With due apologies to Charles Dickens, the time has come to tell a ‘Tale of Two Indias’. The opening of The Tale of Two Cities sounds eerily contemporaneous: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”
The rising pitch of the NaMo raga cacophony is further disrupting our fragile social harmony perilously ignoring today’s ground realities. Six years ago, India was promised surplus electricity following the Indo-US nuclear deal. By bulldozing this deal, UPA I jettisoned the outside support of the Left parties, thus liberating UPA 2 to generate the ‘spoils of office’ and not generate a single additional unit of nuclear power. This set in motion a nuclear chain reaction of corruption that is accelerating towards ‘escape velocity’.
The BJP, equally unconcerned about ground realities is euphorically marketing its prime ministerial candidate. In addition to the Rs. 80 crore public relations budget of its candidate, the BJP will reportedly add Rs. 150 crore and Rs. 20 crore on digital media to his personal campaign. KPMG — the global consultancy working on the Vibrant Gujarat project — reportedly declined to share their audit results but the merchandising industry (estimated Rs. 500 crore) around the PM aspirant is growing à la Obama 2008 campaign that fetched around $38 million from the sale of merchandise. Where is all this money coming from? Given such a huge expenditure, the PM aspirant’s call for confiscating illegal foreign bank accounts of Indians sounds hollow.
Reality check: the 2011-13 Global Hunger Index Report released last week shows that a quarter of world’s hungry (210 million out of 842 million) are in India alone; 43.5% of the world’s underweight children (under-5 years) are Indians. The Global Slavery Index that ranked 162 countries, which was released last week, shows that India has the dubious distinction of being home to half the number of modern-day slaves in the world — 13.3 to 14.7 million out of 29.6 million. Modern slavery includes traditional slaves, those in debt bondage, forced labour, forced marriage and children sold as victims of trafficking.
The NaMo raga campaigns, thus, appear surreal to the ‘real’ India. May be out of despair, sections of India Inc are cheering the BJP aspirant as one who will carry forward the agenda of neo-liberal economic reforms aggressively thus permitting profit maximisation. Recollect that it was the BJP-led NDA government under AB Vajpayee that heralded the illusion of ‘Shining India’ and the ‘feel good factor’. Thus, they consolidated the creation of two Indias with a growing hiatus between them.
Such widening inequalities are confirmed by two media items that appeared recently. The first: a global wealth and investment report showed India recorded the second highest increase of high net worth individuals (HNI) — with investable assets of over $1 million — in the world. The HNI population grew by 22.2% in 2012 while their wealth grew by 23.4%. These 1,53,000 HNIs together hold assets worth $589 billion – 0.001275% of our population holding assets between a third-and-a-half of our GDP.
The second: the All India Rural Development Report shows that the proportion of self-employed people in agriculture, ie cultivators, is shrinking even as large numbers shift to non-farm jobs on insecure terms. In the last decade, public investment in agriculture has remained stagnant and the consequent crisis is reflected in growing farmer suicides. The annual numbers rose from over 10,700 cultivators in 1995 to over 17,000 by 2009. Indebtedness and crop failure have been blamed for most of the suicides.
The curse of malnutrition continues to plague rural India. Data on calorie intake shows that from 2,153 calories, consumption has steadily decreased to just 2,020 calories in 2009-10 indicating distress as most people would not be willingly consuming less.
Rural India’s health fared badly with over 28% not accessing treatment as they could not afford to. This proportion goes up to 37% for SCs and 32% for STs. Poor public health infrastructure coupled with large-scale privatisation is making access unaffordable. Despite the National Rural Health Mission, rural healthcare suffers from the lack of qualified personnel at every level and requires greater investment in physical infrastructure too.
Despite high rural enrolment, the proportion of students in the age group attending school fell from 78% at the primary level to just 29% at the higher secondary level in 2009-10. Learning levels were also poor with less than half the students in Class 5 being able to read books of Class 1 and 2. Less than half the students in Class 8 could recognise numbers and do addition and subtraction.
This is the reality of the two Indias. It is this trajectory of enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor that India Inc wants to carry forward aggressively and is hoping that their ‘messiah’ would deliver.
It is this deadly cocktail of the sharpening of communal polarisation (noted in earlier columns) and vigorously pursuing the agenda of neo-liberal economic reforms that is the surest recipe for disaster for the people’s livelihood and for the unity and integrity of our country undermining the secular democratic foundations of our modern Republic.
What India needs in 2014, thus, is not the choice between alternative leaders but what it needs is alternative policies that can marshall our resources for creating a better India. Neta nahin, neeti chahiye.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.
The views expressed by the author are personal.