‘Development is not about factories, dams and roads. Development is about people.’

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, by a suicide bomber at an election rally in Sriperumbudur. The assassin was a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist organisation Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which held deep-seated grievances against Gandhi due to his government’s involvement in the Sri Lankan Civil War. India’s former Prime Minister was only 46 at the time.

Today, at a time when “development” has become a buzzword used by politicians of all ideologies, we take a look at what Rajiv Gandhi had to say on the matter. Quotes by historical and political figures are a key part of the syllabus for the UPSC CSE paper.

“Development is not about factories, dams and roads. Development is about people. The goal is material, cultural and spiritual fulfilment for the people. The human factor is of supreme value in development.”

The concept of development emerged in the post World War II era, when European colonialism was on its way out and a number of independent countries in what we today call the Global South emerged. In the early years, modernisation theory was the dominant framework in development discourse and practice. It emphasised industrialisation, technology transfer, and Western-style institutions as pathways to progress. 

Notably, there was an exaggerated emphasis on infrastructure projects. Beyond the human benefits of such projects, they were also seen as symbols of modernity and progress. In India, the focus on infrastructure can be seen in Nehru’s efforts in building dams and other key infrastructure.

While infrastructure development is undoubtedly necessary, it is not sufficient. This is what the Rajiv Gandhi quote tries to convey. Development itself is not about the “factories, dams and roads”, it is about the people who are to be benefited from it. That always has to be the central consideration while thinking of development. 

While the tangibility of mega infrastructure projects makes it easy to cite them as evidence of development, real development focuses on human beings as the ultimate end (and means) of development.

“The goal is material, cultural and spiritual fulfilment for the people.”

Rajiv Gandhi further details what the goal of his people-centric idea of development is over here. 

Material fulfilment – meeting basic needs, having prosperous lives – is important. But so is the cultural and spiritual fulfilment of people. While modernisation theory focussed on material development, that too in a limited sense, today, development thinkers and planners acknowledge the complexity of human existence and consequently multifaceted nature of human requirements.

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Job Destruction

Basic management theory says that only when you measure something can you look to fix something. Which is why every organisation spends a non-trivial amount of time and resources towards data collection. Governments are no exception. The census, job surveys, NSSO are all efforts to that end. The Modi government has simply given up on releasing employment figures because it truly believes that it can pretend we don’t have a problem as long as they do not measure it. While the Congress-led UPA II government created 18.8 lakh jobs in its first 2 years, the chest-thumping Modi Sarkar has only managed to create 7.9 lakh jobs in its first three years, a mere fraction of the 2 crore jobs per year the Prime Minister promised in the run up to the 2014 General Elections.

The opportunity cost for Mr. Modi’s unnatural preoccupation with securing international business deals for his friends comes in the form of a 24.4% decline in micro enterprises under his Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP).

Joblessness is becoming an epidemic. Out of a whopping 30,000 new job seekers every day, only 500 can realistically expect to get a job. Not all of them can weather two more years of the same inattentiveness to job creation as out of the 12 million new job seekers every year, only 1.2 million have a tertiary education. The impact of ever-shrinking employment opportunities is falling disproportionately on women as 1% fewer of the female population of the country were employed a year into the BJP government than before it came to power, debunking Modi’s claim that his is a pro-woman government.

The Modi Sarkar will only begin to empathise with the plight of India’s 54.4 crore unemployed people if voters no longer allow them to rest on the arrogant assumption that they need not do anything to continue to warm their chairs for the remainder of their term. India can only stem the alarming rate at which our jobs are being destroyed by ending the job security of Mr Modi & his out-of-touch Ministers.

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Neighbourhood Lost?

The BJP Manifesto for the 2014 General Elections stated that the party “believes that political stability, progress, and peace in the region are essential for South Asia’s growth and development.”

At the time of the Prime Minister’s swearing-in, 8 Heads of States were present to see India transition from one government to another. It was a bold statement of intent from the Prime Minister showing to the world that for India, its South Asian neighbours mattered. This was later enshrined in a hollow ‘Neighbourhood First’ doctrine, a part of a series of flashy but often conflicting foreign policy ambitions.

