Saturday, November 16, 2013

Towards a Kingdom of Silence

Towards a Kingdom of Silence - Satyaki Roy

The politics of growth oriented discourse entails a determinism that reduces social progress to metrics of value addition that is output net of inputs.

If one assumes substitutability then the same output can be produced with variable sets of inputs and prices. And this of course includes human beings, their labour, skill and ideas that shape objects producing commodities both useful and sellable at the same time. In this framework there is nothing wrong in substituting labour by capital, in other words, living labor by ‘dead labor’ in order to maximize profit or attain defined levels of efficiency. Therefore high growth with increasing doses of unemployment is acceptable. This is made palatable however by instilling a belief that growth itself would take care of the collateral pains in future where the future is really undefined. In essence the argument takes sacrifice of current consumption for future gains as axiomatic. Therefore the human contributions of development as well their attainments are only instrumental to ultimate consummatory act. Growth in this sense is assumed to be distinct from the process of distribution anchored on the mono-causality of ‘trickle down’. It either fails to recognize or deliberately ignore the fact that distribution does not follow from growth instead it is constitutive of growth. The deterministic discourse that attaches some divine importance to growth rates are essentially inclined to protect the surplus independent of the state of human beings who are assumed to be nuts and bolts to the process of production. This perhaps explains why the propertied classes and their political combinations are growth fetish and forecloses the other equally important dimensions of growth and development. The immense and disproportionate importance ascertained on growth figures gives rise to a discourse that eventually becomes blind to what growth means to people, their well-being or livelihood. The misplaced focus on growth rates is a result of the crudest form of commodity view of human welfare that fetishises human attainments on the basis of command over commodities.

Anyway this is the dominant discourse of progress and we are supposed to keep faith on it despite the fact that the majority Indians in the past two decades could hardly realize the assumed benefits of high growth. Moreover to be decisive enough there is a search for a macho-man, a  ‘rational maximizer’ incarnated, the masculine, the ruthless executor of corporate dominance, a leader insensitive to all sorts of dissent and committed to destroy all obstacles that vitiate the writ of the market. This imagery is nothing but a futile attempt to re-invigorate the waning growth centric paradigm of development. It is the moment of the rise of the Right. The strong man as if India is waiting for, an ideal chemistry of pro-business submission coupled with ruthless social authoritarianism.

Growth Fundamentalism
The celebration of growth mesmerizes the common perception failing it to perceive the real problems that demand immediate attention. India had really impressive growth rates in the past two decades. During the period 90/91 to 2000/01 the average was close to 5.7 per cent and in the next decade till 07/08 it was as high as 7.5 per cent on an average including three subsequent years of above nine per cent growth rates. In spite of the fact that India and Indonesia follow China in terms of growth rates nevertheless high growth rate in itself could not provide answers to questions that really matters to majority of the people. Dreze and Sen (2013)[1] has shown that taking India’s per capita GDP as the cut-off point if we list the 16 poorest countries, India is ranked first in terms of per capita GDP. Apart from per capita GDP India’s rank is tenth for child mortality, eleventh for female literacy and thirteenth in mean years of schooling among the sixteen poorest countries. Twenty years back in terms a range of social indicators within six South-Asian countries India was second after Sri Lanka and now India is second last after Pakistan. Furthermore seven major states with a population of about 545 million which is almost half the total population of India are at par with 27 poorest countries of Africa in terms of multi-dimensional poverty index. The important fact however is all these fiasco continued along with a whopping above nine percent growth rate.

What did the labour gain out of this high growth rate? Unit labour cost is defined as the ratio of nominal wage rate to labour productivity and labour productivity is measured as some quantity of output produced per worker. The measure tells us the amount of money to be paid to a worker for producing a comparable unit of output and according to this measure the labour lost by more than half what it used to fetch for producing a comparable unit four decades back. Despite rise in productivity, the real wages of workers remained more or less stagnant in India while it increased by about 12 per cent in the past two decades in China, a country otherwise known for its repressive labour regime. The share of wages in gross value added in the manufacturing sector in India declined from 28 per cent in 1987/88 to 12 per cent in 2004/05. The country experienced the most protracted agrarian crisis with astronomical figures of farmer suicides. And all this happened despite the fact that India experienced high growth during the past two decades. There can be two responses vis-à-vis these facts and these are the following. These are peripheral ailments to the grand narrative of high growth. They need to be taken care of but should not in any case override the concern for growth. The other response could be high growth in itself is not an answer to problems of development it is only a means often collapsed with ends. And these specific problems are intrinsic to human needs and could not be articulated by the logic of surplus.

