COLUMN/ THE WRITE LINE
By Ratna and Nadim Siraj
August 15, 2022: Pandemic. Politics. Festivities. National budget. IPL. Bollywood. Droughts. Floods. Scams. Elections. Religion. Stock markets. Gossip. China. Pakistan. Fashion. TV debates. The list of subjects, ranging from petty to pathetic, that keep the average Indian citizen perpetually engrossed is unending. The flashflood of over-information may appear random and chaotic. But there’s a method in the madness.
This continued dumping of cacophonic over-information on you via social media, TV, newspapers, websites, books, think tanks, and academia doesn’t include one specific topic – which is a project that wants you to focus on everything else under the bright Indian sun.
Of course, there are many immediate issues we often debate on that are related to this larger project. Matters such as price rise, job losses, rural misery, crop failure, market crash, currency fall, etc. are issues worrying enough to talk about. But the truth is, these matters are only the symptoms of a deeper, bigger and more sinister problem – which is the silent project this article is about.
The project is the incredible acceleration of a silent, foreign-led corporate recolonisation of the Indian economy.
Yes, you read it right. A long-term international business project to recolonise or recapture India’s economy and its vast financial wealth is underway on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented speed. And that is precisely what your trusted information sources are keeping away from your glare – a few are doing it knowingly, while most are doing it naively.
It is not an easy task for the mainstream information cartel to keep all 140 crore Indians distracted from the single biggest act of foreign corporate recolonisation. But somehow, they’re getting close to achieving mass hypnosis.
RETURN OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY
It sounds impossible, but the days of the East India Company are here again. (By the way, there were multiple East India Companies at that time, not one. Apart from British East India Company, there was Dutch East India Company, Austrian East India Company, French East India Company, Danish East India Company, and Portuguese East India Company.)
The disturbing difference this time around is that we’re not being allowed to notice that the colonisers are here. The foreign colonising forces – which are corporate giants from abroad owned by immensely wealthy and powerful business families – are using their considerable sway our mainstream information sources to keep the targeted Indian public distracted. One, through ads and endowments in the popular press, and two, through shell or ghost ownership in domestic news businesses. Therefore, it should not strike you as odd why the information cartel goes quiet on the neocolonial re-invasion of our economy.
If this sounds conspiratorial to you, it only means the corporate recolonisation of your brain has either begun or has already taken place. And if you find this piece of incredible disclosure intriguing, then there’s hope – so read on to know the chilling reality of our times that popular news headlines won’t tell you.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Before we dig deep into what this corporate recolonisation is all about, let’s look at some economy-related developments from recent months that were widely reported by the popular press:
- The Indian rupee crashed to all-time lows on the back of uncontrolled inflation.
- India quietly recorded its highest ever FDI inflows over the past one year.
- The country has decided to privatise its giant public sector banks, starting with two, and then moving on with the rest.
- LIC’s well-known privatisation will be followed by the lesser trumpeted corporate sale of other top national insurers.
- British football club Manchester United was on the brink of buying East Bengal club before the deal fell flat at the last minute.
- Cash-strapped ONGC is turning to foreign companies, offering them a stake.
- India welcomed foreign investment drive at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
- Japanese lender MUFG Bank to set up its sixth branch in India, this time in Gujarat.
- Bollywood offered incentives to foreign filmmakers to co-produce movies with Indian producers.
- India’s outward FDI crashed by nearly half in April this year, shows RBI data.
- Maharashtra signed pacts with 23 foreign firms; they will pump in Rs 30,000 crore in FDI.
- India’s Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal cleared 853 FDI proposals in the last five years.
If you follow these developments closely, you’ll easily realise that they are not unconnected events. They are not run-of-the-mill developments that we’ve heard about in the past and moved on. Yes, it’s an old pattern. But the new thing is that the unravelling of India’s economic insulation is now happening at a pace never seen before.
The British East India Company left us long back. And so did its rival and successor, the British monarchy. But modern-day foreign opportunists, now cloaked in invisibility to avoid detection, have landed back in India. They have their economic boots on the ground, and they are here with a chalked-out mission: to siphon off our financial resources and to reinvest them in their home countries.
