Even as the new AAP government was preparing to take oath of office, the news came of an unprecedented hike in the price of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) – a hike of Rs 5.15 per kg. In principle, there is nothing wrong with a price-hike that is supposedly necessitated by the need to reduce supplies to metropolitan centres in order to ensure a more equitable distribution to other towns. However, knowing the way the Congress Party functions, the timing of this hike gives rise to legitimate suspicion that the intention is mala fide. At the very least, the decision could have waited till the new government assumed office and some consultation with the new government was carried out. This move shows up the nature of what can be expected from Congress and its ‘outside support’ to the new government.
Expectedly, auto-rickshaw drivers have started making noises about going on strike if fares are not commensurately hiked. If auto fares are raised, it hits the middle class, and if they are not, it alienates the auto-drivers.This clearly throws any new government into a quandary.
Such instances of intervention by vested interests to sabotage impending policy changes, are not new in history. The CNG price affair may well be the more benign of the spate of actions that will follow in the near future.
Rumours are rife in journalistic/ media circles in the capital, of impending blackouts and power outages, as the new government takes office and moves towards the promised audit of power distribution companies and changing of the new, post-privatization meters. Coming against the background of the CNG price-hike, these rumours do not sound outlandish at all.
In the history of twentieth century politics, this is not new. Latin America of course, has faced the worst of this kind of sabotage, where US corporations and the US government in tandem have intervened to obstruct and overthrow democratically elected inconvenient regimes.
It is a phenomenon rarely noted that virtually every left-wing government since the Second World War, almost all of them elected, has faced vicious, sometimes violent, obstruction by its enemies both internal and foreign. Many were overthrown. As Henry Kissinger explained just before the American-backed coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, “The issues are too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
One of the earliest such instances dates back to Guatemala in 1954, when a CIA-organized coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. It is widely recognized that the coup was consequent to the pressure of United Fruit Company, a US multinational whose land had been taken over by Arbenz as part of its land reforms programme, as is evident from this report of a ‘Canadian intelligence publication and consultancy‘. Here is what the report says:
The real reason for U.S. involvement came from pressure from the United Fruit Company, whose land was expropriated by Arbenz’s progressive land reforms. The CIA action took a form that became the mold for CIA intervention in Latin America: The bribery of military officers and a propaganda campaign against the leftist government that included the resurrection of oppositional radio stations, the mass distribution of anti-government leaflets, and the anonymous submission of articles to newspapers painting the Arbenz government as communist.
This last part is crucial. It is necessary to label a popular regime ‘communist’ (these days it might be enough to call it ‘socialist’), before launching the offensive. Such was also the case with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who election upset the political and economic vested interests to such an extent that, to quote once again from Caplan:
Working closely with the U.S. embassy, and following the Kissinger Commandment, the elite organized a coup that the U.S. endorsed, an oil strike to undermine the country’s economy, a recall election, and a ferocious propaganda campaign by the powerful local elite-owned media to delegitimize and destabilize Chavez and his government.
In fact, Chavez was anything but a leftist radical in the standard sense, when he came to power in 1998. He was at best a patriotic military officer with a strong sense of loyalty to his people. But he too had to be similarly branded before the coup of 2002 was carried out. Of course, it was a coup that could barely last a couple of days and Chavez had to be brought back in the face of a massive popular upsurge. The economic warfare continues and more recently, in early December 2013, days before the scheduled municipal elections, the regime of the new President Nicolas Maduro was faced with massive blackouts across the country, leading to widespread speculations about sabotage. That this was not the first power breakdown and has been preceded by many such outages in recent months gives credence to Maduro’s accusations of sabotage which have, however been ridiculed by dominant sections of the international and Venezuelan corporate media. But here is an extract from another report by Eva Golinger (Znet), which refers to a document prepared in June that was recently unearthed:
Just weeks ago, Venezuelan authorities detained various individuals involved in sabotaging the electrical system and at the end of September, President Maduro expelled three US diplomats from the US Embassy in Caracas for their alleged role in destabilization plans against the state.
In the section labeled “Actions”, the authors of the document detail their next steps to undermine the Venezuelan government. In addition to “Perfecting the confrontational discourse of Henrique Capriles”, the opposition candidate who lost to Maduro in April’s presidential elections, they also talk of “Generating emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasize social problems, provoking social discontent. Increase problems with supply of basic consumer products”
In India, things have been more benign and we have for various reasons been spared the military coups that are routinely carried out in the US’ backyard. Here, it looks like the Congress government at the Centre will ably perform the task of supporting corporate sabotage, for the nexus between the two is deep and entrenched, and has been further fortified with the glue of neoliberal theology that believes that capital is God. In this belief system, it is sacrilegious to even entertain the idea that there can be something wrong with corporate capital or that there are people who think it is possible to live outside its divine shadow. People who believe in such ideas are called ‘socialists’ in this lexicon – irrespective of whether they think of themselves as socialists.
Unsurprisingly, campaigns about the ‘socialism’ of AAP have begun and it will be interesting to see how far right-wing commentators in the media are prepared to push this line of propaganda. Many of the campaigners, of course, still live in the 1990s, when socialism became a bad word, associated with the worst of statist politics and economics and in opposition to which the ‘virtues of the free market seemed’ to be almost self-evident, in no need of any justification. Unbeknownst to these media commentators and economists, the world has changed radically over the past few years and if ‘socialism’ is not fashionable, nor is ‘free market’ any more so. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is in fact, being widely recognized that some degree of regulation of private capital – in terms of ensuring its public accountability – is absolutely essential and cannot be subordinated to any so-called ‘economic law’. Private capital will have to learn that its profit is not the sole thing that will govern or can govern how economic decisions are made.
This is a battle that had been all but abdicated by all political parties across the spectrum but the question has now been opened up. It has been opened up, not by doctrinaire socialists or communists but by those who believe that the economy and government must be concerned, first and foremost, with the welfare of common people. Much like the reviled populists of South America, it is the populists here who have shown the courage to take on the powerful corporations in the power sector. What direction the battle takes in the weeks to come remains to be seen but one thing is clear: an opening has been provided for a drastic rethinking of economic and related policies.