The glocal way to go

Lead review

The glocal way to go

This book proposes an alternative model of development which focuses on localised action from communities and individuals across the country, notes AVS Namboodiri

India’s economic development in the last two decades has impressed the world, and a number of studies and books, both by Indians and others, have placed the country in the top league of future economic powers. Ever since the country came out of what was derisively called the Hindu growth rate syndrome in the early 1990s, many have even regretted the lost years and decades before them, when it was thought to be destined to the backwaters of the world. China started its liberalisation some years before India did and it is much ahead of the country, in economic power and the political power that comes with it.

But along with many tributes to the current idea of economic growth and the power of globalisation, there have been dissenting voices that have questioned the accepted model and doubted whether it is the best suited for the country. Churning the Earth, by Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari, is an important work that gives a different perspective.

This is not the work of Luddites who are against development and change. Shrivastava is an environmental economist who has studied the process of globalisation. Kothari is the founder of a major environmental group and has been associated with many grassroots movements of people who were victims of the present idea and practice of development.

The main contention of the writers is that this model is iniquitous as it excludes the majority of the people who are poor and powerless, and is unsustainable as it ravages resources. They find the much-touted economic policies as only capable of leading the country into the grip of global finance capital, which has no values other than making more and more profit.

Those who benefit from this growth are only those who are linked to this capital and the vast majority of people get the worst deal. Even in the US, where capitalism is the accepted creed, there are movements against the power of the one per cent that suppresses the 99 per cent. In India, the rich-poor gap has widened and the per capita availability of food has come down.

The writers have thoroughly researched the situation and have supported their argument with facts and figures. They have explained how corporate-led globalisation leads to a casino capitalism where everything is gambled for profit, nations are controlled by multinationals, policies are framed for their benefit and people become just consumers.

Apart from inflicting economic injustice on people, robbing ordinary people of a means of livelihood and marginalising them, this development model also involves ruthless exploitation of natural resources which leads to major ecological imbalances, endangering nature as such. The resources are transferred to the rich countries with the help of favourable laws, trade agreements and financial incentives that promote export. The operations of multinational mining companies have been increasing in India.

A nexus between politicians, officials and corporates promotes this exploitation and causes severe environmental degradation. Resources like land are also appropriated ostensibly for public purposes which actually serve the interests of corporate bodies, the business class and the richer sections. Forests are denuded and those who depend on them for their livelihood are left high and dry. The writers support their arguments with convincing evidence and show the price that may have to be paid in future for the follies.

They also present an alternative strategy of development which they call a Radical Ecological Democracy based on experiences of localised action involving individuals and communities in different parts of the country. Sustainability of development, social justice and livelihood security of people have been the most important principles of these experiments and they have worked in many places in India and in other countries.

Globalisation that ignores the interest and welfare at the local level can only distort economies, create social turmoil and unhappiness all around. That leads the writers to the conclusion that “the way to the economic future of the vast majority of the people is ecological, is rooted in the local and the regional, and is built on the past…This is not a back to nature approach so much as one of a return to nature in the best sense of the expression.’’

They also assert rightly that the future of democracy also depends crucially on these struggles and movements for the involvement of the underprivileged in the decisions concerning their lives. They sound even apocalyptic when they write that “we are approaching the moment when the choices before us would be stark: an institutionalized, hazardous corporate totalitarianism or the consensual emergence of a radical ecological democracy which will leave everyone with a semblance of hope’.” They feel that the middle ground is fast vanishing.

Basically the message is that man is the measure of everything. It has been said before but the writers have succeeded in driving this home compellingly.

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