All the Glitters R Not Gold

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All that glitters is not gold

Ambanis and Mittals are no Buffetts and Gates. But we can’t blame them for the appalling poverty that prevails in India

Now that Durga Puja’s son et lumiere has faded, comment might be permitted on what this annual exercise of expensive competitive showmanship reveals of popular taste. That no doubt explains why no one voices the real charge that should be levelled at the super-rich who should be in the dock not for spending too much but for the waste and crass vulgarity of their spending.

Given its Brahmins and Dalits, India has always been a land of contrasts. It has also always epitomized the concentration of wealth. But no one salivated earlier over how rich the rich were, how they acquired their money or how they spent it. Mr Mukesh Ambani’s 400,000 sq ft mansion is a talking point because it’s news in the West and because the public and private domains are no longer separate.

Their overlapping not only exposes the rich to scrutiny but also distracts attention from the Government’s neglected responsibilities. India lags behind many sub-Saharan countries in almost all the indices of modernity not because of the Ambanis, Mittals, Mallyas and Modis, but because our politicians are on the make and our civil servants are on the take. It’s their job to create systems that enable people to raise their standard of living; it’s not the job of those who have either escaped the rigours of the system or learnt how to manipulate it to their advantage.

The spotlight is on the rich also because political democracy creates its own fantasies. Universal suffrage fosters the illusion of participative decision-making. The notion of equality before the law is taken seriously. Tub-thumping politicians whip up populist sentiment to pander to the gallery and distract attention from their own misdemeanours and extravagances – marble monuments and statues, for instance. With the media forever on the lookout for titillating titbits, it’s...
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