Neoliberal Reforms Making India More Authoritarian ,
Increasing Inequality Distorts Indian Democracy
By Prayag Mehta
04 November, 2012
I have seen the best minds of five generations destroyed by poverty
struggling naked moaning sobbing howling in despair
fighting battles often lost infants dying before one year
mothers fathers anemic shrunken crippled haggard hungering
By Tamar Diana Wilson From ‘Only Chiapas’ Posted at http://www.strugglemagazine.net/
The Constitution of India directs the state to; securing all citizens, men and women equally, the right to an adequate means of livelihood; ensure that ownership and control of material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub serve the common good; that, operating of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment. Giving wide meaning to the right of life, the SC had ruled that, "the expression `life' in Article 21 does not connote mere physical or animal existence. Right to life includes life to live with human dignity." 1
The Indian state: Defaulting Even on People’s Right to Life
How is it that the Indian state ignores its constitutional duty to securing all citizens, men and women equally, the right to an adequate means of livelihood including even their fundamental right to life? The conditions of life of the vast majority of country’s population present a dire social situation marked by absolute poverty, increasing inequality, food insecurity and malnutrition, privatization of education and health and all round neglect and decay of people’s welfare. A central government commission startlingly found 77 percent of Indian population, about 836 million, lived at less than Rs. 20 per person per day (GoI, 2006) An multidimensional poverty index (MPI) shows 55 percent of India’s population of 1.1 billion, or 645 million people, are living in poverty with as many as 81.4 percent of Scheduled Tribes, 65.8 percent of Scheduled Castes and 58.3 percent Other Backward Castes (OBC) living in poverty. This Oxford University study was based on the household’s income, assets and conditions of life including : child mortality, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel, electricity, and years of schooling and child enrolment.2
With such poverty, it is no wonder that India continues to be home to 46 per cent of the malnourished children of the world and more than 5000 children die every day from malnourishment 3 Another sign of the growing disconnect between economic growth and the upliftment of millions of citizens, is that India ranks 65th out of 79 countries on a global hunger index.4 The Justice Wadhwa committee appointed by the Supreme Court has dubbed the functioning of public distribution system (PDS) as bogus and engulfed in corruption, leakage and inefficiency. However, the government is reluctant to improve its functioning and universalize it in order to benefit all. Recently, the Supreme Court of India asked the Planning Commission to fix the problem. "You (India) are a powerful economy” the court said. “Yet, starvation deaths are taking place in many parts of the country. What a stark contradiction in our approach. How can there be two Indias?" The Planning Commission found an easy and unique way out, it told the Supreme Court, (in September 20 ,2011) that, it doesn’t consider a person spending over Rs 32 daily in urban areas, or over Rs 26 daily in rural areas, poor5
Increasing Inequality of Income and Opportunity
Scandalously, the destitution of the common people is accompanied by increasing wealth of a very small segment of the elite population. There were two billionaires in India in the mid-1990s, worth a combined total of $3.2 billion. By 2012, there were 46, with a total net worth of $176.3 billion. Total billionaire wealth to gross domestic product (GDP) rose from around 1% in the mid-1990s to 22% at the peak of the boom in 2008, and was still 10% of GDP in 2012. All billionaires in India are linked to corporate activity. Overall, 43% of the total number of billionaires, accounting for 60% of billionaire wealth, had their primary sources of wealth from rent-thick sectors such as real estate, infrastructure, construction, mining, telecom, cement and media with pervasive role of the state in giving licenses, The real estate sector is well known for the large number of “black” transactions. It is perceived to be the most corrupt in India and for its nexus with politicians. (Gandhi and Walton, 2012) .Interestingly, the average salary of top CEOs in India has risen to Rs 2 crore, up by close to 30% in the last one year, the study covered 87 top Indian and MNC CEOs (no family CEOs were included) operating across industry domains. It found that some 50% of them are now in the Rs 2 crore per annum category and 12% in the Rs 7 crore category. The corporate CEOs who used to get Rs 5.25 crore on average a year ago now get about Rs 7 crore," 6
Such income and social inequality seriously limit the opportunity for occupational Mobility. Lack of financial means and poor quality of education ( if at all available) dent equality of opportunity. Studies show that almost half the children of farmers end up as farmers and more than half the children of agricultural labourers end up as agricultural labourers. Not only such occupational stagnation persists, there is also downward mobility where sons move to a lower socio-economic position compared to their fathers. (Motiram and Ashish Singh, 2012)
Concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the corporate sector and the elites provide them all the means to influence the government decision making and policies. The Cash-for-Votes scandal and the leaked Radia tapes show that big corporate houses not only control the government but also play a major role in the formation of government and allocation of ministries 7 Such concentration of wealth is bound to promote authoritarian leadership resulting in disempowering of the people and their internal subjugatation. As an indication, as is well known, agriculture being in dire straits a farmer is led to suicide every thirty minutes ( Narula, 2011). And, not just the farmers, there is a sense of deep frustration among the youth, more so among the educated, resulting in increasing tendency of suicide among them. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people of both genders.8 Suicide death rates are generally greater-- nearly a ten times higher - in the more developed four southern states than some of the less developed northern states. (Patel et al , 2012)
Health and Sanitation
In an unequal society like ours, the health and sanitation situation is expected to be poor. Interestingly, this is starkly symbolised by the fact, that, as revealed by the 2011 Census, 49.8 per cent of households in the country as a whole have no toilet facilities and they are forced to defecate in the open. However, irony of the neoliberal development policy is that 63.2 per cent of households have a telephone connection, of which 52.3 per cent have cell phones 9 Therefore, In the present scenario where the poor are forced to spend 75 percent of their health expenditure from their pockets and in view of a dire health situation in the country, a High Level Expert Group (HLEG) of the Planning Commission had recommended free healthcare whether it’s primary, secondary or tertiary to all citizens. It also recommended that the government’s health spending should rise from a lowly 0.9% of the GDP to a reasonable 2.5% and also that the programme simultaneously addresses the social determinants of health. However, contrary to its own experts’ opinion, the Planning Commission, in its 12th Five Year Plan, recommends: not only an increase in public expenditure to just 1.58 per cent but also, and more ominously, to promote increased public private partnerships. (PPP) an euphemism for backdoor privatisation. True to its colour, it is effectively preparing to hand over the health care to the corporate sector 10
Food and nutrition are essential to any person’s health condition. Food security is therefore imperative for a healthy society. In fact, it is an integral part of the right to life. However, here also , the Government dithers on enacting a comprehensive Food Security Act because it may cost something like one lac crore rupees a year. (Dreze , 2010) Such an attitude assumes an ominous significance when the same Government does not blink in foregoing annual revenue of more than five lac crore rupees on account of tax exemptions including about Rs. 80,000 crore of corporate income tax foregone and nearly Rs. 40,000 crore of foregone customs duties on “vegetables, fruits, cereals and edible oils.”( GoI. 2010)
The freedom movement’s aspired mission for education was to ‘unleash the potential of India’s civilisation by a process of intellectual decolonisation.’ However, like the health sector, the state has given up this legacy and replaced it ‘by an educational policy which prioritises private profit over public good ‘ Such a policy ‘will encourage cultural and intellectual imperialism.’‘(Panikkar, 2011) One of the fatal consequences of such a drive for profit is the decimation of quality in education, Surveys show an alarming decline in mathematics and basic reading skills particularly in States across north India, where quality dropped further in 2011 as compared to 2010. Interestingly, and it is noteworthy, that, a majority of the 97 per cent of rural children going to school were enrolled in a privately-owned institution Nationally, private school enrolment has risen over the years for 6-14 years age group from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 25.6 in 2011 11
In a historic judgment in 2011, the supreme Court said “The right of a child should not be restricted only to free and compulsory education, but should be extended to have quality education without any discrimination on the ground of their economic, social and cultural background.” Further, that “Uniform education system would achieve the code of common culture, removal of disparity, depletion of discriminatory values in human relations. It would enhance the virtues and improve the quality of human life, elevate the thoughts which advance our constitutional philosophy of equal society. 12
However, the apex court’s stress on quality of education and common culture stands ignored in the RTE Act which retains the discriminatory school system with its neoliberal policy framework. It is ready to opening new markets by demolishing the vast government school system. (SadgopaL 2011) As for the quality, a recent social audit of RTE conducted across India found classrooms giving shelter to cows and buffaloes, while students sat outside in the compound. Children carried their own plates to school for mid-day meals and later rushed back home on the pretext of washing the dishes, but never come back for classes. 13 The commodification has led to black market in education. For example, authorities unearthed Rs 288 crore of black money from some educational institutions in the 2009-10 ; a growth of 550 per cent as it was Rs 44 crore in 2008-09.14 The state’s withdrawal from its responsibility for education is shown by the fact ,that, while private schools make black money, the government schools are starved of teachers. Out of 19.14 lac posts of teachers sanctioned between 2001-02 to 2011-12 in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, as many as 6 lac and 87 thousand remained vacant till 31 December 2011 15 Poor quality of education is an everyday experience. It is no wonder because the country is short of 1.2 million teachers and 17% schools have just one teacher 16. Appointment of para teachers on very low salary and on short term contract in place of regular and full time teachers shows governments` eagerness, not for good education but for cutting cost on education as required under the neoliberal structural adjustment programme.
Like the health sector, the neoliberal state seeks to withdraw more and more from its responsibility to the people and hand over education to the private sector. It has been continuously reneging in adequate budget allocation for it. The New Policy in Education (NPE), 1986 had promised an increased annual allocation of 6.5% of the GNP. However, ten years later, in 1996-97, it was just 3.8% (of GNP). The actual expenditure on education really declined from 1.69 per cent in the 1980s to 1.47% in the 1990s. The budget allocations for the social sector, particularly the actual expenditure on education, since liberalisation in 1991 have tended to really come down. Instead of public expenditure , the Government plans to motivate students to take loans from the banks and to expand higher education with the active involvement of the private sector and through various modes of public-private partnership (PPP). (Tilak , 2012) Its intention was revealed at a recent roundtable of the education Ministers of India and the USA, where education in India was viewed as an integral part of the US-India strategic partnership and vitally important in an interconnected, competitive global economy 17 India is, thus, heading toward a situation like the USA, where the commodification of knowledge has converted university into an adjunct of corporate power, rendering it as a marketing machine essential to the production of neoliberal subjects (Collins, 2010). Such a situation rules out the possibility of expanding of human capabilities, which, as Sen (1999) shows, is both the paramount goal of development and the leading means for generating the increased productivity that is the foundation of economic growth as well as of the construction of democratic institutions that help us to “lead the kind of lives we value”
Lack of capability to access literacy, primary education, health care, child care, housing, drinking water, sanitation etc. reveal poverty more meaningfully than just a lack of income. It is also lack of capability and inability to secure human rights and to escape poverty .(UNDP, 2000: 73, Box 4.1). Such social sector human poverty significantly weakens people’s productive potential and force them to take up any kind of poor quality work for survival ( Pradhan et.al. 2000).
The declining quality in education, health care and nutrition is bound to slow down technical progress, weaken the concern for excellence and slow down innovations in the economy. Though there has been an explosive growth of engineering colleges, much of it is however at the cost of quality (U. R. Rao Committee Report, quoted in Ramchandran, 2004) One of the fatal consequences of this deteriorating situation is the reinforcement of the tendency of routine performance in education. In a recent assessment, some 90% of colleges and 68% of Universities were medium or poor on almost all indicators. ( UGC, 2007) . An earlier CSIR sponsored survey on a sample of 9000 Ph.D theses revealed that, out of about 3000 doctoral theses in various science and technology disciplines, approved every year in the country, only 30% were considered of good quality, such as could be of interest to user agencies; 80% of them were in applied research areas most of which were often on trivial subjects with mediocre intellectual input; 40% of the scholars reported favoritism on the basis of domicile, caste or religion; 60% of them were repetitive studies. ( Kalshian, 2000). Thus, instead of expanding human capabilities, we seem to be going in the opposite direction and dissipating the country’s potential.
Characteristics of Government’s Authoritarian Behaviour Betting on the Rich ; Disempowering the People
Despite clear evidence of such serious negative consequences for quality of life for the vast majority of the Indian population, the state has been persisting on the neoliberal reforms and insisting on more and more of the same polices. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Government’s concern is to promote and safeguard the interests of big capital, Indian and the multinational, led by the USA. It is not, that, it is unaware of the disgraceful health and nutrition situation, increasing inequality and the falling purchasing power of the people. However, instead of ameliorating the situation, it has no hesitation in putting further burden on the people by increasing privatisation of public services. The same behavioural pattern is seen in other walks of life. On the one hand, for example, it is eager to open multi brand retail to foreign investment, sale equity in well functioning and profitable public sector enterprises, defer and /or eliminate anti tax avoidance rules, on the other, it colludes with the corporate sector to ignore the labour laws and the basic rights of the people. It has continued to neglect agriculture as also creation of jobs. It uses the policy regime to facilitate “primitive accumulation of capital” and plunder of natural resources via a variety of ‘scams’ and crony capitalism. The Indian state has thus moved so radically away from the mission of a socialist pattern of society as its goal as visualized at the Awadi AIIC session in 1955 to a regime for the rich only 18.It has increasingly become accommodative of corruption in public life. It responds instinctively in favour of the super rich high value individuals and private corporations?. It is eager to hand over the power of delivering people’s basic needs like water, education, health and energy to profit driven private companies? As briefly discussed below, the governance and the policy decision making have been increasingly marked by characteristics of authoritarian behaviour with serious adverse consequences for the Indian democracy
Manipulative state Abdicating Responsibility
As seen above, the situation regarding food security, health, nutrition and education etc is alarming. The state seems to have abdicated its responsibility to the welfare of its people. It is revealed glaringly by the 2012 report of the International Food Policy Research Institute. India ranks 65th out of 79 countries on a global hunger index. The GHI is composed using three equally weighted indices: the proportion of people undernourished, child mortality, and the proportion of underweight children. India's GHI score of 22.9 (where anything over 10 is "very serious") is back to its 1996 levels. Of the three components of the index, India performs the worst on underweight children: it is second to last of 129 countries on the proportion of its children who are underweight with 43.5 per cent. The report says, there is a growing disconnect between economic growth and the upliftment of millions of citizens19 As the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 ( FAO 2012) brings out, growth will not necessarily result in better nutrition for all. Agricultural growth is particularly important in reducing hunger and nutrition. Along with it, social protection is a crucial factor. However, opening of retail trade and agriculture to giant multinational corporations would result in elimination of small land holders as corporations tend to consolidate land into big and bigger farms..
Another important indicator of neoliberal political psychology is its reluctance to implement its own promise made during the UPA I to universalize the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). The disastrous consequences of early childhood malnutrition are well known. Also, equally well known is, that, an effective ICDS programme can make a considerable difference in the lives of nutritionally compromised children. Poor performance in this direction and the failure to take corrective measures in this respect show the policy regime’s low o concern for the deprived children and their future productive lives. Indifference in such life threatening area shows state’s Manu-like brahmanical paternalistic and manipulative attitude of making pledges without caring to fulfill them with no respect for the deprived people. (Mehta, 1998 :65-66)
The Neoliberal fundamentalists’ Sense of Certainty
As is well known, acknowledgement of the limits of knowing saves science from degenerating into a dogma. The loss of certainty opens up the possibility that we must also look elsewhere, to other sources. Uncertainty, therefore, is the best corrective to fundamentalism (Luhmann, 1979) The neoliberal fundamentalists, entrenched in the Government, however insist that there is no alternative. As Stiglitz (2010) shows, such blind faith in the certainties of unfettered markets has led to as many as 100 economic and financial crises in the last 30 years.. Since the present neoliberal Government in India is so certain about the corporate led economic growth, foreign investment and market forces, that it is not able see alternatives to improve the nutritional and food scenario and the quality of life of the people beyond paying it electorally useful lip service.
Cognitive Closure and Right Wing Authoritarianism
Despite such wide spread deprivations in the population, sense of certainty blinds the Government of India to peoples’ lived experience, although it repeatedly invokes the Aam Admi (common man). Lack of openness to experience is an important characteristic of what has been labeled as right wing authoritarianism (RWA) (Altemeyer, 1998). The climate of authoritarianism breeds and reinforce dominative values in the elite society. Structural inequalities do more than distribute wealth and power upward to the privileged few. The more money influences politics, the more corrupt the political culture becomes.
As mentioned above, the thought that, there Is no alternative (TINA) is one of the most popular expression of the cognitive need for closure , suggesting that in no way have their policies have been selected arbitrarily; that they are not in fact a result of choice at all, they are so certain that no other effective policies existed. Such a mindset not only facilitates the distribution of wealth and power upward to the privileged few but also make punishment and exclusion highly seductive possibilities. ( Brown , 2009). Instances of violence, including murder and rape, have also been increasingin the country. Exclusion of the poor from health, education and other such welfare facilities is also so apparent. The motivational mechanisms, (Webster and Kruglanski, 1996) underpinning the process of cognitive closure includes bias in selecting the most relevant information and in initiating and sustaining cognitive manipulations that are required to achieve particular outcomes. Such a need for closure may have serious social consequences as seen, for example, in the then Law Minister’s response to the Apex Court judgment on 2G Scam. Khurshid ‘was reported as saying: “It will affect the functioning of the government if other institutions do not understand the kind of political economy we are faced with today’ He reportedly said that locking up top businessmen will affect foreign investment 20 The Government’s response to The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report on coal blocks, blaming the government of India and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for condoning and encouraging corruption to the tune of several trillion rupees does not show an openness of mind on such nationally and socially vital matters. As in the case of 2G, it was a failure to abide by due processes in a transparent manner in the allocation of national resources that has enabled such monumental corruption scandals to be perpetrated. A similar mindset is reflected in ignoring the people’s safety and well being in setting up nuclear power plants when it is now public knowledge that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster (Chris, 2012). Indeed the failure to abide by due processes and arrive at a price discovery mechanism in a transparent manner is an important behavioural characteristic of authoritarianism,
The Other -Directedness: Bypassing Parliament to benefit Corporate Sector and Multinational Companies
The hurried way in which the policy of foreign direct investment in multi brand retail was announced followed by opening the pension fund and insurance to foreign investors, and the desperation to please them by facilitating tax avoidance provide an interesting case study of the other-directed motivation of the state’s policy making. As soon as he took over, the Finance Minister made his intention (the first statement made by the Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, after assuming office recently) clear to reverse the retrospective effect in the tax law. This retrospective provision was in the Finance Bill which was adopted by Parliament. No change can now be and/or should be made without the Parliament’s approval. The government is keen to help multinational companies to facilitate tax avoidance by foreign and Indian corporate by reviewing the General Anti Avoidance Rules (GAAR) which was meant to plug the loopholes using the Mauritius route. Such tax concessions and the hurriedly announced reforms show Government’s other - directedness and its readiness to address the needs expressed by interested western countries, notably USA, and multinational companies. Similarly, in 2010, under pressure from multinational nuclear suppliers, the government pushed through a law to protect them from the consequences of a nuclear accident showing its willingness to compromise on its laws and the safety and rights of its citizens to protect the business interests of reactor suppliers (Ramana and Raju, 2012) Recently, for example, noting that India prohibited foreign investment in too many sectors such as retail, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern over deteriorating investment climate endorsing another “wave” of economic reforms.21 Earlier, influential western magazines have called the prime Minister an ‘ under-achiever’ chiding him for more ‘reforms ‘The other directed’ motivation in this respect is so strong that it is willing to bypass even the Parliament and, therefore, the people of India, thereby damaging the democracy in the country.
The Rhetoric of Development and Loss of Empathy
The Government constantly uses the rhetoric of development which is really a cover to hide its panned efforts to favour the powerful corporate sector and the rich at the cost of the welfare of the common people. The recent statement of Narendra Modi , Chief Minister of Gujarat , who often invokes development as his brand , illustrate it so well. He had said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, that, malnutrition exists in Gujarat because it is "by and large a vegetarian state" and also because it is a middle class state which is "more beauty conscious than health conscious". However, he totally ignores the fact that,, as, the National Family Health Survey of 2005-06 found, 42.4% children under 3 years of age in Gujarat were stunted, 17% were wasted and 47.4% were underweight. It also found that a shocking 80% of children between 6-35 months old were anaemic. Over 55% of ever-married women between 15-49 years of age were anaemic, while 61% of pregnant women in the same age group were anaemic. Among men of the same age group, 22% were anemic. Further, the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2009-2010, shows that the average intake of food in Gujarat is declining steadily, and in rural areas it is now considerably lower than even the national average of 2,020 kcal. 22 It seems the neoliberal state is producing a social order with no commitment except profit for the wealthy corporate sector. It can, therefore be very well imagined as expected, that, India’s super wealthy elites have stashed at least $72.7 billion (Rs 4,06,900 crore) of its wealth in tax heavens (the actual figure is likely to be far higher, and could be as much as 50 per cent. 23). The money looted in a series of scams since 1991 has been pegged at a mind-boggling amount of Rs 73 lakh crore. What was unthinkable is now considered normal and taken for granted.24 Such a system loosens the sense of public good, weakens social responsibility and the sense of empathy. As elites go higher on the social ladder they lose their compassionate feelings towards other people They tend to become more unethical in their behaviour ( Piffa, et al ,,2012)
Promoting Pessimistic variant of Neo-Darwinism: Self-Interest as Human Nature
Neoliberal policies promote a pessimistic variant of neo-Darwinism, which advocates self-interest as a dominant part of of human nature. Such a concept negates human beings’ innate tendencies towards helpfulness, altruistic concern and a sense of fairness. (Holmes, 2011 ) Social organisms, from man to microbes, even single-celled organisms, have sophisticated means of working together (Elizabeth , 2009) This also negates our lived experience of altruism and cooperation as nourished by our own values. Indeed, as evolutionary theorist Peter Kropotkin pointed out in his landmark 1902 book Mutual Aid,, evolution is driven by cooperation as well as by competition.( Heinberg, 2012 ) Thus, a biased view of human nature is advanced only to feed profit and greed oriented economic and social system. This corresponds with the idea of a neo-liberal state that practices laissez-faire towards corporations and those at the upper end of the class and status spectrum, but is interventionist and authoritarian towards those at the lower end (Wacquant 2010). This is illustrated by the “ Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparent Land Acquisition Bill, 2012 ”.it seeks to lay the foundation of infrastructural development and urbanization on what has been described by activists ‘on the graves of citizens of this country.’ 25
Regenerating Caste Discrimination and Conservative Values
A neoliberal regime which enables the country’s dominant social groups to usurp the gains of economic and educational opportunities also shapes /reinforces an authoritarian outlook in them. A vast majority of educated middle class beneficiaries of higher education, not only Hindus but also other communities, continue to believe in supernatural powers in the country show a signs of growing religiosity. (Nanda, 2009) They are also able to mould the state apparatus and body politic to reinvent caste as a modern institution capable of reproducing caste inequalities. ( Deshpande, 2004).] Thus, rather than getting weakened, traditional hierarchies continue with upper castes at the top, scheduled castes-scheduled tribes at the bottom, and the other Backward Classes (OBCs) somewhere in between. Labour markets show a deep awareness of caste, religious, gender, and class cleavages, and that discrimination is very much a modern sector phenomenon, perpetuated in the present. So it is neither a thing of the past nor confined only to the rural areas. [Deshpande, 2011)
The CSR for those aged 0-6 years (number of boys for 100 girls) is indicative of the domination of prevailing feudal/authoritarian climate. For example, In Gujarat, the state with the highest decadal increase in sex ratio from 1991 to 2001, the total rural CSR is 111, declines sharply to 93 for landless households and increases to 149 for households with more than 10 acres of land. In Punjab, the CSR it is 119 among landless households but 128 among households with 10 or more acres. A similar pattern prevails In Haryana. (Arokiasamy and Goli, 2012). Under such conditions, it is no wonder that there is a regeneration of unconstitutional Khap Panchayats in the areas benefitted by the green revolution and increased agricultural and economic development. Such areas represent not only increasing female deficit in the sex ratio but also enhanced violence against women and dalits and ‘honor killings’. Such conservative caste consciousness is prevalent not just in rural areas. A similar climate of intolerance seems to afflict even our prestigious institutes of higher education. For example, recently, several students belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a medical college of the Capital alleged discrimination by their teachers who failed them repeatedly. They had to go the Delhi High Court to get justice. Even after the court judgment, the students continued to face hostile atmosphere in the college26 Prestigious and expensive higher education seem to have inculcated money as the only value in them as was evident in the thoughts of India’s elites and the middle class. In a recent survey, they perceived economic growth as the biggest event in their lives in the year 2009. There was no place for poverty and malnutrition in their mind space. 27
Peoples’ Struggles against Neoliberal Authoritarianism
People however, are not likely to take it lying down as the government(s) fail to meet the basic needs of the people though voted to power on such promises. it forgets them once in power. The erosion of basic values of welfare, security, self actualization etc.; increasing corruption and scams and the perception that the government(s) is not fair take away its democratic sheen. It remains democratic just in form otherwise it works , what has been described in another context, as democracy incorporated and as ‘inverted totalitarianism’ ( Wolin, 2008). Presently, there is a growing discrepancy between the actual conditions of life and the peoples’ rising aspirations. Peoples’ unmet vision for a better life tends to create a volatile situation in the country. The context of visible unequal society promotes a sense of frustration and relative deprivation (RD) in them. (Gurr, 1970/2011). It is accompanied by a sense of humiliation borne out of the experience of being unfairly, unreasonably and unwillingly pushed down, held down, held back or pushed out (Wilkinson and Kate Pickett , 2009) All this is fueling protests and struggles in the country.
We are thus witnessing growing peoples’ struggles, such as at Koodankulam against the KKNPP in Tamilnadu where we find a clash between organization’s self interest and the interest of public safety. Elsewhere the struggles for protection of natural resources by fishermen, landless workers, Dalits, tribals, rural folks and urban poor who have been consistently giving their feedback and suggestions regarding this and engaged the government in negotiation on its provisions. The government (s) is however eager to hand over the natural resources to corporations and private hands including foreign multinational corporations . No part of the country has been untouched by people's struggle including Narmada, Tehri, Damodar, Koel-karo, Singur, Nandigram, Sonebhadra, Chhindwara, Lakhimpur, Bhavnagar, Mundra, Kashipur, Raigarh, Srikakulam, Wang Marathwadi, Fatehabad, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, mining areas of Central India, Mumbai, Patna, Delhi, Bangalore and other urban settlements. In fact, the whole scandal surrounding the coal block allocation is a perfect metaphor for how everyone from politicians to bureaucrats to business barons to power brokers are milking India behind the smokescreen of due process and a larger accountability to Parliament. It is an unprecedented scenario indicating the scope and intensity of RD, frustration, humiliation and the peoples’ anger at the neoliberal pro-corporate policies. In doing so, these new social movements have called the larger neoliberal Zeitgeist into question. ( Wolin, 2008)
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Formerly University Professor and Director, National Labour Institute, Prayag Mehta is an independent socio- psychological researcher. Based at New Delhi, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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