The Comfortable Fallacies of the 'Bhadralok' Mind
THE Statesman (Calcutta, 1 April 1985) was editorially sceptical about the picture of West Bengal's economic growth projected by the Economic Review of the Government of West Bengal. It questioned the figure of 44.7 per cent in the growth of the value of state agricultural output in 1983-84 and a corresponding figure of growth of 18.47 per cent in West Bengal's GDP in the same year. It had no specific figures to contest these, mind you. Nor did it have methodological objections. It might have said that the growth was perhaps exaggerated because of the relative depression of output in 1982-83. Bur it did not do that.- It merely expressed scepticism and then provided a test. "The best test of agricultural policies and practice would be in their effect on prices of staple items of consumption, which has not been entirely reassuring." Now comes out the bhadralok mind in its insularity and its evident class bias. Is the West Bengal economy insulated from th^ rest of India ? Would even a bumper harvest of such staple crops as rice and oilseeds in the state produce a depression of prices of such products, even if the harvest in the rest of India had not increased so spectacularly ? Does the bhadralok know that West Bengal remains, because of the very structure of its economy and its integration with the rest of India, a deficit'siate in respect of most of the staple grains and oilseeds ? (In fact, prices of edible oil fell after a steep rise some years backóbut this was as much a result of national policies as of state-specific output fluctuations).
Furthermore, does the bhadralok expect that bumper crops would always produce an actual fall in the prices of foodgrains ? Then he is not only assuming awav the activities of traders, government price support pol'cies and bank lending policies (over most of which the State government's influence is marginal) but he is also implicitly assuming that the poor peasants will continue to live at the verge of starvation even in years of bumper harvests. For, if peasants' incomes do go up, at the income levels prevailing for them, most of the income will be spent on food (poor peasants are net buyers of food on the market), and the portion of the crop marketed need not go up in the same proportion as total output; it may even fall, under certain plausible assumptions.
It is interesting that in making his sceptical observations the bhadralok does not deign to look at the villages where, after all, the crops are produced. He could have observed perhaps a little less subservience to the citv-bred bhadralok than before which might have displeased him. But at least he might find out the real locus of prosperity or misery arising out of bumper harvests or drought.
In fact, the real attention of the bhadralok is rivetted on Calcutta, and there again he misreads the signs. He is still bothered b^ power cuts and transport problems and concludes therefore there cannot be any real economic growtli in Calcutta either (He has the figure of slow growth of manufacturing industry to back him up but does not