[News] Capitalism: A Ghost Story - Arundhati Roy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 20 19:23:51 EDT 2012


Capitalism: A Ghost Story

By Arundhati Roy

20 March, 2012
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280234

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new 
India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since 
Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, 
exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not 
been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took 
me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh 
Ambani. I had read about this most expensive 
dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, 
three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, 
ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors 
of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing 
had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 
27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast 
metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits 
had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.

But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation 
of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own 
assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

The word on the street (and in the New York 
Times) is, or at least was, that after all that 
effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in 
Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still 
whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and 
Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All 
that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured 
up such gigantic means of production and of 
exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no 
longer able to control the powers of the nether 
world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the 
new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the 
market—live side by side with spirits of the 
nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, 
dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; 
the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who 
have killed themselves, and of the 800 million 
who have been impoverished and dispossessed to 
make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day.

Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He 
holds a majority controlling share in Reliance 
Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market 
capitalisation of $47 billion and global business 
interests that include petrochemicals, oil, 
natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic 
Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life 
sciences research and stem cell storage services. 
RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in 
Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news 
and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, 
IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost 
every regional language. Infotel owns the only 
nationwide licence for 4G Broadband, a high-speed 
“information pipeline” which, if the technology 
works, could be the future of information 
exchange. Mr Ambani also owns a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run 
India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, 
Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other 
Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. 
Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, 
Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their 
nets are cast wide; they are visible and 
invisible, over-ground as well as underground. 
The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 
companies in 80 countries. They are one of 
India’s oldest and largest private sector power 
companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel 
plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband 
networks, and run whole townships. They 
manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel 
chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a 
publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a 
major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics 
giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could 
easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.

According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the 
more you have, the more you can have.

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has 
made the Indian economy one of the fastest 
growing in the world. However, like any good 
old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is 
its minerals. India’s new 
mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, 
Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to 
muscle their way to the head of the spigot that 
is spewing money extracted from deep inside the 
earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to 
be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

The other major source of corporate wealth comes 
from their land-banks. All over the world, weak, 
corrupt local governments have helped Wall Street 
brokers, agro-business corporations and Chinese 
billionaires to amass huge tracts of land. (Of 
course, this entails commandeering water too.) In 
India, the land of millions of people is being 
acquired and made over to private corporations 
for “public interest”—for Special Economic Zones, 
infrastructure projects, dams, highways, car 
manufacture, chemical hubs and Formula One 
racing. (The sanctity of private property never 
applies to the poor.) As always, local people are 
promised that their displacement from their land 
and the expropriation of everything they ever had 
is actually part of employment generation. But by 
now we know that the connection between GDP 
growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of 
“growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is 
self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour 
force works in the unorganised sector.

Post-Independence, right up to the ’80s, people’s 
movements, ranging from the Naxalites to 
Jayaprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti, were 
fighting for land reforms, for the redistribution 
of land from feudal landlords to landless 
peasants. Today any talk of redistribution of 
land or wealth would be considered not just 
undemocratic, but lunatic. Even the most militant 
movements have been reduced to a fight to hold on 
to what little land people still have. The 
millions of landless people, the majority of them 
Dalits and adivasis, driven from their villages, 
living in slums and shanty colonies in small 
towns and mega cities, do not figure even in the radical discourse.

As Gush-Up concentrates wealth on to the tip of a 
shining pin on which our billionaires pirouette, 
tidal waves of money crash through the 
institutions of democracy—the courts, Parliament 
as well as the media, seriously compromising 
their ability to function in the ways they are 
meant to. The noisier the carnival around 
elections, the less sure we are that democracy really exists.

Each new corruption scandal that surfaces in 
India makes the last one look tame. In the summer 
of 2011, the 2G spectrum scandal broke. We learnt 
that corporations had siphoned away $40 billion 
of public money by installing a friendly soul as 
the Union minister of telecommunication who 
grossly underpriced the licences for 2G telecom 
spectrum and illegally parcelled it out to his 
buddies. The taped telephone conversations leaked 
to the press showed how a network of 
industrialists and their front companies, 
ministers, senior journalists and a TV anchor 
were involved in facilitating this daylight 
robbery. The tapes were just an MRI that 
confirmed a diagnosis that people had made long ago.

The privatisation and illegal sale of telecom 
spectrum does not involve war, displacement and 
ecological devastation. The privatisation of 
India’s mountains, rivers and forests does. 
Perhaps because it does not have the 
uncomplicated clarity of a straightforward, 
out-and-out accounting scandal, or perhaps 
because it is all being done in the name of 
India’s “progress”, it does not have the same 
resonance with the middle classes.

In 2005, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, 
Orissa and Jharkhand signed hundreds of 
Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with a number 
of private corporations turning over trillions of 
dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals 
for a pittance, defying even the warped logic of 
the free market. (Royalties to the government 
ranged between 0.5 per cent and 7 per cent.)

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government 
signed an MoU for the construction of an 
integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, 
the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was 
inaugurated. The government said it was a 
spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed 
up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in 
the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing 
operation, funded and armed by the government and 
subsidised by mining corporations. In the other 
states, similar militias were created, with other 
names. The prime minister announced the Maoists 
were the “single-largest security challenge in 
India”. It was a declaration of war.

On January 2, 2006, in Kalinganagar, in the 
neighbouring state of Orissa, perhaps to signal 
the seriousness of the government’s intention, 
ten platoons of police arrived at the site of 
another Tata Steel plant and opened fire on 
villagers who had gathered there to protest what 
they felt was inadequate compensation for their 
land. Thirteen people, including one policeman, 
were killed, and 37 injured. Six years have gone 
by and though the villages remain under siege by 
armed policemen, the protest has not died.

Meanwhile in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum 
burned, raped and murdered its way through 
hundreds of forest villages, evacuating 600 
villages, forcing 50,000 people to come out into 
police camps and 3,50,000 people to flee. The 
chief minister announced that those who did not 
come out of the forests would be considered to be 
‘Maoist terrorists’. In this way, in parts of 
modern India, ploughing fields and sowing seed 
came to be defined as terrorist activity. 
Eventually, the Salwa Judum’s atrocities only 
succeeded in strengthening the resistance and 
swelling the ranks of the Maoist guerrilla army. 
In 2009, the government announced what it called 
Operation Green Hunt. Two lakh paramilitary 
troops were deployed across Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

After three years of “low-intensity conflict” 
that has not managed to “flush” the rebels out of 
the forest, the central government has declared 
that it will deploy the Indian army and air 
force. In India, we don’t call this war. We call 
it “creating a good investment climate”. 
Thousands of soldiers have already moved in. A 
brigade headquarters and air bases are being 
readied. One of the biggest armies in the world 
is now preparing its Terms of Engagement to 
“defend” itself against the poorest, hungriest, 
most malnourished people in the world. We only 
await the declaration of the Armed Forces Special 
Powers Act (AFSPA), which will give the army 
legal immunity and the right to kill “on 
suspicion”. Going by the tens of thousands of 
unmarked graves and anonymous cremation pyres in 
Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland, it has shown 
itself to be a very suspicious army indeed.

