Waiting for another Gandhi
From March 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011 around 4.42crore rural households demanded employment and volunteered to do unskilled manual work. The government of India obliged by providing 100 days of employment to a little over 4.36 crore rural households under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Presuming that each of these units have just four members, around 17.5 crore people survived on anything over Rs 27 per day. Anything because there are 365 days in a year and surely no one from amongst these 17.5 crore people goes on a 265 day holiday.
In the answer to how and what these 17.5 crore people earn to make their ends meet in these remaining 265 days lies the solution to one of the top problems of the Indian democracy. No democracy can flourish with these many hungry stomachs. Any rule established by manipulating hungry stomachs is paid democracy.
How is this guaranteed Rs 100 per day for 100 days in a year different from the bonus of $ 3000 in Kuwait and $ 2700 in Bahrain? Time magazine's editor at large Mr Fareed Zakaria describes the generosity of the rulers in Kuwait and Bahrain as a form of mass bribery that helps in keeping the subjects under control. In India if more than 50 years after independence someone thinks about these households and doles out Rs 27 everyday, can it be called a welfare measure? What kind of a safety valve can this money ensure? Can anyone surviving on this meager an amount, ever feel secure? How does 'for the people' fit into the meaning of democracy when such a large number is never secure about anything?
The biggest asset of this huge mass of Indians is its survival instinct. Plagues, droughts, floods, earthquakes and other calamities - both natural and man made - hit them the hardest but they survive. The poor have not become poor today. Generations of these Indians have survived in poverty. Nothing has changed for them. It is just that they felt obliged when they went to vote the last time around. Are these people still carrying the burden of that obligation? I doubt.
Health Insurance for all can be the next rabbit coming out of the ruler's hat but someday the magician will be caught. People will see through the purchasing potential of this paid democracy and demand actual growth prospects.
Those who argue that it will never happen or it will take an unknown number of years for this huge mass to demand actual growth prospects miss the most crucial point. Their strength - the survival instinct- is their weakness only till they get a rallying point. If this huge mass comes out on to the streets it can survive all the lathis, tear gas shells and bullets.
Make no mistake, those who subscribe to the naxal style of change have successfully organized emaciated youth into a strong force in large parts of rural India. These boys and girls who have made the jungle their home survive on the minimum possible. They are challenging the Indian state not because they are driven by some ideology but because they have been pushed to the wall. The gun has been offered as a solution to deprivation, and they have latched onto it with one hand.
The Gandhian solution will be grabbed by both hands. Some one will have to shift base to the bastees and the villages without SPG security. Token visits are nothing more than attempts to justify the buying of votes.
More about Hemender SharmaA chance reporter, reporting for CNN-IBN from Bhopal. Has reported for the Sun Magazine, Delhi MidDay, Hindustan Times, Asian Age and Sahara Samay in the past.
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