Two Nations


The poverty standard earlier set by the Government of India which puts anybody who is capable of spending Rs. 32 a day above the poverty line, is atrocious. In Imphal a bunch of banana of about 10 to 12 fruits cost Rs. 40, thereby by this definition of poverty making anybody who can eat bananas above the poverty line. Nothing can be more ridiculous. Anybody who has shopped for daily kitchen essentials will realise what Rs. 32 can buy, or should we say cannot buy. It is heartening therefore that the government has announced there will be a revision of the definition, but few believe this revised definition too would do justice. There is nothing to suggest the revision would be substantial and it is strange that the decision for this revision was at the intervention of Rahul Gandhi, admittedly the Congress’ not so distant future Prime Ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi it may be recalled is only a party general secretary and not part of the government, implying the Congress party and not the Congress Parliamentary Party of elected MPs, dictates terms with the government.

But the intricacies of the decision making process of the government apart, what is of concern is the extreme disparity of incomes between the elite and the poor in this country. After the 6th Pay Commission’s recommendation for a hike in the salaries of Central government employees was implemented, and most states did a ditto of the recommendations with regards to their own employees, salaries of 1st grade employees have comfortably crossed the Rs. 1 lakh mark. The Rs. 32 poverty standard seen against this will look like stories from two different worlds. A single component of the salary of a government employee after the implementation of the new pay structure, such as the dearness allowances, DA, would be several times the mark that would condemn another to misery of being deprived of even the status of being poor which would entitle him or her to the little benefits of government schemes meant for the poor. What a grim reality this is indeed. India, nobody can deny continues to live in two different nations, and as the cliché goes, one of these is “India” and the other “Bharat”. The fact also is, the denizens of “India” keep all the power of the state though they are in a minority, and those of “Bharat” are disempowered and often dehumanised as well, though forming the overwhelming majority, and lives at the mercy of their counterparts from “India”. It is no surprise at all that when the disempowered get to organise themselves the look for other sources of power, it is often the power that flows out of the barrel of the gun they resort to. The Maoist phenomenon, Kashmir, the Northeast, are the most prominent examples. But they also surface in less extreme forms such as in the shape of protests by dam displaced persons, as in the case of the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Katkar. The state then would come out in force to suppress these “subversives”. The state no doubt acts in national interest, but the question remains as to what exactly is national interest and more importantly, who is the state supposedly protecting? The question is rhetorical and thus implies the answer as well.

This being the case, there is a need for the state to reflect and redefine what its interests are. Is it about creating a class of rich middle class at the cost of leaving a vast majority out of bounds of the state’s power? Or is it about sharing this power equitably between all its citizens, thereby also ensuring the bounties of the state are shared amongst all in an equitable way? We would tend to believe the latter should be the case. When the 6th Pay Commission was formulating a standard for Central government employees, the parameters it worked in ought not to have been only the problems of the employees directly, but also those not in direct employment of the government, especially those at the bottom of the social ladder who still form the majority of the country’s population. At this moment, according to statistics, 20 percent of the population own 90 percent of the wealth of the country. This means 80 percent of the population have only 10 percent of the state’s wealth to share. Not to talk about the morality of this equation, even politically this cannot be good in the ultimate analysis. For in the ultimate analysis, when injustice removes the veneer of democracy that is supposed to ensure an egalitarian distribution of state power and benefits, it is violence which will decide who keeps power. It is also hence the duty of the state to ensure conditions of justice are ensured so that nobody is compelled to try and wrest state power by violent means.


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