On New Year’s Day, the world was treated to the spectacle of a 640-kilometer-long “Women’s Wall” in Kerala (South India). This human chain of more than five million women stretched the length of the state, making a spectacular statement for the “renaissance values” of women’s equity and rational thinking. Progressive organizations linked to Kerala’s Communist government organized the demonstration to counter the hate-filled Hindu protests that had been ongoing since 28 September 2018, when the Supreme Court of India ruled that the Sabarimala temple’s ban on women of menstruating age was unconstitutional and had to be lifted. Implementation of this court order had so far been sabotaged by the militant protests of orthodox Hindus, fueled by the BJP (the Hindu nationalist party).
“Mr. Ambani, you are one of the richest persons in this country where majority of the population does not get to eat two square meals in a day. Does your greed for money know no end? Why do you have to indulge in illegal activities to make money when you can do good business without such activities?”
Those are the words of Prashant Bhushan, member of the national executive of India’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—Common Man’s Party—in an open letter (dated 23 July 2014) to Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Group and potentially the richest man in India if it weren’t for his brother Mukesh Ambani, worth $20 billion and famous for having built Antilia, the world’s most expensive personal residential property that towers over Mumbai’s squalor almost as a symbol of “the succession of the middle and upper classes into outer space” (Roy 2012). Prashant is clearly walking a tightrope: he is invoking outrage at the contrast between the wealth of the Ambani brothers and the poverty in which most ordinary Indians live but is keen to temper his criticism to target only the wealth that has been “illegally” made and that is evidence of excessive “greed.” “Crony capitalism” and “corruption” are the vices that the AAP has set itself the task of combating, in favor of “good business,” proper and legal capitalism. Like any populist party, AAP leaders tend to avoid too explicitly leftist or rightist rhetoric, instead holding the two together in often-uneasy tension.
This piece, briefly, will argue that in studying and supporting the many indigenous movements that have emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century, a dialectical understanding of political identification processes and global capitalism dynamics is of key importance. I will also lay out how I came to this understanding through a combination of methodological engagement and fieldwork encounters.