Trust respected journalist and editor Mrinal Pande to use her experience to trace the fault lines between Bharat and shining India. Her just-released title, The Other Country runs the scanner on this divide. In a freewheeling interview, she speaks of this gap, the dynamics of nation-state politics, elections, the unseen 'gormint' and why the media seems to have forgotten rural India
How vast is the divide between Bharat and shining India? Will the two meet ever?
It is hard to say when, if ever, the gap between India and Bharat will disappear. At the moment what is more likely (the best case scenario), is that the gap between the rural and urban poor may narrow down at the levels of access to power and water, literacy, over all longevity, basic kind of subsistence level wages and healthcare. But the gap between the poor and the urban rich will narrow down marginally if at all.
According to Mrinal Pande, villages and remote towns continue to remain elusive to our mainstream English language newspapers and TV news channels, except during elections
In course of extensive investigative journalism across the country, have you noticed any other India?
During my travels I noticed that as democracy takes root the urban stage begins revolving faster but despite the fact that rulers at village level will change just as often, the pace of daily lives and thinking among even the young rural voters remains slow and their dreams are mostly of escaping to the city ASAP, not staying back to fight what bothers or inhibits them.
Because of this, at the state level, the political fulcrum rotates slowly and socio-political reflexes revealed at the time of elections are feudal and non-democratic.
By making caste and religion the decisive factors for electoral decision and policymaking, in the post-Mandal years we have strengthened caste based Panchayats and religion based personal laws even more. These could have faded out in sixty years in a non-partisan, secular democracy. But it has not happened.
The Other Country, Mrinal Pande, Penguin Books, Rs 350. Available at leading bookstores
It would be unfair to pinpoint incidents, but were there any episodes that impacted you deeply?
For the really poor the democratic government is non-existent. I am still haunted by the words of a woman wage day worker I met in Bhilwara in Rajasthan during a long drought. "What is gormint (government) Bai Sa?" she asked me. "Anything we do or say even if we are dying of hunger has to be referred to it first.
But we never see it. We could see our Raja or Zemindar earlier. Now, we can go see our gods in temples, even the fish in ponds when they break surface, but not Gormint. If there is no Gormint, who is fooling us and why?"
Have you noticed a fall in realistic reportage about India's villages?
Villages and remote towns remain elusive in our mainstream English language newspapers and (outside of elections) TV news channels. It is for our reporters and most of the editors, an alien world, animated by a rhythm different from the one that perpetuates the lives of People Like Us (PLUs).
TV and new-wave Hindi cinema have lifted the curtain a bit and admitted the lowly villagers and small town aam admi to the highest and exclusive salons, but it has not demystified them, only made them look somewhat funny (like Lalu) or sinister (Omkara) or cute and exotic (Dabangg, visuals of Rajasthan's Sathins dancing with Hilary Clinton).
In this transition from a feudal, agrarian economy to a democratic republic, with fast-growing cities, belief in the urban nature of democratic discourse is one of the basic tenets of social culture. The new social media is deepening this. But considering India's size and population, and that historical change takes long time, it will be a while we we become a secular democracy for all Indians.