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BUSINESS & ECONOMY  

PUNDITSPEAK – 10

‘HOW MANY OF US WOULD TAKE OUR KNOWLEDGE TO THE VILLAGES?’

Other Articles of the Series
PART 1 ‘A SELF-CONTAINED, HAPPY VILLAGE IS A MYTH’
PART 2 ‘WHY DOESN’T THE GOVERNMENT DECIDE ON POVERTY?’
PART 3 ‘TO SUCCEED, INDIA HAS TO PLAY BY GLOBAL RULES’
PART 4 ‘WE ARE 30 YEARS BEHIND CHINA IN TERMS OF DEVELOPMENT’
PART 5 ‘ATTEMPTS TO CREATE SEZS LOOK LIKE LAND-GRABBING, WHICH IS A SHAME’
PART 6 ‘STATISTICS THAT SAY GROWTH HASN’T LED TO JOBS ARE FUDGED’
PART 7 'GOVERNMENT MUST HAVE GREATER TRANSPARENCY WHILE CREATING SEZS'
PART 8 'IMPORTING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE IS LIKE IMPORTING A LOSS'
PART 9 'TAKE JOBS TO PEOPLE. DON'T TAKE THEIR JOBS AND FORCE MIGRATION'
PART 10 ‘HOW MANY OF US WOULD TAKE OUR KNOWLEDGE TO THE VILLAGES?’
PART 11 'FARMERS DON'T COMMIT SUICIDES WHERE THEY HAVE COOPERATIVES'
PART 12 ‘RETAILERS WILL NOT EAT UP KIRANA STORES. BOTH WILL COEXIST’
PART 13 'CORPORATES MUST REALISE GROUND REALITIES TO HELP DEVELOPMENT '
PART 14 ‘THE CENTRE IS NOT A NANNY MEANT TO SOLVE THE STATES’ PROBLEMS’
Born in 1924 at Comilla, former East Bengal, Professor Amlan Datta taught in Calcutta University, and has been vice-chancellor of North Bengal University, Viswa Bharati University and director of the Gandhi Education Trust. He has lectured across the world on Gandhi, education and economic development, and has been joint editor of the Quest journal. His first book For Democracy, published in 1953, drew a personal letter of acclaim from Albert Einstein. The recent In Defence of Freedom — Exciting Times and Quiet Meditations reflects Datta’s ideas on socially sensitive economics that upholds human freedom, peace and security. He told Shibani Chaudhury that unless the knowledge from cities is utilised in rural India, the country cannot bridge the India-Bharat divide

You witnessed India’s inception. Sixty years later, despite strong economic buoyancy, a larger India remains untouched by this success — where has it gone wrong?

We cannot find fault with just the policies — it is the implementation that is flawed. After the British left — a city-based middle class succeeded to power. This is not a capitalist-proletariat distinction; since Independence, leaders of public life in India have belonged to upper-caste, educated, urban, professional, middle-class families. Nehru, Sardar Patel, even recent leaders mostly are from the same class. The economic gap today can partly be explained by the character of this leadership.

In philosophy this privileged class does subscribe to humanist ideas, and their statement of policy reflects it. The remarkable Indian Constitution was written by these representatives and so India is wedded to ideals of freedom, equality and justice — in concept. The Constitution also declared literacy in 10 years. This was policy. But six decades later we are far from mass literacy. So there is a gap between profession and practice.

 
The village is not equal to agriculture. There can be other options to validate the village as a viable economic model
It is still the failure of the system.

Not quite. Take the education illustration. Elimination of illiteracy was policy, and it did not fail the city-based middle class but it did fail for our villagers. Our universities have grown and produce fine professionals who do well anywhere in the world. These well-educated people don’t fail in London and New York; it is in our villages that they completely fail. How many of us will be prepared to take our knowledge to our villages? This is where we succeeded and this is where we failed. It’s not just the leadership; it is also the bureaucracy and administration, which is controlled by the city-based middle class. So the entire social emphasis today is governed by the needs and sensibilities of and for this city-based middle class. The leaders don’t do this consciously; it is not a silent conspiracy. It is the way they are made. It is natural to give priority and provide more readily for the needs of our own ilk.

The other side of India does not feature in the country’s economic strategies?

It is not that political focus is anti-village. The announced policy will bow to the spirit of Gandhi. But the implementation is otherwise. The government can favour the growth of this sector and allocate sums in the budget for it. But it will only be swallowed by middlemen. The panchayat idea appears sound, but is in fact deceptive. Panchayats are controlled by political parties which are controlled from cities. So there is little empowering of rural India in these tactics. We must think more sincerely than in the past about actual rural development. Attention has not been given to realising this potential. Economics, politics and ideology are all interrelated; rooted in caste, class. The ideological factor is crucial in influencing growth.

It does not all depend on the government. The State is ultimately run by the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is not the ideal machinery to carry out this development. We have to have a clear idea of what rural development means.

Should corporate structures be more accountable — include this other India in growth plans?

If villagers become a visible force, only then will the corporate structure come forward to do something with them. You cannot expect a tiger to be non-violent. Similarly one cannot expect a corporate structure to consider any allegiance more seriously than its shareholders and profit. They will uphold that first — that is why they exist. But if they sense a groundswell that interferes with their agenda, then self-interest will drive them to create productive links.

Corporate social responsibility is the new mantra…

Some organisations do these things; adopt a village, set up schemes, loans. But this is generally a goodwill mission, image-building. This will not bring about the resurgence of rural India. No corporate power can substitute the organisational powers of the villagers themselves. Nandigram, despite its tragic fallout, upholds this alternative model of a spontaneous uprising of villagers. What is special is the resistance it produced. The land movement was not politically impelled. This is a non-party platform and it should remain that way. Any attempt to affiliate or dominate it by political groups or ideologies will be wrong. It will quell the future development of the countryside.

The entire social emphasis today is governed by the needs of and for the city-based middle class
Given illiteracy and lack of information at the village level, do you feel some of this rural economic resurgence would need spearheading from city-bred intellectuals?

A village, economically speaking, is not just agriculture. It is more composite — agriculture, village industry, forestry, fishery, credit system, education, traditional knowledge. Education in our country is not designed to validate these composite systems. An educated child from a village must move to the city to do well. He/she cannot use existing education to better the village system. Literacy, knowledge, education and technology should strengthen the village alternative. The aim should not be to urbanise every village. We need to recognise that the village is not equal to agriculture. There can be many other sustainable options that can validate the village as a viable economic model — some of these may naturally link back to agriculture. The change should not be dependent on the outside. This internal shift will mark the resurgence of rural India.

What of this growing unease over the supposed corporatisation of resources — land, water?

People will not permit the corporatisation of basic resources; they will resist any attempt to be controlled by outsiders and villagers should be permitted and helped to do this by the free processes of our democracy. Once corporates realise it is unprofitable to practice ideas that will meet with resistance, they will plan differently. Villagers have to stand incorruptible in their consensus. Then India will progress as a whole.

Apart from the tensions of the economic divide — does the gdp, the soaring Sensex give you fulfillment as a senior Indian economist?

I don’t look upon these things with any special emotion. It is good at one level — but we must all act with responsibility—corporates as well as the public. For instance, a particular project can be opposed but the Tatas cannot be boycotted totally. They have done positive things for India. But we cannot depend on them for the entire development of India or for rural development. City-based minds have done well for us, but we need a different movement that seeks equitable development, peace and harmony. We should now concentrate on what has not developed, not what has. The Tatas can take care of themselves. It’s rural development that needs attention.

Jun 23 , 2007
 

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