Bharat and India joined at the hip

After being thrashed in West Bengal and losing in Kerala, CPM policies have come in for much criticism. Yet it is not just the Left Front that lost. It is also the notion that this country suffers from a grave rich-poor divide, often called the India-Bharat divide, and that politicians must favour Bharat over India.

The CPM was thrashed because for 34 years it sought to promote Bharat while neglecting (indeed denigrating) India. The CPM focused on land reforms, irrigation and panchayati raj, issues that benefited Bharat. This approach was politically popular for some time, but ultimately proved to be not enough. Poor people do not want to remain in Bharat forever, and want to cross into India as rapidly as possible. The India Shining slogan of the BJP in the 2004 election was an empty one. But Bharat Shining is just as empty a slogan, as West Bengal has just demonstrated.

The Left performed the remarkable feat of winning elections in West Bengal for 34 years. Its strategy was to champion Bharat and denigrate/attack India. Its land reforms brought good political dividends. It also adopted the Punjab approach to agriculture, ushering in a green revolution in West Bengal.

Young readers will not know that in the 1960s and 1970s, journalists talked of Bihar and Bengal in the same breath, as backward agricultural states saddled with feudalism stemming from the Permanent Settlement of the British Raj. These two states ran huge food deficits, and looked unreformable.

But in the 1980s the Left Front produced a big jump in agriculture, leading first to self-sufficiency and now to a food surplus. Today, rice is smuggled from West Bengal to Bangladesh. Buoyant agriculture is the best way to reduce poverty, and so West Bengal became national champion in poverty reduction, something acknowledged by the World Bank. This helped the CPM win several elections in a row.

But as situations change, so should policies. An agricultural boom is useful starting point for poor people, but needs to lead somewhere. In most places, rural prosperity translates into industrial growth and urban prosperity. But in West Bengal agricultural prosperity was a bridge to nowhere. The Left Front’s militant trade unions had chased out commerce and industry. There were few jobs and opportunities, so the CPM could not meet rising aspirations, and was voted out.

Kolkata used to be India’s business capital at independence—Mumbai was a relative backwater then. Alas, CPM militancy killed Kolkata’s industry and drove investment out of the state. The party was happy to see mills turn sick because they could then be nationalized and run at a loss, with union cadres becoming unpaid storm-troopers of the party, secure in jobs whether they worked or not. Killing companies was seen as a way of shifting the means of production to state ownership, thus winning the class war. Alas, West Bengal’s state enterprises performed very badly, as in almost all states, and could not create enough fresh jobs. When the CPM belatedly tried to attract industry in the last few years, its cavalier attitude to land acquisition led to politically deadly fiascos at Singur and Nandigram.

Lesson: the notion of an India opposed to Bharat is an ideological myth. In fact a thousand bridges lead from one to the other, and millions keep crossing. Today we even have Dalit millionaires, who recently started a Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry !

Rapid economic growth spearheaded by services and industry has created a shortage of all kinds of labour, helping wages to rise stridently everywhere from Bangalore to rural Bihar. Besides, booming revenues from rapid economic growth have financed a huge increase in social and welfare spending. Thus Bharat and India are not strangers, they are joined at the hip.

States that have realized this have fared best. Gujarat has the highest rate of industrial investment in the country, but it also boasts the highest agricultural growth of 9%. Gujarat has never seen Bharat and India as two citadels between whom it has to choose. It has seen that the two are organically linked and should move together. Something similar happened in Andhra Pradesh under the late YSR. He was a welfare populist. Yet he saw the need for a businessfriendly climate to attract industry and accelerate growth and thus provide revenues for populism. The state’s Economic Freedom Index improved fastest among all states in 2005-09. He spent wisely on rural infrastructure, so the state’s agriculture grew at 6.8% per year, double the national rate. He saw no Bharat-India divide. He saw both as parts of an integral whole. So should we all.

1 thought on “Bharat and India joined at the hip”

  1. Jayadeep Purushothaman

    So you don’t think the Nandigram and other attempts at industrialization(or indianization according to you) did not have any impact ?

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