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Who are the prime beneficiaries of neo-liberal economy?

Who are the prime beneficiaries of neo-liberal economy?

The economic structure is ordained in such a way that it restricts vulnerable social groups from becoming part of the big capitalist class and relegates them to a precarious working class.

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Last Updated : 09 June 2024, 23:28 IST
Last Updated : 09 June 2024, 23:28 IST
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The neo-liberal market economy promotes a hypothetical market that is open and accessible to all, allowing hardworking people to garner maximum benefits from competitive businesses and industrial growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement about how India provides an encouraging environment for business startups, and how many young entrepreneurs have become wealth creators in recent times is an interesting analogy to endorse such a hypothesis.

Importantly, the PM also suggested that the social and family backgrounds of an entrepreneur are rather inconsequential for success in business. Though such an assessment is part of the grand rhetoric that celebrates the exclusive elevation of a few business groups and certain individual entrepreneurs as exemplary success stories, it hides multiple other indicators that showcase how the neo-liberal market is extremely exclusionary in its function.

The economic structure is ordained in such a way that it restricts vulnerable social groups from becoming part of the big capitalist class and relegates them to a precarious working class.    

Any cursory examination of the social profile of big business houses and individual entrepreneurs would certainly demonstrate that a majority of them belong to the traditional business communities (mainly the Bania, Guajarati Marwari, Parsis, Sindhis, Jains, Chettiars, etc.) and very few belong to the non-Vaisya castes.

These business-families have dominated the Indian economy since colonial times and retained their control over different sectors of the market even in the post-liberalisation period. Today, more than 80% of the combined capitalist assets in India are controlled by the top 20 family-owned businesses. More than 50% of the businesses that are listed in the National Stock Exchange index are owned by traditional business-families.

One-third of the firms listed in the Fortune 500 are family businesses. A majority of Indian unicorn startup businesses are owned or run by traditional class elites. In such heightened domination by social elites, the possibility that a businessperson belonging to socially marginalised communities would rise and make his mark as a successful entrepreneur is small.

Further, it is not only the big capitalist businesses that have almost negligible space for the subaltern social groups, mainly Dalits, Adivasis and the Other Backward Castes, but also other spheres of the economy, like the media, fashion, sports among others.

These sectors are overtly dominated by rich upper-caste elites, whereas the other social groups operate in peripheral spaces, mainly as middle-class consumers or as the poor working class. For example, the 100-year-old cinema industry that often claims to serve the cultural interest of the general masses; on the ground, however, it has distanced itself from characters, technicians and artists belonging to Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi groups.
Similarly, the gig economy (mainly the service delivery apps) is again owned and managed by traditional business castes.

The current regime at the Centre has often made these announcements that the liberalisation policies have helped many to emerge as wealth creators.

However, these policies are not categorically directed towards reducing poverty, ensuring dignified participation of the socially marginalised groups in the market economy or building an impressive capitalist class amongst Dalit and Adivasi groups.

Instead, it is visible that the most potent beneficiaries of neo-liberal globalisation are the traditional business groups, whereas the socially marginalised groups are standing at the periphery as the awestruck audience of India’s economic achievements.

Though, it is visible that the Indian economy is hegemonised and dominated by the traditional business families and individuals belonging to the social elite strata, there are no attempts to ensure substantive participation of marginalised groups in the market as new leaders and entrepreneurs.

Such exclusive control of upper-caste elites over major economic assets, market institutions and finance corporations has made India’s economic spectrum almost autocratic, alienating socially marginalised groups and making them a passive working class or merely consumers.

The perpetual alienation of a vast majority to avail the profits of global economic development, their lack of representation in crucial spaces of the market economy and the absence of any substantive policy initiatives by the State to democratise the high echelons of the economy have made neo-liberalism an ideology that overtly serves the interests of the traditional class-caste elites.

It is required that the new government must ensure that the liberalisation process should become more inclusive and democratic, allowing substantive participation of marginalised social groups in economic development.

The values of social justice empower democracy meaningfully, making it a representative space for stakeholders. However, the market economy remained alienated from such values and retained the domination of conventional social elites over the economic spectrum.

The PM is right to showcase that certain individuals have made an astonishing mark as successful entrepreneurs and business tycoons. However, he is not deliberating why these businesspersons belonged mainly to the social-elite strata. It is required to investigate the reasons for the relegation and absence of businesspersons from Dalit-Adivasi and the OBC sections.  

Modi’s assessment of startup businesses and the new entrepreneurial culture is, therefore, half-baked as it hardly investigates the social dynamics and structural advantages that ensure the elevation of the selected few as the beneficiaries and leaders of the market economy. 

Globalised market economy has ensured the inevitability of industrial development, rapid technological innovations and the growing gap between the rich, middle classes and the poor. Further, these class divisions are not merely economic in India but represent the traditional social structures based on caste-based inequalities.

For the new government, it would be a task to ensure that a new impressive class amongst the marginalised social groups shall emerge as the new leaders, business entrepreneurs and influencers in the sphere of the market economy.

Such a prospect will allow policy-makers to look beyond the conventional social justice policies that often address Dalit-Adivasi groups as passive recipients of the State’s welfare packages.

Instead, Dalits and Adivasis shall not be identified only as poor and migrant working class but shall be seen as the essential components of industrial production and technological innovations. Further initiatives are required so that the subaltern social groups shall emerge as industrialists, market leaders and crucial influencers in the global economy.  

(The writer teaches at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU)

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