Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Budget for whom?

by karthik kumar
The idea of India is very urban. The idea of progress is very urban. The idea of government is very urban. The idea of civil society is very urban. Most of the cities in our country fall in the penumbra of urban consciousness.

When we think of people who live in these cities, we see them through the eyes of a government that has the same empathy that the British rulers felt for the urban populace. They are them, they are not us. That is why tribal villages in India evoke thoughts about insurgency more than they do about development. That is why silently, the patches of ungovernable areas within the country are growing while we are making our cities gated communities.

For one, the annual budget exercise of a Central or a State Government meant nothing to people. It came and went; in the few educated homes the passing item of interest was the excise duty on consumable — from cigarettes to cement and, later on, it was the personal income tax slab. Decades after, the middle-class mental poverty has expanded just as government receipts, spends and deficits have.

India needs change at the level of her soul.

The people who are in charge of the budget, those who go spend the money and the rest of us who fill our stomachs with it until the next year, need to believe that the country outside the cities needs to be included. That they are us.

Before you think I am a cynic, I must tell you that my staple diet is HOPE. Because, outside the cities, even today, there is no sewage system. And drinking water does not come out of a tap.

Every policymaker in India, every bureaucrat, every businessman must read a book titled Paraja — this is a novel by Jnanpith winner Gopinath Mohanty. Fortunately, an English translation by Bikram Das is available today. It is the story of a tribal from Koraput, Orissa, whose life is in the clutches of petty government officials, moneylenders and the police. The story is set in the early days of post-independent India. Decades after, his lot has not changed. Only his innocence has been lost.

On that note, goodbye until the next budget.

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