It was enlightening to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while assuming the G20 presidency, that: “Though all of history, humanity lived in scarcity. We fought for limited resources because our survival depended on denying them to others. Confrontation and competition – between ideas, ideologies and identities – became the norm”. He went on to assert: “Unfortunately, we remain trapped in the zero-sum mindset even today. We see it when countries fight over territory and resources”.
Further the Prime Minister pointed out: “today we have the means to produce enough to meet the basic needs of all people of the world”, and there is no need to fight for survival. This observation may seem theoretically correct, but in reality it is not quite justified as the basic needs of the Third World countries are not being met and hunger and starvation deaths are quite rampant. People definitely have to fight for survival as even in India, there is rampant poverty and squalor along with under nutrition and even hunger. Various reports by international agencies easily establish this fact as also the grim scenario of over-exploitation of natural resources by most, if not all, countries of the world.
One is inclined to point out here that Mahatma Gandhi as an egalitarian propounded the ‘basic needs’ approach of development, in which he clearly stated that development should ensure reasonable food and a minimum standard of living for the poorest of the poor. Unfortunately, economic liberalisation has expanded India’s middle class but failed to uplift the poor and the economically weaker sections as the Gandhian model of self-reliance, grass-root development and rural-oriented approach has not been followed.
Modi’s euphoria, as of previous governments, does not match the developments in the country as the NDA government is seen as decidedly pro-rich and, while there are encouraging speeches, there is not much the government has shown on the ground to improve the lot of the poor. The reduced allocation of resources for the rural sector, even in the present Union Budget, is testimony to this. It is disheartening that the government remains oblivious to the ever-widening disparity between the rich and the poorer section, between the urban and rural sectors and between the organised and unorganised sector workers.
Another point highlighted by the Prime Minister was that “some may argue that confrontation and greed are just human nature” but he refuted this proposition. To back his view, he pointed to the spiritual traditions pursued by human beings as evidence of the higher instincts that lie embedded in human beings. While many Indian political leaders have focussed on the path of diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation instead of taking recourse to violence and war to resolve inter-state disputes, Modi sought to provide a theoretical underpinning to his view on the causes of wars between states and that past reasons for war are no longer applicable due to technological advances.
This is indeed a laudable observation, but on the other hand his government has not denounced the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Obviously, the economic factor may have stood in the way of India taking a bold stand. It needs to be mentioned here that apart from the economic factor, ancient prejudices and the desire to correct historical wrongs are also reasons for hostility. Social notions of superiority despite the political acceptance of equality cannot be wished away. These too, lead to conflict within states and between states. And in India, this is very much evident as the present establishment is in the process of re-writing history and correcting the so-called wrongs of the Mughals.
The resultant violence among communities, specially Hindus and Muslims, has affected our social fibre and life and has impeded the process of development. Caste had always been a crucial factor for political parties to garner votes and now the present dispensation is exploiting religion for political gains. This does not augur well for a developing country like India with professed secular ideals. Thus, the present strategy of the BJP-RSS is highly detrimental to grass-root development and the poorer sections are mostly affected.
It needs to be mentioned here that the voice of all sections is not heeded in grass-root institutions such as the gram sabha. The majority, who mostly constitute members from the higher caste, try to suppress these communities and their genuine demands are mostly neglected. The bogey of ultra nationalism and other ideological vice have no meaning for the socially and economically backward sections.
In such a scenario though our politicians always talk of the country’s achievements, there is little that is being done for the impoverished and marginalised communities. One may refer to a book recently released by Prof. Ranabir Samaddar which pointed out that the existing networks of solidarity based on family, religious community, kinship and workplace ties weakened, the interventions of the State weakened with the increasing “financialisation of the economy in the wake of globalisation”. Thus, the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown to unthinkable proportions and will continue to do so in the coming years with government policies remaining unchanged.
However, one cannot deny that the middle class has benefitted from various government measures but those at the bottom, specially residing in the backward areas of the country, have to struggle for their existence. Not to speak of the rich and the powerful, who have gained immensely during Modi’s tenure and the example of Gautam Adani and recent controversy bears testimony of how such corporates got undue favours for their closeness to the powers that be.
Another important development of recent years is rampant corruption across the country and all those who are involved are directly or indirectly linked to political bigwigs. Economists have attributed these developments to the growth of crony capitalism and following western models of materialism in trying to develop the country without thinking of the grassroots.
The value system in society is lost and the young generation has an uncertain future. The lack of jobs, the deteriorating social atmosphere and the corruption in society along with promotion of Hindu nationalism have further pushed them to a precarious situation. The huge population of the country poses a challenge to development, but a serious concern of how to bring the poor into the mainstream of life and activity, which is connected, goes largely unanswered. Much more needs to be done.—INFA