The Market Hunters: Corporate Masculinity and the Art of Opening the Economy

Fig. 01: Modi rides the tiger, The Economist, 24 June 2017. Courtesy David Parkins.

Consider the arresting image of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi astride a tiger (Fig. 01). What strikes the gaze is not the colourful picture-perfect scenery but the subdued corporeal posture, making this an unmistakable drawing of pessimism in more ways than one. Take a close look. Dressed in his familiar style code of churidar-kurta and sleeveless jacket, Modi wears a look of defeat. His shoes are mismatched, and he holds a whip in his left hand that curls inward, refusing to lash the tiger into action. In his right hand are the reins that control the majestic leaping animal, albeit one that appears to have become immobile mid-air in its long leap. Pay attention to the tiger’s drooping tail, its claws lifeless and stomach torn. Viewers soon realize that what they are looking at is a mere sticker, a glossy paper gradually peeling off the surface. The sticker-effect is created by starkly visible droops, curls and tears in the tiger’s body against the enchanting background depicting untouched nature. This artistic act of un-gluing, undoing images is what dramatically emasculates the powerful male bodies, an erosion of the majestic power in the image-frame. The viewer is likely to conclude that what at first seemed like a mighty beast is a mere paper tiger, and the man astride it, a hollow figure.1 1)The term ‘paper tiger’ was widely used in the 1990s to denote underperformance of the erstwhile East Asian tiger economies following the financial crash. See for example, Corsetti, Giancarlo, Pesenti, Paolo and Roubini, Nouriel, ‘Paper Tigers? A Model of the Asian Crisis’, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 6783, 1998, pp. 1–38. The term has also been used to denote the nature of the Indian developmental state whose legitimacy and legibility is predicated upon bureaucratic paperwork, the production and translation of documents. See Mathur, Nayanika, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Headlined ‘Modi’s India: The illusion of reform’, the image is difficult to dismiss.2)‘The economy under Modi: India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems’, The Economist, June 24 2017, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/06/24/indias-prime-minister-is-not-as-much-of-a-reformer-as-he-seems What makes it especially compelling is its appearance on the cover of The Economist, a weekly newspaper dedicated to liberal economy and politics, with an extensive global reach. For the regular readers of The Economist across the world, the cover image offers a snapshot of the fragile state of the Indian economy—the tiger—packaged as ‘Brand India’ since the 1990s’ economic reform programmes. 3)‘Brand India’ is the shorthand for the reconfiguration of the nation-state into an enclosed commercial-cultural zone, a 21st-century phenomenon I call the brand new nation: the nation revitalized and renewed as a profitable business enterprise in the global economy. See Kaur, Ravinder, Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020. But for Narendra Modi’s supporters in India and its diaspora, the image is at best a result of deeply flawed biased journalism and at worst a public relations humiliation in the global circuits of business and policy. 4)See for example, the ‘Reader’s Comments’ section and accusations of bias against Modi/India, https://www.economist.com/node/21723830/comments; Patel, Aakar, ‘The Economist on Narendra Modi: Criticism a little unfair and too tough, but PM will do well to acknowledge shortcomings’, First Post, 25 June 2017, https://firstpost.com/india/the-economist-on-narendra-modi-criticism-a-little-unfair-and-too-tough-but-pm-will-do-well-to-acknowledge-shortcomings-3743087.html If this emasculated figure evokes strong reaction from Modi’s supporters, it is because his public image is precisely built upon a heavily mediatized performance of hyper-masculinity. The extravagant expression of masculinity, or what has been called ‘Modi masculinity’, has long been the cornerstone of Modi’s and his party’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) successful electoral strategy. 5)Srivastava, Sanjay, ‘Modi-Masculinity: Media, Manhood, and “Traditions” in a Time of Consumerism’, Television and New Media, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2015, pp. 331–38. Recall that the pursuit of Hindu masculinity has been at the heart of Hindu nationalism,6)Anand, Dibyesh, ‘Anxious Sexualities: Masculinity, Nationalism and Violence’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2007, pp. 257–69. an anxiety-driven project that strived to overcome colonial stereotypes of ‘unmanly’ Indian men who did not possess the ‘martial’ ideals of moral and physical valour.7)Banerjee, Sikata, ‘Gender and Nationalism: The Masculinization of Hinduism and Female Political Participation in India’, Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2003, p. 170. Modi masculinity not only incorporated these older lineages of Hindu masculinity but also extended a contemporary version of Hindutva masculinity: a dominant political force shaped along the axes of physical prowess, techno-military might and neoliberal free markets.

Fig. 02: Modi became Gujarat Chief Minister in 2001. Pictured with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 12 October 2001. https://commons.wikimedia.org

The 2014 ‘presidential’ campaign that brought Narendra Modi to power largely hinged upon the projection of his hyper-masculine leadership style. The very narrative of his political triumph was framed in masculine terms as ‘the most audacious journey…of a lone man on a mission’ in Indian politics.8)Prasannarajan, S., ‘The Right Man’, Open Magazine, Delhi, 16 May 2014, https://openthemagazine.com/voices/the-right-man/ He was readily projected as a ‘manly’ leader vested with dynamism, efficiency and the capacity to make swift decisions. His chest size—‘56 inches’—was frequently rehearsed as a proof of his manliness, a key bodily attribute with which to shape his alpha-male image. It was not just the corporeal marks of manliness that mattered, but also his cunning ability to turn the moral stigma of the 2002 Gujarat massacre into a distinct political advantage. 9)The violence began on February 27, 2002, and lasted at least three days but had long-lasting effects, including more than 1,000 dead (most of whom were Muslims) and about 150,000 driven from their homes. For the history of the pogrom, see Ghassem-Fachandi, Parvis, Pogrom in Gujarat and Anti-Muslim Violence in India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 1–2; Varadarajan, Siddharth, ‘Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold’, in Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, ed. Siddharth Varadarajan, Delhi: Penguin, 2003, pp. 1–44; Shani, Ornit, Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘Communal Riots in Gujarat: The State at Risk?’, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, Working Paper No. 17, July 2003, http://archiv.ub.uniheidelberg.de/volltextserver/4127/1/hpsacp17.pdf. A rich visual source on the pogrom is Sharma, Rakesh, ‘Final Solution’, Vimeo video, 2004, https://vimeo.com/329340055 In the eyes of Modi supporters, the Gujarat massacre was not a symbol of his moral fallibility as a leader, but evidence of his firm resolve to push forward the goals of Hindu nationalism. It is hardly a surprise, then, that Modi was able to market himself as an embodiment of Gujarati asmita (pride) and, by 2003, the liberal promoter of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ programme who facilitated the flow of foreign and domestic capital investment into the state10)On ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, see Bobbio, Tommaso, ‘Making Gujarat Vibrant: Hindutva, Development and the Rise of Subnationalism in India’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2012, pp. 657–72; Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘Narendra Modi between Hindutva and Subnationalism: The Gujarati Asmita of a Hindu Hriday Samrat’, India Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2016, pp. 196–217. On the work of development programmes in making a Gujarati-Hindu identity, see Sud, Nikita, ‘Constructing and Contesting a Gujarati-Hindu Ethno-Religious Identity through Development Programmes’, Oxford Development Studies, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2007, pp. 131–48. (Fig. 02).

