Prof.Amartya Sen and Dr.Manmohan Singh
What are their positions on critical issues?
Any thinker like Sen or any one in government like Dr.Singh can continue to talk and get away. And yet nothing worthwhile happens as it is today. Because any theory, however brilliant in hair-splitting arguments, between niti and nyaya, as Sen displayed here might remain untouched by ground level realities.
For this to happen one must have a fuller understanding of how democracy works actually. Even how capitalism works in actual manner. So, what we have today is that the big corporates get away with whatever they want, be it Special Economic Zones or large PSU bank funds at concessional rates, the government sits tamely and just talks or at best gets the government carried on silently.
The poor continue to be excluded and farmers and rural India left to their own devices.
After all India and the Indian people have survived. For ages. Now, too the same survival strategy, if it is a strategy, might give the Indians the much sought after mukthi, niti and nyaya and what have you!
Prof.Amartya Sen and Dr.Manmohan Singh both appeared jointly the other day on Sen’s birthday celebrations. Dr.Singh and Sen started off their careers at the same time and both achieved eminence, no doubt.
One participant who attended their speeches writes to say that the secret of their career success owes to their clever stand on most issues. They take central positions. So, it is difficult to pint them down ,so to say, on any issues. They are all things to all men!
Yes, that is why Dr.Singh’s many views are not known. Where does he stand, say, on rural India? No one knows! So too Sen. When asked about the choices to be made he often becomes vague, in New Delhi, later in Chennai he became visibly wobbly!
What does it mean to invest in social sector, day in and day out?
We have to have some conceptions, some basic ideological position whether we believe in rural transformation through panchayat raj or through market capitalism, let loose, through Special Economic Zones or urbanisation that leads to land encroachments or through some
“planned” and dispersed and broad- based “small is beautiful”, government “regulated” path of “development”.
Singh won’t say anything. Nor does Sen.
That is one reason ,rather the major reason, I would say for the current patterns of rural development, large-scale farmers suicides, mounting farm indebtedness and yet there is no “modernisation of farming or modernisation of village services.
We need theoreticians but not just more economists. We need anthropologists, sociologists and not the least the more mature and well-reaso0ned political thinkers and political leaders.
Yes, there are certain patterns in the way in which we talk of major issues that affect the vast majority of the people. Who are the vast majority of the people?
If we go by our visiting experts from the USA, from outside the government, it is the poor, the malnourished, and the poor farmers and so on.
But then our government has so many plans? The rural employment guarantee scheme and so on.
But does anyone cares to stop for a moment and ask: whether what we are announcing as policies is really working? Really succeeding?
There is no one to answer such a question.
We have only certain kinds of experts. We have too many economists, that too those who had worked in the government! We fail to realise that they are as bad as the other bureaucrats. And the unfortunate thing in India today, under Sonia Gandhi, these experts are again nominated to the Rajya Sabha or the Planning Commission or even for the ministerial berths.
There are today too many such people in the key positions, with all facilities like cars, bungalows etc and they live in some style, though they live in genteel poverty of some sort!
But then we don’t have experts who can give us new insights or new insights given by those at the bottom of the pyramid(thanks to C.K.Prahalad) who are not just poor but also somewhat wise in the face of so many adversities in which they managed to survive!
Now comes another visiting expert, thank God he is not another economist, this time he is an anthropologist. His name is James C.Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Agrarian Studies Program at the Yale university. He was recently in Delhi and he has many things to say that might interest rural India.
Why many of the schemes fail even in the best of circumstances?
Of course, Scott is a theoretician, as any other and we have to take his views with our own sense of balance.
But as an anthropologist what he says seems to be very interesting and instructive.
He says that first as an anthropologist he has his own skepticism in intervening with the traditional lifestyles or belief systems of traditional communities. That is right only. To some extent.
He is skeptical of the authoritarian regimes as it was in Russia, may be even now there, or as it was in China, may be as it is also now as it was and is in many of the African countries. He cites the Tanzanian experience. Compulsory ujamaa(nomadic)villages in Tanzania, as collectivisation in Russia(what is the position now under Putin?) or Le Corbusier’s urban planning theory realised in Brasilia or the Great Leap Forward in China or agricultural modernisation in the tropics.