While the preparations for deployment are being 
made, the jungles of Central India continue to 
remain under siege, with villagers frightened to 
come out, or go to the market for food or 
medicine. Hundreds of people have been jailed, 
charged for being Maoists under draconian, 
undemocratic laws. Prisons are crowded with 
adivasi people, many of whom have no idea what 
their crime is. Recently, Soni Sori, an adivasi 
school-teacher from Bastar, was arrested and 
tortured in police custody. Stones were pushed up 
her vagina to get her to “confess” that she was a 
Maoist courier. The stones were removed from her 
body at a hospital in Calcutta, where, after a 
public outcry, she was sent for a medical 
check-up. At a recent Supreme Court hearing, 
activists presented the judges with the stones in 
a plastic bag. The only outcome of their efforts 
has been that Soni Sori remains in jail while 
Ankit Garg, the Superintendent of Police who 
conducted the interrogation, was conferred with 
the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day.

We hear about the ecological and social 
re-engineering of Central India only because of 
the mass insurrection and the war. The government 
gives out no information. The Memorandums of 
Understanding are all secret. Some sections of 
the media have done what they could to bring 
public attention to what is happening in Central 
India. However, most of the Indian mass media is 
made vulnerable by the fact that the major share 
of its revenues come from corporate 
advertisements. If that is not bad enough, now 
the line between the media and big business has 
begun to blur dangerously. As we have seen, RIL 
virtually owns 27 TV channels. But the reverse is 
also true. Some media houses now have direct 
business and corporate interests. For example, 
one of the major daily newspapers in the 
region—Dainik Bhaskar (and it is only one 
example)—has 17.5 million readers in four 
languages, including English and Hindi, across 13 
states. It also owns 69 companies with interests 
in mining, power generation, real estate and 
textiles. A recent writ petition filed in the 
Chhattisgarh High Court accuses DB Power Ltd (one 
of the group’s companies) of using “deliberate, 
illegal and manipulative measures” through 
company-owned newspapers to influence the outcome 
of a public hearing over an open cast coal mine. 
Whether or not it has attempted to influence the 
outcome is not germane. The point is that media 
houses are in a position to do so. They have the 
power to do so. The laws of the land allow them 
to be in a position that lends itself to a serious conflict of interest.

There are other parts of the country from which 
no news comes. In the sparsely populated but 
militarised northeastern state of Arunachal 
Pradesh, 168 big dams are being constructed, most 
of them privately owned. High dams that will 
submerge whole districts are being constructed in 
Manipur and Kashmir, both highly militarised 
states where people can be killed merely for 
protesting power cuts. (That happened a few weeks 
ago in Kashmir.) How can they stop a dam?

The most delusional dam of all is Kalpasar in 
Gujarat. It is being planned as a 34-km-long dam 
across the Gulf of Khambhat with a 10-lane 
highway and a railway line running on top of it. 
By keeping the sea water out, the idea is to 
create a sweet water reservoir of Gujarat’s 
rivers. (Never mind that these rivers have 
already been dammed to a trickle and poisoned 
with chemical effluent.) The Kalpasar dam, which 
would raise the sea level and alter the ecology 
of hundreds of kilometres of coastline, had been 
dismissed as a bad idea 10 years ago. It has made 
a sudden comeback in order to supply water to the 
Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR) in one of 
the most water-stressed zones not just in India, 
but in the world. SIR is another name for an SEZ, 
a self-governed corporate dystopia of “industrial 
parks, townships and mega-cities”. The Dholera 
SIR is going to be connected to Gujarat’s other 
cities by a network of 10-lane highways. Where 
will the money for all this come from?

In January 2011, in the Mahatma (Gandhi) Mandir, 
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi presided 
over a meeting of 10,000 international 
businessmen from 100 countries. According to 
media reports, they pledged to invest $450 
billion in Gujarat. The meeting was scheduled to 
take place at the onset of the 10th anniversary 
year of the massacre of 2,000 Muslims in 
February-March 2002. Modi stands accused of not 
just condoning, but actively abetting, the 
killing. People who watched their loved ones 
being raped, eviscerated and burned alive, the 
tens of thousands who were driven from their 
homes, still wait for a gesture towards justice. 
But Modi has traded in his saffron scarf and 
vermilion forehead for a sharp business suit, and 
hopes that a 450-billion-dollar investment will 
work as blood money, and square the books. 
Perhaps it will. Big Business is backing him 
enthusiastically. The algebra of infinite justice works in mysterious ways.

The Dholera SIR is only one of the smaller 
Matryoshka dolls, one of the inner ones in the 
dystopia that is being planned. It will be 
connected to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor 
(DMIC), a 1,500-km-long and 300-km-wide 
industrial corridor, with nine mega-industrial 
zones, a high-speed freight line, three seaports 
and six airports, a six-lane intersection-free 
expressway and a 4,000 MW power plant. The DMIC 
is a collaborative venture between the 
governments of India and Japan, and their 
respective corporate partners, and has been 
proposed by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The DMIC website says that approximately 180 
million people will be “affected” by the project. 
Exactly how, it doesn’t say. It envisages the 
building of several new cities and estimates that 
the population in the region will grow from the 
current 231 million to 314 million by 2019. 
That’s in seven years’ time. When was the last 
time a state, despot or dictator carried out a 
population transfer of millions of people? Can it 
possibly be a peaceful process?

The Indian army might need to go on a recruitment 
drive so that it’s not taken unawares when it’s 
ordered to deploy all over India. In preparation 
for its role in Central India, it publicly 
released its updated doctrine on Military 
Psychological Operations, which outlines “a 
planned process of conveying a message to a 
select target audience, to promote particular 
themes that result in desired attitudes and 
behaviour, which affect the achievement of 
political and military objectives of the 
country”. This process of “perception 
management”, it said, would be conducted by 
“using media available to the services”.

The army is experienced enough to know that 
coercive force alone cannot carry out or manage 
social engineering on the scale that is envisaged 
by India’s planners. War against the poor is one 
thing. But for the rest of us—the middle class, 
white-collar workers, intellectuals, 
“opinion-makers”—it has to be “perception 
management”. And for this we must turn our 
attention to the exquisite art of Corporate Philanthropy.

