A Year On, India is still not shining

Is India surrounded by failed states, as a headline in The Times of India proclaimed last week? How about the state of affairs in its own boundaries? Prem Shankar Jha comments.

we now have six-hour power cuts in Mumbai, a city that used to pride itself on the reliability of its power supply, and 14-hour power cuts in Delhi. There is absolutely no place in the entire country where water is safe to drink. Every river is polluted and there is an indescribable accumulation of filth beside every road or rail track. The well-to-do get around these problems by drinking bottled water, deploying generators in their homes and factories, and installing reverse osmosis water purification systems. They go to sophisticated and horridly expensive private hospitals and send their children to schools that costs per month what the average Indian earns in a year. It is the poor who are bearing the brunt of this collapse.

As anarchy deepens, the strong and the organised are using their power to increase their share of the cake. The weak are driven, inexorably, to the wall. This is happening on a scale so vast that it is difficult to take in all at once. But just take a few examples: in real terms, the price of cars, television sets, microwave ovens, refrigerators and other household electrical appliances has fallen by at least a quarter in the past six years; of personal computers and peripherals by half; of cameras, especially the new digital variety, by still more. Everyone’s income is therefore stretching a good way further than it did half a decade ago. But wait a minute, who is this ‘everyone’? Answer: India’s new and burgeoning middle class. For the poor, all these are far out of reach, just the way it was.

On the contrary, what they can afford is getting dearer every day, whether it is the ‘pugree’ on a shack in a shanty town, the cost of a bus or rail pass, the price of a gas cylinder, a shirt, or fruits and vegetables. There are so few new jobs being created that people will accept almost any salary to get one. As a result, entry-level salaries in all but the privileged new managerial class have remained static in nominal terms while prices have continued their remorseless rise.

A year after the UPA/Congress came to power, it seems to be continuing the NDA/ BJP policies and except for the communal tensions and jingoism which seem to have come down, there is little that it seems to be doing differently.


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