Edit: Darkness at Noon

Editorial August 2013
Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

Save the cricketing arena, where the Indian team has done remarkably well in recent times, there is little good news coming from any direction. Indeed, post-IPL and the corrupt players stalking this cash-rich sport, a strong sense of fatigue has crept into the game too. Deepening this dark mood was the mind-numbing tragedy of thousands perishing in floods and landslides in Uttarakhand. Officially 6,000 plus have been declared dead, but these numbers could be higher as reports of the missing from other parts of the country will be reconciled later. Amidst this tragedy and the brave rescue efforts by the security forces, the parochial and Rambo act of Narendra Modi arrived as dark humour with Feku jokes peppering the social media.

A similar attitude is visible in the way the Indian economy is being run. The outside manifestations of poor economic management are growing unemployment, fall in manufacturing, the plummeting value of the rupee against the dollar, and so on. But, what does not come through in these reports is the sorry state of the UPA II government. After being hammered repeatedly by financial scams, the government does not seem to have the credibility to get any work done. Although the current Parliament still has one more year to go till May 2014, this government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks exhausted and ready to surrender. It gives the impression of just biding its time.

The economy is in a shambles. From the highs of a 9 per cent growth rate a few years ago, it is now hovering around less than 5 per cent. Those who obsess about the growth rate — without really bothering about the redistributive aspect  — have been claiming that the economy will grow at less than 5 per cent and this would destroy the plans of the government to provide food security to the hungry masses or help people living below the poverty line. This despair over social security schemes might spark a perverse stream of joy among those who are shamelessly pro-rich and who celebrate their corporate wishlists on the pages of the pink press or on business channels. Indeed, they would have been pleased if the funds had gone to bloated, super-rich fat cats rather than to the millions of poor Indians.

The 12 per cent fall in poverty experienced in the last few years, as announced by the NSSO recently, which was achieved by a combination of policies, is being seriously challenged. A raging debate has gripped academia about the character of the Indian economy and its future. Amartya Sen and co-author Jean Dreze insist that India’s growth can only be sustained if there are investments made in education, health and social security. On the contrary, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagriya trash Sen’s theory by stating that it needs to kickstart growth which would sort out many issues by increasing purchasing power and so on.

However, the jury is still out on what really worked in the last 10 years of
top-heavy neo-liberalism. What really worked — increased stimulus, higher growth or redistributive social policies for the benefit of the majority? To save a falling rupee and get the stalled wheels moving,the government is trying to get Foreign Direct Investment in areas that it had earlier shut out to foreigners. Such policy confusion at a time when economic indicators look so grim can only deepen the gloom and create circumstances for the rise of economic conservatism.

Indeed, this will lead to the rise of macho fascism and the forces of evil which are stalking the land — in an age of déjà vu when all scaffoldings seem to be collapsing. A lot of Rightwing muscle flexing and aggressive low-level discourse is an ominous sign; it reflects the longing for an authoritarian and totalitarian State backed by corporate greed and a steady disregard for democratic processes. In this darkness at noon, the country seems to be in a siege. Surely, India deserves better.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2013