Food prices become intolerable for the poor. Protests against corruption paralyse the national parliament for weeks on end. Then a series of American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks exposes a brazenly mendacious and venal ruling class; the head of government adored by foreign business people and journalists loses his moral authority, turning into a lame duck.
This sounds like Tunisia or Egypt before their uprisings, countries long deprived of representative politics and pillaged by the local agents of neoliberal capitalism. But it is India, where in recent days WikiLeaks has highlighted how national democratic institutions are no defence against the rapacity and selfishness of globalised elites.
Most of the cables – being published by the Hindu, the country’s most respected newspaper in English – offer nothing new to those who haven’t drunk the “Rising India” Kool-Aid vended by business people, politicians and their journalist groupies. The evidence of economic liberalisation providing cover for a wholesale plunder of the country’s resources has been steadily mounting over recent months. The loss in particular of a staggering $39bn in the government’s sale of the telecom spectrum has alerted many Indians to the corrupt nexuses between corporate and political power.
Even the western financial press, unwaveringly gung-ho about the money to be made in India, is getting restless. Early this year, the Economist asked: “Is Indian capitalism becoming oligarchic?” – a question to which the only correct response is “Hell-ooo”. Recently in the Financial Times’ Indian business dynasties have been described as “robber barons”.
Replace the word “India” with “the U.S.” The stories are nearly parallel.