In the past, when the opportunist British powers ruled us on the pretext of civilising us, they showed us their faces and whips while snatching away our natural resources. That’s well-known because it’s taught in Indian schools. But with what’s happening now, the new cabal of foreign corporates – hailing from West to East – are here in the avatar of highly polished foreign MNCs or transnational corporations, setting the stage for bottoming out India’s monetary wealth.
OVERT LOOT VS. COVERT LOOT
The foreign-engineered loot of India has moved on from natural resources being targeted to financial wealth being targeted, from overt tactics to covert tactics, from much lesser intensity back then to a much higher intensity right now.
Carrying out this operation of silent loot is a sophisticated network of foreign, profit-hungry companies, a few of which are individually larger than the economies of some countries, and whose brands are household names. Let’s not name them because this article doesn’t intend to defame them and their ownerships.
The bitter truth of what these companies are doing here doesn’t come up in our daily discourse. It’s perpetually off the radar because it never makes it to: (1) everyday news headlines, (2) social media feed, (3) covers of journals, books and magazines, (4) influential research publications, (5) schoolbooks.
Of course, India is not colonised in the administrative or textbook sense. We have been joyously marking Independence Day and Republic Day since getting freedom from the parasitic British in 1947. We elect our own political leaders. Our courtrooms are run by people from among us. Our bureaucracy is indigenous. Our police forces are staffed with our fellow citizens. So, physically, we are a free and independent country.
But India’s economic landscape is an entirely different story. It’s been so especially since the 1990s. Since the early 90s – when the doors of the Indian economy were thrown open to foreign corporates – we have unwittingly allowed thousands of international businesses to set up shop across the country. As a result of that move, we have gift-wrapped a large chunk of our economy and handed it over to these overseas empires.
Large sections of India’s economy – or India’s marketplace – are already colonies of these foreign players. It’s difficult to get the exact number of foreign businesses operating in India. The corporate affairs ministry no longer puts out on its website an updated list of international companies that have a foothold in India. But according to media reports and research in recent years, it’s estimated that there are well over 4,000 foreign companies with some form of presence in the Indian marketplace.
WHO ARE THESE COLONISERS?
This list of 4,000+ foreign forces includes:
(1) Foreign companies that directly have operations on Indian soil.
(2) Foreign companies that have partnered with India’s indigenous companies leading to a breed of FCCs (foreign-controlled companies).
(3) Foreign companies that covertly operate in India using shell or cover companies that appear fully domestic but are actually not. It’s impossible to establish their official presence here through paperwork. The system is designed that way.
The companies that have a foothold in India are largely headquartered in the US, China, Britain, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland… basically the most powerful nations from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia.
In some sectors of the Indian economy, the foreign players have moderate influence; while in many other areas, they run the whole show, dictating terms to the vast Indian consumer base as well as to local (read: political) administrations.
Take any industry, for example. From everyday confectionary stuff to fashionable clothes to defence equipment to social media apps, the recolonisation of India by foreign corporate players is underway full steam.
The clout of the big cats of global capitalism in India is so internalised in our culture and lifestyle that we hardly realise we’re being groomed by these external business interests to serve their interest, simply by turning into (1) devoted customers (fanatics of foreign brands) and (2) dedicated employees (loyal servants of foreign-run private companies).
Note that our state governments, our central government, our civil officials, and our politicians are free from direct control by foreign governments. But control and access to our economy – to our collective financial wealth – is mostly in the hands of foreign multinational companies that are steadily recolonising us.
One might ask, what’s wrong if foreign companies do business in India?
Aren’t they generating jobs for Indians by setting up offices, shops and factories?
Aren’t they bringing in investments from outside?
Aren’t they giving us a wider variety of products and services to choose from?
Aren’t they manufacturing their products right here in India using Indian labour?
Aren’t they paying taxes to the Indian government?
