The politics and economics of India’s story is breeding monsters
History is analysed by historians. But more often, ordinary people on the streets create it. They don’t have an ideology to propagate. Nor do they have any personality to promote. But they do have an agenda to agitate for. As the 23-year-old braveheart succumbed to the monstrous assault on her person, she shook the entire nation of a billion people. Millions of ordinary, faceless Indians—young and old, rich and poor—used all forms of communication to create history by conveying their disgust with the shameless system; they resolved to force a change. It was the social media that set the tone for others to follow. One of the tweeple put it succinctly, “The brave girl who woke the entire nation, finally went to sleep.” Damini or Nirbhaya—pseudonyms given to the victim—moved even the international media. News about her death was first broken by an American wire agency on Twitter. Never before in any nation’s history has a dastardly attack on a girl mobilised millions of people. From New Delhi’s India Gate to Mumbai’s Gateway of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, ordinary citizens turned out on the roads while the political class and well-protected wealthy corporate honchos chose to hide at home. Has Damini really woken our rulers from their slumber? Actually not. Our planners are obsessed with votebank politics and glamorous growth models, which have created two Indias within one nation. While a fraction of India becomes safer and richer, the rest of it lives in abysmal poverty and insecurity.
Damini’s demise symbolises the bankruptcy of India’s growth story and busts its myths. If India is being discussed globally for its huge potential, it is also a subject of ridicule when it comes to protecting vulnerable women on its streets. The growth of heinous crimes, including rape, has outpaced GNP growth. Undoubtedly, India is much richer than it was 20 years ago. No doubt, we have more swanky airports, five-star hotels, auto hubs, over 800 million mobile phones, hundreds of private jets and thousands of Lamborghinis, Porsches and Jaguars. But these luxury toys have been built or acquired by diverting funds, which could otherwise have gone for providing better security, effective public transport, quality education in government schools, better hospitals, and a credible policing system. It takes hardly a few minutes for the prime minister or top corporate leaders to announce millions of dollars in donations to foreign universities where the children of the rich and mighty study, while over 60 per cent of government-run schools remain without buildings or furniture. Such munificence has hardly been showered on any of the Indian institutions that also produce world-class professionals. Most state governments have stopped opening new schools and instead, have started selling land to private promoters at exorbitant prices. On the other hand, they fast-track the sanction of over Rs 3,000 crore to purchase state-of-the-art flying machines for our leaders.
It takes more than three months and over 1,000 files to force Delhi’s government to sanction a mere Rs 50 crore for the purchase of CCTVs for the capital. India’s police stations are understaffed. They have antiquated arms and untrained staff who put ridiculous questions to rape victims. Despite the recommendations of various commissions, neither the Central nor the state governments have bothered to implement police reforms. Instead, they have been liberal in providing massive security cover to civil servants and political leaders. Over 15,000 police personnel protect about 4,500 MLAs in the country. Over 2,500 cops are on duty to provide security to over 700 MPs. Those who are on VIP duty are given the most modern arms. On an average, a chief minister is protected by over 500 personnel, including specially trained greyhounds. According to unconfirmed estimates, the Central and state governments spend over Rs 5,000 crore yearly on the security of its leaders, including that of the prime minister, chief ministers, leaders of national and regional parties, former chief ministers, MPs, MLAs and senior civil servants. It means there is less money left to upgrade India’s ill-maintained police infrastructure.
In the absence of sufficient funds for the development of urban infrastructure, most Indian cities are becoming breeding grounds for petty criminals. With the emphasis on technology-driven capital-intensive projects, less and less employment opportunities are being created for unskilled and even semi-skilled labour force. Currently, India has over 20 crore youth waiting for gainful employment. They are the ones who, along with the spoilt brats of wealthy and powerful, are driven to crime when they only get part-time, lowly paid jobs from the mafia that runs parallel transport, water and real estate businesses in various cities or inherit their family business. Over 20 per cent of buses, three-wheelers, tempos and trucks plying on Indian roads lack authorised certification. The government has been putting public transport and small vehicles out of reach of the lower and middle classes by its fiscal policies. India is the only country in the world that imposes the maximum possible taxes on petroleum products. Strangely, the prime minister, instead of ensuring the affordable delivery of energy resources, pleaded for the withdrawal of subsidies and not for reducing taxes on power and petrol. If India is allowed to live in darkness and its people are forced to move on insecure roads and public transport, many more Daminis will fall prey to the beasts created by an insensitive establishment of Mera Bharat Mahan!
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla