When India gained independence from the colonial rulers one of the cardinal challenges before the nascent nation was poverty. The rampant poverty persuaded Nehru to opt for a welfare economy based much on the principles of socialism, though America had already begun to ride the exhilarating waves of capitalism. At the same time, in 1947, an American professor of philosophy wrote the following lines:
“The tremendous concentration of wealth at one end of the social scale is matched (perhaps overmatched) by a concentration of poverty at the other end. A dazzling prosperity in the urban rich hardly conceals the infamous and degrading lot imposed upon ... social victims. No one can look upon this scene with clear eyes and then suppose that justice is being done.”
The author of these lines was victimised much for his radical views. He was Barrows Dunham and his controversial book was Man Against Myth. In the introduction to the book, Dunham wrote that “truth has been suffered to exist in the world just to the extent that it profited the rulers of society.” Each of the eleven chapters of the book deals with one myth each that the rulers of society have imposed as truths on hapless people.
India now has a new government at the centre. It is a government that came to power promising the citizens “good days”. Soon after assuming office, the Prime Minister started speaking about the necessity of “bitter medicines” for the country’s ailing economy. The steep hike in train fares is only the beginning of Mr Modi’s medical prescriptions for the country. We can expect many, many more such remedial measures. For example, the Reliance Industries will be allowed to double the price of the fuel from their Krishna-Godavari fields.
The stock market hit new record heights when Mr Modi’s government took charge. Because Mr Modi is a well known supporter of the market and its doyens. When he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he took on “large volumes of debt to finance measures that reward select capitalists with tax concessions, cheap credit and substantial infrastructural support.” [Ref: ‘Euphoria and hard reality’ by C P Chandrasekhar, Frontline, June 13, 2014]
The wealth of a handful of Indians quadrupled in the last decade. Quite many of the middle class reaped dividends in the process. Those who grew rich by picking up sufficient crumbs dropped from the elite dining tables sang alleluias for the new economic system. Those who lost their means of livelihood took to crimes, or became Maoists, or found odd jobs that prevented them from dying of starvation.
Fabulous wealth on one side and starving millions on the other. Those who fabricate social myths, to use Professor Dunham’s idiom, earn the profits. The corporate moguls and the political netas sit together in plush chambers re-enacting the final scene in Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The question is whose “development” is the Modi government promoting. The question is whether we can create a nation with general prosperity rather than selective prosperity. The question is whether our new government is creating another Orwellian Animal Farm where “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal.”
[National Book Trust, India brought out a new edition of Barrows Dunham's book in 2007.]