Thursday, August 23, 2007

India at Crossroads

India is at crossroads. The country is on the verge of making another " tryst with destiny". Sixty years ago, Nehru said, "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."
How sad! Even after 60 years of Independence, this democratic nation’s soul has not found utterance. The soul of this nation has been the middle-class. Largely educated and ambitious, the middle-class in India moulds the public opinion.
But sadly, the middle-class is in a delirium. It is cheering itself for the growth rates, GDPs, Forex reserves, FDI and bull runs. It thumps on its chest reeling out statistics of how many more of its class were added to the millionaire club. The fact that this is a wafer thin portion of the society is blithely ignored. In its delirious state, it has forgotten that increase in wealth and income for a few million people does not lead to well being of the entire population. It has turned a blind eye to the institutionalizing of political-bureaucratic-business nexus, which siphons off public funds and loots the public exchequer. Corruption in India is the direct result of the rich wanting to be super rich. Policy making is increasingly subverted to favour this wafer thin layer of the super rich. Through special laws, thousands of acres of cultivable land is forcibly acquired from small farmers and handed over to super rich ostensibly for the good of the country. Those who protest get a bullet in the head. About 40 billion dollars is the bad debt owed by companies to public sector banks, much of which was written off. The same banks seize property of farmers for default of a few thousand rupees loan. The √©litist orientation of public policy in India has intensified during the recent period of "economic reform." Today, India's international credit rating and the "sentiment" of the stock market receive far more attention in economic policymaking than the lives of its poor. The indifference of the ruling class to the farmers’ suicides, growing malnutrition and the misery of the poor is monumental. The poor do not have means for a proper education with the kind of quality of government schools and colleges. The poor do not have means for a healthy life with the kind of quality of medicare in government hospitals. The political class does not make any attempt to improve the standards of institutions that are exclusively frequented by the poor. Instead, crumbs are thrown through some ‘poverty alleviation’ programmes, an unavoidable necessity and a concession to electoral compulsions.
Even 60 years after Independence, 800 million, close to two-thirds of the population are trapped in poverty. And with poverty comes malnutrition, disease, deprivation, inequality and injustice. The Planning Commission, a government body, in its report states that 28% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2006, down from 51% in 1977, and 36% in 1993. The government proclaims that poverty is drastically reduced basing on these statistics. Look at the numbers from a different perspective. In 1977 India population is 500 million so 51% of it is 255 million. In 1993 the population is 800 million and 36% is 288 million and in 2006 we were at 1.1 billion and 28% is 300 million. And what determines the poverty line. Hold your breath. Monthly per capita consumption expenditure below Rs. 356 for rural areas and Rs. 538 for urban areas. That is ten and twenty rupees a day, in dollar terms 25 and 50 cents a day. So 300 million people live in abysmal poverty. Another 300 million earn close to a dollar a day but are counted as above the poverty line. So 600 million do not have two square meals a day. Another 200 million barely manage to eke out a living earning 2 to 3 dollars a day, about a hundred rupees a day. In this dismal scenario, what would be the fate of children. The third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of 2005-06 shows that nationwide 46 per cent of children under three are undernourished. Severe malnutrition leading to high infant and child mortality puts India low (126th in 2006), in the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDR), a key indicator of the well-being of populations. Statistics indicate that 2.5 million children die in India every year, accounting for one in five deaths of children in the world. The HDR of 2006 points out that despite a steady growth of GDP in the country, the decline in child mortality has remained stagnant.
Time and again, the teeming millions of poor have changed governments through democratic process with the hope that their lot will be improved. But successive governments have failed them miserably. This paradox of having the power to change governments but powerless to change the exploitative and unequal economic order will imperil democracy itself. The signs are already tell tale. The “disturbed areas” declared by the government constitute one-thirds of India where armed extremists run parallel governments. Is inequality a cause for the increase in armed insurgency. The World History tells us that large scale poverty spawns Dictators, tyranny and lawlessness.
Markets must flourish but masses should not be left behind to rot. A booming middle class, corporate profits, bull runs in stock market alone cannot sustain democracy, when over two-thirds of the population struggle to get two meals a day.

India is at cross roads. If it takes the road of compelling the political system to formulate policies that improve the basic facilities like public distribution system, education, healthcare and implement them without funds being siphoned off, democracy will flourish.
India is at cross roads. If it takes the road of continuing subverting all systems to benefit a million super rich and frame policies to please the 200 million middle-class, the day is not distant for anarchy to prevail.
Indifference is a sin. The soul of this nation- the powerful middle class- has to find utterances to make India awake to a quality life and freedom from poverty. That moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

1 comment:

Virender said...

Very powerfull piece but the only solution is to kep expanding the economy and hope of trickle down effect – like services we need to build manufacturing sector where uneducated can also be employed and also spend a lot mor ein education and infrastructure.