Sucheta Dalal :Sure I love my India but is Mera Bharat Mahaan?
Sucheta Dalal

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Sure, I love my India, but is Mera Bharat Mahaan?  

June 11, 2001

One is a pop hit and the other an advertising slogan aimed at fostering national pride. Look at them with the distinction that Sharad Joshi -- India's most articulate farmer leader, likes to make, and they reflect frighteningly different realities.

Shetkari Sanghatna-leader Joshi -- one of the rare sensible voices on agricultural policies says that unless one distinguishes urban India from rural Bharat, one tends to blur their different realities and draw the wrong conclusions about India's growth and prospects.

Tragically, the division between Bharat and India has been growing alarmingly since the liberalisation process began a decade ago. India with its access to technology, its computer whiz kids and global capital market and access to funds has been zipping ahead to take its place among the leaders of the 21st century - while the bone poor, starving, caste-ridden Bharat is increasingly left so far behind that it can only lead to social unrest in the long run.

The gap yawns further everyday, because the more aggressive and articulate industrialists, traders, salaried classes and investors of India are pre-empting or siphoning away funds available with the exchequer; also, the meagre resources earmarked for rural development are usually gobbled up by a corrupt political establishment and bureaucracy.

This is not the familiar lament of the rabid left. Far from it. In fact, the left parties today also tend to represent a certain class of unionised workers who are firmly in the 'haves' category.

Take a look at the headlines of the last few weeks and the differences leap out at you. For instance:

  • On June 4 The Indian Express wrote that the government is all set to provide Rs 25 billion to the Indian Bank as a re-capitalisation fund. This is the same bank whose net worth has been wiped out twice over already; and its notorious former chairman accused of a close nexus with various politicial factions has yet to be punished. It is true that the bank's current chairman Ranjana Kumar is trying to put the bank back on its feet, but she says it cannot be done without the hefty dole from the exchequer, at taxpayers' expense which the bank and its employees seem to see as their right. Most of the beneficiaries of Indian Bank's losses are traders, industrialists and politically connected businessmen who systematically looted the bank and have failed to repay their dues. The government will use taxpayers' money for repeated bailouts because it is politically unfeasible to close down a loss-making nationalised bank. Nobody calculates the number of schools, hospitals and roads that this dole to a badly run bank would finance.
  • On the same day, The Indian Express also wrote about a drought affected labourer in Rajasthan who had sold his daughter for Rs 5000. The paper says that this was not an isolated example. Many illiterate labourers, with no food to eat and up to their neck in debt (usually at extortionist interest rates), had been selling their young daughters into prostitution, slavery or worse in order to feed themselves and others in the family. But there are simply no money resources for this lot.
  • On the one hand, the mutual fund monolith Unit Trust of India's bellwether scheme the Unit-64 is in trouble again. In 1999 it was bailed out to the tune of Rs 33 billion after its reserves were wiped out and it was on the brink of a collapse. In under three years, it faces another gap of Rs 60-odd billion between its net asset value and repurchase price and is negotiating another bailout by the exchequer/tax payer. After 1999, the government failed to make the managers of this open-ended fund more accountable or to force its sale and repurchase price to be linked to the net asset value. The government says that UTI is too big to fail and the middle class investors and corporate groups who blindly invest in UTI cannot be allowed to lose money.
  • On the other hand, in rural Bharat nearly 150 million starve and cannot get two square meals. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister asks for Rs 10 billion from the Food Corporation of India to purchase grain from his poor farmers (many of whom have already committed suicide) and it causes outrage in India's economic press. Yet, grain continues to rot in FCI's godowns. Wastage on account of nearly a quarter of FCI's food grain stock rotting and wasting is estimated at $ 2 billion.
  • A massive securities scandal grips the country this March and an inspection by Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) shows that a huge Rs 29 billion has flown out of the country through three overseas corporate bodies registered with Credit Suisse First Boston and who are clearly established to have links with stockbroker Ketan Parekh. Neither Sebi nor Reserve Bank of India, or even the Enforcement Directorate has initiated any action as yet on the possible leak of foreign exchange. Again, national resources are being siphoned out by a privileged individual with the right connections.
  • As for the resources aimed at poor Bharat -- nearly 50 per cent of the grain, sugar and kerosene which are meant for the public distribution system are siphoned into private markets. Naturally, this lobby of traders who also feed the politicial system has ensured that the PDS is never reformed. Many states continue to follow an antiquated rule where Ration cards (which are still needed for passports, cooking gas connections and proof of residence for many government-related matters) expire after six months if the holder fails to purchase grain-sugar or kerosene from the PDS.
  • Yet, non-performing assets (bad loans) of the nationalised banking system and public financial institutions are over Rs 630 billion and Rs 180 billion respectively - most of which are gobbled up by business houses in the public and private sector. At the same time banks and financial institutions continue to sink fresh funds by the billions into corporate groups which are already willful defaulters because they are political well-wired.
  • On the other hand the most constant refrain from policymakers is not about resources that are sunk into making rich industrialists richer but those "wasted" on subsidies to farmers, powerloom workers and other under privileged sections.
  • Aggressive trade unions have also played their part in the destruction of national wealth. They have ensured that many public sector blue chips have turned sick or loss making: Sail, Air-India, Indian Airlines are just three examples. These companies are stuck with huge wage bills and low productivity. The last pay commission cleared by a weak and hodgepodge United Front government has bloated the Union and state payrolls so much that even the best-administered states such as Maharashtra are bankrupt. Neither the Centre nor the states have money any more for public services, utilities and development. Bharat feels the repercussions the hardest.
  • As a result -- drought plagues 200 of 250 districts for two years in 12 states but still simple measures for rainwater harvesting are not put in place in the last three decades. Yet 50 per cent of the canal and irrigation schemes are in disrepair or are white elephants that have gobbled up funds guaranteed by government.
  • Also, 50 per cent of the children born in the country suffer from malnutrition, and 150 million from iodine deficiency. Infant mortality rates are high and killer diseases like cancer and AIDS are spreading rapidly because of lack of awareness.
  • The plight of animals is even worse. Badly maintained zoos and rampant poaching and corruption have left the most precious animals locked up in death traps. The death due to negligence of tigers, peacocks and elephants has made intermittent headlines all through last year.
  • Over five million Indians travel abroad and collectively blow up approximately $ 5 billion, but when in India, we reel from power shortages, bad roads and accidents caused by rampant indiscipline fomented by large-scale corruption.

Having looted the country over five decades with the help of the neta and babu class, it is only rich India that is prepared for the future - one that is underwritten by Swiss banks. The children of the netas after being educated abroad, aspire for their father's gaddi and money machines.

The bureaucrats uniformly see no future in India, their children are safely US citizens and if they return, it is only as dollar earning executives of multinationals who use their desi connections to open doors and make moolah for their multinational employers.

As for businessmen, their Ivy League degrees are good business accessories and give them the right polish, but their core business strategies remain the same old ones of making money, not through dividends but inflated projects costs and large borrowings from the public and the banking system.

The danger is that Bharat will one day wake up to these games and there may be hell to pay.

-- Sucheta Dalal