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Inequality? India is far more equal


The Oxfam report findings about inequality crisis in India are bizzare. The fact is that we have moved on. One can only rue that the pace of this march has been slow

Because poverty sells well, it is fashionable to discuss it than the lack of it. A recent Oxfam global inequality report titled, ‘An Economy For The 99 Percent’, concluded that richest one per cent Indians own 58 per cent of the country’s wealth. This made for screaming headlines and noisy television debates. The arm-chair, anti-poverty crusaders jumped into the ring spelling out a host of cliched arguments and reasons as to why poverty has persisted. They cried hoarse on the grim scene and lamented the privation of the poor. Toeing typical Western hegemonic view that consistently paint India as a land of snake charmers and bullock carts, these pundits conveniently ignored all the progress that India made all these years.

The fact is that India has marched on. While it is for the economists to dispute the fancy data or anlalyse it with a nuanced prism, let’s accept that India’s story has many layers and a complex subject like inequality can’t just be explained by statistical jugglery. A report in The Huffington Post poked big holes in the Oxfam report, and is worth quoting: “Oxfam’s use of wealth data causes some immediate problems. As economics writers have pointed out in the past, since debt is factored into wealth, relatively well off people who may take large loans temporarily might find themselves among the world’s poorest. This is partially behind the presence of the US and Europe among the world’s poorest going by Credit Suisse data; in 2016, Indians made up 14.7 per cent of the world’s poorest decile, as might be expected. But look who else is in there — Americans make up 4.4 per cent of the world’s poorest decile using this methodology, and Europeans 13.7 per cent. There is clearly something strange going on, since Americans are absent in the next four poorest deciles.”

Public policy research organisation Cato and the UK’s think-tank Institute of Economic Affairs too have found the findings bizarre. The Huffington Post report further points out that “the richest eight men are richer than the poorest 50 per cent put together (combined wealth $409 billion), but are not richer than the poorest 10 per cent to 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent to 30 per cent put together. That makes no sense, and makes for a much less sensational headline.” That’s true. Juxtapose this with the more visible stories of social change and economic empowerment, and you find glaring flaws in this tamasha of data. India has marched on, and it is visible wherever you go — from small cities to interior villages and even in the metropolitan cities. The images are compelling and telling.

In a remote Mahuawa village of east Champaran district of Bihar, a young Sohan Singh, who rides a swanky Bajaj Cruise 200 worth about `90,000, carries two Samsung mobiles and wears branded pair of jeans. His father is a farmer and he doesn’t shy in acknowledging that their farm income has gone up and so is the prosperity of the family.

Ganesh Nanote, a progressive farmer in Akola, Maharashtra, is frequent on Twitter and shares his success stories of Bt Cotton and other crops with massive glee. Michael Ekka of Patratoli village in Gumla district is a busy agri-entrepreneur and has a flourishing small farm where he grows a variety of fruits and vegetables and has a SkyMet weather sensor installed. He rides a motorbike and in free time does social work. Ekka defies the old idea of a plough wielding, dhoti-clad poor farmer and tells story of a far saner India, far more equal India, that likes of Oxfam would not like to glorify. The story from India’s towns and cities are equally heartening. Youth queuing up to top up their mobile data and riding motorbikes is a common sight, and that does tell a story, of overpowering penury with prosperity. India has marched on, most certainly. Possibly the only thing one can rue is that the pace of this march has not been as brisk as it should have been.

By Navneet Anand

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

Courtesy: The Pioneer