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Power, Reality & Dream Merchants

By Aman Namra

22 April, 2004

Dream merchants have again arrayed pawns & pieces of dreams and promises on the chessboard of Indian election. Common masses are being lured and beguiled by both the major parties-Congress & BJP-in their own way that all their problems will be solved this time if they are voted to power. Long forgotten words like health, home, equality, education and employment etc. have again been found, dusted and washed and used for decorating the document called Election Manifesto. This probably is the most opportune time for putting the stark reality vis- a- vis dreams and make the necessary inferences. Let’s try to cast a glance how true the dreams included by various political parties in their manifestoes are when compared to the ghastly realities of India.

Let’s first have a look at the tall claims made by the ruling coalition led by BJP which aspires to come to power on its own strength after these elections. The NDA manifesto says that the coalition will remove unemployment and poverty; provide education, health, water and home to every one; make true the dream of an ideal village; empower women apart from accomplishing the second green revolution and take development to its peak by good governance. BJP has also claimed that it would turn India in to the food factory of the world and will achieve world class status for India in education, technology and health. On the other hand, Congress, the party that has ruled the country for more than a decade and is now panting owing to exhaustion, that is again using the Nehru-Gandhi family for making it to power and has adopted the slogan ‘Congress ka haath, Aam aadmi ke saath’in this election promises employment; 33 percent reservation for women in assemblies and the parliament; right to equality to the Dalits and the vulnerable sections of the society; strengthening economically six lakhs Indian villages; and 10 percent rate of growth by introducing economic changes in agricultural and industrial sector.

These are the promises and the dreams being sold to the electorate by those who were or are in power. Now, let’s see the ground realities. In a survey conducted in five states, of which three are newly constituted, we tried to know-Why despite all people welfare schemes of the Central & state Governments, common masses are suffering from lack of even basic facilities? What is the reality of the fascinating statistics of development & growth at the village level? In this survey, conducted in M. P., Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Uttranchal & Jharkhand at panchayat and village level, we asked public representatives and common people three kinds of questions with the intent of knowing the reality of implementation of various schemes underway for the development of rural women, rural children and the poor and vulnerable sections of the society. The findings of this survey are enough for making the ruling parties ashamed of themselves (though, they seem to have lost that human characteristic!). These findings also present a true picture of real India and its basic needs. This picture could well be used for constructing the contours of a vision for a new India.

Let’s first take the field of education. We asked the sarpanch about their educational qualifications. 31 percent of them were illiterate, while only 3 percent turned out to be post graduates. Only 19 percent panchayats had educational facilities up to high school, while 67 percent of them didn’t even have the basic rural facilities like Aanganwadi. We asked why children drop out from school and whether they help in domestic work; and we found very depressing answers. Are the power merchants listening? 31 percent children cited the increasing pressure of agricultural work as the reason for their dropping out from school; 25 percent said they couldn’t continue their studies for lack of money and 15 percent said they had to do their share of work at home. We also tried to know the reasons why so many children are never enrolled in schools. According to 60 percent children who have never crossed the threshold of a school said it was because of poverty. Votaries of ‘India Shining’! Please, lend your ears to these innocent voices of the Indian children! And now, let’s have a look at the kind of works rural children do in their homes and fields without being bonded laborers and getting any money as wages. 25 percent of school-going children help their parents in agricultural work; 21 percent look after their younger brothers and sisters; 17 percent have to bring fodder for cattle stock and 15 percent have to fetch fuel wood for hearths so that meals could be cooked. This is the miserable condition of the rural children in terms of education and they are rhetorically hailed by the political leaders as the ‘glorious’ future of our country! Congress has been in power in these five states for four decades and now while making the tall claim of transforming the lot of six lakh villages of India; it’ll have to answer the simple question-During past forty years, how many villages saw their lot changed for the better by the efforts of Congress? BJP also will have to answer how many ideal villages have been created by it in the past decade, for it has now been in power in four of these five states.

Now, let’s talk about the condition of women. According to this survey conducted by a Delhi based organization Charkha, despite the myriad claims made by the Government, 76 percent rural women feel that their basic health requirements are not being fulfilled at the Panchayat level. Because of lack of facilities, 32 percent of these women have to seek succor from Ojhas, Gunis and Babas. 44 percent of women who are aware have also to depend upon the help provided by their elders or traditional rural nurses i.e. dais. Both the parties are claiming they would provide reservation to women in assemblies and the parliament; but the Panchayat is the first stair in this hierarchy and they’ve already been given reservation in these institutions and they are now part of the power game here. The moot question, however, is –Is their voice heard or listened to on these fora? 64 percent of women say that they are not given any opportunity in the Gram Sabhas for articulating their views. Does it really ‘feel good’ to know this fact? The Government has made all kinds of declarations for the benefit of pregnant and mother with new born babies. But do the rural women really benefit from these? 63 percent women say they hardly get any facilities in Aanganwadi centers. As far the social condition of women, 40 percent rural women are beaten by their drunken husbands; 29 percent women are persecuted in families for not delivering a male child and 18 percent women live in a state of utter neglect in health matters. But these women have hope in future and possess high levels of confidence as active agents of social change. 96 percent of them are of the view that the role of women is crucial for the development of the village and the panchayat and they are determined to perform that role.

And now a glance at the poor and the downtrodden. In last five years, changing their lot has been the prime slogan of the ruling parties. In their name, a whole bunch of people have been able to change their own lot and these unfortunate millions remain as they were. The Government is running all kinds of schemes and projects worth thousands of crore rupees in the name of the tribals, the dalits, rural development, employment, women, health, home and drinking water etc. On an average, in a panchayat, there are more than 100 such schemes launched by the Central and state Governments and other organizations. During this survey, we just wanted to probe whether the poor have in any way been benefited from these massive exercises. 56 percent of the rural poor have not received the benefit of the Indira Awaas Yojana and even among those who have, it is difficult to identify whether they are genuine cases or not. But that’s a separate matter. The Government has entrusted the responsibility of distributing rations to the poor at cheap prices. Because of the negligence of the state Governments in this regard, the Supreme Court of India had to order streamlining the public distribution system and to make details of its functioning public in a regular manner. What effects this order or the subsequent efforts of the Govenments had on the PDS was revealed during this survey. In only 7 percent of the panchayats, details of the fair price ration shops are made public regularly, while in 34 percent panchayats it is an occasional phenomenon. Regarding the use of money received for the development of the Panchayats, about 50 people think these funds are used under the influence of the nexus between Sarpanch, Panches and Secretary and influential local people. The consequence of such use of these funds is evident from the fact that 80 percent of the rural people migrate out of villages for one single reason-lack of employment at their native place. There are several employment schemes being run in rural India in the name of erstwhile and present Prime Ministers. Who are their beneficiaries?

And finally, let’s also have a look at the basic facilities made accessible to the rural people in this country of villages. Of the total 213 villages of the five states covered under this survey, only 45 percent had electricity, while 70 percent didn’t have any pucca roads. 75 percent of the villages remain completely untouched by any traces of communication revolution.

Though this survey presents just a brief snapshot of the Indian villages, yet it convincingly reveals that the power merchants can be asked to submit their report cards in the light of the findings of this survey. For more than fifty years, people have hoped, waited, kept their patience; but the need of the hour now is that they should comprehend and analyze their situation on a realistic plane and shouldn’t invest power in to those who have all along been betraying them with false dreams and hollow promises. They should actively participate in democratic process at every juncture and be their own masters. Otherwise, the dream merchants will go on beguiling them and may be forever with ever newer arrays of dreams on their chessboards.