Looking back at the last three years, India’s foreign policy has achieved little in terms of strategic gains. The “Neighbourhood First” policy has degenerated into a “Neighbourhood Lost” policy wherein India has become the isolated and generally distrusted next-door neighbour. There are major grievances against New Delhi that are commonly shared among many South Asian nations today. Numerous serious allegations have been raised regarding India’s attempt to bully its smaller neighbours and interfere in their local politics.

Let’s start with Nepal, which adopted a new constitution in September 2015. In the aftermath, protests by Madhesi protesters blocked the supply of essential supplies to Nepal. India was accused by the neighbour of putting in place an undeclared blockade. Kathmandu even complained to the UN, prompting a response from the Secretary-General on “Nepal’s right of free transit as a landlocked nation as well as for humanitarian reasons.” India was also accused of trying to topple the K.P. Oli government as a result of which the long-held perception of India as a friendly ally has taken a major hit in Nepal. Furthermore, there are allegations that India interfered in Sri Lanka’s elections in 2015. The recall of R&AW’s Colombo Station Chief gave rise to further speculations. Despite the change in government, Sri Lanka is no closer to India, recently declaring itself “neither pro-India nor pro-China.” However, both Nepal and Sri Lanka have subsequently made overtures courting China.

Our relationship with Bangladesh, a country that India shares a historically rich and prosperous relationship with, is also seeing signs of stress. As the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar escalates, opposing takes on the stateless Muslim Rohingya refugees has put the onus of responsibility on an already resource-constrained Bangladesh. As they work towards providing a solution to this humanitarian crisis, India has washed its hands off the affair and taken the side of the Myanmarese government. The Modi-led government has also stated its intention to forcibly deport the Rohingya already taking shelter in India; this, despite multiple pleas from Indian politicians asking the government to respect the principles of asylum and India’s millennial humanitarian traditions. The goodwill with this neighbour, the result of a successful ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement in 2015—a by-product of the Land Boundary Protocol in 2011 (a UPA-era win)—can now be seen to be slowly eroding.

Even in Afghanistan and the Maldives, India’s diplomatic relations with the two countries have reached an impasse. When Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan visited India during the first year of this NDA government, no progress was made on the India-Afghanistan Strategic Agreement, nor were any significant bilateral agreements signed between the two countries during the visit.

India’s Russian ties are also beginning to fray. The recent fighter aircraft deals with France and other military hardware purchases from the USA have resulted in sidelining India’s usual defence partner, the resultant diplomatic faux-pas could have been avoided had there been better guidance from the top. This has majorly strained Indo-Russian relations, resulting in Russia deepening its military ties with Pakistan instead. At the 2016 BRICS summit in Goa, India’s demand to name two Pakistan-based terror groups as perpetrators of anti-India terrorism did not find backing from Russia, a clear sign of the possible break-up.

Coming to China, though the recent Doklam stand-off ended without incident, the terms of the de-escalation remain hazy. Follow-up reports after the withdrawal indicate that there were more Chinese troops on the plateau than ever before. It is clear that India’s handling of the Chinese dragon has been less than adequate under Modi.

As is clear, for all the hoo-ha around this government’s approach on the international stage, very little of either substance or success has been witnessed. Once you separate the rice from the chaff, one is left with a picture that illustrates a critical breakdown in foreign relations, particularly in parts of the world where it matters most.

All in all, the decline in relations between India and its sub-continental neighbours under the current government is best summed up in the words of one seasoned commentator, “In its over-enthusiasm to control small neighbours, the BJP-led government has only made India’s relations with them worse than ever before. When will the BJP understand that muscular tactics cannot replace mature and deft diplomacy?”

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Farmers of India

The Indian National Congress Party has always been fighting for the rights of farmers and working to empower them. Even today, INC is standing with the farmers, shoulder-to-shoulder, who are protesting against the three black laws unconstitutionally passed by the BJP government – the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Service Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

While the BJP government relentlessly fights against the farmers, calling them “Khalistani,” refusing to repeal the 3 black laws or even acknowledging the death of a large number of hardworking farmers in the protest, the Congress government has sworn to stand by our Annadatas.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has also vigorously backed the farmers who are protesting against the contentious farm laws brought by the Centre. He said, “No government in the world can stop farmers fighting the battle of truth. The Modi government will have to agree to their demands & take back the ‘black laws.’

Major Issues with the 3 Bills –

  1. Abolishing the system of Grain Market-Vegetable Market i.e. APMC will totally destroy the ‘Agriculture Produce Procurement System’.

a. In such a scenario, the farmers will neither get the ‘Minimum Support Price’ (MSP) nor the price of their crop as per the market price.

  1. Farmers get remunerative prices for their produce near their agricultural fields at grain market-vegetable market through community organisation of farmers and mutual competition among the customers in the markets. In the market, predetermined ‘Minimum Support Price’ (MSP) is the benchmark to decide the price of agriculture produce. This is the only measure for the ‘Price Discovery’ i.e. price determination for the farmer’s produce on the community basis. Grain-Vegetable Market System is the guarantee of fair prices, accurate weight and sale of farmer’s produce.

a. If the farmer’s crop instead of being sold in the market on Community Purchase basis, is purchased at the agriculture field itself, in that case the farmer will lose the power of price determination, weight and bargaining for prices. Thus, the farmer will suffer the losses.

  1. The Modi Government’s claim, that now the farmer can sell his produce anywhere in the country, is a white lie. Even today, the farmer can sell his produce in any state.

a. As far the agriculture census 2015-16, 86 per cent of farmers in the country own less than 5 acres of land. Average land holding is 2 acres or less than that.

b. In such a situation, 86 percent of farmers cannot transport or ferry their farm produce to other places, but have to sell at the nearest grain market-vegetable market. In the event of the Mandi System getting abolished, it will lead to a huge blow for farmers.

  1. The abolition of the Mandi System shall snatch away the means of bread and butter and livelihood of the millions of labourers, commission agents, loaders, transporters, sellers etc.
  2. Scrapping the Grain-Vegetable Market System will diminish the source of income of the states.

a. States through its earning from ‘Market Fees’ and ‘Rural Development Fund’ undertake infrastructure development in rural areas and incentivise agriculture.

  1. Agriculture experts believe that under the garb of the ordinance, the Modi Government actually intends to implement the ‘Shanta Kumar Committee Report’ so that the Government is not compelled to make procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP) through FCI and thereby save an amount of around Rs. 1 lakh crores annually. This will directly lead to an adverse effect on the agriculture sector.
  2. Through this ordinance, there is an intention to render the farmer merely a labourer in their own lands by getting him entangled in the contract system. Does a poor farmer with 2-5 acres of land holding will be able to frame, understand and sign a sale-purchase contract with big companies?
  3. Totally lifting the stock limit on the agriculture produce, consumable items and fruit-flower-vegetables shall neither benefit farmers nor the consumer. It will only benefit a handful of people indulging in hoarding and black marketing. They will be able to purchase at cheaper prices and then sell at higher prices after holding the stocks of these items legally,
  4. In the ordinances, there is neither any provision for the protection of labourers rights nor for the protection of the rights of the persons, who are engaged in agriculture taking land on rent or on produce sharing basis.
  5. These three ordinances are the direct attack on the federal structure of the country. ‘Agriculture and Mandis’ come under the purview of the State Governments under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, but the Modi Government didn’t take the state Governments in confidence on this issue.

Main demands of the Congress Party Congress demands that Modi ji should stop cheating and conspiring against our farmers and leave ego and prejudice aside. The government must talk to our annadatas directly, with an open mind to end these three anti-farmer black laws.

Demands of the Congress Party –

  1. The government should revoke these laws, call a session of Parliament and discuss whether they want to bring reforms. If they are working in the interest of the farmers, then they will welcome this.
  2. The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, should immediately declare to suspend the three anti-farming black laws.
  3. The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi himself, who publicly in Mann ki Baat said that these three black laws are right, and the Chief Minister of Haryana, Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar, for calling farmers terrorists should apologize.
  4. Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi himself should speak to the delegation of the millions of farmers who are sitting around Delhi.
  5. Announce the immediate withdrawal of 12 thousand FIRs vis-a-vis burning of stubble against farmers without any condition.
  6. If they want to improve these laws, then they should bring a fourth law, make MSP mandatory and make it punishable if someone does not adhere to MSP.

The BJP government should finally show empathy towards our annadatas, repeal the three laws and provide legal guarantee of MSP to farmers, the same way they have provided services to their suit-boot friends.

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