The rhetoric of development
THE country is being pushed into an other election, all because the BJP and some of its allies have been overwhelmed by the ‘feel good’ factor. The recent election victories in the three Hindi states and the unexpected spurt in the economy after a sluggish previous year – good monsoons and the consequent industrial recovery – have created an unprecedented euphoria. With an infantile enthusiasm, we are already talking of becoming the third largest economy in the world by 2020, all on the basis of 8% growth in the third quarter of the current year.
For an entirely different reason a similar mood overtook Chandrababu Naidu. He emerged miraculously, almost unscratched, out of a deadly attack launched by the Naxalites on his motorcade on 1 October 2003, as he was en route to Tirupati to offer prayers to Lord Venkateswara. A hype was created that the Lord personally intervened to save his life for his service to the people and wants him to do the same for many years to come. After recovery from the shock and disbelief, ‘hurrah’ was the atmosphere in the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the general consensus being that it would be a good bet to advance the election to February 2004 to cash in on the sympathy wave sweeping across the state. After some discussion and a deliberate creation of suspense, the 11th assembly of Andhra Pradesh was dissolved almost a year in advance. And elections were recommended for February 2004.
It is difficult to believe that there is in reality any such sympathy wave. What seems more likely is a superstitious belief doing the round, and which was deliberately encouraged, that Lord Venkateswara intervened to save Chandrababu Naidu. This was directly encouraged by Babu himself and loudly sung by his cohorts, day in and day out. His daily song – a hand in the sling and a scarred, haggard look – was that he is not scared of death and that since the Lord wants him to serve the people he is prepared to face death any time. The Lord saved him from Naxalites and the Naxalites are a menace. Further that every other political party – the Congress, the CPI(M), the CPI and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), a newly formed outfit fighting for a separate Telangana state – are in league with the Naxalites to bring him down. This has become a pre-campaign political cliché.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, this made everybody nervous since nobody was above reproach and everybody was suspect. The hype did work for some time but soon the campaign came unstuck. The (anti) incumbency factor slowly came to the fore and the ruling establishment started showing signs of nervousness. Slowly an upbeat mood was discernible in the opposition camp.
At this time an unexpected development took place – three Congress governments were defeated. The BJP claimed it to be a verdict between non-performance and good governance. Chandrababu Naidu, the good CEO, picked up the cue and changed his tack. ‘Development’ and good governance (whatever it is supposed to mean; politics plus administration?) is now the new theme of his election campaign.
What does this imply? That Andhra Pradesh has done well in the sphere of development, providing a clean administration to the people. In other words, he has brought down the campaign from emotive issues to worldly concerns, and these can be objectively contested. This is how the campaign in AP is now shaping up. Before looking at this more closely, a few issues need to be kept in mind. The first is to separate the more enduring factors from those of a shifting nature and assess if there is any change in the factors of a lasting kind.
An unusual feature of Andhra politics, as compared to states in northern India, is the political command of the dominant castes over the electoral process. The two dominant castes in Andhra Pradesh – the Reddys and Kammas – make up on a rough estimate, 6.5 and 5% of the state’s population. Starting with control over land and related assets, these communities have over time moved into business – trade, transport and shops – and the growing industry. They now enjoy an undoubted economic clout in the modern economy, apart from their continuing hold over land and, therefore, the more traditional village institutions.
The OBCs comprise around 45% of the population, the scheduled castes 15.5% and the tribes, though not numerous, about 6%, are concentrated in three contiguous areas. It is intriguing that given the churning among the oppressed in India, Andhra politics still remains under the control of about 12% of the dominant castes. It is not that there is no churning among these communities, as in northern India. Important social and economic changes have taken place and a numerous middle class has emerged with articulate spokesmen. The difference is that there is no single large backward caste in Andhra, like the Yadavs in UP and Bihar or the Kunbis in Maharashtra. There are many OBCs, none numerically large and thus unable to evolve an enduring political alliance.
The result is that the oppressed communities of OBCs and dalits align in complex ways with one or the other dominant caste. The Kammas are concentrated in the coastal districts whereas the Reddys are numerous in Telangana, rather sizeable in Rayalaseema and with a visible presence in the coastal districts. (These are the three regions of AP). The Kammas are absent in Telangana except as émigrés in and around Hyderabad, have colonised some fertile land in a few districts and are visibly present in some districts of Rayalaseema.
