[Marxism] High tech is skin-deep in India

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 15 09:08:15 MDT 2004


    NY Times, May 15, 2004


    What India's Upset Vote Reveals: The High Tech Is Skin Deep


by AMY WALDMAN



	

NEW DELHI, May 14 - As India prepared to vote this spring, strategists 
from its ruling party mapped the country's first modern electoral campaign.

They boasted of sending four million e-mail messages to voters and 
transmitting an automated voice greeting from the popular prime 
minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to 10 million land and mobile phones

But the hype over the high-tech campaign obscured these statistics: In a 
country of 180 million households, only about 45 million have telephone 
lines. Among India's 1.05 billion people, only 26.1 million have mobile 
phones. And while around 300 million Indians still live on less than $1 
a day, only an estimated 659,000 households have computers.

The message that the Hindu-nationalist-led government had delivered the 
country to a new era of prosperity was belied by the limited reach of 
the media to deliver it.

That gap - the coexistence of a growing middle class with the growing 
frustration of those excluded from it - helps explain why Mr. Vajpayee's 
government has been turned out of office in the biggest upset since 
1977, when Indira Gandhi lost after imposing a state of emergency.

"It was a huge popular rebellion," said Mahesh Rangarajan, a political 
analyst.

In election results announced Thursday, the ruling Bharatiya Janata 
Party's coalition failed to win anywhere near enough seats to form a 
government. The B.J.P. itself, which a short while ago had been expected 
to coast to victory partly on the strength of an economic boom, emerged 
as only the second largest party.

The Indian National Congress will form the government with smaller 
parties, including Communist ones. The Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi, 
the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, now 
appears likely to become prime minister herself.

To attribute the election results only to economic factors would be an 
oversimplification. Caste, communalism, alliances with smaller parties, 
anti-incumbency, and local issues and personalities all played a role. 
But it also would be a mistake, analysts said Friday, to underestimate 
the role of economic discontent.

"It is a big warning for everybody," said Sudheendra Kulkarni, a senior 
aide to Mr. Vajpayee.

Mr. Rangarajan called it a "victory of the common man and woman."

The notion of a class-based backlash may surprise Americans lately 
inundated with news of jobs migrating to India and a growth rate 
expected to reach 8 percent this year.

This still developing nation is indeed being transformed in many ways, 
but the transformation has yet to reach most of the population. The 
entire information technology industry here still employs fewer than one 
million people, compared with 40 million registered unemployed.

Growth in the preceding five years has averaged only about 5 percent, 
nowhere near enough to lift hundreds of millions from poverty. And the 
policy reforms, like privatizing state-owned industries or allowing more 
foreign investment, that have helped unleash the economy have yet to 
help an increasingly struggling agricultural sector, which supports some 
two-thirds of the population.

The B.J.P. and its allies fared poorly in all of the major metropolises, 
winning a total of only three seats in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and 
Calcutta. But heavily rural states were their undoing, particularly in 
the south, which has decided the national government for the past 14 years.

N. Ram, editor in chief of The Hindu newspaper, said voters "turned on 
those who were callous to it or perceived to be pro-rich or didn't do 
enough in a drought."

Not only the B.J.P. suffered for this: in Karnataka, home to Bangalore, 
the center of India's tech industry, voters turned out the Congress-run 
state government.

They did the same in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where the chief 
minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, a B.J.P. ally, had turned Hyderabad, the 
state capital, into "Cyderabad" by luring Bill Gates and others and 
trumpeting the ability of reforms and technology to transform the state.

But because of drought and his own failure to invest more in irrigation 
or other infrastructure that could have eased it, Mr. Naidu's government 
lost this week as farmers turned on him en masse.

That defeat was not hard to predict on a recent trip to the state, and 
in particular the rural district of Warangal, about two and a half hours 
from Hyderabad. Close to 300 indebted farmers have committed suicide 
since 1997, according to government officials. Statewide, nearly 3,000 
farmers have killed themselves.

Hundreds more have taken their lives in other drought-afflicted southern 
states like Karnataka and Kerala. The suicides have become a potent 
national symbol of economic angst, and in some states, including Andhra 
Pradesh, they became an election issue as well.

With less than 40 percent of the state irrigated, and with an erratic 
power supply only 10 hours a day, farmers had no bulwark against the 
drought that devastated the state over much of the past decade.

The suicides have not been the only symptom of economic distress. The 
district also has been at the heart of a Marxist insurgency, the 
Naxalite movement, that is active in 15 or 16 Indian states. Drought, 
poverty and unemployment have fed young people's turn to extremism, 
officials said.

Now those same factors appear to have fed the defeat of Mr. Naidu and 
the B.J.P. and its allies as well.

Mrs. Gandhi and other Congress campaigners harped ceaselessly on both 
the lack of jobs and the struggles of farmers. In its manifesto, the 
Congress Party has promised to address both problems.

But Mr. Kulkarni, the Vajpayee aide, challenged Congress's ability to 
fulfill those promises. Congress had ruled for most of the past 50 
years, he noted.

"They cannot pretend there was no poverty in those 50 years and it was 
all the creation of the last five years," he said.

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