Dominant trends in India show economic policies are creating more inequalities: Brinda

The Hindu Lit for Life festival was back in the Capital on Wednesday with the first session loosely structured around Shankkar Aiyar’s new book Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage Through Crisis and Change. Yet two words in the title —‘accidental’ and ‘crisis’ — dominated the 45-minute-long discussion, interspersed with questions posed by moderator and The Hindu’s Editor Siddharth Varadarajan.

In a brief introduction to his book, Mr. Aiyar touched upon major landmarks that he described as transforming “pathos to promise of prosperity” and termed these transformations “accidental”. He also said his book dealt with how crisis precipitates change. “It seems like in India things have to get worse to get better. Our discourse is fractured and people tend to accept what is morally acceptable.”

Asked what her reading of the economic history of the last several decades was, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said: “Dominant trends in India show that economic policies are creating more inequalities. This is exactly opposite to democratic principles that favour equality.”

When the question — Are we in an era of unequal citizens? — was posed, the conversation grew heated. Responding to this, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan said that in a democracy there were always a large number of voices and lobbies which want to influence decisions, but were they able to, she asked . “In a family or a country, I don’t know if one size can fit all.” Noting that the Congress was part of several governments during which major economic landmarks were seen, she said: “I do not think liberalisation was ‘accidental’. Crisis precipitates changes, but saying its unique to India is also unfair.”

Responding to this, Mr. Aiyar quickly interjected: “India is the only country that is able to stare at a problem and a solution at the same time till a crisis happens.” Economist Bibek Debroy, however, advised everyone not to get bogged down by the semantics of words such as ‘accidental’ and crisis’. “I am unhappy with the use of both these words and I don’t think the crisis argument can be accepted. What the book is about is lethargy in decision making linked to democratic processes. Something Shankkar has not probed is the ‘role of the state,’ which is what the debate should be about.”

After a brief break, the audience were encouraged to journey on a photographic passage though India with acclaimed photojournalist Steve McCurry in the second session. “I have a great attachment to Delhi and India and I have probably travelled more than most Indians,” he said. After his first visit in 1978, he is now on his 86 visit to the country.

Beginning his presentation with a collection of ‘People Reading in Different Cultures,’ Mr. McCurry enthralled the audience with his funny anecdotes and remarkable photographs of festivals, architecture and life during the Indian monsoon. “If someone gives me a blank cheque and asks me to do a book, I would go to Calcutta, which is extremely vibrant.”

The curtains came down with the screen behind Mr. McCurry transforming into one of his famous pictures, that of the ‘Afghan Girl’, one of the most widely recognised photographs in the world today.

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