By Ruma Dubey
That’s how Mukesh Ambani referred to the Congress Govt when questioned about the 2G scandal.
And when Modi won, there was not even one raised eye brow when all of a sudden the Adani group of shares starting shooting through the roof. Even now, not a single day goes by when Adani’s do not announce some multi-million crore project and we see this news, shrug our shoulders and move on.
That’s a perfect example of how crony capitalism works in India. And that is also precisely why oligarchs are on the rise in India. In fact before the Ambani brothers made it to the “Forbes richest” rich, did we even know there existed such a list? We also knew of a Ford car, no rich list! But today, Indians making it to the list is so routine.
Oligarch is a word coined during the Soviet Union era. It referred to a person who is part of a small group that runs a country, obviously a very rich person. Resonates very much in the Indian context too? Take a cursory look at most of the billionaire Indians – they all, in one way or the other have derived their wealth from land, natural resources or Govt contracts and licenses.
So on one hand we have the super rich, who gift jet planes and penthouses and on the other end of the spectrum or should we say, remaining 80% or so of the spectrum, people who struggle day and night to merely put food on the table. Majority of our population remains poor and even today, in this era of technology, digitization and great advancement, we hear of children dying of malnourishment. What kind of inequality are we really dealing with? On one hand, the Govt is unable to meet the basic demands of people of the very people who elect them and on the other, the rich are only getting richer and the poor, poorer. This chasm is widening as crony capitalism rises.
Oxfam has published a fantastic report – Wealth: Having it all and wanting more. It has very categorically shown how global wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the small, wealthy elite. These elite spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further. The most telling fact – in 2014, 85 billionaires have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.
So should one be resenting these rich people for their wealth? Of course not! We do not live in a socialist economy thus there is no question of resentment. But because we live in a democracy, we need to wonder whether this kind of inequality in wealth distribution is good for the country? As per the UNDP 2014 Human Development Report (HDR), a measure derived from life expectancy, education levels and incomes, India’s ranking comes in at 135. And the top five countries ranked in terms of the HDR are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands and the US. Apart from the US, do we ever see names from the other four countries in the richest lists?
And even in the US, look at the two richest – Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Both have committed most of their wealth to charity, funding sustainable. We have such a long and illustrious list of the rich but those contributing big time to charity can be counted on the finger tips.
Thus as long as Governments and politics exist, crony capitalism will only grow and the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only widen. But the rich can make a difference by maybe looking for that deeper purpose or true calling of life.
Amassing wealth should be a means to an end not the end itself.