India of 2047: Awaiting its `Tryst with Destiny’
Retired Professor of Economics, JNU.
The dream for 2047 should be to have a civilized nation. That was the dream of the national movement and Nehru’s midnight `tryst with destiny’ speech on August 15th, 1947 captured that imagination.
The country has made substantial material progress since Independence. But the freedom
struggle had other goals as well.
Countless people ‘sacrificed their today for a better tomorrow for us’. Have we achieved that better today?
Was there not a holistic vision going beyond the materialistic goals? Even materially, the marginalized continue to battle against poverty, illiteracy and ill health.
Because the ruling elite’s goal of copying Western modernity hollowed out the vision of the national movement.
Based on incorrect data on income, growth, consumption and investment, government claims to have reduced poverty and mitigated the suffering of the poor.
But giving free food grain to 80 crore poor is an admission of persisting poverty.
Of the 30 crore registered on government’s eshram portal, 94% say they earn less than Rs. 10,000 per month which makes them poor if not extremely poor.
135 million are claimed to have risen above the multi-dimensional poverty line in the pandemic year 2020-21.
Hard to believe. A corollary is that the country is on the right track and nothing much needs to be done to solve the problem of growing unemployment and poverty.
Delhi’s socio-economic survey of 2018 (pre-pandemic) implies that 90% of Indian families spend less than Rs.10,000 per month and are poor. Contrast this with the dramatic rise in the number of billionaires even though the country is 139th in the international ranking of per capita income.
Around 3% of the population are the well-off and 5% may be the middle classes. The rest subsist around poverty line incomes and live in uncivilized conditions. Fields in and around cities function as vast toilets.
Most of the students drop out after school and cannot absorb modern technology.
The pandemic exposed the deficiency of the rudimentary health system which led to many unrecorded deaths.
In rural areas, farmers’ suicides continue unabated. So, the majority awaits the new dawn promised 75 years back.
Dream of a Civilized Existence
In the 1958 movie, `Phir Subaha Hogi’, Mukesh singing with pathos, “Woh Subaha Kabhi to Ayegi” (That morning will come sometime), epitomized the 1950s dream of Indians.
Many of us as children internalized the idea that we would build a new civilization that would surpass the West.
Today, the shreds of this dream are not even left in the dustbins of the ruling elites, blown away in the hurricane of achieving corporate growth.
The song is not just about eliminating poverty, but about a dream of building a different society –
a peaceful one where Gandhi’s “last person” would live with dignity.
The song defines the goal as
“Jab ambar jhum ke nachega, Jab dharti nagme gayegi”
(When the sky would dance with joy and the Earth would sing songs).
Today, air, water and land are terribly polluted and weeping rather than singing and dancing. The most revered Ganga or Godavari are heavily polluted, their beds contaminated with toxic materials that would affect the future generations. Even the sacred is no more sacred, so what is sacrosanct?
The song goes
“Jab dukh ke badal pighlenge” (when the clouds of sorrow will melt). “Insano ki izzat jab jhute sikkon me na toli jayegi”
(when people’s dignity would not be measured by
“Mana ki abhi tere mere armano ki kimat kuch bhi nahin”,
(Agreed that today our dreams have no value). In 1947, there was hope, one day this would change.
Colonization of the Unorganized
Unfortunately, for the marginalized, sorrow is a daily and endless fare that is not melting away. Bollywood and social media provides the only escape by dishing out – sex and violence. So, the unorganized sector is not only invisiblized in data and policy, it is colonized by the organized sector governed by the corporates who control policies.
Government provides relief which is a fraction of the losses suffered by the declining
unorganized sector. Due to poor governance, even the budgeted amount often does not reach them.
Since demonetization in 2016-17, while the marginalized have lost about Rs.70 lakh crores the have been given around Rs.20 lakh crores. Add to that similar losses suffered by the farmers who do not get the MSP.
High unemployment mortgages the dignity of the poor to money power and youth resorts to crime to fulfill its expectations. The dreams of the deprived are immaterial to the rulers who in their self-centeredness only see in them the means to fulfill their narrow dreams of high profits.
Today labour is devalued while speculation and greed have been raised to a new high pedestal. 1% of the population controlling the corporate sector earns more than what 60%, dependent on agriculture, get.
Disparities have risen sharply since 1991 with the advent of the new economic policies (NEP) based on marketization whose first principle is `dollar vote’. The result is the marginalization of the marginal.
The market philosophy postulates `rational’ individuals maximizing their welfare. So, sacrifice is stupidity. Then why did the freedom fighters fight? There is atomization and decline of the collectivity. Conscience is a cost which must be minimized. So, one should not feel guilty about ones actions. Consumerism is OK even if it leads to climate change and heavy cost to society.
The ruling elite aspires to join the international elite, sends its children to study abroad and goes there for expensive vacations.
It is migrating abroad and becoming NRI. It sends lakhs of crores of capital abroad via the legal (LRS) and illegal routes. A poor nation is exporting capital while giving concessions to attract foreign capital.
A good school or a dispensary in Ghungrawali has little value to them but Delhi must be beautified. Clearly, the emotional attachment of the elite with the nation is over.
Corruption is rampant both in the public and the private sectors. Institutions, like the legislatures, judiciary and the bureaucracy, are in rapid decline. The elite is lawless breaking every single law – from traffic laws to building bye-laws to industrial and environmental laws.
The political leadership hardly represent the people – leading a life of luxury. Faith in politicians is a casualty. Democracy is a great concept required to protect the weak. But in India democracy is being used to demolish democracy by turning it into a fine art to demolish its institutions.
Gandhi who could give up everything was the polar opposite of the present day leadership that grabs everything.
Today, greed as the driving force is far removed from the Gandhi’s idea of voluntary poverty. There is a transition from a national vision for all to a vision for a few. Mukesh’s song bemoans,
“Miti ka bhi kuch mol magar insano ki kimat kuch bhi nahin”
(Even dust has some value while human beings have none).
Various ruling parties have contributed to the decline. One leader said Gandhi went at the right time otherwise he would have suffered ignominy.
Clever ones shamelessly argue, even Gandhi would have changed himself in the present context.
The policy paradigm at independence was that individuals are not to blame for their problems. The cause is social.
This idea was turned on its head in 1991- individuals are to blame for their predicament, and should go to the market to find a solution. The collective was absolved of the responsibility for elimination of poverty, etc..
Awaiting Tryst with Destiny
Nations are built on dreams which today has narrowed to money making. So, how to build a great nation as `Nehru’s tryst’ suggested or to which Mukesh referred to in the song, `
‘Jis subaha ki khatir yug yug se ham sab mar mar ke jite aiyen hain’.
(For the sake of that morning for which from eons we have been dying a thousand deaths). Gandhi saw what was coming so he wanted the Congress to dissolve itself so that freedom fighters do not become rulers in the imperial mould.
He wanted the Rashtrapati Bhavan to be turned into a hospital. That was not functional but would have given rise to flowering of more dreams. Utopias provide direction to society.
Seventy five years after Independence, India is waiting for a new dawn. To convert the dream into reality by 2047, policies need revamping to cater to the last person which will strengthen democracy, equity and justice. Consumerism, the opium of the masses, needs to be reined in.
Finally, becoming a civilized society is in our hands lest Mukesh’s song becomes,
`Woh Subaha Kabhi Nahin Ayegi’.
Based on `Sixty Years after Tryst with Destiny: Woh Subaha Kabhi to Aygi’.
Published in The Tribune, August 29,2007.
And, author’s book,`Indian Economy since Independence: Persisting Colonial Disruption’. 2013.