The yawning chasm between the rich and poor in visible everywhere in our country. It is callous that our ruling class and the well to do in our country have chosen deliberately to ignore the distorted development elephant in the room, writes former IAS officer V.S.Pandey
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is aiming to be a five trillion behemoth. However, in this much propagated public discourse there is absolute silence of a bitter truth that India is also one of the most unequal countries in the world. With nearly 140 crore of a youthful population poised to become productive economically and generate wealth – the demographic dividend – we should have been forging ahead on all parameters of development. Instead why are we still a poor and underdeveloped country where the teeming millions are still eking out a wretched existence devoid of even the most basic amenities? This is the question which people in power have been evading for decades and includes even the current dispensation. The yawning chasm between the rich and poor in visible everywhere in our country. It is callous that our ruling class and the well to do in our country have chosen deliberately to ignore the distorted development elephant in the room.
Accordingly to a recently published report by Oxfam, a renowned institution worldwide, inequality in India has been rising sharply for the last three decades because the richest section of our population have cornered a huge part of the wealth created through crony capitalism and inheritance. The horrific truth is that the rich are getting richer at a much faster pace while the poor are still struggling to earn even a minimum wage. They have failed miserably to access quality education and healthcare services, which continue to suffer from chronic under-investment since independence.
According to the report ,the top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth and 73% of the wealth generated in the year 2017 went to the richest 1%, while 67 crore Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth
Today there are 119 billionaires in India and their number has increased from only 9 in 2000 to 101 in 2017 and between 2018 and 2022, India is estimated to have produced an astounding 70 new millionaires every day!
This exposes our so called inclusive growth .It has been a phenomenal growth story of billionaires becoming trillionaires incrementally. During this period of much celebrated growth , Billionaires’ fortunes increased by almost 10 times over a decade. There are many who will justify the rich becoming richer and even question what is wrong with this growth trajectory as wealth creation is taking place at a much faster pace than ever before in the past . That is true but does the nation belong to only the rich and powerful? Should the government only facilitate the increase in the number of billionaires ? On the one hand we have some people garnering riches at lightning speed, on the other hand many ordinary Indians are not able to access even the basic health care they need-with fatal consequences. The inequality levels are so acute that according to the Oxfam report, it would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
In India, it is a stark truth that the public health system is failing the poorest people. The poor people have no other option but to suffer and perish as they cannot afford the private health services available in the area. So in reality health care for the ordinary citizens of our country has become a luxury . The reason for this sad state of affairs is that the Indian government did not prioritize a well-funded health and education service. Instead, it has promoted an increasingly powerful commercial health and education sector to the detriment of the masses of our poor and underprivileged sections of our population. As a result, basic education and healthcare have become a luxury only available to those who have the money to pay for it. The sad irony is that India is a top destination for medical tourism, while our poorest states have infant mortality rates higher than those in sub-Saharan Africa.
Undoubtedly the skewed policies pursued by successive governments are to blame. They favor the rich and powerful because they have the overflowing money bags which help all political parties during elections. Naturally after the elections are over, these money bags demand the return favor for services rendered. With this “quid pro quo” scenario in vogue, how can we expect the rulers to act pro poor in the true sense of the term. Since the poor constitute mammoth numbers , they have to be appeased or befooled , in whichever way, so we have the free ration scheme , food for work , rural employment guarantee scheme, Kisan sammaan Nidhi , garib madad Yojana, Beti samriddhi Yojana, old age , widow, differently abled pension scheme , to name a few. There are hundreds, if not thousands such schemes running for decades. Unfortunately the truth is that the number of those dependent on free ration has already touched eighty crores according to official data. Contrast this with the prosperity of the select rich or wealth creators . They are an integral part of our growth and development journey but they have to exist and flourish along with the rest of the population and not to their exclusion. Our growth journey is devoid of justice in every sense of the term for the masses.
The crux of the problem is the rottenness of our political system which has become divisive in nature, on caste and religious lines and is totally devoid of truth , honesty and justness. When deceit, lies, black money , divisiveness, falsehood become the bedrock of our political culture, our expecting the politicians to come out of this rot and provide justice to the populace is not possible. Nothing will change for the better unless politics is cleansed of the muck it has gathered for all the decades since independence. Truth, honest and just actions have to take the central stage in politics and then only our nation will reach the destination we the people, all aspire to.
Our political class needs to follow the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and use his talisman that whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. India has waited for this transformation for too long. Let us make it a reality.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Government of India)