OUR good friend, Dr. Manmohan Singh, – Yes, the prime minister himself—otherwise quite a modest person, seems to go on and on about how poor his family was, how he had to go school five miles away, without shoes, how he had to read his lessons in the light of a kerosene lantern, and so on and on. He has been repeating this story quite a few times lately, and I must say we all feel sorry for him.
But, it is not an unusual story. Sixty or seventy years ago, almost all village students walked miles to their schools, and some like Lal Bahadur Shastri, had to swim across the river with books on their head, because there were no bridges. Most village students had not even seen an electric lamp, and almost all of them walked barefoot. Our good friend was no exception.
What our friend has not told us is that there are still millions of children who walk barefoot to their schools, have no electric light in their home, and some have no books at all. India was, of course, a poor country sixty years ago when Singh grew up in his village, but the shocking thing is that India is still a poor country, and millions of Indians are still wretchedly poor, despite, or may be because of decades of Congress rule. Most Indians went to sleep on empty stomachs and millions still do. While Dr. Singh’s new friends in Mumbai and Delhi, fattened by years of free-market economics, fly in helicopters, there must be hundreds in his old village near Amritsar, who have probably never had a ride in a motor car.
Manmohan Singh was not the only poor child in India. Every Indian, with the exception, of course, of Maharajas and the Nehru family, who sent their laundry to Paris because the Allahabad dhobis were not good enough, and whom Dr Singh serves so devotedly, was poor. Our per capita income there was perhaps 50 rupees a year or three or four rupees a month. And the only job a semi-literate Indian could look forward to was of a clerk in the local deputy registrar’s daftar or of a peon in the mamlatdar’s dilapidated office.
Dr Singh went to Oxford a few years ago and told the worthies there that they had brought civilization to India, or something to that effect. This is, of course, a lie. The British brought nothing to India except famines, pestilence, wretched poverty and the feeling of utter helplessness. After 200 years of British rule, we became, mentally and physically, slaves of white foreigners. Dr Singh’s strange statement that they brought civilization to this great ancient civilization shows how thoroughly he has been brainwashed by them.
Dr Singh seems to think that poverty is a thing of the past and India is no more a poor country, that children do not go to sleep on empty stomachs, they all have Bata shoes to wear, and, of course, brand new uniforms. If he can believe that, he can believe any thing. India is still a poor country and it is men like Singh who are responsible for keeping Indians poor.
India’s per capita income is now a thousand dollars a year (as against 50,000 dollars in America and Europe) which sounds like a lot, but which amounts, to just about three dollars a day. According to the World Bank, this is about the minimum you need to keep body and soul together. This means, it if means anything at all that India or Indians survive on the edge of poverty after sixty years of independence, during most of which, it is men like Singh who have been running our economy. This is why our farmers still commit suicide year after year, and Singh & Co have said they can do little about it. The farmers commit suicide at a time grain prices are at a record high, and men like Sharad Pawer and his friends dance in the streets. For them, high grain prices are a sign of prosperity, despite the fact that farmers continue to commit suicide because they cannot repay their loans or cannot feed their families.
Poverty is a speciality of the British and those like Singh who learnt their economics from the British. Before the last war, every other person in Britain, which at that time, was at the height of prosperity, was poor. George Orwell, the man who wrote “Animal Form” and “1984”, was himself a poor man, not a surprising thing, considering he was himself born in India. He was also a journalist and was sent by a publisher to Wales, a mining district of Britain, to report on things there. After a sojourn in the area, he wrote his famous book, “The Road to Wigan Pier”, an account of the lives of coal miners, many of them dying of tuberculosis and pneumonia. Remember, this was when the British empire was at the height of power and prosperity, and when the sun never set on the empire. The British are and have always been experts at keeping people poor, and they seem to have transferred this expertise to men like Manmohan Singh – and, of course, Jawaharlal Nehru – who studied there.
If you have made up your mind that there is no poverty in India, as Singh & Co seems to have done, you will never be able to tackle it, let alone eradicate it. This is precisely why the government does not take any notice of the deaths of farmers. For Singh & Co the farmers just don’t exist. They are a nuisance, and the best way to deal with them is to ignore them.
Governments that spend crores of rupees on their ministers and bureaucrats cannot find a few thousands for the poor and their children. In Maharashtra, according to official figures, the administration spends more money on the ministers and their amenities than on schools in villages, most of which lack most amenities villages in other countries enjoy.
Our economic model is designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. This is also the model adopted in most affluent countries from which we borrowed it. The gap between the rich and the poor has been widening ever since Singh & Co came on the scene and liberalised the economy. This has happened in other countries too, for they too adopted the so-called free-market model. The only consequence of this model has been the growing presence of foreign companies in India, to the extent that they have now captured most of our industries. In the name of liberalisation, we have opened the country to foreigners, which was probably the main aim of liberalisation in the first place. But despite liberalisation and despite free markets, or maybe because of them, India is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and most Indians are still the poorest people in the world, whatever Singh, Ahluvalia & Co might tell the children in Punjab.
(The writer can be contacted at 301, Mani Kanchan Apts, Kanchan Galli, Law College Road, Pune-411004)