Wake Up India: Essays for Our Times – Part 2 

poverty in india

Chapter 2 – Poverty and Class analysis with reference to 2014-2018 BJP rule (Part I)

Why I have returned to write a sequel to the earlier book is basically to refute the claim that four years of BJP rule has made a difference to India, that things have become better. My first chapter that pointed out that atrocities against Dalits have increased with increasing resistance on their part due to more discrimination and weakening of judicial protection of their rights was greeted with brickbats and bouquets, especially the section suggesting eleven points they could take up as a manifesto to fights for equal rights and equity, unsurprisingly.

Now I go on to poverty and class, interconnected, and as usual shall start by proof-texting what I say using dependable research results unlike the rhetoric ridden style I sometimes use for fb posts.

We can start with the poverty index published in India in 2014. The year in which the BJP got elected.

“iv. A food basket that simultaneously meets all the normative requirements of the three nutrients defines the food component of the poverty line basket proposed by the Expert Group (Rangarajan). These nutrient norms are met for persons located in the sixth fractile (25-30%) in rural areas and for those in the fourth fractile (15-20%) in urban areas in 2011-12. The average monthly per capita consumption expenditure on food in these fractile classes is Rs.554 in rural areas and Rs.656 in urban areas (NSS 68th Round). v. The median fractile (45-50%) values of clothing expenses, rent, conveyance and education expenses are treated food expenses of clothing, housing, mobility and education of a poverty line basket. This works out to Rs.141 per capita per month in rural areas and Rs.407 in urban areas. The observed expenses of all other non-food expenses of the fractile classes that meet the nutrition requirements are considered as part of the poverty line basket. This works out to Rs.277 per capita per month in rural area and Rs.344 in urban areas. vi. The new poverty line thus work out to monthly per capita consumption expenditure of Rs.972 in rural areas and Rs.1,407 in urban areas in 2011-12. For a family of five, this translates into a monthly consumption expenditure of Rs.4,860 in rural areas and Rs.7,035 in urban areas. vii. Estimations of the poverty line made for the Expert Group (Rangarajan) based on an independent large survey of households by CMIE and using a different methodology wherein a household is considered poor if it is unable to save, yields results that are remarkably close to those derived using the NSSO data. This provides additional evidence in support of the poverty line derived by the Expert Group (Rangarajan). viii. Compared to the poverty lines based on the methodology of the Expert Group (Tendulkar), the poverty lines estimated by the Expert Group (Rangarajan) are 19% and 41% higher in rural and urban areas, respectively. The Expert Group (Rangarajan) uses the Modified Mixed Recall Period consumption expenditure data of the NSSO as these are considered to be more precise compared to the MRP, which was used by the Expert Group (Tendulkar) and the URP, which was used by earlier estimations. 67% of the increase in the rural poverty line and 28% of the increase in the urban poverty line is because of the shift from MRP to MMRP. ix. The national rural and urban poverty lines computed as above were used to derive the state-wise poverty lines by using the implicit price derived from the quantity and value of consumption observed in the NSSO’s 68th Round of Consumer Expenditure Survey (2011-12) to estimate state relative to all-India Fisher price indices. Using these and the state-specific distribution of persons by expenditure groups (NSS), state-specific ratios of rural and urban poverty were estimated. State-level poverty ratio was estimated as weighted average of the rural and urban poverty ratios and the national poverty ratio was computed again as the population-weighted average of state-wise poverty ratios. x. The Expert Group (Rangarajan) therefore estimates that the 30.9% of the rural population and 26.4% of the urban population was below the poverty line in 2011-12. The all-India ratio was 29.5%. In rural India, 260.5 million individuals were below poverty and in urban India 102.5 million were under poverty. Totally, 363 million were below poverty in 2011-12. xi. The poverty ratio has declined from 39.6% in 2009-10 to 30.9% in 2011-12 in rural India and from 35.1% to 26.4% in urban India. The decline was thus a uniform 8.7 percentage points over the two years. The all-India poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5%. Totally, 91.6 million individuals were lifted out of poverty during this period.”


I need to point out two things first – that this was published in 2014 but the research was done in 2011-2012. I already have big problems with this study as a layman as the figures given of income needed to be above the poverty line just do not match with regional variations and thus this study itself is already questionable. But when we come to 2016 things become even murkier.

Coming to a reliable study done in Oxford in 2016 we come across more interesting facts.

