Last week the Prime Minister returned to those old promises he made of taking India in a new economic direction. This time those same old promises were packaged as Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.
Stranded in cities due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, migrant workers have sought to go home (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)It has taken this pandemic to bring home the horrible reality that decades of bad political and economic policies have dehumanised millions of Indians. It is sad but true that the desperate people forced to walk hundreds of kilometres home are seen as lesser human beings than their more privileged brethren, brought back on Air India flights and naval warships. I am deliberately not using the words ‘migrant workers’ to describe those who have endured unspeakable suffering. It is labels like this that help dehumanise those Indians who continue to live the most degraded lives because of ‘socialism’.
Speaking of socialism, Sonia Gandhi and her children surfaced, last week, to attack the Modi government on behalf of the suffering. They have no right to. It is because of economic policies followed by the Dynasty to which they are heirs, that millions of Indians still live in extreme poverty. These policies are born of an ideology that I like to call feudal socialism. This feudal socialism is based on the premise that at the top will always exist a small, privileged ruling class that controls the destiny of our poorest citizens by taking responsibility for ‘alleviating’ their poverty. As long as they are happy to live in poverty, we bestow upon them such scraps from the high table as free electricity, water, food grain and other subsidies.
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Instead of real jobs we give them MGNREGA dole. We build for them schools that are not really schools and healthcare that is not really healthcare. The people we have seen in the food queues in our slums, penned up in urban hovels and being beaten when they tried to walk home, are the ‘beneficiaries’ of feudal socialism.
My reason for supporting Narendra Modi in those early months that he was Prime Minister, was because I believed him when he promised to take India in a new economic direction. The millions of Indians who voted him back to power for a second term also believed this. They saw that he did not manage to create the millions of new jobs they needed but were happy that he had at least run the welfare schemes that make up their safety net better than Congress governments ever did. Today they feel truly betrayed that he did not care enough for them to ensure that they had transport to get home before the first lockdown. If keeping them in the cities was deliberate, then why were they not given shelter, food and financial support?
As someone who belongs to the Khan Market gang Modi has such contempt for, it gives me pleasure to tell him that he has created a new Khan Market gang that is more heartless than we ever were. This gang speaks for him on social media and are ‘proud to be followed by Modi’. When journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rana Ayyub try, through their outstanding reportage, to draw attention to the horrible suffering of our poorest citizens, this gang abuses them and charges them with being ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-Hindu’. They feel nothing for those who have suffered so terribly. To them they are not human at all, they are just ‘migrant workers’. They feel only for their own kind. If those brought home by Vande Bharat were made to walk hundreds of kilometres in the sun, or line up in food queues, the new Khan Market gang would be appalled. They are frankly a despicable lot and do Modi no favours by speaking for him on Twitter.
Last week the Prime Minister returned to those old promises he made of taking India in a new economic direction. This time those same old promises were packaged as Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. He is going to build a self-reliant India, he tells us, by reforming the economy, building modern infrastructure, using technology to improve governance and creating a demand and supply chain that will be local. Sounds good. May I suggest though that all he really needs to do is throw government regulations and inspectors into the trash and let the economy breathe. It is not government help that is needed to create wealth, it is when government gets out of the way that wealth gets created.
Those desperate men and women who have spent the past two months walking home are cogs in the wheels of the great entrepreneurial machines that exist despite government. Too much time has been wasted in the past six years by Modi on his government schemes to create entrepreneurs, skill India and get India to ‘stand up’. They have all failed, because in a democracy that aspires to building a free market economy, all government needs to do is get out of the way.
What is the government’s job is to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are not abandoned when there is a pandemic. What is the government’s job is to help those still walking on the highways to get home. When they get home, instead of throwing bags of food grain at them, please encourage local officials to open free kitchens that can supply them with two meals a day. These are things only governments can do. Is it because these desperate people are seen as ‘migrant workers’ and not human beings that these things have not been done? Meanwhile, since the Prime Minister is talking of economic reforms, could he begin by dumping feudal socialism for good?
This article first appeared in May 17, 2020, print edition under the title ‘Humanity needed, not charity’.