Aren’t they connecting Indians to the world around us?
Yes, these are contributions. But each of these contributions is completely outweighed by the negative effects of the larger, coordinated recolonisation project. These are well-trumpeted superficial contributions. It’s the equivalent of famous billionaires hosting the odd charity event for the poor in Africa, or CSR drills by rogue companies.
While these foreign players act as if they’re here to open our window to the world, they have prised open our economy and are minting a phenomenal amount of money from the business they conduct here.
The math is simple. Who gains from all this? What we financially gain from the foreign companies’ presence is by a long, long, long way outweighed by what we lose due to their business activities here. The minus dwarfs the plus.
MATHEMATICS IN A BOTTLE
To understand what is precisely going on, let’s look at any popular foreign brand as a real example, which can be multiplied a few thousand times over to get a sense of how we are financially bleeding from the overall impact of recolonisation.
Let’s look at global soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which are immensely popular consumer goods all over India, especially among youngsters, sports junkies and foodies, right from the urban space to far-flung suburbs and villages.
The idea here is not to go into how healthy or not the fizzy drinks are. Neither do we aim to defame the brands. Instead, the idea here is to understand the math of India’s finance drain through a real-world example.
For every bottle of soft drink that the two empires, Coke or PepsiCo, sell here in India, they make a certain profit. Out of that profit earned per bottle, one part goes to the Indian government’s coffers as taxes. One part is reinvested by the company into its operations in India to sustain or expand its business. And the third part of that profit (which is suspected to be the largest part) is dispatched to the home countries of these two soft drink companies where they’re headquartered.
In the case of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, the money that they make here in India is sent all the way to the US, their home turf. Technically, the money travels from here mostly to American banks and the rest presumably to tax havens around the world.
Now multiply that take-home profit from that one bottle by the lakhs and lakhs of bottles that these two American companies sell in India each day, each week, each month, and each year. The final sum of the profits that Coke and Pepsi transfer to their home country – partly to US banks and partly to tax havens – runs into millions of dollars annually.
SIPHONING OF WEALTH
It’s crucial here to understand what’s actually happening to India’s economy as a result. The two companies are transferring the wealth earned in India to overseas banks or foreign reinvestment hubs. So basically, India is ending up leaking financial wealth like a sieve simply by agreeing to consume these nonessential beverages. And that perpetual transfer or outflow of financial wealth from India is directly resulting in the country’s deepening poverty.
And because there’s a neat transfer of wealth from India largely to the US, there’s a resultant transfer of that same degree of poverty from the US straight to India. Wealth moves from here to there, and poverty gets transferred from there to here.
It’s not rocket science. It’s simple economics. Only that we are not told about this wealth-poverty swap in simple terms. Perhaps there are forces that don’t want us to know this incredible thing in simple words. That’s why it’s not there in our schoolbooks or in the media.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Now, take a step back and look at the larger picture of the Indian marketplace to make sense of how much financial wealth gets drained out of our country every single day.
With 4,000+ foreign companies constantly carrying out this wealth-siphoning, poverty-offloading exercise – selling or dumping nonessential goods and services here and transferring the profits out – the total volume of financial wealth that we leak every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year is a mindboggling figure. It’s almost incalculable, and yet, it’s as real as flesh and blood. This untold finance drain is no concept or idea. It’s real.
Some of the most prominent and celebrated foreign companies and brands that are deeply engaged in conducting business across India cover technology and engineering goods, social media, education, fast food, healthcare, beverages, confectionary, defence, infrastructure, real estate, service and delivery agents, automobiles, retail, accounting services, banking and financial services, household items, insurance, electricals, passenger planes, multimedia entertainment, and so on.
The list goes on and on. There are too many boots on the ground.
TRADE, THE OTHER ‘PROJECT‘
Outward wealth transfer by foreign companies in India, FCCs (foreign-controlled companies) in India, and shell (or hidden foreign) companies is not the only way in which India is leaking financial wealth.
There’s another way in which money flows or leaks out of the country – and big time. It’s through the import of goods and services from companies based abroad; they don’t operate from here.
