For Cos, it's
Mera Gaon, Mera Growth (My village, My growth)
This headline from Economic Times yesterday (Aug 23, 2013) caught my attention. It made me once again don my thinking hat. The news report says: Even as city dwellers tighten their purse strings, 700 million rural Indians are ready and willing to spend. Knowing that rural market is still growing at 10-14 per cent, industry majors have either shifted or plan to launch a new marketing strategy luring the poor in the villages to spend more, and spend on non-essential goods.
This report comes at a time when the Indian Government is getting ready to provide subsidised food to 75 per cent of the rural population under the Food Security bill.
For a country which is caught in the matrix of growth, where growth is the new economic superstition that has been sold very effectively and widely, everyone believes that if growth happens, their lives would be better. After having sold this mantra, the trend is now to measure everything in terms of growth. If India Inc manages to extract whatever little remains in the pockets of rural poor, it becomes growth. If you empty your family silverware in the market, and become a pauper in turn, it adds to country's growth. Strange, isn't it?
I have seen Cafe Coffee Day and Barrista and the likes opening up new joints in the mofussil towns. Instead of offering me lassi, I am surprised when some farmers offer to take me to these joints for a cup of coffee. Not that they have enough money to splurge, but by inviting me to the new coffee joint where a cup pf coffee costs not less than Rs 150, they are trying to show they too have arrived. It is a symbol of prosperity (howsoever hollow it may be) that they want to demonstrate. Of course, while the farmers pocket gets empty, it adds to country's growth. Hindustan Lever, for instance, has launched an 'Operation Bharat' to tap the rural markets for fairness cream, toothpaste, Clinic Plus shampoo, Ponds cream etc etc. ITC's much publicised e-chaupals have now turned into a rural marketing chain for most FMCG products. The list is endless.
All these years, economists tell us that the terms of the trade for rural areas had been negative. The rural Current Account Deficit (CAD) had always been in red. Which means more money was being taken out of the villages than what was being invested. But over the last few years, I am sure economists must be thinking of a new terminology to correctly depict the virtual day light robbery that is taking place in the rural areas. Poor are poorer, and the share prices of India Inc have been on an upswing. Isn't this a massive transfer of money from the rural to a few in the urban areas? How can it be called growth if it makes more people relatively more poor? Time to think.
I am waiting for the day when the Economic Times headline is rewritten as: Mera Gaon, Gaon ki Growth (My village, it's growth). Till then, growth is another name for exploitation.