Praful Bidwai in Frontline. Here
Neoliberalism is undermining social cohesion. It is also marginalising and disenfranchising the poor from participating in social life. It is only when they wage arduous battles to defend livelihoods and civic and political rights that they get heard. In contrast, the rich are becoming more aggressive in extending their privileges and demanding and getting generous tax breaks and state protection. Their political influence has never been greater. India increasingly resembles the United States' Gilded Age when Robber Baron capitalism prevailed and imposed a heavy toll on society.
At this rate, India will soon become structurally incapable of developing a shared sense of nationhood. An untutored sense of community, which is not drilled into children through chauvinistic textbooks that describe India as the greatest civilisation ever, can arise only from relative equality of life chances and basic parity in entitlements amongst people.
A notion of common citizenship and shared destiny, which goes beyond participation in electoral processes, cannot develop in a divided society where the chasms are widening under neoliberalism's ruthlessly inequality-enhancing influence. No wonder all manner of narrow and parochial identity politics, as well as superstition and obscurantism, are thriving in India today. We are paying an exorbitant price for neoliberalism – including enormous waste of precious human potential, people's suffering, rising gender inequalities, growth of irrational faith, and a weakening of human solidarity and the foundations of political democracy.
Neoliberalism is also imposing huge ecological costs on India through the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers, loss of prime natural forests, degradation of land through reckless mining and the overuse of chemicals in agriculture, extensive air and water pollution, poisoning of all our major rivers, overuse of groundwater, loss of priceless biodiversity, and rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Driven by a luxury consumption boom under neoliberal policies, India's emissions are growing twice as fast as the rest of the world's, aggravating and accelerating climate change. India is now the world's fourth biggest GHG emitter. Indians, already vulnerable to climate change because of geographical and social factors and lack of resources for adaptation, will become its worst victim. Continuing along the neoliberal course means shooting ourselves in the foot.