Babasaheb Ambedkar and Neoliberal Economic Reforms: Part II

Anand Teltumbde

Anand Teltumbde

Part I of this article appeared in the previous issue

Ambedkar and Globalisation

 

At the outset, to speak about Ambedkar in relation to globalisation, which represents a paradigmatic transformation of global capitalism into its extremist version, is fundamentally speculative. But there are enough fools who rush in where angels fear to tread . Since they cannot rationally justify their support to globalisation, they have been awkwardly invoking Ambedkar, speculating that if he had lived, he would have supported globalisation. In any case, there being so little knowledge about economic policies, the gullible listeners tend to believe these tricksters, who pretend intellectual prowess and already enjoy some social reputation. It is futile to engage with them at such a speculative level. However, if we understand what globalisation is, we can objectively assess where Ambedkar would stand vis-à-vis globalisation.

 

Globalisation is an extremist version of resurgent liberalism in retaliation to its century long marginalisation by communist challenge and Keynesianism. It is basically premised on extreme individualism, competition as the prime mover of progress, and free market as its prototype. Pitching every individual in competition with the rest of the world, it follows the social Darwinist justification for inequality, exploitation, and social injustice. While it is thus biased in favour of the rich and powerful in relation to the poor masses, in its ruthless logic it favours the winner and discards the losers. Therefore, in its proclivities it is absolutely unsustainable. Translated into an economic policy package, it is familiarly known as privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation, without any concern for the weak and poor. This strategy of global capital has been enabled by the late 20th century information and communication technologies and emboldened by the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet regime. It manifests itself in the form of accumulation by dispossession, unmindful of the consequences for the survival of the human race itself. People are being denuded of their meagre possessions all over the world. While the State is actively facilitating this process of accumulation of global capital, it is withdrawning from its role as the provider of social goods such as education, healthcare, etc. to the people.

 

If this is the character of globalisation, would Ambedkar, whose vision was to see human destiny in the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, support it? Actually, if there is anything that can be conceived as being ideologically opposite to Ambedkar, it is globalisation.

 

Globalisation and Dalits

 

Perhaps Dalits, who are fed on an identitarian diet, would not be impressed by the picture of devastation globalisation has created the world over. For instance, there is no dispute that inequalities have risen at an unprecedented rate in every country in almost direct proportion to the degree of free-market policies that country has followed. Loss of jobs, democratic spaces, habitat, environment and social security for vast masses of people are rampantly observed everywhere. But identity obsessed Dalits would not relate with it. They will still argue that they are a different people faced with the unique problem of caste and the heaps of contra-evidence do not mean anything to them. Although it is most unfortunate that Dalits should be so sectarian in their attitude, this argument impels one to focus on the specifics of the problems faced by Dalits.

 

With the heuristic that the adverse impact of globalisation is felt by people in inverse proportion to their placement in social hierarchy, it would not be difficult to see that Dalits are the most affected people by it. But only saying this much may not appeal to Dalits, they may probably consider it to be too superficial. We will therefore need to consider the impact of globalisation on Dalits within a more comprehensive framework, what I would call a project of their emancipation. This project can be conceived in terms of four empowerments: 1. individual empowerment; 2. Socio-economic empowerment; 3. Socio-political empowerment; and 4. Socio-cultural empowerment. If these four empowerments are accomplished, one can reasonably say that the emancipation of Dalits is achieved. We identify salient proxy variables to map each of these four empowerments: education and health for individual empowerment; land reforms and jobs for socio-economic empowerment; democratisation for socio-political empowerment; and modernity for socio-cultural empowerment. Let us now assess the impact of globalisation on each of these proxy variables in a systematic and somewhat scientific manner.

 

The greatest impact on people comes through the withdrawal of the State from its obligation towards people and privatisation of what was public. Education, marked as the greatest enabler, is getting increasingly beyond the reach of Dalits. One sees rampant commercialisation of the sector, with multilayered quality of educational institutions catering to different segments of the education market. It quite corresponds with the caste hierarchies that existed in olden times. Health services were already one of the most privatised sectors in the country; now they have almost disappeared from the public domain.

 

As regards land reforms, the entire discourse has vanished and is being replaced by corporate land grab in the garb of development. It is leading to significant land loss and increasing landlessness of Dalits in villages. Jobs are fast disappearing. The public sector jobs which were accessible to Dalits have been fast decreasing since 1997, effectively marking the end of reservation there. As regards democracy, it has only remained in the symbolic façade of elections. Outside elections, there is no space for people to express their opinion or dissent. The slightest indication of dissent invites a naxal or Maoist tag, which is being stuck on Dalit youth with impunity to destroy their life.

 

Modernity, which means transcending decadent traditions and customs, whatever their source may be, and adopting the scientific outlook. Understanding the impact of globalisation on this proxy variable may not be easy, because of the dominant discourse that associates globalisation with cultural universalisation. That has not been true however. The true processes can be characterised by hybridisation, glocalisation and the likes, which means that globalisation assimilates what is valued by the local elites with the dominant global cultural resources. As such, all the old traditions and customs of Hindus, including castes, which were apologetically spoken about until 1980s, have resurged with a vengeance. The neoliberal generation now speaks about them with pride. If caste atrocities are taken as the indicator of casteism (and I would take it as the best indicator), one will have to infer that catseism is on a definite rise during the period of globalisation.

 

Thus, we can see that globalisation has comprehensively damaged what can be called the emancipation project of Dalits. There will certainly be a few Dalit individuals who have immensely benefited from it. Globalisation is structurally oriented to benefit stray elements, creating an impression that individuals can achieve anything if they possess the wherewithal to compete. The campaigners of Dalit capitalism, such as the Dalit capitalists or the Dalit Chamber of Commerce, do not have even an elementary understanding of the disastrous impact of globalisation on the Dalits, leave apart the principle that adopting enemy ideology is simply suicidal.

 

Conclusion

 

Babasaheb Ambedkar occupies an important space in Dalit psyche. He represents their ideal, ideology and aspirations. Nothing that is not compatible with him can be considered by Dalits. But this assessment is mediated by the vested interests in various garbs. They have iconised him among the masses in reactionary ways. The masses then tend to assess anything with reference to their false understanding of this icon; if it is not attuned to this icon, it is summarily rejected and vice versa, even in the face of contrary experience of the masses. Globalisation is one such phenomenon. It is being implemented in India for nearly three decades now, and the majority of Dalits have actually suffered its ill effects. But still they do not have an abhorrence for it, simply because they believe that it is something supported by the image of Ambedkar that is in their minds. Dalits need to understand the real Ambedkar, they need to extricate the real radical Ambedkar as their guide and beacon. The radical Ambedkar is surely the socialist Ambedkar, who was in relentless search of truth, of the way which will lead the world to sustainability and humans to their utopia marked by him with the three ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. Even if the Dalits internalise only this, they would have extricated him from the reactionary marsh created by vested interests.

 

Globalisation is a euphemistic term for the imperialist strategy of global capital. In essence it is capitalism, but is actually an extremist version of it, which disregards its own sustainability in pursuit of unbridled profits. Capitalism had set in place limits for exploitation of surplus value from labour, insofar as the latter needed to be provided with wherewithal for reproduction and also the purchasing power to buy his finished products. Globalisation, intoxicated with technology, has completely undermined labour and has been out to discard it or dispossess it of whatever little it had. It basically desires extermination of the majority of people, the rejects of the market, who it believes parasitically consume the planet’s resources. There is no intellect required to assess that such a creed or a system would be an anathema to Babasaheb Ambedkar.

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