Man Mohan Singh and Poverty in India
The Face of Indian Poverty
In 1991 Narasimha Rao the then Indian Prime Minister thought of doing something revolutionary on the economic front. He didn't look beyond Man Mohan Singh who earlier was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Singh at that time did not let his mentor down and ushered in a string of economic reforms to take India out of the straight-jacketed approach of Nehruvian and socialistic rhetoric. These reforms saved India then, but much was expected of this educated individual when he donned the mantle of Prime Minister in 2004.
Man Mohan Singh as Prime Minister
In 2004 Man Mohan by a combination of factors largely influenced by Sonia Gandhi the widow of late Prime Minter Rajiv Gandhi was appointed Prime Minister. The fact that he had no political base and was a known sycophant and yes man of the Gandhi family tilted scales in his favor. But as Prime Minister, he was ineffectual, in the economic field which was his forte.
The Challenge of Poverty
But now 20 years down the line, the challenge of removing poverty has not moved forward. If figures are to be believed the Indian nation has hurtled downwards in the spiral of poverty and the differences between the rich and poor have accentuated. One of the reasons is that Man Mohan Singh, a man without a political base failed to implement policies he believed in. He was nominated by Mrs. Sonia and became almost a puppet. He was thus severely handicapped.
The Lost Dream
Manmohan Singh has perhaps himself realized that poverty has not been curtailed. This is the reason that he or his government is not talking of these last 10 years as an achievement. This is the period he has been the head of the government. They are silent on these 10 years which appear like a lost dream for the Indian nation. The fact is that despite the reforms the economic divide between the poor and the rich has widened in India. Can Dr. Singh take any credit for this?
What has happened? It appears that judicial activism and rampant corruption under his very nose have taken their toll on Dr. Singh. He has allowed these forces to assert themselves due to complete paralysis of his administration, particularly during his second stint as Prime Minister. Being beholden for the seat of Prime Minister Singh has allowed gigantic corruption scandals to go on. Things are so bad that even half a dozen cabinet ministers have been part of this looting spree.
The supporters of Man Mohan Singh have trotted out some figures, but a closer look shows that these worthies are themselves not convinced about their arguments. The result is that the last 10 years have seen India slide down in the poverty index and Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh appears more and more as a villain.
The Figures of Poverty
Let us have a look at the figures as given out by the government. The government of India appointed two committees to study the poverty scenario in the country. The first committee the Tendulkar Committee in its report has pointed out that 37% of the Indians live below the poverty line. That works out to figure of 450 million. The second committee chaired by the noted economist Arjun Sen Gupta estimated that 77 % of Indians live in poverty. This works out to a figure of 900 million and one's mind can get numbed by these figures (these are figures drawn from government-appointed committees).
Gap Between Rich and Poor
A report by Credit Suisse Wealth in 2010 mentions that in India there are 25-30 billionaires with assets running into billions of dollars. The same report said there were 1,080 Ultra High Net worth Individuals (HNIs) in the wealthy strata of $50 million-$500 million and 7,800 HNIs in the wealth strata $10 million-$50 million. Sad, where the majority( 75%) of the population subsists on one dollar a day.
The UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) has seen India slide down from 95 in 1990 to 119 in 2010. The HDI is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy and living standards including health. Though the middle class has grown to 350 million as well.
The Curse of Poverty
But the truth is the curse of poverty has not gone away. The poverty among the people is visible everywhere, in Bihar, Orissa or Andhra. Man Mohan Singh has no explanation for this. His silence is eroding his credibility. The PM has made matters worse for himself and his paltry supporters by repeatedly saying "he has a job to do". The truth is bitter and people all around are loudly whispering that is that he has merely a job to keep for the heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi.
Dr. Singh, it’s about time you did some introspection and thinks about how you would like history to remember you.
The end of the road came in 2014 and again in 2019 when the Congress Party was not only ousted from power but failed even to get 10% of the seats to qualify for a leader of the opposition post. Narendra Modi has succeeded him but its a moot point whether he will have success in removing the poverty tag of millions that bedevils India.