Budget 2009


Before you think I am a cynic, I must tell you that my staple diet is hope. That is how I have come from where I was to where I am today. There are two things I want to tell you in closing.

I grew up in the tribal districts of Orissa. In places like Koraput and Keonjhar where my boyhood was spent, the nearest railhead was a day’s journey from home. The tribesmen made a living by cultivating the slopes of the mountain, gathering forest produce and tending their animals. Many who lived high up in the mountains were seasonally disconnected from the district administration during the monsoon and the pigeon mail was the only way to contact the marooned. There was a place called Telkoi in Keonjhar where the lone Public Health Center had only two medicines: one for dysentery and one for constipation. The reason was simple. The tribesmen ate mango and jackfruits in every form – from the time they were small to the time they ripened, they ate the seeds and of course, the mango kernels as well. As a result either they had lose motions or none at all. When the government tried to demonstrate them how to cultivate the Taichung rice, they watched intently until the rice formed milk and then they simply sucked it and did not let the rice wait until harvest. That was forty years ago.

After I grew up, at 25, I visited the Simlipal reserve forest in Mayurbhanj and stayed there for a week. My guide was a forest guard who had brought his bride from the village haat and was living-in with her. He had not been able to save up the bride price to pay the father-in-law yet, so they remained unmarried. They were raising his nephew whose father was serving a life-term for murder he had not committed. The man had simply surrendered to the police and agreed to the allegation because that was a more peaceful thing to do. The alternative would have been exposing the women and the children. Fast forward to 2009. Not much has changed in Koraput and Keonjhar and Lalgarh. The veneer of development has been replaced with that of law and order.

The idea of India is very urban. The idea of progress is very urban. The idea of government is very urban. The idea of civil society is very urban. The places I talk about fall in the penumbra of our urban consciousness even today. When we think of people who live there, we see them through the eyes of a government that has the same empathy that the British rulers felt for the urban populace. They are them, they are not us. That is why Korput to Lalgarh evoke thoughts about insurgency more than they do about development. That is why silently, the patches of ungovernable areas within the country are growing while we are making our cities gated communities.

In the tiny places I lived in, the annual budget exercise of a central or a state government meant nothing to people. It came and went; in the few educated homes the passing item of interest was the excise duty on consumable from cigarettes to cement and later on, it was the personal income tax slab. Decades after, the middle-class mental poverty has expanded just as government receipts, spends and deficits have.

India needs change at the level of her soul.

The people who are in-charge of the budget, those who go spend the money and the rest of us who fill our stomachs with it until the next year, need to believe that the country outside the cities need to be included. That they are us.

Before you think I am a cynic, I must tell you that my staple diet is hope. That is how I have come from where I was to where I am today. There are two things I want to tell you in closing.

When I was in the US for the first time in 1990, I met a grand old man who said he used to be a Peace Corps volunteer teaching people how to raise poultry in Madhya Pradesh in the 1950s. He chuckled while recollecting that the volunteers had to “go” to the fields with lanterns at night. I immediately told him that a lot has changed since then. But after that patriotic refrain, sobriety returned to me with the realization that outside the cities, even today, there is no sewage system. And drinking water does not come out of a tap.

Every policy maker in India, every bureaucrat, every businessman must read a book titled Paraja – this is a novel by Jnanpith winner Gopinath Mohanty. Fortunately, an English translation by Bikram Das is available today. It is the story of a tribal from Koraput whose life is in the clutches of petty government officials, moneylenders and the police. The story is set in the early days of post-independent India. Decades after, his lot has not changed. Only his innocence has been lost.

On that note, goodbye until the next budget.

Comments
Ramesh Says
Monday July 13th 2009

Superb post Subroto. Indeed, urban India views much of rural India , as not India. Lots more need to be done for development of the whole of India, but things are changing surely everywhere. There is improvement, both from government and from the private sector. As you say, hope springs eternally. I am more hopeful that rural India will also participate, and benefit from, the resurgent India.

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Anil Nair Says
Thursday July 16th 2009

With 62 years been passed after independence, it seems India has managed to extend its retirement age !! The irony seems infact as the truth..While I may proclaim myself as a proud citizen of a developed / developing country, it chills through the spine as u get to hear about the second India…the India ‘outside’ India..which is indeed ‘us’ as u mentioned. Terrific piece of work..Hope similar thoughts arise in the busy minds of the budget presenters….thx for letting me express

Friday July 17th 2009

Greetings,

I have on several occasions give your personal as well as business philosophy in my ‘strategy’ and ‘organizational values and ethics’ classes to inspire my MBA students in Pune. The creation of MindTree Logo and the ‘CLASS’ Values holds all of us spellbound.

I consider myself most fortunate to have reached your blog. I have always wished to post the MindTree story in my blog too. Hope I can do justice to it as I am not a great writer myself.

With kind regards,

Dilip

Aniruddha Sengupta Says
Saturday July 18th 2009

Touching and saddening too! Its almost a week since the budget was presented and being an investment advisor, I have been harangued by all kinds of people about ‘my views’ on the same…their concern about ‘their’ money, salaries, taxes, wealth etc. are all so shallow and narrow…..If I happen to be the richest person in a poor community do I feel more secure than if I am moderately well-off in a reasonably well-off community – is the question which begs to be asked? The poverty in our country (beyond the cities) pales in comparison to the abject poverty and bankruptcy in the minds of us citizens who make up ‘our gated societies’.

Anjali Says
Friday July 24th 2009

During numerous dinnertime discussions with family we lament over the divide between ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’. At such times I realise I am guilty of being armchair activist who only discusses but does very little. I recall India being described as a multilane highway where all kinds of traffic is travelling at different speeds towards a perceived destination. Urban India has sped away , way ahead, leaving ‘Bharat’ to catch up one bullock cart step at a time. Can the SUVs and luxury sedans pause for a while, or even take a U turn to take the slow coaches along? Perhaps Indian industry , nurturing and fuelling Bharat’s aspirations , is the only way ahead.

Amol Says
Wednesday July 29th 2009

Hi
I appreciate the style of putting our core problem in bright light. India does not only mean it’s metro cities but true India lies in its villages. And our policy makers should always put them at the center of their thought process. This blog post should be put in front of our policy makers.

Vijay. M Says
Wednesday July 29th 2009

Good post Subroto! You have made us realize the real side of the urban development that is happening in India.

Alankar Says
Monday August 3rd 2009

India outside the cities is progressing too, though not at the same pace as it ought to be and not uniform across the vast expanses of the country. What drives sales of Unilever, ITC, Hero Honda and Videocon? But the India outside the cities is many times more complex than the India within the cities. To begin with, literacy is poor and if you start counting the no. of things that can’t happen without reading or writing abilities, you’d see it’s anohter life. In fact most of the West-dominated world today is run by the well educated lot and India in its march towards modernity is trying to follow it, so a level of disconnect with the illiterate or the semi-literate is expected. A personlity like Gandhi can take the rural India along, but we don’t have another one. It’s going to be a long, tedious journey for India as a whole and its futile to try’n find a quick solution. In the meanwhile, Union budgets will come and go and they will play their part in governing a country as diverse and complex as India.

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