Thoughts for New Year

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

The Year 2021 has consigned into history. A New Year 2022 has dawned. The New Year is a time when we bid adieu to the present year and welcome new beginnings with thunderous applause. It gives us another chance to start afresh and its advent is celebrated with pomp, fervour, and grandeur.

We welcome the Year 2022 and wish all not only a happy, peaceful but also an eventful and purposeful new year. We wish a purposeful new year in the sense that happiness and peace are just a state of mind and there is no yardstick to measure it. Sometimes the longing for those makes one lethargic, inactive, and lackluster.

Had all people remained satisfied that they have, society would not have seen the scientific miracle, innovation, invention, discovery, progress, and prosperity. Had our freedom fighters thought for only happiness, India would not have got independence. Had our soldiers thought only happiness, they would not have protected our sovereignty.

The civilisation has grown, society has progressed, life has become comfortable because some have taken risks to their lives and renounced so-called happiness, peace and worked throughout day and night sacrificing pleasure and leisure of lives. Of course, they derive happiness from those activities/sacrifices.

Everyone’s version of happiness is different. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. In our society, people equate happiness with accumulating wealth and all the accessories, including expensive cars, fashionable clothes, and exotic trips. Partying, drinking, eating and recreational drugs are too often seen as part of happiness. This ephemeral mindset makes one racing ecstasies that don’t last.

A keen approach is to view happiness as something animate that comes with doing what you love, being with people you care about, pursuing a meaningful passion, being treated with respect and dignity, and avoiding comparing yourself to others.

But making life eventful and purposeful mean contributing to society in different fields/realms instead of leading a cosy and comfortable life only. Making life eventful means fighting for the upliftment of vulnerable sections of society and waging a bitter struggle against exploitation, injustice, and discrimination so as to strive for an egalitarian society.

Hence the dawn of the new year is not just an occasion for celebration as we deem, but beckons upon our responsibility to do something for humankind. It is an important time for introspection too. It is time for analysing the past year and learning from that year and reorientating our activities.

Hence, while entering the New Year with hope and aspiration, it is worth, recapturing the events of the year gone by that have an immense imprint and impression on the lives and livings of people of the world.

Saying goodbye, knowing you will never return to the same place, the same moment can be heart-wrenching and excruciating. But in saying goodbye to 2021 like 2020, one should feel little remorse and look instead to welcome in 2022 with a sense of anticipation and excitement. However, this year, with cases of COVID-19 variant Omicron shooting up, the celebration has been dampened.

The last two years have been difficult on us with the spread of the coronavirus. The spread of Covid-19 quickly spun out of the control in 2020 and the year 2021 has been a turbulent and unusual one in many ways- a year in which the Corona pandemic shocked entire society by killing crores of people, annihilating crores of livelihoods.

The pandemic made us stay away from our loved ones, live in the constant fear of a virus taking our near and dear ones away. As of December 31, 2021, 54,49,003 people have died so far across the globe from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, while there are 287,035,172 confirmed cases in 222 countries and territories. In India, while there are 34,838,804 confirmed cases, the death toll has increased to 4,81,080. Now Omicron has started replacing the Delta variant in India. It recorded 309 fresh Omicron infections, taking the total tally of such cases in the country to 1,270.

No sensible person can forget the death of people due to coronavirus and excruciating experiences who survived from corona infection. What was more tragic, the way people died due to lack of oxygen and hospital bed. However, massive vaccination has created a ray of hope but there is colossal vaccine inequality seen among countries and within countries with advanced countries having more population vaccinated.

As of 25th December, for every 100 people, in India 103.3 doses only have been given, far below the global average of 116 doses. Nearly 105 countries have administered a higher percentage than India. Actually, 41.7 percent of India’s population has received both doses of the vaccine while about 61 percent of the adult population has been given a single dose of the vaccine.

The pandemic Covid 19 has exposed the vulnerability of the market economy; the fragility of the global economy; Achilles’ heel of America, and other advanced countries; selfishness, greed, the rapacity of finance capital; cruelty and limitation of capitalism; the devastating consequence of destroying our ecosystem.

It has battered the arrogance, superciliousness of many powerful rulers and exposed the hypocrisy of rich, corporate behemoths, ruling class who always talk of wealth creation, GDP growth. The pandemic has taught us the significance of protecting nature and ecological diversity and making optimum use of natural resources and trying for human welfare instead of being engrossed with only GDP growth.

