Education and health for all? Those in power risk damnation if they answer the question in the negative and deserve to be voted out. Yet, successive governments have not only been voted back into power but have blithely continued with a targeted approach, focusing on education for a few, and health for even fewer. So, are those in power really interested in universalising the key indicators that underline a nation’s well-being? This is the line of inquiry that guides sociologist Dipankar Gupta’s Revolution from Above: India’s Future and the Citizen Elite, as he examines the Indian state’s commitment to the issues. The majority is always happy to see its face in the mirror, but it needs hammer-wielding craftsmen to shape a democracy, writes Gupta.
Revolution has been in the air for quite some time now and they have led to regime change in several parts of the world. Just two years ago, Anna Hazare with his band of followers attempted a revolution with a clenched fist that held the promise of cleaning the corridors of the bureaucracy as a first step and making the government accountable to its people. Did Hazare and Co fail? Maybe they did, but that failure led to many other sparks of protest that were lit in an act of spontaneity and even saw the birth of a political party. Were there any protests on the lack of education and health for all? No.
For any democracy to prosper, state intervention assuring dignity of life is a must. The UPA has failed to do that.
For the kind of revolution that he speaks of—that transforms people’s lives by delivering livelihood, health and education, Gupta looks towards Spain for inspiration and asks, if Spain can, why can’t India? Perhaps, that’s precisely the question that votaries of universalisation (whether of food security, health or education) are asking. The question assumes importance as it comes close on the heels of the UPA government’s poor and insensitive track record in quantifying poverty in the country. While Gupta advocates a universalised approach to social welfare policies, governments screaming huge deficits have tended towards miserly targeting. For any democracy to prosper, state intervention assuring dignity of life is a must and a serious mismatch between word and deed on this is precisely the present government’s failing. So, while there are politicians and politicians, there are few craftsmen willing to wield the hammer, is the author’s argument.
But why Spain, why not look within? Shining accounts of how local self-governments have sustained and managed their resources while committing themselves to providing education and health for all abound in India. The problem really lies in applying the same yardstick to a country as riddled with contradictions as India. Take food security. Cash transfers? Can it be implemented in the country as a one-stop solution to ending hunger? It is these contradictions which do not get reflected in the book under review. That is not to say the contradictions will weaken any attempt to wage a battle.
Gupta’s book, in places, reads like a journalist’s account of India’s failed experiments as a welfare state. In practice, the Indian state is anything but. For a bloodless revolution of the kind Gupta hopes for, the state simply has to perform—which means, execute its commitment to its people who have elected it in the first place.