When the monsoon migrates, India’s cities weep. Why does Mumbai, the financial and entertainment capital, grind to a halt when it rains? How did over 30 die? Urban India’s zeitgeist is mostly first-generation rural. Metros are economic destinations for millions who leave the hinterland for city jobs and are accultured with gizmos, multiplexes, malls and restaurants. The Economic Survey 2016-17 recorded that India’s rural to urban migration rate is 25-30 people every minute.
‘Push factors’ such as unemployment, hunger and starvation are among the main causes. Hence, ironically vocational training in villages and small towns are specifically meant to equip the youth with urban skills in IT, English and the service sector. Mahatma Gandhi’s axiom that the soul of India lives in its villages could be rephrased as India’s villages live in cities. However, villages are nourishing megapolises with the intellectual and skill capital of migrants whose poor, too, are service providers.
Eco-Cassandras issue the usual warnings that Indian cities are sinking. The truth is that it is India’s villages that are sinking. The Governor General of India Sir Charles Metcalfe (1835-1836) wrote, “The village communities are little republics having nearly everything they want within themselves, and almost independent of foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing lasts (which is) conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.”
Colonialism did destroy the villages, though India has had over 70 years to recover. Instead, Congress and its fellow travellers politicised rural India for power, not progress. During 1960-80, the anti-industry Fabian Socialist Indira Gandhi promoted the redistribution of existing limited assets instead of creating fresh growth. The Green Revolution’s lopsided benefits enriched only a small established section of the growing population, since as Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “There are too many men on too little land.”
India must redeem its rural legacy by utilising its urban resources. Many of our politicians, bureaucrats, academics and professionals come from rustic or semi-rustic backgrounds. Successful NRIs have been leaving well-paying jobs and flying back to India to “give back” by working on rural development projects. But lopsided rural growth with mobile phones, cheap cars and cheaper clothing is only creating rustic hipsters; not promoting the holistic healing of impaired social and economic systems.
Cities are great levellers. Should the nomads return home, their exposure to urban hierarchies, which do not survive solely on caste, location and social pedigree, will bring evolving egalitarianism to a New Village Order once bucolic India is empowered as an alternate lifestyle proposition. The flood of unqualified immigration will then reduce and Gandhi’s idyll of Indian Arcadia would be flooded with qualitative skills and sustenance.