Keeping the Peace? Evaluating Hindu Nationalist efforts to defuse class conflict and reproduce a stable class compromise in Gujarat

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:48
Oral Presentation
Smriti UPADHYAY, Johns Hopkins University, USA
Scholars have long theorized the close articulation of projects of economic development and nationalism. In the 20th century, postcolonial leaders sought to cement cross-class bases of cooperation to bolster capital accumulation. In India, labor unions, most notably those affiliated to the ruling Indian National Congress Party, played a central role in consolidating this class compromise and in producing hegemonic capitalist accumulation for at least a small section of the working class. This paper investigates whether Hindu nationalism is playing an analogous role in India today. In particular, it examines the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the Hindu nationalist labor union federation and asks: is Hindu nationalism able to obtain the consent of workers in India’s contemporary political economy? To answer this question, I draw on ethnographic and historical insights based on fieldwork conducted in a high-profit manufacturing corridor in the Indian state of Gujarat, a site where the twin projects of nationalism (both of secular and religious variants) and capitalist development have historically been most closely articulated. I argue that since the 1980s, the BMS has played an important role in reproducing a stable class compromise between permanent workers and capitalists, but that today, this task is becoming increasingly difficult for union leaders. In particular, it is the pervasiveness of informality, even in jobs that were once relatively high-wage and well-protected by the state, that complicates the BMS’ efforts to maintain stable class relations through their ideological claims of a Hindu community unified across (intra and inter) class divisions and their rejection of class struggle. Gujarat’s manufacturing sector, which has become the poster child for the current Indian state’s ambitious plans to boost manufacturing, is increasingly becoming a site of worker discontent, and consequently, perhaps the initial unraveling of the hegemonic articulation of capitalist development and Hindu nationalism.