Unequal Attention to Equally Important Issues: Relative Poverty in India

There are two kinds of poverty measurements: relative & absolute. Absolute poverty is the measurement of the percentage of people below the set poverty line in a given society. In the midst of intense political attention & debate on absolute poverty in the wake of the recent NSSO survey, the recently published statistics on relative poverty is on the backburner. Measurement of relative poverty brings economic inequality to surface. And according to a recent NSSO survey, economic inequality has been on a constant rise over the last 15 years or so. In between 1999-2000 and 2011-12, for the 5% of the most affluent rural population, consumption expenditure has increased more than 60%; on the other hand, over the same period, for the 5% of the poorest rural population, this rate of increase is 33%. For the 5% urban & rural population of the same categories, the rates of increase are respectively 63% and 30%.

If one analyzes these data from a different perspective, one finds, in the year 2000, the richest urban socio-economic unit would spend 12 times more than the poorest urban socio-economic unit. In 2012, the former spends 15 times more than the latter. In the rural areas, this gap has grown to 9% from the previous 7%. There are two conclusions to be drawn from this body of statistics.

First, inequality, across urban and rural regions, in terms of lifestyle, has increased. Second, advantages of economic reforms or liberalization and national income growth have not trickled down to the lower economic sections of the nation. Past experiences of economic surveys show that the inequality in terms of expenditure has generally been lower than the inequality in terms of income. So the overall picture appears to be bleaker.

The result of the survey is ominous. There are worries on two fronts: political and economic. This kind of an economic inequality is dangerous for political stability. Maoist insurgency has been gaining a rapid momentum once again. Political unrest in both Kashmir and the north-eastern states is not on the wane either. Social and economic inequality of such a degree will strengthen extremists’ hands in near future. Our study of politically volatile and vulnerable nations proves that social and economic inequalities widen political instability.

Economists like Raghuram Rajan have shown how economic inequality led to the economic downturn in the USA in 2008. Indian middle classes have been benefitted from the IT boom and economic liberalization in late 1980s to early 2000s. But the poorer and especially rural population has not come to terms with the changed economic infrastructure. Spread of education is not yet a pan-Indian phenomenon. Amartya Sen and Jean Drez, in their recently published book have reminded of such a possibility. If our policymakers don’t pay attention to this ever-widening gap between economic conditions and remain obsessed with GDP growth, Indian economy will keep suffering in the long run.

The Conference Adjourned: Looking Into the Aspirations in Ladakh

The Demand for self-rule has been a burning agenda of political activities in Ladakh for ages. An overwhelming urge for self-rule, across the globe, often leads to secessionist movements. Ladakh is not an exception. But the state authorities don’t address this concern in a proper sensible way until the situation takes an uncontrollable turn. Representatives of the agitators are called upon; conditions and provisions of self-rule are negotiated on the table; a council is formed with or without a mandate of the masses; and then funds are transferred to the concerned councils. The state government of Jammu and Kashmir had formed a council long ago. Recently the chief minister has decided to form a separate police administration for the region. It will now be easier for police to enforce law and order in the remote region which is 400 kilometres from the state capital Srinagar.

Administrative decentralization has been a joint demand of the Buddhists and the Muslims of Leh for long. In this heated up context of Muslim-Buddhist rivalry across the subcontinent (Buddhist resistance in Myanmar and alleged involvement of Indian Mujahedeen in the blasts in Bodhgaya), the success of this joint movement becomes extremely significant. Both Kargil and Leh are demanding more autonomy from Srinagar; they want to carve out a division consisting of the two districts. It, according to them, will make them more independent of the state in matters other than administrative. The two districts are now parts of the Kashmir division.

Omar Abdulla is not yet ready to concede all that much. Huryat Conference leadership, too, is firm on its stance. Extremist Huryat leader Syed Shah Gilani has already termed the accession to autonomy as an ‘evil ploy’ to divide Kashmir. But Huryat, for ages, has been vocal about Kashmiri sovereignty and has been a dedicated organizer of violent movements to achieve this. By Kashmir, they mean the entire state, putting aside the fact that the Hindu and the Buddhist peoples of the state have always been apprehensive about joining in their proposed sovereign structure.

People of Ladakh do not want to be a part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. If Huryat’s reluctance of being part of India is justified, so is the Ladakhis’ reluctance of being Pakistani citizens. Huryat, at this point of time, should think over why the Muslims of Ladakh are setting aside the issues of cultural and religious similarities in their perception of political identity. Does this point out a failure on the Huryat’s part to organize an inclusive mass movement? Huryat leaders have to engage in a scorching self-introspection to find out the answer.