The Indian mercantilist empire


The pattern of development in India seems ominously like England in the nineteenth century. Are Indian companies the vanguard of a 21st century Indian imperialism, ask Rajesh Kasturirangan.

30 November 2009 – These days, it is not unusual to hear that some Indian company or the other is acquiring large properties abroad. Tata bought Corus, Mittal bought Arcelor and Reliance is making a bid for LyondellBassell. Less than twenty years after liberalisation began, the Indian capitalist class is as ambitious as any of its counterparts in the rest of the world.

It is also, perhaps, just as ruthless. I haven’t been shocked by the acquisition of companies in the first world, which one could argue is part and parcel of the natural process of globalisation and the flattening of hierarchy and resources between the first world and the developing world. As a country with a large, widely spread and well educated diaspora, we are all well situated to take advantage of globalisation. However, there is another kind of Indian expansionism which is more ominous, for it is driven by the acquisition of land and natural resources and the exploitation of the weakest people in the world.

We know that the Chinese are investing aggressively in oil, minerals and other natural resources throughout Africa and South America. If the Chinese expansion is state-directed, there is a corresponding Indian intervention by private parties. Twice in the last month, I read that the government of Ethiopia was leasing arable land to Indian agribusiness companies. As one article says, “The government of India, where land is crowded and overfarmed, is offering incentives to companies to carve out mega farms across the continent.”

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