Sobering data for reflection on Republic Day (January 26 when this note is being written) is provided by the UK-based charity Oxfam International which released its Global Inequality Report 2019 on January 20, to coincide with the start of the five-day World Economic Forum 2019 convention in Davos, the annual meeting point of the world’s rich and famous, including politicians from India intent on attracting foreign investment.
The Oxfam report highlights the disastrous failure of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which ruled at the Centre and most state capitals for over half a century after independence to transform India into a socialist, i.e, income and status egalitarian republic. According to Oxfam, India’s top 1 percent controls 51.53 percent of national wealth, with the Top 10 percent controlling 77 percent and the bottom 60 percent majority owning merely 4.8 percent.
Although Left intellectuals who dominate the academy and media continue to flog the dead socialist horse, the huge disparity between the rich and poor which defines 21st century India is the outcome of the country’s massive 300-plus public sector enterprises (PSEs) run by business illiterate bureaucrats having conspicuously failed to generate the surpluses required to build rural infrastructure and fund public education and health. Meanwhile, the netas and babus have transformed into astute businessmen extracting rents and speed money from real businessmen to the extent that politicians are among the richest citizens of socialist India. According to the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms, 82 percent of India’s MPs (Members of Parliament) are billionaires.
Unsurprisingly, there is little enthusiasm within the political class to jettison post-independence India’s socialist baggage. Originally a free markets and private enterprise political formation, during its five-year term in power at the Centre, the BJP has done little to privatise bleeding PSEs and nationalised banks, or dismantle the remnants of licence-permit-quota raj. Food for thought on Republic Day.