Development as the New Misanthropy

Behind the noise of the official development story lies the gruesome reality of hunger and death, writes MOHD. ZEYAUL HAQUE.

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“I hate the word ‘culture’, because there is a fascist ring to it,” says the writer Nadine Gordimer. How true! Even the Indian admirers of Hitler and Mussolini call themselves “cultural nationalists.”

However, over the last few years the word “development” has been slowly edging out culture and taking its place as the most-favoured word of fascists and anti-human people.

One remembers an interview of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a few years ago. Modi was on cloud nine, making big boasts as usual. Then, all of a sudden, the reporter asked the taboo “P” question, the pogrom of 2002. Instead of giving a straight, honest-to-God answer, he said nonchalantly: “Don’t talk to me about that. Talk about development.”

In short, those murdered brutally do not matter. What matters is an abstraction called “development”, in which Gujarat stands not first, but fifth in terms of GDP, an indicator of development. Also, those who masterminded and participated in the killings, rape and arson should not be bothered as they happen to be devotees of the deity called “development”. The killers are people on whom the deity has conferred impunity.

In the recent travesty of a satyagrah for sadbhavna (goodwill), Modi mumbled the word more than once, knowing well that the poor word had started losing its content because of extensive use, abuse, and misuse.

Not that the devotees of development have learnt any lessons and started using this tired, virtually worn-out cliché less often. The word is being bandied about as recklessly in Bihar, where another Modi is the co-ruler, with deadly impact.

Thanks to the cover provided by this word, few people are able to notice the frequently recurring murder of Muslims in Bihar. The end of Lalu-Rabri “jungle raj” was announced in East Champaran (from where Mahatma Gandhi began his non-violent war of independence) with gunfire.

A family of Bhumihar landlords, as if waiting for Lalu’s government to go, struck soon after Nitish Kumar took over for the first time. They gunned down seven of a family of poor Muslims (faqirs) to settle an old dispute over land. The promise of development and euphoria over the end of Lalu-Rabri rule ensured that the victims were quickly removed from public concerns.

How lethal development can turn out for the weak is evident from the number of Muslims murdered in cold blood in Nitish Kumar’s second term. At least ten Muslims have been killed in groups and individually, the more gruesome being the murder of four Muslims in Forbesganj, shot by police, who took care to jump repeatedly over the injured victims to ensure that they died a painful death. They were sacrificed to facilitate the establishment of a factory, the prime emblem of development.

The Forbesganj massacre shook the conscience of many people. It was a question mark on the official declaration that in Bihar, jungle raj had given way to rule of law. If policemen in boots jumping on the chests of dying victims is rule of law then jungle raj would be a less horrid option.

Karnataka is another example of a “development-driven” ruling elite which ignores planned attacks on Christians and their churches and not-so-clandestine marking of Muslim homes and properties for future attacks. This is the state that is home to India’s Silicon Valley and a goon called Muthalik, who has the gumption to say on camera that if he is funded properly he can stage the biggest anti-Muslim and/or anti-Christian riot at a short notice. Officially, he is a Hindutva votary, but the only deity he really worships is money.

Because this BJP-ruled state talks endlessly of development, anybody questioning the ruling elite is liable to be branded anti-development, if not outright anti-national, the favourite label BJP keeps to put on people who oppose its politics.

The development narrative does not allow the trope of probity in public life. No problem if the Reddy Brothers, patronised by Yedurappa (some would say it is the other way round: the Reddys patronised Yedurappa), looted national wealth, worth thousands of crores of rupees (mines are national property) and got away with it. Don’t talk about it, everything is being done for “development.”

This single word has the potential to cover up massacres and loot of national property. Incidentally, over the same years that the ruling elite has been bragging about development, inequity too has grown.

Those who have been left behind because of wrong policy choices by government are not amused at this charade. Remember how voters decided to kick NDA out for their “feel good” and “India Shining” politics. People cannot be forced to feel good when they are feeling cheated and deprived, and when you tell them “India Shining,” they have all the right to ask “whose India is shining?” They have the right to say their India of poverty and disease is not shining.

Yours truly has the conviction that development is the new face of misanthropy. By deciding to allocate national resources for things that do not help the poor, the ruling elite makes tall claims of development as indicated by rising GDP figures. This rise benefits only the middle and upper classes. Looked at from below, it looks like what it really is: the new misanthropy.

Such “development” creates wealth, but very few jobs. The availability of larger surplus incomes with a section of society automatically pushes up prices of goods and services as there are people who would be able to pay more. The other effect is that it pushes prices of everything-from food, clothing and housing to doctors’ fees, diagnostic costs and medicines-out of the reach of common people. There is an inbuilt anti-people dimension to it.

The question “development for whom?” has to be answered every time a policy decision is made. According to educationists, if governments decide not to build a single flyover in a metro, the funds thus saved can be used to build hundreds of primary schools in nearby villages.

That the ruling elite have an anti-poor bias is clear from the affidavit presented before the Supreme Court on September 20 by the Planning Commission of India, whose chairman is the Prime Minister.

It said in the affidavit that people who earned more than 25 rupees a day were not poor as this much was sufficient for somebody to buy food, medicine, clothes and pay school fees for his/her children. Possibly enough for paying house rent as well.

Activist Aruna Roy’s comment was that the affidavit was an attempt by government to show a reduced number of the country’s poor just to avoid helping them.

One of the planks of the development narrative is denial of the existence of the poor, for how would you say that 77 percent of Indians are poor (according to the Sengupta Report commissioned by the Centre), and yet claim that the country is getting richer by the hour? The best way is to deny the existence of the poor. The second best is to make them disappear in official affidavits and records.