Sen while explicating his social choice theory in the Nobel lecture in 1998 uses an anecdote ‘A camel may not have the speed of a horse but it is a very useful and harmonious animal- well coordinated to travel long distances without food and water’. And horse might not be the only outcome one should aspire for. The concept of development is dynamic, it is essentially value laden but not based on some externalist account of a trans-historical human essence. Sen’s capability approach is internalist that aims to surmount the dichotomy between non-historical absolutism and local relativism. It draws the developmental ethic from within mundane human needs that are intrinsic and irreducible to commodities. It argues that man requires wealth not for wealth itself but to achieve ‘something else’ the doings and beings one value for. And to be brief development means enhancement of capabilities that allow choice between alternative lives. One can easily guess why the BJP Rajya Sabha MP demanded to strip Amarty Sen’s Bharat Ratna. What matters to the claimants of power is the displacement of the dominant discourse, the growth centric narrative and fixing the goal posts somewhere else. The comfortable zone to major political blocks in India would be voices that revolve around the agenda of growth rates, capital inflows and reviving stock prices and so on. This is the discourse of the rich and upper middle class, the privileged few. And insists the eighty per cent to sacrifice, accept bullets of inflation and unemployment, destitution and dispossession for benefits of the corporate tycoons that can only able to rescue the ailing economy!

The ‘Messiah Model’      
Just as one needs to declare a dog mad before killing similarly one needs to create the image of a messiah to pose him as the panacea of all evils. History has to be re-written or at least re-read for that. Ahistoric packaging of successes together with a concerted effort to push the misdeeds of 2002 riots under the carpet is the architecture of an alluring ‘model’ epitomized by a leader, the man behind. This time it is not the Hindu strong man the patron behind the greatest genocide in our country in the recent past. He is the messiah, India Inc’s poster boy, the architect of the so called ‘Gujarat model’.

In spite of the fact that growth rates and other aggregate parameters do not say much about the health of the economy and its people, let us check the figures of state level performances. Is there any sign of separate ‘Gujarat model’ emerging, marked by a departure since Mr. Modi assuming office as the chief minister?  Undoubtedly Gujarat had been a state that experienced high growth rates in the past three decades. If we consider four subsequent phases 81/82-94/94; 94/95-2004/05; 2005/06-2008/09 and again 2006/07-2011/12 and see the average growth rates of gross state domestic product at constant prices we find Gujarat is among the three states (others being Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan) that show above 6 per cent average growth rate in all of these four phases. During the period 2005/06 to 2008/09 the three major states that achieved 10 per cent plus growth are Bihar (12.45), Gujarat (11.77) and Haryana (10.05). And during the entire second half of the current decade, that is 2006/07 to 2011/12 the top three states on account of growth rates are Gujarat (10.13), Maharashtra (9.97) and Tamil Nadu (9.68). These facts simply show that Gujarat had been historically doing well in terms of growth. There is in fact continuity in this performance as one of the industrially advanced states of India and one cannot easily correlate this high growth to Modi’s coming to power in 2001. Rather steep rise in growth rates since 2005/06 are visible in states such as Bihar, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.

Turning to per capita net state domestic product at constant prices the story is more or less same. The states that have shown more than 4 per cent growth in the first three phases as mentioned above are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. However the state showing higher growth rates in real per capita NSDP in the third phase are Bihar, Gujarat and Kerala. Distinct achievers in this regard are of course Bihar, Odisha and Kerala. In a similar vein if we see the investment scenario during the period 2008 to 2013(July), the top three states in terms of total number of investment proposals (IIMs Filed, LOIs and DILs issued) are Maharashtra (3876), Gujarat (2475) and Andhra Pradesh (2107). The average percentage of realization of proposals in the six reference years is highest in case of Odisha followed by Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These facts precisely show that considering growth and investment figures Gujarat and Maharashtra had been high performing states but departures from trends are sharper in the recent past in case of relatively backward states such as Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

Impressive growth performances over a fairly longer period of time do not automatically result in a better livelihood and Gujarat is a striking example in this regard. Higher income and revenue does not get translated always into higher standards of living. Sailing on the market wave with certain preconditions and path dependence can allow an economy move towards higher levels of growth and investment but to achieve higher levels of capabilities for people at large there has to be serious efforts on the part of the government and on that count Gujarat probably fails miserably. Gujarat recorded the highest growth rate in per capita income in the last decade but its per capita monthly consumption expenditure in the rural areas in 2009-10 is Rs 1110 while corresponding figures for Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana are 1835, 1536 and 1510 respectively. The figure for Gujarat is only slightly higher than the all India average which is Rs. 1054. The percentage of undernourished children in terms of weight for age is 44.6 per cent in case of Gujarat which is almost double than that of Kerala and even higher than the all India average which is 42.5 per cent. In terms of height for age also the percentage of undernourished children in Gujarat is 51.7 per cent compared to the all India average of 48 per cent and 24.5 per cent for Kerala and 30.9 per cent for Tamil Nadu. The figures on percent of children with full immunization also reflects Gujarat’s dismal picture. In Tamil Nadu 80.9 per cent of the children are fully immunized while in Gujarat the figure is far lower at 45.2. In regard to the percentage of villages having any public health facilities Kerala ranks the highest with 99.8 per cent and Tamil Nadu at 61.8 per cent while Gujarat is low at 46.9 per cent.

The poor in Gujarat are really in a hapless condition. The proportion of population falling in India’s lowest wealth quantile is 7.2 per cent, the corresponding figures for Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Haryana are 1 percent, 1.2 per cent, 10.6 per cent and 4.1 per cent respectively. Despite records of prolonged high growth, 41 per cent of the population in Gujarat can be considered as multi-dimensionally poor. The workers in the state are relatively less paid. Average daily wage earning of rural male casual labourers is Rs. 87 which is Rs. 227 for Kerala and the all India average is Rs. 102. The wages for rural female casual labourers is Rs. 71 which is slightly above the national average of Rs. 69 but far less than what it is in Kerala Rs. 119.

A relevant question therefore, how is the Gujarat growth story different from that of India’s? It is the same trajectory in which higher growth rates mean very little to the poor. A profit-led exclusionary growth path in which growth becomes increasingly dependent on capital intensive capacity buildings, financial speculation and luxury consumptions having very little or negative impact on unemployment. But efforts are made to propagate that Gujarat growth story as a different model. Aakritiapco a joint venture of Gujarat government and APCO Worldwide, an influential lobbyist company of the US had been assigned for long to create the truth of ‘Gujarat model’, to pose every inch of positive outcomes in Gujarat as the handicraft of ‘messiah Modi’ and push aside all the dark behind the shadows of carefully designed cutouts and shootouts.

Towards a kingdom of silence
For the past two decades India experienced high growth coupled with unemployment, hunger and deprivation. The impasse in the present conjuncture often referred to ‘policy paralyses’ reflects a crisis of the ruling combination in maintaining legitimacy of the existing policy discourse. Today’s sacrifice would bear fruits in the future is no longer acceptable to the majority citizens who had been in a long wait of more than two decades of continuing reform. And the loss of hegemony is reflected by contesting feuds and confronting political groups within the ruling class trying heavily for a facelift. The tragedy of democracy however is that despite many efforts to insulate policy decisions from public debates and opinions either by directly obstructing the legislative process to function or by consistent efforts to restrict policy discourse as something exclusive for the elite, coming to power in India requires winning elections. To the ruling elite elections are the game of manipulating the majority opinion and to the common person it is some of the rare occasions when elected representatives are at least answerable to them. Hence elections are perturbations to a smooth sail, the eve of the dirty and murky when the non-educated common man suddenly becomes uncontrollable and empowered. And this un-comfort sometimes prompts piecemeal arrangements, often tokenism with certain doses of welfare to win the dissenting minds.  In fact these are occasional transfers to the need segment of the economy in order to maintain political stability. Otherwise put the old wine in a new bottle, come straight as pro business, insensitive to dissents and impatient to any debate. The model is more slick slimmed off from the hangovers of ‘inclusive development’ and straight forward to serve the corporate. The ultimate doer has arrived.
The change from the older version perhaps is in the mode of engineering hegemony. The majoritarian assertion would be built this time on the grounds of social authoritarianism instead of relying on half-hearted welfare policies. The middle class especially the upper caste and middle caste, urban professional, salaried and business class who are benefitted from the reform process and aspire for a political system insulated from the noises of the crowd are looking for a decisive change in their favour. The change that ensure ignoring and demolishing all obstacles which so ever exists in the pathway to more radical liberal reforms. There is perhaps little doubt that Mr. Modi is a strong candidate in this regard. A simple fact establishes the point. Since 2004 in the name of special economic zones (SEZ) and special investment regions (SIR) about 4 lakh hectares of land had been acquired in Gujarat and handed over to industrialists affecting 399 villages and 10.4 lakh people. The silence which Gujarat could offer is a bliss to all the big corporates. The Modi government in Gujarat had shown immense capacities to silence protests and destroy the tribals and peasants towards serving the corporate.

The art of recreating class hegemony is to make the oppressed and exploited feel that something is taking shape according to their choice. It can be done by distorting the problematique itself. People at large are made to believe that declining growth, rising fiscal deficit and dwindling stock prices are the issues that require far more attention than concerns for unemployment, rising food prices, poor health, education facilities and so on. In that milieu paradoxically one who is averse to plurality and despotic to dissenting voice would appear to be the best choice to solve the ‘policy paralyses’; a choice for a determined move towards corporate freedom. Media would be manipulated for the bandwagon and lot of efforts would be there to create the optical illusion of a new ‘model’ and an avatar emerging to rescue the sinking ship. The corporate in our country are really in search of an India where rights of the poor, the dispossessed and minorities would not be allowed to create any noise in the heavenly trip towards unbridled neoliberal reforms. It is the search for a kingdom of silence.

[1]An Uncertain Glory: India and its Cotradictions, Princeton University Press

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