Is this vision of a new gilded age?

It’s now clear that in the process of promoting urban-centric industrial growth, the govt has gobbled up sizeable chunks of public land, water etc from the already resource deprived rural poor

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Mrinal Pande

On July 29, while laying the foundation of India’s first Mobile Open Exchange (MOX) and launching 81 projects worth ₹600 billion, the Prime Minister said he and his party were not afraid of being seen with industrialists. During the four years of the NDA’s rule led by him, the industrialists had actually made a great contribution in the further development of his vision for a smart modern India. He added that like him, perhaps the greatest of Indian leaders with pure intentions, Mahatma Gandhi, had also been associated closely with industrialists like GD Birla, and even stayed in the Birla House when in Delhi.

India today, according to senior correspondent James Crabtree, is a country polarised by sharp divisions, especially visible in the Maximum City of Mumbai. Here many of India’s super rich and captains of industry live in grand homes like Ambani’s fabled residential skyscraper Antilia where he regularly entertains India’s richest. But right next to this house of glamourous extravagance, live the city’s poor in abject poverty, in shanties with corrugated sheets and tarpaulins for roofs. The number of India’s super rich in the last four years has certainly multiplied. By now, it is over a hundred and together in 2017, India’s super rich had amassed assets worth $479 billion.

During state visits and around election time, the world hears a lot about them and their contribution to India’s growth story. However, as in all tales, there is another side to the Shining India story, less frequently told.

Merely by showing the head of the holy UIDAI as a vulnerable man with his personal details, a salutary and liberating process of demystification of power has been set in motion. Watch this space

Even in the tightly controlled media in India today, and routinely in the digital media, one learns the damage done by major economic disruptions, the continuous degradation of our liberal, democratic and socio-cultural values and the irreversible environmental destruction across India causing perennial water shortages and health hazards.

Promises of new jobs, wealth, strength and empowerment of women have won the NDA many crucial Assembly elections in the last four years. What has now begun to show inescapably is that in the process of promoting urban centric industrial growth, the State has gobbled up sizeable chunks of public land, forests and ground water from the already resource deprived rural poor. This has created major human development disparities.

India currently ranks 131 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index because its most populous states (UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh,MP and Odisha) mirror the growth rates of wartorn Haiti and Afghanistan.

India today resembles Iran under Muhammad Raza Shah Pahlevi. The Shah was a grim autocrat who came in promising a thoroughly modernised Iran with worldclass universities, factories and systems of governance to his people. He did create an ocean of wealth by selling Iran’s oil, but the centralisation of decision making in his hands meant his government, with the help of its secret service Savak, locked up or drove out all brilliant dissenters, censored the press, embedded universities with yes men, and controlled domestic offices and factories through his corrupt, cruel and trusted plutocracy, while most of Iran regressed to medieval thinking

This led to a disastrous revolution that threw the Shah out but also convulsed the nation and replaced the Shah with an Ayatollah Khomeini.

The leader of the free world, the USA, has already opted out of the global fight against environmental degradation, and is busy redrawing boundary lines, laying embargoes and chasing away refugees. Almost on cue, our leadership stands tall with the Bombay Club, presidents of multinationals and heads of Google, Facebook and Apple, delivering dazzling sermons about India’s ancient Hindu wisdom at various fora, from Davos to the UN Headquarters in New York, from Paris to Madrid, from Moscow to Beijing.

Development, it is clear by now, is a treacherous river with hidden eddies and currents. While the large boat of the Indian State seems to be moving gently forward, hard data reveals its prowess is actually buried on a sandbar. The electricity poles may be up, mining leases in place, and roads being built in record time, but vital supply of water and electricity remains unpredictable. As for rapid construction activity, with the help of foreign machinery and machines purchased abroad, work is going on, but come an Assembly election and a half-built highway is inaugurated speedily with great fanfare, which as soon as the monsoons come, goes under water.

In the ecologically fragile hilly regions, furious building activity is leading to landslides and collapsing roads killing hundreds. While the fabled bullet train is yet to materialise, most commuter trains are running late and their toilets, though re-done, still keep the mugs on a chain.

Wise analysts feel that sensing a negativity in the mood of the rich, the Prime Minister may be manoeuvring his stance shrewdly towards the Corporate Czars, shifting the battle lines somewhat. But the present regime was voted in after it convinced the voters that the UPA and its privileged movers and shakers were anglophile aliens, not one of us.

To this end, a category of the true family headed by the ascetic son of a humble tea seller who spoke in vernaculars, was created. The speeches that began with Bhaion aur Behnon (brothers and sisters) said these alien ones wished to destroy our culture and siphon off our national resources into Swiss bank accounts. “When we bring it back, each of you shall be richer by a million and a half rupees!” Only someone devoid of reason would oppose so much love and concern. They won the elections by huge margins.

Fear, that predatory animal within, fed for four long years by dismal gossip and fake news about the dangers of family rule, huge growth in the numbers of minority groups, and the subsequent erosion of Indian culture.

The mood among the young at least is beginning to shift. And look closely at the lives of the ruling dispensation instead. Digitisation has contributed hugely to the collapse of carefully crafted public images. Merely by showing the head of the holy UIDAI as a vulnerable man with his personal details, a salutary and liberating process of demystification of power has been set in motion. Watch this space.

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