Read Capital: A Portrait of Twenty - First Century Delhi by Rana Dasgupta Free Online
Book Title: Capital: A Portrait of Twenty - First Century Delhi|
Date of issue: January 29th 2014
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Rana Dasgupta
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 883 KB
Edition: Fourth Estate
Read full description of the books Capital: A Portrait of Twenty - First Century Delhi:Just a few days ago, Narendra Modi banned the two largest currency notes in India - 500 and 1,000 rupees, in an effort to catch those who are corrupt, or practising tax avoidance. A brief synopsis of the situation can be found in The New York Times:
But if you want to learn the full story about the heavy burden of corruption that beleaguers Indian society, then this is the book for you. You need to gird your loins and stiffen your resolve, because this is not an easy read. Dasgupta interviews a series of people, interspersed with descriptions of Indian history, politics, and notorious episodes of corruption - like the organising of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010. Most of the people he interviews are ridiculously wealthy - and immoral, corrupt and grasping, (warning - their attitudes and behaviours give one serious indigestion.) A couple of the people he interviews however are highly principled and fighting for the rights of the poor, whose lives have been horrendously disrupted by corrupt business practices.
Dasgupta is a novelist, and he writes with much power. This is his first work of non-fiction, and the book is about Delhi, the capital of India, where he now lives. It is an ode to stinking and corrupt capitalism at its very worst, and carries warnings that all of us will recognise, wherever we live. I think reasonably regulated capitalism is a good thing, but this is a story of things going very wrong. Highly recommended.
I will end with two great big chunks of information that are totally for my own interest, mostly taken directly from the book. (view spoiler)[
In 1991 Manmohan Singh, India's new finance minister announced that India would now embrace the principles of open markets and free enterprise. Before that there was a closed-economy orthodoxy, introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru felt that Britain's system of free capitalism had pauperised India, whose per capita income had not increased between 1757 and 1947. This was due to the enormous drain on India's wealth during the British era.
Nehru was inspired by the Bolshevik revolution, and argued strongly for a centrally planned economy. He visited the USSR in 1927, on the 10th anniversary of the revolution, and was filled with excitement.
He also made India a democracy. The constitution granted universal sufferage to adult citizens, despite the fact that only 12% of them could read, plus he guaranteed freedom of the press. These things paid off, and are an extraordinary legacy to India's founding politicians.
Nehru instigated a series of Five-year Plans which would harness the nation's resources into coordinated forward thrusts. Later these plans were formalized by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis.
1) Strategic industries were the exclusive preserve of the state eg
electricity generation and transmission
2) there would be a second category where both state and private enterprises could operate.
pulp and paper
3) The remaining industries - such as consumer goods - were open to private companies. Private enterprise was subject to intense controls however: specific government licenses were needed to
*introduce new products
*set up a new plant
*Make major investments.
Those big business houses that escaped nationalization were kept under the watchful eye of the Congress Party; in return for their docility they were given cosy access to commercial licenses, which kept competition away and ensured high profits even when, as was often the case, their actual products were of terrrible quality.
Nehru set up several high-level research institutions whith the help of the theoretical physicist Homi Bhabha.
*The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
*The Atomic Energy Establishment
* The Indian Istitute of Technology
*The Indian Institute of Management
These institutions continued to play a critical role into our own century - turning out many of the men and women responsible not only for India's technology boom, but indeed, because many of them ended up in Silicon Valley - for America's too.
By Nuhru's death in 1964, and the end of the third Five-year Plan, the promise of the early years was looking remote. Nehru left behind a thwarted economy, whose resuscitation was the subject of furious debates for nearly three decades thereafter. Part of the reason these debates were so drawn out, however, was that Nehru's conception of India continued to enjoy an almost theological prestige, even as the economic system on which it was based withered.
In the years following Nehru's death, the wider world became, even for the educated and affluent, even more remote and prohibited. During the 1970s and 80s for instance, foreign travel by private citizens, while technically allowed, was difficult even for the few who could afford an air ticket, because of severe restrictions placed on currency exchange. An international phone call had to be booked a day in advance. Very few foreign companies could invest in Indian firms or set up Indian operations of their own, and imports of foreign products were largely banned.... So perhaps it may be understood from all of this why India could not contemplate the dismantling of its state controls and embrace of global capital until there was simply no other choice - even though the Indian economy was conspicuously dysfunctional for decades... The idea was simply too blasphemous. And yet, by July 1991, the prevailing system was in tatters and there was indeed no other choice.
Since then, the Indian economy has grown by as much as 10% per annum, overtaking the economies of Canada and Russia, to join the ten largest economies in the world...
Dasgupta argues that the successful in Delhi "owed much of their prosperity to these others...to the fact that they were situated in the middle of an ocean of poverty."
"Sweeping away from Delhi's south-eastern edge was the vast swathe of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where 300 million people earned an average of $500 per year. Not only were they very poor, the were also politically weak, and their lives were getting worse. They constituted therefore a cheap and near-infinite resource for the labour-intensive industries - such as construction, mining and manufacturing - that made Delhi wealthy."
He talks about a "corporate occupation of the countryside which pitted big money against poor agricultural and tribal communities, turning rural India into a turbulent and volatile battleground. Expanding business needed land, and most of India's land was in the hands of small farmers, whose legal ownership of it had been well secured during the Nehru years." He says this land could not be acquired legally "So the post-liberalisation period was witness to various forms of seizure involving millions of hectares of rural land. Sometimes this was achieved by so-called land mafias...who got farmers off their land with gang violence, or who used connections in the political establishment not only to arbitrarily re-allocate land but also to enforce the order with state resources- such as the police. But often the land grab was enacted by the state according to the terms of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, an instrument introduced by the British empire to legalise the expropriation of lands from their historical owners to the colonial power - and indeed the rampage of Indian elites in their own country bore a significant resemblance to that of nineteenth-century European imperialists in other countries. Land was repossessed under an authoritarian law, little or no compensation was given to the people who previously made their living from it, and it was sold on, often at ten times the price, to corporations."
"At on point there were hundreds of protest across the country over land appropriation.. Most distressingly for the political establishment, an armed Maoist rebellion swept the country's most devastated rural regions, and in many places usurped all state control.... Prime minister Manmohan Singh declare in 2006 that they represented the 'single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country'...which was something of a shock to the urban elites."
"But even those rural communities who managed to escape such land battles found that it was increasingly difficult to survive doing what they had previously done..... This was partly because of altered ecological conditions, particularly as regarded water. The expanding cities found themselves in a greater and greater water deficit, and had to pull it in from further and further afield, drying out villages and agriculture to a radius of hundreds of kilometres."
Other farms were affected by the high-intensity farming introduced in the 1960s - the 'Green Revolution' - had by that time exhausted their land and they were obliged to explore the possibility of new crops and chemical supplements. At the same time, the arrival of global corporations looking to India's farmers to supply raw materials for processed foods presented them with new revenue... Many farmers therefore opted to stop growing food and to pursue higher returns by growing cash crops such as sugar cane, coffee, cotton, spices or flowers. But this left a financially vulnerable group highly exposed to market fluctuations ...."
In other instances, due to international trade agreements, farmers were tied to buying seed, fertiliser and pesticide products from global biotech corporations, and the seed was often sterile, so had to be purchased every year. "In an environmental context that was already becoming more stern, many farmers exhausted their land with the new chemicals, and entered an impossible spiral of debt."
"Together, all these things were fatal. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, some 15,000 Indian farmers committed suicide every year."
As a result of this rural crisis "large tides of refugees departed for the cities"
"Delhi's affluent households were hungry for servants. The fact that it was so easy to purchase cheap labour, in fact, was essential to urban middle-class identity. Even modestly off families often employed a chauffeur, while a maid to come early in the morning and clean the floors of the previous day's dust was de-rigueur....And yet their relationships with their domestic servant were frequently, and bizarrely, resentful." They showed little sympathy for the trauma's that sometimes struck the fragile lives of their employees.
"The middle classes were fond of seeing themselves as under-appreciated benefactors and their image of the poor was not as a productive engine but as a pack of parasites living off their own intelligence and hard work. it was they, the middle classes, who contributed real value to the economy..... India's boom belonged to the middle classes: it was their moment, and they would fight furiously for it. In a country where the mean income was $1,400 per year, the slightest move to average out incomes would be catastrophic for the few who earned, say, $60,000 per year. So the 90 per cent were excommunicated from the middle-class project of India's rise, and their claims on better incomes and better lives pronounced illegitimate."
"And yet it goes without saying that the poor were instrumental to the new accumulation of middle-class wealth. The disaster of the Indian countryside unleashed not only a handy supply of domestic servants; it also generated a vast supply of lab our for construction firms and factory owners..... Employers never had to worry about where the next workers would come from. They could pay almost nothing, and demand pretty much any level of toil. It was common for factory workers to work sixteen hours a day; seven days a week, thirty days a month. Most were not paid the minimum wage of $4 per day, and almost none were granted pensions or insurance. The fact that Indian factories were now producing for consumers all over the world added to the intensity of workers' lives but made almost no difference to their salaries." (hide spoiler)]
If you would prefer a more uplifting read about Delhi, William Dalrymple's book City of Djinns is equally brilliant, but it is funny, endearing and quirky, and shows Delhi in a much kinder light.
Read information about the authorRana Dasgupta is a British-Indian writer. He grew up in Cambridge, England and studied at Balliol College, Oxford, the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud in Aix-en-Provence, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He lives in Delhi, India.
His first novel, Tokyo Cancelled (2005), was an examination of the forces and experiences of globalization. Billed as a modern-day Canterbury Tales, thirteen passengers stuck overnight in an airport tell thirteen stories from different cities in the world, stories that resemble contemporary fairytales, mythic and surreal. The tales add up to a broad exploration of 21st century forms of life, which includes billionaires, film stars, migrant labourers, illegal immigrants and sailors.  Tokyo Cancelled was shortlisted for the 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
Dasgupta's second novel, Solo (2009) is an epic tale of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries told from the perspective of a one hundred-year old Bulgarian man. Having achieved little in his twentieth-century life, he settles into a long and prophetic daydream of the twenty-first century, where all the ideological experiments of the old century are over, and a collection of startling characters - demons and angels - live a life beyond utopia.
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