The Supreme Court of India is, without any doubt, the watchdog of our Constitution. In this, it is often viewed—and rightly so—as one of the last incorruptible and effective institutions in the country.
In many instances, the court expresses itself in prose that evokes the human aspects of the matters brought to its attention, matters whose human aspects are often lost in the maze of law. In one such case, Nandini Sundar v. State of Chhattisgarh, decided on Tuesday, the court expressed its anguish at the human tragedy in Chhattisgarh. It evoked Joseph Conrad’s immortal lines in expressing the violence in that state. In the instant case, the issue before it was that of the state government arming and patronizing the paramilitary Salwa Judum.
The apex court argued at length that the problem lies in the socio-economic policies of the government. It said that “the root cause of the problem, and hence its solution, lies elsewhere. The culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology, and the false promises of ever-increasing spirals of consumption leading to economic growth that will lift everyone, under-gird this socially, politically and economically unsustainable set of circumstances in vast tracts of India in general, and Chhattisgarh in particular”.
This assertion is too sweeping. The fact is that “neoliberal” policies—or free markets—have led to growth rates unseen in India before 1991. The number of the poor has fallen consistently during this period. The Naxalite problem pre-dates these policies: the first shots of rebellion were fired in Naxalbari decades before the so-called neoliberal policies were ushered. If there is anything constant between the socialist and free market phases in India, it is ultra-Left violence.
What has changed since then is the way our intellectuals view progress. What alarms them is the level of inequality between citizens. They blame it on “neoliberal” policies. This is a simplistic view of what is a complex situation. It is well-known that in initial stages of fast economic growth, inequalities do rise. The remedy for this is not to stop growth, but to enable citizens to catch up by better education, something that policymakers and intellectuals are not interested in.
The court’s search for root causes of the problem is worth appreciating, but the solution lies in crafting better policies and not stunting growth. The latter will only hurt the poor and those who have just exited poverty. Conrad’s Kurtz was an agent of colonialism. The India of 21st century bears little resemblance to Kurtz’s Africa. The Supreme Court’s intervention proves that amply.
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