Of late, the main mining conglomerates have 
embraced the Arts—film, art installations and the 
rush of literary festivals that have replaced the 
’90s obsession with beauty contests. Vedanta, 
currently mining the heart out of the homelands 
of the ancient Dongria Kondh tribe for bauxite, 
is sponsoring a ‘Creating Happiness’ film 
competition for young film students whom they 
have commissioned to make films on sustainable 
development. Vedanta’s tagline is ‘Mining 
Happiness’. The Jindal Group brings out a 
contemporary art magazine and supports some of 
India’s major artists (who naturally work with 
stainless steel). Essar was the principal sponsor 
of the Tehelka Newsweek Think Fest that promised 
“high-octane debates” by the foremost thinkers 
from around the world, which included major 
writers, activists and even the architect Frank 
Gehry. (All this in Goa, where activists and 
journalists were uncovering massive illegal 
mining scandals, and Essar’s part in the war 
unfolding in Bastar was emerging.) Tata Steel and 
Rio Tinto (which has a sordid track record of its 
own) were among the chief sponsors of the Jaipur 
Literary Festival (Latin name: Darshan Singh 
Construction Jaipur Literary Festival) that is 
advertised by the cognoscenti as ‘The Greatest 
Literary Show on Earth’. Counselage, the Tatas’ 
“strategic brand manager”, sponsored the 
festival’s press tent. Many of the world’s best 
and brightest writers gathered in Jaipur to 
discuss love, literature, politics and Sufi 
poetry. Some tried to defend Salman Rushdie’s 
right to free speech by reading from his 
proscribed book, The Satanic Verses. In every TV 
frame and newspaper photograph, the logo of Tata 
Steel (and its tagline—Values Stronger than 
Steel) loomed behind them, a benign, benevolent 
host. The enemies of Free Speech were the 
supposedly murderous Muslim mobs, who, the 
festival organisers told us, could have even 
harmed the school-children gathered there. (We 
are witness to how helpless the Indian government 
and the police can be when it comes to Muslims.) 
Yes, the hardline Darul-Uloom Deobandi Islamic 
seminary did protest Rushdie being invited to the 
festival. Yes, some Islamists did gather at the 
festival venue to protest and yes, outrageously, 
the state government did nothing to protect the 
venue. That’s because the whole episode had as 
much to do with democracy, votebanks and the 
Uttar Pradesh elections as it did with Islamist 
fundamentalism. But the battle for Free Speech 
against Islamist Fundamentalism made it to the 
world’s newspapers. It is important that it did. 
But there were hardly any reports about the 
festival sponsors’ role in the war in the 
forests, the bodies piling up, the prisons 
filling up. Or about the Unlawful Activities 
Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special 
Public Security Act, which make even thinking an 
anti-government thought a cognisable offence. Or 
about the mandatory public hearing for the Tata 
Steel plant in Lohandiguda which local people 
complained actually took place hundreds of miles 
away in Jagdalpur, in the collector’s office 
compound, with a hired audience of fifty people, 
under armed guard. Where was Free Speech then? No 
one mentioned Kalinganagar. No one mentioned that 
journalists, academics and filmmakers working on 
subjects unpopular with the Indian 
government—like the surreptitious part it played 
in the genocide of Tamils in the war in Sri Lanka 
or the recently discovered unmarked graves in 
Kashmir—were being denied visas or deported straight from the airport.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the 
first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from 
corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata 
Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in 
Tata taxis, we stay in Tata Hotels, we sip our 
Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with 
teaspoons made of Tata Steel. We buy Tata books 
in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khate hain. We’re under siege.

If the sledgehammer of moral purity is to be the 
criterion for stone-throwing, then the only 
people who qualify are those who have been 
silenced already. Those who live outside the 
system; the outlaws in the forests or those whose 
protests are never covered by the press, or the 
well-behaved dispossessed, who go from tribunal 
to tribunal, bearing witness, giving testimony.

But the Litfest gave us our Aha! Moment. Oprah 
came. She said she loved India, that she would 
come again and again. It made us proud.

This is only the burlesque end of the Exquisite Art.

Though the Tatas have been involved with 
corporate philanthropy for almost a hundred years 
now, endowing scholarships and running some 
excellent educational institutes and hospitals, 
Indian corporations have only recently been 
invited into the Star Chamber, the Camera 
stellata, the brightly lit world of global 
corporate government, deadly for its adversaries, 
but otherwise so artful that you barely know it’s there.

What follows in this essay might appear to some 
to be a somewhat harsh critique. On the other 
hand, in the tradition of honouring one’s 
adversaries, it could be read as an 
acknowledgement of the vision, flexibility, the 
sophistication and unwavering determination of 
those who have dedicated their lives to keep the world safe for capitalism.

Their enthralling history, which has faded from 
contemporary memory, began in the US in the early 
20th century when, kitted out legally in the form 
of endowed foundations, corporate philanthropy 
began to replace missionary activity as 
Capitalism’s (and Imperialism’s) road opening and 
systems maintenance patrol. Among the first 
foundations to be set up in the United States 
were the Carnegie Corporation, endowed in 1911 by 
profits from the Carnegie Steel Company; and the 
Rockefeller Foundation, endowed in 1914 by J.D. 
Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company. The 
Tatas and Ambanis of their time.

Some of the institutions financed, given seed 
money or supported by the Rockefeller Foundation 
are the UN, the CIA, the Council on Foreign 
Relations, New York’s most fabulous Museum of 
Modern Art, and, of course, the Rockefeller 
Center in New York (where Diego Riviera’s mural 
had to be blasted off the wall because it 
mischievously depicted reprobate capitalists and 
a valiant Lenin. Free Speech had taken the day off.)

J.D. Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire 
and the world’s richest man. He was an 
abolitionist, a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and 
a teetotaller. He believed his money was given to 
him by God, which must have been nice for him.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Pablo Neruda’s 
early poems called Standard Oil Company:

     Their obese emperors from New York
     are suave smiling assassins
     who buy silk, nylon, cigars
     petty tyrants and dictators.

     They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils,
     distant regions where the poor hoard their corn
     like misers their gold:
     Standard Oil awakens them,
     clothes them in uniforms, designates
     which brother is the enemy.
     the Paraguayan fights its war,
     and the Bolivian wastes away
     in the jungle with its machine gun.

