People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 28, 2003

 Religion And Communalism

Are Good Business As Well

  Nalini Taneja


THE New Year begins much as the last one did with wishes and hopes that it is not as bad as the one just past. Our government and the forces at the helm of affairs have ensured that our aspirations remain at an all time low; our hopes do not take a flight; we be reduced to such apprehension that for us the best seems that nothing happens; because what can happen is only bad; we only wish that somehow things are not as bad as they were. Not just in India, sensitive people all over the world send their greetings for the New Year this year, as in the last few years, with anxiousness writ bold on their greeting cards, that peace and harmony may prevail.


For the poor of the world the New Year is never a landmark. Not just that the thirty-first of December is another day, like all others, which it is; but that they have little to hope for in the coming year, and the new year in any case has never been a marker for those involved in the business of struggling hard for their livelihood. For them the days of planning, dreaming, making new resolutions, buying gifts for loved ones and things like that are different, and geared to their work cycles. As work gets scarce even these are becoming redundant.


But even for the middle classes who mark out the first of January as something to celebrate and look forward to, there seems to be less and less to look forward to. The only ones making merry are those riding the tide of liberalisation and globalisation to make themselves rich. The brave new people of the brave new ‘globalised’ world. And within South Asia, we may add, those who ride high on hatred and communal strife as well.




Religion and communalism are good business as well. The ‘feel good’ sentiments that our media is so euphoric about refer just to this alignment, of religion and communalism with business, which is thriving today.


In this past one year a lot more crores of money has got transferred in the name of grants to NGOs and other such RSS linked organisations in the name of community development, tribal welfare, women’s and child development and so on. There have been great shifts in public expenditure and from budgetary allocations, from sectors that ensured direct involvement of the State in public welfare, such as grants to universities and formal schooling and the public health system, to such sectors where grants are mediated through convenient and politically correct non-governmental sectors. The beneficiaries have been not merely these organisations through whom the Hindutva forces are in much greater command of government funds, but also the RSS schools which have emerged as the single largest private player in school education and tribal ‘welfare’ and the private institutions and foreign institutions geared to market-friendly courses, which have found their staunchest supporter to be the BJP government with its new ‘nationalist’ education policy.




At another level, the strong link between religion and business thrives through the huge melas and celebrations of the Hindutva forces, although one must add that Diwali and Christmas and Saint Valentines Day and many other newfound festivals have also become more and more commercialised through the years. We know how many such huge gatherings have taken place from their very detailed picturisation on the various TV channels, a picturisation that ensures equally huge sponsorship and revenues from advertisements on channels and in the glossy ‘coloured pages’ of newspapers. Corporate media benefits from these, something that has not gone unnoticed by big corporate houses.


Already for the next Kumbh, a hundred firms have geared their machinery to book spaces in the area for the duration of the mela. The idea is not entirely new. At the 2001 Allahabad Kumbh, 65-70 corporate houses had moved in teams for a similar exercise, reaching out to 4.1 million people in the process (Indian Express, December 24, 2003). But this time, the paper reports, the stakes are higher. “Estimated revenue of Rs 200-300 crore is expected to be recorded in the 30 days during the mela as a captive market of 8 million salvation seekers buy up goods ranging from personal care products to suitcases. Linterland which has bought sizeable space at the Kumbh, says the campaign is a trend setter.” Hoardings and sampling stalls of these stalls will surely outnumber ‘religious’ banners. Linterland’s clients include HLL, Tata Steel, Dalmia Consumer Care, VIP, Nabard, Kirloskar Oil Engines etc. The Ad agencies on their behalf include besides Linterland, also Sonata, Ogilvy and Mather, Lowe, Madison and J Walter Thompson, all of which have rural marketing wings as well. A good collaboration and partnership between the multinationals and Indian companies and the government which allows and thrives on it.




At yet another level, corporate houses have undoubtedly thrown their weight behind the BJP as election results show. Without this support there was little to choose between the BJP and the Congress in many areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, or Madhya Pradesh, with the Congress too not averse to appeasing the Hindutva ‘sentiments’ and forces. Both parties had based their strategy on the crucial ‘Hindu vote’ rather than the ‘Muslim vote’ which was taken for granted by the Congress. The large number of BSP candidates may as well have been put up for cutting the Congress votes, and the Hindutva forces have no doubt made deep inroads within dalits and tribals so far seen as partial towards the Congress. But even taking into account these factors, the corporate support for the BJP was crucial, pointing to the link between an easier suppression of working class rights and divisive policies which weaken the trade union movement. Riots also close down many small businesses owned by Muslims, and allow the bigger business houses and Hindu trading class to benefit, while the growing unemployment which is the result of the nexus between the government and the corporate houses is taken care of by people fighting with each other over scarce jobs.


It is important that the Congress is the architect of the liberalisation drive and has no quarrel with the BJP’s economic policies, a matter of interest to imperialism as well as our own corporate houses. But the pace and terms on which the BJP is privatising the public sector and selling out to imperialist interests is far faster than the Congress could have afforded for the simple reason that it cannot afford an open, considered and official policy of divisive-sectarian politics in the way that the BJP can. The Congress does not have the kind of stormtroopers that could convert or channelise discontent against economic policies into communal riots or sectarian ‘sons of the soil’ sentiments.




The corporate houses and US imperialism can see only too well the live and crucial role of religion and communalism in allowing for the success of globalisation policies and surrender to the GATS and WTO regimes. Gujarat has affected neither corporate profits and private investments nor the interest of multinationals in India. We may add, it has hardly registered with the US government, or other western governments for that matter, busy fighting terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Religion and communalism are good business, and the Indian ruling classes as well as imperialism realise that only too well. They have a real stake in the continuing religious strife in South Asia. We must not get misled by the corporate owned media when it cries out that riots and sectarian religious or regional chauvinism will affect ‘economic reforms’. Sectarian nationalism and regional chauvinism are inherent in the globalisation process. They do not affect the 1500 million strong market they hold so dear.


Finally, an ‘Internal Enemy’ is the core of the drive towards militarisation of South Asia, both in terms of buying weapons from the imperialist world whose economies depend so much on sales of weapons, and in terms of militarisation of society as a whole in South Asian countries, which facilitate the arming of the State in relation to the working people of their own country. Militarisation and authoritarianism, excused in the context of religious and ethnic strife in these countries are, in turn, the best guarantee for the ruling classes against democracy. 


Religion and communalism are, therefore bound to remain good business in the coming year, just as the war against terrorism is. We can see its beginnings in the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the kind of response from the west. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him,” said Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, adding, “This is a great day for Iraq’s history”. A great day under American occupation?