The world economy ravaged by a pandemic is not out of woods with stimulus package spurring global debt, though benefits of packages are cornered by rich and corporates. Total debt, including that owed by governments, households, and companies is around $296 trillion ( 1 trillion= 1000 billion or 1 lakh crore, 1billion= 100 crores, 1 dollar= nearly Rs 75.00) equivalent to 350% of world GDP at the end of September 2021, after an increase to record highs in the previous quarter. It stands about $36 trillion above pre-pandemic levels.

Total emerging market debt edged up to $92.6 trillion, with China taking the dragon’s share. In emerging markets excluding China, total debt hit a record high of $36.4 trillion, largely driven by increasing government debt, but external debt is on track to drop below 43% of GDP in 2021 from an all-time high of near 46% in 2020. The US Federal Reserve is going to taper its bond-buying programme such as quantitative easing which may trigger an outflow of capital from emerging economies making them more susceptible to vagaries of finance capital.

After the mammoth contraction in both the Indian economy and world economy in 2020, in 2021 there was a recovery in some sectors due to pent-up demand, but still not adequate. The loss to the Indian economy was so massive that in terms of GDP, India reached the pre-pandemic level in September 2021. But Global economy including India which was experiencing a synchronized slowdown in 2020 is now witnessing a K-shaped economic recovery with rich/corporates getting richer while the poor getting poorer.

Poverty, hunger, and inequality have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Of course, the draconian demonetization and a poorly planned and hastily implemented GST had crippled the Indian economy that was already struggling with many economic problems. The rise of poverty, inequality and unemployment are so enormous that damage cannot be reversed so easily. In a statement marking the 30th anniversary of economic liberalisation, Manmohan Singh said he was deeply saddened at the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of millions of fellow Indians, and livelihoods. Of course, 2021 marks thirty years of economic liberalisation. The policy of globalization and liberalization propounded by IMF, World Bank to suit rich and advanced countries has brought further untold misery for humankind.

In 2020, that the middle class in India is estimated to have shrunk by 3.2 crores, the number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) is estimated to have increased by 7.5 crores because of the COVID-19 recession, 23 crore people in India found earning less than Rs 375 per day, 97 percent of Indian households witnessed the decline of their income and nearly 12 crore lost jobs, though some got back.

But in 2021, things have gone from bad to worse. Hunger, poverty, and inequality are still rising. As per the data collected by UNDP, 130 crore people are multidimensional poor in the world, while 22.7 crore Indians are multidimensionally poor. However, according to the Niti Ayog’s report, 25.1% of Indians are found multidimensional poor in 2016-17. This must-have increased now. The highest number of poor, hungry, and homeless people in the world live in India. It is estimated that more than 81.1 crore people in the world faced hunger while more than 19.44 crore people are plagued by hunger in India.

According to the Global Hunger Index 2021, conflict, climate change, and the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have exacerbated the food security situation across the globe including India. But India’s ranking is on the decline since Narendra Modi rode to power. India had ranked at 55 in 2014 before declining to 101 in 2021. India had ranked at 94 among 107 countries on the 2020 Index.

It is not only in the hunger index but in all other indexes like the human development index (131 out of 189 countries), global happiness index 144 out of 154 countries), global peace index (135 out of 163 countries), corruption perception Index (86 out of 180 countries) India ranks abysmally.

What is more painful is that according to the World Inequality Report 2022 released by the World Inequality Lab on December 7, 2021 “India stands out as a poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite, in the world.”

The income inequality can be understood from the fact that, in 2021, while the top 10 percent and top 1 percent of the population hold 57.1 percent and 21.7 percent of total national income, respectively, the bottom half just 13.1 percent.

Inequality also enlarged when it comes to wealth. In 2021, the top 10 percent owns 64.6 percent of the total wealth, while the top 1 percent owns 33 percent. But the bottom 50 percent of the nation can be seen to own almost nothing (i.e., 5.9 percent of the total pie). Going back in time, the report shows that the income inequality in India under the British colonial rule (1858-1947) was very high, with a top 10 percent income share around 50 percent. But, now, inequality is higher than what was in pre-independence period.

Similarly, global inequalities seem to be about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century. As far as income is concerned, the richest 10 percent of the global population currently takes 52 percent of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8.5 percent of it. The picture is shoddier when it comes to wealth inequalities. The poorest half of the global population “barely owns any wealth” possessing just 2 percent of the total, whereas the richest 10 percent of the global population own 76 percent of all wealth. Private wealth is growing, while public wealth declining.

