Skulduggery or stupidity?
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So unaccustomed have we become to good news on the economic and political front that last week, a spectacular bit of good news went almost unnoticed. The rating agency, Crisil Ltd, reported that for the first time ever rural Indians were spending more than those of us who live in cities and towns. The number of rural households that own a television has nearly doubled in the past five years as have those that own a motorcycle or a scooter. I would like to add here that on my travels in rural India, I very rarely come across a family who does not own at least one cellphone. This remarkable surge in rural prosperity would simply not have been possible if the economy had not been liberalised and it would be even more remarkable if governments had matched it with an equal improvement in public services. This has not happened.
As someone who spent my impressionable years as a reporter in those socialist times when the Indian economy never grew at more than 3 per cent, I feel it is my bounden duty to remind you what rural India looked like then. I remember that most villages were so poor that it was not possible to find a single 'pucca' house or a shop that sold more than food grain, spices, oil and rough cloth. If there was electricity, it disappeared for several hours a day and clean water was so rare that if you came across adequate supplies in a village, it came as a pleasant surprise. All you needed to do was leave the boundaries of Delhi to come upon villages that had never heard of televisions or telephones.
It was after 1991 when our socialist policies brought us to the edge of bankruptcy that the government was forced to loosen state controls on the economy and it was this 'liberalisation' that resulted in the dramatic changes we have seen in the past twenty years. It is private enterprise that has fuelled the change but ever since Shri Vinod CAG Rai became the arbiter of India's future, there has been an outpouring of venom against the private sector. Since 'coalgate', most political commentators on our news channels have joined crusaders against corruption, Supreme Court judges and Opposition politicians to demand that the 'commanding heights' of the economy be returned into the supposedly able hands of officials and politicians.