Six states, common thread of despair

Six states, common thread of despair

Despite the State: Why India lets its people down and how they cope by M Rajshekhar. Westland. Pages 300. Rs499

Book Title: Despite the State: Why India lets its people down and how they cope

Author: M Rajshekhar

Sandeep Dikshit

For three years, Rajshekhar lived and travelled in six states to understand how people’s lives are changing. Each state is different but what is common is an unhappy family of citizens and rulers.

The story in each is told with its unique smell, attitude and way of life. It is from the eyes of a citizen managing to hang on despite a state that does not want him to slip from the clutches of a client-patron relationship. Cooperatives have been captured by politicians. This, too, is an effective way of moving up in Indian politics.

Weather keeps farmers in Punjab on tenterhooks. file photo: The Tribune

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientalist. Common to all six — Punjab, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Odisha and Bihar — is the rising trend of CMs marginalising MLAs and working with handpicked bureaucrats. This has torpedoed the capacity of political parties to serve as the primary problem-solving agents in democracy.

Rajshekhar begins his tale from Mizoram. Newer entrants at the top are entering politics to grow their business firms. The micro-level politicians such as councillors and panchayat members, whom they patronise, have grabbed the trade that flourishes in the penumbra of black and white — like sand mining. It is the same story elsewhere.

What is also common is that while politicians grab all economic activity, health and education have taken a hit. Punjab has a fraction of doctors as compared to WHO norms. In Tamil Nadu, focus on a couple of health parameters led to the collapse of every other kind of medical service. In Mizoram, health services are severely curtailed because not much is left after politicians have frittered funds on stipends for supporters and grabbed inflated road contracts by using documentation of genuine contractors.

What is also common to Punjab and Tamil Nadu is the weather playing truant. The kharif planting season has become a roll of dice. In 10 years between 2005 and 2015, rainfall in Punjab was less than normal in six. Monsoon arrives early, stays late and in 2015, most of the rain fell in the last 10 days. Is it any wonder that Punjab farmers are agitating to preserve at least one sure crop of wheat in the rabi season? The chapter on Punjab, observed during the Badal era, is familiar ground. A part about the evolution of the Badal family into a corporate clan is anchored by The Tribune’s award-winning series on the subject.

In Odisha, the media is owned by a handful of political families. Their domination is buttressed by a flourishing business. The most profitable occupation in all villages of the six states is money-lending. Little wonder than that seven decades after Independence, India, like Russia, is marooned in an ideological project to take it back to mythical greatness that is actually meant to serve a narrow elite.