Superpower India

A billion dollar enterprise entertained us for last few weeks. Like a wholesome food, IPL was a wholesome entertainment. Though cricket is the main product on sale there, it is the accessories that make it much more interesting. Sacking of a central minister, tweets, cheerleaders, Zoo-Zoos, MRF blimp, Harbhajan catching Nita Ambani and so on. The only other Indian item to match such a wholesome entertainment was Gunda the greatest movie ever. Though movie was the main package there it was the fan following and activities inspired by Gunda that made it much more entertaining.

When we look at IPL or at the sea-link, we feel proud. Our TV Channels as well as our leaders (who are not very different from cheer leaders except that they are ugly) are busy telling us how these are the signs of our strong economy and growing power. Soon, somewhere around 2020 we will be a superpower. So we are told. I don’t remember when was the last time we met some deadline but let’s be hopeful.I am sure we will be a unique superpower with around 800million people living below Rs 100 per day income. Thats quite a lot I feel. Rs. 100 will be sufficient for that person to buy a mobile top-up and access Internet using 3G (if at all the auction is over by that time).

Here is a story of where India stands today.I have picked it from GovernanceNow magazine. I don’t think I need to elaborate on it but it tells me what kind of superpower we will be around 2020.

Rani Devi Patel, 40, has become a faceless statistical figure in the records of Kunda police station in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. Like 62 others, she was crushed to death in the stampede at the Kripalu Maharaj trust’s ashram at Mangarh village on March 4. She had gone to collect freebies that the trust had promised to distribute on the death anniversary of the Swami wife. But her story is unlike that of the others.At the age of 16, she got married only to be rejected by her husband. She came back to her uncle Bindeshwari in Kusemar village, adjacent to Mangarh. She found another companion who, after a few years of living together, turned her out. Rani was left to fend for herself for over a decade. On March 4, she found, in the distribution of freebies by the trust, an opportunity to lay her hands on something for survival. Freebies included a thali, a gamchha (cotton towel), one laddoo and Rs 10. For a woman living the life of a rejected outcast, that meant a lot.

But she died outside the gate when thousands pressed her frail body against the iron gate of the trust and ran over her. Yet, in her death, the much-despised Rani has become the darling of her two unknown husbands, her brother and an uncle who are all running around to claim the compensation for the deceased. In her death, Rani will fetch around Rs 5.5 lakh to her rightful heir. In a queer twist of irony, now all of them swear by the woman who they spurned forcing her to live the life of a destitute. The compensation has not been disbursed because of the dispute among the various claimants.
Even more poignant is the death of Kavita Yadav, an 18-year-old girl of the same village. She was very young when her mother was killed by her father Kamlesh, who was subsequently sentenced by the court. She was brought up by her maternal uncle Rajaram. On March 4, she skipped her school to collect the freebies. However, her body was brought home by Rajaram who performed the last rites. But as compensation for the deceased was announced, her father Kamlesh resurfaced to claim his right over Rs 5.5 lakh. [Source]

Such desperate poverty can only be seen the countries where governance does not exist or the ruler is a dictator. For a country like India, which has enough natural resources and potential of all kinds, it really takes enormous efforts to keep people so desperately poor. Thankfully the Nehru Gandhi family have spent over half a century in ensuring that they make it happen. The sacrifices that this family has made to keep the nation so desperately poor is beyond any verbal description.

No point the chest beating in the family’s name. People got what they deserved. If the people themselves were not ready to subject themselves to this desperation there was not way for the family to force poverty on them. But people preferred “Atit ke Niv Par Bhavshya ki ummid” and “to keep communal forces at bay” and “victory to secularism” and so on.

Poor Arent Lifeless Bricks

India is a poor country. As per world bank reports there are about 450 million people living below world poverty line. (less than $1.25 or Rs 62.5 per day). Over all the World Human Development Index HDI report keeps India in the company of Sub saharan countries. We are with countries like Solomon Islands, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. But shut your eyes wide to this. Say that we have half million people working in IT industry and soon we will be a superpower.

What does it REALLY mean to be poor? I personally have not faced extreme poverty. India’s poverty can be best expressed through following facts, unless one questions World Bank and other organization’s integrity.

