2020 was a year of challenges for the world. It took everyone by a surprise and put forward challenges and issues never seen before. But it seems like the challenges were very different for different people. While some lost the roof over their heads and struggled day and night to make ends meet, some were earning margins large enough to get them to the list of billionaires. Strange, isn’t it? When you and I read this from the comfort of our homes, we fail to realise the privilege we have to be able to afford the resources required to sustain a quality life. We sympathise with the ones that lack enough resources and question the government about the steps to ensure their upkeep. But what we further fail to see is the widening list of those who own resources and means beyond what any person could need, in their lifetime. Take a moment and ponder upon the fact that India is a poor country, meaning a large population of the country falls below or marginally above the poverty line, however the largest proportion of wealth in the country belongs to less than 1% of the population.
Don’t take me wrong, the problem isn’t the rich people. The problem is this system. The system allows the rich to keep getting richer and the poor to keep getting poorer, at the expense of people’s lives. The pandemic that resulted in a recessing economy worst hit the middle and lower class such that they have run out of savings and livelihoods, risking their entire future. The rich? Well, it would be safe to say they made it fairly well through the pandemic especially considering how 40 more people were added to the list of billionaires from India, taking the total number to be as high as 177. And oh, the wealthiest man in the country, Mr Mukesh Ambani witnessed a 24 per cent jump in his and Reliance Industries’ fortune, claiming his position as the eighth richest man in the world, s per a list given by the Hurun Global Rich List.
Wait up, the list of rich gaining fortunes is longer than you think. Gautam Adani, the founder of Adani Industries, claimed his position as the 48th richest man in the world and second richest man in the country after his fortune almost doubled in the pandemic year. While the country was struggling with the crippling economy that leads to a 9.1% unemployment rate, Mr Adani climbed 20 spots in the world’s wealth list to claim the position. Oh, he’s not the only Adani that made a fortune during the pandemic, Gautam Adani’s brother, Vinod Adani, saw a 128 per cent increase in his wealth.
Just to talk numbers, if we add the net wealth of the 3 people mentioned above, we would land at a whopping total of USD 124.8 Billion, about 5% of India’s total GDP in current terms for 2020. Read again and acknowledge- 3 people in a country of 1.3 billion people account for 5 per cent of the total income, and Vinod Adani is not even the third richest man in the country. So much for capitalism!
Now that we have mentioned the third richest man, how can we not count their achievements during the pandemic year on the list? Shiv Nadar, the founder of HCL technologies limited, kept his position as the third wealthiest man in India with a net wealth of USD 27 billion. He, along with some other tech industry peers dominated the list of fastest-growing wealth in the country.
Now, for those people that support the argument of the rich opening the doors of opportunities for other people, these increments in wealth happened when the country saw a sharp increase in the unemployment rate to about 9 per cent in the year-end. The expectations of the country to contract by 7 per cent due to the pandemic is further said to worsen the number. So, where exactly are those opportunities going, because as the data suggests, the country has a large list of people that went jobless and broke during the pandemic?
A January 2020 study by rights group Oxfam India suggested that India’s richest 1 per cent hold more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people who make up for the bottom 70 per cent of the country’s population. Even though the statistics make the picture look deeply dark, India’s huge income divide is no secret, with or without data. You, I, every common person knows it. And well, so does the government. The ever so hoped K shaped recovery of the economy would only further help a selected few prosper, leaving widened the already huge income gap.
So, the question is, the government doing about it? If yes, then what?
Well, seems like this has not been the main point of concern right now. The union budget announced for 2021 failed to pay any heed to the widening income gap in the economy and has failed to offer any sort of redistributive justice and equity. No policies were made for the introduction of equitable and inclusive growth, which would have involved cess on high income earning individuals and redistribution of resources. Progressive schemes that would have called for significant spending in the rural educational sector, job creation and urban employment guarantee scheme for informal and casual labour were not even remotely brought into attention in the union budget of the year. Remember, politics can be subjective but the economy cannot be. We shall together raise our voice and hold the government accountable based on data and numbers because while you and I might forget about this sometime later, but there are people dying on the road and sleeping empty stomached who are living this, every single day.