Indian Decade

India, Rich and Poor

A satellite launch and a UNDP poverty index underscore India’s continuing contradictions.

India’s contradictions couldn’t be made any starker than they were on Monday. On the same day it managed a perfect launch of several advanced satellites, a new UNDP poverty index embarrassed the country by stating that India has more poor people than a score of the poorest African nations combined.

Eight Indian states—Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP and West Bengal—have 421 million poor as measured by the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), compared with a total of 410 million in the 26 poorest African nations, according to a new measure devised by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative for UNDP.

Yet this sobering fact hasn’t stopped the celebrations around the sixteenth successful mission of the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV),which put into orbit five payloads, including the latest remote sensing satellite, CARTOSAT-28 (the previous satellite launch mission failed).

Noting such contradictions, Britain reportedly may scale down its 250 million-pound foreign aid to India. British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, who is quoted as having said that ‘…public money spent annually on nuclear-armed India could be scaled down’ drove home the point by stating that Britain’s rich non-resident Indian community ‘could do more to help their countrymen.’

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Jo Johnson, a British Conservative MP, was more biting in a piece in The Financial Times. ‘India,’ he said, ‘can now fund its own development needs, considerable though they are in a country with 450 million poor. It has a defence budget of US$31.5 billion, plans for a prestige-boosting moon shot and a substantial foreign aid programme of its own.’

Meanwhile, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to tell a dozen top Indian industrialists to curb their ‘ostentatious lifestyle ’because it doesn’t sit well with a poor country like India. ‘People in India think the corporate sector is not doing enough for society,’ Tarun Das, former chief mentor of the powerful business lobby group the Confederation of Indian Industry, told one newspaper.