Let us look at the complexity of electoral alignments. The OBCs in the coastal areas tend to go along with the Congress Party but in the Telangana region they have shown a strong inclination to go with TDP. This choice is simple to understand. They try to distance themselves from the dominant caste of the specific region. Therefore, in the Rayalaseema region, there is a greater division of the OBC vote between the two main political parties. If we break up the OBC vote at the state level, it tends to even out between the two parties. It is important to remember that the BJP is making a dent in the votes of all the oppressed castes, in all regions, including Hyderabad city.
In the capital city the above pattern does not hold. Politics here is centred around what looks like the unbreakable hold of the Majlis-e-Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM) over the Muslims, who make up around a third of the population. In the south of the city, often referred to as the ‘old city’, where Muslims constitute 70% of the population, all the seats in the dissolved assembly were held by the MIM. The decline of poverty among the Muslims, as witnessed in the near disappearance of the rickshaw as a mode of transport, the emergence of a sizeable class of prosperous entrepreneurs and successful businessmen, a large middle class among other factors has failed to dent the hold of the MIM over the Muslims. In fact, if anything, it has strengthened its hold.
The MIM story represents a complicated intersection of social and political factors and cannot be told in this brief essay. Suffice it to note that the Muslims in Hyderabad see the MIM as the anchor round which to defend themselves against the increasing ‘menace’ of Hindutva, especially its aggressive arm, the VHP. The remaining vote is equally divided between the Congress and TDP, with the TDP enjoying an edge as seen in the municipal elections held a year back. Nevertheless, Hyderabad as a city is unrepresentative of much that is Andhra Pradesh. Even its growing prosperity and, in comparison to most cities in India, healthy urban growth may be a deceptive sign of what is happening in the rest of the state.
This brings us to the ‘development’ narrative, together with good governance, which Chandrababu Naidu wants to make into his main election plank. The story of post-reform AP is somewhat different from what is being retailed by the ruling establishment. It is a complicated mix with too many negative signals. Let us look at it a little closely though space does not permit reporting in detail.
Andhra was a late reformer, beginning 1994 unlike the rest of the country which initiated the process in 1991. But since then it has followed a furious pace and is now in the forefront of reforms. Recent studies, especially those by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS), entitled Andhra Pradesh Development: Economic Reforms and Challenges Ahead, do not indicate a story of any great success. If we take the GSDP (gross state domestic product), two things stand out. The rate of growth at 5.31% between 1993-94 and 2000-01 is below the national average of 6.31%. But what comes as a surprise is that compared to the pre-reform period in the state itself, that is between 1980-81 to 1990-91, the rate of growth of GSDP declined from 5.50 to 5.31. As a result, Andhra which stood at the fourth position in the country in 1980 has slipped to eighth currently.
The TDP has been harping that the period prior to reforms was one of sluggish growth, citing the change in per capita GSDP growth from 3.33 in the pre-reform period to 4.04 in the post-reform period. Though true, the growth rate is still below the national average of 4.38. Clearly Andhra’s record in the post-reform period is nothing to crow about, as is being done by Naidu. Nevertheless, a decline in the rate of growth of GSDP, but an increase in its per capita rate calls for some explanation.
The Census figures for 1991 and 2001 show a noticeable decline in population growth and this decline is reflected in a better per capita GSDP. The CESS study attributes the population decline to better management of family planning and welfare oriented programmes; also the women’s self-help groups acted as a positive influence. It is worth noting that DWCRA groups number 4.70 lakh with a total membership of 65 lakh in the state (reportedly half the total number in the country) and these groups are successfully running a number of schemes. The growth rates of literacy in AP have risen and the gap between the all-India and AP literacy rate has narrowed. Women’s literacy has improved as well. All this together has contributed to a decline in population growth resulting in better figures for the per capita GSDP.
More depressing, however, despite impressive performance in IT (and IT enabled services) and bio-technology, is the poor performance of modern manufacturing. If the GSDP is calculated only in relation to rate of growth in industry, the rate declines from 7.36% in the 1980s to 6.20% in the 1990s. The question therefore is: with sluggish industrial growth, how far can the growth in services be sustained? Equally important is that employment has not grown. It grew at an annual rate of 0.31% in the 1990s as compared to 2.30 in the 1980s. Results from the same study show that while worker productivity increased, wages declined during the 1990s. Andhra Pradesh therefore is in the forefront of the states in India experiencing an intensification of exploitation.
