Wooing Foreign Corporations, Criminalizing Dissent

As India approaches Republic Day, the corporate-communal shadows over the Indian Republic and Indian democracy become darker. The Modi Government, even as it dilutes protections for India’s workers, farmers and citizens to woo US corporations and other MNCs, is branding protesting farmers and activists as ‘foreign agents’ to jail them and prevent them from traveling.

The Vibrant Gujarat jamboree held recently was attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as a range of US corporations and other MNCs, as well as Indian CEOs like Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla. Addressing this gathering, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited them to ‘Make in India’, promising them ‘low-cost manufacturing’ thanks to ‘India’s low-cost and high quality manpower’; and highlighted his Government’s initiative in ensuring FDI in construction, railways, defence, and insurance as well as labour law reforms.

‘Low cost manpower’ is nothing but a euphemism for under-paid and over-worked workers, and lax safety norms at the workplace. In India’s factories, labour laws – especially those ensuring payment of minimum wages, equal pay for equal work, and the right to form unions – are already being widely violated. Modi’s contribution has been to declare that manufacturers can now ‘self-certify’ their compliance with labour laws – effectively telling them that the Government has shrugged off any responsibility to enforce labour laws. Recent revelations of women being made to clean spit as punishment for being found with a mobile phone on textile factory premises, and 45 women being strip searched in an SEZ to check for sanitary napkins, are just a small indicator of workers ‘Make in India’ in conditions of virtual bondage. Deaths on construction sites, in factories, mines and in sanitation work thanks to lax safety regulations, are extremely common. The Bhopal disaster, as well as countless farmers and adivasis killed in police firing on protests against land grab, are a reminder that not only is labour ‘low cost’, lives in India are also kept ‘low cost’ in order to attract and appease Indian and foreign corporations. Kerry has stated that what Obama would like to achieve in the course of his Republic Day visit, is to further dilute the Civil Nuclear Liability law, in order to make India foot the bills for any Bhopal- or Fukushima-style disasters by US nuclear corporations on Indian soil.

Strangely, while foreign corporations are being given a red carpet welcome and carte blanche to grab land, pollute the environment, poison people, violate labour laws and exploit labourers, it is protesting farmers and activists who are being branded as ‘threats’ to India’s development and internal security!

During the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, Gujarat’s farmers were detained to prevent them from protesting against the land acquisition ordinance. A Greenpeace activist was prevented from boarding a plane – on the pretext that the Intelligence Bureau had recommended a ban on her travel. The Government itself has as yet been unable to provide any reason for a ban on the activist’s travel, except some shadowy IB recommendation.

BJP representatives have been defending the ban on the activist’s travel, citing her role in protests against violations of the Forest Rights Act by the corporation Essar. Essar being a UK-listed company, the activist was planning to apprise lawmakers in the UK about the company’s role in violating Indian laws protecting indigenous people’s rights to forests.

The ban on the Greenpeace activist’s travel can be traced back to the IB report submitted to the PM on June 2014, that had claimed a threat from ‘foreign funded NGOs’ to India’s national economic security.

The ironic part is that the same Government is promoting foreign funding in every aspect of India’s economy – at a considerable cost to India’s workers, peasants, and environment. The Chief Economic Advisor to the PM – like the Planning Commission Chief and the PM himself in the previous Government – are associated with the IMF. Thanks to these ideologically motivated persons, India’s economic policy is being tailored to suit the interests of global capital rather than the priorities of India’s people.

The sheer hypocrisy of the Government is apparent from the fact that even a Modi Cabinet Minister – the Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, heads a foreign-funded environmental NGO. Many global corporations also float NGOs to ‘greenwash’ their assaults on the world’s environment. Clearly, these NGOs escape the IB radar because they tend to toe the Government and corporate line in terms of policies! Only those that are voices of dissent are branded as a ‘threat’ and face curbs on their freedom of speech, travel, and protest.

It has been rightly pointed out that Modi, when he was Gujarat CM, had signed an MOU with an NGO ‘The Climate Group’, that is linked with the former UK PM Tony Blair. Modi’s book on climate change has a foreword by the head of this same foreign-funded NGO! In 2009, a cabal of senior Indian ministers, bureaucrats, diplomats and corporate CEOs were exposed having secret conversations with MNCs and US Government officials about how to save Dow Chemicals from its liabilities of clean up and compensation after in the matter of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. Clearly, Indian Governments allow their own leaders to have secret conversations and deals with foreign corporations and foreign governments to protect MNCs that have the blood of Indian citizens on their hands! Yet they deplane an environmental activist on the pretext that she has no right to brief UK lawmakers about crimes committed by the UK-listed corporation!

As we approach Republic Day, let Indian citizens rise up against the ‘company Raj’ regime of the Modi Sarkar – and tell Modi and Obama alike that it is their policies that endanger the security of India and the globe!

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