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Shining Delusions

By Praful Bidwai

22 March, 2004
The Hindustan Times

Is the BJP leadership allowing its own concoction, the 'feel good' rhetoric, to get the better of its political judgment?

Going by what L.K. Advani said in Shimoga (Karnataka) last Sunday, this would certainly seem to be the case: he took "strong objection to India being bracketed with developing countries" and declared that India's achievements are "comparable" with those of developed countries like the US and Britain.

This claim sounds so utterly and ludicrously implausible for a country whose rank in the UNDP Human Development Index has slipped from 124 to
127 (of the 175 covered) that it deserves no further comment. Unless Advani is talking about individual achievements of some Indian writers, activists, historians, economists or scientists, the claim makes no sense whatever. India firmly belongs among the bottom fourth of the world's societies.

India fails the development criterion in health, longevity and freedom from bondage and deprivation; in equality of social opportunity and gender equity; the general cultural and intellectual level of the population; or, equally important, in liberty, rule of law and enforcement of citizens' rights.

It's altogether astounding that fatuous assertions to the contrary are made after the devastating demolition-jobs on the 'India Shining' campaign performed by economists of all stripes from Left to Right. Most 'Shining' claims now stand exposed as based upon the selective use of figures, invalid comparisons, fallacious extrapolations, doctored charts and outright cheating - in respect of employment, health, primary education and rural living standards, or agriculture, electricity, roads and telecommunications.

Even the commonest contention, with wide currency in the upper middle-class, that India moved to higher growth path during the NDA's six-year
tenure, is blatantly false. Analysis of official statistics shows that real GDP (at factor cost) annually rose post-April 1998 by 5.3 per cent - down significantly from 6.9 per cent during the preceding six years. The trend rate of growth in
agriculture declined from 2.1 per cent to (?)1 per cent. Industrial growth decelerated from 8.6 to 4.5 per cent. Growth in gross domestic capital
formation slowed from 9.8 to 5.3 per cent - weakening future growth potential.

What of the BJP's claim that India will become an 'economic superpower' in 15 to 20 years? This too is hopelessly hyperbolic. According to UNDP,
India's per capita GDP in 2001 was a minuscule $ 462, less than one-tenth the world average ($ 5,133) and a fraction of the US's $ 35,277 or the
OECD average of $ 22,149. This compares poorly even with Third World countries like Mexico ($ 6,214), Malaysia ($ 3,695) or South Africa ($
2,620). It is 64 per cent lower than the developing countries' average ($ 1,270).

If India's per capita GDP grows at the same rate as it did in the past half-century (2.1 per cent), it will reach a mere $ 844 in 30 years. But assume that the average Indian's income somehow grows at the 'dream' rate of 8 per cent
(GDP growth of almost 10 per cent). Even after 30 years (NB: not 20), that would only raise our per capita GDP to $ 4,305 - just one-eighth the US's
present level.

The BJP's exuberant and euphoric 'superpower' claims speak of a pathological combination of recklessness, readiness to fudge the truth, boundless hubris and irrational faith in India's 'manifest destiny'. The assumption is that this
wretchedly poor, unequal and hierarchical society can achieve prosperity, (global) power and glory without addressing the basic needs of the majority, without involving people in growth, without creating social opportunity or empowering the underprivileged to develop their elementary human potential.

'India Shining' policies will keep half our children undernourished and stunted, as they are today, and half our women anaemic. (Government expenditure on health has declined from 1.3 per cent of GDP in the mid-Nineties to a measly 0.9 per cent, as against the 5 per cent WHO norm, putting India in the same league as Burundi, Cambodia and Sudan). These policies will ensure falling consumption levels for 80 per cent of the rural population and abysmally low per capita food availability, thousands of starvation deaths and farmers' suicides - as in the last six years. The NDA's contribution to growing regional
disparities is equally noteworthy.

The NDA campaign of lies can only be sustained by cynics who refuse to understand that what matters to flesh-and-blood people is not GDP 'achievements', but jobs, wages and access to public services.

The BJP has infused a level of dishonesty and hatred into our politics which can only turn India into a hub of deception and a cesspool of injustice and discontent. The NDA years are notable for two other things: deterioration in the quality of democracy and promotion of a dangerous 'national security' obsession, with grievous assaults on human rights.

The NDA adopted an abrasive, confrontationist style of politics to stonewall serious debate. The 13th Lok Sabha witnessed several important developments following the Kargil war, including the 'coffin scam' and the Tehelka exposé. There were, besides, the stock market scam and the UTI meltdown, which wiped out 50 million householders' savings. Then came the Gujarat carnage. After that the world's greatest (but futile) military mobilisation since World War-II.

All these issues deserved to be honestly debated. But the NDA sabotaged debate. Shamefully, Gujarat, a crime against humanity, wasn't investigated by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Nor was the Kargil war, in which more Indian soldiers died than during the 1962 China war. JPCs were formed on only two issues: securities scam and pesticides-in-cola bottles.

The JPC's report on the first was unanimous and indicted the finance minister on 52 counts. The government has no answers to these and took no
action. The cola report isn't formally tabled, but no heads will roll for this menace to public health. The NDA mocked Parliament by reinducting
George Fernandes into the cabinet before he was cleared of Tehelka-related charges. It violated the sanctity of the budget process through its
month-long 'rolling' tax-breaks for the rich, and the 'interim budget'.

The NDA has insulted statutory authorities too. It has viciously attacked former President Naraya-nan, the Comptroller & Auditor General, the Election Commission and the National Human Rights Commission. The NDA tried to bypass Parliament on the HPCL-BPCL sell-off - until restrained by the Supreme Court. If it could rule by ordinances alone, it would, as happened with the Prasar Bharati amendment. The NDA has comprehensively degraded our democracy.

Of no lesser importance is the NDA's drumming up of a paranoid 'national security' syndrome in the name of fighting 'terrorism'. That resulted in the utterly condemnable passing of POTA through a joint session of Parliament - bulldozing all opposition and violating democratic norms.

POTA is a gory story of brutalisation of little children, social activists and political opponents through arbitrary arrest, physical assault, planting of incriminating evidence and arms, unlawful detention and, above all, torture.
Thus, 12-year-old children have been branded 'terrorists' and jailed. Leaders like Vaiko and Nedumaran have been silenced. In Gujarat, the
police routinely pick up dozens of innocents under four 'open-ended' FIRs centred on vague charges like 'conspiracy' to assassinate BJP/VHP
leaders - even in the absence of specific incidents.

In Delhi, a POTA court sentenced S.A.R. Geelani to death and Afsan Guru to prolonged imprisonment in the Parliament attack case - on the flimsiest
of evidence. (The high court later acquitted both.) None of this, nor numerous fake 'encounters', would have become possible without the climate created by the 'national security' syndrome, and a communalised equation of Muslims
with Pakistan, and Islam itself with terror.

That's the hideous legacy of hatred and paranoia the NDA leaves behind. It must be politically punished for it.