People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 03, 2007
On PM’s Pious Declarations
MUCH furore has been generated with India Inc virtually rejecting the prime minister’s exhortation to eschew conspicuous consumption and to moderate the salaries and other perks of CEOs.
Speaking at the annual summit of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the prime minister outlined a ten-point social charter for inclusive growth. To be fair, much of what was stated by the prime minister in seeking a partnership with industry to achieve a more equitable and inclusive growth cannot be faulted. But, however, such pious declarations and appeals to a change of heart cannot and will not meaningfully alter the situation which the prime minister himself described as ‘progress (having benefited) India and not Bharat’. He, however, asserted that India is Bharat and hence the urging for inclusive growth.
Asking capitalism to cease exploitation is like asking for the moon –– an impossible task. A capitalist is a capitalist because he exploits. A capitalist does not exploit because he cheats the workers in the labour market or because he is immoral. He may be both, but even when he is neither, he will still exploit. Exploitation under capitalism is inherent in its production process itself due to the basic law on which it operates; at any point of time, the value commanded by labour in the market is always less than the value of what is produced by this labour. The difference is the surplus value which the capitalist appropriates as profit. Hence, all appeals to a change of heart is not only meaningless but is empty rhetoric.
The moot question is why did such a situation arise, in India, in the first place? All expressions of concern at the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption may be well-intentioned. But then, why did such glaring disparities arise and the divide continues to grow between `Shining’ India and `Suffering’ India.
First, let us consider the present situation. There is no need to grudge the success of India’s billionaires. May their tribe increase. The combined worth of the 36 Indian billionaires is placed at $191 billion –– equal to one-fourth of India’s GDP. But what does this mean for the rest of India? A hundred crore plus population minus these 36 individuals shares the rest of the 75 per cent of our GDP. Within this, given the growing hiatus between ‘Shining’ and ‘Suffering’ India, the share of the vast majority of our population continues to dwindle. There is a need to look at the other end of the spectrum.
According to the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the third in a series of national surveys, malnutrition continues to be a significant problem for children and adults in India. The most striking has been the increase in wasting (too thin for a given height) among children. In the seven years since the last survey, the number of children wasted has gone up from 16 to 19 per cent. 38 per cent of our children are stunted (too short for age) and 46 per cent are underweight (too thin for age).
NFHS-3 has found a remarkably high prevalence of anaemia – 79 per cent – amongst children aged 6 to 35 months. Seven years ago, this figure was 74 per cent. Anaemia is also disturbingly common among adults. Among women, its prevalence has actually increased over the past seven years –– from 52 to 56 per cent among married women and from 52 to 58 per cent, amongst pregnant women. Among men, the anaemia levels are 24 per cent, unacceptably high given global standards.
This is the status of the health of mothers who are producing and rearing India’s future. While the nutritional health of our people is directly related with their economic status, the State’s support towards improving this has also been woeful. Public health continues to remain neglected despite considerable public outcry to increase expenditures. Only 44 per cent of our children, who are less than two years old, receive all recommended vaccinations.
How do those who miraculously survive these conditions live? 58 per cent of India (72 per cent of rural India) do not have access to piped drinking water. 56 per cent of India (74 per cent of rural India) do not have access to toilet facilities. 59 per cent of India (75 per cent of rural India) do not live in a pucca house. 55 per cent of Indians do not own any agricultural land.
Over one-third of India in the six-plus age group are illiterate. The drop-out rates continue to remain very high. So does the prevalence of child labour. Once again, all this cannot be changed for the better unless the economic conditions of the vast majority of our people is radically improved. Are we moving in that direction?
Improving economic status of the people implies providing them decent levels of livelihood. Instead, we are witnessing the opposite. The annual growth of employment in the organised sector between 1994 and 2004, according to this year’s Economic Survey, has actually declined by minus 0.38 per cent. The country, therefore, is loosing existing jobs rather than creating new ones. The figures of the latest round of the National Sample Survey show that both in rural and urban India, for both men and women, the unemployment rates by most categories have increased. The increase for women is much sharper.
The agrarian distress continues unabated with over 20,000 of our farmers committing suicides every year. The decline in foodgrain production is ominous for the already fragile food security situation in the country.
Inclusive growth means the continuous economic empowerment of our people. This, in turn, means much larger expenditures and public investment in the social sector. This is what was promised to the people in the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme (CMP). However, the total expenditure on the social sector as a percentage of GDP declined from 28.26 in 2001-02 to 27.19 per cent in 2006-07.
If the prime minister’s declared objectives in the charter to the CII are to be realised, then what is required is a change of course in economic policies: the abandonment of the neo-liberal policy framework and a shift in the focus of economic policies from being solely preoccupied with corporate profits towards improving people’s welfare. Liberalisation with a `human face’ however desirable it may be, can never be achieved as these two simply do not go together. If the objective is to improve the human livelihood, then the liberalisation agenda needs necessarily to be abandoned.