The Parliamentary statement the government gave on the Pegasus imbroglio is that it is a conspiracy hatched by the powers envious of the country‘s progress. Does this statement sound like the foreign hand bogey of Indira Gandhi days? For a government which believes that everything started in 2014, it must be progress since that year alone. Envy comes from wanting something India has achieved during the interregnum. An analysis will establish whether it was meant to be a red-herring or truly delusional understanding.
We were logging about 8% GDP growth earlier. Pre-pandemic, it had come down to 4% before recording a negative -7% de-growth during the pandemic year. The economy is yet to perk up during the current fiscal. Our GDP shrunk from $2. 7 trillion dollars and the signs are not very bright that the economy is resurgent yet; Educated unemployment rate of the country is 17%, and the average rate is 11%. New jobs are not being created. The share of the profit in the earnings of companies is now becoming larger, and the share of wages is coming down. Various people have seen the possibility of reaching $ 5 trillion to $15 trillion. The first one is not happening in a hurry and could be only after 2030. It is not rocket science to decode when we achieve the latter. India has already entered the orbit of jobless non- growth.
But between 2006 to 2016, nearly 271 million people climbed out of poverty, regardless of how close the poverty line was to destitution level, where enough calorie intake to keep a person or a family going was the parameter. The recent news of 230 million people slipping back to poverty is alarming. It means the growth dividends of ten years have just evaporated in a year. The much vaunted middle class of India which is between 15% to 25% of the population, depending on whether you are capturing the data during an upswing or a downswing, has at least suffered 5% degradation in their situation during the last year and half. There is nothing on the horizon to make the middle-class optimistic in a five-year timeframe. As far as economic inequality goes, India is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Only South Africa is below India. India’s gini coefficient is 0.49 which is higher than that of the US, Brazil and China. History shows that more unequal countries face more problems of social conflict, less social cohesion and great uncertainty of growth.
Our export figure has remained stubbornly at $314 billion for the last six years. Chances of exports jumping up looks difficult in the absence of membership in any trade bloc or the required specialisation to spur growth. The protectionism of Atma-Nirbar Bharat is putting the country into a low orbit. The Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme is not only giving impetus to an automated production system, which keeps the wages down and makes the cost low. However, such incentives move money from the poor and the middle class to the rich. We surely cannot aspire for a seat in the global high table yet.
India’s standing in global rankings is not very edifying. It ranks 94 in the global hunger index, 144 in the world happiness index, 131 in the human development index, 139 in the world peace index, 112 in gender equality index, 142 in the world press freedom index and 53 in democracy index. The US based Freedom House has downgraded India from fully free democracy to “partially free democracy”; Sweden based V-Dem Institute has declared India as an “elected autocracy.” With such accomplishments, one doesn’t get a place in the world’s exclusive club. Basking in the glory of the Quad membership in the company of the US, Japan and Australia for Indian ocean security does not hide the reality that China is still sitting in our territory and slicing into our area on the sly. We have been able to do precious little about it.
If, for some reason, India is always in news, it is for polarisation, majoritarianism, vulnerability of minorities and discrimination of the depressed sections of population. These could be electorally seductive, but they don’t invite the world’s envy. The Roman Chronicler Tacitus had said “crime once exposed had no refuge except audacity.” Is it finally a statement meant to be a red herring when progress has receded emphatically?
Truth, when spoken here, may sound like a pistol shot when people are unanimously maintaining a conspiracy of silence, as the Polish-American poet Czeslaw Milosz had once said, almost presciently.
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