FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pushing India Toward a Dollar Democracy

by ASEEM SHRIVASTAVA

In an article concerned with the rapid urbanization of India and China, a writer for London’s Financial Times (August 5/6, 2006) points out that Bangalore “has become a byword for a catastrophic failure of urban planning.”

Interestingly, he attributes this lapse to “Indian sentimentalism about the supposed benefits of village life, and the consequent incompetence in managing cities” which “contrasts starkly with the ruthless pragmatism of the central and local authorities in China.”

Let us not bring up that bugbear of the absence of democracy in China just yet, no matter that the Anglo-Americans are all so keen to bomb us all to “freedom” these days, China being that fearsome and much envied exception.

More worrying are the writer quotes from supposed Indian experts. One of them is K.E. Seetharam, a water and sanitation expert from the Asia Development Bank in Manila, according to whom “civilizations have always been urbanised” and “this concept of rural development is something more recent and in my view doesn’t exist.”

Is this man truly Indian? Has he forgotten those school history lessons about the Indo-Gangetic plain and the role it has played throughout time in sustaining the economies and cultures of empires from the Mauryan to the Mughal? Or, seeing as he comes from South India, he might visit a library and read about the role of the farmers of the Kaveri and Krishna basins whose taxes helped maintain the splendour of the Vijayanagar courts.

However, to be fair to Mr. Seetharam, his view has widespread currency today. And this is why it is so dangerous. The reasons for the prevalence of the view are not far to seek. The industrial revolution treated from the beginning the countryside as a hinterland for mineral resources or as a sink for its effluents. It made it easy to forget the fact that industrial workers (often dispossessed peasants) and their bosses were fed on food that the farmers grew in the villages. Also, since cities grew around industries, it gave birth to the illusion that civilisations have always been urban.

Even when civilisations have been formally urban, as in the cities of the ancient world, like Athens or Sparta, they have often had, believe it or not, little to do with commerce or industry (those being of least importance to Greek citizens and thinkers), unlike our cities today, offshoots as they are of industrial growth.

We would be well-advised to suspend our intoxicating amnesia, bred of industrial affluence, (and effluence) and recall at least a bit of what the countryside has contributed to human civilisation. From legends and myths to melodies and dances, human culture anywhere is unimaginable without the backdrop of rural inspiration.

This is not the place for it, but here is a sampler, unjust as it necessarily is. Great landscape art ­ from delicate Chinese woodcuts to Van Gogh’s majestic canvases ­ have been inspired by nature, available only in the countryside. Beethoven’s pastoral is hard to imagine being inspired by urban industrial noise. Nor can the poems of the Romantics, whether in India or in Europe.

Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a free American republic was peopled with farmers. Gandhi championed the idea of village republics for a reason. Rabindranath Tagore set up Shantiniketan in the countryside when he could as easily have done so in Kolkata. So many of our great bards, from Lalleshwari to Tukaram, sang to the lord in the jungles and the meadows.

Our tragedy today is that William Blake’s warnings about the “dark, Satanic mills” of London went unheeded by Western culture. Independent India, which has never decolonized culturally, followed suit.

The concept of rural development does not exist? Would the Prime Minister be willing to repeat that in front of a meeting of villagers anywhere in India before the next elections, apprising them of the latest wisdom of our policy experts?

Even more chilling, the Financial Times article goes on to argue that the mismanagement of Indian cities is to be blamed upon the fact that Indian politicians are “obsessed with the problem of rural poverty” and thus drag resources away from urban development! “One reason for this illogical approach is politics: India is a democracy. For historical reasonsthe countryside is over-represented in the political system and power rests with the state government, not with the cities.”

So the lament is that, alas, for “historical reasons”, India is a democracy and the villagers carry too many votes. Talk about doublespeak in the mainstream of the Western media!

The FT writer seeks further explanation for the state of Indian cities from someone much more influential than Mr. Seetharam. Nandan Nilekani is the CEO of Infosys, one of India’s software flagships. He represents Indian business interests at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos every year. He is approached by all the Western media outlets whenever representative views from Indian corporate circles are wanted.

Listen to what he says: There is “a disconnect”, he points out, “between the economic power and the political power.” Bangalore with only 10% of the population of Karnataka state contributes 60% of the state’s GDP. However, it has only 7% of the state assembly seats.

So what is to be done? Here might be a foretaste of things to come: “In China you don’t have that problemIndia is the only example of urbanisation (on this scale) happening with universal adult franchise.”

So the moral of the story is that urbanisation shouldn’t happen with universal adult franchise. When the West urbanized it did not have universal suffrage. China continues to urbanize only because there is no democracy. Nilekani’s diagnosis of the problem is accurate. The problem lies with its one-eyed superficiality, drawn as it is from the premises of industrial growth, predatory on the countryside.

Shall we take the Chinese route to industrial greatness and do away with the nuisance of democracy which, in any case, has nothing to do with capitalist success and does plenty to put brakes on it? That, at this stage of history, might prove to be politically explosive in India (no thanks to the West that we are democratic). What the increasingly political corporate elite will want to experiment with is a set of constitutional amendments that fiscally empower cities at the cost of the countryside, correcting in favour of urban India the disconnect that Nilekani mentions. This cannot happen without deep-rooted changes in the very structure of Indian government and politics. Jurists would be able to tell us more though there are surely many corporate fantasists dreaming of globally networked, autonomous post-modern city-states!

Let us be clear. Nilekani is arguing, in effect, for a “dollar democracy”, where one rupee will count for one vote, rather than one person. Does anyone see how gigantic a retrograde step this would be in human affairs? It means setting aside all the mammoth political and cultural efforts ranging across the centuries and the continents that have gone into enfranchising the historically powerless. In the long historical argument between town and country, the metro now wishes to intervene with decisive finality. It is a dangerous trend, whether it is observed in India, China or elsewhere.

In the US they have achieved a dollar democracy without major constitutional amendments. However, it is easier to brainwash and fool a well-fed electorate which can take out loans to buy vacation homes and BMWs. Achieving the same political feat in India is not going to be easy at all. That, in fact, is the reason why during the past 17 years, in the six general elections the country has had, the incumbent party has not been returned to office even once, a fact unmatched by any world democracy.

What people like the writer of the FT article, Seethram, Nilekani and so many others, for whom they are the spokespersons, would ideally like to see is India grow as “smoothly” as China (or 19th century Dickensian Britain), with the nuisance of things like “democracy” and “rural development” out of the way. Indian cities, their slums duly demolished and put out of sight of visiting investors in air-conditioned cars, will then wear the gloss of Singapore or even London, starved rural underbellies not in view.

But alas, you cannot hide 300 or 400 million starving mouths, and the insistently unjust social reality of India will break through into one or another rear-view mirror, disturbing the fantasies of financiers’ wives and girlfriends.

Time to recall William Blake once more: “When nations grow old, art grows cold and commerce sits on every tree.”

ASEEM SHRIVASTAVA is an independent writer. He can be reached at aseem62@yahoo.com.

 

 

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail