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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 24

Message to India Inc in Prevailing Scenario

Editorial

Saturday 2 June 2007, by SC

North India is in the grip of turmoil and violence. First, a sectarian storm raged in the shape of the Sikh priests’ holy anger at the Dera Sacha Sauda sect’s head dressing himself up in the attire of the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and there was every possibility of the tensions emanating from the incident leading to largescale bloodshed. Mercifully that has been averted even if close observers of the Punjab scene strongly feel that the present lull is deceptive and what has been won is just a temporary reprieve.

Now, the Gujjar community members in Rajasthan are up in arms. Their demand—to include their community in the Scheduled Tribes list—had been accepted by the Rajasthan BJP in the 2003 Assembly polls in the sense that a verbal promise was made by the party to ensure their ST status and thus it was able to enlist the Gujjar support in the elections that saw the party voted to power in the State with a resounding majority. After four long years the Gujjars have launched their agitation to see that the poll assurance is translated into reality—and the BJP is caught in a bind.

Essentially, the agitation relates to empowerment. As a community the Gujjars are demanding their place in the sun. This is nothing abnormal. The tribals inChhattisgarh too are doing so and in that exercise they have found the Maoists to be their allies. What we are witnessing in the country today is actually the conse-quence of the widening socio-economic disparities.

It is against this backdrop that PM Manmohan Singh’s speech at the Annual General Meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on May 24 merits close scrutiny. He spoke of the bitter truth when, while acknowledging the Indian industry’s phenomenal rise over the years, reflected in the growing numbers of Indian millionaires and billionaires, he underlined:

In a country with extreme poverty, industry needs to be moderate in the emolument levels it adopts. Rising income and wealth inequalities, if not matched by a corresponding rise of incomes across the nation, can lead to social unrest. The electronic media carries the lifestyles of the rich and famous into every village and slum. Media often highlights the vulgar display of their wealth. An area of great concern is the level of ostentatious expenditure on weddings and other family events. Such vulgarity insults the poverty of the less privileged, it is socially wasteful and it plants seeds of resentment in the minds of the have-nots.

He also came up with a 10-point charter for India Inc to see that the poor benefit from the prevailing economic boom. He called for a broadening of the idea of corporate social responsibility which, he felt, should not be defind by “tax planning strategies” alone but “within the framework of a corporate philosophy which factors the needs of the community and regions in which the corporate entity functions”. He urged the corporate world to comprehend the necessity, in our conditions, of avoiding high salaries for executives, discouraging conspicuous consumption, shunning the “wasteful lifestyles of the Western world” and keeping profits “within the limits of decency”. While exhorting the industry to be more proactive in recruiting workers from underprivileged backgrounds Manmohan underscored the fact that workers must be made to feel that they are cared for at work, or else India “can never evolve a national consensus in favour of flexible labour laws aimed at ensuring that our firms remain globally competitive”.

The PM’s speech has generated wide debate. Many, including influential sections of the media kowtowing to the forces of globalisation both at home and abroad, have decried it for obvious reasons. For some, he has by his observations belatedly exposed his ‘political’ leanings. Some have dismissed his pronouncements as ‘moralising trivia’. All this was only to be expected, oneneed not take these seriously. What must be noted is that the PM’s speech has hinted at one fundamental area of concern—unless the yawning gap between India and Bharat is bridged, the country could face catastrophic consequences.

The scenario allround does indeed present a frightening spectacle. It is in that context that the PM’s concluding words are of considerable value:
These are good times for Indian enterprise. Your energy and enterprise are making its mark globally. But never forget that we are what we are because of what our motherland has given us. The time has come for us to ask ourselves what can we give her back. India has madeus. We must make Bharat.

The message is clear: Bharat must transform into India so that the two become indistinguishable. The idea is definitely laudable; but only one nagging question remains: given the policies his government has adopted under his stewardship over the years does the PM really believe that that objective can be reached in the forseeable future?

This basic question should not, however, detract one from the significance of the essence of Manmohan’s proposals before India Inc.

June 1 S.C.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62