We’re talking about international trade. The way to map the outflow of India’s financial wealth through trade, or rather whether the country suffers a net outflow of wealth or a net inflow of wealth, is to follow the latest balance-of-trade data.
Balance of trade of a country refers to the difference between its overall export of goods and its overall import of goods in money terms. If the exports exceed imports, a country is said to be enjoying a surplus in its balance of trade – it means more money comes into India (through exports) than goes out (through imports). On the other hand, if imports exceed exports, the country suffers a deficit in its balance of trade – it means more money flows out (through imports) than comes in (through exports).
Data on India’s balance of trade over the years shows that India has historically been a net importer rather than a net exporter. It has generally reported a deficit rather than a surplus, with available data as of July 2020 showing a balance of trade deficit of $4.8 billion (Rs 356 billion). Going by data available from January 1957 to July 2020, India’s balance of trade has averaged at a deficit of $375 million (Rs 27.8 billion).
It shows the country has perpetually seen a drain of financial wealth – which is mainly a result of the money outflow from goods and services that are dumped in India by foreign companies through trade.
AGENDA BEHIND ‘CONNECTEDNESS’
We always celebrate the concept of ‘connectedness’. It is human nature to mingle, to reach out to the unknown, to build bridges, to explore different cultures, to exchange ideas, to share joys, to jump to each other’s rescue, to not be withdrawn as closeted societies but to huddle and form a global village.
That’s how civilisation grows. But we gain from this interconnectedness only at the individual level or micro level, and not at the macro level (the macro level deals with countries and their economies).
At the micro level, globalisation is a win-win situation for all of us because the exchange of ideas and cultures enriches us all as individuals. The more the differences in culture, the more we celebrate them and share them around, from music to movies to literature to classical art to pop art.
But at the macro level, to be precise, at the country-level, globalisation is not a win-win situation for all countries. Rather, interconnectedness or globalisation gives rich and powerful countries the scope to financially dominate poorer and weaker nations through the tools of connectedness.
That brings us to the concept of what is popularly called Dependency Theory – which goes to the root of why some countries perpetually suffer trade deficits and why some others perennially enjoy trade surpluses.
THE DEPENDENCY THEORY
The Dependency Theory has its beginnings in two papers written in 1949. The papers were authored by Hans Singer, a German-origin economist from the UK, and Raul Prebisch, an economist from Argentina.
According to the theory, some countries always remain financially drained because resources always flow from the ‘margins’, which are poorer and/or weaker nations, to the ‘core’, which are affluent and/or powerful countries. Basically, the powerful countries get richer at the expense of the weaker nations, the theory says.
The theory argues that this imbalance of powerful countries dominating weak countries and siphoning their financial wealth results from the fact that the two sides are integrated – rather over-integrated – into a common global system.
As a result of the integration or connectedness, weak countries are unable to break free from the influence or orbit of powerful countries, which exploit them financially through terms of trade that are rigged to help only the powerful nations.
That’s the crux of the Dependency Theory. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, this theory, also known as the Prebisch-Singer thesis, helped economists and social scientists get to the bottom of why some countries in South America were perpetually getting impoverished.
The same theory now helps us understand why India continues to remain so poor – mainly because we are way too integrated with a rigged world system in which the terms of trade are heavily tilted in favour of powerful, predatory export-dependent countries.
WHEN INDIA WAS NOT COLONISED
Let’s turn the clock back by a thousand years to the time when the Indian landmass was not colonised, to see how our independent economy looked back then.
In the year 1000 CE, several empires were simultaneously running the Indian subcontinent. It is well documented that for a 1,000-year period from around 1 CE to around 1000 CE, the economy of the Indian subcontinent was estimated to have been the largest in the world. In 1000 CE, the region’s estimated share of the global GDP was 28.9%, which is incredibly high by any standards, let alone today.
Data shows that the region was indeed the wealthiest place on Earth at that time.