  1. Both the Congress government and the BJP government have not done, according to this foreign agency, a proper MPI study in India. The one done I use above during 2011 quotes absolutely absurd amounts as the cut off points for being above poverty alleviation like 5 and a half dollars a day income for rural areas and 6 and a half dollars and less a day income for those in cities per individual to lift them above the poverty line. Sentences like “This works out to Rs.277 per capita per month in rural area and Rs.344 in urban areas” are both laughable and shocking. The fact that some foreign studies state two dollars is enough per day as per Wrold bank in 2010 etc., does not mean anything, either. These do not represent ground reality. But the more interesting question is why the more comprehensive methodology of research was not adopted by the Congress and no study at all has been done by the BJP. The reasons are obvious. Both governments want to hide facts from Indians and the world.

Here is the study as in 2016 from Oxford.

“MULTIDIMENSIONAL POVERTY INDEX 2016 2 June 2016 HIGHLIGHTS ~ SOUTH ASIA In 2016 we have poverty estimations for seven South Asian countries, and subnational data for 84 regions, covering 94% of the population in South Asia. We are releasing new MPI estimations using DHS data for Bangladesh (2014) and MICS data for Nepal (2014). Afghanistan is the poorest country in South Asia, with 66% of people being multidimensionally poor using 2010/11 data; India (2005/6) was the next poorest with 54%, followed by Bangladesh (2014) with 41%, Pakistan (2012/13) at 44%, Nepal (2014) at 29%, Bhutan (2010) at 27%, and Sri Lanka and the Maldives at 5%. These tend to be higher than the $1.90/day rates, which are 21% for South Asia as a whole. In Winter 2015/16 we also estimated and released Bangladesh’s Global MPI using the 2012/13 MICS dataset. The distinctive feature of that dataset was that it permitted us to decompose MPI to the district level, rather than division, so subnational data was available for 64 regions, giving an even more fine-grained view of poverty. For example, we can see a great deal of variation within the divisions that was previously not visible. For the first time we release destitution results all South Asian countries including Bhutan and Maldives. Our measure of destitution identifies a subset of poor people as destitute if they experience extreme deprivations like severe malnutrition, losing two children, having all primary-aged school children out of school, and using open defecation. In Afghanistan 38% of people are destitute. But interestingly Bangladesh has much lower rate of destitution than Pakistan (12% vs 20% of the populations are destitute), despite having relatively similar headcount ratios, showing that Bangladesh has alleviated the worst forms of deprivations. Country Year MPI % MPI poor (H) Intensity of MPI (A)% Destitute Maldives 2009 0.018 5.2 35.6 1.5 Bhutan 2010 0.119 27.2 43.9 8.3 Nepal 2014 0.126 28.6 44.2 10.8 Bangladesh 2014 0.196 41.3 47.4 11.6 Pakistan 2012/13 0.230 44.2 52.1 20.7 India 2005/06 0.283 53.7 52.7 28.5 Afghanistan 2010/11 0.353 66.2 53.4 37.7 Across our 8 South Asian countries we find that poverty remains higher in rural areas. For example, in Nepal, only 7% of urban dwellers are poor but 33% in rural areas. In Afghanistan, 39% of urban dwellers are poor, but 72% of rural inhabitants. Hence rural areas remain the priority for MPI reduction. Nepal had stellar performance reducing poverty incidence 2006-2011 from 64% to 44%. The MPI estimations using this survey, by MICS, are not comparable to the others and we cannot yet say definitely what the comparable rates would be. However it does seem the Nepal may have halved its MPI in less than 10 years which would be wonderful accomplishment.

We decompose India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan by subnational regions. The poorest region in South Asia is Bihar, followed by ‘South’ Afghanistan. The poorest 15 subnational regions in South Asia are all in India or Afghanistan, plus one region (Balochistan) of Pakistan. As a region, South Asia’s MPI is dominated by India, whose data are out of date. We are looking to release new estimations using India’s NFHS-IV when the data are released, at which time we will further analyse MPI in this region and over time.”


You will see that in India data collection was seemingly stopped in 2006 – of the extensive variety- and has not been restarted till 2018. NFHS – IV is eagerly awaited by the present researcher also.

The question is not why, as the answer is obvious, but the question is about who is addressing the issue of poverty and why not and how it should be addressed and about whether class injustice is hindering this and how that can be addressed.

The talk of poverty always leads to two perspectives, both of which are amusing. One is the foreigner’s perception that “India is a poor country” and the second one is the Indian one of irritation in retorting that that is just one of the facets of India, how the West wants to label us as well as how some at home would like to portray us to gain their sympathy, cash, awards and accolades, especially in the fields of art and culture. But poverty, as the studies show has a very Marxist slant, as what is actually studied is food, education, shelter, clothing, employment, health and income as well as expenditure. These indices are kept as basics even by a non Marxist, humanist or humanitarian researcher group, or a scientific, empirical one. There is no philosophy involved in the collection and analysis of data except its veracity and the outcomes cannot be manipulated although the interpretation of the outcomes can be. Thus Congress talks of the declining poverty rate in India in 2014 according to their interpretation but it does not help them to win an election as the perception of common people does not match the same. BJP does not talk of it – if I am wrong others can correct me – but others do. Forbes has spoken of it and I would like to quote them.

