Commonwealth Games and the Politics of Capital

The Commonwealth Games apart from providing fodder to the sensationalist media has raised more profound questions, which have not been raised with the required sharpness. There are definitely questions about the working conditions of people employed to make this extravaganza a success which will have to be answered not only by the Indian Government but also by the nations who swear by their better labour laws because by participating in it they have virtually said without uttering a word that it is only the end product which matters and not how that product comes into being. However, there are fundamental questions about the very issue of whether the Games should have been organized or not.

There was a voice of strong dissent within Congress Party, which not only shared the bounty generated by the Games but also played an important role to spread the message of how it was good for the country. But that voice of dissent was stuck within the framework of a welfarist gentleman being uncomfortable with neoliberal inhumanity. His opposition has not even been heard except when the media needed to show that there was some excitement in the whole exercise. In fact, once, one of the key faces of a English channel even told him on a show not to philosophise whatever has been happening because they wanted an objective analysis of the falling down of a footbridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This voice while exposed the farcical priorities of the state, which prefered spending on Games rather than education, health or even seriously addressing the sporting issues. But why such an event, which threw all labour concerns to winds, had to happen now? Why did an expenditure running into thousands of crores had to be spent when over fifty percent of Indian masses live below poverty article?

There have been visible signs of a well thought out process of how cities and economies behave under neoliberal capitalism. A restructuring of the city landscape happened over past one decade or so across the country – eviction of poor, massive investment into infrastructure (meaning massive subsidization of private capital by the state), legislature, executive and judiciary all have been involved in this project of reconfiguring city spaces. The banks of river Yamuna was cleared of slums because, and now one can see that clearly, the spaces under control of poor citizens had to be handed over to the private capital. The slums near Nehru Place or the one near Alaknanda had to be cleared for the same reason. This handing over may not appear direct many a times because the private capital also operates discreetly.

Commonwealth Games has only been another strategy along with many others to strengthen the occupation of public spaces and commons by private capital. This occupation has been dexterously carried out using the social and political identities as well. For instance, the way national identities have been invoked time and again during this whole process need not be repeated. The Games were touted as an event necessary for our national identity and pride. Issue is not about trivialization of national identity through attaching it to organization of an event but it is about showing how the invocation of national identity prevented even the Indian Left from opposing such an initiative. In fact, its leaders were saying that there should have been a more centralized control of the whole process rather than posing questions about whether we needed such an event. All political formations, barring some, were quiet when national identity was being used to promote private capital.

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Globalisation and Social Movements in India

Globalisation

Globalisation is a much debated term. Scholars have pointed out how globalization in itself is not anything new but has been there all along – reflected in the interconnectivity of civilizations and their economic/trading relations. However, what makes the current conjuncture interesting is that the present form of globalization is different from the earlier stages. In a context such as India where the process, in its current form, has been a late entrant it is still a major area of concern and interest. The whole of South has been at the receiving end of this new form of globalization, which started off after the failure of Keynsian principles to add up to the expansion of capitalism. Due to this status of being the recipient of whatever came as a package called globalization one finds tremendous opposition to it. It is relevant to note that this package came along with what has been called structural adjustments in the countries of the South – an elaborate programme to significantly restructure priorities and nature of the state itself. It also signified a shift from the welfarist principles to neoliberalism – in Indian terms a shift from what has been popularly called Nehruvian socialism to neoliberalism.

This shift occurs at many levels in different forms, which may not be possible to recount in this session but it will be useful to provide a general overview of how is this phenomenon imagined – its contents as well as forms:

  1. Globalisation of capital was there earlier as well, its extent and the principles which characterise it has become different.
  2. Culturally, globalisation has been opposed by two different camps – the right and the democratic-progressive groups. While the former, in a nationalist tenor, held globalisation to be a cultural invasion by the West, which would destroy the Indian culture, the later looked at it as destroying the existing cultural varieties and its substitution with a homogenous cultural landscape. It will be interesting to think about the reasons leading to unprecedented indentitarian assertions.
  3. Technologically, globalisation rests on the enhanced power of technology – the new technological revolutions that have emerged – which have allowed greater control over human and social spaces and processed. These technologies are more than just means of communication – they have emerged as instruments of control, means of enhancing industrial production and organization and marketing of goods.
  4. Politically, it has raised serious questions about the withering away of nation-states. Do we really need to talk in term of nation-states when vital economic aspects of nations are dispersed globally. There is not one single industrial production centre, in the same way there is not one single consolidated abode of capital.
  5. Economically, globalisation builds a system that ensures free and smooth flow of capital – the lifeline of globalisation phenomenon – the emphasis on free trade, withdrawal of state and other things. However, it puts great amount of restrictions on the mobility of labour.

Hence, globalisation does refer to an increasingly interdependent world, where information flows transcend nation- states, and knowledge of particular kind become valuable resource. But it has been seen that the promise of globalisation – that it would reduce poverty and usher in equity has been belied. There is significant polarisation across nations and within nations today. The South remains the impoverished zone and within countries such as India one finds over half the population living below poverty line. There has been great discontent. However, how does one look at the expressions of this discontent. You rather more modern prison complexes coming up, new – direct and indirect – forms of control mechanisms being developed to curb possibilities of upheaval. This brings us the possible expressions that the discontent takes today when

  • the modes of control act through powerful instruments of influence – the media
  • the popular discourses on the state, economy and society are in fact constructed ones.
  • the mode of operation of the state and capital is such that it devises new methods of generating consensus for what it does

Social Movements

There has been a great shift in the way social movements have progressed in the country during past two decades or so. However, before looking at those shifts it is important to look at the concepts. There is a need to differentiate between mobilisation and movements. Based upon his differentiation it is safe to argue that   Social mobilization over a sustained period of time with a collectivity having consensus to struggle (in terms of ideas as well as action) to achieve certain goals can be defined as a movement. Movements are “characterized by i) some sort of organization, which distinguishes it from spontaneous gatherings of people with similar ideas and values, ii) a common outlook on society, iii) a common set of values” (Gezerlis, 2002). Scholars have differentiated between reformist and anti-systemic movements. Similarly, distinctions have been made between full-fledged movements and quasi-movements based on whether they are about changes within the system or aimed at altering the system as a whole.

Mobilization is a situation when a discontented/affected group gets engaged in action. It is the beginning rather than the end of the movements. A collective of people get together on an issue that affects them but that does not become a movement. Mobilisations become a movement when they get organised and are sustained over a period of time. They are devoid of spontaneity. movements. When people get mobilised to demand justice for somebody killed such as Jessica Lal or Priyadarshini Mattoo, it is not a movement because:

  • It does not have a defined vision of the problematic that they are posing. It is spontaneous and momentary
  • It is not organised
  • It is not sustained
  • It does not know where to begin (because it does not know why to begin) and where to end.

If one looks at the Indian context there has been a paradigmatic shift in the terms of how movements have developed.

  • Classical notions of movements are absent. Hence, the peasant movements, workers movements, students movement are on decline/have declined
  • Instead of big, meta-movements there are smaller pockets of mobilisation/movements that could be seen
  • There has been a shift in the issues that are taken up for mobilisation – there has been a complete absence of mobilisations that are aimed at ant-systemic changes.
  • One finds issues that are completely new being taken up – environment, domestic violence, right to information, etc.

Even these issues are on decline. Farmers suicide happened… there has hardly been any mobilisation that could shake up the system; displacement of millions have happened… there has hardly been anything that has happened that could stop it;

These changes have happened not out of air but can very well be situated in the way discourse on social movements have moved in consonance with the times. They have happened along with development of postmodernism reflected in the whole debate on transition from Old Social Movements to New Social Movements and the attack on categories of universal.