Seven centuries down the line, when the Mughals were in power during the year 1700, Mughal India and the Chinese Empire were jointly the two biggest economies on the planet – each region enjoying nearly 25% of the global GDP, and each one staying ahead of the global GDP share of the whole of Europe put together.
But the Indian subcontinent’s firm grip on prosperity began to drastically weaken when colonisers from the western world started to make inroads – first, through the British East India Company over a 100-year spell from 1757 to 1857; and right after that, a 90-year misrule by the British monarchy from 1857 to 1947.
When India earned freedom from British rule in 1947, its share of the global GDP stood at an unimpressive 3% – testimony to the financial damage that India’s economy suffered under the British opportunists.
Right now, India’s share of the global GDP hovers at just over 3% – far below the bright days of a thousand years back. And India’s clout globally is negligible because of the negative impact of free trade on the country and the presence of thousands of foreign business players that are pumping away financial resources.
In simple words, the India of today is an economic giant only on paper and on TV debates. We are now basically a massive dustbowl of consumers and cheap labour.
ORIGINS OF RECOLONISATION
Behind every major economic phenomenon lies a turning point. For modern India’s deepening economic misery, the early 1990s was that turning point. That was the time when the manufactured idea of economic liberalisation was rolled out with aplomb.
While the mainstream narrative hailed India’s liberalisation starting in 1991 as a welcome move to resuscitate the struggling economy, the reality was grim and alarming.
On paper, 1991 onwards India was throwing open its stagnant economy to dynamic foreign investors, ending a regime of import tariffs, reducing the burden of over-taxation on big businesses, and allowing stifled markets to run freely without the state’s interference. All that looked good and liberating – on paper.
In reality, the government’s decision to pave the way for liberalisation saw a red carpet being rolled out to foreign businesses so that they could tap into India’s vital financial resources and soak it up.
Once the economy was opened up, hundreds (and later thousands) of foreign companies or corporate empires set up shop directly or paired up with indigenous companies to start minting money here – eventually transferring much of that financial wealth to their home countries, as explained before.
Liberalisation also saw India opening its doors to an unregulated import of goods and services from countries far and near. It sparked a phenomenal financial drain as imports outweighed exports, triggering a perpetual balance-of-trade deficit, as discussed earlier.
Interestingly, the liberalisation in 1991 wasn’t forced down the throats of the unsuspecting Indian public. Instead, the country’s population, educated and otherwise, was groomed through a certain narrative during those early years of the 1990s. A narrative that repeatedly hammered home the message that India’s economy was in dire straits, it had run out of foreign exchange reserves, and it desperately needed to open up to foreign capital to bounce back to life.
If the state continued to regulate businesses; if domestic businesses continued enjoying the benefits of tariffs and other trade barriers; if foreign investments were kept at bay; if getting business licences continued to be difficult; if state-owned businesses were not thrown open to foreign and domestic private companies for buyouts; if the nonessential variety of consumerism wasn’t given a jump-start – then India’s economy would plunge further. In a nutshell, that was the narrative sold to the public at that time.
So as India was opened up to foreign corporates – leading to a permanent capture of a chunk of the economy – people didn’t mind the historic change they were witnessing. Instead, a section of the public unsuspectingly welcomed the new order as a move that breathed life into what had been branded as an uncool economy.
MAGIC OF ADVERTISEMENTS
As foreign countries began showing up in the Indian marketplace, they were celebrated as their blistering ad campaigns on TV and roadside hoardings began to make an impression. Among the foreign companies that began making inroads following India’s LPG drive (liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation) were some that were newcomers to the country while many others had already been around – but with lesser clout.
Suzuki had literally shot to fame with its epic tie-up with Maruti Udyog and the Indian government. Honda had become a household name for its partnership with India’s Hero Group. The Hero Honda ads on telly were a rage at that time. Cadbury’s, too, was not just the most popular neighbourhood chocolate after India-based Amul, but it was well-known for its catchy TV ads.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi had begun making it to the fridges of middle-class Indian households. The cola giants began battling for sponsorship of cricket tournaments, Indian cricket stars, and Bollywood icons. Coca-Cola’s ‘the official drinks partner’ ads were countered by Pepsi’s ‘nothing official about it’ propaganda series – and the contest was loved by youngsters. Bata’s shoes were often wrongly seen as the best indigenous footwear in the market, while tech giants such as IBM and Microsoft began to resonate with the educated masses.
LPG was casting quite a spell, thanks to the advertisement blitz, basically a tried-and-tested corporate propaganda drive.
CABLE TV INVASION
Another interesting mode of grooming and shepherding the Indian public came about at that time in the form of a cable television boom. The advent of cable TV in middle-class neighbourhoods suddenly gave people a sort of a window to the world.
Once people started getting the taste of stylised, westernised mass media content on their TV sets – through popular channels such as Star Plus, Star Movies, AXN, Discovery, Cartoon Network, MTV, Prime Sports, ESPN, BBC, CNN – they lapped it up as a refreshing break from what began to be seen as the monotonous and ‘desi’ offerings of state-run Doordarshan network.
The charm, guile and freshness of international TV channels, most of which aired content from the western world, cajoled the captive Indian crowd into falling in love with getting integrated with the world outside.
With Indians becoming hypnotised consumers of international mass media content from the cable TV explosion in their drawing rooms, it helped the cause of foreign corporate brands to get cheered and welcomed upon their arrival in India.
A key contribution of this internationalisation of content and ads on our television sets was to push the TV-watching Indian crowd towards a foreign-influenced consumerist lifestyle.
NO JOBS, JUST LIES
There are many influential people and interest groups that had openly championed the Indian government’s decision to open up the economy to liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation. From politicians to bureaucrats to stakeholders in business to analysts to mainstream media to international organisations: the most common benefit of the move that they all spoke of was that LPG would jump-start employment. That there would be a huge job generation.
Statistics between 1991 and 2020, however, show that it’s absolutely the contrary. The unemployment rate in India in 1991 stood at 5.45%. After economic reforms, instead of going down, unemployment kept creeping upwards for every subsequent year until 1996, when it stood at 5.65%. Then after falling only marginally for a few of years in between, it continued to rise before hitting 5.73% in 2003.
Over 30 years since economic reforms began, the unemployment rate stood at a worrisome 7.9% as of December 2021 (CMIE data). So, the argument that liberalisation generates jobs is a complete myth, as proven by tell-tale data, not assumption.
The trend is similar when it comes to the youth unemployment rate – another key indicator of the general health of the economy. The youth unemployment rate stood at 16.6% in 1991, and over the next 28 years, it jumped up to 23.34% in 2019.
Even more alarming is the data on rising income equality. In January 2020, Oxfam published a study that found “India’s richest 1% owns over 4 times the wealth owned by 953 million people who make up for the bottom 70% of the population”.
About three decades after India witnessed economic reforms, this is the sorry state of affairs when it comes to inequality of wealth. These stats clearly shoot down the theory that opening up the Indian economy led to job generation and an improvement in standard of living.
JUGGLERY OF WORDS
Yet another factor that played a crucial role in convincing the public that the 1991 liberalisation was a necessary measure was the crafty use of deceptive terminology. Just as foreign corporates were making a beeline to enter India, the mass media – some unwittingly and some knowingly – began dishing out certain terms and jargons that coaxed the educated class into welcoming the march of foreign opportunists.
India needs ‘FDI’ or ‘foreign direct investment’ to revive its struggling economy.
‘Privatisation’ is the only way to free up the country from state ownership.
‘Free trade’ is the need of the hour in a world that is getting integrated.
Isolationism is passé and the only way forward for a progressive India is to adopt ‘globalisation’.
‘Liberalisation’ of the economy is the only way to rescue it from excess government control.
These jargons were thrown at the educated masses by mass media outlets repeatedly, ad nauseum, to persuade them to accept the unprecedented cracking up of what was a carefully regulated economy.
