Two-nation theory

By Anil Agarwal
Published: Friday 15 November 1996

people call this phenomenon by different names. Some call it India-1 and India-2. Others, one-third India and two-thirds India.

Now that economic liberalisation is boosting wealth generation, many fear that this process will exacerbate economic inequalities, which are pretty bad already. The poor may grow somewhat richer but the gap between the rich and poor will widen dramatically. This could lead to considerable tensions within urban areas. The ultimate result could even be the kind of urban violence that marks the cities of South and North America where urban disparities are extremely sharp. How economic inequality will sharpen the rural-urban divide is hard to say as the rural poor are extremely disorganised. However, rising expectations could easily lead to increased rates of rural-urban migration, generating greater pressure on the overburdened urban system.

But the thing that worries me most is the structural fraud that this growing inequality will build into the Indian political system and over a period of time, make people more cynical and lose faith in the country's democracy. With the approach of elections, all politicians will express their awareness of the populous India-2 and start talking a populist language -- about the need to eradicate poverty and promote social justice. This was what the Janata Dal had done. But once a party is ensconsed in power, the economic and monetary might of India-1 will make it forget India-2; its agenda will become more the agenda of India-1.

A prime example is Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, who has repeatedly told the nation that he will not subvert the economic liberalisation programme of the previous government, but has yet to announce any major programme to deal with the problems of India-2. Even the previous pm , P V Narasimha Rao, did not go beyond a liberalisation programme that was mainly of interest to big industry. He did not extend the debureaucratisation process to a stage that would have helped the poor harrassed by all kinds of bureaucrats, ranging from foresters and wildlife wardens to land revenue officials.

It is obvious that a good party, when it comes to power, will try to balance the agendas of both India-1and India-2, but given the total lack of real interest in the poor and the widespread inclination for self-gratification, what is more evident is an immediate tendency to jettison the interests of the poor. Thus, between what our politicians tell us and what they do, there will be a growing gulf. In a country so sharply divided between wealth and poverty, luxury and survival, education and mass illiteracy, this can only lead to disaster.

And yet the entire challenge of India-2 is so easy to meet. All it requires is a committed leadership to liberalise the economy from the point of view of the poor. The poor do not need dole and welfare which makes them grateful to politicians. They need empowerment -- financially, legally and institutionally. They need legal rights to their habitat. They need institutions which give them the power to decide. And, of course, they need financial support. Just like a businessperson who needs legal rights to his/her enterprise, an insitutional framework for decision-making that is recognised by the government, and financial assistance. After that a business enterprise is expected to be on its own. Once empowered in this manner, the poor can manage the earth to yield gold. This will definitely not make India-2 as rich as India-1but the kind of abject poverty we see today will certainly disappear.

Another major problem with the political system today is that it suffers from a dearth of politicians interested in issues that matter to the poor -- concerns like health management, education, environment and employment. There is not one political party in India today which has a politician deeply committed to bringing about change in any of these four areas. While India-1 can buy its health needs in the market, pay for the schools its younger generation needs and take care of its other necessities, it is the health, education, environment and employment needs of India-2 that are conveniently and completely forgotten.

When the Labour Party came to power in the uk , ousting Winston Churchill in the post-War period, it set up for its people the first system in the world which provided access to medical facilities for one and all. Till date, the National Health Service ( nhs ) remains an outstanding achievement of a nation-state to meet the needs of its people. Few people in Europe remember politicians of 40-year vintage, but the British public has found it hard to forget Aneurin Bevan, the founder of nhs . Why can't the Indian political system produce one such leader?

Years ago, somebody had joked to me that in the government, people care more for embassies, the army, the treasury and the police than for health, education and environment. That is why these portfolios go to political third-raters as compared to those of external affairs, defence, finance and home. Why that should be the case remains perplexing. No wonder the country is in such a bad shape.

And yet I am also amazed at the lack of political foresight and statesmanship that all this represents. If there ever was a pm who had the ambition to win five elections instead of just one, then it is clear that he/she would pay adequate attention to the needs of India-2. Gandhiji remains such a respected leader precisely for that reason.

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