Monday, January 08, 2007

Worldview, credo

Soham has made a comment on my post "Wrong signals":

"If there are no roads, build the roads. If there is no driving discipline instil discipline. Those are just excuses of the socialists (basically Naxalites posing as NGOs and human rights activists) who are afraid of development. They are like the frogs in the village well and a millstone on Bengal's neck. They know development will mean that the poor will become rich. That's what these socialist elite fear the most. Let the Singur car factory happen. Let the SEZ at Nandigram happen. And let the lumpen, communal, anti national, violence prone elements (Naxalites + Jamaat) lose their face.”

Here’s my response.

Hullo! Thank you for your visit and comment.

I would like to join you in your thinking and endeavours to wish and work well for all the people of India, and in particular the poor.

I believe that the globalisation of the Indian economy has also brought great opportunities for the social and economic advancement of the low income and poor sections of India. I believe that the market system, based on business enterprise and profit is the only means in today’s world, for the efficient taking up of society’s economic functions. I also firmly believe in public policy, knowing that ultimately underlying the market and profit governed society is a set of normative values and choices. I have also tried, through many years, to understand the meaning, incidence, causes and solutions for poverty and disempowerment in India, in Calcutta, and West Bengal, in other specific parts of India, other parts of the world, and also internationally.

Hence, politics and civic life - today in a global society - have to be about the advancing of values one believes in. I also believe that views, opinions and ideologies are also ultimately unimportant, in the face of reality. So if one likes to remain deluded in one’s self-willed false worldview and beliefs, time and the world are only going to pass you by. On the other hand, if one really believes in some things, and feels strongly about this, then one can try to do something, something specific, in some place, with some people. That experience will also bring much learning, through which one’s former beliefs and awareness could even change drastically.

I have no objection to cars and car plants, or to industrialisation, or to roads, or to investments by profit-making capitalists, Indian and foreign. But being a student and teacher of economics, as well as a thinking citizen with a point of view, with some experience in relating to, engaging with, and working in the public domain, and now while also managing a small family enterprise, which manufactures for the global market, in which humble people from disprivileged backgrounds work and have risen in life – I have objections to the conduct of the state govt and the chief minister, and of Tata. As a citizen I think I am entitled to my views, and to expect and demand transparency, accountability, and proper conduct on the part of my govt.

In my posts on Singur, I have expressed and stated my point of view. The articles I have linked to have also cast light on various aspects of the matter, which I felt were important for people to be aware of.

As you mentioned roads – I would like to refer you to an article on this by Sunita Narain. That raises various important issues pertaining to cars and roads, and real costs, and about who pays. Read this here.

Nandigram Special Economic Zone – let it happen, and I hope the state govt will be able to win the confidence of all the farmers who will be displaced, and then do its best to minimise the hardship to be necessarily borne by some for new industrialisation. I feel I too should be subject to personal sacrifices for a public and social cause, and have no hesitation to bear the cost of building a better future for all. To the extent I am able to, I do, out of my own beliefs and will, contribute and work in various ways for the same goal.

I have no objections to your views on socialists, NGOs, lumpens, communalists, Jamaat, Naxalites etc, as I am not a member or sympathiser or apologist for any of them.

So I am sorry if somehow you have been angered by something I do not identify with; hence I have tried to make my own position clear. I would also like to join you in your efforts for realising a better future for all Indians, since that is very dear to me. But if there is a genuine difference between our points of view, because of our differing perceptions, analysis, understanding, vision, experience, normative make-up – then I suppose that is as it must be, and both of us are entitled to our views. Ultimately time will prove whether you or I or neither of us was right.

But I would also actively participate and work for shaping the future that I, and more crucially my children, are going to live with. That will bring success, or a change in one’s views and being, or resistance, or frustration, or personal injury and loss, or failure, encouragement, cheer, dejection, hope, pain; and continuation or withdrawal. And so it will go on as long as one is alive, alive in a civic sense.

Thank you!


