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Sunday Editorial:Is the word ‘development’ meaningful any more?

 

By Ratnakar Tripathy

A Sisyphean struggle?

Democracy: A Sisyphean struggle?

No, is the sad conclusion I have come to with all my limitations – my limited brain capacity, my limited reading and experience, my limited ability to digest data, and of course my limited ability to hallucinate optimism where there isn’t any. But of course, it is not the word to blame but us, this world of ours that reduces and hollows words of their intended meanings, for reasons we need to find out and admit in a hurry.

We have had hallowed words like ‘salvation’ and ‘progress’ in the past as life aims for humans. They both addressed afterlife – the first clearly promised there would be no redemption in lifetime but once you die, WOW! The second seemed to say yes, eventually and decidedly the ‘march of progress’ will ensure that after several generations something nice will happen if we stick to the enlightenment agenda – in the manner of good… better… best vocabulary. Shed superstitions, follow science, get educated if you are permitted to and things will certainly change. In the last instance, so to say! So instead of salvation [mukti] and progress [pragati], we settled for a more modest vocabulary – development [vikas]. But even this modest balloon of development is deflating at a faster rate than a punctured bike tyre on an ascending slope.  Point a gun at my gut and I will indeed call it some kind of hope! But to me, ‘development’ sounds too much like salvation and progress and still seems to say that things will get better only and only after I die! Why?

First, everyone is only talking development. Wants development and nothing else and no more! Don’t believe me? Check with Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, Sakshi Maharj, Meenakshi Lekhi, baba Ramdev, our official contortionist, and all the bare-legged decision makers from Nagpur! Development has turned into a sort of omnipresent background music in our public lives and media, a kind of perpetual tinnitus that amounts to noise pollution. But it has also taken over our public and political morality. Everything any government does these days is of course for development. It gives you teachers who can’t teach when they are there to teach, it gives you embankments that flood your homes to keep you safe from the deluge, it turns rivers into decorative sludge-ridden lakes, it takes your land to give you factories where you can’t find a job and well what else do you wish for?

When matters get desperate as the case seems to be these days, you are supposed to take pride in your past and feel developed – replay 5,000 or even 50,000 years ago. If you don’t feel developed enough already, it is your fault. Try yoga! Or vegetarian food! Or attacking people from another religion, region or caste. Even better, try telling women how to lead their lives, enforcing your recommendations with the rigour of a Hannibal. Make sure they listen. Just psyche yourself out of negativity by doing Mayurasan or some art of living stunt. And keep grinning like the wide open mouth of a miasmic cave with bad teeth.

Thing is ordinary people don’t want to develop. They just want to do better, somewhat better, may be considerably better. I have never heard an individual, a girl or a boy or a middle-aged man say – I want to develop [mujhe apna vikas karna hai]. They just say I want a better life. And they mostly know how to better their lives unless you put impediments in their way.  Those who don’t ask their parents, neighbours, teachers or friends, comparing notes endlessly. And this applies to the rich, the not so rich, the poor as well as the very poor.

Yes, even the very poor. The Chief Minister of Bihar Jeetanram Manjhi for example, through a series of almost accidentally available opportunities in his life grew to become our big revered boss in Bihar. Because of development policies? Are you nuts?

So when I nihilistically question the idea of development, am I as an intellectual from Brahmin background conspiring to disarm the deprived of their vocabulary?

Certainly not. All I am trying to say is that on balance the Indian state and most of its mainstream political parties have proved to be impediments in the way of development. I am only trying to say that there is a complete disconnect between the idea of development according to the Indian state and the idea of development according to its average and well, more seriously its sub-average populations, the WE and the US. Populations in democracy of course means the individual voter and their non-adult children!

The moral of the story is – as a struggling individual in this country with some minimal intelligence and a robust level of desire to survive, you do generally have ideas on how to make things better. Bad news is the Indian state has nothing to do with your ideas.

The Indian state has its own ideas of development derived from the wandering comets and meteorites above which have nothing to do with yours.

And now increasingly, if you don’t follow them, we will see what’s to be done with you!

 

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