An Uncertain Future
Behind the Making of King
Banhi Baran Ghosh
Never before the General Election in this country
was held with as much pomp and sonority as it was held this year. It cost nearly an amount of Rs 42000 crore. Dispensing with this gargantuan expenditure for maintaining democratic norms and practices in a country afflicted still now with the problems of poverty, inequality, low nutrition, low literacy and low employment as compared to other Asian countries is an arduous task for the country (if at all it is posited as any task!). Democratisation very often has become synonymous and ends with holding election and forming the government and getting riddled with this aspect of democracy.
Never before the General Election in this country being one of the largest democracies in the world had been reduced to as if a contest between one man and the other parties as it was reflected in this General Election.
Though one wave that clearly swept the General Election 2014 in India was the staunch critique of UPA government for its failure to tackle the soaring prices, griming corruption and letting the decision making process to the approval of a particular family and thereby relegating the position of the Prime Minister to almost a titular rank there was another wave that crept in the public sphere in the guise of 'vibrant Gujarat' template originated from a longstanding debate on 'growth versus development'. The man who appeared to have transformed Gujarat as if to a model state following the neoliberal path of development was projected as the required person who would transform the country in the Gujarat line—so was the publicity steered with brilliance, money power and academic excellence that almost created a myth.
There are reasons for such publicity getting fuelled. First of all, though one feels proud of having one of the largest democracies in the world very few people actually understand what should be the most urgent requirement for being democratic. Secondly, most of them get carried away by what media reflects, what the economists, political scientists, social activists make explicit in the discussion on TV channels and write in the popular newspapers. Sometimes there are mentions of statistical facts at which one feels comfortable and sometimes only the reflections come in the form of statements without squaring the real facts and flip sides of the story. No doubt the insertion of 'None of the Above' (NOTA) option in the ballot; is a right thing as the voters feel their democratic right is at peril when they are stymied at casting their votes and very often they justify wrongdoing of any government on the premise that the erstwhile government did the same thing that leaves little option to blame this one. Amidst these outcries as exposed through the media one fails to understand what is going behind the curtain—the real syndrome of inequality, a complete subjugation of the government to the neoliberal-outpouring opening a new horizon of exploitation.
The democratic spirit of the country gets quite often blurred by the absence of free argument based upon public reasoning—one of the main pillars of democracy. These failed to work out properly at the onslaught of tremendous publicity stunt and media-wave on the eve of election fray 2014. So much the UPA rule was picked apart very little was attributed to its achievement. In terms of the rate growth of GDP, rate of decline of poverty and fiscal deficit as percentage of GDP, growth of FDI inflow, capital formation, savings and investment, infrastructural investment as proportion of GDP, the UPA regime outstripped the performance of the economy under the erstwhile NDA rule. Regarding the improvement in social sectors, namely, the public spending in health, education, etc, however, UPA did not register much headway. The biggest failures were in the fields of managing inflation, balance of payments situation, delivery of services and curbing corruption. Whenever an economy begins to settle along the neoliberal path of development setting free the individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by the secure private property rights, unhindered free markets and free trade and pursuing the deregulation, privatisation and withdrawal of state from many areas of social provision, economic doldrums are inevitable. One way to overcome these problems is to discard the neoliberal path or to opt for reforms that would alter the microeconomic foundation of macro-economic environment distorted by the neoliberal wave. Without acknowledging these and evoking the measures to control and monitor the situation through discussion and debate based upon strong reasoning, if the decision making is left to be decided by the one or two persons while the rest is succumbed to attacking the system just for the sake of its complete derailment it questions the nature of the functioning of democracy and this tendency is succumbed very likely to degenerate the foundation of democratic spirit.
The debate over 'growth versus development' has a long tradition and of late it got sparked off in the Indian context particularly since the publication of 'An Uncertain Glory' (Dreze & Sen, 2013). While talking about growth and development the authors did not undervalue the issue of growth but said that 'Growth does raise household income and helps to remove poverty, especially if, health, education and other basic capabilities that enable people to participate in the growth process are widely shared….enhancing overall economic growth is only one of many different concerns that need attention in reversing the deprivations of the vast majority of Indians, and in reducing the astounding inequalities that characterise India today'. While discussing the regional perspectives of inequality in India and progress made by the states in regard to the social sectors there was no mention in the just mentained book about Gujarat, albeit statistics were cited that included Gujarat. In subsequent remarks on rating Gujarat in media Prof Sen didn't undermine its success in achieving higher growth but he pointed out the state's comparative failure in the social sectors. Dreze and Sen cited data on social sectors which mostly covered the period up to 2005-2006.
