Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Need for new agenda (The forgotten poor: Part II)

Here is the link for part 2 of the article on the forgotten poor. The article is also given below for your reading convenience.

Need for new agenda
By K N Hari Kumar
The final test for all development programmes would be to see how far they help the poor and the oppressed.

The real challenge before the media is how to attract the readers’/viewers’ attention to the small-scale, patient, unspectacular, not always wholly successful constructive work being done by ordinary individuals and organisations, like co-operatives, unions, parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), at the grassroots, but which may not instantly thrill the readers/viewers into paroxysms of excitement and amazement. Finally and perhaps most difficult in the current climate, they will have to reaffirm the relevance of Indian languages for communication at the grassroots and in bridging the ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless within our society.

What is being suggested by the above analysis is that development journalists and activists need to go beyond the local, micro perspectives and address the larger, macro issues — political, economic, social — which impact the lives of all of us. They should resist the attempts of the private sector-oriented reformers to confine their development activities and role as relevant only to give small palliatives to the poor while the policy — and decision makers at the national and international levels address the larger economic and other issues facing the community of nations in an increasingly globalised world. They should question whether the model of economic development based on replicating the nature of the economies of the advanced western nations is appropriate for the very different society that we are today. More pertinently, they should dare to ask whether even those advanced societies have in fact achieved or are moving towards the desirable goals of poverty elimination, care for the sick, weak, disabled and old, empowerment of the common people, protection of the environment, sustainable development, social justice and a just world order, that they are preaching so insistently and loudly.

And, most importantly, to be effective, development journalists and activists have to pose an alternative. A workable, viable alternative to a society based on competition (as opposed to co-operation), greed and exploitation and disenfranchisement of the working people. Combining in equal measure micro and macro perspectives, they have to explore different social arrangements which can reflect their commitment to the common welfare. In seeking ways to transform society however, they cannot eschew the political.

Living in an interdependent world, they have to go beyond the nation-state and address and act with a global perspective and on global issues. They have to examine the nature of the society in which they live both nationally and globally, the nature of government policies and who benefits from them, the social forces which determine the vision of the policymakers and the decisions and actions of those in power. Without such a vision and analysis, and programmes and actions based on them, they will be restricted to the local and the grassroots and their transformative potential will be neutralised and defused.

In the context of today’s India, the additional task is to wean away the national agenda from empty grandiosity, megalomania and militarism. There was doubtless a certain ambition — political, economic and technological — in Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision, which could even be judged as excessive and, consequently, leading to failure, a loss of confidence and a sense of deflation. One consequence of this failure may have been the current compensatory vision and programme, which can be seen as a corruption of the original dream. But Nehru’s vision was always based firmly on deeply held values of humanism, social justice and self-respect. It was that of a proudly Independent India, subservient to and dependent upon none, but developing its own technology, industry and economy as far as possible by itself, and contributing as an equal in a community of equals to world peace on the basis of its moral influence. It was also based on an uncompromising refusal to accept the double standards and continuing injustice sought to be imposed in international affairs by the rich and powerful nations on those whom they have exploited and impoverished.

If the 21st century is to be India’s, it will have to be by virtue of our commitment to social justice within and between nations. Our nation will not be satisfied by accepting a subservient position of serving the interests of (rather than competing against) the companies of the developed economies like our much vaunted IT and IT-enabled service companies are doing today. Nor would it seek a “great power” label by becoming a willing tool of the great powers in our region of the globe. Rather, it would champion the cause of the underdeveloped nations globally based on their solidarity and common interests through the Non-Aligned Movement and other international groupings of those nations.

Through those associations, it will work towards sustainable economic development based on the real needs of the peoples of the world and a just economic order. Its commitment to world peace and disarmament will not be based on insincere rhetoric and time-bound plans, but shown by its deeds. It will lead by example, not military might. In spite of the derision and suspicion of motives that this gives rise to (“are you planning to enter politics?”), it is entirely appropriate that the final words should be those of the deified, but ignored father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The yardstick proposed by him to measure and judge policies and actions by asking whether they will be helpful to the poorest, weakest and most oppressed, is more relevant than ever to the tasks on hand. And so is his very different kind of ambition “to wipe every tear from every eye”.



gaddeswarup said...

Very nice article. Thanks.

Anant said...

You are welcome! I hope to keep up the work on the blog.

Revathi said...

Hi Ananth,

that was a nice article. I am sending it to my dad.