Instead of eradicating poverty, the current Indian establishment has, it seems, decided to eradicate the poor from society. (pic source)
Things are happening so late in India. This I say from the Nepali perspective. The dominating Indian political discourses in the past several days have been increasingly sounding like the ones we used to have at the beginning of the current decade. The government here has decided to combat the spreading Maoist insurgency putting the prospects of talks on the backburner, and the deliberations have been all about that. These debates, mainly taking place in the most influential, city-centric and English language media, are heavily tilted towards the hawkish government stand. “These terrorists,” shouted one network editor the other evening, “must be neutralized. How can a government talk with killers?”
There are some reasons for the editor be to so arrogant and one sided. First, his TV network, like many other influential urban media outlets and commentators, is primarily based in the cities that are far from the villages where the Maoists are waging war. He doesn’t care about the villagers because his targeted audiences live in the cities. The cities and their inhabitants are comparatively prosperous than those in the villages who live in abject poverty. Those who are running the government, to put it bluntly, aren’t “poor” enough to understand the pains of poverty in the villages. Or they came out of poverty too long ago to remember the pains of living in deprivation. The comfort of air-conditioned city life (which includes grand government office buildings and residential quarters) doesn’t allow them to get a sense of the harsh realities of the villages sans electricity, health posts, schools with enough and qualified teachers and road links.
In rhetoric, however, the government intends to use development as the weapon to fight the Maoists. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh told a high-profile gathering in New Delhi the other day that his government sought to have “inclusive development and transformation of the rural economy”. He is, after all, running a government that wants to achieve “9 to 10 percent annual [economic] growth” and wants to eliminate the Maoist insurgency branding it “the single biggest threat to internal security in India”.
India, undoubtedly, is a rising economic power; and the feeling that the country is on the path to becoming a world player brilliantly resonates with the dreams and aspirations of the urban, suave and wealthy city dwellers and elite. They are full of lofty ambitions and grandness in life. For them, organizing extravagant and expensive events like the 2010 Commonwealth Games that New Delhi is hosting next year are the logical next step in their way towards portraying India (and themselves) as a global powerhouse (and its owners). For them, the success of such huge events becomes a prestige issue and reason for self-satisfaction. But people in rural Jharkhand and West Bengal, who are really struggling to have the basic needs, do not really care about such success. It’s a game for, by and of the urban affluent as long as their lifestyle is not improved, they feel. They can’t associate with such extravaganzas just as the elite of Delhi and Mumbai can’t associate themselves with a short supply of things. Some people in the corridors of power still argue along that line, but they are a waning lot. One of them, for example, is Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member in the previous cabinet of Singh.
In a thought-provoking speech at a Confederation of Indian Industries meet in April 2007, a website reported, Aiyar argued that policy is hijacked by a small elite. That the cabinet he belongs to is quite comfortable with this hijacking. That India’s system of governance is such that Rs. 650 crore for village development is considered wasteful, but Rs. 7,000 crore for the Commonwealth Games is considered vital. The classes rule all the time, Aiyar said, the masses get a look-in every five years.
“It is a sustainable economic proposition, because our numbers are so vast, that there are perhaps 10 million Indians who are just as rich as the richest equivalent segment anywhere in the world or in any group of countries,” said Aiyar. “There are about 50 million Indians who really are extraordinarily well off. That’s the population of the U.K.”
But, he said, if 700 million Indians who are either not in the market or barely in the market are considered for the evaluation of economic reform process, then the impact makes virtually no difference to their lives. “So when you talk of a 9.2 percent growth rate, it becomes a statistical abstraction: 0.2 percent of our people are growing at 9.92 percent per annum. But there is a very large number, I don’t know how many, whose growth rate is perhaps down to 0.2 percent.”
The last time I heard Aiyar was three days ago, and he was still speaking against the “obscene expenditure” for the games while India is facing challenges in healthcare and education.
Amidst all this debate that has been kindled by the recent incident involving the stopping of an upper class Rajdhani Express train in West Bengal by a group of tribals, the government is launching an offensive against the rebels. Instead of eradicating poverty, the current Indian establishment has, it seems, decided to eradicate the poor from society. Only those who have gone through the experience of living in a crossfire know how it feels to be in such a situation. Those who are advocating a tough stand with the language of the gun are doing so, as stated earlier, from the comfort of air-conditioned rooms. They will not feel the pain suffered by the villagers, and those policemen who fight the rebels. For them, it’s largely a fight among faceless villagers, rebels and policemen. The latter’s victory will serve their interest and fulfill their ego. The body count has begun.