     A President assassinated for a drop of petroleum,
     a million-acre mortgage,
     a swift execution on a morning mortal with light, petrified,
     a new prison camp for subversives,
     in Patagonia, a betrayal, scattered shots
     beneath a petroliferous moon,
     a subtle change of ministers
     in the capital, a whisper
     like an oil tide,
     and zap, you’ll see
     how Standard Oil’s letters shine above the clouds,
     above the seas, in your home,
     illuminating their dominions.

When corporate-endowed foundations first made 
their appearance in the US, there was a fierce 
debate about their provenance, legality and lack 
of accountability. People suggested that if 
companies had so much surplus money, they should 
raise the wages of their workers. (People made 
these outrageous suggestions in those days, even 
in America.) The idea of these foundations, so 
ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business 
imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with 
massive resources and an almost unlimited 
brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly 
non-transparent—what better way to parlay 
economic wealth into political, social and 
cultural capital, to turn money into power? What 
better way for usurers to use a minuscule 
percentage of their profits to run the world? How 
else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a 
thing or two about computers, find himself 
designing education, health and agriculture 
policies, not just for the US government, but for 
governments all over the world?

Over the years, as people witnessed some of the 
genuinely good the foundations did (running 
public libraries, eradicating diseases)—the 
direct connection between corporations and the 
foundations they endowed began to blur. 
Eventually, it faded altogether. Now even those 
who consider themselves left-wing are not shy to accept their largesse.

By the 1920s, US capitalism had begun to look 
outwards, for raw materials and overseas markets. 
Foundations began to formulate the idea of global 
corporate governance. In 1924, the Rockefeller 
and Carnegie foundations jointly created what is 
today the most powerful foreign policy pressure 
group in the world—the Council on Foreign 
Relations (CFR), which later came to be funded by 
the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947, the newly 
created CIA was supported by and working closely 
with the CFR. Over the years, the CFR’s 
membership has included 22 US secretaries of 
state. There were five CFR members in the 1943 
steering committee that planned the UN, and an 
$8.5 million grant from J.D. Rockefeller bought 
the land on which the UN’s New York headquarters stands.

All eleven of the World Bank’s presidents since 
1946—men who have presented themselves as 
missionaries of the poor—have been members of the 
CFR. (The exception was George Woods. And he was 
a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and 
vice-president of Chase-Manhattan Bank.)

At Bretton Woods, the World Bank and IMF decided 
that the US dollar should be the reserve currency 
of the world, and that in order to enhance the 
penetration of global capital, it would be 
necessary to universalise and standardise 
business practices in an open marketplace. It is 
towards that end that they spend a large amount 
of money promoting Good Governance (as long as 
they control the strings), the concept of the 
Rule of Law (provided they have a say in making 
the laws) and hundreds of anti-corruption 
programmes (to streamline the system they have 
put in place.) Two of the most opaque, 
unaccountable organisations in the world go about 
demanding transparency and accountability from 
the governments of poorer countries.

Given that the World Bank has more or less 
directed the economic policies of the Third 
World, coercing and cracking open the markets of 
country after country for global finance, you 
could say that corporate philanthropy has turned 
out to be the most visionary business of all time.

Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade 
and channelise their power and place their 
chessmen on the chessboard, through a system of 
elite clubs and think-tanks, whose members 
overlap and move in and out through the revolving 
doors. Contrary to the various conspiracy 
theories in circulation, particularly among 
left-wing groups, there is nothing secret, 
satanic, or Freemason-like about this 
arrangement. It is not very different from the 
way corporations use shell companies and offshore 
accounts to transfer and administer their 
money—except that the currency is power, not money.

The transnational equivalent of the CFR is the 
Trilateral Commission, set up in 1973 by David 
Rockefeller, the former US National Security 
Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (founder-member of 
the Afghan Mujahideen, forefathers of the 
Taliban), the Chase-Manhattan Bank and some other 
private eminences. Its purpose was to create an 
enduring bond of friendship and cooperation 
between the elites of North America, Europe and 
Japan. It has now become a penta-lateral 
commission, because it includes members from 
China and India. (Tarun Das of the CII; N.R. 
Narayanamurthy, ex-CEO, Infosys; Jamsheyd N. 
Godrej, managing director, Godrej; Jamshed J. 
Irani, director, Tata Sons; and Gautam Thapar, CEO, Avantha Group).

The Aspen Institute is an international club of 
local elites, businessmen, bureaucrats, 
politicians, with franchises in several 
countries. Tarun Das is the president of the 
Aspen Institute, India. Gautam Thapar is 
chairman. Several senior officers of the McKinsey 
Global Institute (proposer of the Delhi Mumbai 
Industrial Corridor) are members of the CFR, the 
Trilateral Commission and the Aspen Institute.

The Ford Foundation (liberal foil to the more 
conservative Rockefeller Foundation, though the 
two work together constantly) was set up in 1936. 
Though it is often underplayed, the Ford 
Foundation has a very clear, well-defined 
ideology and works extremely closely with the US 
state department. Its project of deepening 
democracy and “good governance” are very much 
part of the Bretton Woods scheme of standardising 
business practice and promoting efficiency in the 
free market. After the Second World War, when 
Communists replaced Fascists as the US 
government’s enemy number one, new kinds of 
institutions were needed to deal with the Cold 
War. Ford funded RAND (Research and Development 
Corporation), a military think-tank that began 
with weapons research for the US defense 
services. In 1952, to thwart “the persistent 
Communist effort to penetrate and disrupt free 
nations”, it established the Fund for the 
Republic, which then morphed into the Center for 
the Study of Democratic Institutions whose brief 
was to wage the cold war intelligently without 
McCarthyite excesses. It is through this lens 
that we need to view the work Ford Foundation is 
doing, with the millions of dollars it has 
invested in India—its funding of artists, 
filmmakers and activists, its generous endowment 
of university courses and scholarships.

The Ford Foundation’s declared “goals for the 
future of mankind” include interventions in 
grassroots political movements locally and 
internationally. In the US, it provided millions 
in grants and loans to support the Credit Union 
Movement that was pioneered by the department 
store owner, Edward Filene, in 1919. Filene 
believed in creating a mass consumption society 
of consumer goods by giving workers affordable 
access to credit—a radical idea at the time. 
Actually, only half of a radical idea, because 
the other half of what Filene believed in was the 
more equitable distribution of national income. 
Capitalists seized on the first half of Filene’s 
suggestion, and by disbursing “affordable” loans 
of tens of millions of dollars to working people, 
turned the US working class into people who are 
permanently in debt, running to catch up with their lifestyles.

