In the midst ofManipur burning, a grand Parliament building was inaugurated. For the Prime Minister and his government it’s a great development for the country and perhaps the half educated people believed this. But the question arises is this true development? As more than seven-and-a-half decades have passed since we attained independence, it is time to re-analyse what do we really mean by development and welfare? Can we not question the ruling dispensation about their vision of inclusive development, which they do not follow but claim at various public meetings?
Over the decades, we have followed policies claiming to help the people and develop the nation. But social and economic exploitation has continued unabated, specially in the last two decades, and the masses have not benefited from policies, which have rightly been described as anti-poor. This is manifest from the fact that the disparity in incomes has widened with the richer sections controlling over70percent of wealth and resources. This obviously was not the state of affairs that the leaders of the independence movement envisaged.
Coming to Manipur, where the recent violence has taken around 50 and displaced around 45,000 people, the majority Meitei community is concentrated in the densely populated valley that accounts for just 10 percent of Manipur area while various tribal communities, including the Kukis and Nagas live in the hills that make up the rest of the population. As is normally the case, the lack of balanced development, largely skewed in favour of the valley has been at the forefront of peoples’ grievances as the tribes have been economically deprived and exploited over the years.
As universities, medical and engineering colleges and tertiary hospitals came up in the valley, a sense of deprivation grew among the tribal communities. Moreover, of the 60 Assembly seats, 40 were in the valley and just 20 in the hills, leaving the tribals feeling politically marginalised. Thus, it can safely be concluded that the root of the problem lies in unequal distribution of resources. Was it not necessary to develop the area equitably so that all sections get the benefits of development?
This is not the case of just Manipur but many other states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Odisha to name only a few. In Uttarakhand, it is slightly different. Thousands of poor people have been rendered homeless due to subsidence, attributed by experts to wanton construction activities in the Himalayan terrain.
It is not important whether these homeless people get shelter, but the priority is to enable people to visit the so-called holy sites comfortably as religion is more important than livelihood. This is typically a pro-rich phenomenon as for the well-off sections, poverty, hunger and livelihood are unknown to them.
Delving back, one may refer to the miraculous growth of the steel city, Jamshedpur, but few have ventured to go into reports of how land was acquired and whether these people benefitted, in any way, from this Tata empire. It may be recalled that since at that time there was no rehabilitation policy, land was acquired from the tribals at very low prices, and they were left to fend for themselves. No rehabilitation was provided and most of these tribals squandered the money as they did not know how to wean out an alternate means of livelihood. In fact, most of the tribal families perished in distress. Can this be called development?
It is indeed surprising that at frequent intervals the GDP growth parameters are discussed and compared but the question very crucial at this juncture is whether such growth reflects the true nature of development. Economists tend to judge the country’s development through GDP growth, which is erroneous. This is amply demonstrated by the Oxfam report. ‘Inequality Kills’ released in January last year where it showed that 10 percent of the population cornering 77 percent of the total national wealth.
The deprived and the vulnerable with poor healthcare and low-quality education have continued to live on the margins of the economy. They mostly belong to tribals, OBCs and Dalits, spread across in states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Even with new investments, the prospects of new jobs, specially those that require low skills and minimum education, where these people are mostly engaged are rapidly vanishing. As is well known, technology has increased the labour productivity almost ten-fold. Earlier a 4 percent growth would result in a 2 percent increase in employment. Now with around 8 percent growth, there is just 0.5 percent rise in employment. Local politicians take advantage of the present state of affairs and use the youth for anti-social activities.
The present type of growth has created massive degrees of inequality in wealth and income distribution during the past four decades or so with the lower castes at the receiving end. The jobless growth accentuated inequality and the rising inequality has shaped such a pattern of growth that enriches the small consuming class. Despite tall talks of the leaders, economic reforms have failed to transform the lives of the majority of Indians.
The paradox of development has really been a dilemma before economists and social scientists, but the ruling dispensation feels that they can ignore the sentiments of the impoverished and backward sections of society through centralised, bureaucratic machinery. It would not be wrong to say that before the present government, economic exploitation was not rampant but now there is another form of suppression through social exploitation.
Development must have a different connotation for a populous country like India and comparisons with Western nations do not have any meaning. Development has to be such that it reaches the bottom tiers of society and there is upgradation in their living standards through higher incomes. The frequent focus on GDP and claims of higher growth is somewhat erroneous as such growth reveals that of the nation as a whole, which is cornered by the rich and the upper middle-income sections. The index of development should show the income increase of the majority population who still struggle for existence.
As I have reiterated a number of times, the development strategy has to be so framed that it has to be rooted in the welfare of the impoverished and the marginalised. Mahatma Gandhi had talked of development from below and rejuvenation of villages and making them self-sufficient and agents of change. Are the political leaders of the present dispensation willing to adopt such an approach instead of making tall claims about the country and the economy?