Development And Deprivation

Of Democracy and Hegemony

Santosh Rana

The Jangalmahal region is no longer in the headlines. Political excitement has subsided; to put it more correctly, the politics of opposition is trampled under foot. Not long ago, the hard soil of this region quaked under the all-pervasive might of the Maoists. One section of them is now in complete disarray owing to police repression and the other has been assimilated into the Trinumul Congress. Practice of regular democratic politics is next to impossible. If the party hooligans do not prove equal to the task, there are the police forces, who can do no wrong as long as 'they are my policemen.' One fresh example is the arrest of three CPI(M-L) workers, namely Niranjan Bera, Jiten Giri and Sunil Barik on charge of sedition, their only offence being to put up posters demanding the release of Chhatradhar Mahato. They were produced at the court more than twnenty four hours after arrest—a clear violation of law. In passing, it may be mentioned that five years ago, these very activists, who tried to practise democratic politics in this region, had to flee this place in the face of Maoist threat. The demand of democracy is dangerous, and unitary hegemony is ensured only in its absence.

Yet this Jangalmahal region, victim of deprivation and neglect for many decades, had begun to taste at least a partial development process, thanks to measures like universal food security and provision of safe drinking water. But the possibilities for the end of deprivation faced a double resistance from the ruling party's policy of unitary hegemony, which brought in its train various kinds of corruption and plunder, and monstrously visible violations of democracy.

It is this picture of progress and retrogression that constitutes the real face of development-deprivation syndrome of the country. I was going through Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen's "Uncertain Glory : India and its Contradictions", while undertaking a journey to and from Jhargram (and coming back) in order to meet my colleagues, who had been arrested in a most undemocratic manner. Every paragraph of this book contains the portrait of that India, which is poor and deprived but contains immense possibilities, which has not only been understood by scholarship, but also has been realized by heart. In 1947, India was confronted with the hard task of wiping out poverty, hunger, illiteracy, poor health care and child mortality. It is not that the challenges have not been tackled at all. The Gross Domestic Product has increased 17 times, the expected average life span has more than doubled and reached 66, the rate of child mortality has been almost halved to drop to as low as 44, and the percentage of female literacy has reached 64, an increase of more than seven times. The system of parliamentary democracy has been protected, and the electorate have set up examples of changing governments through the voting process. Yet the achievements are dismally low, compared with the opportunities that had appeared. Development indices are combinations of some estimates, and there remain outrageous examples of disciminations, huge differences among regions, sexes, castes and religions. The GDP has increased immensely, but the majority of the adivasis and untouch-ables deprived for ages, other lower castes and religious minorities have not been able to benefit from the increase. Every year, India has been providing illustrations of the truth that growth of GDP does not necessarily lead to human development. On the other hand, India's neighbours, e.g. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, have been furnishing examples to show that human capabilities may be enhanced even with a relatively slow rate of growth of the GDP. In terms of human development indices, they have surpassed India, although they had started from a far backward position, and still they lag far behind in terms of the GDP. But indications are there that they will advance in terms of rise of income. Keral, a province of India, as a result of its commitment to arrangements for human development, has not only equalled many countries of the advanced world, but has registered significant growths of income also. Tamilnadu, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura are treading the same path.

In contrast, the all-India picture reveals a competition for backward journeys. In 1990, India was placed second among the poorest 16 countries of the world considering these social parameters (barring the countries lying south of Sahara), and now its position is fifteenth, just one rank above Pakistan. Still India has half of the total number of undernourished children of this world. Yet, as Dreze and Sen have clearly demonstrated, accomplishing the urgent tasks required for attainment of human capability were not, and still are not, impossible. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, by advancing a long way towards the smooth implementation of the universal food security programme, have shown it glaringly. The movements of the lower caste people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have also played an important role in this advancement. These movements have transformed the very face of the democratic politics of these states. Sen and Dreze would have done well to discuss this aspect in some more detail.

It is not possible to bring about social development only through official goodwill. As a matter of fact, creation of this goodwill requires a strong democratic politics, whose components are not only political parties, but also news media, learned society, social organizations etc. One important element of this politics is public debate. Democratic discussions and debates are essential for smashing the wall of discrimination, removal of corruption and expansion of human capabilities, and thus for establishing the basic services not as doles, but as rights. Professor Sen has shown elsewhere (in his 'Development as Freedom') that democracy and development are complementary to each other; they move along hand in hand. West Bengal is possibly the greatest example suggesting that without this complementarity, society will move backwards. The principal reason why the programmes undertaken by the Left Front Government, after moving some distance, began to stumble was the policy of unitary hegemony, of throttling the scope of public debate. One of the reasons why West Bengal has remained a middle-ranking state in terms of human development is that practice of democracy has been choked. Democracy means not only adult franchise. It means informed discussions and debates, as well as freedom of protest. In the Indian State, parliamentary democracy is on one hand expanding—in West Bengal, however, its scope is also contracting—while one section of people has been subjected to most undemocratic atrocities on the other.

The truth of the suggestion made by Dreze and Sen that without an end to the AFSPA in Kashmir and North East (it has been withdrawn in Tripura) and to the terror in adivasi-inhabited villages in Central India in the name of suppression of the Maoists is revealed in Jangalmahal, where dictatorial rule is obliterating the good results of the endeavors that, although small in scales, had potentialities for large changes. Yet some people, although few in number, have been vocal against it. This is a safeguard for democracy. This book has its own limitations. Differences will remain with the authors on many, even basic, issues. Reasoned discussions on them are urgently called for. But the important point is that the call by the authors against deprivation—this call is outside the safe and 'neutral' stream of scholarly cultivation—must be responded to for construction reconstruction of India. ooo

[This is a slightly adapted translation of an article originally published in the Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika, 12.6.2015]

Vol. 47, No. 52, July 5 - 11, 2015