slums, poor, India
For the poor, nothing much seems to change on the ground. Representational image

How India trumpets its super rich and throws a blanket over the starving masses

India is the fifth largest economy in the world, but its per capita income is below Bangladesh’s

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The latest list of the world’s richest people released by the Hurun Rich List on March 22 produced no surprises for India, where the rich have been growing richer for some time. 

India is home to a number of dollar billionaires, with 16 new additions to the 187 already existing. India has the third largest number of billionaires after China, which has close to 1,000, and the US. The nation is also the fifth largest economy in the world though even below Bangladesh in per capita income.

The latest addition to the list of billionaires is Byju Raveendran, whose edutech company Byjus is going through a tough time. His company was valued at close to $20 billion last year but the former mathematics teacher is valued at $3.3 billion, just making it to the top 1,000 of the world’s richest.

Roses and sunshine?

Just these figures will give rise to the impression that India is a country where everything is hunky-dory, and to live in this country is to ride on the rosy path to becoming richie-rich. For many of the upper crust, it is actually so.

The billionaire figures actually show only one thing: India is a paradise for the super rich. With little regulation and squeezing out liquidity from banks, a well-practised affair (see list), the rich have a whale of a time. For the not-so-rich also it is a good time because if there is a list of Indian multi-millionaires, it will astound all of us.

In other words, India is not for the poor. And ever since a BJP government came to power in 2014, the rich have grown richer while the poor have been left to fend for themselves.

Also read: India’s conundrum: Greater the wealth, lesser the tax burden

The only way to look at how the rich have defrauded the country is to look at the list of loan defaulters. A huge number of India’s super-rich, including some billionaires, have looted banks at will, knowing very well that they can live on the looted money in far-off lands. The Modi era has been particularly joyful for the rich.

Willful defaulting has risen from ₹23,000 crore in March 2012 to ₹2.4 lakh-crore in March 2022, according to data publicly available. The fact that the rich willfully and in connivance with those in government and public sector banks loot the exchequer can be seen from this statistic: loans default for the amount below ₹1 crore taken by the middle and lower middle-class account for just over 1 per cent of default. But 250 companies or individuals which have loans over ₹100 crore defaulted to the tune of ₹1.36 lakh-crore, or 58 per cent of the total willful default.

Nine companies, as of last year, defaulted above ₹2,000 crore each. From this, one can make out the systematic nature of defaulting.

Rich who cheat

Many such deliberately defaulting companies are undergoing bankruptcy proceedings which never seem to end; none of the defaulters is behind bars since most of them have been allowed to escape. Only last week, Mehul Choksi’s (Gitanjali Gems, total default ₹2,585 crore) name was taken out of the Interpol Red corner notice which means he can travel to any country. This could not have happened if the CBI had not looked the other way.

There are 36 people who have defaulted more than ₹1,000 crore, again pointing to the shocking nature of banking corruption and poor regulation and monitoring.

No wonder India is a rich man’s paradise.

These are a few of the top defaulters. It is not clear if the rich list includes any one of them among India’s billionaires:

Rishi Agarwal (ABG Shipyard) ₹6,328 crore

Arvind Dham (Amtek Auto) ₹5,885 crore

Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan (Dewan Housing and Finance) ₹2,780 crore

Sanjay and Sandeep Jhunjhunwala (Rei Agro) ₹2,602 crore

Sanjay Kumar Surekha (Concast Steel) ₹2,538 crore

In well-governed Indian states, default is few.

Maharashtra, which has the largest number of industries, tops the list with outstandings of ₹80,471 crore. Tamil Nadu is the second largest state in terms of economy but is only sixth in the default list at  ₹14,916 crore.

India vs Bangladesh

If the rich are having a good time, more so during the last eight years of Modi rule (the Adani group’s rise and crisis are a classic instance of crony capitalism and how the rich grow richer), the poor are getting poorer. India is falling behind other South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, which has been cited by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their book An Uncertain Glory as a classic example of tending to the poor.

Watch: The Parliament logjam is all about Adani, says Manickam Tagore

Sen and Dreze point out: “Perhaps the most important clue (of rising social indicators in Bangladesh) is a pattern of sustained positive change in gender relations. Many gender-related indicators are now much better in Bangladesh as in India. Women’s participation rate in the workforce is almost twice as high in Bangladesh as in India (57 per cent and 29 per cent respectively) … In fact Bangladesh is now one of the few countries in the world where the number of girls exceeds the number of boys in school. Even the share of women in Parliament is higher than in India.”

Sen and Dreze point out that human deprivation is concentrated in two regions of the world: South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In this role too, India is a terrible performer, mostly leaving the poor to tend to themselves. India’s achievement story is in contrast to the mediocre performance in progress in the quality of life as reflected in standard social indicators.

Government indifference

That there is no real interest in the present government in lifting the poor is evident in how the UPA regime’s flagship National Rural Employment Programme Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is being given short shrift.

Also read: Women in Bangladesh dominate life, unlike in other Muslim nations

The Sen-Dreze study of the 16 poorest countries outside Sub-Saharan Africa shows that though India is top-ranked in terms of per capita, it rates quite badly in other indicators like infant mortality (ranked 10 out of 16) and 11th for female literacy. According to a World Bank study, only 15 countries outside Sub-Saharan Africa had a gross national income per capita lower than India’s in 2011.

But what we see is that the Indian government constantly trumpets India as one of the richest nations using the GDP data of $3 trillion (China’s GDP is $20 trillion in comparison). In real terms, India keeps company with the poorest 15 countries outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. 

While wallowing in this abysmal situation, India and its government are all too happy to trumpet the DP growth (quite misleading in terms of actual poverty) and its more than 200 US-dollar billionaires, most of whom have cheated banks or have immense unpaid loans like Adani. The unravelling Adani story is just an example of how Indians get rich.

The latest Rich List is enough for India’s ruling classes to feed on for a while and pull a blanket over the suffering poor, lest the starving masses are seen when the rich pass by.

(Binoo K John is the author of Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New Understanding of Sport)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily  reflect the views of The Federal)

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