Guest post by SWAGATO SARKAR
Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA) has taken over the English news channels [okay, perhaps not all, but two “exclusive” interviews to Headlines Today and CNN-IBN’s FTN (F stands for ‘Face’, btw)] tonight to shoot back at his opponents and detractors, the likes of Roys, Drezes, Aiyars. The discourse had three parts: the sermon, gloss and proto-penance, and the affirmation of the revealed Truth.
The Planning of Commission of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic of India is not a Stalinist Planning Commission. It has the solemn duty of finding India’s rightful place in the world at the average rate of 8% per year. But India is a poor country [exclusive news which cannot be shared at Davos]. The GDP has to enlarge. Market is what will make it happen. But market has limits. Hence, welfare. But MSA is not happy that the Growth-Decline story did not work out as he would have wished. But that is no reason to be anti-Growth [now go to the first line of the para and read it all over again.]
The “poverty line” – worldwide – is a reference line to measure the performance of the Economy and the effect of Growth: are people rising/ floating above or sinking below it? The Tendulkar Committee was constituted to do such a task and it has produced one such fineline. It is “factual” and therefore the affidavit cannot be withdrawn from the Supreme Court. The PlanComm has been misrepresented by the media, mischievously, because per person per day is just not the right math. It is monthly; there’s no point in making the money look small. What will you do next – break it into hourly amount of Rs. 1.20 [MSA’s figure]? [Don’t get ideas about making a demandfor a minimum hourly wage, à laEurope, which has sunk anyway]. The inclusive growth one day will bring everybody up. The gravy train has arrived and one by one all the children of Mother India will come out of the waiting-room of history and board it. Tribals are a problem, because they all live in forests [how will the train go there without clearing the forests?]
Now, what does it mean to have a reference line? Or more precisely, what does it mean to be poor in India? The answer [or kahani main twist no.1]: the “rock bottom level below which a family cannot live.”Welcome to the ICU of compassionate Darwinians. You will be given a drip to survive. Then run in the market to prove your fitness.
MSA is not against PDS. “Keep it there”, he says. Use it as a channel for distributing foodgrains at the normal price (so, kahani main twist no.2, it’s no longer “fair price”? What is the difference between “normal” and “fair”?); transfer cash to subsidise the poor families directly, i.e., (kahani main twist no.3) convert the ‘entitlement holder, rights bearing citizens’ into enthusiastic consumer: when our beloved poor has money in the pocket and choice on her mind, why the hell would she go to a ration-shop? A quantitatively determined poor should wake up to take note of quality and apply choice in the market. Jago Grahak, Jago. (MSA has already argued that in case of education in his EPW article). This twist no.3 is going to be the tune to which the 12th Plan’s social sector outlay would be set: importation of the über-successful public-private partnership model in the social sector, which some enterprising entrepreneurs think would convert them into government-supported social-entrepreneurs.
But things are not that simple in India, mind it. The materialist, Marxist [or are they Hegelian?] Indian media have always believed that conflict is the motor of history, measured in TRP. Field Rahulji and Jairam Ramesh against MSA; spice up the intra-UPA battle. The guardians of the Nation are no less in the game; following the Public Relations edict, “when you can’t convince, confuse”, they declared: GoI has/will “delink the poverty line fromentitlements.”
At last, the moment of reckoning has arrived: the poor is now twice-born: first with a perfect slim figure in MSA’s order of things, and then adoring the “not-passed-by-the-socio-economic criteria” robe in GoI’s unending drama of rural development. But the rights-wallahs and Prosenjit Bose are not amused; they bring out the “creamy-layer” argument: whip off the rich, just have a Universal espresso welfare state.
….. This piece ends here abruptly, because this cutting up the population business will continue …. the logic of calculation may be logical, but can it be ethical? ….Poverty is like fairness cream, keep (arguing/) applying with a hope of becoming Shahrukh Khan one day; but Shahrukh will soon need and sell anti-wrinkle cream, then?