Public healthcare is a great leveller and directly helps in reducing health inequalities. India’s health sector is decrepit and India has one of the lowest health expenditures as a percentage of GDP. But sharp inequalities exist across different caste, religious, class, and gender categories on various health indicators, according to a report by Oxfam India.

The report titled “India Inequality Report 2021: India’s Unequal Healthcare Story” shows that the “general category is better off than the SCs and STs, Hindus are better off than Muslims, the rich are better off than the poor, men are better off than women, and the urban population is better off than the rural population” on most health determinants, interventions, and indicators. The findings are primarily based on secondary analysis from rounds 3 and 4 of the National Family Health Survey and various rounds of the National Sample Survey.

What is more disconcerting is that the government has slashed social expenditure such as on health, education, which has a far-reaching impact on poor people. Its ill effects have been further exacerbated due to the failure of the government to control the prices of essential commodities. The purchasing power of people is being hard-hit and many people are drowned in the quagmire of poverty and starvation.

Impoverishment, inequality, enslavement, and discrimination are inextricably linked and plaguing our nation today. The rich are not made to pay legitimate taxes to generate more resources. Being unable to generate more resources by taxing rich, corporates legitimately and failing to curb tax evasions, the government is resorting to unfettered disinvestment and privatisation of public sectors.

It is also going to hand over national assets to its conies on lease. This will lead to rising in users’ fees and make the poor more vulnerable and inaccessible to basic services. National assets will be transferred to individuals. The policy of the government to raise the indirect tax more affecting common people adversely and to reduce direct tax especially corporate tax is benefiting corporate. This is regressive in nature and enhances inequality more.

There is a growing trust deficit between the ruling class and citizens. India’s secular credential and socialistic nature seem to shatter today with society being contaminated and divided more than before under the present regime.

In records, people enjoy freedom but are practically not free to express their feelings, thoughts emotions if it exposes the failures of the ruling class. There has been growing intolerance to rational thoughts. An atmosphere has been created to kill independent thinking, suppress dissent. Hatred is created against dissenters. Intellectuals are made to fight each other with one section opposing other sections who fight for people and expose the failures of the ruling class.

The ruling class is promoting superstitions, and decimating scientific temper. Social stability is virtually in jeopardy. What is reprehensible is that around the world, democracy is sliding, shrivelling with the rising of despotism. The decline of democracy is discernible in India in a bigger magnitude.

In the month of February 2021, India, described as a “flawed democracy”, slipped two places to 53rd position in the latest Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. A week later on March 11, in its report titled “Autocratization Turns Viral.” V-Dem demoted India from being a democracy to an “electoral autocracy.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report says India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. India has been placed at 142nd position among 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index 2021, released on April 20, 2021. India was at 142nd position in 2020 as well, which means below 141 countries. In 2016. India’s rank was 133 which has steadily climbed down to 142 in 2020.

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society. But rich people seem to be a little worried about vulnerable sections of society. When people are ravaged by the corona pandemic, the wealth of billionaires and profits of corporate has been increasing leaps and bounds.

It is high time, planners should think about whether India should be a country of 135 core people where hunger and poverty will vanish or a country of 35 crore people that will create big market opportunities for multinational companies and where the rest of people will perish, struggle to eke out a bare subsistence.

New Year is one event that everyone is highly excited about for several reasons. New Year stirs new hopes and expectations about life around us. Every New Year reminds us of the progress in our lives. We eagerly look for some change and betterment with the arrival of every New Year. New Year is a symbol of hope, faith, confidence, and growth. In the new year, we should hope for a better, peaceful, happy society.

However, the hope and aspiration of Indians from the Modi government for a just, balanced society and development has been pounded. Recently society has grown more intolerant, insensitive petulant with obliteration of trust and faith. People have been made more violent, corrupt, arrogant, and greedy so that they will become subservient to the ruling class and will not raise voices against the misrule of the ruling class.

Optimism does not mean not admitting weakness, failures, but admitting and addressing those weaknesses, failures so as to march ahead. But our government never admits its failures, so, there is no question of achieving progress, prosperity.

Farmers’ bitter struggle and snatching victory by pushing the Modi government to withdraw farms acts inspire confidence. However, it is working-class people who have got more responsibility as they have practical experience of associating with the poor and downtrodden and waging struggle regularly against exploitation.

It is imperative that going into 2022, the government is able to set the agenda for human development, peace, and happiness. Let us welcome the Year 2022 with hope and confidence that humanity will prevail over injustice and exploitation.



The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.


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