A corporate voice moves towards the truth – but lacks information

Kevan Watts, a former head of Merrill Lynch in Europe and Asia who has just retired from Bank of America in Mumbai, wrote a letter to the Financial Times at the end of September. 

He says that India has successfully developed a political process that gives ordinary Indians a real voice in many ways, adding that India’s democracy is an extraordinary achievement for a vast populous country with considerable ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. 

However he appears to lack information when he says, “The inability of the authorities to remove people from their land should be applauded by those of us who live in systems that seek to balance the claims of the individual against the apparent needs of the common good.” 

Where was this man when Tata Steel displaced people? 

Surely all living and working in India can cite examples of authorities removing poor villagers and tribal people from their land totally against their will? As Winin Pereira and Subhash Sule noted in the journal Indranet [December 1998]: “There has been displacement of millions of inhabitants, particularly Adivasis, from their ancestral homelands, causing substantial stress and ill‑being.”

Kalinganagar rally

Where was this man when the Tata company displaced people, with 12 protestors killed in Kalinganagar? When they threatened Singur? When they displaced villagers in 14 Orissa hamlets – after a long resistance in the 90s – and now are to use this once fertile land for a large ferroalloys plant and bar mill

However, getting back on the right track, he continues:  

Land, not rupees, a passport to a better future? 

“Indians who want to retain their land understand that the rupees they can receive for it may not offer a passport to a better future. Simply sitting where they are at least offers a tangible basis for their future.”  

India needs to build itself at a slower pace than many in the west might like 

His tolerant conclusion is that ‘we’ – fellow corporates? –  should accept that India needs to build itself at a slower pace than many in the west might like, ending: 

“At least this way there is a chance that the infrastructure is built in the right places for Indians’ long-term needs. India will build itself in its own time and since Indians themselves have most to lose from missed deadlines, I am optimistic it will be on time as well.” 

If by this he means that all Indians, including the poorest, will have equal input into decision-making, the writer agrees.

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