Power Shift In India

Vandana Shiva views India's recent election as a referendum against economic globalization - not the victory of right-wing fundamentalism portrayed in the Western press.
Due to its history of advocating a Hindu nationalist state, the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India's March elections raised fears that the new government might enact policies discriminating against Muslims and other religious minorities. Such fears have been the focus of much of the Western press coverage of the Indian elections.  Writer, activist, and scientist Vandana Shiva offers a different perspective on the significance of this shift in the leadership of the world's largest democracy.

Since 1991, India has opened its economy and resources to the global economy. It lowered its tariffs and offered lucrative incentives to attract multinational companies. In the recent elections, the defeated Congress Party, which ruled in India for nearly 50 years, had campaigned on promises to continue to boost foreign investment and open the country's markets to outside competition.

In contrast, the leaders of what is now the ruling coalition promised economic policies with a strong swadeshi thrust. Swadeshi is the concept of economic self-reliance invoked by Gandhi during India's struggle for independence from British rule. The coalition's goal is to ensure that India is built by Indians.

The Western press's portrayal of the governing co-alition as “fundamentalist right-wing” misses the point. What the diverse parties actually have in common is a rejection of the global economy as the path to progress for India. At a time when governments elsewhere are giving their economies and societies over to global corporations, the new swadeshi coalition strongly supports citizen rights to food, water, and livelihoods. The government has made clear that if free trade and the fundamental rights of people are in conflict, it is free trade that should be sacrificed, not people's rights.

That position presents a sharp contrast to the one presented by the US government at the 1996 Food Summit in Rome. The US delegation opposed recognizing food as a human right, partly on the grounds that such a position would interfere with the free trade of food commodities. (See YES! #1 Winter 1997 page 48.)

India is also likely to question policies at the powerful World Trade Organization (WTO). The new coalition says it will form its agenda on WTO issues “in the widest perspective of the universal goal of creating a world order which is more equitable, humane, and free of exploitation.”

Far from being based on religious extremism, the new coalition is composed of diverse ideologies from the left and the right. The coalition's official statement says, “We are committed to establishing a civilized, humane, and just civil order, which does not discriminate on grounds of caste, religion, class, color, race, or sex. We will truly and genuinely uphold and practice the concept of secularism consistent with the Indian traditions of sarva panth samadhara (equal respect for all faiths) and on the basis of equality for all.”

If India's pluralistic swadeshi coalition is able to remain in power, India could show the way to a period beyond globalization and corporate rule based on principles of diversity, decentralized democracy, ecological sustainability, and social and economic justice.

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