Saturday, September 17, 2011

Land, neoliberalism, and middle class desires

When I hear the stories about their aspirations among friends and family, I am often struck by the narratives of making money by buying and selling property. The desire to make a quick buck by buying and selling property has become all too common of a story in neoliberal India, so common that it almost seems commonsensical to be a middle class Indian and to own multiple flats, each of which is seen as an investment opportunity that gives higher and higher return on investments (ROI). The neoliberal dream is embodied in the desire to own a flat, in Rajarhat, or Naui Mumbai, or Noida. Parents dream of their child's success in terms of the number of flats owned by the child. Fathers want their daughters married off to middle class boys with pockets that can afford them multiple flats in the Lakhs and Crores. The promise of the neoliberal dream for the middle class Indian is in the ownership of this piece of security and economic growth.

The promise of neoliberalism in India is deeply intertwined with the capacity of the logic to sell this dream as an everyday aspiration. In this context, the simplicity of the neoliberal middle class storyline in India goes something like this: you buy a piece of property dirt cheap, sit on it for some years, and then wait for it to sell at a much higher price, thus generating large revenues for yourself. You have arrived in the middle class scene if you have happened to secure this dream of a flat.

What however remains hidden in this apparently simple story is the non-apparent storyline underlying it.

Most of the flats bought and sold in neoliberal India happen in the hands of promoters who use a variety of strategies from threatening to extortion to bribing to murders in order to buy and sell land. The grabbing of land is essential to the development of complexes and to the building of flats. The deforestation of lands and the displacement of the poor are often deeply intertwined with the cleaning up of areas for the building of flats. Even more so, the nexus of promoters and developers is often situated amidst strong linkages with criminals, politicians and goons, who are quintessential players in the story of landgrab. Therefore, the promoters and criminals in this case do the dirty job of making the land available on which we build our dirty dreams as middle class Indians.

Therefore for my middle class neoliberal friends and family in India who seem so shocked at the corruption and criminalization of the country, the question I pose is this: To what extent are we active players in this game of criminalization of the country by fundamentally supporting the economic logic that underlies the corruption and criminalization? To what extent are our dreams and desires of pursuing our own economic interests at whatever cost integral to the criminalization of the country? To what extent is your desire of making a quick buck by buying and seeling property similar to the desire of the promoter to make a quick buck, albeit at a much higher price?

No comments: