70 years of Empowerment to 7 years of Enslavement, Inequality, Human Development & Federalism

  • Christopher Tilak

The recent Oxfam report on inequality throws some harsh facts on our face which is alarming. The top 10% in India gets 52% of the Income and holds 76% of the Wealth. The bottom 50% ends up with 8% of Income & 4% of Wealth only.

Category Income Wealth Bottom 50% of India (65 Cr) 8% 4% Middle 40% of India (52 Cr) 38% 22% Top 10% of India (13 Cr) 52% 76% 1% of top 10% (13 Lacs) 20% 38%

Inequality has been on the steep rise across the globe since the 1980s and in India particularly, since the inception of New Economic policy in 1990s. The recent pandemic, Corona, has further made it steeper and increased the inequality acutely in India. Billionaires increased from 102 to 142 in India in 2021 India is the 3rd highest in billionaires after China and USA 85% have seen a steep decline in their income GDP growth dipped to -29.3% Unemployment seen all time high MSME, the prime job creator is devastated Unorganised sector in a problem – 90% labour force NCRB report says Suicides of daily wages, self-employed, unemployed increasing. 14cr pushed back to BPL. Till 2014, 22cr were lifted above BPL. Real income decreases To add up to the misery, the Central Government has mercilessly increased indirect taxes increased the Excise duty from 12 to 19% decreased Corporate tax from 27% to 22% increased Petrol/Diesel price regularly cut 6% in budgetary allocation for Education reduced 10% in the RE for Health budget Cut in the largest employment scheme MGNREGA allocation “Inequality is neither due to economic nor technological reasons; it is due to ideological and political reasons” So, it is all about the political parties and their ideologies that matter a lot in handling inequalities according to French Economist, Thomas Picket. After the fall of Soviet communism since 1989 and the triumph of American hyper-capitalism, today’s societies justify inequalities with themes such as private property, entrepreneurship and meritocracy. Modern inequality is said to be ‘Just’ because it is the result of a freely chosen process in which everyone enjoys equal access to the market and to property. It is said to be ‘Just’ also because everyone automatically benefits from the wealth accumulated by the wealthiest individuals (trickle-down economics), who are also the most enterprising, deserving and useful. Hyper-capitalism breeds hyper-inequality, to justify it, hyper-Hinduism is needed in India. All religions inherently justify inequality in terms of gender, caste etc. If hyper-Hinduism is questioned, hyper-Nationalism comes into play to alienate those who question. M.S. Golwalker mentioned that it is not the British who are to be fought against but the Muslims, Christians and the Communists as he was very much for Hyper-capitalism.

The so-called New India or the Modi’s India also justifies inequality. The earlier governments never justified inequality as they subscribed to social democratic ideals. During the times when NDA was boasting of India Shinning, deaths due to hunger in northern states, particularly in Rajasthan, was taken cognizance of by the High court due to the activism of civil societies. The High court gave directions for immediate intervention of the state and central governments which fell on deaf ears.

The civil societies approached the Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi for the same issue. The Congress President assured that the issue will be taken up sensitively & sincerely and ensured that the fight against hunger was included in the 2004 Congress Manifesto. When UPA came to power at the centre in 2004, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the then convenor of the UPA formed a National Advisory Council (NAC). All players became partners with the government in drafting the policies and thereby strengthening the social democratic values. Consultations and consensus with the states and CSOs helped to understand the ground and introduce Acts and Schemes to reduce the inequalities created in the previous decade.

Smt. Sonia Gandhi, along with the support of the UPA partners particularly the left parties, ensured that NREGA act was passed in 2005 and the scheme was successfully implemented in 2006; bringing a change in the rural economy. As a true Social Democrat, Smt. Sonia Gandhi ensured that RTI, Right to Education, Forest Rights Act etc., based on the Rights-based approach, were all brought in.

Economic inequalities will widen the social & cultural inequalities and vice-versa. Dr. Ambedkar made it clear that unless we work on the social & cultural structures, economic inequalities cannot be dealt with. Education and Health are very basic domains where much had to be done after Independence. Reservations as a part of the affirmative action has been instrumental for the majority, the SC, ST, Backward classes & women to empower themselves and manage the risks. The vulnerable sections undergo a structural violence during these times of extreme inequalities. This would have a long-standing cascading effect on women, Dalits, MBC & Muslims.

According to economic experts, the situation was back on track in 2010 in reducing the gap. But after 2014 with the new government, the approach changed towards economic and social policy. The Prime Minister made a mockery of NREGA as a monument of failure but the very next year, he reversed his statement and applauded the programme on its 10th anniversary after realizing its popular demand. Since 2011-12, right wing Economist and former NitiAyog’s Vice Chairman Prof. Aravind Panagriya was critical about UPA’s social expenditure, particularly about NREGA. It is a fact that only NREGA helped the rural poor sail through this pandemic season.

Higher the inequality, lesser will be the consensus. Media is controlled by corporate sector due to their investments. BJP, a political party with declared assets of almost 5000 crores explains its nexus with the corporate sector. At a time when Prime Minister is expected to safeguard the rights of citizens, he is speaking about duties of Citizens, indirectly shunning away the central government’s responsibility.

In the recent budget session, Shri Rahul Gandhi raised the alarm about the increasing gap leading to two India-s for which the Prime Minister did not comment. Shri Rahul Gandhi has many times spoken about the Nyaya scheme in which every household will be given Rs. 6000 to Rs. 8000 for the BPL section which will take care of the vulnerable sections during this Covid times. This would also enable us to pump in money into the rural market which will kickstart the economic engine creating the necessary demand. Due to the ideological conflict, the present government does not want to take any steps in those directions.

It is clear that the PM is moving on the lines of Gujarat Model of growth which has created two Gujarat-s. Two years before, we all witnessed the Government hiding one part of Gujarat behind a suddenly-built wall when the former US President visited the state. Similarly, the PM is increasing the cleavage between the two India-s and trying to put one India behind an Iron curtain, the India which is of the working class, women, Dalits, religious & linguistic minorities and the backward classes.

The recent Human Development Index (HDI) report indicates that Kerala and Tamil Nadu are among the high Human Development states. Though Gujarat has a high GDP growth, it falls under the Medium Human Development states. This clearly indicates the skewed priorities of the Gujarat Model. Taking into consideration Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) per capita, Human Development Index (HDI), Gender Development Index (GDI), Gender Inequality Index (GII) and GDP of states, southern states are doing better. It indicatesthe inclusive approach towards growth post independence, the egalitarian values of the predominant culture in south India and the historical legacy in terms of institutions.

The 5 southern states among the top 10 based on GSDP, are the major contributors to the national revenue pool. In return, they get lesser than what they contribute from the central revenue pool, which means that disproportionately the northern states of the cow belt are favoured at the expense of the southern states. With the mismanagement of the GST pool and other centrally sponsored schemes, these high performing states have more issues regarding the outstanding funds from the central government which is leading to unhealthy centre-state relations.

States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra that are ruled by political parties which are diametrically opposite to the Ideology of the party at power in the centre, face immense discrimination and hindrances both in terms of allocations and administration. Right from providing vaccines to evacuation of students from Ukraine, preference is given to the Hindi speaking states.

The federal values are under threat. One country, one culture, one language will destroy the inherent potential of this nation which has helped us grow all these years after independence. Shri Rahul Gandhi, in his speech, highlighted Tamil Nadu a couple of times to stress the federal values and its importance in taking this nation ahead. He even claimed “I am a Tamilian”. In his recent visit to Chennai for a book release, he soberly mentioned about his blood relation with Tamil Nadu. The person leading the nation is expected to identify with the diverse people and culture of this nation. When the British left in 1947, India was in shambles. It took a decade to inculcate the spirit of democracy, 2 decades to industrialize &modernise, 3 decades to provide internal stability and strengthen ourselves in this region, 4 decades to put the nation on track towards economic growth, 5 decades to promote human development, 6 decades to empower people based on Rights. For 70 years, we were on the path of Empowerment, but now for the last 7 years, we have been treading the path of Enslavement.

Hence, let us be aware that Inequality kills, let us strive towards Economic growth with Human development and finally let us uphold the values of federalism to excel as a Nation.

The Author is a Secretary, AICC