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Well, India is still not shining for most Indians

Well, India is still not shining for most Indians

INDIA Shining” the slogan that lost the governing BJP party the election two and a half years ago, still has the ring of truth. The slogan may have backfired, igniting a backlash among India’s legions of poor who turned out at the polls in high numbers and put Congress back into power, but the fact is the Indian economy is shining, or as the Hindustan Times puts it on a billboard, “India rocks”. There can be little doubt that with its 8.5 per cent growth rate the country is on its way up.

Yet there is plenty of room for a critique of this capitalist growth that has replaced the Fabian socialism of India’s first post independence prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi. And no one makes it stronger that the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the man who, as finance minister, in the early 1990s, with his policies of deregulation and lower taxation, set this enormous tiger out to run.

Those who’ve known Singh for a long time know that his heart has always beat on the left. (The penalty for being a long time friend is that while I can talk to him at length on any subject I must not quote him.) He may look tired these days but his old concerns about the injustice of the free market system are very much a constant preoccupation.

Market forces are all very necessary, he argues, but it is very hard for a government to counteract their bad side. The state has constantly to be vigilant on the side of the poor, but its success in this regard cannot be guaranteed. Yes, India is shining and rising. Because its growth is built on surer democratic and legal foundations it is likely before long to overtake China’s. As one western banker told me: “Thus far China grew fast because it had no law. But henceforth India will grow faster because it has law.” Democracy gives India the tool to absorb the stresses and strains of forward momentum.

Jharkhand is one of the poorest states of India and has become a test for the ability of this democracy to serve the poor. Rich in minerals it remains grossly underdeveloped. The jungles of its many mountains are home to 7 million indigenous who speak their tribal languages, worship the sun not Hindu gods, are rarely schooled and who live in dire poverty.

Three generations ago these hunters and gatherers were forcibly settled, but agriculture was foreign to them. It is not surprising that these people have produced Maoists guerrillas who have initiated a campaign of murdering middlemen and those government officials they suspect pocket development money allocated to their bailiwicks.

A local Congress MP, Ms Rebelo Merbelo, told me that the main problem is severe unemployment. “And the money allocated to change the situation simply runs away. We have a poor, unstable, state government here and although the central government wants to help it can’t just hand over more money that won’t be used well”.

Meanwhile, as the chief minister, Madhu Koda bluntly told me, “The situation with the Maoist extremists worsens. We have to look 100 years ahead. If we don’t do it right today there will be terrible problems in the future.” I met the chief minister on his 36th birthday and was introduced to other well-wishers, including an educated tribal, Dr Prakash Oraon, who runs the Jharlkland Tribal Development Society.

Well funded by both the central government and the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, and backed by the chief minister, he has put together a fired-up group of young agricultural and community experts, all tribals themselves, who go into 300 of the villages and get development going.

We went together into some of the remoter villages. The transformation wrought by a couple of years of tenacious work was visible. In one village a new deep well replaced the old shallow inadequate one. A large pond had been dug to catch rainwater and provide for aquaculture. There was irrigation from the pond to fields planted with grains, quick growing rice and potatoes.

There was watershed management to stop the erosion off the steep slopes. The people still looked appallingly slight and young for adults — barely anyone here survives beyond middle age—but there is a light shining in their eyes when they talk about the transformation of their village economy.

The guerrillas, I’m told, don’t impede the project’s work. Like the local elephants they wander in and out at will, but unlike the elephants, not trampling good initiatives underfoot.
The political trick now for both Manmohan Singh and Madhu Koda is to find a way to quickly extend this work and undercut the Maoists’ appeal.


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posted by Bimal 15.1.07,


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