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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Hazards of Growing Inequality In India | Gull Mohammad Wani

Friday 4 June 2021

by Prof Gull Mohammad wani

Jitni bhi bilduinge,n the,n Setho’n ne baat li hain
Footpath Bambai Ka hai’n ashihyana hamara
( All buildings have been taken by the Rich
The footpaths of Bombay remains our home)
— Sahir Ludwanini

There are many theories in circulation about the origin of Covid-19 pandemic .From experts, scientists and conspiracy theorists public domain has been flooded by these accounts. there is however, near unanimity that the pandemic is going to generate more inequality. Novelist Hanief Mohammad had a conversation with a doctor who told him in April, 2020 that" God almighty created Covid-19 but has lost control over it .It’s not God’s virus anymore .It’s ours". The virus doesn’t differentiate between a Tablighi ,Sanghi or a fashion designer . It adapts to local culture quickly. It doesn’t even spare doctors. The common people in all parts of the globe have learnt many lessonsthe rich their own but states and governments have a tendency to misinform and misread the public mood. The children who lost their parents are referred to as Covid orphans. There is surely need for a new social contract between people and the state and an equally new understanding between states in the international system. The international Labour organization long ago reminded us that threat to ’prosperity is poverty’. This should ultimately lead to primacy of the agency of common people . If you refuse to learn lessons we all shall be forever nailed to history’s pillar of shame. In this limited space analysis shall be limited to the phenomenon of growing inequalities and dangers it poses to society and the state.

A recent Pew research report has noted that inequalities in India are growing in the aftermath of Covid 19.The middle class(defined on basis of income and expendiure) must have shrunk by a third due to virus while poor earning less than Rs 150 per day more than doubled. Prior to pandemic 99 million people in India would belong to global middle class in 2020.It has come down to 66 million and the fear is it will go down further. The number of poor in India has reached to 134 million. Around 30 farmers have lost life during the ongoing Andolan and it is not good for any class of society if state sends them back without listening to their woes. Further, the employment rate is still 2.5 percent and what is horrible is that only 2.3 percent of India’s workforce has formal training compared to 96 percent in South Korea, 80 percent in Japan and 52 percent in USA. The pandemic may complete the work left by the 2008 financial crisis. The truth to be told is that we are simultaneously moving from ’de-globalization’ to ’slobalisation’ and eventuality to ’nobalisation’. What does it mean for a country like India at this point of time?

First, there is case for the present regime in power at Delhi not to give a wrong ’projection of power’. It also needs a rethink over its project of crafting a ’ National security state’. Even in the midst of pandemic organizations closer to the regime are drum beating the threat to ’national security’ rather than reading the pandemic as the real enemy. State managers need to redefine the combatant in cyber system. The cyber army is not armed or uniformed. The breakdown of the Mumbai power distribution system and its reporting by NY Times on October, 2020 and the 2007 attack on Estonian banking system are examples of new generation warfare. The national security traditionally has been looked as power, military might and diplomatic influence. The author walter Scheidel in his book "The Great Leveler: violence and history of inequality ; Fom Stone Age to Twenty first century" writes: Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened the inequality: mass mobilizations and warfare, transformative revolutions, state failure and lethal pandemics". The base of power elite who dominate the Indian state has expanded .Military brass is now part of the power elite apart from business and the political elite. The concentration of power at the apex and pauperization down the line amounts to hijacking the state for furtherance of interest of the power elite. Pandemics always open political possibilities if state and governing classes refuse to listen the cry and pain of the oppressed and marginalized. The former chief economic advisor Dr Arvind Subramanian believes that ’things have to get worse before they get better’.

Second, the real danger is the social collapse. As the economy goes down and inequalities sharpen- the social fabric too will develop cracks. The viruses don’t discriminate but people and instruments of the state do . Black people in USA were often left to fend for themselves. During first and second wave we have seen fault lines in the society and how these can explode. A bribe to sneak a last deedar at your loved ones in hospital mortuary shows signs of social collapse. We need to depoliticize the war against the virus. Long ago Dr Ambedkar said that ’democracy is a plant that cannot grow everywhere. He put equality and fraternity at the heart of democracy’.

Third, while one can have issues with the politics and sociology of new middle class(born after 1990) for their conservative political views and also being status-quoist. After all the earlier middle class was born during Indian freedom movement and got inflated by public sector driven economy possessed a different value system. The new class is individualistic ,insular and consumerist. It is nonetheless heart beat of the economy. It is catalyst to investment. There are multiple ways to engage with new middle class and not to reject them. What karl Marx saw as inevitable revolution was based on the assumption that economy would eventually generate a bipolar income distribution composed of rich and the poor He couldn’t predict the emergence of middle class. The presence and expansion of this class gave hope to poor in India and elsewhere that they can escape the net and trap of poverty.

Lastly, experts and public policy analysts have stressed upon employment generation, human development, universal basic income and many other issues as steps to reduce inequality. But it is also necessary to recognize that overall pessimism generated by the pandemic is conducive to peace. The pessimism and economic downturn will surely erode the capacity of the states to fight major wars as well as their confidence in winning them. It is here that the marginalized sections in all parts of the world need to build up rainbow of social coalitions to fight against the hijacking of the state by the rich and build-up on the peace dividend.

(Author: Prof Gull Wani teaches political science at Kashmir university.)

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