Inclusive economic development must yo build a sustainable democracy

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By Suresh Kr Pramar

On May 24, 2007, speaking at the Annual General meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh spelt out a 10 point charter for Inclusive Development in the country.

Speaking on Inclusive Growth: Challenges for Corporate India, he said the aim of the government was to ensure that growth is more equitable, and that it empowers the most deprived of our citizens.

“In a modern, democratic society, business must realize its wider social responsibility. The time has come for the better off sections of our society-not just in the organized industry but in all walks of life-to understand the need to make our growth processes more inclusive; to eschew conspicuous consumption; to save more and waste less; to care for those who are less privileged and less well off; to be role models of probity, moderation and charity.”

The Prime Minister asked Corporate India to define Corporate Social Responsibility within the framework of a corporate philosophy which factors the needs of the community and the regions in which it operates. Pointing out that CSR was not an imported western concept but was a part of our cultural heritage “Mahatma Gandhi called it Trusteeship. It is based on the idea that the wealthy have an obligation to society,” he said Manmohan Singh pointed out that Corporate India had benefitted from improved economic growth.

“When I read about the growing number of millionaires and billionaires, about Indian companies buying up multi nationals abroad, I know that you have benefitted from the growth process…Your businesses have become globally competitive. To win this race you must work in an environment in which all citizens feel equally involved in processes of economic growth. An environment in which each citizen sees hope for a better future for him and for his or her children.”

The Prime Minister was echoing the dreams of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who at the dawn of independence has said “Swaraj (self rule) for me means freedom for the poorest of our countrymen. Swaraj is a meaningless term, if we desire to keep substantial sections of India under perpetual subjection, and deliberately deny them the fruits of national economic development.”

Gandhiji’s economic philosophy was individual dignity and the welfare of the poorest of the poor. He felt that a man earns his dignity by working and earning his bread and livelihood. Therefore the economic system should be organised to provide employment for everyone.

“According to me, the economic constitution of India should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make two ends meet.”

Gandhian concepts of trusteeship stands for caring for other peoples’ money and resources entrusted to the care of corporate directors and executive management, transparency and accountability, eschewing physical and emotional violence at the work place as well as against natural and environmental resources, and for upright and conscientious behavior on the part of directors in doing what they are convinced to be in the best interest of all shareholders and other stakeholders.

India today is not the India Gandhi had desired or dreamed for. It is a nation of two worlds. The first is the world of the few, with gated communities guarded by private security, with access to superior modern education, first class privileged health care, private parks and leisure areas, and the money to control our politics and policies.

The second is the world of the many, living in urban hovels and rural huts, inferior public schools, playgrounds that double as public streets and highways, poorly equipped and poorly manned public-health centers and marginal access to public office, a life of deprivation and indignity.

India ranks 10th among the world’s richest economies Its GDP may have grown between 8-10 per cent in the last decade, but the growth has not been equitable, and poverty levels continue to remain high. According to a Forbes list of the world’s richest India has 48 billionaires.

Mukesh Ambani is listed 19th in this list. More than 40 per cent of India, lives on less than Rs 50 a day, with which they can barely feed themselves; let alone buy clothes, get an education or have access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

While millions live in poverty, in a country ranked second in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition, India also witnesses abject waste in abundance. And across the cities, marriage halls hold feasts, while beggars outside scavenge through the garbage, looking for another day’s sustenance. More than 40 per cent of India’s population are illiterate, lack proper shelter, have no access to proper drinking water or sanitation, and suffer from the absence of proper medical facilities

For the rural poor, deprivation is both economic and social, which in turn is the direct result of exploitation and lack of opportunities. The condition of life for the rural poor is characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, sufferings from diseases and long-term health problems, inadequate shelter and unhygienic conditions, high infant mortality, oppression of women, and social treatment devoid of human dignity.

Despite our democracy we are still feudalistic, dominated by a leadership class that rotates among themselves the levers of power.

Just 1 percent of the families make the laws, dispense justice, implement programmes and control the media. They sincerely believe that using their power and influence to advance self-interest is part of the dynamics of democracy.

There is nothing wrong with creating wealth and wielding power, and promoting special connections. There is something very wrong about using these to worsen the gross inequalities or to deny or delay justice to the remaining 99 percent. That is the root of our problem.

And we know this must change. It is not only guns that kill. Poverty kills. It is slow death from hunger, from diseases that we thought no longer existed, from the loneliness of a life with an empty future. It is also the dying of dignity.

There is a growing recognition among the vast sections of the people that real power is not with the people. This is why there is widespread distrust of governments and making the task of governance even more difficult. We encounter that phenomenon every day. Our newspaper and TV channels provide evidence, every day, of the growing distrust among the people. Growing violence, public agitation, growing corrupt practices, violation of the normal laws of the land are all evidence of the growing divide between the people and the government.

Inequality it is now increasingly accepted is corrosive. It can completely undermine the benefits of growth. It contributes to a broad range of social ills, from increasing acts of violence and murder to low educational achievement and social deprivation. It undermines public institutions and government accountability. It is self-reinforcing, as elites act to shore up the system that created them. Moreover, a growing body of evidence demonstrates the pernicious impact of inequality on growth itself. High levels of inequality shorten the average length of periods of economic growth. This must change if we are to progress as a democratic free country.

Engrossed as they are in the arrogance of their wealth and power, the rich and powerful seem reluctant to heed to the growing demand to reduce themselves for the common good. That however is what is urgently required to destroy the roots that feed the branches that kill rather than sustain life. For India the stakes are high. The country needs to not only to fight poverty to raise the standard of living of its crore living in poverty but also to save and strengthen Indian democracy.

India urgently needs to ensure that the fruits of economic development reach those presently living in poverty and deprivation. It needs to ensure that economic development becomes a reality for the common man and not just a selected few (the one percent of society). It needs to create a partnership between government, business and civil society to ensure that people across the country enjoy the benefits of the Gandhi concept of Swaraj where people live in peace enjoying substantially the benefits of economic development.

(Suresh Kr Pramar, Speaker,Trainer, Writer,  CSR Consultant and the Executive Director, Centre for Training & Research in Responsible Business is a veteran journalist presently actively involved in promoting CSR through workshops on Corporate Social Responsibility. He can be reached at suresh.pramar@gmail.com, sureshpramar@outlook.com)

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