Why then is AP not the leading state in attracting private investment? According to a study conducted by the CII, Andhra is way down at 8th position in attracting investments. The leading states are Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and others. As against Maharashtra which attracted 17.32% of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Andhra’s share between 1991 and 2002 was a mere 4.65%, much of it in IT and IT enabled services. There is no clear answer but inadequate credit and defective infrastructure has often been cited as primary reasons, although reforms and investment have been undertaken in these spheres. The rate of gross fixed capital formation too has declined, falling from 6% in the 1980s to 3.6% in the 1990s. Since it is often argued that this may be due to bottlenecks in the reforms process, there is hope for the future given the vigorous push to reforms now.
Overall, despite some strides, AP ranks the lowest among the southern states, especially when seen in relation to the quality of life. Infant mortality has declined, life expectancy has improved, literacy is rising fast, population growth is markedly declining, women are being empowered faster than in many areas of India, but on most of these counts it remains well below other southern states. Fortunately, sub-regional disparities have markedly come down though the sentiment for Telangana remains strong.
Most worrying on the health front is the deterioration in medical care in the state with private medical practice taking over from public medical facilities. In all the cities, the private sector with its corporate hospitals is directly leading to the decline of government hospitals. The public expenditure on health services has fallen from 1.29% (itself a low figure to start with) to 1.08 between the 1980s and 1990s. How all this will affect the health indices in the long run is, at the moment, difficult to predict.
Given the conflicting nature of the developmental process and the people’s experience, it is difficult to predict how the campaign and electoral results will be affected. Election fever is in the air, but the campaign has yet to start. The nature of alliances or the pattern of adjustments of seats, though getting clearer with each passing day, remains undecided. What is clear is that the earlier alliance between the TDP and the BJP is viewed less as seat adjustment than a long-term strategic understanding. This is bound to impact the minority vote which was moving towards the TDP in the 1990s. According to the CSDS data, about 36% of the Muslims voted for TDP as against 57% for Congress in 1996. It is likely that there will be a clear shift of Muslims away from the TDP. All through the 1990s, the Muslim population in all elections ignored the TDP’s seat adjustment with the BJP due to local compulsions. This is now less likely since, especially after Gujarat, Muslims are incensed.
Alarger proportion of women voting for TDP may to an extent compensate for this loss. But since women have always voted for TDP in somewhat larger numbers than for the Congress, the gain may well be marginal. Women self-help groups have made rapid strides in Andhra. DWCRA, despite the corruption which prevails everywhere, has been a great success. Women in the rural areas have shown a great deal of confidence in taking bold initiatives and using the corpus of Rs 1600 crore (built through each member contributing one rupee a day) through Mandal Mahila Samakhyas, mahila banks and supermarkets to boost productive activity among women throughout the state. The state has also done well, in comparison to many others, in participatory management of land, water and forest resources, joint forest management groups and water user’s associations. Watershed development committees are, for all their shortcomings, a palpable presence. All this has created different degrees of goodwill as well as disaffection because of exclusions and corruption.
Everybody accuses Chandrababu Naidu of large-scale corruption, which may well be true. But Babu has creatively used corruption to institute a new kind of patron-client relationship to replace the old one based on caste and kinship. This is of a contemporary nature, building a kind of vote machine, a la American electoral machines. Using schemes like Food for Work (Rs 3600 crore and 36 lakh tons of rice distributed over the last three years of drought), Deepam Scheme (for LPG connections to both urban and rural poor), Annapurna Scheme (10 kg free rice to the poorest) Naidu has placed money and materials in the hands of his supporters, who in turn have become party activists. Not surprisingly, there is massive corruption in some of these schemes. A study of ‘food for work’ by the Department of International Development (UK) found that even where it was working well there was a slippage of at least 47% of funds and food into the hands of those running the programme. The leakage was higher where it was not working well, and at a few places the slippage of funds was as high as 99%.
There are many other schemes – Antyodaya Anna Yojana, Chanduvulu Panduga (literacy festival), Neeru Meeru (water conservation), Velugu Project (poverty elimination). Many of these are meant to compensate for the collateral damage of globalization. But the story everywhere is the same, like with the food for work. These create viable patron client networks and substitute for the lack of party organisation and, therefore, are a political asset. How these will work to neutralise discontent is difficult to say at the moment.
Though the discontent is quite widespread, the Congress has nothing positive to offer. It has a good leader in Rajshekhar Reddy who is accessible, perceived as honest and enjoys some mass appeal. A good sign for the Congress is that all other parties are agreed on not splitting the anti-NDA vote, with the Communist parties taking the lead in this direction. It is only when the campaign gets under way that we will be able to see how the underlying currents get connected. Till then one can only wait.