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Man Mohan Singh and Poverty in India

Updated on April 28, 2023
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MG is a senior service officer and now a senior corporate advisor. A prolific writer with varied interests and hobbies

The Face of Indian Poverty

India got freedom in 1947, courtesy The government of India act,1946 passed by the British Parliament. Perhaps it was inevitable, as the British had lost the confidence of the Indian army through which they were ruling India. Primarily, this was because of the pyrrhic victory over Hitler that shattered England and its economy. The British were the imperial power in India and they used their authority to denude the country of its riches and as Dr. Shashi Tharoor says during their rule reduced the once thriving Indian economy to poverty. The last was the famous Bengal famine in 1943-44 when almost 2,000,000 Indians died of starvation. Thus when the British left India in 1947, it was a moth-eaten state and poverty was rampant.

In 1947 Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress party came to power and replaced the British Raj. They had noble intentions to ameliorate the poverty of the Indian people but socialist policies and the creation of the public sector with very little stress on agriculture resulted in only a marginal improvement. The situation was bad and in 1964-66, the Bihar famine took place and only help from the United States under PL80(PUBLIC LAW) when food grains were supplied free, that deaths through starvation were averted.

Though Nehru died in 1964, the Indian state meandered along the socialistic path. The net result was that there was only a marginal improvement in the poverty ratio in the villages.

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 and challenge of poverty

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, i Singh remained Prime Minister of India for 10 years but unfortunately one can easily say that due to the constraints of political support and lack of initiative nothing much could be done as far as Indian poverty is concerned.

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 been accentuated during the 10 years Dr. Singh was in power. 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, realized that poverty has not been curtailed. This is the reason that he or his government never talked about the removal of poverty in the10 years they were in power 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?

Administrative Paralysis

What has happened? It appears that judicial activism and rampant corruption under his very nose took their toll on Dr. Singh. He allowed these forces to assert themselves due to the complete paralysis of his administration, particularly during his second stint as Prime Minister. Being beholden for the seat of Prime Minister Singh allowed gigantic corruption scandals to go on. Things are so bad that even half a dozen cabinet ministers were 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 appeared more and more as a villain.

The figures of poverty

Let us have a look at the figures that have emerged during the 10 years Dr. Singh held the reins on behalf of Sonia Gandhi. The government of India appointed two committees to study the poverty scenario in the country. The first committee the Tendulkar Committee in its report pointed out that 37% of the Indians live below the poverty line. That works out to a 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 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 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 he has merely a regent till the heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi can be prime minister.

Last Word

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 succeeded him but it's a moot point whether he will have success in removing the poverty tag of millions that bedevils India. A beginning has been made under Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi has been effectively dumped as the Indian economy has slowly started growing and presently has a GDP of $ 3 trillion. There are also reports available that 271 million Indians have been taken out of poverty. The Man Mohan Singh era looks like a bad dream now.

© 2011 MG Singh


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