‘Reforms have lessened poverty’

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, January 3:

India’s economic reforms begun in 1991 have reduced poverty considerably though attaining equality continues to be a challenge, the Planning Commission’s deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said here today.

“Professionally, there is a consensus that poverty has gone down but not as much as the government said it would,” Ahluwalia told a two-day long seminar on development and nationhood that began today, “We have a wealth of data on poverty, we still have a larger wealth of economists to analyse these data.”

But the real challenge is how to combine higher economic growth with equal opportunity for all. “Ideally, one shouldn’t worry about relative inequality if absolute poverty has come down,” he said, “The tolerance of an unequal outcome is more acceptable if it emanated from the position of equality of opportunity. Which is why spectacular success of IT spawning a new generation of millionaires doesn’t evoke negative responses.”

Earlier economist Meghnad Desai’s has said that poverty-enhancing policies were followed under the socialist system over which India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru presided.

The seminar saw Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Ahluwalia defending the Nehruvian idea of India, with its focus on secularism and socialism, against the idea of India as a multinational polity enunciated by Desai.

The Chinese experience of globalisation has a lot to offer to India. “India has grown fast, but not as fast as China,” Sen noted. The seminar was conceived and organised by industrialist Vinay Bharat Ram and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FIICI). Desai, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, was at his provocative best as he exposed clichés and shibboleths of socialism based on a single, unitary view of nationhood during Nehru’s tenure as prime minister.

Desai, his sarcasm evident in every word he spoke, said, “It’s a free country. Everyone is entitled to his delusions. But I was sceptical about the Indian experiment in socialism after independence. I like throwing things at people, there is no reason why they shouldn’t do the same.” “The problem with such a model of development,” Desai said, “was that it only enhanced poverty. Poverty didn’t reduce and unemployment grew. Literacy was neglected. All that we had were a lot of shining machines.”

These poverty-enhancing policies that were a waste of resources provoked the marginalised and dis-empowered to reassert themselves, Desai argued. “The democratic process and the electoral machine was used by these marginalised classes to gain access to political power,” said Desai, “Only a grand coalition can accelerate growth and curb communalism.”