Uncertainty and euphoria looming over the industry and markets has now started to vanish after the presentation of Union Budget 2015 in Parliament. However, deliberate debate on hits and major misses by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley continue across the nation.
While businesses and industry have hailed Budget 2015 as “transformational and pragmatic,” Opposition parties and middle class have termed it as 'anti-poor and pro-corporate'. As far as the Opposition parties are concerned, their criticism of Narendra Modi government's first full Budget is easily understandable. But the concerns of the middle class, which dominate opinion making, agenda setting seem unjustified.
In our country, the middle class generally tries to pronounce its concerns as the concerns of the whole country, while the marginal class, whose role in opinion making is minimal, always fails to register its concerns owing to its nominal presence in the mainstream. The same thing is happening now. The middle class is now projecting the Budget as 'anti-poor, anti-common man' due to the non addressal of its own interests. The propagation doesn’t end here. It is also highlighting the pro-marginal class decisions as against, or at the expense of its interests.
However, this class is projecting the whole Budget as pro-corporate, but they will get maximum share if the corporate get benefits from the measures announced in the Union Budget. It is only the middle class indeed, which has benefited the most in the post-liberalization era, although it has indulged in rejecting state by using every means it can think of to avoid or evade taxes, taking advantage of loopholes in the system and increasingly insulating itself.
On the other hand, it’s a cruel fact that the marginal class has paid the most for economic growth in the past 20-30 years. It is this class which generally loses its land, forests and habitats and are forced to migrate to other places in the name of industrialization, facing the cascading effect of climate change, i.e. floods, drought, soil erosion, land slide, radiation etc. In India, natural resources like land, forest and water have been the backbone of our agrarian economy, which not only, provide livelihood to the marginal class but also shapes their cultural identity.
This class doesn't relate with these natural resources in true materialistic sense but its relationship with them is fully symbiotic/mutual in nature.
However, in absence of an effective state regulatory mechanism, corporate or crony capitalists exploit natural resources to the hilt, and in return, increase the plight of those in the marginal classes.
Strangely, maximum hue and cry is being raised by the middle class, which has been the direct beneficiaries of liberalization, privatization and industrialization and has been the main achiever of India’s growth story so far. The main reason behind this middle class dominance in both opinion making and agenda setting is neo-liberal hegemonical tools.
At present, all means of mainstream opinion making are dominated by the middle class. There is very little participation of the marginal in mainstream voices, which appear exceptionally due to sole marketing or selling purpose. No serious or meaningful coverage/discourse is now available in mainstream which could be seen as continuous effort to bring betterment in the life of these classes. The coverage has been distancing itself from the root cause, pattern, historicity, historical perspective.
Moreover, neo-liberal hegemonic tools, best described by Antonio Gramsci in Prison Notebooks, have further widened the gap between the centers and margins.
These tools are also responsible for the growing alienation of the marginal class from the state and the system. One of the major hegemonic tools, which Gramsci defined as linguistic hegemony, has been obstructing this class in becoming a part of the mainstream. Also, the language as a major hegemonical tool has suppressed heterogeneity by degenerating the broad and micro cultural sense of the subalterns and marginal classes and led to the homogenization, best suited for the neo-liberal interests.
Adding to that, dominant neo-liberal discourses and study has widely depleted the inclusive sense of middle class. Some twenty to twenty five years back, there was a prevalent sense of inclusiveness in our middle class society. However, the new middle class today is only concerned about its own growth and prosperity and it is for this reason that the middle class has become so self-centric and insensitive towards the plight of the marginal class. Instead, the middle class considers those who support, advocate or voice the concerns of the marginal class sheer opportunists.
Neo-liberal studies have also weakened the mass consciousness arising out from the exploitation by hampering all tools of protest i.e. mass movement, debate, cultural discourse.
Undoubtedly, in a democracy it is the foremost duty of the government to protect and safeguard the interests of the marginal classes. This job can't be left in the hands of the corporate or private sector. But, moving ahead in the free market economy, the government appears to have minimized its role in the betterment of the poorer section in the past 20 to 30 years.
Nevertheless, as far as democratic values are concerned, it is mainly the marginal class which has maximum hopes from a vibrant and robust democracy, political parties, state and the system. The marginal class sees various government initiatives and policies as tools through which it can become part of the mainstream. Even the middle class generally ignores this consciousness and views this consciousness as stupidity.
In a democracy it always remains a challenge for the government to protect the interest of the vulnerable and marginal class. But what the most effective mechanism to this effect is has been widely debated. In the past 60 to 70 years, all successive governments have tried to formulate the best policies and schemes for theses classes by means of more subsidies, loans and privileges. However, it has not helped the cause much. Hence, there is a growing urgency for the current government to adopt a comprehensive and innovative mechanism, which can bring these classes to the mainstream.
In Budget 2015, the government has however announced at least half-dozen social security schemes that will lead to a universal social security system for all, especially the poor and the underprivileged, but made substantial cuts in several priority programmes and schemes including mid-day meals, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), Indira Awas Yojana along with little change in the allocation for the health and rural development sector. The government should adopt more innovative schemes for the social security and betterment of the marginal class.
Apart from sufficient legislation, it is also imperative for the government to ensure the effective and impartial functioning of the regulatory system. Because in a democracy, if regulatory systems collapse, it raises the possibility of intervention by crony capitalists in governance. For instance on Land Bill, there is an ongoing debate on owners' consent and social impact assessment, but it is being not debated that in India all regulatory bodies have been inefficient in fulfilling their commitment.