The term ‘FDI’ served as a cover for a permanent invasion by foreign capital. ‘Privatisation’ was a cosmetic term for a fire-sale of precious state-owned assets. There was nothing free about ‘free trade’ because it meant big companies from powerful countries could dump their goods in India in exchange for financial wealth transfer (Remember dependence theory?).
The term ‘globalisation’ was sold to to the public to make them feel they don’t get suspicious or xenophobic of foreign brands, whose products and services were grossly overpriced and often nonessential. And the term ‘liberalisation’ helped remove government-controlled measures in place to protect domestic businesses.
In the end, the strategic use of terminology paved the way for the recolonisation of the Indian economy. The jargons remind us of the 1980s when two similar terms – glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) – were used as cover (and promoted by western capitalist forces) for setting the Soviet economy free from state control.
THE GATT/WTO MAFIA
As the capture of the Indian economy by foreign corporates was underway, the country began to enter the orbit of powerful international institutions, such as GATT (now WTO), IMF and World Bank. These influential entities started dictating terms to the government, guiding New Delhi towards doing away with trade barriers and handing India hefty loans with strings attached.
GATT, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was a global trade pact inked by the governments of 23 countries in 1947. While it had the look and feel of a responsible monitoring body on international trade practices, its actual task was to take free trade forward.
In 1995, GATT underwent a makeover to become the WTO (World Trade Organisation). Four years into liberalisation, India became a prime focus for the WTO as foreign companies fell over each other trying to enter the country’s lucrative marketplace.
The GATT-WTO programme had been geared towards breaking down trade barriers and promoting the principles of free trade – basically helping influential companies from powerful countries to storm into the economies of weaker nations.
Growing monitoring and pressure from GATT-WTO has seen not just India, but a number of similarly financially weak countries slip into impoverishment. It led to a widening of global inequality of wealth.
Fast forward to the present: we are seeing yet another level of colonisation of India that has been driven by the advent of technology. The social media boom, essential as it may seem, is actually a case of modern-day tech giants mostly from California’s famed Silicon Valley colonising the entire digital space of India.
On the face of it, it may seem like Google Chrome, Gmail, Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Microsoft Outlook, Zoom, TikTok, LinkedIn and Skype are just handy tools in a world where work and leisure happen online.
A closer look will show that these are not merely social media tools but actually privately-owned platforms with the potential to double up as privately-owned surveillance monitors.
These companies, which have a vice-like grip on the digital space, have monopolistic influence in their respective fields – and they enjoy extensive penetration across the length and breadth of India, giving rise to concepts such as surveillance capitalism and thought colonisation.
Dangerously, our ‘thoughts’ and ‘data’ on our private lives are collected and held captive in giant servers owned by these social media octopuses in remote parts of the world that we aren’t even aware of. That information is then assessed, commodified, and sold off – without our knowledge. What is even more dangerous is that we don’t feel alarmed by this onset of thought colonialism.
India is the primary market for these so-called social media companies from the outside world. Yet, very few Indians are aware of a tweet from American whistleblower Edward Snowden that exposes the real role of social media platforms in our lives.
On March 18, 2018, Snowden had tweeted: “Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as surveillance companies. Their rebranding as social media is the most successful deception since the Department of War became the Department of Defence.”
THE MEANING OF FREEDOM
The article intends to call on fellow Indians to realise, acknowledge and accept the bitter truth that this country’s freedom is limited only on the political and administrative fronts. Once this realisation sinks in, self-respecting people will be in a position to make the decision to go ‘desi’ – avoiding nonessential foreign goods and services and preferring indigenous or locally made products.
But that doesn’t mean they have to turn xenophobic towards outsiders and towards the cultures they represent. The tactical move to avoid buying nonessential foreign goods and services should not come in the way of the free-flowing exchange of ideas and culture.
Once the realisation happens, domestic businesses and entrepreneurs will be motivated to brace up and rightfully win back control of the Indian economy. The revenues made by indigenous businesses will remain at home, they will keep getting reinvested and recycled here itself, helping replenish the domestic economy. And that would eventually result in a drastic repair and improvement of our broken physical environment – our tattered cities, our bankrupt villages, our broken roads, our poor civic facilities, our inadequate infrastructure, and so on.
