OUTLOOK: Victims will be the judge

The Victims Will be the Judge
February 24, 2007

In an article in Outlook India,
Sandeep Pandey writes:
"The country's deeply-flawed development plans
can be rejected by the poor "

Mahatma Gandhi, at the time of independence, had warned against a speed of industrialisation which would make people unemployed. A number of people misunderstood that as an opposition to machines itself. In fact, Gandhi was merely against automation in sectors where there was a danger of machines taking away people's jobs. Because of indiscriminate industrialisation and further opening up of the market after embarking on the path of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, we have landed ourselves in a very peculiar situation.

Today we need two different kinds of policies for two different segments of the population. For one segment, called the service sector, which is small in number but has an artificially boosted purchasing power, we are adopting an economic policy which will offer them the most advanced fruits of development—like ATMs for every alternate streetcorner. For the other segment, which is large in number and has been increasingly left at the mercy of market forces, we have offered a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in only 200 districts of the country for merely 100 days a year at minimum wages. What is pertinent about this Act is that machines have been barred from the work to be offered under it. There is obviously a realisation that employing machines will take away jobs from poor people. It is a tremendous relief that our lawmakers have accepted this basic fact. So, we have a great contradiction between the policies for these two segments. For one of them we need the finest machines to make their lives comfortable and for the other we want to avoid machines so that it at least has enough to survive! This contradiction is a result of the flawed development policies adopted by our successive governments. These policies have only deepened the divide between the rich and the poor. We have created a stark dichotomy where on the one hand slogans like 'India Shining' are floated, while on the other farmers are committing suicide and people dying of starvation in numbers larger than before.

It is also becoming more obvious that the rich are getting richer at the cost of the poor. Good agricultural land from farmers is being acquired for special economic zones or to favour some industrial houses, with farmers being offered meagre cash compensation. While the price of the land goes up as soon as it is acquired in the name of some company, the farmer—after his cash runs out—will in all likelihood end up as an unskilled labourer. If he chooses to come to the nearest city, there is no guarantee that he will be allowed to stay even in the slums. Under urban renewal missions, the slums are being removed and land offered at throwaway prices to builders. The same land which was considered illegally encroached upon when people used to live in slums there is regularised for constructions. In the name of infrastructure development more highways are being built so that automobile and petroleum companies can profit out of them. Do the benefits percolate down? Maybe not. These roads can't be used by more than the 5 per cent of the population who travel in four-wheelers. Instead of strengthening the public transportation system, the thrust is on increasing private vehicles. Quality education and healthcare services are only available to those who can afford them. The rules of the game favour the rich and privileged and goes against the poor.

What is most threatening about this kind of development is that it is not our governments and people's representatives who are taking decisions regarding our lives. We are being dictated to by the international monetary agencies, multinational corporations and sometimes directly by the US. This implies that we remain a democracy only in name.The parliamentary process of decision-making has been sabotaged by vested economic interests. Most important economic policy decisions are now not even subjected to debate in Parliament and the legislative assemblies. We are merely told that we have to be part of international frameworks like the WTO, because our government signed some treaties overseas. Politics becomes an exercise in management, and international management consultants advise democratically elected governments on the business of governance. Since money plays a significant role in winning elections, our politicians fall easy prey to corporations which are willing to shell out extra rupees to influence political parties.

Fortunately, we can't wish away the people. Especially in India, where the poor comprise large numbers. They are democratically conscious, and will halt or change the direction of harmful economic and development policies because they are the real producers constituting the basic economy. The people of India resoundingly rejected the 'India Shining' slogan in the last general elections. They'll do it again.

Dr Sandeep Pandey
Dr Sandeep Pandey is a leading social activist in India, heading National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002. He can be contacted at: ashaashram@yahoo.com, +91 522 2347365