 

The brash display of masculinity not only helped draw a stark contrast with but also upended his polite and erudite opponent Dr Manmohan Singh, a trained economist credited with ‘opening up’ the Indian economy to liberal reforms.11)Sandhu, Veenu, ‘Who can boast about a 56-inch chest?’ Business Standard, 31 January 2014, https://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/who-can-boast-about-a-56-inch-chest-114013101063_1.html The repackaging and marketing of a controversial regional leader into a glossy, pan-Indian hyper-masculine figure dubbed ‘Brand Modi’ is integral to the story of economic reforms. The informal addition of the prefix brand is not only an acknowledgement of Narendra Modi’s pro-capital credentials but also a reference to his personal brand identity as the Hindu muscular strongman—the one who doesn’t flinch in the face of opposition—loved by capital. The significance of the splashy makeover of a pracharak (propagandist) for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) into a powerful symbol of Hindu masculinity is better understood within the history of Hindutva mobilization. The promise of masculinity has long been a draw for Hindu men, especially the youth from the lower socio-economic order, as a means to overcome emasculation, perpetuated upon the myth of loss of power to Muslims. The ritual practices of physical training have been a vital mechanism to enable ‘recuperation of masculinity’ in a martial fraternity.12)Hansen, Thomas Blom, ‘Recuperating Masculinity: Hindu Nationalism, Violence and the Exorcism of the Muslim “Other”’, Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1996, pp. 137–38. On obsession with bodies and the loss of masculinity, also see Sarkar, Tanika, ‘Semiotics of Terror: Muslim Children and Women in Hindu Rashtra’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 28, 2002, pp. 2872–2576. It is within this ideological practice that Brand Modi was formed, a practice in masculine self-fashioning that accelerated when he made a bid for national office in 2014. Brand Modi is what garnered endorsement from the corporate world to steer Brand India into the future, as the chosen one who promised to combine strongman politics with liberal economic reforms.13)Kaur, Ravinder, ‘Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi’, Television and New Media, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2015.

Look at the tiger-riding image once more (Fig. 01) to note how this established narrative is subverted by 2017, almost reduced to a parody. Brand Modi appears as a pretender whose game has been exposed: a wannabe strongman shorn of his manliness, his powers to act subdued. How are we to read this image? What do the ideas of masculinity or emasculation mean in this setting? Who or what precisely has caused this emasculation to occur? What are we to make of the wild beast and its relationship with the human astride it? Or, of the fact that both appear to be immobilized, even powerless, unable to undertake any action? More importantly, what function does the journal that hosts the image play in this power dynamic? These questions are at the heart of this enquiry which sets out to examine the art of the opening up of the ‘frontiers’ of global capitalism, an art form that emerges upon a specific convergence of capitalist logics and fine arts in the production of the world economy. What we witness here is the constant fear that lurks underneath the display of hyper-masculinity: the fear of being emasculated, of being permanently bypassed by global capital.

The Art of Opening Up

Fig. 03: Art of the cover story, various issues of The Economist.

The art of ‘opening up’ the economy I address is double-edged: the noun art refers both to the artistic design as well as the transformation of the third world into commodity form: classified as frontier/emerging markets. I draw upon a widely influential albeit largely overlooked image archive produced on the covers of The Economist (Fig. 03).

Dubbed as a ‘visual story’ or a ‘conceptual style of illustration’, the creative artwork has increasingly become an essential part of the stories on the state of the world economy. To illustrate is to illuminate, to bring to surface what remains hidden beneath. In this case, the commissioned artwork seeks to illuminate the heavy text and econometric data that otherwise dominate a publication devoted to themes of political economy. The cover illustrations of The Economist range from cleverly altered photographs to colourful graphics and fine art, all geared to ‘communicate a concept’14)Nevis, Jack, ‘As a satirist, I can barely keep up: The stories behind the Trump magazine covers’, The Guardian, 24 August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/aug/24/trump-cartoons-magazine-cover-art-illustrators and to stand in as attractive ‘shop windows’ to the content within the covers.15)‘How to redesign a 175-year-old newspaper’, The Economist, 19 October 2018, https://medium.economist.com/how-to-redesign-a-175-year-old-newspaper-42c6d6479980 They conjure a world that can be instantly seen and understood, or at the very least, capture the interest of the reader even before the text is apprehended. Put differently, the arresting visual is what likely entices the reader to the text, to discover the enchanting world that has already been laid out on the cover. This archive of illustrative art—hitherto hardly explored by scholars of Indian visual culture—is what I use to excavate the cultural history of the opening up of third world markets.

A focus on the art of the opening up of the third world, at first glance, might appear to be speculative, even frivolous. Yet, it is neither. It constitutes an affective translation of the field of economy, a field commonly associated with complex econometrics, numbers, statistics, as well as hyper-visual, colourful charts and graphs that make data seem inaccessible to non-specialists but simultaneously help wield the expert authority necessary to shape public policy. However, neither econometric data nor expert prescriptions alone create wider acceptance of economic logics. Central to the mass mediation of economic policy and worldviews is the work of ‘the great spectacle’—spectacular imagery, advertising, publicity campaigns and popular iconography—that translates econometric data into animated dreamworlds of the future.16)Kaur, Brand New Nation. This affective mode of persuasion translates the domain of economy beyond the community of experts, a critical amplifier through which policy recommendations eventually become a matter of common sense. The images in Fig. 01 and Fig. 03, then, are archival fragments of the great spectacle of the opening up of the global south: the ongoing capitalist reconfiguration of the old ‘third world’ into ‘emerging markets’, or, more broadly, the phenomenon of the rediscovery of the world as an assemblage of distinct market frontiers of capitalism. They offer a unique introduction to this world-in-transformation and the figures who inhabit the frontiers of capitalism. The viewer encounters a familiar world inhabited by recognizable figures but bound together in unfamiliar roles and power hierarchies. What rearranges each image is that which remains hidden in plain sight: the frame of global capitalism.

The clue to the invisible is the journal itself that hosts the images on its covers. The Economist has long been an established and influential voice for free-trade capitalism.17)A timeline of the key developments in the journal’s history is laid out here: https://www.economistgroup.com/what_we_do/our_history.html Though its circulation is small (about 1.5 million copies worldwide), it boasts of having a readership ‘with higher than average incomes, better than average minds but with less than average time’, the kind who occupy the corridors of power across the world.18)https://www.economist.com/help/about-us Established in 1843 in imperial Britain, the aim of The Economist is not only to promote free-trade policies but also to influence ‘men of business’ in order to counter government interference in the affairs of the market.19)Ibid. Thus, the founding prospectus aimed to publish ‘original leading articles, in which free-trade principles will be most rigidly applied to all the important questions of the day—political events—and parliamentary discussions; and particularly to all such as relate immediately to revenue, commerce, and agriculture, or otherwise affect the material interests of the country.’20)https://amp.economist.com/unknown/1843/08/05/preliminary-number-and-prospectus The cornerstone of this venture is the belief that in ‘relieving industry and capital from all restrictions…in the freest intercourse with the producers and consumers of all the world…lay the only true guarantee for prosperity and peace.’21)Ibid.

That the belief in free trade imperialism should manifest itself in the mid-19th century was hardly a coincidence. This was the moment when Britain was at the height of its imperial power and its overseas colonial possessions had made it the leading actor in transoceanic free trade. The world seemed to have ‘opened up’, or, as James Wilson, the founder of The Economist, wrote, ‘in vain all parts of the earth have been brought nearer and nearer to us’. India was now said to be mere 40 days away, the American continent about 10 days, and Europe only a few hours to reach—so that world territories seemed well within grasp. In order to ensure that this moment of proximity to world markets would not go ‘in vain’, Wilson launched the publication to advocate unlimited growth and market expansion, for ‘there can be no increased demand without increased markets; and we cannot secure larger markets without an unrestricted power of exchange, and by this means add to the territory of land…so that a plentiful and proportionate supply of all the great necessaries of life would be maintained.’22)Ibid. Dressed up in the garb of an unabashed sponsor of free trade, The Economist has since filled a critical space between the domain of politics and the domain of economy. A century and a half after its founding, its role in the 1990s as a significant backer of ‘opening up’ the world markets was reaffirmed once again, this time in the post-communist and post-colonial third world.

The journal cover, then, is the theatrical stage upon which the speculative playbook of free-market capitalism is enacted week after week. What we witness are the anxieties and desires of the capitalist class, the drawings of the impending economic boom and bust, and the strongmen who flex their political and economic muscles to capture and capitalize resources. I unpack this cover story by fleshing out the idea of masculinity in the world of 21st-century global capitalism.

Corporate Masculinity

I begin by proposing that what is at work on many of the magazine’s covers is a particular form of masculinity we might call corporate masculinity. I invoke the term ‘corporate’ both as a business enterprise and as the fashioning of the hyper-masculine bodies upon an alliance between the domains of politics and economy. The form of masculinity produced here is a complex interplay of the political muscle (the political control of resources and territory) and the economic muscle (the ability to turn resources into income-generating goods) that operates at multiple levels. If one level of this operation is the capture of political power by the strongmen who promise development or good times via economic growth, the other is to put the resources at the disposal of global capital in order to create the promised economic growth. This speculative bargain between the political and the economic interests is what potentially enables strongmen politicians to flex their muscles, a fragile bargain that also runs the risks of being undone if the promise of economic growth remains unrealized.

The idea of corporate masculinity at first blush appears to be very contemporary, a window into the ‘modern’ world of open markets and free trade, far removed from the ‘primitive’ or the ‘pre-modern’ world produced through brute force and the flexing of physical muscle. Yet what holds aloft the modern corporate masculinity is an archaic notion of masculinity: the muscular language and practice of hunting and capturing, of chasing the prey and making a kill. These established metaphors associated with masculinity have now been assigned to a new project of ‘opening up’ territories—especially in the old third world—to free trade. To understand the production of corporate masculinity, then, we need to turn to the older cultural metaphors and visual practices of masculinity and the ways they are brought into the world of political economy.

Two elements appear to be key to this redirection of the ideas of masculinity on the covers of The Economist (Fig. 03): the visual deployment of ‘big-game’ animal figures as signifiers of ‘big markets’, and the attendant metaphors of investment-as-hunting of those big markets. First, the aesthetics of wild animal imagery as proxies for nations-turned-markets to draw the speculative world of economy, which has become a familiar blueprint of corporate masculinity deployed in finance policy circles. BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), for example, are routinely classified as the ‘big five’—a term used to denote the big-game animals on wildlife safaris—by investment bankers. Seen from this vantage point, the image of Modi astride the paper tiger (Fig. 01) is neither a deviation nor an exception in the image-world of global capital. The regular readers of the magazine are used to seeing the colourful wild-animal-themed imagery. Most likely, they can easily identify the animals and the nations they are made to stand for. For example, the tiger and elephant stand for India, the dragon and the panda for China, the giraffe for Africa, the bear for Russia, and the bull for Spain. It is not just nations and continents the wild animals are made to stand for, but also to signal emotions as a mode of speculation. Consider for example, how the tiger is used to signal aggression or the bullish state of the Indian economy, whereas the elephant is brought in to convey the slow, lagging pace of the economy.23)The use of animal metaphors is fully internalized in the Indian debate. See for example, Subbarao, D., ‘Will the Indian Elephant Dance Again?’, Public Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, 2019, https://vimeo.com/379042909 Similarly, the fiery dragon symbolizes a dominant China, and in contrast, the subdued panda foretells a bearish Chinese economy. It is as if the animals—from the wild tiger, panda, elephant, bear to the mythical dragon—are summoned from the natural world into the world of financial markets, and called upon to perform their allocated role in the script of the opening up of new economic frontiers. And in doing so, they are re-embedded in a new web of relationships in the domain of political economy.

Fig. 04: Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book, first published 1894. Drawing: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Jungle_Book_Rudyard_Kipling_poster.jpeg Poster: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jungle_book_p144r.png

This incorporation of wild animal figures into financial markets, I propose, is the most recent twist in the long genealogy of ‘beast-fables’, the story-telling tradition that makes use of both human and animal forms. The use of animal figures has indeed long been a well-worn ‘fictional strategy’ to create hierarchies and relationships between humans and nature through which humans perceive their moral universe. Perhaps the oldest known collections of this form of story-telling in the Indian context are the Panchatantra, the animal fables of the Sanskritic tradition, and the Jatakas, which narrate the many lives of Buddha including in animal forms. In these, we witness how ancient humans invoke animal figures to tell stories about the world they inhabit, or the one they want to inhabit. This tradition of Indian animal-fables is probably what Rudyard Kipling, the storyteller of the British Raj, had in mind when he wrote the Jungle Book story collections (Fig. 04).24)Nagai, Kaori, ‘The Beast in the Chinese Boxes: The Jungle Books as an Imperial Beast Fable’, in Cosmopolitan Animals, ed. Kaori Nagai et al., London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 233–46.

Fig. 05: Incredible India advertisement 2002: Not all Indians are polite, hospitable and vegetarian. Courtesy: V. Sunil.

For Kipling, the beast-fables were characteristic of the Indian natives who continued to ‘think pretty much along the lines of an animal’s brain’, in an exotic world where the human-animal divides were not clearly marked.25)Rudyard Kipling’s letter dated 1895 to Edward Everret Hale, reproduced in Pinney, Thomas, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol. 2, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990, p. 168. If the authors of the Panchatantra or Jatakas had conjured an ecological-moral universe around human-animal proximity, Kipling created an imperial landscape where human-animal affinity presented a case for colonization of all that was untamed. For this strategy to work, it was essential to presume the world to be an unregulated and undisciplined space, the state of nature where the ‘law of the jungle’ prevailed. This imaginary return to the state of nature meant that the space could potentially be redesigned, remapped and woven into new hierarchies. This strategy enabled a vision of the colony as an ungoverned space, ready to be disciplined and incorporated into the British Empire.26)Rajamannar, Shefali, Reading the Animal in the Literature of the British Raj, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 130. Thus, Kipling’s writings helped reimagine India as a mysterious ‘primordial space of the jungle’ that was both fixed in time as well as lagging behind, and therefore ready to be harnessed to the imperial project of modernity.27)Ibid., p. 131.

Fig. 06: Surprise Appearance of a Tiger, drawing by Thomas Williamson, 1808. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElephantbackTigerHunt.jpg

The traces of this colonial imagination of India remain alive in contemporary imagery too. Consider this official global publicity campaign for India where the tiger is made to stand for India and its inhabitants: as a sign of a powerful and confident nation in a globalized world (Fig. 05).

Fig. 07: Shikar, 1876. https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The second crucial piece in the making of corporate masculinity is the usage of hunting metaphors. In investment policy circles, it is quite common to speak of ‘chasing’, ‘seducing’ or ‘making the kill’ in relation to markets and profitable capital investments. Or, for that matter, the ‘animal instinct’ or the ‘risk appetite’ that successful investors are required to possess to ruthlessly play the markets. What is rehearsed here is the familiar vocabulary of hunting sports and their association with masculine prowess and virility.

