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Some time ago, I missed my grandfather's funeral because an airline's manager hid behind rules. No, I wasn't asking him to break any rules, but he didn't let me fly despite there being empty seats, my pleading to please charge me any price he wanted, and my being at the airport almost 1.5 hours before the scheduled departure. In my case, the impact was emotional, but in other cases, silly, inconsistent, or just plain bad rules can mean lives lost.
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It has been slightly more than two decades since India opened up its economy to the world. During this period, rapid economic growth in areas such as software services and trade has created a lot of wealth. Yet, contradictions abound. Everywhere in India -- even its glitziest hotels and ostentatious shopping malls -- abject poverty is only a stone's throw away, just around the corner if not right outside.
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What is the difference between the rich and the poor? Some say, it is not so grand. On a daily basis, poor individuals face a set of constraints. Alleviate those constraints, and they will behave--make choices for themselves and their families--just like the rich do. This contrasts with the view that somebody else (preferably rich and foreign) must make good decisions for the poor. It empowers those whom development lingo calls "beneficiaries."
All political parties are trying to grapple with this demanding, confounding creature -- the middle-class millennial. When PM Narendra Modi mocks MNREGA allocations on live TV in Parliament, he is essentially talking to them. Modi wants young urban India to believe that budgetary allocations for the poor, contemptuously dismissed as doles, are a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. He has succeeded in selling this distorted economic philosophy. But for how long?