The real underlying reason for the increasing inequality in the present system is the total marginalisation of people from political power.
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Recently, industrialist Gautam Adani hit the media headlines when Bloomberg, a financial and media company headquartered in the US, made the sensational announcement that his wealth had increased the most so far in 2021.
While for some media commentators this was brilliant proof of India’s growth potential, for most others it was chilling testimony of the ever widening gap between the rich and poor in our country.
Adani, who is currently the 26th richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, added $16.2 billion (nearly Rs 1.18 lakh crore) to his wealth this year. His total net worth stood at $50 billion (approximately Rs 3.6 lakh crore), equal to the GDP of an entire state such as Assam.
In this year, India’s richest person and the world’s 10th richest individual, Mukesh Ambani, added $8.05 billion (approximately Rs 5,900 crore) to his already mammoth wealth.
This story is true of most other large industrial houses who earned enormous profits in ports, airports, data centres, coal mines, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and others. These billionaires were adding to their stock of billions when the Indian economy experienced its largest contraction of 7.3% post-independence, driving millions of people into poverty, starvation, unemployment and malnutrition.
The Covid pandemic, while it caused death and destruction to millions of homes, helped the number of billionaires in India to grow from 102 to 140. Their combined wealth was $596 billion, almost as much as the GDP of Maharashtra and Tamilnadu combined.
India has the third largest number of billionaires in the world after the US and China. At the other pole, the number of poor in India is estimated to have increased by 75 million due to Covid-19, accounting for nearly 60% of the global increase in poverty.
In spite of all these facts, many die-hard defenders and apologists of this system which breeds inequality every day. They say that when the economy grows, some of it will trickle down. They point to government statistics that the percentage of people below poverty has gone down. They even tell us unashamedly that more people have mobiles and are able to send their children to school.
But the fact is that while 17.8% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, the corresponding percentage in India is higher at 20.17%. What this means is that while the world over there is a big divide between the rich and the poor, in India the gap is even wider. This just reveals that there is no limit to the greed of the Indian monopolies and business houses and all the governments in power have served their interests without fail, marginalising the vast majority of our people at every turn.
With each passing decade, the share of national wealth of the top 1% of the population has increased, picking up speed from 1991, the year when the reforms related to privatisation and liberalisation were introduced. From 12% in 1961, this increased to 42.5% in 2020. In contrast, the share of wealth of bottom 50% of population decreased from 12.3% in 1961 to 2.8% in 2020.
This has been the sum and substance of all the slogans from ‘Garibi hatao’ to ‘Sab ka vikas’. While governments have claimed that they are ‘empowering’ the people and providing ‘good governance’ what they have been doing doubtlessly is to strengthen the hands of the big monopolies and industrial houses to fatten themselves at the expense of the land and labour of the people.
During this entire period, entire generations of Indians have been born in poverty and have died in poverty, and this will continue to be the case unless something is done on an urgent basis. This situation cannot go on, and it is well within the rights of the people to demand a fairer dispensation that goes under the rubric of ‘distributive justice’.
Economists, who want to fool the people about the real causes of their marginalisation proffer various ‘solutions’ such as taxing the rich more or targeting anti-poverty programmes better or providing some handouts through employment schemes.
Alien economic theories such as `quiet enjoyment of their estates’ as enunciated by the East India Co. at the time of establishment of the zamindari system, or libertarian economic `principles’, or `free market’ doctrines that belie the existence of already stratified societies and monopolised resources and markets, and discredited notions such as `trickle down’ economics must be firmly rejected. Through millennia Indian society was able to feed and clothe its members based on economic, social and political systems dating back to antiquity as espoused in, say, Arthashastra or in the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata where the duties of the King are defined to include providing security and safety to his subjects, failing which the praja could depose him. Alien notions propagated by colonialists to justify their plunder, which became the backbone of world capitalism and Indian capitalism, must be firmly rejected. A major fight is developing in the sphere of rights, economic, social and political, where those deprived of these will fight simply because of their deprivation, while those in power retaliate to maintain their arbitrary power.
The real underlying reason for the increasing inequality in the present system is the total marginalisation of people from political power. Other than voting for this or that party in elections, the people have no control over their elected representatives or their actions. While political parties of the ruling dispensation promise people the moon during their election campaigns, once they capture the seat of power, they care a pittance for those who voted them to power. They, instead, serve the big business families and industrial houses who funded their election campaigns and put them in power so that they will serve their interests while creating the illusion that people have a say in this system of parliamentary representative democracy.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. People neither have the right to select and elect the candidates of their choice nor to recall them when they are unhappy with the performance of their elected representatives. They do not have any mechanisms to create new laws in their favour or overturn legislation such as the three Farm Acts, which are against their interests.
This marginalisation of the people cannot be ended by change of governments alone or by the introduction of more anti-poverty programmes. For this marginalisation to end, the entire political and electoral process has to be transformed in such a way that people can play a central role in decision making and running the affairs of the country. It is only then that measures and mechanisms can be introduced to dismantle all those factors which contribute to growing inequality. Suffice it to say that such a political, social, and economic order will not come into existence on its own, but only with the active participation of the people, and with the removal of roadblocks to their true emancipation.