The twentieth century is racked by very many grand utopian schemes that have, as we can now see as we look back, led to millions of deaths and destruction of the economies.
Even dictating a system on nomadic people is wrong, says Scott.
When we come to democratic government, Scott has many new insights. He asks pointedly that when you intervene in the agricultural practices of the local people, when you try to disrupt the wisdom of the local peoples, you disrupt the very traditional systems of production and distribution(I suppose) the of the shared collective community lifestyle.
Anyway, here he is, Scott asks: “Tell me how many agriculture extension agents have actually grown rice or wheat?”. If fact, what he says is true not just for agriculture extension agents, the very agriculture departments, the very many agri universities and the vast number of agri research stations!
How many new innovations in cultivation have come out of the so many agri research stations?
It is time someone like Scott comes to India asks such questions.
What we should have asked like an anthropologist like the visiting Professor is how our democratic decentralisation, the panchayat raj is doing to the lives of the local people? To the poor? To the farmers and the farm labour?
There is of course a need for change, a room for effecting such changes through least disturbance to the traditional beliefs systems and the local community’s shared value systems.
But then anthropology stops, as we see, with the traditional communities, with the tribal communities, right?
We need other social sciences tools, may be sociology can help, to explain the current rapid changes we witness today.
We can’t say all changes are bad or all changes can be contained. Changes are the current phenomenon and we have to understand and also reach out to the people in order to effect a harmonious transformation of the society.
It is the democratic process, it is the spirit of democracy, democratic values we have to uphold and “educate” the people in a genuine and open manner.
Of course, India’s democracy surprises the visitors and it is the democracy that is the answer to too many questions.
One serious deficiency, the visiting professor did it explore or doesn’t think it would be polite or welcome in the host country is the prevalence of corruption on such a widespread scale.
In the Corruption Index, India is ranked as the 94th country, very top almost in corruption.
Indians, Indian businessmen pay bribes abroad and Indians receive bribes in such a blatant manner.
Why no one has said this so far, one wonders.
In New Delhi, corruption is widely practiced. Of course, it is plain knowledge that some of the big companies like Tatas and Reliance run their own PR outfits, another name for paying bribes in so many subtle manner and this is widely know and taken for granted.
What is not known is that the ministers themselves ,some of them at any rate are not above this vice. As for the bureaucracy even to get your petty certificates(don’t ask us what certificate!) we paid bribes and they take the bribes as if it is just pocket money.
Whenever a deal is talked about, any deal that has to got through a government department, the first thing discussed is the amount of bribe to be paid!
Doesn’t Dr.Manmohan Singh know the widespread corruption scourge?
He knows and yet he turns his face the other way. That is his brief, it seems!
If only a Prime Minister is from the political establishment and elected through a democratic process, then, he would know the pulses of the people and he would come out with appropriate policy options.
Even such leaders like Morarji Desai thought of introducing the Lok Pal. Now, the very word Lok Pal sounds so meaningless, especially in the wake of Amar Singh and Ahmed Patel let off by the Parliamentary Committee.
The damage to the Indian polity’s credibility in the silence and collaboration of the current Prime Minister is so huge and only future historians would write the immense harm the present system of governance is imposing on the Indian democratic process and credibility.
Political and administrative corruption under Dr.Singh had reached gigantic proportions.
As for Sen, he might have his fanciful theories, we would all read them. We would know much about ethics, justice etc.
But as for Sen’s practical use, it is anybody’s guess, if we just look at his home state of Bengal or the country whose honour he defends.
There is no way to demonstrate his theories’s applicability for they don’t relate to ground-level realities.
More money you pour into the education system, the more gets leaked out, and more teacher absenteeism would only be the result! More money you pour into healthcare, the more would get lost or wasted as the present governance is poor and outmoded.
You have to deploy the latest technological tools, telemedicine, e-governance and you have to intervene and intervene in a more vigorous way, more Keynesian, as Josephy Stiglitz said in Delhi hat the invisible hand of Adam Smith is after all is not invisible, and it is simply not there.
Yes, in market capitalism, you need the government regulation and it is the government hand that must become more visible! So much for theories and theorists and the time-servers!
Image Source: thehindubusinessline.com