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DEVELOPMENT: IBSA – Where Elite Minorities Form the 'Political Majority'

Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Oct 4 2008 (IPS) - Top social scientists from India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA), meeting here to set the backdrop for the mid-October third summit of the new bloc, are sobered by the thought that large sections of their populations remain excluded from the economic growth their governments boast of.

Representatives from South Africa, India and Brazil at a meeting to devise a social development strategy for IBSA. Credit: ICSSR/IPS

Representatives from South Africa, India and Brazil at a meeting to devise a social development strategy for IBSA. Credit: ICSSR/IPS

Presentations and discussions at the Oct. 3-4 'Roundtable and Workshop on Social Development Strategies' hovered around the consequences of globalisation – the growing hiatus between the rich and poor, unemployment among youth and the issues of health and education – and how best to address these.

While Brazil, South Africa and India were seen to have different experiences, all three were clearly struggling to get equitable distribution to keep up with rapid growth. On the other hand, in all three countries attempts at reconciliation were being made through affirmative action policies that favoured the poor and the marginalised.

Of the three countries Brazil stood out in terms of working to narrow income inequality going by presentations made by Marcio Pochmann, president of the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) and Frederico Guanais Aguiar, special advisor to the minister for social development in that Latin American country.

Social welfare programmes such as the celebrated Bolsa Familia (family fund) or conditional cash transfers have rapidly reduced income inequality in Brazil.

Between the last quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2008, the gap between the highest and lowest salaries fell by nearly seven percent, according to Pochmann.

According to Pochmann, for Brazil as well as for many other developing countries, one problem was an ''incapacity to imitate the model of development followed by developed countries, characterised by high consumption and high value products''. Attempts to follow such a model invariably resulted in ''incomes getting concentrated in the hands of small section of the population,'' he said.

India's achievements in bringing about equity lay primarily in its controversial policy of reserving seats in educational institutions and in government jobs for groups on the lowermost rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy, known officially as scheduled castes.

''Affirmative action has definitely helped the marginalised,'' said Prof. V.K. Jairath from the University of Hyderabad. He, however, regretted that it has not been possible, for political reasons, to extend reservations to large minorities such as Muslims who numbered 138 million in India's billion plus population.

Referring to the situation of Muslims, Jairath said that, in the Indian context, justice as equal citizens meant that ''the police cannot pick someone up without explanation or just take him off a bus''.

Sociologist and professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Surinder Singh Jodhka said there was a case for 'minorities' in developing countries actually being 'majorities' in a political economy sense. In India, Muslims, the so-called lower castes and tribal people together formed close to 70 percent of the population, but were dominated by a small upper crust.

All three IBSA countries were still struggling to shake off the vestiges of long years of exploitative colonialism.

South African delegate Grace Khunuo said the effects of apartheid were still visible in her country such as in factories being steadily moved away from the rural areas that are dominated by blacks. ''Poverty, race and gender are linked in South Africa,'' she said.

Nalin Surie, secretary in India's External Affairs Ministry, which hosted the roundtable along with the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), said the basic idea of organising the meet was to build a social development strategy for IBSA.

According to Prof. Javeed Alam, chairman of the ICSSR two areas of long-term collaboration have already been identified – academic workshops and scholar exchange programmes.

''It is necessary for the three countries to discuss how to bring to the top the question of social development. The consequences of globalisation are affecting these three country almost in equal degree in terms of rising hiatus between the rich and the poor, unemployment of the youth, and the question of health and education,'' said Alam.

There has to be policy focus on the question of health, education and employment, Alam said. ''Since the financial sector has grown enormously, almost to the extent of sidelining the state in terms of controlling the opportunity structures, it would be important to discuss the issue of social development in collaboration with the corporate sector.''

The third IBSA summit on Oct. 15 is expected to look at ways to meet jointly the challenges of energy and food security as well as global economic governance and development.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South African President Kgalema Motlanthe will attend the Summit.

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