Friday, February 23, 2007

Heroic Buddhadev 25 February, 2007

When you have been teaching bad ideas to people for a couple of generations, they tend to catch up with you. This is poor Buddhadev’s Bhattacharya’s dilemma, as he attempts heroically to break with his desperate past. To begin with, he has to contend with the pervasive envy of peasant societies in places like Singur and Nandigram. Peasants believe that society’s wealth is more or less fixed so that one person’s gain must be another’s loss. They view the social system as a zero sum game and it is hard to imagine that the overall pie may actually grow in a way that everyone will be unbelievably better off through mutual cooperation (by selling land, for example, to Tata’s car factory).

Furthermore, Buddhadev must deal with the communist cadres’ suspicion of the market, which is now so built into Bengali genes, and it is exceeded only by their general hatred of businessmen. In the 1980s, I used to work in Mumbai and I worried that our factory was next door to that of a famous European company that had been on strike for almost a year. Their Marxist trade union leader had the dangerous psychological make up of Duryodhana. Once he said at a gate meeting: “I don’t care if we sink this factory as long as the European manager goes down with us.” When this kind of attitude gets institutionalized in the mental make-up of a militant movement, the result is de-industrialization. This is what happened in West Bengal in the 1970s. Company after company left the state as the unions preferred to sink the economy rather than come to agreement with industry.

Like Deng in China, Buddhadeva is determined to make a break with this self-destructive past and bring prosperity to his people--despite themselves. He sees in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) his chance to bring about an industrial revolution in Bengal. He realises that SEZs will only create pockets of world class infrastructure. Ideally, he would like the whole of Bengal to have world class roads, ports, power plants, but reforming is slow business in a democracy. So, you create pockets and hope the effects spill over. But in a democracy you must also face your Nandigrams, something that Deng didn’t have to think about in China.

The significance of Nandigram is that it has brought home to everyone the unfairness of our present, inhumane system of forcibly acquiring land from farmers. As Swaminathan Aiyar has eloquently pointed out, government should not be in the business of acquiring land. It ought to be a voluntary transaction between farmers and industry. And if there is a deadlock--say if five percent of the farmers refuse to sell, then it should be put to a community vote. I do hope that this is the sort of model displacement policy that the centre is working on at the moment. Because of competition between so many SEZs, I think our farmers are going to get rich beyond their dreams in the months ahead.
We are now at a tipping point, and if we don’t seize the moment, history will not forgive us. With all their flaws, SEZs will create millions of jobs and eventually lift the poor into the middle class. Fifty years hence when India’s per capita income is $25,000 per year, historians will remember Buddhadev’s vision of a vibrant, prosperous, and forward looking India. In comparison, Mamta Banerji, V. P. Singh and Medha Patkar’s India is a perpetually victimized peasant society that belongs in the garbage dump of history


Anonymous said...

>In comparison, Mamta Banerji, V. P. Singh and Medha Patkar’s India is a perpetually victimized peasant society that belongs in the garbage dump of history

Sounds familiar. Looks like free marketeers have now started borrowing from Trotsky :-)

Jassim said...

despite the apparent goodwill and the motives behind the move, such tectonic shifts need to be communicated to the ordinary man on the street.

At the same time the system should also realise that by giving away public property to conglomerates at throwaway prices in the name of setting up SEZ's is also not the way to move forward to bring the fruits of economic growth to the grassroots.

i really wonder how many illiterate tribals and farmers could be found employable by an automobile firm.

if this was the case then most of the white collar jobs in jharkhand would have gone to the tribals.

The growth pill could only be digested if the basics and the commonsensical aspects of governance prevails over the attractiveness of media and peer attention.

Although this has been a bad case, let this not hinder the path that the govt has adopted and may this serve as a lesson to all the aspiring dengs and the naidu's\of the world.

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