Where over half the nation’s population lives off the land, fertile farmland is being diverted to factories and industry. Why? To build more cars for the rich among the nation’s urban population. To satiate the insatiable needs of families who have three cars already but need another one in an already over-crowded nation which has roads that are bursting with bumper-to-bumper traffic and poor pedestrians squashed on chock-a-block sidewalks!
In India, who pays the highest price as a consequence of indigenous production of the Nano – the world’s cheapest car? The poor Indian peasants, but of course!
I may sound like I’m opposed to the commendable efforts of the Tatas, who will mass-produce the affordable Nano. Undoubtedly, it will become the most ubiquitous vehicle for the middle-class millions. There was a time in India when folks returning from “foreign” countries after their five-year stint abroad, would say to their Indian brethren, all ears, agog, listening to their tales, gaping in astonishment, “Oh, did you know, in America (or in England, wherever they lived) – even the janitor, the maid, and chauffeur come to work in their own car”! Well, the difference in India then (and to an extent even today) was that cars were the prized possession of only the elite. Most, with even just a single car in the household could be assured of their place among those elite. The Ambassador, Fiat and Herald were the only car brands visible – with few exceptions such as the imported cars owned by foreign Diplomats with the license plate in a different color and read something like CC! But then arrived the Maruti-Suzuki. The numbers who could afford this car increased. But more importantly, the waiting period for the car-delivery, once you ordered it, decreased. At one time, there was even a long wait and a (premium) black-market for 2-wheeler scooters! So well, the introduction of Nano is fantastic for India and Indians. Not only symbolic of the meteoric rise in demand from the relatively more affluent middle-class, it speaks volumes for India’s indigenous capabilities and Tata Group’s continuing initiatives towards India’s industrial progress.
However, my internal debate continues… is industrialization not feasible without evicting farmers from fertile farmland? What role is the Government playing to ensure that displaced farmers are compensated adequately (although I find it hard to believe that the Tatas could be anything but fair in their compensation)? Is this again a case of “political mischief” by miscreants who simply cause trouble to impede the nation’s progress? Also, what is the rate of new road construction to accommodate over 100,000 new cars every month? Traffic jams are visible in small towns, urban metros, and along pot-holed highways. But in a nation where car ownership is symbolic of “having arrived”; it distinguishes the “haves” from the “have-nots”. It is not necessarily a necessity; public transport is available for local commutes; multiple options are available for distance travel. But people would rather commute by car than get to work by train. Well, even the public transit has been bursting at the seams. So… well, I seem to have progressed from pariah dogs to peasants’ woes to urban commuters’ cries.
Nano, here I come!