1.Over 200 million, or about one-fifth of India’s population, is chronically hungry.

2. 2.5 million children in India die every year before reaching the age of five. (Gujarat Riot Victims: 2000, Tsunami Victims: 7000)

3. Literacy Rates in India today are 66% for Adult and 88% for youth while the same figures for China are 91 and 96%.The difference between male and female literacy rates is 21%

Unemployment, Healthcare, Public Transportation, Urban Waste management, Education are few more areas where I can cite that few million people are not getting even the basic structure that every human must deserve.

If we compare china with India. Take 1978 as the base year where India and China were at par. Even a century ago when United States was Emerging as a superpower, Argentina was just at par with it. Today we know the difference between US and Argentina. India’s comparison with China has been exactly the same. When in 1978 India and China were at par, today China has overtaken India by a margin too large. In fact China has beaten India squarely.

But India is democracy. Things happen at a slow rate here. I think this is the worst excuse one can give. There is no logical relation between democracy and being slow. Even Japan, England , US are fairly democratic. Democracy being slow is acceptable logically only if we use “democracy in India is corrupt” as a intermediate premise. But whatever it may be, any system that allows 2.5 children to die every year when they could have been saved is essentially useless.

We must note that all the governments right from 1947 were self professed pro-poor governments. They implements what they called pro-poor policies. Their every speech promised elimination of poverty. Despite that nothing has happened. The reduction in poverty over years has happened largely due to luck and global development. Its not a change brought by systematic planning and policies.

The roots of India’s failure in eliminating poverty (or any other failure) lie in its faulty policies. Refer to any article on India’s poverty today. In the cause one cause is never missed. That is the license Quota Raj. Despite this the Indian government was just not ready to do it. They finally had to do it in 1991. It was done because the only choice left was to go bankrupt. People responsible for this dark period not just went unpunished but were even glorified. The same license quota raj is also one primary reason of increasing corruption in India.

One decision to give up the license regime and open the markets made significant difference to India’s economy. But this was neither predicted nor wished by Indian policymakers. China did. They opened their economy in early 80s and India lost 10 important years.

As this article argues these faulty policies look at poor as a lifeless bricks. Bricks that are used to line up and build the ladder that helps to attain power. The pro-poor policies are not actually targeted at “eliminating” poverty but they actually “sustain” poverty. The best example is of NREGS explained beautifully by Atanu Dey. I think its the ignorance of masses (which is again a result of intellectual poverty attributed to our poor education system) and even the media hero that consider such schemes as pro-poor.

Let me quote from the livemint article

One of the authors of this study, Narayan, even told The Times of India in an interview: “People want a free-market economy. But they need the skills to connect with it. The government machinery needs to treat the poor with dignity and respect. This is something that they value a lot. The people also desired free and fair elections and honest leaders as it helps in empowering them.”

The true way to eliminate poverty is by viewing these people not as helpless ones but as able people. Provide them with opportunity and not outcome. Dont provide the employment but just provide them with opportunity to employment. If you dont allow to setup industries, if you dont allow private companies to setup schools you end up having an employment guaranty scheme which produces ZERO output. It help the poor to sustain for another day but doesn’t help him a day after.

If the government has stressed enough on education, urban planning, industrialization and wealth generation instead of slogan against poverty. Today India would have been a far better country. Even today we fail to recognize our mistakes.

The only reason why we hope India is developing is because of handful of industries like IT. (But India’s computer infrastructure is very weak and underdeveloped compared to that of china. ) These industries have comes into existence only due to free market policies. The planning comission had never visualised IT as an industry and outsourcing as a component adding to GDP. Still today IT has grown. In fact every aspect that the government has ignored has grown. Just compare Cricket (not controlled by government) and Hockey (Controlled by Government).

I think it is time for government to think of poor people not as lifeless bricks that deserve compassion and support but as able individuals who need freedom from cliches. Given them freedom to write their own destiny. Give them freedom to choose their own future. They are very much capable of doing well, but only if government doesnt interfere.

My Related Posts

1. India’s Growth Story

2. My thoughts on Recession

3. Atlas Shrugged

4. India’s Middle class failure