Monday, June 16, 2008

16. REFLECTION. The real winner?

Barack Obama’s candid acceptance that the flights of jobs to Bangalore cannot be reversed may have pumped up nationalistic pride on this side of the Atlantic but hidden beneath are the manifestations of economic change that may bounce back once the growth engine has its full run. The skinny hands that held the begging bowl in the past may have started moving fingers across keyboards of world-class technology, but the economic growth hasn’t been able to pull the country out of its dismal status on the UN Human Development Index, still languishing at 128 out of 177 countries.

Obama acknowledges India’s arrival on the world stage with a stern message that the once poverty-stricken and colonized India `does not owe a living to the developed world’. However, the unleashing of the power of internet connection may have made the elite in Boston compete with the poor in Banda but the balance of power has not tilted as many may have started believing. Self-disciplining of the workforce is in the offing across the US, much will depend how indeed Obama’s proposed $50 billion stimulus package is used to cushion the present decline?

Further scrutiny reveals that though India may be walking tall amidst the comity of nations, its much-hyped economic growth is still not at par with the west. No wonder, a small but significant surge in petroleum prices triggers shock waves across the stock market and a weakening rupee sends alarm bells ringing at the IT hubs in Bangalore and Gurgaon. Statistics reveal that the economy of India doesn’t compare any bit with that of the US, Britain and Germany. Consequently, what gets admired and applauded is the shining fraction of the illusive jewel (the real Kohinoor is still in Britain)!

Buoyed by the liberal show of praise by the western observers, the rulers and planners have swept any cynicism of projected growth under the carpet. Finance Minister P Chidambaram lashes out at those who oppose his model of liberal growth: `people are being deceived to believe that the existing state of life is an ideal state of life and that development will make it worse. This could be categorized as a conspiracy of the socially-driven class to keep people poor.' Barrack Obama’s acceptance of India’s incredible growth and Gordon Brown’s praise that `the East is rising’ only helps the stubborn politicians miss the other side of the growth coin.

That the projected two-digit growth will be at the cost of the country’s finite resources and teeming millions gets under shadow! When asked if India, once independent, would ape the British model of development, Gandhi had responded: `if a small country like Britain had to colonise the world for meeting its basic needs, given our size we will need to colonise other planets.' There is no denying the fact that the right to growth and attainment of basic living standards ought to be equal but the question is whether or not India will be able to withstand the growth of unlimited appetites of its billion plus?

Bush may have erroneously hinted at the impact of such growing appetites but Obama has instead been cautious in accepting the inevitable. Paradoxically, while both acknowledge the value of a growing market for the products they make; their people rue the emergence of a new global economic order that has forced the relocation of new jobs outside their territorial jurisdiction. But as growth acceleration widens inequality within our society, unchecked industrialization and unbound consumption promises to amplify social strife as security nets against misery and want begin to evaporate.

It is intriguing that while the industrialized west seems content with our growing consumerism, it rues bearing the cost of `become like us’ through increased carbon emissions. Undoubtedly contradictory, there doesn’t seem to be any going back from the pattern of development though. That `development’ one day will threaten its proponents could not have been foreseen by then US President Truman who had positioned post-World War America to extend its technological prowess to the developing world as a euphemism for expanding the era of American hegemony!

The trouble with beating the west in their own game is that it will be at the cost of rich traditions and cultures of a great civilisation. Can an ancient civilisation be compromised at the altar of modern economic growth? At this time, no one seems to be reading the writing on the wall. On the contrary, infinite appetites are allowed to express themselves against the finite resources on offer – creating a process of self-annihilation through irreversible ecological degradation. This unprecedented historical experiment of pitching unrestricted demand against shrinking supply will consume the resource poor of the developing world, as there will be no colonial hinterland to relocate them. However, the technological prowess may help the west create an escape route for itself while the developing world would be left to fend for itself.

Wonder, who will be the winner?

(This blog has been published in Deccan Herald, the Bangalore-based newspaper. Click )