Adieu Welfare State!

June 1, 2011 Off By Rhiddhis Chakravorty

The year 2011 marked the beginning of a new trend in world politics. Tunisian president Ben Ali was driven out of his country by protesting public. Similarly Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down under public pressure. In no time people in other countries like Libya and Iran followed suit and are demanding that their corrupt and tyrannical rulers abdicate power to facilitate political reforms.

Back home, in India people in large numbers came out spontaneously to support Anna Hazare to demand a  strong Lokpal bill to eliminate corruption. Though we are not being ruled by dictators and are living in a democratic state the custodians of our democracy themselves have made a mockery of it. It is a few months now that we celebrated our 62nd republic day. This republic day was special for a handful of us. Not because it was the 62nd republic day of our country but because on the eve of that day an honest government officer was burnt alive by goons in broad daylight in full public view in Maharashtra. Yashwant Sonawane, the additional collector of Malegaon was trying to stop black-marketing of kerosene when he met his brutal death. Yet the people kept on watching. How much courage one needs to commit such a crime to a senior government officer? Needless to say the goons have become so confident and powerful because they are enjoying some kind of immunity resulting from their cordial relations with politicians. No doubt the politician godfathers of the goons were hoisting the national flag somewhere or the other the next day on the occasion of the republic day. One can imagine what is the status of a common man in this country where a senior government officer meets such kind of a grotesque death.

Theoretically governments are formed to protect the people from physical and financial threats. This is especially true for the democratic governments. But when these governments start functioning like unscrupulous private firms trying to make abnormal profits, the exploited stakeholders are bound to react. Gradually the reactions grow more and more impatient and violent.  Unfortunately the governments instead of trying to pacify the unrest by eliminating the root causes try to reap more profit out of it, both political and financial, thus pushing the nation into deeper trouble. To the utter dismay of those who believe in democracy the recent events in India point to a similar direction.

With the passage of time the welfare state envisaged by the founding fathers of our constitution has lost to the profit making-foreign exchange earning state. For the first time in the history of independent India, neoliberalism came over ground with the union budget 2010. This budget shed the patina of socialism that was a characteristic of all previous budgets. It announced the coming of age of Indian neoliberalism. The policymakers are no longer apologetic about it. Now they can openly squeeze the lower middle class and the poor to provide relief to the rich.  It has become a tradition to sideline national interests in the blind pursuit to appease foreign investors as has been seen in the case of Union Carbide. To keep the economic parameters right to gain the status of a highly industrialized state, the common man has been given a raw deal while the rich is enjoying various tax waivers. On one hand the prime minister says price hike is a sign of prosperity and on the other he and his colleagues cutting across party line, say they need salary hike to cope with price rise. Very typical of the unscrupulous corporate culture the lawmakers have raised their salaries to astronomical heights while the common man is reeling under the burden of soaring prices of the essential commodities. The government has made its intentions clear about lifting subsidies on various items like petrol and diesel because the country cannot bear the burden of such subsidies forever. Ask the economist Prime minister why the prices are not lowered when the global prices go down or how can Bangladesh the poorest country in Asia can afford to literally lower the petrol prices when global prices go up and you get no answer. Yet when it comes to relieving the  taxpayers’ of the  money spent on lawmakers both the incumbent and the opposition are conveniently looking the other way. It has also become a disappointing trend to create white elephants in the shape of ‘offices of profit but without utility’ to rehabilitate politicians who fail to win elections.

With corruption becoming almost a status symbol, the Kalmadis, the A. Rajas and the Nira Radias have become role models for a section of Indians. What one should worry about is that this section is rapidly growing in number. Majority of the common man today is not upset because there is a lot of corruption but because he or she is not a part of it. Our leaders can brazenly make silly comments like “It is not possible to disclose facts about black money of Indian citizens in foreign banks” because they know that the people of this country, the middle class in particular, will forever keep on watching when Yashwant Sonawanes will be burnt to death; when aging freedom fighters will be robbed by politically powerful post independent India; they will forever keep on watching  when politicians will make them fight among themselves like stray dogs in the name of culture and religion. Even if they revolt for a few seconds they will go back to their comfort zones. It reminds us of the story of a dog who was sitting on a nail and would occasionally growl in pain but would not get up as it was not hurting it enough. The nail, it seems will never pinch us hard enough.


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