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It's advantage 'social sector'
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi | December 06, 2004 12:29 IST
The 20th edition of the India Economic Summit, co-hosted by the World Economic Forum and the Confederation of Indian Industry, got under way in the plush environs of a five-star hotel in New Delhi.
A few miles to the north, a relatively unknown group also held a rally under the auspices of the World Dignity Forum, demanding rights for India's most underprivileged sections -- the Dalits -- an event that was more or less missed by the media.
Then there was the recent issue of Time magazine (Asia edition) that spoke of two Indias: one rich and privileged and whose members were at ease anywhere in the world, and the other, underprivileged, still struggling to make two ends meet, and warned that the chasm was widening, not reducing.
This year, incidentally, began with the World Social Forum in Mumbai, that demanded the rights of the poor, the marginalized, to be heard and for policies keeping in mind not the rich or the corporations but the welfare of the masses.
A few months later, despite boasting a fabulous growth rate and low inflation, the then ruling National Democratic Alliance was trounced at the elections by the Congress and its allies. The latter focussed on the rural voters, and the impression gained ground that those feeling left out of India's growing prosperity had struck back and how!
Not surprisingly, the IES this year focussed heavily on the social sector though CII officials insisted that focusing on the social sector was a regular feature done over the years.
"We have discussed the social sector and the need to help India's poor," said Sunil Kant Munjal, CII President. And he insisted that the focus on the poor, on agriculture and rural infrastructure had nothing to do with the new government taking office.
"Look, I took over as (CII) president in April and began planning the IES theme right away. Some of the work had already been done last year. The change of government had no role in our theme selection," he insisted.
The new government, allied to the communists and a string of regional parties whose voter base is invariably in the rural areas of India, is keenly aware that it can ill afford to ignore those who had voted them in.
Thus, Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, delivering the keynote address on 'The New Dynamics of India' dwelt on the social sector, agriculture, and infrastructure.
While few can dispute that infrastructure needs to be developed to ensure economic growth, Ahluwalia's stress on the social sector made it amply clear that no longer could growth be for the minority but had to be for the masses.
"We have always been keen to ensure that India's growth is all across," stressed Munjal. "We don't want an India where some are rich and the rest are poor."
He said the CII was extremely concerned that there were millions of Indians who still lived on less than a dollar a day (about Rs 45 a day).
"There are two reasons why any businessman will want that the poor become a part of the economic mainstream," added Munjal, "The first is the national interest of wiping out poverty. And the second is our self-interest because if there is more wealth in more hands, it means there are more consumers. Now which businessman would not want that?"
There is also another realisation that the new ruling United Progressive Alliance would not be able to push through major reforms on the economic front.
And Ahluwalia was extremely blunt when he told the audience that there was no question of privatising those public-sector banks that were doing well.
Later, speaking to the media, he admitted that there were political constraints on pushing forward some of the more radical aspects of the reform process.
But as Munjal said, healthier and educated masses could only translate into a massive economic growth for India. And that would only benefit all.
What that does mean though is that since focus by its very nature means dwelling on one aspect to the exclusion of others, it is the social sector that is in the forefront.