Remember the ‘India shining’ slogan in 2003/2004? Parts of India
were indeed shining, and the government at the time spent around
$20 million telling citizens that India was shiny and bright. Of
course, many went on to use the slogan in an attempt to legitimise
the opening up of the economy and neo liberal economic policies.
A strong theme that emerged to help explain the BJP-led
government’s subsequent election defeat was the failure to
acknowledge that most of India was certainly not shining and that
there were in fact two India’s – a smaller Coffee MacDay, Barristo
swilling stratum and a larger threadbare India struggling to get
In the West, politicians and economists at the World Bank were
quick to jump on the ‘India shining’ bandwagon, heralding India as
some kind of capitalist economic miracle. There was a great deal
of talk about India’s huge middle class and falling poverty, and
much of the media in the West zoomed in on the glitz of Bollywood,
India’s IT parks and the rising conspicuous consumption of the
Indian middle classes. From a land of elephants, poverty and
beggars, a shiny new image of India emerged in the West. Farmers
drinking pesticide and Monsanto's raping of the agricultural
sector, 800 million or so on less than two dollars a day,
increasing food prices and state-corporate grabs for land and
minerals – that was all conveniently brushed aside. It didn’t fit
the agenda of India as the new chic.
A similar process was also occurring in the UK. The spit and
polish was applied in an attempt to gloss over those parts that
were not shining. It started a little earlier there - in 1997 to
be precise, when Tony Blair and New Labour came to power. Tony was
hip, Tony was cool. He was tuned in and turned on to the
meaningless ‘cool Britannia’ soundbite manufactured by the media
at that time. Brits were told that it was cool to be British and
to bask in their achievements in music, industry and youthful
Suddenly, from a country still reeling from the destruction of
manufacturing industry, coupled with rising crime and community
erosion, the UK was tranformed overnight to a ‘can-do’ place of
individual endeavour. Whatever happened to the permanent class of
wageless labour and the legacy of 11 years of Thatcherite rule?
Children growing up in the UK were suffering greater deprivation,
worse relationships with their parents and exposure to more risks
from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those in any other wealthy
country in the world. That too was neatly brushed aside by the
spin doctors and a compliant mainstream media.
In both the UK and India, it was the creamy layer that was
shining. Millionaires and billionaires were on the increase. Even
in 2009, in a period of crisis and recession, the richest portion
of UK society increased its wealth by around $120 billion – that’s
almost half the public debt that ordinary working people are
having to pay for via public sector cutbacks.
So when PM Cameron and the rich bankers and financiers who hold
the key positions in his government tell us in the UK that we are
all in it (the hardships) together, some of us are a heck of a lot
more ‘in it’ than others.
A recently devised index for poverty indicates that eight Indian
states account for more poor people than in the 26 poorest African
countries combined. According to this measure, Bihar, Chhattisgarh,
Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and
West Bengal have 421 million poor people. This is more than the
410 million poor in the poorest African countries. The
Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) measures a range of
deprivations at household levels. Developed by Oxford Poverty and
Human Development Initiative (OPHI) with UN support, it assesses
various factors aside from income, such as education, health,
assets and access to services.
The government and statisticians from the World Bank have
consistently told us that poverty has fallen quite dramatically in
India. It suits the ‘trickle down’ ideology of neo liberalism. The
late economist JK Galbraith was no advocate of ‘trickle down’ – he
merely envisaged a ‘trickle out’ effect. He warned India not to
dive headfirst into global capitalism because of the foolishness
of feeding a horse strawberries and expecting the masses to feed
off what comes out the other end.
Cool Britannia? Forget it. You can forget India shining too, at
least as far as the bulk of the populatioin is concerned. Because,
in India, as in the UK, some are much more ‘in it’ than others. If
we use the Galbraith analogy – in it up to their necks!
Originally from the northwest of England, writer
Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written
extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based
broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). Various other publications have carried his work too,
including the London Progressive Journal and Kisan Ki Awaaz
(India's national farmers' magazine).