, of losing face, more pronounced at the time of marriage- the perpetuation link)."

I am assuming that you agree(to some degree) with the above arguement. In this context, how do you see the resgional/nativist movements in Karnataka and Maharastra. Are they veiled attempts to preserve caste identities in those states? Are people reacting to migrant labors, both skilled and unskilled, because they disturb the power equilibrium?

-Abhijit

Suresh said...

It also raises the question of why, almost all Dalit intellectuals, with the exception of Chandrabhan Prasad, are against the market and/or "globalisation." When I see Dalit intellectuals arguing against "globalisation", I am tempted to ask "How can the foreigners [who will come in] be possibly any worse than the upper caste industrialists who control Indian industry at present? If nothing else, by providing competition, it will reduce the power of the upper caste industrialists and you should be happy about that."

So far only Chandrabhan Prasad has argued along these lines and his strategy has been to argue in favour of the market but with industrialists taking on "social responsibility" a la affirmative action in the US. He has also suggested the use of government contracts to create a new set of Dalit industrialists. But he sounds like a lone voice - though, at times, people like Kancha Ilaiah have lent support to some of his initiatives.

It looks as though Indian society is reacting the way it always has - by coopting the people who challenge the status quo. I wonder if the Dalits who are against the market and globalisation and all that realise that in a way, they are actually supporting the status quo and have actually been "coopted"!

Cheers,

Suresh.

Anonymous said...

To answer Suresh, it's an awareness of how many Dalits are in agriculture, and how much the rise of a Dalit middle-class has been made possible by govt jobs. Even CB Prasad admits that Dalits will be adversely affected by untrammeled marketization, which is why he talks about private sector reservations, set asides in govt contracts etc.

The FC leftists criticizes the market to keep his privileges, the FC rightist lauds the market to keep his privileges.

Suresh said...

it's an awareness of how many Dalits are in agriculture, and how much the rise of a Dalit middle-class has been made possible by govt jobs.

Exactly, so why do you think the entry of foreigners into the industrial sector will affect Dalits adversely? As you yourself note, most of them don't work in that sector so it can't be due to fear of unemployment. The only way it can affect them then is if the entry causes the prices of the goods they (the Dalits) consume to go up. It is not at all clear this is going to happen. If at all, increased competition will probably bring down prices.

So far as employment in the government sector is concerned, well, the government is not going to shrink and go away. It will probably increase in size. At best, a few PSUs might get privatised but the number of people employed there is miniscule. All put together, I don't see Dalits as being affected very adversely, if at all.

While we are at it, it has been suggested often that the rise of the Dalit middle class is due to the employment opportunity in the public sector. It sounds plausible but I do wish for some hard data. What does the Dalit middle class look like? How much are they numerically? Where do they work? Which sectors employ them? All this would be very interesting to know - can anyone point me to where such data is available?

Lastly, no one is suggesting "untrammeled marketization" whatever that means. Most economists envision a strong role for the government; the disagreement is over what is the proper role of the government and what sort of interventions are appropriate.

Cheers,
Suresh.

Suresh said...

The FC leftists criticizes the market to keep his privileges, the FC rightist lauds the market to keep his privileges.

Sorry for the follow-up, but I could not let this pass. If I understand you rightly, all "forward castes" are motivated by self-interests but presumably, all Dalits/lower castes are motivated merely by "justice." By definition, then, all forward castes are scoundrels irrespective of the position they take vis-a-vis the market!

A long time back, I listened to a lecture by Andre Beteille where he happened to mention that if there was a difference between the sociologist and any other person, it was simply that the sociologist was aware that everyone was motivated by self-interest including the sociologist himself. It is something worth keeping in mind when you accuse someone else of being motivated solely by self-interest.

I am going to do something totally not-PC [not-politically correct] now by suggesting that when we look at the positions taken by many Dalit intellectuals - many of whom are from the middle class - that we also examine how much of it is motivated by a desire to protect their own class (the Dalit *middle class*) as opposed to the interests of the Dalits as a whole. It is recognized with some justification that many of the positions taken by upper caste intellectuals (opposing reservations etc.) are motivated very much by a desire to protect their own interests. The same applies to Dalit intellectuals also and we should subject their positions to the same scrutiny. Anything less would amount to patronising Dalit intellectuals.

On this controversial note, I part. Have fun tearing me down.

-Suresh.

kuffir said...

everyone,

thanks for the comments. will read them again.

abhishek said...

are the dalits inherently incompetent that makes them beg for reservations? So much for the bullshit of past atrocities - a crutch they hang onto to avoid making the effort to compete.

look at the quality of non-uppercaste elected members in the parliament and legislative assemblies - so many of them are rapists, murderers, bandits, fraudsters.

Are these role models for the so-called underprivileged, or is it that these are the best they can throw up from their midst?

 
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