[Marxism] High tech is skin-deep in India
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
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
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,
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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