Illustrating the not quite “anti-neo global economics paradigm” of the first world for the second!
The New York Times has recently started a weekly column on India and its development – India’s Way! the description of the column entails calling the development muddy and mess y or something like that. One of the reasons I am not going back to double check exactly what it says is because I want to convey the likely impression on a casual reader. Most people who read newspapers are casual readers, they read the news and irrespective what the actual incident or outcome being reported is, they take away the impression of what that news means. If I were not professionally engaged in working on the Indian Subcontinent and its development trajectory and were I not trained to examine the content to process and offer counter theories, I would not be compelled to rethink or revisit anything being reported on a distant country or even my own country. As it is I am and I can so, I did…
So the story by Jim Yardley conveys the backdrop of Indian state of Gujarat through the success of one of its yardsticks, a certain Mr. Adani, who with his right credentials, primarily that of proximity to the state government and its controversial head Mr. Modi, has managed to create an enterprise that is successfully shipping coal from across borders, running his own shipping to sidetrack the cumbersome and expensive Indian Railways and in the process providing electricity to the constantly increasing demand for it. As the sixth richest person in India, a country with 27.5 % people are still living below the poverty line, Mr. Adani’s clout appears to know no bounds, getting permission to mine in a Tiger Reserve, environment advocacy ultimately won over political expediency and economic development goals. The article continues to describe the American vision of the trader turned industrialist including his plans to build a suburbia type of city in the Mundra port right next to the starved fisherman, who are being offered 2$ a day jobs plus promises of a great life. At the end of the article, you do get a picture of the muddled messy economic development paradigm that is driving half the developing world crazy.
I looked up other pieces by Jim Yardley on India and others in the NYT on the Indian poverty and development nexus. I guess I am not going out on a limb here when I say that NYT is not entirely approving of the development outcomes and processes as embodied in Indian economy and society and by comparing it to the history of US development trajectory, in a way it points out the negative externalities of this process. For instance, the story on the eighth floor mansion of one of the Ambani brothers, right next to the biggest slum / low income temporary housing structures makes this point as well. That story concludes with a quote from a woman working in the informal sector, cooking for a household for a living with no home to call her own, wondering why she is living a different lifestyle but then still wanting a job in the Ambani household.
Poverty pictures through these columns are clear, set against a backdrop of Richie Rich kind of scenarios, and are definitely more appealing than World Bank's lame report on India's poor below the poverty line. However, I think what also comes across is the absence of open criticism of policy and power that is displacing India’s poor from their land and establishing these ghettos of rich without too much of a social conscious or social responsibility or social acknowledgement of their outcomes. Then maybe it would not be this readable if it did take a strong stand in favor or against as the best argument is the suggestion of truth and that is done well by Yardley’s pieces. I for one think the scope of these pieces is really vast in influencing public opinion as they come from a veritable source of information, media that is based in the western hemisphere. It analyzes even as it show cases the development muddle.
Maybe there is scope for collaborations between New York Times and the Vernacular media in India that can beat the Murdoch type of conglomerations where news itself is a biased commodity that sells what it wants to. Moreover, the bigger newspapers with their sworn affiliations might not be that willing to criticize their own in polarized worlds of Indian polity. In the end, you want a little more than the Global Speak on India’s poverty from the iconic NYT that goes beyond illustrating the not quite “anti-neo global economics paradigm” of the first world for the second!
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Image source: Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps