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January 30, 1998


Issues' 98/ Rajni Desai

'In the last 50 years, the poor never benefited from political stability'

It is sad that after 50 years of Independence, when 36 per cent of Indians are below the poverty line, no political party wants to raise the issue of poverty.

It is a national shame that politicians are not concerned with an issue which concerns the common man the most -- price rise.

We should be ashamed of ourselves that in the 50th year of independence, only 15 per cent of our population can avail of drinking water, electricity and proper sanitation facilities.

Moreover, after liberalisation of the Indian economy, the poor have suffered the most in the last six years. The Structural Adjustment Programme launched by the then prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, has affected the Indian people in terms of price rise and real wages.

Because of SAP, the cost of foodgrains has gone up by three times what it was in 1991. Foodgrains then were sold at Rs 2.65 a kg in ration shops. But today, it is almost Rs 8 a kg. And interestingly, the government has done nothing to check this trend.

But the propagandists of liberalisation say that by opening up our economy, our country has benefited. But the fact is, it is only the industrialists and the upper middle class which has benefited from liberalisation. The propagandists of liberalisation must realise that 93 per cent of the Indian population is in the unorganised sector and they are the worst sufferers since 1991.

Though every politician and industrialist is shouting that the country needs stability for growth, I feel these slogans are for the sake of foreign collaborators who are earning profits in our country. After all, in the last 50 years, the poor never benefited from political stability.

Another thing I would like to point out is about Nehru's socialism. The Fabian Socialism which our country adopted was fake, since under its cover the government was only promoting big industrialists.

A good example of this are the public sector companies. These were never given priority over the private sector. All the private companies which were declared sick, were taken over by the government. And today, these same industrialists are holding the government responsible for the failure of the public sector units.

India can be in a better condition only if there are serious land reforms. Until then no government in our country will be able to solve the problems of the poor. It is unfortunate that today, no party talks about this most important issue.

Today all parties, including the BJP and the UF, are welcoming foreign investors. The United Front says they do not support foreign companies in India, although in their 18 months of governance they welcomed foreign investors.

The same is the case with the BJP, with their prime ministerial candidate, A B Vajpayee, openly stating that he is not opposed to foreign companies.

I am sure all the parties will pass the insurance bill pending in Parliament after the new government takes over. For in our country, the policies of all parties are dictated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A lot of people talk about the Bhoodhan Movement launched by Vinoba Bhave, which was supposed to take land from the rich and donate it to the poor. But that never happened because the State started supporting the zamindars. So the movement failed.

The same is the case with the Green Revolution which was to benefit the entire country. But unfortunately, only a few pockets in the country could produce surplus foodgrains. The places which were drought-affected remained that way, and this movement also failed.

Today, I feel a lot of people in our country have realised that parliamentary democracy won't solve our problems. And that is why there is a low percentage of voter turnout in the elections. Moreover, many people go out to vote because they do not want the wrong people to get elected. They vote for the lesser evil.

Rajni Desai is director, Research Unit for Political Economy, and editor, Aspects of India's Economy. She spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

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