Fig. 08: Taming the tiger: a pat painting of Gazi Pir riding a tiger and carrying a serpent, in a scroll from Bengal, c. 1800. The British Museum, London. https://britishmuseum.org See this image also in Yousuf Saeed’s

Though the association of masculinity with hunting has a longer history, it came to be particularly attached to big-game hunting around the same time as Kipling was writing his Jungle Book. As the British Empire expanded its reach and influence across colonies in Asia and Africa, big-game hunting became the touchstone for masculinity in contrast to the ‘artificial and emasculated sport to be had in battue or fox-hunting’ that was otherwise the mainstay of British hunters (Fig. 06).28)McKenzie, Callum, ‘The British Big-Game Hunting Tradition, Masculinity and Fraternalism with Particular Reference to the “Shikar Club”’, Sports Historian, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2000, p. 70. The rationale for classifying big-game hunting as ‘real sport’ was that it required special skills to conquer ‘wild animals on their own primeval and ancestral ground, as yet unannexed and unappropriated in any way by man’. So superior a task, that ‘stirs the blood and brings to the top the hardiest and manliest instincts in human nature’, could only be experienced in the colonies in India and Africa (Fig. 07).29)Ibid., p. 75.

In a way, the colonial hunting tradition appropriated powerful symbols available from South Asian religious traditions including Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu, where the ‘taming’ of tigers and lions became a measure of one’s spiritual might (Fig. 08).30)Saeed, Yousuf, ‘Lions of Islam: Symbols of Masculine Power in the Devotional Art of India and Pakistan’, Tasveer Ghar, 20 Nov. 2019, http://tasveergharindia.net/essay/lions-islam-manly-sufis.html

Thus, tiger-hunting expeditions became a high-profile sport as well as an exotic ingredient in the imperial story-telling traditions. Photographs of hunting expeditions, of officers posing with their prized trophy—the captured or the dead tiger—became symbols of masculinity and imperial sovereignty. In this same period, the ritual of ‘blooding’—the celebration of the first ‘kill’ by daubing its blood on the hunter—of young boys became popular as a rite de passage to manhood. What lay beneath the popularity of these rituals was the fear of emasculation; as the pro-hunting lobby argued, ‘the nation as a whole is getting too soft, and will quickly get worse if ideas like abolishing “blooding” are encouraged’.31)McKenzie, Callum, ‘“Sadly Neglected”: Hunting and Gendered Identities: A Study in Gender Construction’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2005, p. 546. The metaphorical connections between ‘real men’ and ‘savage animals’, empire and colony, the hunter and hunted came to be deeply ingrained in the ideas of masculinity.

Such big-game hunting metaphors are rehearsed routinely in the discourse of the free market, as exemplified in The Economist covers. They gained currency anew when the third world ‘opened up’ at the end of the cold war and came to be reimagined as an ‘emerging market’ or ‘frontier market’, a foreign policy agenda pursued aggressively by the Clinton administration. A telling example is the documentary film The Commanding Heights (1998) about the ‘new world order’ at the end of the cold war. It featured a special segment called ‘Emerging Market Hunters’ which not only emphasized the elements of rediscovery of the already familiar world, but also suggested the thrill of chase and capture of new nations-turned-markets. The documentary records how the new agenda was termed a triumph, as ‘more countries than ever adopted market economies’ and the third world came to be seen as a place of economic growth and, therefore, a hope for capitalism.32)Transcript, ‘Emerging Market Hunters’, episode 3, chapter 6 of The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, directed by William Cran, PBS, 2002, https://pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/tr_show03.html In the film, then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Bin Mohamad wearily describes the moment as follows: ‘Once communism was defeated, then capitalism could expand and show its true self…. There is nothing to restrain capital, and capital is demanding that it should be able to go anywhere and do whatever it likes.’ In this landscape of newly opened up markets, the investors dubbed as market hunters turned their attention to the third world with the goal of ‘capturing that growth, and of course making money for investors’.33)Mark Mobius, quoted in ibid. In short, the world came to be imagined anew as a natural space that could be explored, conquered and reconfigured as a limitless realm for capitalist production and consumption. It was the new hunting ground where corporate men with risk appetite went to prove their masculine prowess, and in doing so made money for the investors. The old third world was conceived as the potential market space that was yet to be fully brought under the arch of global capital—and precisely therefore a fertile unregulated ground for risk takers, entrepreneurs, adventure-loving businessmen who wanted to chase profits.

Hunting for Good Times

Fig. 09: ‘India overheats’, The Economist, 1 February 2007.

The presence of animals in human society has long been interpreted in material, utilitarian (good to eat) and nonmaterial, symbolic (good to think with) terms. Brought to the domain of market, I propose the presence of animals, or more appropriately, their presence as nonmaterial metaphors, illuminates the material-cultural dream of ‘good times’ that is now associated with open markets in the third world. Eager investors (mostly men) rush into the newly opened market territories—the emerging or frontier markets—to realize the potential profit that awaits in order to fulfil their material needs as well as to raise their status in the social hierarchy. To be sure, this is not a one-way street and the roles are not fixed between the first and the third world—the hunted can also become hunters and vice versa in the new evolving capitalist world order. Consider this 2007 news report in The Economist entitled ‘India overheats’ (Fig. 09):

The Indian tiger is on the prowl. This week, in an apt piece of symbolism, Tata Steel, which dates back to the days of the Raj, leapt into the league of top producers when it bought Britain’s Corus, which includes the steelmaking remnants of the old imperial power. Nor is Tata alone: younger Indian companies such as Infosys and Wipro are storming international markets. Meanwhile, the world’s business people and investors queue up to lavish money on India’s talented engineers and computer scientists. The roar from Delhi is echoing across Asia. After peevish years cast as China’s underperforming neighbor, the huntress is now in hot pursuit.34)‘India overheats’, The Economist, 1 February 2007, https://economist.com/leaders/2007/02/01/india-overheats

Note the feminization of India as a ‘huntress’ in hot pursuit in this story of the India corporate takeover of a British company. The barely concealed male gaze permeates through this dramatic account of Indian capital buying companies in the old imperial centre. What is conjured is the activation of the former colony—a passive female figure whose hunting instincts are finally awakened. The report details not only the rising fortunes of the Indian economy but also how global capital moves anywhere in search of profits.

It is pertinent to ask then: What makes a territory an attractive hunting ground in the eyes of male investors?35) I explore the making of the world-as-commodity fully elsewhere. The section draws upon Kaur, Ravinder, ‘World as Commodity: Or, How the “Third World” became an “Emerging Market”’, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2018, pp. 377–95. And how do investors explore and imagine this commodified world in the 21st century? If spectacular expeditions undertaken by adventurous explorers were the hallmark of an earlier era, contemporary exploration is a routine practice facilitated by financial experts, and a fast-growing body of popular and specialist literature on markets and investments. The 21st-century investor-explorer, we are told, doesn’t ‘need a passport, only a desire to discover more about the economic opportunities in the world today’.36)Logue, Anne, Emerging Markets for Dummies, Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2011, p. 9. This mode of discovery, or more correctly, rediscovery, entails taking ‘a long, hard look at the world. One may not have done this at any great length since the sixth grade, but time spent studying a world map can never be wasted, and can be critical to one’s success as a global investor.’ This advice to rediscover a world whose physical contours ought to be familiar even to a sixth-grade student is offered by Mark Mobius, the executive director of the Templeton Emerging Markets group, one of the early movers in the 1980s to invest in the emerging markets. The ‘long, hard look’ he prescribes is an invitation to see what might have been long overlooked, namely, the full economic potential of the third world. As Mobius explains,

The first thing you’ll probably notice is the relatively small size of the developed markets compared to the vast swaths of land covering the emerging countries. Emerging economies cover 77% of the world’s land mass, have more than 80% of the world’s population, hold more than 65% of the world’s foreign exchange reserves, and account for about 50% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2010, about 5.7 billion people resided in emerging countries; that’s about five times the 1.2 billion populations of the developed markets. China and India alone account for more than 2.5 billion people, that’s almost four times the approximately 700 million in the United States and European Union.37)Mobius, Mark, The Little Book of Emerging Markets: How to Make Money in the World’s Fastest Growing Markets, Singapore, John Wiley and Sons: 2012, p. 12.

This fresh gaze on the world and its cartographic reimagination in the age of open markets is significant in at least two related ways. First, the very language of classification and naming of the world regions in terms of developed/emerging both invokes and overcomes the earlier taxonomies shaped in the moment of decolonization of the mid-20th century. Second, the regions outside the developed world are now seen in terms of potential and promise, and even an attractive source of economic optimism. These two features appear in tandem to grade and rank world regions in commodity form. The principle of this world order unfolding along the readily apparent axis of economy and politics is captured succinctly in Mark Mobius’s popular guidebook called The Little Book of Emerging Markets, in which he directly asks and answers: ‘Why invest in emerging markets? Because that’s where the growth is.’38)Ibid. That economic growth is crucial in the pursuit of national interests has now become a matter of common sense, which explains the search for ever-new market territories that can be opened up to investors.

Against this logic of economic growth potential, then, the world in its commodity form is graded and ordered in four categories: (a) developed markets, (b) emerging markets, (c) frontier markets and (d) pre-emerging markets. This classification is not restricted to expert policy papers, scholarly interests or major corporate investors; it is now circulated widely and prescribed in popular literature consumed by an ever-growing number of small investors. Consider the vastly popular guidebook for those keen on building individual investment portfolios, Ann Logue’s Emerging Markets for Dummies,39)Written by a woman, the book reproduces the male gaze which is taken as the proper frame through which to view questions of markets. which defines the order as follows:

Emerging markets are those countries that have growing economies and a growing middle class. Some of these countries were once poor, and some still have high rates of poverty. Many are undergoing profound social and political change for the better. Another class of country, frontier markets, includes those nations that are very small, are at an early stage of economic development, or have tiny stock markets. These markets present opportunities for patient investors with an appetite for risk. The poorest of the world’s nations are considered to be pre-emerging: these markets have few opportunities for investors now, but they could become really interesting in the years to come so they’re worth watching.40)Logue, Emerging Markets for Dummies, p. 10.

What is left unsaid in this description is that each of these market categories eventually aspires to become ‘developed’ or ‘mature’, just like Euro-American markets. The world in its commodity form is imagined and ordered along a scale of temporality that mimics the earlier discourse of development and modernization theory. If developed, developing and underdeveloped were the stages of modernity that defined the mid-20th-century decolonized world, the categories of developed, emerging, frontier and pre-emerging mimic those, albeit in the 21st-century framework of markets. This promise of modernization, of ‘catching up’ with the developed world, is reiterated in the language of markets too. The difference is that the markets need not sit in the ‘waiting room of history’ forever;41)Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 9. they can fast-forward their arrival on the global stage by opening up to global investors.42)Kaur, Ravinder and Hansen, Thomas Blom, ‘Aesthetics of Arrival: Spectacle, Capital, Novelty in Post-Reform India’, Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2016, p. 265; Kaur, Ravinder, ‘Post-exotic India: On Remixed Histories and Smart Images’, Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2016, pp. 307–26. In other words, the shift to markets is presented as a matter of choice, of greater autonomy to accelerate the process of joining the modern world.

The temporal order of world regions in commodity form differs from the previous development discourse on yet another significant count. Here, to lag behind is not necessarily a disadvantage but, on the contrary, precisely what makes the nation attractive to investors. Consider the proposition of appetite for risk that Logue refers to in connection with frontier and pre-emerging markets. Logue repeatedly invokes the popular dictum of capital investment—the higher the risk, the higher the profit—well understood in investment circles. These regions are positioned on the higher scale of risk and are deemed ‘yet untapped’, waiting to be ‘opened up’ at a later date. To put it differently, the lower the scale of development, the higher the risk, and consequently, the higher the potential that remains to be exploited. The world, then, is arranged along speculative stages of market and a range of unending possibilities in the present and future for lucrative investments. The investment experts describe these stages of market as unique ‘states of emergence’ where regions continue to evolve into profitable markets that can shape fortunes across the globe.43)Franklin Templeton, States of Emergence: The Evolution of Emerging Markets Investing, New York: Franklin Templeton Investments, 2014, p. 2.

Fig. 10: MSCI Heat Map, screenshot taken on October 10, 2016.

This imagination of the world is reflected in the new form of investor-friendly cartography that marks countries according to their different states of emergence. Consider the heat map of the world produced by Morgan Stanley Capital Investments (MSCI) in July 2014 (Fig. 10).44)MSCI Emerging Markets Horizon Index Methodology, July 2014’, https://www.msci.com/eqb/methodology/meth_docs/MSCI_Emerging_Markets_Horizon_In dex_Methodology_Jul14.pdf The publicity brochure opens with a suggestive question, ‘Can you feel the heat?’, which then leads the customer to an interactive world map. Loaded with sexual connotations, the notion of heat in market terms refers to how ripe and ready a nation-market is for investments and what profits it might yield at a given moment. The map promises to ‘capture the world’ via interactive tools that can help plot a nation’s current market position as well as trace its development in the last decade. The green and red dots illustrate at a glance how hot or cool a market is—green stands for profit and growth and red for stagnation and danger. A vast number of green dots scattered across Asia, Africa and the Americas signal booming economic opportunities, whereas the red clusters in Europe show the decade-long effects of economic stagnation since 2008. The heat factor is indeed monitored and measured continuously in markets considered attractive overall.

At the heart of a market’s attractiveness is the old question of profitability—or what is perceived as not only potentially rich but also accessible to investors. The broad markers of potentiality on a world scale are thus already familiar—nations with large territory, large population, skilled and cheap labour force, and a vast middle-class consumer base are deemed to be most lucrative by investors. For example, the idea of BRICS effectively packages some of the largest territories and populations across continents together as a coherent market proposition.45)These parameters form the basic indicators deployed to identify BRICS as the most lucrative territories. See O’Neill, Jim, The Growth Map: Economic Opportunity in the BRICs and Beyond, New York: Portfolio Books, 2011, pp. 25–40. It also signals the post-cold-war transformations that saw post-socialist and postcolonial nations gearing up to make large-scale pro-market reforms. BRICS, thus, have come to occupy an enviable status within the larger notion of emerging markets—they signal both potential rich returns and entry into that abundant market territory.

Yet the attractiveness of markets is not a given; in fact, it is characterized precisely by speculative fluctuations. It requires a constant performance of iteration that can confirm (or refute) the status of attractiveness. The market territories, thus, are monitored, measured and graded on a scale of attractiveness. If high ratings on the attractiveness scale serve to boost the fortunes of a given market territory, lower ratings serve as critical moments of course correction, putting political pressure on countries to introduce more reforms to liberalize markets ever further. A number of tools and market indexes have emerged in the past decade, each of which promises investors an accurate measure of market territories around the world. While the MSCI heat map monitors markets on a daily basis, others appraise biannually or annually. The release of these appraisal reports often turns into a national event, sewn seamlessly into national publicity campaigns and into electoral battles.

Take the single-country ‘attractiveness survey’ conducted annually by Ernst and Young (EY). Titled ‘Ready, Set, Grow’, the survey is ‘designed to help businesses make investment decisions and governments remove barriers to future growth’.46)Young, Ernst, Ready, Set, Grow: Ernst Young Attractiveness Survey, India 2015, Mumbai: EYGM Ltd., 2015, https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-2015-india-attractiveness-survey-ready-set-grow-infographic/$FILE/EY-2015-india-attractiveness-survey-ready-set-grow-infographic.pdf The report promises to present both reality and perception, that is, the actual inflow and impact of foreign direct investment as well as future scope. The twofold methodology, thus, draws upon financial data as well as feedback from international business leaders and policymakers. In fact, the perception of international decision-makers is crucial, and it forms a kind of endorsement of a given market. The 2015 EY survey declared India as the most ‘attractive investment destination’ in the world. The verdict was that ‘while the speed of economic reforms may vary, the direction is firmly set toward higher growth’.47)Ibid., p. 3.

It was both an endorsement and gentle encouragement to bring the long-awaited second line of economic reforms up to speed.48)On the politics of economic reforms, see Kaur, ‘Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi’. In short, the perception of attractiveness needs to be constantly boosted via publicity and exhibition of nation-market in this commodification process.

Unleashing the Animal Spirit

The animal metaphors have filtered deep down and across the late capitalist world. In the nations-turned-markets across the third world, ambitious, future-oriented politicians routinely speak of the need to ‘unleash the animal spirit’ or to ‘unleash the potential’ of the nation as a path to the high table of global politics. The animal metaphor works here in a double sense. If it reiterates the discourse of animals-as-proxies for markets favoured by global capital, it also discloses how pro-liberalization politicians and policy experts in those markets perceive themselves as mighty animals in cages, their entrepreneurial and innovation potential stymied by the government red tape. It also hints at the latent desire for a more muscular style of politics that can tame any resistance on the nation’s path to capitalization.

In a purely bureaucratic sense, the call to unleash the animal spirit requires ‘liberalization’ of the economy, a process initiated in India in early 1990s by the Congress government led by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. But this call also opened ominous demands for populist ‘strong leaders’ who promise to ‘get things done’, through strong-arm tactics if required. This vital connection between ‘liberal’ economy and ‘illiberal’ majoritarian populism, a widespread current anxiety in many parts of the world, is often overlooked. Yet the figure of the muscular strongman politician allows us to see how the ‘animal power’ is harnessed to the 21st-century capitalist dreamworlds built upon endless economic growth. The making of Brand Modi as an agent of acche din, or good times, is instructive in making sense of this process.

Fig. 11: ‘Narendra Modi: Triumph of the Will’, Open Magazine, 15 May 2014.
Courtesy Open Magazine.

The transformation of Modi into Brand Modi is best captured in the cover image of popular news weekly Open that announced his 2014 electoral victory (Fig. 11). Entitled ‘Triumph of the Will’, the image projects Modi as a stern, strong-willed leader, one who remains unmoved even when showered with rose petals and unrestrained adulation by his devotees. Dressed in a formal black bandhgala jacket (the garment of choice of male officers representing the Indian state), Modi appears in a close-up shot, tight-lipped and distant, his gaze remote, imperious and piercing. The effect of this visual trick is unsettling. The slightly averted gaze conveys a visual barrier, as if, he is seeking to block the viewer from looking into his world. It is, simultaneously, a visual sign of power as well as barely concealed contempt for the world at large. Those familiar with the landscape of Indian politics would immediately recognize multiple meanings loaded in this image. For Modi supporters, he has long been a victim of the liberal media and intellectuals who expressed criticism of his failure to prevent the 2002 Gujarat massacre. His electoral victory, then, was not merely an electoral triumph but a form of exoneration, even mass approval of his person and politics in the world.49)https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/14/narendra-modi-from-international-pariah-to-the-g20s-political-rock-star

 

Fig. 12: Photo accompanying ‘The Modi Hotness Quotient’, Open Magazine, 15 May 2014.
https://openthemagazine.com/features/india/the-modi-hotness-quotient/

The ultimate proof of this approval was an essay in the same issue, titled ‘The Modi Hotness Quotient: On the Sex Appeal of the Man with the Fabled 56-inch Chest’ and accompanied by another image (Fig. 12). This essay was based on interviews with a number of ‘sex sirens’, beauty queens and affluent socialites, who described Modi as ‘all rage and testosterone…the alpha male whose roar no one dares ignore’, the ‘sex symbol’ who ‘looks so wild—like the lion in that beard of his…and in a way, quite hot’. The breathless writing revealed women’s infatuation with his ‘rugged manliness’, his sex appeal and virility, and a collective euphoria that there was ‘finally, a real man to lead us’.50)https://openthemagazine.com/features/india/the-modi-hotness-quotient/ The political agenda of development and economic growth, it seemed, could only be realized if the reins of governance were in the hands of a pumped-up man.

Fig. 13: ‘Strongman’, The Economist, 22 May 2014.

This muscular strongman image also endeared Modi to the proponents of the free market who yearned for a political leader who would finally unleash the potential of the Indian economy. Consider the 22 May 2014 cover story of The Economist on the electoral victory of Narendra Modi. Starkly entitled ‘Strongman: How Modi can unleash India’, it laid out the neoliberal quest for a strong leader, centralized governance and a unified market (Fig. 13).

Now, for the first time ever, India has a strong government whose priority is growth…an Indian growth miracle would be a great thing not just for Indians, but also for the world. Government is at the heart of India’s failure…this is partly because India is an extraordinarily hard place to govern. Much power is devolved to the states; the fissiparous nature of its polity means that deals have constantly to be done with a vast array of regional and caste-based parties; and a colonial and socialist past has bequeathed India a bureaucracy whose direction is hard to change…. With a strong government committed to growth and a population hungry for it, India has its best chance of making a break for prosperity since Independence.51)The Economist, 22 May 2014: ‘Narendra Modi: India’s strongman’, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2014/05/22/indias-strongman

The passage captures the liberal logic of growth and the ways in which it has come to be harnessed to populist politics led by muscled strongmen. The article duly notes the risks attached to a strongman like Modi; for example, that he might ‘turn out to be more of a Hindu nationalist than an economic reformer’, or that ‘he will rule as an autocrat, not a democrat’. But on balance, the writer decides, these risks are outweighed by the optimism he brings, ‘the combination of parliamentary clout and personal power’ he could use to launch sweeping economic reforms.

Fig. 14: Make in India logo.

Fig. 15: Skill India logo.

As foretold by The Economist, the first term of the Modi government was pumped up on the promise of economic growth, the kind of growth that could only be achieved through strong-arm politics to undertake deep structural reforms: land reforms for easier acquisition of land for infrastructure projects, or labour reforms for ever more flexible terms of employment.52)The expectations of deeper economic reforms, as it turned out, remained unfulfilled in the first term of Modi’s rule. See for example, ‘A downturn in India reveals the desperate need for deeper reform’, The Economist, 24 October 2019, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2019/10/24/a-downturn-in-india-reveals-the-desperate-need-for-deeper-reform Thus, the five-year period was marked by the roll-out of highly publicized initiatives like ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Skill India’ or the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to create India as a unified tax territory, all of which aimed at making India a factory-of-the-world manufacturing hub like China. It is hardly a coincidence that the logo of Make in India is an animal figure, this time a predatory lion on the prowl,53)https://www.makeinindia.com/article/-/v/logo that seeks to reposition India as a strong economy (Fig. 14). Similarly, the Skill India logo features a strong raised male fist, clenching a set of tools, set against a graphic of a computer screen and keyboard (Fig. 15). The invocation of sheer force or strength is not limited to symbols but permeates actual politics. Modi’s strongman politics was especially on full display when he undertook policy measures billed as ‘bold’ or ‘masterstrokes’ such as the demonetization of high-denomination currency notes in November 2016.

