Towards a Kingdom of Silence

Towards a Kingdom of Silence – Satyaki Roy

The politics of growth oriented
discourse entails a determinism that reduces social progress to metrics of
value addition that is output net of inputs.

If one assumes substitutability
then the same output can be produced with variable sets of inputs and prices.
And this of course includes human beings, their labour, skill and ideas that
shape objects producing commodities both useful and sellable at the same time.
In this framework there is nothing wrong in substituting labour by capital, in
other words, living labor by ‘dead labor’ in order to maximize profit or
attain defined levels of efficiency. Therefore high growth with increasing
doses of unemployment is acceptable. This is made palatable however by
instilling a belief that growth itself would take care of the collateral pains
in future where the future is really undefined. In essence the argument takes
sacrifice of current consumption for future gains as axiomatic. Therefore the
human contributions of development as well their attainments are only
instrumental to ultimate consummatory act. Growth in this sense is assumed to
be distinct from the process of distribution anchored on the mono-causality of
‘trickle down’. It either fails to recognize or deliberately ignore the fact
that distribution does not follow from growth instead it is constitutive of
growth. The deterministic discourse that attaches some divine importance to
growth rates are essentially inclined to protect the surplus independent of the
state of human beings who are assumed to be nuts and bolts to the process of
production. This perhaps explains why the propertied classes and their political
combinations are growth fetish and forecloses the other equally important
dimensions of growth and development. The immense and disproportionate
importance ascertained on growth figures gives rise to a discourse that
eventually becomes blind to what growth means to people, their well-being or
livelihood. The misplaced focus on growth rates is a result of the crudest form
of commodity view of human welfare that fetishises human attainments on the
basis of command over commodities.

Anyway this is the dominant discourse
of progress and we are supposed to keep faith on it despite the fact that the
majority Indians in the past two decades could hardly realize the assumed
benefits of high growth. Moreover to be decisive enough there is a search for a
macho-man, a  ‘rational maximizer’
incarnated, the masculine, the ruthless executor of corporate dominance, a
leader insensitive to all sorts of dissent and committed to destroy all
obstacles that vitiate the writ of the market. This imagery is nothing but a
futile attempt to re-invigorate the waning growth centric paradigm of
development. It is the moment of the rise of the Right. The strong man as if
India is waiting for, an ideal chemistry of pro-business submission coupled
with ruthless social authoritarianism.

Growth Fundamentalism
The celebration of growth mesmerizes
the common perception failing it to perceive the real problems that demand
immediate attention. India had really impressive growth rates in the past two
decades. During the period 90/91 to 2000/01 the average was close to 5.7 per
cent and in the next decade till 07/08 it was as high as 7.5 per cent on an
average including three subsequent years of above nine per cent growth rates. In
spite of the fact that India and Indonesia follow China in terms of growth rates
nevertheless high growth rate in itself could not provide answers to questions
that really matters to majority of the people. Dreze and Sen (2013)[1]
has shown that taking India’s per capita GDP as the cut-off point if we list
the 16 poorest countries, India is ranked first in terms of per capita GDP.
Apart from per capita GDP India’s rank is tenth for child mortality, eleventh
for female literacy and thirteenth in mean years of schooling among the sixteen
poorest countries. Twenty years back in terms a range of social indicators within
six South-Asian countries India was second after Sri Lanka and now India is
second last after Pakistan. Furthermore seven major states with a population of
about 545 million which is almost half the total population of India are at par
with 27 poorest countries of Africa in terms of multi-dimensional poverty
index. The important fact however is all these fiasco continued along with a
whopping above nine percent growth rate.

What did the labour gain out of this
high growth rate? Unit labour cost is defined as the ratio of nominal wage rate
to labour productivity and labour productivity is measured as some quantity of
output produced per worker. The measure tells us the amount of money to be paid
to a worker for producing a comparable unit of output and according to this
measure the labour lost by more than half what it used to fetch for producing a
comparable unit four decades back. Despite rise in productivity, the real wages
of workers remained more or less stagnant in India while it increased by about
12 per cent in the past two decades in China, a country otherwise known for its
repressive labour regime. The share of wages in gross value added in the
manufacturing sector in India declined from 28 per cent in 1987/88 to 12 per
cent in 2004/05. The country experienced the most protracted agrarian crisis
with astronomical figures of farmer suicides. And all this happened despite the
fact that India experienced high growth during the past two decades. There can
be two responses vis-à-vis these facts and these are the following. These are
peripheral ailments to the grand narrative of high growth. They need to be
taken care of but should not in any case override the concern for growth. The
other response could be high growth in itself is not an answer to problems of
development it is only a means often collapsed with ends. And these specific
problems are intrinsic to human needs and could not be articulated by the logic
of surplus.

Sen while explicating his social
choice theory in the Nobel lecture in 1998 uses an anecdote ‘A camel may not
have the speed of a horse but it is a very useful and harmonious animal- well
coordinated to travel long distances without food and water’. And horse might
not be the only outcome one should aspire for. The concept of development is
dynamic, it is essentially value laden but not based on some externalist
account of a trans-historical human essence. Sen’s capability approach is
internalist that aims to surmount the dichotomy between non-historical
absolutism and local relativism. It draws the developmental ethic from within
mundane human needs that are intrinsic and irreducible to commodities. It
argues that man requires wealth not for wealth itself but to achieve ‘something
else’ the doings and beings one value for. And to be brief development means enhancement
of capabilities that allow choice between alternative lives. One can easily
guess why the BJP Rajya Sabha MP demanded to strip Amarty Sen’s Bharat Ratna.
What matters to the claimants of power is the displacement of the dominant
discourse, the growth centric narrative and fixing the goal posts somewhere
else. The comfortable zone to major political blocks in India would be voices
that revolve around the agenda of growth rates, capital inflows and reviving
stock prices and so on. This is the discourse of the rich and upper middle
class, the privileged few. And insists the eighty per cent to sacrifice, accept
bullets of inflation and unemployment, destitution and dispossession for
benefits of the corporate tycoons that can only able to rescue the ailing

The ‘Messiah Model’      
Just as one needs to declare a dog mad
before killing similarly one needs to create the image of a messiah to pose him
as the panacea of all evils. History has to be re-written or at least re-read
for that. Ahistoric packaging of successes together with a concerted effort to
push the misdeeds of 2002 riots under the carpet is the architecture of an
alluring ‘model’ epitomized by a leader, the man behind. This time it is not
the Hindu strong man the patron behind the greatest genocide in our country in
the recent past. He is the messiah, India Inc’s poster boy, the architect of
the so called ‘Gujarat model’.

In spite of the fact that growth
rates and other aggregate parameters do not say much about the health of the
economy and its people, let us check the figures of state level performances.
Is there any sign of separate ‘Gujarat model’ emerging, marked by a departure
since Mr. Modi assuming office as the chief minister?  Undoubtedly Gujarat had been a state that
experienced high growth rates in the past three decades. If we consider four
subsequent phases 81/82-94/94; 94/95-2004/05; 2005/06-2008/09 and again 2006/07-2011/12
and see the average growth rates of gross state domestic product at constant
prices we find Gujarat is among the three states (others being Andhra Pradesh
and Rajasthan) that show above 6 per cent average growth rate in all of these
four phases. During the period 2005/06 to 2008/09 the three major states that
achieved 10 per cent plus growth are Bihar (12.45), Gujarat (11.77) and Haryana
(10.05). And during the entire second half of the current decade, that is
2006/07 to 2011/12 the top three states on account of growth rates are Gujarat
(10.13), Maharashtra (9.97) and Tamil Nadu (9.68). These facts simply show that
Gujarat had been historically doing well in terms of growth. There is in fact
continuity in this performance as one of the industrially advanced states of
India and one cannot easily correlate this high growth to Modi’s coming to
power in 2001. Rather steep rise in growth rates since 2005/06 are visible in
states such as Bihar, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.

Turning to per capita net state
domestic product at constant prices the story is more or less same. The states
that have shown more than 4 per cent growth in the first three phases as
mentioned above are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. However the state
showing higher growth rates in real per capita NSDP in the third phase are Bihar,
Gujarat and Kerala. Distinct achievers in this regard are of course Bihar,
Odisha and Kerala. In a similar vein if we see the investment scenario during
the period 2008 to 2013(July), the top three states in terms of total number of
investment proposals (IIMs Filed, LOIs and DILs issued) are Maharashtra (3876),
Gujarat (2475) and Andhra Pradesh (2107). The average percentage of realization
of proposals in the six reference years is highest in case of Odisha followed
by Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These facts precisely
show that considering growth and investment figures Gujarat and Maharashtra had
been high performing states but departures from trends are sharper in the
recent past in case of relatively backward states such as Bihar, Odisha, Madhya
Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

Impressive growth performances over a
fairly longer period of time do not automatically result in a better livelihood
and Gujarat is a striking example in this regard. Higher income and revenue
does not get translated always into higher standards of living. Sailing on the
market wave with certain preconditions and path dependence can allow an economy
move towards higher levels of growth and investment but to achieve higher
levels of capabilities for people at large there has to be serious efforts on
the part of the government and on that count Gujarat probably fails miserably.
Gujarat recorded the highest growth rate in per capita income in the last
decade but its per capita monthly consumption expenditure in the rural areas in
2009-10 is Rs 1110 while corresponding figures for Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and
Haryana are 1835, 1536 and 1510 respectively. The figure for Gujarat is only
slightly higher than the all India average which is Rs. 1054. The percentage of
undernourished children in terms of weight for age is 44.6 per cent in case of
Gujarat which is almost double than that of Kerala and even higher than the all
India average which is 42.5 per cent. In terms of height for age also the
percentage of undernourished children in Gujarat is 51.7 per cent compared to
the all India average of 48 per cent and 24.5 per cent for Kerala and 30.9 per
cent for Tamil Nadu. The figures on percent of children with full immunization
also reflects Gujarat’s dismal picture. In Tamil Nadu 80.9 per cent of the
children are fully immunized while in Gujarat the figure is far lower at 45.2.
In regard to the percentage of villages having any public health facilities
Kerala ranks the highest with 99.8 per cent and Tamil Nadu at 61.8 per cent
while Gujarat is low at 46.9 per cent.

