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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

The Davos Disaster: The Heyday of the Halwaii

Saturday 14 April 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi

The annual event of the World Economic Forum now underway in Switzerland is with us again. Indeed, it is the scent of the air. This annual jamboree of the world’s top politicians, businessmen and international organisations like the IMF, World Bank and WTO is our planet’s capitalist show-case. Everybody who is anybody on the world stage is at Davos. The pronouncements at Davos are eagerly looked forward to by a non-existent entity called the “international community†. The political leaders of nations go to Davos to show-case their countries as not just safe but also attractive destinations of industrial and financial capital, their markets as “attractive†to foreign capital in particular. If you are “blessed†at Davos, you have made it.

It is not surprising, therefore, that our Prime Minister and the Government of India as a whole have not just dressed themselves up to look as attractive as they can be. Our PM chose to focus on three themes for his much-awaited inaugural address—Climate Change, Terrorism and Protectionism in trade and commerce. [It is far from clear why the PM chose those particular themes. Are they what one would say are the “burning problems“ of the approximately 800 million Indians who, even today, 70 years after political independence, go to bed and try to sleep with empty stomachs? Are they the most important for our massively malnourished population?] As usual, the abiding focus is on national and global growth rates. Little was said on what kind of growth for whom. The actual experience of practically all developing countries, including the so-called “emerging markets†—note

not

emerging nations—is that “growth†must be composed of basic needs—water, food, health, shelter and employment. Above all, it must be recognised and accepted that “growth†per se is not an end in itself but only a means for a much larger objective—Development—best defined as meeting the Basic Needs of ALL the people. The almost one thousand participants at Davos merely stated and heard, rather were shamed by the much reapeated statistic at the forum that one per cent of Indians own 73 per cent of the wealth of India.

What does Climate Change or Protectionism mean in such a country—or mean to such a country? What does it mean to the approximately 55 Least Developed Countries—that is, countries in which the people live on less than one US dollar a day—the Gabons, the Mauritanias or the Paraguayas? What does it mean to the people of UP, Bihar and Odisha in our own country? Davos is a place where the famous statement of the French Empress Marie Antoinett applies: “If they cannot get bread why don’t they eat cake?“

To one like me who has been involved in issues of Development and Human Security for some 40 years, both at home and internationally, it can mean only one thing—shame on you, elites of both rich and poor countries. To me as an Indian, a citizen of one of the poorest countries of the world, to see not just my ruling class, but no less than the Prime Minister of my country, running after the rich nations and pleading with them to be accepted by them as a member of the Rich Man’s Club, is nauseating.

Nothing reflects such shame more than the fact that the Prime Minister took with him to Davos no less than 500 cooks—yes, cooks—drawn from all the five-star hotels in Delhi! Davos was thus no less than the “Heyday of the Halwaii†.

The author is a former S & T Adviser to the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

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