At a national seminar on 'Challenges of Growing Rural-Urban Disparities' in New Delhi the other day, I met a very impressive line up of distinguished economists and policy makers. The more opportunities I get to meet them, the more I become disenchanted. I think most of them have no idea of how the country looks like, and probably have no clue as to what needs to be done. For them, it is business as usual.
Speaking briefly in a session on 'Challenges of Accelerated, Diversified and Inclusive Growth', I drove home the point that the fundamental cause behind the worsening urban-rural divide (as well as climate change) is the model of growth economics itself. Unless the economists demonstrate courage to challenge the prevailing economic paradigm, it is futile to talk of inclusive growth.
In fact, mainline economists, like the agricultural scientists, have also failed the society.
The urban-rural divide in India is no longer to be seen through the lense of the popular two-nation concept: India and Bharat. The geographical borders of the country now comprise three nations: Manhattan, India and Bharat. Manhattan are the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), an euphemism for princely Estates that are being carved out in the name of economic growth. India comprise the urban centres, and Bharat of course denotes the poor and backward rural countryside.
While all resources (including natural wealth) of Bharat is being diverted to feed the growing demand of Manhattan and India, the nation feels satisfied that it has given the poor in the 600,000 villages of Bharat a magic potion in the form of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (popularly called NREGA), promising assured employment for 100 days in a year to the poor.
In other words, NREGA has become the Surf Excel for all ailments that the urban-rural divide exhibit.
If you have seen the advertisement for the Surf Excel detergent, you would understand what I am trying to say. A child falls down and his clothes get dirty. He looks upto his mother, and she says: "Don't worry. Surf Excel hai na." Similarly, the poor have nothing to worry from the continuous onslaught over their resources, from increasing marginalisation, being pushed deeper and deeper into the cesspool of poverty and deprivation.
NREGA hai na.