Mani Shankar Aiyar maybe a maverick politician, but anyone who has followed his statements and writings for a number of years will be taken aback by the forthrightness of this speech delivered to the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) last week, where he claims that the euphoria over the growth rate in last two decades has obfuscated the issues of the poor, and has made him turn from being a leftist to a Marxist. Brother Swaminathan is probably wincing.
I am not sure if he was always a Leftist, as he claims in this speech, but he does hammer down a few truths. The realization seems to have come from his own ‘lowly position as the Minister of Panchayti Raj’, as he indicates towards the end of the speech. Better late, than never.
A few extracts:
A few weeks ago the newspapers reported that the number of Indian billionaires had exceeded the number of billionaires in Japan, and there was a considerable amount of self-congratulation on this. I understand from P. Sainath that we rank eighth in the world in the number of our millionaires. And we stand 126th on the Human Development Index. I am glad to report that last year we were 127th.
At this very fast rate of growth that we are now showing, we moved up from 127th to 126th position. This is the paradigm of our development process. In a democracy, every five years the masses determine who will rule this country. And they showed dramatically in the last elections that they knew how to keep their counsel and show who they wanted. We, my party and I, were the beneficiaries and we formed the government. Every five years, it is the masses who determine who will form the government. And in between those five years the classes determine what that government will do.
There are comfort levels that you get from statistics — for instance, suddenly Arun Shourie, announcing in the NDA government that our poverty rates have fallen from 35 per cent to 22 per cent. He did it by changing the basis on which you estimate poverty. You cannot compare apples and oranges. The next national sample survey has shown that our poverty levels have actually increased. Are we going to be mesmerised by these statistics or understand that 700 million of our people are poor?
So we have an Indira Awaas Yojana which will ensure that there will be a ‘jhuggi’ for every Indian round about the year 2200. We have the PM Gram Sadak Yojana which was supposed to complete all the gram sadak in seven years — we are in the eighth year. And where we are told that the education of 1000 may be covered, who knows only the education of 500 will be covered. And if you happen to be a tribal in Arunachal, you are told that because of your social custom you are to live in one hut atop a hill, we can’t provide you a road.
I was always something of a leftist. But I became a complete Marxist only after the economic reforms. Because I see the extent to which the most important conception of Marx — that the relationship of any given class with the means of production determines the superstructure — holds.
Why is it that Nehru became successful with his Hindu rate of growth? The reason is that the Hindu rate of growth was five times what our pre-Hindu rate of growth was. From 1914 to 1947, the figures of which are available, the rate of growth of the Indian economy was 0.72 per cent. And we got the Hindu rate of growth which was five times that and it made a difference to the people. The minute you had solid land reforms, the people had their ‘zameen’. That is what Mother India was all about. People felt that they were involved in the process. All the political talk was: gareeb ke liye ham kya kar sakte hain. Indira Gandhi matched it beautifully when the entire political spectrum joined hands against her by saying, “Woh kehte hain Indira hatao, hum kehte hain Garibi hatao.”