Mounting Inequality

It’s now almost ritualistic  yearly fashion for India’s media barons to focus on the rich lists compiled by the American business magazine Forbes. So Mukesh Ambani was named as India’s richest person for the ninth year in a row with a sharp increase in net worth to $22.7 billion while Sun Pharma’s Dilip Shanghvi was ranked a distant second with a net wealth of $16.9 billion. Surprisingly Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali has made a remarkable entry at the 48th position with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

As per Forbes’ data net worth of India’s 100 wealthiest persons is $381 billion (nearly Rs 25.5 lakh crore), a rise of 10 percent from $345 billion in 2015. In short India’s economy is now an economy of growing inequality—a net result of twenty five years of economic reforms. Government comes, Government goes. But the neo-liberal policies initiated by the P V Narasimha Rao–Manmohan Singh combine continue to decide the destiny of the country.

Second only to Russia, India stands second as the most ‘‘unequal country’’ in the world, with millionaires and billionaires controlling more than half of its total wealth. The New World Wealth Research firm in Johannesburg points out that 54% of the wealth is controlled by millionaries, in India. The average Indian is quite poor, while India is among the ten richest countries in the world, with a total individual wealth of $5600 billion. The higher the proportion, the more unequal the country is. There is very little space for a meaningful middle class, if millionaires control over 50% of a country’s wealth. India would be more than half a century late for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. India is expected to achieve universal primany education in 2050, universal lower seconday education in 2060 and universal upper secondary education in 2085.

For one thing, neo-liberal policies pursued by successive governments with religious zeal have served one purpose—to accelerate accumulation in a few hands as the Forbes’ list suggests. The swan song about foreign direct investment and creation of jobs no longer sounds sweet. ‘‘....the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) accounts for over 70 billion dollar and net annual investment of Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) in March 2016 ‘stood’ at 2.65 billion dollars and the cumulative investments during April 2000–December 2015 was at US $179.3 billion... Interestingly 49% of this comes from Mauritius and Singapore routes which are but recyled blackmoney’’. In other words actual Foreign Direct Investment is negligible in volume though the persons in power try to project a rosy picture all the time.

A corporate-driven push in health, education and other social-welfare areas is a sure receipe for devastating vast millions. The tragedy is that even the left is not offering any alternative to the economy of growing inequality.

Vol. 49, No.17, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2016