If we’re flush with our own hard-earned money that doesn’t leak outwards, the country is bound to see real, physical growth. That is what is happening in the rich countries from East to West where the money that is siphoned from India (and from elsewhere in Asia and Africa) is getting reinvested by the foreign corporates.
At the heart of this whole issue of India’s recolonisation lies a fundamental question: do we really know what freedom really means? A truly free country is one that has an economy free from any kind of external overcontrol. A truly free country is not one that sees foreign players pumping financial resources out of it. Going by that metric, freedom is as much out of our reach now as it was during the dark days of British colonialism.
WOLVES IN SHEEPSKIN
It was colonisation back then. It’s recolonisation now. Only the pages of the calendar have changed.
Asset management firms.
Natural asset companies.
By whatever name you call them, they are the modern-day East India Companies that have enveloped much of India’s economic landscape. You won’t get to see the hawks circling above your head because they’ve infiltrated and rigged our mainstream information sources well enough to keep us engrossed with intoxicating distractions, such as politics and religion.
Given the doggedness and haste with which the recolonisation of India’s financial wealth pool is taking place, the country perhaps needs yet another Quit India Movement to set its economy free from the clutches of foreign corporations.
The road ahead is not complicated. If the average Indian focuses on helping our indigenous businesses grow, then more of our own financial resources will stay back in the country and get reinvested here, sparking real development. Just like it’s happened in many, many self-respecting societies around the world. And which was the case in ancient India as well.
But for that to happen, we first need to wake up from the slumber we’ve been lulled into.
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Nadim, I am afraid but a wrong analogy had been inferred in your article.
“The road ahead is not complicated. If the average Indian focuses on helping our indigenous businesses grow, more of our own financial resources will stay back in the country and get reinvested here, sparking real development. Like it’s happened in many, many self-respecting societies around the world. And which was the case in ancient India as well.”
These words are untrue, as Indian civilisation has been engaging in foreign trade from early dawns of culture (as early as 1100BC).
Click to access history-of-foreign-trade-in-india.pdf
Evidence of our outgoing nature would be also visible if you travel around South Asia. Hear what the Thai say about India’s foreign trade or in Cambodia. Then go to Egypt and far off Mexico. You will find not only Indian goods but also Indian culture and Gods replicated in many of these places.
The problem you cite in your 6,000 word article is a well known conservative arguement that surfaces every now and then.
In this conservative climate, these days all nations are looking inward rather than outward! I personally think this is bad and that more foreign trade (of goods and services) should be encouraged for sake of competition and to prevent colonisation of the nation by even desi corporates or local powers at play (you miss them it seems).
Certainly, the locally-make-and-use narrative is a romantic one, but not a viable one if you trust laws of Economics.
Remember Trump? Everyone wants to be great again, alone. But nobody can. Not even with large land mass or population like Russia and China.
I really wish you research the topic of ‘benefits of early foreign trade to Indian society and culture’ in detail since you equate foreign trade with colonialism only.
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0019464619892894 (on ancient foreign trade and benefits for India as told in Arthashastra from first century)
Perhaps then you would be in a position to sense the real problem or offer some real solutions in your next article.
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Thanks for writing in! Much appreciated!
The article is less about trade imbalance and more about FDI-driven siphoning of India’s finances. One may not agree with it, but one cannot factually deny it. It’s underway, and there’s evidence.
Don’t turn to mainstream economists on this subject. They’re schooled to love the system of stronger nations sucking money out of weaker nations.
Looking inward is necessary only for weaker nations in order to plug the leak. It’s about economics, not xenophobia.
If looking to protect the outward loot of a poor country’s finances sounds conservative, then perhaps the definition of conservative has changed!
Thanks for your invaluable inputs. Do keep writing in about our work that is primarily aimed at looking at ways to plug the planned leak of India’s finances.
Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay and commented:
And the world over…great essay