Boom or Doom? - A Report from Bombay
A few months ago, it seemed impossible to switch on an English-language television channel in India without stumbling upon the subcontinent's most famous film star making a startling admission: the benefits of the startling burst of economic growth had failed to benefit the country's poorest, he seemed to say. 'There are two Indias in this country,' Amitabh Bachchan declared in a advertising campaign run by The Times of India - the country's largest English-language newspaper - to celebrate sixty years of Independence.
That acknowledgement by a newspaper that has positioned itself as the mouthpiece of India's newly-moneyed should have brought some comfort to those who are sceptical of the country's neo-liberal economic policies, alarmed that despite economic growth of more than 9%, a full 35% of the population lives in absolute depravition, spending less than one dollar a day, according to estimates by the United Nations. Nowhere are the consequences of these policies more evident than in Mumbai, which has always been a barometer for the nation. Though the city is home to fifteen of the thirty-six Indian billionaires on the Forbes Rich List, medical workers in July discovered that two children living on the edge of Film City, where many Bollywood movies are made, were suffering from severe malnutrition. It was only the latest of many similar instances of malnutrition reported in Mumbai in recent months. The squalor of the free market is visible everywhere. The stock market was at its highest point ever in July, but more than 55% of Mumbai's approximately fifteen million residents live in slums.
However, the scriptwriter of The Times' ad had a novel view of the crisis: he blamed the poor for preventing India from realising its true potential. In the ad, Bachchan continues, 'One India is straining on the leash, eager to spring forth and live up to all the adjectives that the world has been showering recently upon us. The other India is the leash.'
Bachchan's bloviation was cannily crafted to free the nation's nouveau riche (and old money, too) of any sense of responsibility they might feel for their less-fortunate countrymen. Though the inordinately long spot (which runs two minutes, thirteen seconds) has gone off the air, it's still being watched by thousands of people on the Internet...
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Naresh Fernandes is the editor-in-chief of TimeOut Bombay.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann
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