The poor in Gujarat are really in a
hapless condition. The proportion of population falling in India’s lowest
wealth quantile is 7.2 per cent, the corresponding figures for Kerala, Himachal
Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Haryana are 1 percent, 1.2 per cent, 10.6 per cent and
4.1 per cent respectively. Despite records of prolonged high growth, 41 per
cent of the population in Gujarat can be considered as multi-dimensionally
poor. The workers in the state are relatively less paid. Average daily wage
earning of rural male casual labourers is Rs. 87 which is Rs. 227 for Kerala
and the all India average is Rs. 102. The wages for rural female casual
labourers is Rs. 71 which is slightly above the national average of Rs. 69 but
far less than what it is in Kerala Rs. 119.

A relevant question therefore, how is
the Gujarat growth story different from that of India’s? It is the same
trajectory in which higher growth rates mean very little to the poor. A
profit-led exclusionary growth path in which growth becomes increasingly
dependent on capital intensive capacity buildings, financial speculation and luxury
consumptions having very little or negative impact on unemployment. But efforts
are made to propagate that Gujarat growth story as a different model. Aakritiapco a joint venture of Gujarat
government and APCO Worldwide, an influential lobbyist company of the US had
been assigned for long to create the truth of ‘Gujarat model’, to pose every
inch of positive outcomes in Gujarat as the handicraft of ‘messiah Modi’ and
push aside all the dark behind the shadows of carefully designed cutouts and

Towards a kingdom of silence
For the past two decades India
experienced high growth coupled with unemployment, hunger and deprivation. The
impasse in the present conjuncture often referred to ‘policy paralyses’
reflects a crisis of the ruling combination in maintaining legitimacy of the
existing policy discourse. Today’s sacrifice would bear fruits in the future is
no longer acceptable to the majority citizens who had been in a long wait of more
than two decades of continuing reform. And the loss of hegemony is reflected by
contesting feuds and confronting political groups within the ruling class
trying heavily for a facelift. The tragedy of democracy however is that despite
many efforts to insulate policy decisions from public debates and opinions
either by directly obstructing the legislative process to function or by
consistent efforts to restrict policy discourse as something exclusive for the
elite, coming to power in India requires winning elections. To the ruling elite
elections are the game of manipulating the majority opinion and to the common
person it is some of the rare occasions when elected representatives are at
least answerable to them. Hence elections are perturbations to a smooth sail, the
eve of the dirty and murky when the non-educated common man suddenly becomes
uncontrollable and empowered. And this un-comfort sometimes prompts piecemeal
arrangements, often tokenism with certain doses of welfare to win the
dissenting minds.  In fact these are
occasional transfers to the need segment of the economy in order to maintain
political stability. Otherwise put the old wine in a new bottle, come straight
as pro business, insensitive to dissents and impatient to any debate. The model
is more slick slimmed off from the hangovers of ‘inclusive development’ and
straight forward to serve the corporate. The ultimate doer has arrived.
The change from the older version perhaps
is in the mode of engineering hegemony. The majoritarian assertion would be
built this time on the grounds of social authoritarianism instead of relying on
half-hearted welfare policies. The middle class especially the upper caste and
middle caste, urban professional, salaried and business class who are
benefitted from the reform process and aspire for a political system insulated
from the noises of the crowd are looking for a decisive change in their favour.
The change that ensure ignoring and demolishing all obstacles which so ever exists
in the pathway to more radical liberal reforms. There is perhaps little doubt that
Mr. Modi is a strong candidate in this regard. A simple fact establishes the
point. Since 2004 in the name of special economic zones (SEZ) and special
investment regions (SIR) about 4 lakh hectares of land had been acquired in
Gujarat and handed over to industrialists affecting 399 villages and 10.4 lakh
people. The silence which Gujarat could offer is a bliss to all the big
corporates. The Modi government in Gujarat had shown immense capacities to
silence protests and destroy the tribals and peasants towards serving the

The art of recreating class hegemony
is to make the oppressed and exploited feel that something is taking shape
according to their choice. It can be done by distorting the problematique
itself. People at large are made to believe that declining growth, rising
fiscal deficit and dwindling stock prices are the issues that require far more
attention than concerns for unemployment, rising food prices, poor health,
education facilities and so on. In that milieu paradoxically one who is averse
to plurality and despotic to dissenting voice would appear to be the best choice
to solve the ‘policy paralyses’; a choice for a determined move towards
corporate freedom. Media would be manipulated for the bandwagon and lot of
efforts would be there to create the optical illusion of a new ‘model’ and an avatar emerging to rescue the sinking
ship. The corporate in our country are really in search of an India where
rights of the poor, the dispossessed and minorities would not be allowed to
create any noise in the heavenly trip towards unbridled neoliberal reforms. It
is the search for a kingdom of silence.

[1]An Uncertain Glory: India and its Cotradictions, Princeton University Press