A Disguised Subjugation
As far back as I can remember, we’ve been taught that India became independent on the 15th of August 1947. Recently, though, it became more and more obvious that formal independence and recognised sovereignty can hardly be equated with true freedom. If freedom is the absence of any external coercion, then India is not a free nation, and developing nations scattered across the globe are practically colonies, though they may be recognised as sovereign states. While powerful nations do not directly rule these countries, they use both military and economic power to influence policy making and trade of the less-powerful developing nations. This is the phenomenon of neo-colonialism, which had most famously been described as the “last stage of imperialism”.
India is amongst the many nations who depend greatly on developmental aid from nations like the U.S.A., as well as international bodies like the United Nations. In order to receive this aid, they are forced to modify their foreign policy, and also to open up their markets to multinational corporations and foreign investment. While this is of great benefit to the more prosperous developed nation, the poorer nation often gets a raw deal, with its resources and manpower being exploited blatantly. A classic example of this is the forced liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991, in return for financial aid from the World Bank to help deal with the economic crisis in India. This may have led to economic growth, and development in a very narrow sense, whereas it actually led to a widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It benefited only certain sections, and a vast majority of the population, especially in rural areas, received no benefits at all.
Providers of such assistance also treat it as a license to interfere in the domestic matters of the recipient nation. Their foreign policy is constantly influenced by the vested interest of a hegemonic power, rather than being determined by the requirements and aspirations of the nation in question. In a bid to ‘liberate’ them from dictators, the United States of America not only invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, but also seized control of their resources, particularly oil. Thus, the primary motive was economic, not humanitarian. Neocolonialism is also a cultural phenomenon, because it projects the culture and norms of the more powerful nations as being the ideal. This attempt at creating cultural homogeneity is the death knell of distinctive characteristics and practices of the indigenous groups of a nation. This is often referred to as the McDonaldisation of the world. The global hegemony of the English language has further helped neo-colonialism to spread its tentacles and take roots all over the world. The popular belief that the ‘west’ is more advanced, superior and modern makes it easy for neocolonists to continue this system.
The major crisis today is a lack of realisation among people that they are in fact being subjected to neo-colonial suppression and therefore that their nation is not truly independent. It is only once that this awareness spreads that colonialism in its new, disguised form can be challenged. In a country likes ours, where formal independence was gained as a result of sacrifice and struggle, it would be a shame if the Indian people submit to this new form of external rule. Once again we must ask ourselves whether we are independent in the true sense of the word, or is our independence merely an illusion, a mirage that disappears once you actually reach out for it.
Definitely not in the Red Corner
In an age when the economic affairs of all the world’s countries are closely entrenched with a highly precarious balance of political power as in existence today, speculation on capitalist ethics and their political implications is inevitable. And an oft thrown about piece of jargon in this melee is “Neocolonialism”. Supporters of this theory broadly define Neocolonialism as continuation of a sort of economic colonialism even after a territory has achieved formal political independence.
Neocolonialism is a façade created by the remnants of a fast fading leftist/Marxist ideological tradition struggling to retain relevance, and has been often used as a rather convenient excuse by certain regressive schools of thought to explain their failure. African nations, for example, have been blaming postcolonial interference as the major reason for their problems, while in actuality corruption, inefficiency, and a mad scramble for power were the real issues. During the period from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, Africa had more than 70 coups and 13 Presidential assassinations. This is the exact period when African economies were allegedly destroyed by rampant economic imperialistic practices. In 1972, the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, as part of his economic war, broke diplomatic ties with Britain and nationalized 85 British-owned businesses. The Queen’s coffers were most certainly not the cause of Uganda’s concerns, then. In fact, the acute lack of organized foreign investment and stunted political will is perhaps the reason why Africa still remains the world’s poorest inhabited continent, despite having an abundant supply of natural resources.
Closer home, the Left, which has been sounding warning bells at every mention of foreign investment in India ever since PV Narsimha Rao’s government, and specifically his Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh shook up things in 1991, is realizing that their crowd of aam janta supporters is seeing the light and leaving. As of 2009, about 300 million people—equivalent to the entire population of the United States—have escaped extreme poverty as a direct consequence of these policies. That is enough data to make Dependency Theory (the notion that resources flow from a periphery of poor and underdeveloped states to a core of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former), which constitutes the very fundament of Neocolonialism critique, fall flat on its face in the Indian context. That the pseudo-Marxist approaches of the left are losing relevance was demonstrated in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, with the CPI (M) losing several seats in two of its three strongholds, West Bengal and Kerala. The only post-colonialism India experienced was the self exposed diktat of the License Raj, referring to the absurd red tape-ism in all matters of business that accompanied its initial socialist aspirations. This foolishness only ended with the economic reforms of 1991 and with the critical support of the IMF, a body that is, and rather ironically so, often accused of being a perpetrator of Neocolonialism. One shudders to think of the implications of a non-liberalized economy in a land where the highwaymen come before the highways do.
The perceived cultural colonisation of mind space or simply put “the aping of the west” is nothing but a generation realising that they aren’t at the mercy of a disinterested central authority to achieve the standard of life that they desire and deserve. Their patronage of multinational corporations, the one entity every true nationalist worth his salt loves to hate, is their expression of this realization. And you can’t really say that McDonald’s or MTV is the reason why kids don’t touch the feet of elders anymore when our immense cultural heritage has been so coolly sidelined in our primary level educational texts, and the rare occasions that they do find a way in, it is either for (i) furthering of propaganda or, (ii) minority appeasement.
It’s too early to say if I’m lovin’ it, but I’d sure as hell like to see to where we’re headed.