We are just recovering from the headiest yet audio visual event ever on Indian soil, the Forumula One Car Racing. It is said that the spectators in Europe and America and later in Singapore had tired themselves of this tournament and the sponsors had lost habitat. India, just at this time suited them with its rapid liberalization, mammoth real estate projects, ruthless land acquisitions and mindless speculative investments into what one today knows as megacities. In India, the virus of global finance finds a willing host and settles down to produce numerous maggots in the shape of car racing fans. Formula One Car Racing in many ways is central to India’s neoliberal society, economy and polity.
The image of a racing car is so close to the performing, winning, surging, rushing and gushing individual who is literally racing, pacing, huffing and puffing her way through the maze of competing claims on her. She is stressed out by many “obstacles” of many demands made on her time through multiple tasks. She has to earn, drop children to school, face the perennial threat of retrenchment and pink slips, risk danger of pursuing career at the cost of certainty of employment, leer at the latest fashion trends at the shopping malls and then be able to afford a coffee and an ice cream at the side at costs that must cover enormously high rentals of the malls. So she races all the time, she gives into such races, only when race thrills her she will be able to live with her life; if she resents the pace that life demands of her she is left behind without that branded purse, without the latest cut in fashions, without her avant garde make up, without the dazzle of diamonds. And without social respectability. So the races, the shine of the metallic patina, the roar of the engines, the ground biting speed, all rev up imageries that suit the overriding rhythm of life as it unfolds in today’s India.
The only way to be honourable in life is to win in a race. Femina Miss India, Crorepati, Indian Idol, Bigg Boss, X Factor, Just Dance is all about racing to be the one and only at the top. At work, the workforce is always getting downsized, race to survive; one races up against spiralling prices, galloping bills and bloating EMIs; one races to buy property and gold and invest to hedge against the erosion of the value of savings in the free run of inflation. Education costs a lot, employment and pay packets are tenuous, so race to make up margins. You have to rush to buy that block of gold, you have to hurry to avail of the last opportunity to buy homes cheap. Opportunities are few; windows narrow, everything opens only for a Divine Moment, race up to grab these or else you will miss them forever. The life is one of only racing ahead.
Race therefore is the central motif of our lives. It means speed, it means beating a competitor, and it also means tricking time by moving ahead in step. The television images that sense and replay such central motifs of our lives could only move towards creating a mega event out of the world’s largest motor car racing. National Geographic Channel also beams out the Himalayan Rally, but those are images more of danger, of terrains, of geography, the glades, slopes, snows and storms that surround and constrain speed. The car race is the thrill of pure, abstracted thrill.
There was a film named Race directed by Abbas Mastaan released a few years ago. It was a murder mystery, with dollops of suspense and conspiracy thrown in. Films like Dhoom 1 and 2 have tended to prize out an abstracted sense of speed from its embeddedness in the narrative. But cinema and television are not the same. Raymond Williams is very categorical about television being a continual flow of images, defining life as it appears, or helping define life as it should appear. Unlike a film, it does not break expectations and patterns to seep in the new. The television, says Williams must appear to be a continued flow even in its commercial breaks. This is why, it is the television that helps establish continuity with social pace and the opportunity for the Indian television to beam in car racing is so well timed.
The Formula One Race brings into India a kind of a national pride, we have done it, and we have arrived on the global scenario, a kind of a pride that comes from belonging to an organization, a herd instinct that beckons the meek and the passive. The Mallyas, the Jaypees, and the many sponsors of the event are lauded as heroes doing India proud. No one questions that it is an event for the rich to spin more money, hosting global capital to become richer among the rich. No one ever asks what happens to equity when such money is spun around in such high echelons, whether the nation that gets agitated about Swiss Banks should also not question the source of such humungous outlay of finance on such monstrous opulence. It is alright as far as the Indians go because the racing tracks, the high barriers, the controlled traffic, all add value to the venue as a mega city, the engine of growth for the future. Yes, hosting of the car racing is a way to develop the city value of the space, the ultimate aim of global finance. This is why, money from grain trading, mineral trading, and other businesses are gravitating at top speed into real estate, the ultimate industry that uses the ultimate scarce resource, land.
