The term “India-Bharat” has been quite popular over the past few years. After BJP launched the “India Shining” campaign in the 2004 general election and lost it, many political pundits attributed the loss to the unequal distribution of prosperity between “India” and “Bharat”. They contended that only “India” benefited from the economic reforms whereas the “Bharat” was left behind. While anti-incumbency was the major factor of loss, there is some truth in the unequal growth of “India” and “Bharat”.
Both “India” and “Bharat” are notional entities that signify the relatively better-off urban areas and the poor and backward rural parts of the country respectively. The term was apparently coined in 1978 by Mr. Sharad Joshi but gained prominence in 2003.
“India” has better physical and communication connectivity and better living standards. The urban economy is based on strong services or manufacturing sectors. On the other hand, “Bharat” has poor infrastructure and living standards and it has an agrarian economy. 70% of the country’s total population lives in the rural areas. The implication of this number is huge.
The country cannot aspire to become a super-power when vast majorities of its people do not gain from the increasing prosperity. So, reducing the “prosperity” divide between the urban and rural India should remain a top priority for the future governments.
India can learn a few positive things from how China is tackling this inequality problem. China is investing heavily on projects that will transform large parts of its rural areas to urban centers. By doing this, China hopes to prevent massive migration from villages to cities that put enormous strain on the existing urban infrastructure and reduce the opportunities in the villages.
So, here are some solutions that could reduce the divide.
Significant resources should be allocated for setting up of renewable energy infrastructure in the villages. Most villages of the country receive abundant sunlight (about 6 months a year) and sources for bio-energy are also significant. Tapping these energy sources can be accomplished by providing subsidies for installing solar panels and bio-energy harnessers that power lights, computers and other electronic devices. Tax breaks for the solar panel manufacturing firms will ensure lower cost for these technologies..
Investment in agriculture is very essential to increase the productivity of arable land. Subsidies can be provided to projects that improve the irrigation systems and also farms that employ effective water conservation techniques. Improvement of roads and access to technology will enable farmers to reach the market faster and get better price for their produce. Investment should also made into food supply chain, like cold-storage (mobile and stationary) facilities to prevent rottage of food which in turn puts more money into the farmer’s pocket.
One of India’s strengths is the emphasis on knowledge. We should make sure that everyone in the village has access to knowledge by investing heavily on primary education. More schools should be opened, more teachers be recruited, higher salaries for teachers be provided to motivate more qualified people to join the profession and a big push be given to computer literacy in the schools. This factor is an absolute must for the long-term sustainability of the India’s growth.
Improvements to the physical (road, rail, air) and digital(telephone, broadband) infrastructure should be carried out at an urgent pace. Once sufficient connectivity is achieved, knowledge and technology firms should be encouraged to move farther from the cities and closer to the rural areas. This will generate employment in the villages, reduce migration to cities, enable professionals to work closer to home and ensures fairly equal distribution of wealth.
While I acknowledge that the government is not oblivious to this “India-Bharat” divide and is sincerely doing quite a lot of work in bridging this divide in the form of plans like Bharat Nirman and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, more ambitious targets should be set and the progress strictly monitored.
Many of the problems like terrorism and Naxalism can be eradicated by lifting people out of poverty. By giving more growth opportunities to more and more people, social harmony and national unity can be strengthened. The political leadership should unite and summon all the will it can, to succeed against these challenges. The task is difficult but very much doable.