Two Indias

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi while speaking in the Lok Sabha recently alleged that, due to the wrong policy of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, two Indias are emerging. While one section is getting poor day by day, in another India a handful of the rich are getting richer and richer. Though his attack was laced with politics, there seems to be some truth behind it, based on the data available. The dividing line between the two Indias – the haves and the have-nots – has now become too sharp and stark to ignore. The pandemic has widened the gulf between the rich and the poor in ways that the country never experienced in the past. The top and bottom of the pyramid absorbed the pandemic shock in vastly different ways.

The bottom 20 percent of the households saw their income levels erode by a staggering 53 percent in the pandemic year as compared with the 2015-16 levels. According to the latest survey conducted by Mumbai-based think-tank People’s Research on India’s Consumer Economy (PRICE), the annual income of the top richest 20 percent of households has surged 39 percent in the same period. This accentuates the social inequalities in a country that is grappling with the largely ineffective welfare programmes, widespread pilferage of the benefits meant for the poor, bureaucratic lethargy and corruption. Earlier, the Oxfam report too had brought to the fore the disturbing realities of the wealth distribution in India. While 4.6 crore Indians are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 143 during the pandemic period. What makes the trend disturbing is the fact that the poorest 20 percent of Indian households had been seeing their annual income rise constantly since 1995 – the period of economic liberalization. What was essentially an upward graph since then has now been torn asunder by the pandemic, leading to a possible K-shaped recovery of the economy post-Covid. A ‘K-shaped recovery’ occurs when, after a recession, all parts of the economy do not recover at the same pace.