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Which India isn't working? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 November 2010 00:00
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The political class appears dysfunctional. The rural India Rahul Gandhi worries about is doing okay

Rahul spoke of a Bharat that wasn't growing. Well, rural India's income is growing well and even states like Bhiar and UP are improving

 

If there’s any doubt whether Jairam Ramesh is in good odour with the powers that be, Congress president Sonia Gandhi settled the matter in her AICC speech when, quoting her late husband as saying “Whenever the environment is damaged, a bit of India dies”, she said all projects had to be looked at from the point of view of the environment. In itself, this is a fair statement, but the problem arises when, as in the recent past, it looked like the government’s concern was only the environment (and in Opposition-ruled states at that!), when it looked like she and the Prime Minister were not on the same page—indeed, on various occasions like the Maheshwar power project, the Navi Mumbai airport and even the ‘no go’ areas issue, the Prime Minister has had to publicly come down to restrain Ramesh. The Congress president had a chance to fix the balance, to point out that environment concerns would be taken into account while pushing GDP, but she chose not to take the opportunity.

 

While the chance of doing this seem to have been ruled out at Posco (http://www.financialexpress.com/news/fe-editorial-wasnt-so-tough-was-it/703403/), the environment ministry is working with the airport developer at Navi Mumbai to ensure the airport takes off with the damage to the environment minimised. Why can’t this approach be used all the time?

Fortunately for her, just the day before, Ramesh had sent a notice to the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh government on the Pollavaram dam, which displaces more people and submerges more land than the Sardar Sarovar project. Since there were no public hearings on the project till now, and Ramesh had cancelled projects like Vedanta, and likely Posco, on these very grounds, his activism looked very one-sided—BJD MP Jay Panda wrote as much in The Financial Express (http://www.financialexpress.com/ news/column-different-strokes-for-different-folks/ 689618/0). Panda argued that while the AP government’s word had been accepted that it would get the relevant approvals from affected communities, the Orissa government’s word that it would do the same had not been accepted in the case of Niyamgiri.

Interestingly, while the environment formed one part of Gandhi’s speech, other parts were reserved for other entitlements the UPA was offering like job guarantees and subsidised food. None of Gandhi’s speechwriters saw any connection, certainly none worth talking to the larger political audience, between growth and employment or poverty reduction. It is probably a coincidence then that the areas which have the poorest economic growth have the largest number of poor?

Equally interesting, as was highlighted by most reportage on the AICC session yesterday, the word corruption was conspicuous by its absence in any leader’s speech even though the Adarsh episode is still playing out and it was just a few days ago that judges in the Supreme Court asked why telecom minister A Raja was still part of the Cabinet despite his giving away licences at bargain-basement prices; the Shunglu probe into the CWG is also something that has just about begun. One newspaper, Mail Today, had a picture of the AICC delegates splashed across two pages, highlighting some of the tainted persons in the picture such as Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan and ex-CM Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Given his carefully crafted image as a protector of the downtrodden (Ramesh cancelled the Niyamgiri project just in time for Rahul Gandhi to go and proclaim that he had saved the tribals’ mountain), Congress scion Rahul Gandhi gave his Bharat-India speech, talking of an India of the rich, which was progressing, and that of the poor, which was closed (bandh) or not functioning. This sounded really good and so got the most cheers but it’s difficult to understand what the young Gandhi was talking about.

If you look at Bihar where he has spent his last few days running down the Nitish Kumar government, you sense a disconnect. Bihar’s GDP growth, it is true, was a low 4.72% in 2009-10, but this was on the back of a stupendous 16.59% the year before (the year in which India grew at 6.7%). Five years ago, Bihar’s GDP was Rs 65,995 crore (at 1999-00 prices) while Haryana’s was Rs 76,012 crore; in 2009-10, Bihar was Rs 1,09,420 crore versus Haryana’s 1,20,407 crore—that is, in the Nitish period, the erstwhile Bimaru state grew at a rate which was faster than that of Haryana. Ironically, Congress-ruled states like Andhra Pradesh have grown very poorly in the last few years. Even Uttar Pradesh, which the Gandhi heir would likely to classify as ‘bandh’ or ‘closed’, has grown faster in the last few years—at 7.21% in 2008-09, it grew faster than Maharashtra’s 3.39%, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu’s 4.55%; its 6.56% in 2009-10 was also higher than Tamil Nadu’s 5.53% and Karnataka’s 5.54%.

When it comes to rural India as a whole, which is termed Bharat and generally seen to be a stagnant pool, it actually accounts for 40-50% of demand for scooters and motorcycles. NCAER-CMCR data show that in 1994-2005, India’s Net National Product rose 6.2% per annum—rural NNP rose 5% and urban 8.1%. In 2005-10, rural rose 6.9% and urban 10.2—so the differential fell. In 2010-15, while overall NNP growth is projected at 8.8%, rural is likely to grow 7% versus 10.5% for urban India. So how’s Bharat getting left behind?

Right now it looks as if the only part of India that is not working is the political class. Surely the young Gandhi wasn’t alluding to this?

 

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