People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 20

May 14, 2006

Growing Inequalities And Youth Frustration


Amanulla Khan


THE unfortunate death of Dr Rajkumar turned Bangalore into a grieving city. Bangalore shut itself for two days to mourn the loss of one of the greatest sons of Karnataka. Dr Rajkumar was not just a brilliant actor. He was a fine human being representing the best traditions of Karnataka’s culture. He had a fan following cutting across age, region and religion. This was something amazing. Therefore, the unprecedented outpouring of grief over his death was natural. 

But what was unexpected and shocking was the terrible violence witnessed in the city following his death. This violence consumed the lives of eight persons including a policeman. Hundreds suffered injuries and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed. Sadly, the unprecedented violence deprived a decent and dignified farewell to Dr Rajkumar. The initial reaction of the government was that the violence was instigated by vested interests to derive political mileage. The industry is also lamenting that the foreign investors would view the violence very seriously and this would retard the growth of the economy.


However, the ordinary Bangaloreans, shocked by the scale and intensity of violence, are trying to find the reasons for the unruly behaviour of a section of the crowd that had assembled to pay their last respects to Dr Rajkumar. The majority clearly pin the blame on the state government and the police machinery. They argue that the government failed to put in place a proper plan to handle the situation and the initial reaction of the police was high-handed. This infuriated the mob and turned it violent. There is merit in this argument but this opinion does not fully explain the behavioural pattern of the crowd. Some sociologists have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the growing inequalities in Bangalore due to neo-liberalism. These inequalities have created tremendous frustration in the youth that are left out from the process of development and according to them the violence is the manifestation of this frustration. One would tend to agree with this assessment what with the violent youth targeting the cars especially belonging to the young IT professionals returning from work and vandalising the well-constructed and posh houses on the roads through which the funeral procession passed.  


Today Bangalore is showcased as the success story of Indian economic reforms. Both the government and the industry have been claiming credit for making Bangalore the fourth largest technological hub in the world. Karnataka accounts for nearly 35 per cent of the national IT exports. It is claimed that the IT and IT enabled services industry have generated around a lakh jobs in the city. These young IT professionals with high salaries have unleashed huge consumerism. Bangalore is dotted with glittering shopping complexes, pubs and high-rise residential buildings. The roads of Bangalore are choked with dazzling cars. The IT industry and its employees have also created a huge demand for land, raising the prices exorbitantly. In fact, the working class and the middle class cannot dream of owning a residential place in the city center.


Along with this affluent Bangalore another Bangalore too lives amidst extreme poverty and misery. Nearly forty per cent of the city’s population lives in slums. These slums lack the basic necessities. You only have to visit the slums of Jagjivanram Nagar and Devarjeevanhalli to find the pathetic living conditions there. Bangalore once was known for its public sector units, many of which are sick today. The government has identified around 40 public sector units for closure and privatisation. It is estimated that more than 1.5 lakh jobs have been lost in the engineering and ancillary units in the city. That apart, a large per cent of youth are unemployed. The jobs created by the IT industry and outsourcing has benefited only the educated and English speaking youth. The crisis in agriculture has also impacted the city. There is large-scale migration from the rural areas. The state government records say that from 1996 more than 12,000 persons engaged in farming and other agricultural activities in the state have committed suicide due to extreme poverty and indebtedness.


The government pays scarce attention to tackle the problems of the people like roads, water, health and education. The government today feels that its responsibility is only towards the IT industry and to meet the demands of the foreign investors. Prime land is allotted to the IT companies at heavily discounted prices. The roads leading to the IT companies are beautified and even the State Transport Corporation runs luxury buses for the IT industry employees. The newspapers flash the unbelievable salary offers made to the students of the Indian Institute of Management while large number of youth in Bangalore are struggling to find employment to keep their body and soul together. Clearly, neo-liberalism has benefited a small section while the majority is shut away from the process of development. Therefore, the anger and frustration in the youth of Bangalore today is understandable.


This situation is not peculiar to Bangalore alone. The social and economic inequalities in the entire country are growing at an alarming rate. The Indian government is taking pride in the fact that the economy is growing at around 7.5 per cent. The prime minister has been claiming that Indian economy is capable of growing at a rate of more than 10 per cent. But there is a caveat. He says such a growth is possible only if we reform our labour legislations. The inflexibility of labour, according to him, is retarding growth and he has been advocating a policy of ‘hire and fire’. Even in the absence of what the prime minister desires to be the ideal labour laws, the judiciary has been pronouncing atrocious judgements furthering and deepening the process of neo-liberalism.


It is common knowledge that growth by itself cannot improve the living standards of the people. For that to happen, the State has to play its role as a distributor of social justice properly and equitably. It is this important responsibility that the State has abdicated under neo-liberalism. The Indian ruling class has come to believe that the market is the most efficient distributor of the resources. But for the poor and deprived, market is the God that has failed miserably. Today, there are unprecedented inequalities in the Indian society. Neo-liberalism has enabled the elite to amass wealth at unprecedented levels. India, according to Forbes, has 27 billionaires in US dollar terms. The forty richest Indians own assets valued at $106 billion. Converted to Indian currency, the average wealth of each of these forty Indians is close to Rs 12,000 crore. India today has the second largest number of billionaires after the United States. Is this the indication that India like the USA is also becoming a country of one per cent population? The combined net worth of 61,000 rich Indians was estimated in 2003 at $267 billion. One can easily presume that during the last three years, the net worth of these individuals would have greatly increased. It is interesting to note that China having a much higher growth has only 8 billionaires and their combined net worth is $26 billion.


In the midst of this increasing concentration of wealth, India has the dubious distinction of having between 300-350 million of its people living below the poverty levels. The 7 per cent growth has failed to create any jobs. Nearly 20 per cent of the jobs in the manufacturing sector were lost in the post reform period. The NSSO Survey Report (1999-2000) estimates the rate of unemployment at 4.4 per cent, but adds that it increases to 7.2 per cent if under-employment is included. The unemployment figure is at a high 13.3 per cent. The crisis in the Indian agriculture is well known and documented.


Another important aspect is that the State has become intolerant of dissent, and in many instances, it has become repressive. This is seen in the manner the tribals’ agitation was dealt with in Kalinga Nagar of Orissa. The State is also suppressing the legitimate struggles of the workers, as seen in Gurgaon and in the strike of Toyota Kirloskar Motors in Bangalore.


The Indian youth today is frustrated and angry. The overwhelming sections of the population are feeling deprived and neglected. Neo-liberalism has prompted lop-sided development. The increasing inequalities are creating a socially volatile situation. Bangalore violence is a grim reminder of what would happen if the massive discontentment of the people is not properly channelised. Therefore, the biggest challenge confronting the working class and the democratic movement today is to give a political direction to all those who have been left out from the process of development.