Need for an India Vision
It was during my MBA that I read the book Poverty by late Dr. Maqbul Ul Haq. The book moved me enough to look for a job inDevelopment. After my MBA, I started exploring the field and went and met with NGOs to understand their work. And with one of the NGOs, I went and stayed in a village for 4 days. That was my first overnight visit to a village. Till then it had always been day visits to my grandfather’s village. This was also the first time, I stayed on the other side of the village amongst “Chamars” or leather artisans as the NGO used to call them. During days, I would go with them from village to village mobilizing people to form a cooperative. The NGO used to work primarily in area of income generation.
As I chatted and spent time with villagers, I realized that immediate priorities or needs of most of them were to own a pucca house, a motorcycle and a tubewell for fields. A pucca house also meant significant investment in making that house livable such as round the clock electricity, fans and coolers. There was a village school and no medical facilities. While the group was willing to come together and form a cooperative for income generation, they were not keen to extend the cooperative for some of the other necessities like building common irrigation facilities for fields etc. Over the years, and after taking up job in one of the large international NGO which was also one of the largest NGOs in the country, I discovered that most development professionals only concentrate in one sector. There are very few cross sectoral projects. Also the projects that it had in different sectors were not layered on top of each other.
As I spoke with and interacted with many development professionals, I realized that most of them do not see beyond their sectors ( either as an individual or as organizations). The organizations do not have a collective vision of what a developed society will look like. Interestingly, even at the global level, there is no collective vision or definition of what a developed society should or would look like. There are indicators which are spread across sectors.
In absence of this collective vision, for most villagers, progress in life was living life style of city people. For the development professionals and for people in cities, growth and progress in life meant living lifestyle of US and western world. While it was never a stated objective, it was always implied. There seems to be no common vision of Indian lifestyle or Indian way of life.
Since US lifestyle is looked up to by other parts of the world, especially, (so called) developing countries, this has affected choices in consumption in other countries. For example, the trend is getting increasingly replicated in urban India with the ratio of number of TVs in house/ number of bedrooms slowly creeping to 1. With the population like that of India, it is a huge strain on environment. It also leads to huge demand for natural renewable and mainly nonrenewable resources. While researching for Montreal protocol, I had discovered that per capital consumption of CFC gases in US was 3 kg which was much higher than 0.003 kg in India and China. However a major concern of US and Western countries was that a ten time increase in the consumption factor in India and China would be catastrophic for Earth due to the population of these two countries.
Equating “development with American Lifestyle” is distorting the pecking order of investments in rural areas and amongst urban poor. Bulk of the investment goes in creating physical infrastructure or in consumer durables and non-durables instead of health, education, sanitation and other non-tangibles.
Thus, people in ‘developing rural India have easy access to mobile phones, TV’s, cars , Maggie, Chips, Pepsi and other tangibles, but they do not have similar access to quality education, health services and potable water. There is also element of belittling traditional wisdom for sake of western ways which are considered modern way and hence better way of life.
Increase in the consumption with the so called development leads to increased demand for natural resources which has a cascading effect. There is increased demand for land for mining, for setting up manufacturing plants etc. This creates conflict with existing owners.
The present version of development is also leading to increased conflict in the society where the asset ownership is skewed. The rich continue to get richer and poor continue to lose out and get poorer. This has been very well explained by HouseHold model in Economics.
This has multiple implications:
1. Poor do not want to part with their assets such as land as they will lose their future income. Also they are not sure if they will get a share in increase of asset price in future as the rich would see increase in value of asset (due to their investment ) as return for their investment.
2. The disparity between the quality of life increases. The rich can afford to live a better quality of life on the assets and services of poor. Rich in India are able to create their own infrastructure and able to access same or better level of healthcare services, education etc. as in America. While the poor are dependent on state infrastructure which is inadequate in both quality and quantity.
Thus, accessing basic facilities becomes a struggle leading to anger and frustration. Also there is aspiration to live a lifestyle of consumption, leading to increased crime. Either way, it leads to increase in violence or class struggle in the society which could range from pickpocketing to Naxal movement.
The need of the hour
The need of the hour is, India Vision. Mahatma Gandhi wanted Ram Rajya in post independent India. The key characteristics of which were lack of conflict and crime, prosperity for everyone, that is, everyone either owns or has access to goods and services. Unlike US, we have to base our system on cooperation and sharing instead of owning. These are values that are taught and cultivated in East. Unlike US and West, we have to develop our own lifestyle and develop our own definition of a developed society.