The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Indian businessmen have no need to fête Narendra Modi

Whom I had known, forgotten, half


Both one and many.

— T.S.Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Newspapers, somebody said, catch history in flight. Rarely, if ever, do they open up the past. One such rare occasion, for me personally, was on Sunday, January 19. The bottom of the front page — the anchor as it is known in the jargon of the newsroom — of The Telegraph carried the news item that somebody in the Confederation of Indian Industry meet in Mumbai had shouted at Narendra Modi. The “offender”, the report said, was a man called Jairus Danajee. It took me less than a moment to realize that the reporter had got the name wrong. The correct name is Jairus Banaji, the mentor of many of us in the Seventies in Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was absolutely in the fitness of things for Jairus to stand up in a meeting to accuse Modi of having blood on his hands and to deplore the CII for providing such a person with a forum.

Jairus Banaji is an unknown entity to most people. He studied at St John’s College, Oxford, from where he took a degree in Greats (the Oxford name for a degree in Classics). I remember Tariq Ali telling us in JNU that Jairus was something of a legend in the radical circles of Oxford in the Sixties. He led the famous 1968 Oxford “sit in”, was part of the Trotskyist New Left and was phenomenally erudite. He chucked up Classics and came to JNU to study ancient Indian history. But student politics and “the Revolution” claimed him in JNU. He was later to go back to Oxford in the Eighties and to the classical world: he finished his D.Phil by writing a thesis on “The Economy of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity”.

I first met Jairus in his activist phase in JNU and, like all who got to know him, was completely bowled over by his radiating intellect, his powers of comprehension, retention and articulation. He lit up the intellectual lives of a few of us. He opened up our minds to classical Marxism, to the writings of Marx, Kautsky, Lenin, Trotsky, Preobrazensky, Rosa Luxemburg as well as to the world of contemporary European Marxism. With him we read Lukács, Rosdolsky, Althusser, Colletti, Poulant- zas. He introduced us to the writings of the (post-Marc Bloch) Annales School, to Pierre Vilar’s remarkable essay on Don Quixote, to Kula on feudalism and to Levi Strauss. (Much later, sitting in his house in Oxford, I also learnt a lot from him about jazz and its origins, even though jazz isn’t my kind of music. But Jairus made the subject come alive as he had done so many times before.) The days in JNU were heady days of reading, discussing and arguing. I remember Jairus in the library intently reading Hegel. He was the first to point out, at least to me, the intimate relationship between Hegel’s Logic and Marx’s Capital. It was many years later, when I studied Hegel in a remarkable study circle led by Partha Chatterjee, that I got to understand what Jairus had been getting at.

All these things came back to me in a flash as I read the news report. The gratitude for the past was complemented by pride in the present. It was just like Jairus to stand up in a hostile environment — there were attempts at the meeting to shut him up and to throw him out — and to say what he wanted to say, and articulate the anguish and anger that many of us feel not only about the events in Gujarat but also at the sight of Modi being fêted by people who consider themselves civilized and should know better. Jairus’s intellect and courage have never been influenced by any consideration save what he considered to be his commitment to the just and the good.

Much as I welcomed Jairus’s protest at the CII meet and much as I admired him for it, I knew that he could not have been surprised at the industrialists’ camaraderie with Modi. He protested because he felt it was his duty to do so. Jairus is too good a student of history to be surprised at businessmen being cosy with a fascist implicated in a pogrom against Muslims.

Capital is morally neutral. Profits are capital’s only quarry. The most convenient example and analogy in this case is the support that the Nazis received from big business during their rise to power and while they were in power. The German historian, Karl Bracher, has shown in his book, The German Dictatorship, how big business made “profitable mutual-interest alliances” with the Nazi party and the Nazi state. Despite the far-reaching changes that the Nazis introduced in German society, the old industrial and capitalist class, having made its accommodation with violence and anti-Semitism, remained in place. And till the war destroyed Germany, this class made substantial gains.

A few statistics will speak for it. Profits from all industrial and commercial enterprises rose from 6.6 billion marks in 1933 to 15 billion marks in 1938. The sales of Siemens doubled, those of Krupp and Mannesmann Tube Works were tripled, those of Phillipp Hollizmann Inc. increased six times, and those of the German Weapons and Munitions Works rose tenfold. The distribution of German national income shifted sharply in favour of capital between 1932 and 1938. The shares of capital (interest, industrial and commercial profits, undistributed industrial profits) rose from 17.4 per cent of the national income in 1932 to 25 per cent in 1937 and 27 per cent in 1938.

The involvement of certain sections of industrialists with the Nazi regime was direct and conscious. Ian Kershaw, in his new biography of Hitler, has analysed how Hitler’s idea of “living space” for the German people — an intrinsic part of Hitler’s ideology — blended easily into businessmen’s notions of a “greater economic sphere”. Those sections of the economy aligned to armaments production fervently backed the Nazi regime’s expansionist programme (which included brutal acts of terror) since that was the certain route to high profits.

Particular firms came to be implicated with the crimes the Nazi regime perpetrated against the Jews. Industrial firms built the gas-chambers in which the Jews were killed in concentration camps. Edwin Black — in a remarkable study, IBM and the Holocaust — has exposed IBM’s conscious involvement in the Holocaust. IBM gave its technology to the Nazis to help in the identification of Jews in census, registrations and ancestral tracing programmes and the organization of slave labour in concentration camps. The massive information system that the Nazis needed to carry out Hitler’s “final solution” was possible because of the active cooperation of an industrial giant. Capital has no scruples when profits have to be made.

More than my personal recollections of Jairus, it was this history of Nazi Germany that was opened up by the report on Modi at the CII meet. Is there any need for industrialists and businessmen to fawn on Modi' Aren’t there other places in India (and in an era of globalization, might one even add, the world) to invest in other than Gujarat' Or do the captains of Indian industry feel that Modi represents the future face of India' If so, have they paused to think about the character of that future'

Early capitalism, it has been memorably noted, emerged from the womb of history, dripping with blood. Indian capitalism is no longer in its early stages; there is no need for it to associate with somebody whose hands can never be cleansed of the blood of Muslims. Equally important, isn’t there something pathetic in the constant attempts of industrialists and their chambers to seek the patronage of politicians' Or is capital also always servile to power'

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