The 'filthy' rich ( Delhi Diary - Outlook Magazine)

The BB blog had discussed India Inc's response to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh' call ( at the CII annual General meeting- 2007 ) to Industry honchos to take pay cuts. (BB blog May 27, 25).

Vinod Mehta, Editor, Outlook Magazine, had this to say,

India is a very poor country which has a few very rich people. This reality cannot be fudged by statistics such as 9.2 per cent growth or the appearance quite recently of more dollar billionaires than in Japan. Now, I read we have discovered India's first trillionaire (Mukesh Ambani), which must be a matter for small rejoicing, as is the new affluence of the lucky few. Useful at this point is to remind ourselves that 80 per cent of our 1.1 billion population survives on less than Rs 80 per day. I believe this figure is a necessary corrective to all the hoopla on an emerging economic superpower enjoying mountainous prosperity. You don't have to go deep into the interior of our shining republic to locate pockets of poverty which would shame sub-Saharan Africa. For some neo-liberals to talk about such things may be unnecessary, unpleasant, even masochistic. Why not just celebrate Shining India?

The prime minister's rather mild and unsurprising address to the CII, pleading with the captains of our flourishing economy to think, worry and sacrifice a bit of their wealth to assist the massively underprivileged, has produced a whopping uproar. Those who earn upwards of Rs 10 crore a year are outraged—and so is the media. I can understand the position taken by the pink papers, but even centrist mainstream dailies have poured nothing but ridicule and scorn on the benign Manmohan Singh for having the temerity to ask our overworked tycoons to help curb conspicuous consumption and implement some of the high-minded talk of corporate social responsibility.

I hope I don't sound like Comrade Karat when I say that the reaction to the PM's speech shows the class character of our media. Since almost all the advertising in the English media comes from big business houses, I can understand, but not endorse, the stand taken. We (and that includes Outlook) know which side our bread is buttered. Meanwhile, what I find most distressing is the unrelenting hostility of the media to all poverty alleviation programmes, which are invariably described as "profligate", "wasteful" and "outdated". None of this should surprise anyone, but it reinforces my conviction that for the poor of this country to expect that "the conscience of the rich" can be pricked remains a pipe dream.


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