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
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.
It is still
the failure of the system.
village is not equal to agriculture. There can be other options
to validate the village as a viable economic model
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.
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.
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.
social responsibility is the new mantra…
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.
and lack of information at the village level, do you feel some of this
rural economic resurgence would need spearheading from city-bred intellectuals?
entire social emphasis today is governed by the needs of and for
the city-based middle class
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.
this growing unease over the supposed corporatisation of resources —
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.
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.