One million Indian lives were consumed by the famine of 1771 in the Purnea district of the then undivided Bengal Province.
Warren Hastings, Governor General, proudly wrote back to the Board of Directors of the East India Company that, contrary to what might have been expected, he had collected more taxes that year than ever before!
This may have pleased the Company but did not please Edmund Burke.
His fulminations about how the Company had devastated flourishing cities like Dacca and Murshidabad and handed the region over to the tiger and the orangutan are of course legend.
So why was he so displeased, and why did he become the chief engine of the subsequent impeachment of Hastings?
Not because his heart bled for the Indians, but because he knew cannily enough that if such depredations were allowed to continue, the Company could not hope to survive for long.
Crucial to the continued exploitation of the colony and to the drain of its wealth was the preservation of the myth that the British were in India to do good to the Indians against their own primitive incompetence. The “white man” had to show himself a saviour.
Such was also the reason why Burke was to become an implacable enemy to the revolution in France.
It was important to show that the British dispensation at home, however oppressive, was anyday to be preferred to the egalitarian impulse of the French event, and to ensure that nothing of that kind brewed within the shores of Britannia.
Some fifty years on from there, Carlyle wrote perhaps the first three-volume account of the French Revolution (1836).
And the intent was no different. The purpose was to egg the new Whig parliament to effect “reforms” in good time lest Chartism took on the dimensions of the French happenings at home.
Something similar seems to have happened at the London, G-20 summit.
Recognizing the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon model of free-market Capitalism, its global votaries have put their heads together to salvage Capitalism from its ruins.
The air from London is thus thick with news of Capitalist institutions and practices up for pragmatic “reform.”
Interestingly, if “reform” since the Washington Consensus (1990) had meant a near-total deregulation of Capital flows, Banking practices, Market mechanisms, and a dissolution of the sovereignty of nation-states to enable the global privatization of wealth and profit-maximisation, “reform” at the 2009 London conclave seems to have come to mean something rather contrary to all that. Even if only as a change of garb.
We now hear of a global intent to reform the IMF, even as more liquidity is infused into its coffers ($500 billion, precisely), of regulation of banking and other investment practices, of sops to be doled out to those most innocent of the collapse but most affected by it, and of steering clear of “protectionism” so that the revival of global wealth multipliers are not thwarted by debilitating autarky.
In one word, the Captains of world Capitalism seem to have come to the view that if Capitalism is to be saved for the times to come, it will need to be given the garb of a world-wide Social Democracy for a while.
And, the Sinner of the first part, namely the United States of America, seems to have also come round to the view that it may not hope to lord it over the wealth of nations in quite the unfettered way it has been used to.
Cannily, if the survival of Capitalism requires that parties such as India, South Africa, Brazil, and China be incorporated fully into the world Capitalist system then so be it.
Better that than give them the breathing space to chalk out political economies of an alternate kind.
And, surely, all of them seem equally elated to be now sitting at the global high-table, with a stake in the pie. And the right to make impressive noises in the world’s regulatory committees.
However we may cavil at the subterfuges, the news of the death of the Washington Consensus and of its transmutation into the London Consensus must for now be greeted with some relief, even as the struggle for Socialism must continue to be engaged in with conviction and hard work.
The world could, however, also do with another concomitant relief—namely, from the devastating ravages that religion has been subjecting it to.
This writer has often pointed to the integral tie-up between Capital and organized Religion (www.zcomm.org/zspace/badriraina.)
And a full enunciation of that thought is now available in a book called God Is Back, written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge.
Indeed, these two gentlemen, one a Roman Catholic and another an Atheist, concur sentiently on how the adherence to faith and to science-driven capital meet most sweetly in the market-economies of the world. Precisely what we have been at pains to say.
It is another matter that the book shallowly endorses this marriage of convenience, without, as Troy Jollimore underscores in a fine review (Truthdig, April 2, 2009), being troubled by any chicaneries and inconsistencies of logic or principle. Including the reality that this unholy tie-up has tended to “encourage parochialism and hatred of the other, as well as superstition and scientific ignorance.”
As Jerry Coyne says it in The New Republic, to say that science and religion are compatible because many profit by the conjunction is “like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.”
Here is a sampling of what some illustrious souls have had to say on the matter:
“Religions are all alike—founded upon fables and mythologies”
“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”
“Religion is based. . . mainly on fear. . .fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . .My own view on religion is that of Lucretious. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” (Nietzsche)
“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul. . . No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life—our desire to go on living—our dread of coming to an end.” (Edison)
“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.” (Einstein)
and, succinctly for our consideration of contemporary international life:
“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” (Voltaire).
Indeed, the thinker most congenial to the Capitalist way of perceptions, Freud, was to call religion an “extraordinarily useful illusion.”
The fact is that where organized religion before the advent of Capitalism presided unmitigatingly as the chief oppressor in league with privileged authority, Capitalism, from the Protestant Reformation onwards, has found in it a potent tool to neuter the secular concerns and mobilizations of vast billions of human beings, as well as to make of it yet another source of commercialized profit-making.
And when the need arose, to draft whole nations into war through a deadly mix of faith and jingoism. All for the enrichment of the possessing classes.
It is hardly a wonder that the conflict between a rampant imperialism thirsting to appropriate the oil wealth of Western Asia and the Middle East, and to secure land and sea routes for the purpose was until the other day to find it useful to pitch the contention as a “clash of civilizations.”
And we were invited to think that the “civilization” responsible for Hiroshima, the Holocaust, the slave trade, and innumerable other depredations through centuries of aggressive invasions was “superior” to Babylon and Mesopotamia. Think again.
That human frailty, compounded by immiseration and exploitation, looks heaven-word is perhaps both understandable and excusable.
Yet, that “global” impulse has nowhere been given a more humane expression than in the saying of those drop-outs from organized “high-religions” whom the world knows as the Sufis, the Mystics, the Dervishes and so forth.
A tribe of empathy-riddled, non-coveting, and fearlessly loving human beings who placed the least always at the centre of their teachings and concerns.
Happily, such ones were to be found among all of the world’s major semitic and non-semitic faiths, and among all of the world’s poet-legislators.
They were, and remain, the uniters, not the vicious dividers.
I may conclude by citing just one couplet from the great Mirza Ghalib—a couplet that could bring light and wisdom both to the fraught world of contemporary Islam and their counterparts everywhere, including the right-wing Hindutva fascists in India:
“Hum Muvahid hein, hamara kesh hai tarque rasoom, Milatein sab mitt gayein, ajzaayei eemaan ho gayein.”
The highest faith can result only
At a time now when Capitalism is somewhat on the back foot, when the drums of war seem more hesitant, when relations between nations and communities are sought to be “reset’, how lovely it would be if the world were also to be freed of the fatal stranglehold of dogmas, and returned to the noble instincts of common humanity.
After all, what use is it otherwise to say that Jesus, Mohammed, Ram, Budh were indeed the finest human beings—before they were anything else—known to the history of homo sapiens?
Can we expect that Capitalist and other warlords will now spare both the earth and the human race from the twin onslaughts of Capital and Religion?