‘Social well-being should match economic growth’
In less than an hour the audience at the Hay Festival turned from being a confused group to one that was almost certain that economic growth undermined social development.At 12.30 p.m. on Sunday, half the 200-odd people witnessing the debate - ‘Is economic growth in India at the expense of social development?’ - raised their hands to say 'no’. Before it was 1.30 p.m., when the four main speakers gave their concluding comments, less than 20 percent said ‘no’.It was economist Lord Meghnad Desai’s casual optimism versus journalist and writer Tarun J Tejpal’s severe activism. Lord Desai, his million curls left untamed, said poverty in the country had actually fallen on a consistent basis in the last ten years.Tejpal, his locks pulled back tightly into a pony tail, asked what kind of a country has the absurdity to make the claim that it is a superpower when it can’t feed its own people.The Lord argued that economic growth is not to be blamed if there is female foeticide, forced marriages, dowry deaths and other social evils in the country. The Congress party has to be blamed. ‘’The party was extremely conservative. It did not want to disturb the Hindu society and its orthodoxy. In fact, it valorised caste system,’’ he said. For the chief editor of Tehelka, economic growth was evil personified. ‘’Just look at the rapacious appetite that this growth has thrust upon us. Glittering malls and sprawling stadiums are coming up. Mukesh Ambani constructs a house worth Rs 100 crore. "But check on our malnutrition figures. 5.6 percent of children below the age of five in China suffer from malnutrition. But in India? It is 50 percent! This means half our children below the age of five are suffering intellectual, emotional and physical stunting,’’ he said.Tejpal painted the Nandigram incident in West Bengal as a symbol of economic exploitation. ‘’Who lost in Nandigram? The peasants lost. Tata didn’t lose. We have stopped the poor from getting jobs. We have lost our textile factories to Malaysia and China and Singapore. "And we are keeping our poor poor because of our sentimentality,’’ Lord Desai shot back.Tejpal said no one needs to presume what the poor in the country needs.The Tehelka editor said the American dream had soured.Lord Desai responded with the allegory of the bullock cart and the car.‘’The American’s car has broken down. He squats at the side of the road mending his vehicle. At that point an Indian passes along in his bullock cart and gleefully says we are better of. Please don’t forget, the American will fix his car.’’ Tejpal hammered down the idea that the tyranny of the market was a scary thing.Allianz Corhill COO Rakesh Gupta and The Week’s Nikita Doval were relatively sedate even though they too put their points across articulately. Gupta said economic growth fuels social development.‘’I have struggled to come up with an example of a country where economic growth is poor and social growth is high,’’ he said. Nikita said a democracy should ensure that everyone is reaping the fruits of growth.