Abhay said...

Hello Rama you have posted some good articles of late haven't been able to come here will repost them soon onto the blog

Also you can get a search box for
your blog here

If you face any problem installing it let me know.

Bonita said...

Be encouraged, your heart is so good, and pass this enthusiasm on to your children. More than anything, they must be optimistic, and know that small changes can bring turning points. We all feel the disgrace of injustice and inequity. I hope one day that all humanity will labor together to remove these blights from the world. ~ Bonita

bhupinder said...

Very good post, Rama.
I would like to add a point on the observation that globalisation brings opportunities for the poor.

Globalisation is an accelerated pace of capitalist development on a global scale, that seeks to (1) increase profits by shifting jobs outside the more expensive West and (2) exploiting natural resources in the less developed parts of the world. The second is similar to the colonial plunder that marked the expansion of European colonial powers till the 1950s. The first is a relatively newer phenomenon.

As corporations expand world wide to increase their profits, they need the infrastructure to do so and also create newer class divisions.

Some classes gain at the expense of others- the phenomenon of increasing class differentiation cannot but also divide the poor- as in urban and rural, tribal and non- tribal, Dalits and non- Dalits and so on.

My contesting of the current wave of globalisation that started in the 1980s and gathered momentum in India after 1991, lies in the fact that it pushes the poorest of the poor to a wall. Whatever gains that are made are not only highly unequal, but also at the expense of the poorest.

With the neo- liberal insistence on the withdrawal of the State, many of the gains of the working people (e.g. pensions) are further weakened.

Hence, the statement that "globalisation has... brought great opportunities for the social and economic advancement of the low income and poor sections of India" needs to be qualified- it is in fact pitting one section of the poor against the other and creating newer underclasses.

rama said...

Dear Friends, thank you for your comments.

Bhupi - I do not disagree with you. But it is also a fact that the unequal distribution of the benefits and costs of globalisation is fundamentally because of the unequal power of the people. Some are in a position to take advantage of the opportunities created; and some are compelled to be left behind, lacking the means or support that can help make a difference. My emphasis in my post on "public policy" - means that I am aware of the limits and pitfalls of the profit-market system, and that I accord primacy to values and social choice, within which the market system has to function. One can go on protesting the globalisation; one can go on lamenting, critiquing. I can also accept that this does serve some purpose. However, I am rather impatient to see large-scale improvements in the condition of India's common people, rural and urban. One important, real and practical means for that can be the opportunities created through globalisation. But for that there needs to be an agency that can assist them to do so. A huge gap - social, economic, financial, cognitive etc - exists between the haves and the have-nots. This gap has to be rapidly bridged. Sadly, such an agency is hardly there. People like to realise benefits for themselves, and not help others. Conversely, those individuals and groups of this ilk who do exist - should go all out to realise as much gain for as many people as quickly as possible! I started writing an essay recently titled "The democratisation of entrepreneurship and the enterprise of democracy". My friend Majora Carter who works in South Bronx in New York speaks (as a social activist) of finding the capitalist within ourselves. In the Indian context, not every one of the poor can become an entrepreneur, for a long time. Wage emmployment, sustainable livelihood opportunity, widening of horizons, social empowerment etc would eventually lead to some of their next generation at least being capable of taking up enterprise. Pro-poor activists have a huge amount of work to do!

Best, rama

Anonymous said...


I do often read your blog as it comes up in google search.

You are entitled to your views about the various issues which are pretty thought provoking and well written. And that's why I bothered to comment. And none of it is directed at you personally.

However I think people need to look at things from a practical point of view and not always from an idealistic point of view.

Ideally every person in West Bengal should have never had to work and just lazed around and enjoyed the beauty of nature. Unfortunately we have managed to fill this small state with around 90 million people!

Obviously this is a great stress on resources (you will never hear Sunita Narain or any of her lobby group speak of this point because it is politically incorrect and not suited to certain dogmas ). Upto a certain point, agriculture can meet the requirements of so many millions. However very few of these millions can ever live beyond the "din ani din khayee" syndrome. Agricultral growth rates of 3-4% are no longer sustainable under the small land holding patterns that we have. And these land holdings are going to grow even smaller in the next few years as the current owners are replaced by their three children. The sharecropper who is working on the fields will soon be replaced by three of his children to work.

Where do you think all these excess people who will reach working age be accomodated?

One of the ways out is industrialization and urbanization. It cannot solve all the issues but it certainly can add a lot of value to the economy.

Take Calcutta as an example. The metro area has 20% of the state's population on 2% of the land. And it produces a lion's share of the state's GDP.

Think of it. If the state had three more cities like Kolkata, we would have 80% of the people in four mega cities covering only 8-10% of land area of the state. The remaining 20% of people can till the remaining 80% of the land to their heart's content and lead comfortable lives.

I know it's hypothetical and probably laughable (I am no expert like Sunita Narain).

Singur can become a nucleus for such growth. So can Haldia and Nandigram.

Opposition by land owners is very natural. Nobody wants to lose one's land. It is imperative that those who lose land should be given handsome compensation, proper housing and training in small scale businesses. Wouldn't that be a more positive approach?

Instead what are the politcal parties and activists doing? Digging up roads, indulging in violence, calling bandhs, breaking railway tracks.

Obviously the state government needs to be more open about these issues. It is however easy to say that. But do you think they really have a choice?

West Bengal's reputation amongst the investors is pretty low thanks to bandhs, labour trouble and violence. The state can take a high moral stand and say that it doesn't care about investment. But can it really take that high moral ground?

Can it really say that factories can be built only in Purulia? The investors will just laugh and go to another state or another country.

Right now however the priority should be for people to cool down and bring back peace to the state. Nobody wants the dark days of Kansal movement. West Bengal was the biggest loser in that.

And maybe Buddhadeb can stop all plans for industrialization. If the majority of West Bengal residents don't want industrialization on land then so be it. And the Tatas can go to Thailand where they will be welcomed.

Let Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttaranchal have the industries.



rama said...

Hi Soham, thanks for your new comment. My response to Bhupinder's comment further elaborates my point of view. I have no quarrel with you - only, a friendly request to not be overly-guided by statistics, and statistical results; real, human situation on the ground is a far better indicator of the state of the land!

Of course the second class citizenhood that the majority of our countrymen are consigned to - must change. And of course no one really wants that, because as Indians, possessing the "inequality gene", we always want to lord it over someone else. But taking away whatever little the second class citizens have - is even worse!

Its only the "babu" who wants to laze and intellectuate; no such option for the common worker or peasant. They have to work everyday to feed themselves and their dependents.

We need a govt that is totally committed to uplifting the poor and low income, socially, economically. I would support such a govt in whatever it does, even if it grovels before capitalists to bring investments, provided the govt is always looking out for how this can benefit the people. There are so many things that the govt can do for the poor, without waiting for investors. For instance improve the state of primary education in the state. You must see the real condition of primary schools near urban slums, and in rural areas. You will feel shamed as a citizen that this exists, and want to drink the blood of the bastards who are responsible for that. Govt officers were specially deputed to sppeden up the Singur land acquisition. I have no objection to that. Why are similar deployments not done for the host of burning tasks? Do read my post on making money out of service latrine conversion to see how base the system can get.

The govt is more concerned about the glee of dubious promoters, hucksters and cowboys than its own people.

So, notwithstanding Buddhadev's efforts, I just can't take him seriously. He is too puny and pathetic a figure. And the great gung-ho with which he is being viewed and projected - is even more pathetic. But actually its quite sinister.

But more disturbing for me than govt failure, is the absence of civil society and intelligentsia concern. We do not care for our less privileged brethren, though we wax eloquent about the Bengal renaissance etc etc. We abdicated our responsibility.

Bad days ahead for Bengal, not because of Singur or Nandigram. But despite all that.