Editorial – January 2015

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Democracy is a revolutionary idea of giving masses the power to forge their own fate. It is the best form of government we can establish and its principles are worth fighting for, even though it is not without defects. These defects and their dangerous effects on the populace, can however be minimized by understanding the powers that take away the power from people and resisting them at every step. One among such powers is of that of Crony Capitalism. Being an inevitable outcome of capitalism itself, crony capitalism seeks to destroy the fundamental pillars of democracy using wealth and main stream media as its tools. This has been the history of democracies everywhere in the world, with the Occupy Wall Street movement a direct result of the same in the United States.

In India too, the richest 1\% own1 about 49% of India's wealth. Most of these elite individuals have close relationships with most major political parties and - through the corporations they own - have donated2 thousands of crores to them. These estimates are only from those sources that are traceable and are on record. Since a majority of political funding is unaccounted3, these estimates are very likely to increase. Since political parties need large amounts of funding for election campaigns and with such appalling inequality of wealth, the rich can - and do - dictate terms to political parties and thereafter the governments they form. It is no secret that governments readily obey and place corporate interests above that of the people in drafting laws and in silencing people's dissent against their corporate masters.

It is estimated4 that the majority of India's black money is not stored offshore but is circulated inside the country. With a substantial amount of it being circulated among political parties via backdoor corporate funding, the details of these transactions and that of the accompanying lobbying efforts are not made transparent. This nexus between corporates and political parties results directly in a weakening of the rights of disadvantaged sections of the society such as laborers, farmers and the poor, which gets reflected in legislation and even in the judicial process. Glimpses of this power differential can be seen in the struggles of Maruti Workers. those of the lakhs displaced by mega infrastructure projects and those of the farmers who would be affected by the amendments in the land acquisition bill. In a similar manner, World Trade Organization - the global corporate body pressurized India to open up the higher education sector of India for foreign investment and specifically to treat education as a for-profit service. We have elaborated on the long lasting and far reaching consequences of this disastrous decision in the earlier editions of Issues Of Concern.

An example in which the horrid consequences of this nexus are immediately apparent is the aftermath of 1984 Bhopal gas leak. In its plant in Bhopal, Union Carbide Corporation neglected the safety standards and became responsible for the leak of a poisonous gas Methyl Iso Cyanide, killing at least 16,000 and causing severe physical impairment to about 4,000 people. It has been 32 years since the incident and UCC and its current parent company Dow Chemicals haven't yet paid5 complete compensation for the victims and the criminal charges against them are still pending in the courts. All this while, multiple parties came to power in the state of Madhya Pradesh and at the Centre, but the plight of the victims hasn't changed.

Given this history, the recent Indo-US nuclear deal is under the scanner6 for an alleged laxity about safety in the proposed nuclear power plants. While it is imperative that the plants should be built with utmost priority to safety, in case a 1984 type disaster repeats with one of these plants - a Chernobyl / Fukushima in India - it should also be ensured that the maker company (or companies) are legally liable for the consequences including compensation to the future victims. Unfortunately, it is being reported7 that the liability clause is being weakened to favor corporations. This is extremely dangerous and should be resisted.

One of the means to resist this corporate-political-nexus is through the media. But, with most main stream media houses themselves being a part of multinational corporations, the voices of the most deprived and disenfranchised among us have begun to disappear from popular discourse. It is in this suffocating spread of corporate power in every sphere including the media that Internet is seen a beacon of hope for dissent and resistance. With its globally interconnected nature, Internet has evolved into a vital tool for sharing information among the voiceless and among the activists who come for their support. This aspect becomes prominent when the main stream media completely ignores people's struggles and there is an urgent need to keep the voice of dissent alive.

Even this digital space is not immune from the race for corporate power. Clearly in that direction, the multi national corporation Facebook has begun8 its steps in India through a programme called Free Basics. This is nothing but a digital version of the crony capitalist agenda to gain ever more increasing wealth and control on the masses. A few faculty members and others from the academic community in India - including some from IISc - have opposed9 this move. We thank them for speaking out and urge the rest of institute community and the society at large to resist powerful corporate forces either in the digital or physical spaces and stand in solidarity with the masses in a true spirit of democracy. We wish you a thought provoking reading!