Nation’s Conscience Keeper by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (JULY 26, 2013)


Over the years Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has emerged as India’s conscience keeper. Earlier this week he declared that as an Indian he would not want Narendra Modi as prime minister of the country. The reason, he said, was that he did not do enough for protecting the minority community.

Many Modi supporters are trying to build his case citing his “effective” style of governance. This type of effectiveness and efficiency has always been the hallmark of all fascist governments. Prof. Sen also disapproved of Modi’s governance and said he would not like to endorse it.

With the prestige that he enjoys as a learned man, his views bring clarity on issues to common people. To his credit, he opposed BJP’s anti-Muslim politics even at the height of NDA government’s power. Heeding his views enables governments to come up with appropriate, inclusive policies.

Societies and countries badly need such voices of sanity for course correction and keeping on the right path. His latest work, Uncertain Glory, written with Jean Dereze, is being widely talked about as a timely warning to India’s policy makers. He says almost all the fruits of India’s economic development have been cornered by a relatively small class, leaving little or nothing for the vast majority.

Successive governments have not also taken care to deliver the huge income to the deprived classes. The authors have pointed that “the societal reach of economic progress in India has been extremely limited.”

There is an extremely small class of really rich people in India followed by 200 million to 250 million middle class people, who are not rich like the upper classes, but better off than the poor. They have has somehow blocked the way for the poor whose population could be twice or thrice as large.

One of the reasons is that only the enthusiasm and appetite of the relatively better off classes for more of the good things in life is reflected in the media, not the grievous suffering of the deprived.

Over the years India has slipped to the fifth position in social indicators in the six-nation SAARC, only ahead of Pakistan, which has been caught up in civil strife for the last several years. In parameters like education, health, longevity, minimisation of child mortality, woman and child welfare, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are ahead. The reason is that in India the huge resources developed by economic progress have not been ploughed back into the social sector.

Dereze and Sen have questioned the development model. What is more alarming is that even the right to protest has been taken away from the deprived by the well off classes. Also, their protests do not include the most serious concerns of the really deprived, suffering majority. The middle class agenda is marked by a collective selfishness of their own class.

Sen and Dereze have also questioned the idea of aam aadmi (common man) being misappropriated by the middle classes. In fact, they are aam aadmi only in comparison to the really rich people. However, in this way, the sufferings of nearly two third of the country’s population, the real aam aadmi, have been sidelined.

This is a timely warning for the government, the political class, civil society and society at large to effect some course correction. They say it has to be done without losing time.


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