India: Democracy or Oligarchy?
The answer to this question came when, as part of India's 2G scandal revelations, the Billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani was quoted as bragging that the ruling Congress Party is "Apni Dukan" (our shop), implying that he owns the ruling party. The scandal also produced evidence of collusion of India's corporate-owned mainstream media in their deliberate attempts to impose a blackout on the whole affair until it was finally broken by the relatively obscure Open magazine.
Here's an excerpt from today's New York Times story that captures the essence of crony capitalism and the rise of Indian oligarchy as being among the world's largest:
"India’s billionaires control a considerably larger share of the national wealth than do the superrich in bigger economies like those of Germany, Britain and Japan. Among the Indian billionaires included on the most recent Forbes rich list, a majority have derived their wealth from land, natural resources or government contracts and licenses, all areas that require support from politicians."
Among India's powerful billionaires, the New York Times story particularly features Gautam Adani whose cozy relationship with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has made him the tenth richest man in India. It says that "Mr. Adani has benefited from various governmental approvals and also bought coastal land from the Gujarat government at very low prices — in one instance paying as little as $540 an acre. Once he completed infrastructure, Mr. Adani sold land at a handsome profit to corporations locating inside the economic zone, including one parcel to Indian Oil Corporation, a state-owned firm, for $54,000 an acre."
The New York Times compares India's new billionaires with America's robber barons during the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth which preceded the deep depression of 1893-1897.
The extraordinary power and influence of India's super rich has played out to the detriment of ordinary Indians who make up the world's largest population of poor, hungry, illiterate and sick people. It poses a serious challenge to India's democracy, often claimed as the world's largest, to meet the very basic needs of its people in whose name the rulers supposedly govern the country. It also raises the specter of significant social strife which could spark a bloody revolution shaking the Indian society to its core.
Back in 1988, Pakistani economist Dr. Mahbub ul Haq said that "our system has all the worst features of oligarchy and democracy put together." It now appears that India's system today is not much better than Pakistan's which has less inequality between the rich and the poor.
India's 2G Scandal
Bloody Revolution in India?
Is There a Threat of Oligarchy in India?
Political Patronage in Pakistan
India at Davos 2011: Story of Corruption and Governance Deficit
Challenges to Indian Democracy
India After 63 Years of Independence