India sold its liberalization pogrom on naïve and trusting persons like us on the promise of developing markets and industries. One imagined that opening up economies and globalizing markets would mean even greater competitiveness for the Indian industry which will also help the small and medium enterprises grow. But people like us missed out the “catch” that soon industries would rush for raw materials which at the end of the chain constitute the finite and exhaustible natural resources. Neoliberal politics, the State and corporate nexus, the pursuit of super profits by firms, the striving of companies towards becoming monopolies are all with the aim of grabbing more and more of the inexhaustible natural resources. Land, just plain land is at the top of the charts. The Formula One Car Race is a way of grabbing land via the hugely legitimate motifs of national pride and the race interlaced into one another. The Mallyas and the owners of the Jaypee Greens have made a killing, so have the global financial companies involved in circulating their funds through this event and while only a few have benefitted from this extravaganza, those of who as spectators have had to pay astronomical sums for theatre tickets believe that this few, richer of the richest have made us, as a nation very proud !!
What really slips from one are that the very process of and acquisition creates irreversible inequalities of income that pushes many of us down the ladder of purchasing power. An economy with rising wealth for a few sends the rest of us into the abyss of penury in terms of relative incomes and from there into the race again to forever catch up with things that slip out of our shopping carts. The race begins again.
Some kinds of people have contested this bonanza; the farmers who feel that they sold their lands rather cheaply to the real estate companies or the government are an unsatisfied lot. They defy the race wallahs by playing kabbadi near the tracks. There has been one Mr Yadav who wants to charge into the security zone in a Lamborghini; he seems to ask if he is any inferior to the people in the stands in view of this substantial wealth which he possesses via the Lamborghini. These are acts of defiance because the qualifying level to be a part of the races is not to be merely rich, but to be the elite among the elites, the cream in the creamy layer. For this one has to have style and elaan besides the might in the banks. The act of Liberalization does not spare the rich, it impoverishes many of them with its tendency in redistributing every kind of capital, financial, cultural, intellectual and even emotional towards fewer and fewer heads. The large pool of poverty that neoliberalism creates happens because it impoverishes the rich in its logic to create fewer and fewer of the ilk, and this is because the final source of opulence resides in the ownership of natural resources, limited in supply and restricted in availability.
My historian friend Rakesh Batabyal, also in FB points out the repeated motif of the Buddha as in the Buddha circuit, Buddha International and so on. I think that the oft dropped name of Buddha too has a hidden code. Buddha, in India is a code for Dalits and the venue of the races, Greater Noida is under a Dalit leadership. The Dalits much like the Muslim League in 1942 who sought prizes from the British by opposing the Quit India Movement, try to break the mainstream society of caste Hindus. Dalits today are eager to race ahead of the mainstream caste Hindus; nothing sabotages the mainstream economy and society than neoliberalism. Neoliberalism will kill the economic agents in India among who the Dalits are not in any way counted, and then the Dalits will rise on the ashes expressing their solidarity with the neoliberalists, offering to serve them as workers and reserve such positions for people of their kind. Reservation politics lie at the root of the Dalit support of neoliberalism.
Years ago Pune University organized a Seminar on Dalits and Economic Liberalization in which I presented my confusions over what would happen to reservation politics when the State under whose employment such affirmation has any meaning ceases to be an active agent of development? As the State withdraws from production what would happen to the Dalits because a government job is the basis of entering the mainstream society for the Dalit groups. Little did I realize that there was another route, to rise from the cinders of the fire that neoliberalism sets on domestic economies, a fire that would not touch the Dalits because they are not even included in it. Neoliberalism has a great scope for clearing off forests, lands, settlements and economic networks and when all those who oppressed the Dalit were wiped out by bigger oppressors, Dalits would rise. The Formula One races thus works with a definite plan of the political party in Uttar Pradesh.
Friends who have been to the races have come back with the sounds of the cars in their ears. It is an event that they would remember for many more months to come. It has not only been a great visual, but a great aural experience as well. It is now the new thing to be in; a new mark of social respectability, of class, of elegance and indeed of privilege and a stepping stone into making new social contacts and occasion for networking.