Many years later, this idea has trickled down to 
the impoverished countryside of Bangladesh when 
Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought 
microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous 
consequences. Microfinance companies in India are 
responsible for hundreds of suicides—200 people 
in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 alone. A national daily 
recently published a suicide note by an 
18-year-old girl who was forced to hand over her 
last Rs 150, her school fees, to bullying 
employees of the microfinance company. The note 
said, “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”

There’s a lot of money in poverty, and a few Nobel Prizes too.

By the 1950s, the Rockefeller and Ford 
foundations, funding several NGOs and 
international educational institutions, began to 
work as quasi-extensions of the US government 
that was at the time toppling democratically 
elected governments in Latin America, Iran and 
Indonesia. (That was also around the time they 
made their entry into India, then non-aligned, 
but clearly tilting towards the Soviet Union.) 
The Ford Foundation established a US-style 
economics course at the Indonesian University. 
Elite Indonesian students, trained in 
counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a 
crucial part in the 1965 CIA-backed coup in 
Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. 
Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering 
hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.

Eight years later, young Chilean students, who 
came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken 
to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics 
by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago 
(endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for 
the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador 
Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a 
reign of death squads, disappearances and terror 
that lasted for seventeen years. (Allende’s crime 
was being a democratically elected socialist and nationalising Chile’s mines.)

In 1957, the Rockefeller Foundation established 
the Ramon Magsaysay Prize for community leaders 
in Asia. It was named after Ramon Magsaysay, 
president of the Philippines, a crucial ally in 
the US campaign against Communism in Southeast 
Asia. In 2000, the Ford Foundation established 
the Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership Award. 
The Magsaysay Award is considered a prestigious 
award among artists, activists and community 
workers in India. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Satyajit 
Ray won it, so did Jayaprakash Narayan and one of 
India’s finest journalists, P. Sainath. But they 
did more for the Magsaysay award than it did for 
them. In general, it has become a gentle arbiter 
of what kind of activism is “acceptable” and what is not.

Interestingly, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption 
movement last summer was spearheaded by three 
Magsaysay Award winners—Anna Hazare, Arvind 
Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. One of Arvind Kejriwal’s 
many NGOs is generously funded by Ford 
Foundation. Kiran Bedi’s NGO is funded by Coca Cola and Lehman Brothers.

Though Anna Hazare calls himself a Gandhian, the 
law he called for—the Jan Lokpal Bill—was 
un-Gandhian, elitist and dangerous. A 
round-the-clock corporate media campaign 
proclaimed him to be the voice of “the people”. 
Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, 
the Hazare movement did not breathe a word 
against privatisation, corporate power or 
economic “reforms”. On the contrary, its 
principal media backers successfully turned the 
spotlight away from massive corporate corruption 
scandals (which had exposed high-profile 
journalists too) and used the public mauling of 
politicians to call for the further withdrawal of 
discretionary powers from government, for more 
reforms, more privatisation. (In 2008, Anna 
Hazare received a World Bank award for 
outstanding public service). The World Bank 
issued a statement from Washington saying the 
movement “dovetailed” into its policy.

Like all good Imperialists, the Philanthropoids 
set themselves the task of creating and training 
an international cadre that believed that 
Capitalism, and by extension the hegemony of the 
United States, was in their own self-interest. 
And who would therefore help to administer the 
Global Corporate Government in the ways native 
elites had always served colonialism. So began 
the foundations’ foray into education and the 
arts, which would become their third sphere of 
influence, after foreign and domestic economic 
policy. They spent (and continue to spend) 
millions of dollars on academic institutions and pedagogy.

Joan Roelofs in her wonderful book Foundations 
and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism 
describes how foundations remodelled the old 
ideas of how to teach political science, and 
fashioned the disciplines of “international” and 
“area” studies. This provided the US intelligence 
and security services a pool of expertise in 
foreign languages and culture to recruit from. 
The CIA and US state department continue to work 
with students and professors in US universities, 
raising serious questions about the ethics of scholarship.

The gathering of information to control people 
they rule is fundamental to any ruling power. As 
resistance to land acquisition and the new 
economic policies spreads across India, in the 
shadow of outright war in Central India, as a 
containment technique, the government has 
embarked on a massive biometrics programme, 
perhaps one of the most ambitious and expensive 
information-gathering projects in the world— the 
Unique Identification Number (UID). People don’t 
have clean drinking water, or toilets, or food, 
or money, but they will have election cards and 
UID numbers. Is it a coincidence that the UID 
project run by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of 
Infosys, ostensibly meant to “deliver services to 
the poor”, will inject massive amounts of money 
into a slightly beleaguered IT industry? (A 
conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds 
the Indian government’s annual public spending on 
education.) To “digitise” a country with such a 
large population of the largely illegitimate and 
“illegible”—people who are for the most part 
slum-dwellers, hawkers, adivasis without land 
records—will criminalise them, turning them from 
illegitimate to illegal. The idea is to pull off 
a digital version of the Enclosure of the Commons 
and put huge powers into the hands of an 
increasingly hardening police state. Nilekani’s 
technocratic obsession with gathering data is 
consistent with Bill Gates’s obsession with 
digital databases, “numerical targets”, 
“scorecards of progress”. As though it is a lack 
of information that is the cause of world hunger, 
and not colonialism, debt and skewed profit-oriented, corporate policy.

Corporate-endowed foundations are the biggest 
funders of the social sciences and the arts, 
endowing courses and student scholarships in 
“development studies”, “community studies”, 
“cultural studies”, “behavioural sciences” and 
“human rights”. As US universities opened their 
doors to international students, hundreds of 
thousands of students, children of the Third 
World elite, poured in. Those who could not 
afford the fees were given scholarships. Today in 
countries like India and Pakistan there is 
scarcely a family among the upper middle classes 
that does not have a child that has studied in 
the US. From their ranks have come good scholars 
and academics, but also the prime ministers, 
finance ministers, economists, corporate lawyers, 
bankers and bureaucrats who helped to open up the 
economies of their countries to global corporations.

Scholars of the Foundation-friendly version of 
economics and political science were rewarded 
with fellowships, research funds, grants, 
endowments and jobs. Those with 
Foundation-unfriendly views found themselves 
unfunded, marginalised and ghettoised, their 
courses discontinued. Gradually, one particular 
imagination—a brittle, superficial pretence of 
tolerance and multiculturalism (that morphs into 
racism, rabid nationalism, ethnic chauvinism or 
war-mongering Islamophobia at a moment’s notice) 
under the roof of a single, overarching, very 
unplural economic ideology—began to dominate the 
discourse. It did so to such an extent that it 
ceased to be perceived as an ideology at all. It 
became the default position, the natural way to 
be. It infiltrated normality, colonised 
ordinariness, and challenging it began to seem as 
absurd or as esoteric as challenging reality 
itself. From here it was a quick easy step to ‘There is No Alternative’.

It is only now, thanks to the Occupy Movement, 
that another language has appeared on US streets 
and campuses. To see students with banners that 
say ‘Class War’ or ‘We don’t mind you being rich, 
but we mind you buying our government’ is, given 
the odds, almost a revolution in itself.

One century after it began, corporate 
philanthropy is as much part of our lives as Coca 
Cola. There are now millions of non-profit 
organisations, many of them connected through a 
byzantine financial maze to the larger 
foundations. Between them, this “independent” 
sector has assets worth nearly 450 billion 
dollars. The largest of them is the Bill Gates 
Foundation with ($21 billion), followed by the 
Lilly Endowment ($16 billion) and the Ford Foundation ($15 billion).

As the IMF enforced Structural Adjustment, and 
arm-twisted governments into cutting back on 
public spending on health, education, childcare, 
development, the NGOs moved in. The Privatisation 
of Everything has also meant the NGO-isation of 
Everything. As jobs and livelihoods disappeared, 
NGOs have become an important source of 
employment, even for those who see them for what 
they are. And they are certainly not all bad. Of 
the millions of NGOs, some do remarkable, radical 
work and it would be a travesty to tar all NGOs 
with the same brush. However, the corporate or 
Foundation-endowed NGOs are global finance’s way 
of buying into resistance movements, literally 
like shareholders buy shares in companies, and 
then try to control them from within. They sit 
like nodes on the central nervous system, the 
pathways along which global finance flows. They 
work like transmitters, receivers, shock 
absorbers, alert to every impulse, careful never 
to annoy the governments of their host countries. 
(The Ford Foundation requires the organisations 
it funds to sign a pledge to this effect.) 
Inadvertently (and sometimes advertently), they 
serve as listening posts, their reports and 
workshops and other missionary activity feeding 
data into an increasingly aggressive system of 
surveillance of increasingly hardening States. 
The more troubled an area, the greater the numbers of NGOs in it.

Mischievously, when the government or sections of 
the Corporate Press want to run a smear campaign 
against a genuine people’s movement, like the 
Narmada Bachao Andolan, or the protest against 
the Koodankulam nuclear reactor, they accuse 
these movements of being NGOs receiving “foreign 
funding”. They know very well that the mandate of 
most NGOs, in particular the well-funded ones, is 
to further the project of corporate globalisation, not thwart it.

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded 
into the world, turning potential revolutionaries 
into salaried activists, funding artists, 
intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them 
away from radical confrontation, ushering them in 
the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, 
community development—the discourse couched in 
the language of identity politics and human rights.

The transformation of the idea of justice into 
the industry of human rights has been a 
conceptual coup in which NGOs and foundations 
have played a crucial part. The narrow focus of 
human rights enables an atrocity-based analysis 
in which the larger picture can be blocked out 
and both parties in a conflict—say, for example, 
the Maoists and the Indian government, or the 
Israeli Army and Hamas—can both be admonished as 
Human Rights Violators. The land-grab by mining 
corporations or the history of the annexation of 
Palestinian land by the State of Israel then 
become footnotes with very little bearing on the 
discourse. This is not to suggest that human 
rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a 
good enough prism through which to view or 
remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.

Another conceptual coup has to do with 
foundations’ involvement with the feminist 
movement. Why do most “official” feminists and 
women’s organisations in India keep a safe 
distance between themselves and organisations 
like say the 90,000-member Krantikari Adivasi 
Mahila Sangathan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s 
Association) fighting patriarchy in their own 
communities and displacement by mining 
corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is 
it that the dispossession and eviction of 
millions of women from land which they owned and 
worked is not seen as a feminist problem?

The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement 
from grassroots anti-imperialist and 
anti-capitalist people’s movements did not begin 
with the evil designs of foundations. It began 
with those movements’ inability to adapt and 
accommodate the rapid radicalisation of women 
that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. The 
foundations showed genius in recognising and 
moving in to support and fund women’s growing 
impatience with the violence and patriarchy in 
their traditional societies as well as among even 
the supposedly progressive leaders of Left 
movements. In a country like India, the schism 
also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most 
radical, anti-capitalist movements were located 
in the countryside where, for the most part, 
patriarchy continued to rule the lives of most 
women. Urban women activists who joined these 
movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been 
influenced and inspired by the western feminist 
movement and their own journeys towards 
liberation were often at odds with what their 
male leaders considered to be their duty: to fit 
in with ‘the masses’. Many women activists were 
not willing to wait any longer for the 
“revolution” in order to end the daily oppression 
and discrimination in their lives, including from 
their own comrades. They wanted gender equality 
to be an absolute, urgent and non-negotiable part 
of the revolutionary process and not just a 
post-revolution promise. Intelligent, angry and 
disillusioned women began to move away and look 
for other means of support and sustenance. As a 
result, by the late ’80s, around the time Indian 
markets were opened up, the liberal feminist 
movement in a country like India has become 
inordinately NGO-ised. Many of these NGOs have 
done seminal work on queer rights, domestic 
violence, AIDS and the rights of sex workers. But 
significantly, the liberal feminist movements 
have not been at the forefront of challenging the 
new economic policies, even though women have 
been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the 
disbursement of the funds, the foundations have 
largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of 
what “political” activity should be. The funding 
briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s “issues” and what doesn’t.

The NGO-isation of the women’s movement has also 
made western liberal feminism (by virtue of its 
being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer 
of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as 
usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, 
extruding Botox at one end and burqas at the 
other. (And then there are those who suffer the 
double whammy, Botox and the Burqa.) When, as 
happened recently in France, an attempt is made 
to coerce women out of the burqa rather than 
creating a situation in which a woman can choose 
what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating 
her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act 
of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not 
about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. 
Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as 
coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this 
way, shorn of social, political and economic 
context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle 
of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US 
government to use western feminist groups as 
moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. 
Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble 
under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on 
them was not going to solve their problems.

In the NGO universe, which has evolved a strange 
anodyne language of its own, everything has 
become a “subject”, a separate, professionalised, 
special-interest issue. Community development, 
leadership development, human rights, health, 
education, reproductive rights, AIDS, orphans 
with AIDS—have all been hermetically sealed into 
their own silos with their own elaborate and 
precise funding brief. Funding has fragmented 
solidarity in ways that repression never could. 
Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an 
identity problem. As though the poor have not 
been created by injustice but are a lost tribe 
who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in 
the short term by a system of grievance redressal 
(administered by NGOs on an individual, person to 
person basis), and whose long-term resurrection 
will come from Good Governance. Under the regime 
of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.

Indian poverty, after a brief period in the 
wilderness while India “shone”, has made a 
comeback as an exotic identity in the Arts, led 
from the front by films like Slumdog Millionaire. 
These stories about the poor, their amazing 
spirit and resilience, have no villains—except 
the small ones who provide narrative tension and 
local colour. The authors of these works are the 
contemporary world’s equivalent of the early 
anthropologists, lauded and honoured for working 
on “the ground”, for their brave journeys into 
the unknown. You rarely see the rich being examined in these ways.

Having worked out how to manage governments, 
political parties, elections, courts, the media 
and liberal opinion, there was one more challenge 
for the neo-liberal establishment: how to deal 
with growing unrest, the threat of “people’s 
power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you 
turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up 
people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys?

Here too, foundations and their allied 
organisations have a long and illustrious 
history. A revealing example is their role in 
defusing and deradicalising the Black Civil 
Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the 
successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.

The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J.D. 
Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with 
Martin Luther King Sr (father of Martin Luther 
King Jr). But his influence waned with the rise 
of the more militant organisations—the Student 
Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the 
Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller 
Foundations moved in. In 1970, they donated $15 
million to “moderate” black organisations, giving 
people grants, fellowships, scholarships, job 
training programmes for dropouts and seed money 
for black-owned businesses. Repression, 
infighting and the honey trap of funding led to 
the gradual atrophying of the radical black organisations.

Martin Luther King Jr made the forbidden 
connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, 
Racism and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he 
was assassinated, even his memory became a toxic 
threat to public order. Foundations and 
Corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to 
fit a market-friendly format. The Martin Luther 
King Junior Centre for Non-Violent Social Change, 
with an operational grant of $2 million, was set 
up by, among others, the Ford Motor Company, 
General Motors, Mobil, Western Electric, Procter 
& Gamble, US Steel and Monsanto. The Center 
maintains the King Library and Archives of the 
Civil Rights Movement. Among the many programmes 
the King Center runs have been projects that 
“work closely with the United States Department 
of Defense, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and 
others”. It co-sponsored the Martin Luther King 
Jr Lecture Series called ‘The Free Enterprise 
System: An Agent for Non-violent Social Change’. Amen.

A similar coup was carried out in the 
anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In 1978, 
the Rockefeller Foundation organised a Study 
Commission on US Policy toward Southern Africa. 
The report warned of the growing influence of the 
Soviet Union on the African National Congress 
(ANC) and said that US strategic and corporate 
interests (i.e., access to South Africa’s 
minerals) would be best served if there were 
genuine sharing of political power by all races.

The foundations began to support the ANC. The ANC 
soon turned on the more radical organisations 
like Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement 
and more or less eliminated them. When Nelson 
Mandela took over as South Africa’s first Black 
President, he was canonised as a living saint, 
not just because he was a freedom fighter who 
spent 27 years in prison, but also because he 
deferred completely to the Washington Consensus. 
Socialism disappeared from the ANC’s agenda. 
South Africa’s great “peaceful transition”, so 
praised and lauded, meant no land reforms, no 
demands for reparation, no nationalisation of 
South Africa’s mines. Instead, there was 
Privatisation and Structural Adjustment. Mandela 
gave South Africa’s highest civilian award—the 
Order of Good Hope—to his old supporter and 
friend General Suharto, the killer of Communists 
in Indonesia. Today, in South Africa, a clutch of 
Mercedes-driving former radicals and trade 
unionists rule the country. But that is more than 
enough to perpetuate the illusion of Black Liberation.

The rise of Black Power in the US was an 
inspirational moment for the rise of a radical, 
progressive Dalit movement in India, with 
organisations like the Dalit Panthers mirroring 
the militant politics of the Black Panthers. But 
Dalit Power too, in not exactly the same but 
similar ways, has been fractured and defused and, 
with plenty of help from right-wing Hindu 
organisations and the Ford Foundation, is well on 
its way to transforming into Dalit Capitalism.

‘Dalit Inc ready to show business can beat 
caste’, the Indian Express reported in December 
last year. It went on to quote a mentor of the 
Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry 
(DICCI). “Getting the prime minister for a Dalit 
gathering is not difficult in our society. But 
for Dalit entrepreneurs, taking a photograph with 
Tata and Godrej over lunch and tea is an 
aspiration—and proof that they have arrived,” he 
said. Given the situation in modern India, it 
would be casteist and reactionary to say that 
Dalit entrepreneurs oughtn’t to have a place at 
the high table. But if this is to be the 
aspiration, the ideological framework of Dalit 
politics, it would be a great pity. And unlikely 
to help the one million Dalits who still earn a 
living off manual scavenging—carrying human shit on their heads.

Young Dalit scholars who accept grants from the 
Ford Foundation cannot be too harshly judged. Who 
else is offering them an opportunity to climb out 
of the cesspit of the Indian caste system? The 
shame as well as a large part of the blame for 
this turn of events also goes to India’s 
Communist movement whose leaders continue to be 
predominantly upper caste. For years it has tried 
to force-fit the idea of caste into Marxist class 
analysis. It has failed miserably, in theory as 
well as practice. The rift between the Dalit 
community and the Left began with a falling out 
between the visionary Dalit leader Dr Bhimrao 
Ambedkar and S.A. Dange, trade unionist and 
founding member of the Communist Party of India. 
Dr Ambedkar’s disillusionment with the Communist 
Party began with the textile workers’ strike in 
Mumbai in 1928 when he realised that despite all 
the rhetoric about working class solidarity, the 
party did not find it objectionable that the 
“untouchables” were kept out of the weaving 
department (and only qualified for the lower paid 
spinning department) because the work involved 
the use of saliva on the threads, which other castes considered “polluting”.

Ambedkar realised that in a society where the 
Hindu scriptures institutionalise untouchability 
and inequality, the battle for “untouchables”, 
for social and civic rights, was too urgent to 
wait for the promised Communist revolution. The 
rift between the Ambedkarites and the Left has 
come at a great cost to both. It has meant that a 
great majority of the Dalit population, the 
backbone of the Indian working class, has pinned 
its hopes for deliverance and dignity to 
constitutionalism, to capitalism and to political 
parties like the BSP, which practise an 
important, but in the long run, stagnant brand of identity politics.

