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Development of a Few, Misery for the Masses

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

After 70 years of independence, India continues to languish at the bottom of the comity of nations on every parameter that constitutes real development. The widening economic disparities and relentless violence against Dalits, Adivasis and minorities demonstrate that B R Ambedkar’s dream of social and economic equality accompanying political equality remains elusive.

[I]t is not survival but the quality, the plane of survival that is important.

—B R Ambedkar (1979)

In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Gorakhpur that killed 71 children due to insufficient oxygen in the Baba Raghav Das hospital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly unfurled the tricolour on India’s 71st Independence Day and delivered a self-congratulatory speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Notwithstanding his characteristic half-truths and pure lies hurled at 125 crore fellow citizens with an élan of a Bollywood hero, it was portentous that after 70 years of so-called freedom Indians have to meekly endure such deception about development—a euphemism for gratification of the rich at the cost of a vast majo­rity of poor. Development without swaraj, for which the people had battled against the British and laid down their lives, was meaningless. Swaraj meant freedom, self-rule that subsumed access to education, healthcare, livelihood security, and democratic and cultural rights. Seventy years of systematic deprivation of all of the above, cloaked under pretensions of development is no less than roguery of the ruling classes.

Fragility of Freedom

The ultranationalists at the helm, who claim millions of years of antiquity to Indian nationhood, may not care for the fact that India itself was a gift of British rule. The idea of a nation shaped up during the freedom struggle in which none of these worthies or their forefathers took part. This incipient nationalism itself was facilitated due to the political and administrative unification of the Indian subcontinent made possible and sustainable by modern means of communication and transportation under British rule. These changes effectively destroyed the static balance of socio-economic life in village communities in India, setting into motion a process of nation-building. This process, as our founding fathers warned, was to be carried on by independent India through policies that promoted “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” It is paradoxical that those who make such claims have effectively terminated this process before their political agenda to make this country a Hindu rashtra.

As a matter of fact, there is little in Indian history to speak of the capacity of the ruling elites in India. Their conduct has always been characterised by extreme self-centredness and myopic self-interest. Cheating people has been their class/caste character. And thus, many people were sceptical about their capacity to manage India after a transfer of power. Winston Churchill, a rank colonialist but not an India hater as he is often described, had perceptibly commented about them during the debate on the Indian Independence Bill in British Parliament in 1947,

If Independence is granted to India, power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.

There is a controversy whether Churchill had ever said these words, but whosoever did has aptly described what happened during the last 70 years of Indian independence.

The second is from our own C Raja­gopalachari, who is counted among the founding fathers. He said:

We all ought to know that Swaraj will not at once or, I think, even for a long time to come, be better government or greater happiness for the people. Elections and their corruptions, injustice, and the power and tyranny of wealth, and inefficiency of administration, will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration … Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of god, and love, will be developed among the citizens from childhood. It is only if we succeed in this that Swaraj will mean happiness. Otherwise it will mean the grinding injustices and tyranny of wealth.

Even M K Gandhi, the progenitor of the idea, was himself worried that swaraj had the danger of turning into a mobocracy.

Nothing Changed

Independence came ill-omened, and bloodied with partition. The Congress party, despite its transformation into a mass movement by the master strategist Gandhi, had remained representative of the bourgeoisie at its core. Mouthing pro-people socialist slogans, it systematically structured the state and drove policies that furthered the interests of capital. Even before the formal transfer of power, these intrigues began playing out. The constitution of the Constituent Assembly with members indirectly elected by the provincial assemblies in March 1946 and based on barely 28% franchise was symbolic of the concurrent duplicitous regime that would come into being. The Constitution which incorporated the Government of India Act, 1935, ensured that there shall be essential continuity from the previous colonial regime. The same institutional structure of governance, the same laws, the same palaces, the same processes and the same draconian police albeit with native elites replacing the white rulers, and thereby, Western liberal ethos with Brahminic cunning, ensured the sameness of the oppressive regime, intensified with their characteristic sly.

Post-1947, the five-year plans emulating the Soviet system and thereby, reinforcing the socialist rhetoric of the new regime was actually stuffed with content from the Bombay Plan which was the vision of the Indian big bourgeoisie. It was publicly rejected, but surreptitiously adopted. Land reforms, too, were implemented ostensibly to meet the aspirations of millions of landless but calibrated to create a class of rich farmers from among the populous Shudra castes as an ally of the Congress in rural India. The green revolution, the capitalist strategy for agricultural development, was implemented in the name of quenching mass hunger. Its huge gains fed this class to replace the erstwhile upper-caste landlords, who turned into petty businessmen and later became politicians with their regional parties. While this rural rich from among the middle castes got hitched to the dwija caste–band through capitalist ties, the Dalits were denuded of their traditional jajmani relations and were reduced to farm labourers in contradiction with rich farmers. This class contradiction would precipitate through familiar fault lines of caste into a new genre of atrocities. Kilvenmeni to Khairlanji to Kharda to Una are the direct by-products of independent India. As political competition, as well as crises of living intensified, the state began showing off its draconian fangs to repress people. If that was not enough, it brought a social Darwinist ideology of neo-liberalism and began pushing people off the margins. The new regime wearing a republican mask did everything with impunity, even that which the colonial regime would not dare to do.

Quality of Survival

Contrary to doomsayers’ prophesies and B R Ambedkar’s stern warning on 26 November 1949 (that if the political democracy created by the Constitution was not supplemented at the soonest by social and economic democracy, the victims of this deficiency would raze the edifice of political democracy), Indian democracy has neither perished nor flourished but limped along for the past 70 years. Should we be elated at this survival? Given Ambedkar’s above forewarning, we should not. The Indian elite and middle classes are euphoric about India’s purported economic growth rates and “development” of India, not caring to know if it comes at the cost of the misery of millions of poor. While the present ruling dispensation as part of its ideological project wants to regain its imagined leadership of the world with missiles and bullet trains, it cuts outlays on basic healthcare and education meant for the people. India continues to languish at the bottom of the comity of nations on every parameter that constitutes real development. India holds the dubious distinction of having the largest population that defecates in the open and lives in slums, the largest number of malnourished children and anaemic mothers, the largest number of children out of school and illiterate adults, the list could go on.

In education, India ranks 92 which is far behind the ranks of other developing countries such as the Philippines (76), Malaysia (51), Sri Lanka (59) and many more (India Today 2015). Her achievement on a range of health indicators ranks her at 143 in a list of 188 countries, far behind Sri Lanka (79), China (92), even war-torn Syria (117) and Iraq (128) (Mascarenhas 2016). The country that boasts of being the sixth largest economy in nominal terms and third largest in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, ranks fourth in the list of countries with the largest number of dollar billionaires and as the fastest-growing economy, ranks below much poorer nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and even Liberia when it comes to healthcare for its masses. New research by the medical journal Lancet, on the basis of data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015, ranked India at 154 out of 195 countries in terms of access to healthcare (Chakravarty 2017). Modi may daydream of India being a superpower, but she is nowhere near the top 10 countries when it comes to economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, and social capital. According to the Legatum Prosperity Index 2015, India ranks 99 among 142 countries that have been assessed in these sectors (India Today 2015).

And we are not even speaking of the Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, who together constitute nearly half of India’s population, but live in unspeakable misery and destitution. On the eve of Modi’s address to the nation, Bezwada Wilson, who spearheads the Safai Karamchari Andolan, reported that 27 persons involved in manual scavenging died in sewer lines and septic tanks, nine in Delhi alone, over the previous one month.

References

Ambedkar, B R (1979): “Mr Russell and the Reconstruction of Society,” BAWS, Vol 1, pp 511–20.

Chakravarty, Manas (2017): “India’s Dismal Record in Healthcare,” Live Mint, 25 May, http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/YrcGbLpfbqrWH55xAzehUM/Why-India-ranks-below-Liberia-in-global-healthcare-rankings.html.

India Today (2015): “India Ranks 92 in Education among 145 Countries, Shows Legatum Prosperity Index: All You Need to Know,” 3 November, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/education-ranks/1/514765.html.

Mascarenhas, Anuradha (2016): “On New Helath Index, India Ranks 143/188,” Indian Express, 22 September, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/on-new-health-index-india-ranks-143188-unga-sustainable-development-goals-global-analysis-3043225/.

Updated On : 13th Sep, 2017

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