Disparities in India

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Written at University of California Santa Barbara
Prof. Ahuja
Political Science 106IE
Disparities in India
India became a democratic state in 1947 after gaining independence from British rule. From its inception, many factors such as underdevelopment, social hierarchy, illiteracy, and rampant corruption have impeded it on its goal to becoming a part of the global north. The purpose of this paper is to determine the success of the Indian democracy in alleviating poverty and providing basic services to the poor. To determine the success rate of the republic, I will analyze the initial state building process that was carried out by the Nehru administration and later by his daughter Indira Gandhi, education, agricultural reform, and the status of the caste system. In doing so, I plan to show that the Indian democratic process has not been very successful in uplifting the impoverished population or in alleviating the many causes of poverty. At the time of independence India was a fairly poor country by all measures. The literacy rate at the time was only 16 percent for the population of 320 million, life expectancy was just thirty-two years, and almost 90 percent of the population lived in rural areas and survived mostly through agriculture (Luce 463). This was a state that needed to build from the ground up. Yet the Nehru administration took a very different approach to nation building by starting at the top. By the time the first government was established, there was “consensus in which the country would aim for complete economic self-sufficiency and the state would lead the effort by building up heavy industry, [like]… steel plants and large dams” (Luce 461). The dilemma here was not easily visible at the time and the policies went largely unquestioned. Nehru of course was seen as a well educated statesman who alongside Mahatma Gandhi led the independence movement and suffered immensely at the hands of the British. Yet his vision of a self-sufficient industrialized India would fall short. The idea of a self-sufficient or “swadeshi” India stemmed from the distrust for a free-trade capitalist economy. This was largely due to the global economic downturn that followed the Great Depression in the US; Nehru therefore opted for a state led vitalization based loosely on the efforts of the Tennessee Valley Authority (Luce 462). Some very isolationist minded policies were adopted in order to keep foreign economic influences out of India, for example regulations on FDIs. The vision of steel mills, aluminum plants, massive dams, and higher education was still quite out of the reach for a country just starting out. However, in the process of nation building, Nehru’s policies overlooked the fact that 84 percent of the population could not sign his or her name and yet five elite engineering universities were established by the government in order to help create a skilled labor force (Luce 463). The scarce capital resources that should have gone towards the establishment of programs to provide education at the primary and elementary levels went to sectors where their impact was minimized. Thus the poor in the rural areas went without a basic factor necessary for the nation to rise. Today India’s adult literacy rate is about 63 percent where as South Korea, which started the democratization process around the same time, is about 98 percent (Luce 463). Another major factor that stemmed India’s growth was the lack of land reform. At its independence India was in great need of land reform due to food shortages, but the initial five year plan presented to Parliament in 1951 allocated only about a third of spending on agriculture and in the second five year plan spending dropped to a fifth (Luce 464). Again the rural areas went overlooked and majority of the funds went towards urban development. There was still no major outcry from the people because most of the uneducated masses, to some extent, were essentially used to...
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