This is in 2018 and the study is not by an Indian.

“Living Wage Family in India remains almost flat in the 17300-17400 INR/Month range over his (Modi’s) tenure. Meanwhile, wages paid to low-skilled labor decreased to 10300 INR/Month in 2017 from 13300 INR/Month in 2014 (see table 2)”

“The people had high expectations, and those expectations have not been satisfied. GDP growth is still above 5 percent, but it has slowed down sharply from past rates of 8 and 9 percent,” says Udayan Roy, an Economics Professor at LIU POST.

“And even the above-5 percent GDP growth is not creating jobs fast enough,” he continues. “There’s this phenomenon of ‘jobless growth.’ India is demographically quite a young nation. And the young people are entering the labor force at too fast a rate compared to job creation. So, these young people are getting frustrated.”

“Then there’s the persistence of corruption, the rise of nonperforming loans in state-owned banks, high taxation, poor public health, and chronic income inequality — something that Modi inherited from previous administrations (see The World Inequality Report 2018).” https://www.forbes.com/…/…/indians-are-worse-off-under-modi/

Some may think it is not the Congress or Modi and co., who is fudging results but the present writer with his analysis. This is not about fudging but privileging or highlighting, and I am unapologetic in doing it.

The real question is this that while the Congress at least makes out poverty fell the Modi Govt. is not even making an effort to convince me it has. This does not bother me, as studies are not the last word on the subject but three other questions.

Who has to address poverty alleviation?

How is it to be addressed?

What steps have to be taken to alleviate it and have they been on the anvil or have they been, if so, well implemented?

To write pleasingly we can say poverty alleviation has to be done by everyone, me, you, NGOs and NPOs and the state and central governments etc. But we know that the onus and burden falls on the government finally, as they are in charge of the exchequer and funds and have the powers vested in them by the people. Let us look briefly at what poverty alleviation would mean in the Indian context and what has instead been the thrust of the Govt and what is wrong with this approach, briefly. If poverty alleviation is supposed to be about food, health, clothing, housing, education, employment, income and expenditure or in other words about what Marxists call base and not superstructure, one would understand why talk of Modi’s Government’s achievements do not impress me. Electricity, railways, giving chance to small entrepreneurs to take loans, foreigners to invest in India all touted as this Government’s big achievements belong to the superstructure except perhaps travel as it is connected to distribution, meaning that what the Congress could not do but was trying to has been jettisoned by ModiGovt’s thinkers under the presumption that we can jump start the economy into self sufficiency thus affecting everyone for the better by skipping the base for the superstructure. This is, of course, full fledged capitalism in action, but whether it is suited to an India which is mired in international debt is entirely another question. As far as I can see, it is not.

This is where class enters the picture. Any family knows, as mine does, where I am the primary income or wage earner that for riches to come to all in the family there has to be a top down trickle meaning the rich have to not become richer but poorer. What this means is simple – if in my family where there are five people and one is unable to earn due to any reason as my son who has autism, at least as of now, what the primary wage earner makes by being given to all the other four with whatever amounts a secondary wage earner makes or a tertiary one being allowed to remain with them will even out the small economy a family is so all are above the poverty line and social parity as well as upward social mobility through opening the window of opportunity is possible. What is it that the Modi Govt. or the Congress have not done? When scaled, it is easy to understand from my example of the family. What they have both done is allow the rich to get richer and the poor poorer, starting with the farmers, and what they should have done is make the rich accountable by taking their excess from them and giving it to the poor.

This is so obvious and simple that any child can see it but the government can’t. If both Governments failed why should I prefer the Congress to the BJP? The reason is again simple which is that the new party which should be given a chance if it is to learn is not yet mature enough to handle the exigencies of looking after a country as huge as India from its performance of the past four years. If the BJP Govt. really wants to learn about economics or politics or social welfare or any of the other things that come with good governance it has to first of all come to terms with thinkers in India who understand ground realities and then have the courage to take on the rich, bring in funds from outside and also ensure money and wealth and assets do not go out of the country but genuinely trickle down to the poor. The Congress has better experience and a track record, at doing these things, and while it is only by a slight measure they are better at it, their social security features against the wrong kind of top down anarchy is better, offering stability and not polarisation in the country amonst Hindu- Muslim lines, and so they are any day a better option than the BJP. They too lack the strength to take on the rich or the burgeoning salaried class but diplomacy works better and not the harsh stand of the present government towards the people in the hope disruption is a better tool to bring about improvement.