Demonetization, at a single stroke, emptied the Indian economy of 85% of its cash, an ill-thought strong-arm tactic that brought a significant share of economic activity to an instant halt. Its effect was strange: the political constituency of Modi praised him for his boldness especially as the measure was held as an anti-corruption and anti-terrorism policy that would deprive black-marketers and terrorists of cash funds. The immediate political gains notwithstanding, the policy harmed economic growth and caused a setback to future prospects. Most of all, this action revealed that strongmen politicians could be impulsive risk-takers, a less-than-desirable quality especially when it involves power to shape the present and the future of an entire population.

Fig. 16: ‘Intolerant India’: The Economist displayed at a newsstand in Copenhagen, January 2020. Author’s photo.

Towards the end of Modi’s first term, the very risks his liberal backers had hoped would ebb in favour of economic growth erupted in full force. His 2019 electoral victory, with an even greater majority in the parliament, paved the way for fulfilling the major political demands—from the abolition of the Constitution’s Article 370 that guaranteed a special autonomous status to Kashmir to the amendment of the citizenship laws—upon which the Hindutva politics had taken shape since the closing years of the 20th century. The risk-benefit balance—between economic growth and Hindu majoritarian politics—that had propelled Modi onto the political centre stage, and that had long shielded him from criticism, had clearly gone awry.54)By 2019, pessimism had set in as economic growth stalled, an outcome attributed to Modi’s failure to implement deep structural reforms. See for example this special report, Rodenbeck, Max, ‘India is stumbling because of its prime minister’s failure to curb his darker side’, The Economist, 24 October 2019, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2019/10/24/india-is-stumbling-because-of-its-prime-ministers-failure-to-curb-his-darker-side The calculated optimism had given way to outright pessimism: Modi had not only failed to deliver economic growth, he had instead unleashed Hindutva politics in full force (Fig. 16).55)‘Intolerant India: Narendra Modi stokes divisions in the world’s largest democracy’, The Economist, 23 January 2020, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/01/23/narendra-modi-stokes-divisions-in-the-worlds-biggest-democracy

Paper Tiger?

I return in closing to the image of Modi astride the tiger—a paper tiger (Fig. 01). This image captures the first moment of disillusionment of global capital with Modi. It brings alive the underlying anxiety that affects all strongman politics: the fear of emasculation, of being shorn of one’s manly prowess. It also reveals the deep entanglements between the promise of capitalist growth and the making of strongmen politicians in the world of free markets.

The very act of drawing the paper tiger reveals the power dynamic between global capital and the political leaders who control access to resource frontiers. Recall that the rise of Brand Modi is harnessed to his active seduction of domestic and foreign capital. Already, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had vigorously wooed Indian and foreign investors to the state, a process that often put Gujarat in direct competition with other states. A memorable example is the dramatic invitation in 2008 to the Tata group to establish their Nano car manufacturing plant in the state, after they were declined permission to do so in West Bengal following massive protests against land acquisition.56)The internal state-level competition to attract investments was one of the arenas where Narendra Modi emerged successful, which helped make him a political contender in national-level politics. On the state-business entanglements in post-reform India, see Murali, Kanta, ‘Economic Liberalization and the Structural Power of Business’, in Business and Politics in India, ed. Christophe Jaffrelot, Atul Kohli and Kanta Murali, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019. These business-friendly gestures, the proverbial ‘red carpet’ instead of the red tape, ensured that Modi was seen as a future-oriented leader focused on development via economic growth. Though The Economist didn’t endorse him in the 2014 elections, citing the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, he emerged as the favourite leader upon whom capital had hedged its bet. The presumption was that capital would restrain the excesses of Hindutva and redirect the political energy towards growth and development. This bet turned out to be a double failure: Hindutva was consolidated whereas the economy went on a backward slide. The tiger-riding image is not just a representation of this dynamic but also a provocation for the prime minister to get his act together. It is a kind of reminder, even a mirror of the state of affairs, an incentive for course correction. The irony here is that for all his strongman bravado, Modi has turned out to be a bad manager of capital unable to control even a paper tiger. This inability to facilitate capital and help it grow is what makes the situation almost irredeemable. What we witness, then, is the image of an emasculated strongman, emptied of his powers, and displayed as such for the world to see.

There is perhaps another potential reading of this image and of the dynamic it seeks to represent. It is this. The strongman politician has refused to keep his side of the bargain—to restrain the scale and speed of majoritarian populism, and instead turn attention to the faltering state of the economy. He has veered off the script of the opening up of the economy that has always located liberal economy and liberal democracy in the same box. What we witness instead is precisely the risk scenario The Economist had feared when it observed that Modi might turn out to be ‘more of a Hindu nationalist than an economic reformer’. The dynamic is reversed. The image, then, appears as the first sign of realization that the agenda of economic growth was merely a stepping-stone; Hindutva was always the end goal.

Acknowledgements

I want to thank Sumathi Ramaswamy, Christiane Brosius and Yousuf Saeed for inviting me to contribute to the Manly Matters workshop. Their detailed comments have been very useful throughout. Thanks are also due to all the workshop participants, especially Tarini Bedi, for engaging closely with the ideas proposed in this paper.

Notes

All links last checked on 29 May 2020.

This visual essay is part of our series ‘Manly Matters: Representations of Maleness in South Asian Popular Visual Practice’.

References   [ + ]

1.The term ‘paper tiger’ was widely used in the 1990s to denote underperformance of the erstwhile East Asian tiger economies following the financial crash. See for example, Corsetti, Giancarlo, Pesenti, Paolo and Roubini, Nouriel, ‘Paper Tigers? A Model of the Asian Crisis’, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 6783, 1998, pp. 1–38. The term has also been used to denote the nature of the Indian developmental state whose legitimacy and legibility is predicated upon bureaucratic paperwork, the production and translation of documents. See Mathur, Nayanika, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
2.‘The economy under Modi: India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems’, The Economist, June 24 2017, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/06/24/indias-prime-minister-is-not-as-much-of-a-reformer-as-he-seems
3.‘Brand India’ is the shorthand for the reconfiguration of the nation-state into an enclosed commercial-cultural zone, a 21st-century phenomenon I call the brand new nation: the nation revitalized and renewed as a profitable business enterprise in the global economy. See Kaur, Ravinder, Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020.
4.See for example, the ‘Reader’s Comments’ section and accusations of bias against Modi/India, https://www.economist.com/node/21723830/comments; Patel, Aakar, ‘The Economist on Narendra Modi: Criticism a little unfair and too tough, but PM will do well to acknowledge shortcomings’, First Post, 25 June 2017, https://firstpost.com/india/the-economist-on-narendra-modi-criticism-a-little-unfair-and-too-tough-but-pm-will-do-well-to-acknowledge-shortcomings-3743087.html
5.Srivastava, Sanjay, ‘Modi-Masculinity: Media, Manhood, and “Traditions” in a Time of Consumerism’, Television and New Media, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2015, pp. 331–38.
6.Anand, Dibyesh, ‘Anxious Sexualities: Masculinity, Nationalism and Violence’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2007, pp. 257–69.
7.Banerjee, Sikata, ‘Gender and Nationalism: The Masculinization of Hinduism and Female Political Participation in India’, Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2003, p. 170.
8.Prasannarajan, S., ‘The Right Man’, Open Magazine, Delhi, 16 May 2014, https://openthemagazine.com/voices/the-right-man/
9.The violence began on February 27, 2002, and lasted at least three days but had long-lasting effects, including more than 1,000 dead (most of whom were Muslims) and about 150,000 driven from their homes. For the history of the pogrom, see Ghassem-Fachandi, Parvis, Pogrom in Gujarat and Anti-Muslim Violence in India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 1–2; Varadarajan, Siddharth, ‘Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold’, in Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, ed. Siddharth Varadarajan, Delhi: Penguin, 2003, pp. 1–44; Shani, Ornit, Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘Communal Riots in Gujarat: The State at Risk?’, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, Working Paper No. 17, July 2003, http://archiv.ub.uniheidelberg.de/volltextserver/4127/1/hpsacp17.pdf. A rich visual source on the pogrom is Sharma, Rakesh, ‘Final Solution’, Vimeo video, 2004, https://vimeo.com/329340055
10.On ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, see Bobbio, Tommaso, ‘Making Gujarat Vibrant: Hindutva, Development and the Rise of Subnationalism in India’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2012, pp. 657–72; Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘Narendra Modi between Hindutva and Subnationalism: The Gujarati Asmita of a Hindu Hriday Samrat’, India Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2016, pp. 196–217. On the work of development programmes in making a Gujarati-Hindu identity, see Sud, Nikita, ‘Constructing and Contesting a Gujarati-Hindu Ethno-Religious Identity through Development Programmes’, Oxford Development Studies, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2007, pp. 131–48.
11.Sandhu, Veenu, ‘Who can boast about a 56-inch chest?’ Business Standard, 31 January 2014, https://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/who-can-boast-about-a-56-inch-chest-114013101063_1.html
12.Hansen, Thomas Blom, ‘Recuperating Masculinity: Hindu Nationalism, Violence and the Exorcism of the Muslim “Other”’, Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1996, pp. 137–38. On obsession with bodies and the loss of masculinity, also see Sarkar, Tanika, ‘Semiotics of Terror: Muslim Children and Women in Hindu Rashtra’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 28, 2002, pp. 2872–2576.
13.Kaur, Ravinder, ‘Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi’, Television and New Media, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2015.
14.Nevis, Jack, ‘As a satirist, I can barely keep up: The stories behind the Trump magazine covers’, The Guardian, 24 August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/aug/24/trump-cartoons-magazine-cover-art-illustrators
15.‘How to redesign a 175-year-old newspaper’, The Economist, 19 October 2018, https://medium.economist.com/how-to-redesign-a-175-year-old-newspaper-42c6d6479980
16.Kaur, Brand New Nation.
17.A timeline of the key developments in the journal’s history is laid out here: https://www.economistgroup.com/what_we_do/our_history.html
18.https://www.economist.com/help/about-us
19.Ibid.
20.https://amp.economist.com/unknown/1843/08/05/preliminary-number-and-prospectus
21.Ibid.
22.Ibid.
23.The use of animal metaphors is fully internalized in the Indian debate. See for example, Subbarao, D., ‘Will the Indian Elephant Dance Again?’, Public Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, 2019, https://vimeo.com/379042909
24.Nagai, Kaori, ‘The Beast in the Chinese Boxes: The Jungle Books as an Imperial Beast Fable’, in Cosmopolitan Animals, ed. Kaori Nagai et al., London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 233–46.
25.Rudyard Kipling’s letter dated 1895 to Edward Everret Hale, reproduced in Pinney, Thomas, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol. 2, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990, p. 168.
26.Rajamannar, Shefali, Reading the Animal in the Literature of the British Raj, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 130.
27.Ibid., p. 131.
28.McKenzie, Callum, ‘The British Big-Game Hunting Tradition, Masculinity and Fraternalism with Particular Reference to the “Shikar Club”’, Sports Historian, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2000, p. 70.
29.Ibid., p. 75.
30.Saeed, Yousuf, ‘Lions of Islam: Symbols of Masculine Power in the Devotional Art of India and Pakistan’, Tasveer Ghar, 20 Nov. 2019, http://tasveergharindia.net/essay/lions-islam-manly-sufis.html
31.McKenzie, Callum, ‘“Sadly Neglected”: Hunting and Gendered Identities: A Study in Gender Construction’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2005, p. 546.
32.Transcript, ‘Emerging Market Hunters’, episode 3, chapter 6 of The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, directed by William Cran, PBS, 2002, https://pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/tr_show03.html
33.Mark Mobius, quoted in ibid.
34.‘India overheats’, The Economist, 1 February 2007, https://economist.com/leaders/2007/02/01/india-overheats
35. I explore the making of the world-as-commodity fully elsewhere. The section draws upon Kaur, Ravinder, ‘World as Commodity: Or, How the “Third World” became an “Emerging Market”’, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2018, pp. 377–95.
36.Logue, Anne, Emerging Markets for Dummies, Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2011, p. 9.
37.Mobius, Mark, The Little Book of Emerging Markets: How to Make Money in the World’s Fastest Growing Markets, Singapore, John Wiley and Sons: 2012, p. 12.
38.Ibid.
39.Written by a woman, the book reproduces the male gaze which is taken as the proper frame through which to view questions of markets.
40.Logue, Emerging Markets for Dummies, p. 10.
41.Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 9.
42.Kaur, Ravinder and Hansen, Thomas Blom, ‘Aesthetics of Arrival: Spectacle, Capital, Novelty in Post-Reform India’, Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2016, p. 265; Kaur, Ravinder, ‘Post-exotic India: On Remixed Histories and Smart Images’, Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2016, pp. 307–26.
43.Franklin Templeton, States of Emergence: The Evolution of Emerging Markets Investing, New York: Franklin Templeton Investments, 2014, p. 2.
44.MSCI Emerging Markets Horizon Index Methodology, July 2014’, https://www.msci.com/eqb/methodology/meth_docs/MSCI_Emerging_Markets_Horizon_In dex_Methodology_Jul14.pdf
45.These parameters form the basic indicators deployed to identify BRICS as the most lucrative territories. See O’Neill, Jim, The Growth Map: Economic Opportunity in the BRICs and Beyond, New York: Portfolio Books, 2011, pp. 25–40.
46.Young, Ernst, Ready, Set, Grow: Ernst Young Attractiveness Survey, India 2015, Mumbai: EYGM Ltd., 2015, https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-2015-india-attractiveness-survey-ready-set-grow-infographic/$FILE/EY-2015-india-attractiveness-survey-ready-set-grow-infographic.pdf
47.Ibid., p. 3.
48.On the politics of economic reforms, see Kaur, ‘Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi’.
49.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/14/narendra-modi-from-international-pariah-to-the-g20s-political-rock-star
50.https://openthemagazine.com/features/india/the-modi-hotness-quotient/
51.The Economist, 22 May 2014: ‘Narendra Modi: India’s strongman’, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2014/05/22/indias-strongman
52.The expectations of deeper economic reforms, as it turned out, remained unfulfilled in the first term of Modi’s rule. See for example, ‘A downturn in India reveals the desperate need for deeper reform’, The Economist, 24 October 2019, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2019/10/24/a-downturn-in-india-reveals-the-desperate-need-for-deeper-reform
53.https://www.makeinindia.com/article/-/v/logo
54.By 2019, pessimism had set in as economic growth stalled, an outcome attributed to Modi’s failure to implement deep structural reforms. See for example this special report, Rodenbeck, Max, ‘India is stumbling because of its prime minister’s failure to curb his darker side’, The Economist, 24 October 2019, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2019/10/24/india-is-stumbling-because-of-its-prime-ministers-failure-to-curb-his-darker-side
55.‘Intolerant India: Narendra Modi stokes divisions in the world’s largest democracy’, The Economist, 23 January 2020, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/01/23/narendra-modi-stokes-divisions-in-the-worlds-biggest-democracy
56.The internal state-level competition to attract investments was one of the arenas where Narendra Modi emerged successful, which helped make him a political contender in national-level politics. On the state-business entanglements in post-reform India, see Murali, Kanta, ‘Economic Liberalization and the Structural Power of Business’, in Business and Politics in India, ed. Christophe Jaffrelot, Atul Kohli and Kanta Murali, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Ravinder Kaur