The BJP Wakes Up To India’s Poverty

(This is a post by Jacob Kuncheria. Cheri, as he is known to friends, works for Reuters in Delhi and is interested in development issues, Satyajit Ray films and Hindustani music.)

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has suddenly woken up to the gross underestimation of poverty in India. In Rajya Sabha on Thursday Murli Manohar Joshi asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if the current definition of poverty in India was not a joke on the poor and whether this was not a means to mask the extent of poverty. A noble sentiment indeed, but let the record also show the BJP made no effort to improve upon the faulty schema of identifying the poor when it ruled between 1999 and 2004.Worse, that government, of which Joshi was a cabinet minister, presided over a major fudging of poverty measurement, tweaking the process of data collection to falsely show poverty had fallen under its regime.

It is certainly true that the official poverty estimates in India do not indicate the true extent of deprivation in the country. The poverty line is the cost of the cheapest foods that can supply the barest minimum of energy a person needs. Currently, if a villager earns over 12.26 rupees a day, or an urban citizen earns over 18.36 rupees daily, she is above the poverty line. That sum would not buy a McDonald’s burger even at their happy price menu, to make a rather cruel comparison.

Man cannot live on calories alone, he needs proteins and vitamins and minerals too, but the standard does not see the need to incorporate that. If a person sold her cow, her pots and pans or her land to make buy food, the income increase would actually push her above the poverty line. To add pain, the norm does not concern itself with the question of whether the supposedly un-poor actually eat the food supposedly purchasable at that income.

Studies have shown that the lack of state-provided health care, housing and education lead poor households to spend an increasing amount of their income on private providers. This reduces food consumption, and invariably, the deprivation is pronounced in women, girls and children. It is no wonder India is home to 40 percent of malnourished children, and its record is worse than sub-Saharan Africa. The amount of anaemic women and girls and the ensuing high rate of maternal mortalities, among other damning health statistics clearly point to the inadequacy of the measure. Hence, the poverty line is not just a line under which one is poor. Rather, it is an indicator which says: if you earn below this, it’s a miracle you’re alive.


Now to the BJP and poverty. The estimation of how many people are poor is done by measuring household income, which is the subject of a survey conducted every five years. Households are quizzed on their spending in the month, and a rise in this indicates increased income. If more households spend more, it means the number of the poor as a percentage of the total population has fallen.

In the 59th round of this survey in 2003, when the BJP was in power and painting rosy images of India Shining, an additional question on weekly spending was asked of households. A minor change, but when posed right before the question on monthly spending, led the respondent to quadruple the weekly answer to give the monthly figure. This number was clearly incorrect, for there are weekly variations in income and consumption, given the fact most of India’s poor have no fixed jobs or wages.The data that emerged gave an inflated consumption number, indicating incomes had risen under the BJP’s rule and the government had been successful in fighting poverty.

The easiest way of ending famine, it seems, is expunging the word from the language itself! And the poor have no idea of their great fortune, they know not how many tears are being shed in their name.

Hotel Taj : icon of whose India ?

Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another
during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of
another kind. The terror of assaulting one’s mind and sensitivity with
cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have
been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called – Hotel Taj
the icon of India.

Whose India, Whose Icon ?

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not
bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from
terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station.
CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station
hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal
and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming
themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with
the Marathis and Kolis

But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise
the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No
Barkha dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to
show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards.
And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to
find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were
again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the
dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.

In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers
from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at
CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60
hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in
detail what transpired there.

The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of
India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident
closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them
was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour.
But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack.
Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have
to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman

The so called justification for the hype the channels built around
heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that
Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe
congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not
India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The
Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST
and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power
over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the
haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over
sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever
financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) ,
Political brokers and industrialists.

It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that
the terrorists chose to strike.

The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam
Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains.
He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even

Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels
and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said
Pranoy Roy\\\’s channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same
sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of
the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in
this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience
this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling