I recently attended a talk by P. Sainath, an eminent Indian journalist. The talk was titled, very interestingly, “Moral Economy of the Elite”. Let me begin by saying, he mocked economist throughout his lecture. While doing so, he quoted Kenneth Boulding and said, “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a finite planet is either mad, or an economist.” Even though I am a budding economist, I was in splits like the rest of the crowd. The beauty of this lecture was that the speaker did not belong to a technical discipline like Economics, or Engineering, and said things in a plain fashion but effectively, like journalists do, and boy was he good at that. There were 450 people in an auditorium with 230 seats, which is good proof of this fact.
Sainath spoke about how India is in a severe social regression. To explain this, he exemplified by talking about the human shield case in Kashmir, or the ban on cow slaughter. The elite always took up the cause of the marginalised in the 60s and the 70s, which does not happen anymore. In 2016, India’s top 1% of the society amassed 58.4% the country’s wealth, second only after Russia, where the top 1% sat over 70% of the country’s wealth. Compare this to the USA, where the top 1% has 42% of wealth. Talking about growth in wealth, the bottom decile saw a fall of 0.7%, whereas the second and third decile saw a similar growth, taking the net total of growth in wealth of the bottom 30% to zero. India has 101 dollar billionaires and 82% of our parliamentarians are crorepatis according to their own affidavits. So who are India’s elite. You and me fall in that category in a way, along with corporate leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, basically anyone who wields any amount of power, and has fair representation. He went to say how the NDA is a coalition between socio-religious fundamentalists and market economics fundamentalists, rightly so, and said that the latter are the worse among two. A fair amount of the lecture was naturally devoted to the hypocrisy in today’s media, paid news, and how the media is driven by vested interest of the big corporate and political parties. The line from this lecture that will stay with me is, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” After talking about how India had institutionalised acceptance of the Emergency, he ended his spirited talk with these words, “If we do not speak up now, we will never be able to.”
Here are my thoughts. I always had in mind that India is dichotomy of gigantic proportions. The numbers above validate that. The Government aims at sky rocketing growth rates. India is among the elite countries to send an unmanned mission to Mars. But there is widespread poverty. More so, there are things that people are not talking about. People are not talking about the agrarian crisis that our farmers are facing today, as you read this, in spite of a normal monsoon. No one is talking about the water crisis that the country is facing today. No one is talking about the IT sector laying off 56,000 employees this year alone, from the point of view of the employees getting laid off. If at all it is getting covered in the newspapers, it is always from the point of the view of the financial stress of these companies. All that is worth discussing about and debated about is conveniently hidden from us.
However there is another dichotomy. This dichotomy is more from a legal or constitutional perspective. The top 10% of the population is well protected by laws. But the bottom 30% is not, at all. Who is there to represent them? How can the 82% crorepati parliamentarians represent those are not even making Rs. 10,000 a year? Who is representing them? These people are fighting a different fight. And we may or may not be compassionate enough to discuss about it. They have troubles more grave and more realistic than we face. While it is necessary to grow, the trickle-down theory is clearly not working. And we the people are running out of credible options to vote for. This dichotomy is clearly the cause behind the former one. There is a lot of concentration on the tip of the iceberg, and one day it is going to grow very heavy, unable to support its own weight, and eventually collapse.
I think it is very difficult to hold a process straight and right for a long time. Anyone who has even led a team in a college festival can appreciate this fact. A process has to be taken care of right from the very beginning to the very end, or it does not take people time to corrupt it, unintentionally even so. What we are looking at is a continuous corruption and distortion of institutions and processes meant as checks and balances for the governing party. It starts with the corruption of the bureaucracy, due to excess concentration of power. What follows now is a corruption of the media, with the media houses arranging in a variety of compensatory deals with various parties having vested interests. And the media is supposed to be a legit set-up, supposed to ask tough questions, but that is not happening. Even Sainath mentioned how rural and agrarian issues make up for less than 1% of front page news in the entire year.
In my opinion, the Judiciary is the only uncorrupted institution in the country, restoring the balance of the tyranny as inflicted by our political masters. With the honourable Supreme Court staying the beef ban order across the country, I am sure I talk for everyone that our faith in the country’s judiciary was restored. The same can be said about the incident when tough action was taken against the BCCI presidium. The lawyers and judges have done an excellent job right from the beginning, maintaining the process of law making in a righteous, fair and balanced manner. As can be seen, these actions are against the society’s elite. So a question to be asked is, what has happened to the elite? Something about them has changed. They have been corrupted by their selfish motives and the extraordinary gains that arise out of them, monetary and otherwise, and seriously lack empathy and compassion for the underprivileged and the marginalised
The feature photo of the article is that of the outside of an eatery near Jama Masjid, where I went for dinner after the lecture. This was common sight in front of many eateries there. It was closing time and what looked like beggars had lined up outside the restaurants in anticipation of food. The restaurateurs would generously give away their leftover food to these tens of people waiting in line. But look at the beggars. They are sitting, if not on the ground, on their only possessions. Their hands were spread out asking for food. Their heads were bent down. And this is happening in the heart of the capital of this great country called India. What is this, if not social exclusion? As soon as one row of beggars would get food, only then would they get up and walk away. The ones sitting behind them would crawl ahead, in a duck-walking fashion, and spread their hands out for food. Who is representing them? Who is protecting their interests?