A critique of this laid stress on the 'dated' nature of data (Deb Roy, 2012) and claimed that having a look at the updated statistics would justify Gujarat's well-being in respect of the social sectors.
The rate of growth of NSDP at current prices (2004-2005 base) is available from the Statistical Appendix of the Economic Survey 2012-2013, Government of India and from Reserve Bank of India from which it is evident that in terms of the percentage growth of NSDP in 2006-07 over 2005-06 the position of Gujarat was the seventeenth after Chhattisgarh, Andaman and Nicober Islands, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Meghalaya, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. In 2009-2010 Gujarat came to the tenth position and in 2011-2012 it came out fourth after Bihar, Goa and Madhya Pradesh.
It was claimed that Gujarat's growth has been the result of its agricultural growth. A glance at the data published by Central Statistical Organisaticn(CSO) of India for the period 2005-06 to 2013-14 regarding the average growth of industry, agriculture and service sectors in GDP of the states reveals that Gujarat experienced an average growth rate of 9.58 of Industry in State Domestic Product (SDP) which was less than Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Bihar, 3.67 growth rate of Agriculture in SDP trailing behind eighteen states and 11.45 growth rate of Service sector in SDP by which it fell behind five states, namely, Uttarakhand, Goa, Puducherry, Andaman& Nicober Islands and Haryana.
The Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011-2012 by the Planning Commission, Government of India provided estimates of poverty for the thirty five States/Union Territories in India based upon the Tendulkar methodology of which Gujarat ranked twenty-one in terms of the lowest percentage of population lying below the poverty-line in rural area and seventeenth in urban area. In terms of Average Monthly Per Capita Expenditure in rural area as per Mixed Recall Period for the year 2011-2012, Gujarat ranked twenty-one and for the urban area its ranking was sixteenth out of thirty five states.
Regarding enrolment in the I-V (6-10 years) classes, and VI-VII (11-13 years) classes Gujarat does not belong to the top ten States/ Union Territories out of thirty five. Right now Gujarat cannot be included in the first fifteen States/Union Territories in terms of literacy and so also the situation in respect of the infant mortality rate.
Gujarat's success is claimed to have been in its sound governance and management of the economy of the state and that is absolutely necessary for delivery of public services and equitable distribution of resources. The claim that in Gujarat's growth story agricultural growth has occupied a pivotal position and flagging agricultural growth has helped the state to reduce poverty is susceptible to scrutiny since the relative position of the state compared to other states in respect of poverty has not been changed significantly over 2009-2010 to 2011-2012. However, in respect of these achievements if the state is projected as role model without squaring its profligacy in other aspects it questions the efficaciousness of democratic practice. This was done on the eve of election fray in India 2014 banking on the emotion and sentiment of the people.
David Harvey (2005) delineated the concept of neoliberalism as 'a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade'. Further he pointed out that 'the role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices' (ibid.). A few academicians in this country have been vociferously involved with this task which resembles that this has become a weapon in their hands ('every tool is a weapon if you hold it right'!).
It was precisely pointed out by Herrera (2006) why any idea outside of the domain of neoliberal capitalism is forbidden. At the national level it becomes essential to hinge on anti-state strategy by: '(1) deforming the structure of capital ownership to the benefit of the private sector, (2) reducing public spending for social purposes, and (3) imposing wage austerity as a key priority in fighting inflation' (ibid.).
Neoliberalism does not signify any mode of production but it opens a new horizon of capitalist accumulation. Globalisation has widened the scope of free flow of capital, technology, goods and people and thereby reduced the sovereign power of nation-states but that does not imply that sovereignty as such has declined. In the words of Hardt and Negri (2000) 'sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire'.
Voluntarily or involuntarily the subjugation to this 'Empire' should not be done without taking cognizance of the info that India is still not ripe for moving along the neoliberal path and leaving all other issues to be settled with the growth of the economy in the absence of government consideration and intervention would pave the way for wreaking havoc to its already vulnerable democracy.
Deb Roy, B (2012), Gujarat's Growth Model: Why is it Sustainable?
Dreze, J & Sen, A. (2013), An Uncertain Glory. Allen Lane, Penguin Books.
Harvey, D (2005). A brief history of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, USA.
Hardt, M & Negri, A. (2000), Empire. Harvard Universty Press, USA.
Herrera, R (2006). The Neoliberal 'Rebirth' of Development Economics.
Vol. 47, No. 1, Jul 13 - 19, 2014