Three Years of UPA-II : Insufferable Saga of Corruption and Economic Disaster

Even as the UPA government celebrated the third anniversary of its second term with a report card claiming record food grains production and a dramatic decline in poverty, the country was treated to an unprecedented oil shock with the price of petrol shooting up by more than 10 per cent. A litre of petrol now costs around Rs. 75, and with the value of the rupee depreciating almost every passing day in relation to dollar, the price of not only petrol but every imported item threatens to escalate relentlessly in the days to come.

While the price of petrol has been deregulated to enable it to soar freely, subsidies are being reduced across the board leading to a steady increase in the prices of almost all articles of essential mass consumption. An analysis of the ongoing pattern of price rise indicates that primary products, especially food and vegetable, are showing the highest rate of increase. In the eight years of UPA rule, primary articles have become 119% more expensive; fuel and power prices have gone up by 90.4% while there has been a 45% increase in the prices of manufactured products.

This pattern of price rise naturally means the poor have been the worst victims. According to the latest NSSO survey on monthly per capita consumption expenditure, food items account for 66% of the monthly expenditure of the poorest 10% as opposed to 38% of that of the richest 10% of rural households. The corresponding figures for urban households are 63% and 25% respectively. Yet in spite of this massive systematic pauperisation, the UPA government goes on claiming the miraculous feat of reduction in poverty by just lowering the poverty lines!

With the rupee undergoing a free fall, India’s import bill has started shooting up, petrol and defence purchases accounting for two major components. With this, the government has once again started warning about an impending balance of payments crisis (import bill being far in excess of export income) – the same pretext that had triggered the policy shift in 1991 to indiscriminate liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. After two decades of neoliberal reforms the economy is thus almost back to square one, and to cope with this crisis the government is advising the people to go for wholesale austerity measures! It is another matter that relentless rise in prices has already pushed the overwhelming majority of Indians into a state of utter austerity bordering on starvation.

In stark contrast stands the government, epitomising obscene opulence and ostentation. The President of India is reported to have undertaken more than a dozen foreign trips covering 22 countries spanning four continents spending nearly three months and more than Rs. 200 crore. Not to be left behind is Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar who is credited with 29 foreign trips in 35 months. And then there is Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission who prescribes a little less than Rs. 23 as the ‘poverty line’ daily expenditure for rural Indians, but whose average daily expenditure during his foreign travels works out to Rs. 2.02 lakh. And in the last eight years he has undertaken nearly 50 foreign trips, almost half of them to the US!

Corruption, the other hallmark of the Manmohan Singh regime, has also been scaling newer heights. The CAG final report on ‘coalgate’ has of course lowered the estimated loss to the national exchequer from Rs. 10.67 lakh crore to Rs. 1.80 lakh crore, by taking out public sector and state government entities from the purview of calculation. What the final report therefore concludes is that between 2004 and 2009, private coal block allottees were handed out undue benefit worth Rs. 1.80 lakh crore which is still higher than the highest estimate of the 2G scam.

Cornered over the issue of corruption and black money, the government has finally made a farcical attempt to come out with a white paper on black money claiming a decline in Indian deposits held in Swiss banks from Rs 23,373 crore in 2006 to Rs 9,295 in 2010! This perhaps only signifies the growing preference for other offshore destinations for accumulation of illicit wealth and the ‘white paper’ miserably fails or rather refuses to provide any realistic picture of the huge amounts being stashed abroad. The paper cites the Global Financial Integrity study which estimated the current value of total illicit financial flows from India between 1948 and 2008 at 462 billion dollars (around Rs 25 lakh crore) but suggests no concrete measure to stop such flows or repatriate the massive Indian wealth held abroad.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the PMO is trying to increase the gas price from the Krishna-Godavari basin to yield additional revenue of $8 billion to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd at the cost of the national exchequer.

It was Manmohan Singh as finance minister who had launched the neo-liberal offensive two decades ago. Today he is the Prime Minister and his government is daily pushing the country deeper into a comprehensive economic disaster. Just as Latin America and Europe are increasingly challenging and rejecting the neo-liberal model of market fundamentalism, in India too we must get ready to dump this notoriously corrupt regime along with its disastrous pack of

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