To put it in simpler and more brutal terms when a country favors the rich and kills off its poor, especially the farmers, all its talk of the world being one family is bullshit as it is obvious it does not consider its own citizens as part of its family or if it does, considers the rich in it should be treated better and the poor in it treated like shit, to remain that way or die off. A fascist way of looking at things by a regional party pretending to be a national one which actually only cares for three castes in one religion basically, and that too only of those who support it in those castes, which is their inherent failing that will bring about their ruin tied to their class privileging of the rich amongst themselves, and their brand of capitalism which is only ruthlessly exploitative.

The problem with giving examples is very simple, examples like the one I gave of my own family as a small economic unit with one non income generating member are taken from my personal life and where governments fail or become evil are in the difference between the personal and the official, (not the private and the public) meaning that they support the rich justly and/or unjustly or are unable to make them cough up the required money to do good to the poor who may or may not use it or may even misuse it as that is part of the official sphere and the rich are not interested in parting with their money except voluntarily which is why systems like taxation and tax sops are put in place for them to do so but they manage to evade all this having more brains than the governments at being financially ingenious. That is why we have to concentrate not on laws but on implementation and that is where Congress failed but Modi failed even more in his bring the black money back home drive miserably as he was found unable to bring back anything. In other words it is easier to promise than to deliver and Indians are at a quandary as they do not know how to solve these issues whether we vote for Congress or Modi. This is not just a national problem but an international one in two ways as 1. black money is mostly not kept in India or kept in gold etc., and cannot be recovered and 2. this particular problem is not faced only in India but also in America and many other places. However to think that the answer to this problem is communism with its inbuilt failure of being unable to overcome economic and political fissures due to its anti- humanist stance when they come to power especially in some respects and not democracy is wrong and my fight is for Congress only for being more representative presently of the movement towards democracy, in economic matters, especially. Democracy is something Indians are only striving towards but we have not reached and in fact ideas like the electorate, voting, representative democracy are only its beginning birth throes and pangs. Even as a representative democracy we are far from being representative enough yet! And the system that allows the party with the largest number of votes to come to power while an equal number have not voted or depends on coalitions that can break up at any time or change due to outside pressures like corruption is definitely not democratic! None of us can imagine an actual fully, participatory democracy on the scale of a country as large as India where each citizen knows his rights and also fulfils his duties, and shoulders his responsibilities while having his obligations and expectations met. There is no such democracy anywhere in the world yet but that does not mean we should not strive towards it relentlessly and restlessly with both arms stretched out so that we come nearer to it daily. Coming back to poverty and class which is my topic here we knew that when Nehru was there as PM he had five year plans put in place that covered also things like ensuring poverty was driven out of the land, and he practised a form of socialism that helped while what Modi has in place is starting bank accounts and turning private sectors completely private both which will just by themselves ensure death to the poor in both urban and rural sectors through loans and not being able to get jobs in a highly competitive world. One can only laugh at the follies and foibles of this kind of vision along with mind blowing expenditure like bullet trains, Shivaji statues, smart cities and on defence arms that we do not need as usual (a mistake both Congress and BJP committed). What is the outcome – fiscal debt national and international of staggering proportions for which the common man will try to pick up the tab by increased paying of taxes in both personal and corporate sectors not knowing about it but despite it the Govt. will not be able to keep the national or international debt down as it will only increase, driving us as a nation further down the ladder of developing nations in world studies of our rankings based on research that is impartial due to the parameters used.

To recapitulate something key in this section, what we need is not to drive the country into modernisation mode along with out-dated feudal and fiefdom religious models as reason to do so but to concentrate on a. air – free of pollution, for all b. food – nutritious, for all c. water – of pure quality, for all d. clothing – in plenty, according to the region e. shelter, commons – for all of good quality f. housing – for all of good quality g.education – for all of good quality h. health – for all, of good quality i. employment – for all, of good quality j. income – for all, enough with a ceiling on the largest and free supply to those most down and out k. expenditure – inflation controlled so that all families can spend, save, invest, multiply and not suffer.

Dr A.V. Koshy is an established author and writer who is a poet, critic and artist. He has a doctorate in Samuel Beckett’s Poems in English from the University of Kerala, now published. He has co-authored and published a monograph of essays called Wrighteings: In Media Res and has several, published research papers to his credit. His greatest desire is to build a village for people having autism where all their needs are met. He runs an NGO called “Autism for Help Village Project” with his wife for this dream to come true. He has fourteen other books out now as fiction writer, literary critic, poet, academician, literary theoretician, essayist, editor, anthologist, co -editor, co-author and co-contributor. His latest and perhaps best book is a collection of short stories Scream and Other Urbane Legends.



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