India Today

It’s important to bear in mind that there are two quite different Indias.

There is the high tech India in Hyderabad, which Thomas Friedman raves about in his odes to “globalization” — meaning, the neoliberal version of investor-rights-based international economic integration.. I’ve been there in the scientific research centers too, and what he says is not false. Same with the consumer culture. That’s one India. If one takes the trouble to look at Hyderabad, and certainly to go a few miles beyond to the rest of the state of Andhra Pradesh, of which Hyderabad is the capital, one sees a very different India. For a view of that, I’d suggest a look at the July 2 issue of the fine Indian weeklyFrontline, which I think is internet-accessible. Its lead story is about the very sharp rise in suicides of peasants in Andhra Pradesh since Congress took office in May, about 300 they estimate. The official reason is drought, but the real reason is that under the neoliberal regime, the state has withdrawn from providing basic services such as water, credit, seed, etc., and poor farmers are being driven to export crops, which vary wildly on international markets. The result is that peasants, tenants, landless rural workers are driven to a cycle of indebtedness at usurious rates, and when they have no more bodily organs to sell, and cannot provide for their families, they take their lives in desperation. The plague extends beyond, but is dramatic in this pearl of India, its exciting high tech center. India is incidentally producing plenty of food, much of it rotting because starving people can’t afford to buy it — though Friedman’s friends are doing fine.

You can find more about the background of peasant suicides in Andhra Pradesh in Robert Pollin’s excellent book, Contours of Descent– mainly about the real story of the Clinton economy that also inspires great awe (and in the current period of worship of the PR-created image of Reagan, is attributed to that divine figure. If you’re interested in a more general picture, I’d suggest a fine book by the Oxford development economist and India specialist Barbara Harriss-White, India Working, based on her own extensive field work and many other sources. Her book is about the part of the population of India that is in the informal or black economy, outside of official statistics and the starry-eyed gaze of those awed by the successes of “globalization”: close to 90% of the population. You can learn more in depth about particular regions in such studies as Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Indian Development: Selected Regional Perspectives, for example the study there by Dreze and Gazdar of Uttar Pradesh, a state of about 160 million people with one of the lowest female to male ratios in the world, not because of female infanticide but because of the miserable treatment of women, reminiscent of the Taliban but of no more concern than their fate was under the Taliban until they became an official enemy, and the hideous conditions of life generally. There are exceptions in India, notably Kerala and to an extent West Bengal, which have a somewhat different history, including long period of Communist Party government and influence.

It’s possible that Congress will smooth some of the rough edges slightly, but not much. The new Prime Minister is the architect of the neoliberal reforms, and these conditions developed under Congress Party rule. Congress will also presumably try to rein in some of the fanatic Hindu fundamentalism that was encouraged and supported by BJP. But the problems are much deeper.

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