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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 51, New Delhi, December 5, 2020

Interrogating Neo-liberalism | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 5 December 2020, by Arup Kumar Sen

by Arup Kumar Sen

Neoliberalism as a political doctrine originated in the capitalist countries of the West and spread to other countries of the world in course of time.

Every political philosophy has some universal categories of thought, but it takes specific meanings in particular social formations.

Nandan Nilekani was the chief architect of UIDAI, and led the development of Aadhaar in India. His book, Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century (Penguin Books, 2009), may be treated as a key text of the Indian variant of neoliberalism. He praised India’s neoliberal path of development in the book. To put it in his own words: “As both an entrepreneur and a citizen, I have been heartened by our economic progress in the last twenty-five years. India’s annual growth of over 6 per cent since the early 1990s is surpassed in history by only one other country, China”.

Nilekani offered his suggestions for overcoming India’s internal weaknesses. He suggested among other things that “people everywhere, regardless of their income levels, should have access to...good schools where their children can be educated in the English language”. He observed: “I see the current forces of globalization as working largely in India’s favor...India has far more to gain than lose by embracing globalization more fully”.

Nilekani’s praise for India’s growth story and defence of the English language education and globalization are nothing special. It constitutes the essence of neoliberalism being preached by the English-speaking elites of India.

In his book, Imagining India in Discourse: Meaning, Power, Structure (Springer, 2017), Mohan Jyoti Dutta has offered a strong critique of the elite discourse of neoliberalism, based on his field visits in rural India. Let us quote him at length:

“The logic of economic liberalization constituted and limited the realms of possibility and impossibility of elite discourse, mostly seeking to speak to a wider English language elite audience and offering a pathway for India’s development that was on the one hand, palatable to this audience, and on the other hand, crystallized the beliefs, attitudes, and values of this audience around a narrow set of ideas of what constitutes national development...On the one hand, I was struck by the immense sense of exhilaration and excitement that I witnessed among many of my technocratic friends...who seemed to be enamored by all the possibilities that the new India opened up. On the other hand, I was struck by the impoverishment and the everyday struggles of the rural poor, attending to narratives that seemed to disrupt the excitement of elite discourse, drawing attention to the everyday struggles with securing the basic forms of access to resources including food and health”.

In recent years, the clash of elite and subaltern narratives has reached new heights. The Indian State is playing a key role in facilitating the neoliberal paradigm of development and politics, and marginalizing the voice/welfare of the subalterns and minorities in the management of the polity.

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