Speaking on “Shrinking Democratic Spaces and the Role of Civil Society”, doyen of rural journalism in India, P Sainath, has said that a major reason for dwindling democratic values is astonishing growth in inequalities in India. He was giving a public lecture at the Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), Ahmedabad, to mark the 30th anniversary of premier non-government organization (NGO), Janvikas.
A Magsaysay award winning journalist, Sainath said, way back on November 25, 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar, while handing over the draft constitution to the Constituent Assembly for finalization, had warned that while India had achieved political democracy, there was still no democracy in society and economy.
Pointing towards how increasing inequalities have begun to adversely affect political democracy in the country, Sainath said India’s 100 most wealthy individuals’ share in wealth equaled the wealth of 69% of the country’s population.
Last year, he said, 15 individuals owned greater share than bottom 40% of shares, adding, in this also, the bottom 10% of the population owned negative or – 0.7% of the share, the next higher decile owned 0.2% of the share, and the third higher decile owned 0.5% share.
Without naming Mukesh Ambani, Sainath said, India’s richest man owns a greater share of wealth than 400-odd million human beings, adding, what is particularly worrying is, this new inequality is being added into already existing social inequalities.
The poorer sections, this suggests, are being further pushed towards a higher level of inequality, while the wealth of the is going up, said Sainath, adding, this is leading to a situation of powerlessness of democratic spaces.
Even as underlining that this phenomenon is not new, Sainath said, under the Modi government, things have further deteriorated, adding, a major reason why demonetization, a political move, failed to get the required opposition is, a situation has been created today, where any criticism of the government makes you an ISI agent, an anti-national.
Claiming that this kind of fear he did not even see during the Emergency, Sainath said, “People today live in a nightmare of terrorism, where there is criminalization of dissent. That is reason why even those who opposed demonetization say, the intention was good, but was poorly implemented.”
Things have reached an extreme, said Sainath, especially in Chhattisgarh, where people are being terrorized as nowhere else. Charges levelled against an individual including, say, a crowd of 800 unnamed individuals, a tactic used by cops to terrorize an entire area.
All this, said Sainath, is getting further reinforced with gigantic de-politicization, which is what, he argued, civil society organizations must understand.
Blaming corporate media for refusing the show the realities of how demonetization has affected the rural areas, Sainath said, his visit, as part of creation of People’s Archives for Rural India (PARI), to 30 rural schools suggested that all over Telangana and Marathwada, midday meals collapsed because of lack of vegetables, which are bought in cash. Kids without vegetables in midday meals were mostly children of Dalits and tribals”, he added.
Pointing towards how corporate-owned media is biased, Sainath said, 66% newspaper space is devoted to Delhi, adding, Mumbai is a distance No 2, then comes Chinnai and Kolkata. As for the rural areas, they form just 0.18% of the space.
This way, he said, authoritarian structures are being pushed, adding, increasing number of crorepatis are representing the poor electorate – there were 32% crorepatis in 2004, which reached 83% in the 2014 polls.
To mark its three decades of existence, ahead of Sainath's lecture, Janvikas released a book detailing its activities over the last three decades, and opened a sprawling training centre near Sanand in Ahmedabad district, at Nani Devti village.