By K Raveendran
Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Davos World Economic Forum to sell his great India story to the world. But even before he could make a pitch, he lost his cause. Damning conclusions in two separate reports about the performance of his government put him in the spot and placed a discount on whatever he was about to claim. And even his promise to replace red tape with red carpet sounded just as hollow as most of his other fancied slogans. Davos sent him back, reminding him that it believed his story was a sham.
The numbers were really sticking out and they hurt deeply. An Oxfarm annual survey said that the richest 1 percent Indians cornered 73 percent of the wealth generated in the country and some 67 crore Indians, comprising the country’s poorest people, saw their wealth rise by just 1 percent. Worse still, over 30 percent of all Indians survived on a daily income of less than 2 dollars. In a book titled ‘India Income Inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj’, two French economists noted that inequality in India may be at its highest level since 1922, with the top 1 per cent of earners making 22 per cent of all income — a ratio that has increased rapidly over the last three decades.
Establishment economists and analysts have raised doubts about these numbers and assumptions. That’s fine; they are only doing what they are being paid for. But the truth is that India’s economic inequality is too obvious to demand any numbers. If it is 50:50, or 40:60 or even 30:70 you need numbers to prove the assumptions. If it is 1:6, which is supposed to be the prevailing income disparity level, the argument simply stands and there is no rocket science involved. A detached view of the countryside: the level of poverty, squalor, the wretched life that we see juxtaposed with the height of luxury all present a filthy picture no one can miss.
No doubt, India has progressed a lot, just as the whole world has. It is a momentum provided by time and space and as such natural. And that process will continue irrespective of the policies of the government of the day. So we have seen an improvement in the living conditions of people all over India. But we have not seen the kind of transformation that has happened in certain other parts of the world, like Korea, China and even Vietnam. That is where the Indian state and the government have failed the people. Modi came to power promising such as a transformation. But, into the fourth year, he has miserably failed. Most of his programmes have remained as empty slogans. Slogans do have the power to move the masses, from Obama’s ‘yes, we can’, to Indira Gandhi’s ‘garibi hathao’ to Modi’s own ‘sab ke saath, sab ka vikas’. But slogans cannot carry the day for ever. Obama ended up doing pretty little, Indira Gandhi’s garibi hathao in effect became ‘garib hathao’, and Modi’s ‘vikas’ manifests into anything but progress.
As we ruminate over the celebration of India’s 69th Republic Day, which we did in style with an unprecedented 10 heads of state and governments in attendance, we find it is a totally muddled picture that emerges. Undesirable tendencies are raising their ugly head all around, shaking the very foundations of the nation. There is clamour over the Constitution and the need to fight efforts to undermine its integrity and character, which obscurantist elements are out openly to do. The Constitution needs to be defended at all costs. But we also have to dispassionately examine whether the Constitution has really lived up to the ideals that its framers had envisaged. The makers of the Constitution had presupposed a certain value system and moral standards, but these are completely out of sync with the age of decadence and moral turpitude that we are living in. The statute needs to be re-armed to deal with the new situation; otherwise it will continue to fail the nation.
We have seen the unthinkable happening with some of our revered institutions. The judiciary, which we thought was above all these dangerous portends, is facing a collapse from within, with a section of the judges themselves coming out in the open, saying that the integrity of the institution is under a cloud. We were told not to do or say anything that would apparently influence the mind of men sitting in judgment so that they would not err in their conclusions. Even yawning in the court was supposed to constitute contempt of the court as it showed irreverence. It is from there that we have reached a situation where the chief justice of the highest court is facing the prospects of impeachment for allegedly conducting the affairs of the court in ‘less than desirable’ ways. Judges have staged an open mutiny against the court establishment saying that their conscience does not allow them to keep quiet. What more can happen to such a hallowed institution, one of the most important pillars of democracy?
When things come to such a pass, we cannot just turn our heads the other way and pretend that nothing has happened. There is a systemic malaise, which can be removed only through a major surgery. It may be painful, but it is unavoidable.
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