In the United States, as we have seen, 
corporate-endowed foundations spawned the culture 
of NGOs. In India, targeted corporate 
philanthropy began in earnest in the 1990s, the 
era of the New Economic Policies. Membership to 
the Star Chamber doesn’t come cheap. The Tata 
Group donated $50 million to that needy 
institution, the Harvard Business School, and 
another $50 million to Cornell University. Nandan 
Nilekani of Infosys and his wife Rohini donated 
$5 million as a start-up endowment for the India 
Initiative at Yale. The Harvard Humanities Centre 
is now the Mahindra Humanities Centre after it 
received its largest-ever donation of $10 million 
from Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group.

At home, the Jindal Group, with a major stake in 
mining, metals and power, runs the Jindal Global 
Law School and will soon open the Jindal School 
of Government and Public Policy. (The Ford 
Foundation runs a law school in the Congo.) The 
New India Foundation funded by Nandan Nilekani, 
financed by profits from Infosys, gives prizes 
and fellowships to social scientists. The Sitaram 
Jindal Foundation endowed by Jindal Aluminium has 
announced five cash prizes of Rs 1 crore each to 
be given to those working in rural development, 
poverty alleviation, environment education and 
moral upliftment. The Reliance Group’s Observer 
Research Foundation (ORF), currently endowed by 
Mukesh Ambani, is cast in the mould of the 
Rockefeller Foundation. It has retired 
intelligence agents, strategic analysts, 
politicians (who pretend to rail against each 
other in Parliament), journalists and 
policymakers as its research “fellows” and advisors.

ORF’s objectives seem straightforward enough: “To 
help develop a consensus in favour of economic 
reforms.” And to shape and influence public 
opinion, creating “viable, alternative policy 
options in areas as divergent as employment 
generation in backward districts and real-time 
strategies to counter nuclear, biological and chemical threats”.

I was initially puzzled by the preoccupation with 
“nuclear, biological and chemical war” in ORF’s 
stated objectives. But less so when, in the long 
list of its ‘institutional partners’, I found the 
names of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the 
world’s leading weapons manufacturers. In 2007, 
Raytheon announced it was turning its attention 
to India. Could it be that at least part of 
India’s $32 billion defence budget will be spent 
on weapons, guided missiles, aircraft, warships 
and surveillance equipment made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin?

Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need 
wars to create a market for weapons? After all, 
the economies of Europe, US and Israel depend 
hugely on their weapons industry. It’s the one 
thing they haven’t outsourced to China.

In the new Cold War between US and China, India 
is being groomed to play the role Pakistan played 
as a US ally in the cold war with Russia. (And 
look what happened to Pakistan.) Many of those 
columnists and “strategic analysts” who are 
playing up the hostilities between India and 
China, you’ll see, can be traced back directly or 
indirectly to the Indo-American think-tanks and 
foundations. Being a “strategic partner” of the 
US does not mean that the Heads of State make 
friendly phone calls to each other every now and 
then. It means collaboration (interference) at 
every level. It means hosting US Special Forces 
on Indian soil (a Pentagon Commander recently 
confirmed this to the BBC). It means sharing 
intelligence, altering agriculture and energy 
policies, opening up the health and education 
sectors to global investment. It means opening up 
retail. It means an unequal partnership in which 
India is being held close in a bear hug and 
waltzed around the floor by a partner who will 
incinerate her the moment she refuses to dance.

In the list of ORF’s ‘institutional partners’, 
you will also find the RAND Corporation, Ford 
Foundation, the World Bank, the Brookings 
Institution (whose stated mission is to “provide 
innovative and practical recommendations that 
advance three broad goals: to strengthen American 
democracy; to foster the economic and social 
welfare, security and opportunity of all 
Americans; and to secure a more open, safe, 
prosperous and cooperative international 
system”.) You will also find the Rosa Luxemburg 
Foundation of Germany. (Poor Rosa, who died for 
the cause of Communism, to find her name on a list such as this one!)

Though capitalism is meant to be based on 
competition, those at the top of the food chain 
have also shown themselves to be capable of 
inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western 
Capitalists have done business with fascists, 
socialists, despots and military dictators. They 
can adapt and constantly innovate. They are 
capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.

But despite having successfully powered through 
economic reforms, despite having waged wars and 
militarily occupied countries in order to put in 
place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is 
going through a crisis whose gravity has not 
revealed itself completely yet. Marx said, “What 
the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, 
are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the 
victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

The proletariat, as Marx saw it, has been under 
continuous assault. Factories have shut down, 
jobs have disappeared, trade unions have been 
disbanded. The proletariat has, over the years, 
been pitted against each other in every possible 
way. In India, it has been Hindu against Muslim, 
Hindu against Christian, Dalit against Adivasi, 
caste against caste, region against region. And 
yet, all over the world, it is fighting back. In 
China, there are countless strikes and uprisings. 
In India, the poorest people in the world have 
fought back to stop some of the richest corporations in their tracks.

Capitalism is in crisis. Trickledown failed. Now 
Gush-Up is in trouble too. The international 
financial meltdown is closing in. India’s growth 
rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign 
investment is pulling out. Major international 
corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, 
not sure where to invest it, not sure how the 
financial crisis will play out. This is a major, 
structural crack in the juggernaut of global capital.

Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up 
being its own delusional Cardinals, who have 
turned ideology into faith. Despite their 
strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble 
grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying 
the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of 
past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.

I stood outside Antilla for a long time watching 
the sun go down. I imagined that the tower was as 
deep as it was high. That it had a 
twenty-seven-storey-long tap root, snaking around 
below the ground, hungrily sucking sustenance out 
of the earth, turning it into smoke and gold.

Why did the Ambanis’ choose to call their 
building Antilla? Antilla is the name of a set of 
mythical islands whose story dates back to an 
8th-century Iberian legend. When the Muslims 
conquered Hispania, six Christian Visigothic 
bishops and their parishioners boarded ships and 
fled. After days, or maybe weeks at sea, they 
arrived at the isles of Antilla where they 
decided to settle and raise a new civilisation. 
They burnt their boats to permanently sever their 
links to their barbarian-dominated homeland.

By calling their tower Antilla, do the Ambanis 
hope to sever their links to the poverty and 
squalor of their homeland and raise a new 
civilisation? Is this the final act of the most 
successful secessionist movement in India? The 
secession of the middle and upper classes into outer space?

As night fell over Mumbai, guards in crisp linen 
shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appeared 
outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The 
lights blazed on, to scare away the ghosts 
perhaps. The neighbours complain that Antilla’s 
bright lights have stolen the night.

Perhaps it’s time for us to take back the night.

Arundhati Roy is an Indian novelist and political 
activist. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for 
her novel, The God of Small Things






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