A few days ago, most Indians woke to the distressing news that Bangladesh had overtaken India in per capita GDP. A country we helped liberate, a country often ridiculed as so impoverished that its citizens are dying to cross our borders and reach our golden land, pipping us in GDP per capita was a bitter pill to swallow.
The discomfort is understandable as we made a song and dance of only one parameter, the GDP growth over the years, and now we find that in per capita terms, one by one, each of our smaller neighbours are leaving us far behind.
Even before coronavirus struck, the unemployment rate had reached a 45-year high. Jobless growth has been a spectral haunting Indian economy for the past two decades. With the pandemic, neither growth nor jobs are available. But we cannot blame everything wrong in India on an epidemic. In fact, Covid-19 has become a convenient face mask to cover up warts in Indian development model followed for many decades.
A democratic government’s first duty is to its people. A few corporates earning billions in a monopolistic environment may add to GDP and increase even the per capita GDP. If Mr Ambani walks into a room of a dozen of the average readers of this article, the per capita income of the room will increase manifold. Still, the living standards of the average reader in the place will remain the same.
A few punters gambling on the index stocks in the BSE or NSE can show a steep rise in stock market indices. On March 25, when the government announced lockdown, the BSE index was at 28,535.78. On October 19, when GDP has fallen about 23 percent, the BSE index is at 40,431.60. Expert economists might be capable of explaining this phenomenon to a layman like me. However, I fear I do not have the intelligence to comprehend this miracle and can only say Praise the Lord.
Like the marvel of a stock market that continues to scale new heights over the debris of a shattered economy, some prominent members of Indian media inspire awe and admiration in all who care to look at their workings. The fourth pillar of democracy was busy celebrating the suicide of a gentleman film actor, like how vultures may when they see a carcass to feast. They were engaged in spewing communal poison and spinning conspiracy yarns, playing judge, jury and the witness and passing indictments.
It is a tribute to their efficiency that while kowtowing to their political masters’ whims and barking like lapdogs at any dissent, they found time to manipulate the TRP ratings too. No one can blame them for biting the hands that feed, for they never asked the powers that matter any uncomfortable questions.
Why should they bother whether India had now slipped to 105th rank from 79th position last year in the Economic Freedom Index? Who cares if the industrial production had a record decline? India dropped drastically in the Press Freedom Index this year to reach 142nd rank in the list of 180 countries.
How does that matter as long as there is freedom of the press to have prime time debate on whether a second-grade actor had taken weed in a party three years ago? India ranked 133rd of 167 countries in Women’s Peace and Security Index, but that should hardly bother us since we can always argue Indians worship Durga, and rapes and molestations happen in every country.
Among 156 countries, we have a rank of 144, below Pakistan and Nepal, in the World Happiness Report. India bagged the top spot in child wasting rate in the world with an increase of 4.3 percentage points in nine years, according to the Global Hunger Index released on October 15, 2019.
Around 90 percent of children aged between six and 23 months in the country do not get even minimum required food, as per the report. If you observed the date, the report had come before the coronavirus outbreak. Since we have already bagged the first prize, I guess Covid could do precious nothing to improve our rank further in this unsavoury accolade.
If the citizens do not care whether they have enough to eat, a roof over their head, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, as long as those who they have been taught to hate suffer along with them, can we blame politicians for being themselves?
They would give us what we deserve; some mass-generated WhatsApp stories, some shifting of blame to some historical events and long-dead leaders for all the problems, several photo-ops, drama and spectacle and some fantasy fiction about a bygone glory.
After a brief period of economic prosperity, we are once again turning to a Third World thrash. If we do not arrest this now by demanding the politicians to deliver, we will scale the last few rungs to the top rank in every dubious distinction.
(The writer is author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy and can be conatcted at firstname.lastname@example.org)