Has the number of Indians living below the poverty line increased under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's rule?
The issue of poverty has always been a sensitive one during election time. Now, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have become embroiled in a fight about the figures related to India's poorest people.
In an exclusive column for rediff.com, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani's confidante and member of his election strategy group, had argued that the number of people living below the poverty line had actually increased during the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.
"The rich-poor divide got wider in the past five years, prompting Bimal Jalan, the former RBI governor, to lament last year that the wealth of 20 richest Indians was greater than the combined assets of 30 crore poorest Indians. Last month, a study by the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, revealed that the number of people living below poverty line increased by 5.5 crore or an alarming 20 per cent between 2004-05 and 2008-09. To think that the poor would disregard this reality and vote for the Congress is to think that the poor have no intelligence," he had written.
Jairam Ramesh, member of the core group of Congress, who is in charge of the party's political strategy and campaigning, has written a blunt e-mail to Kulkarni. He has questioned Kulkarni's claim regarding the poverty figures and almost dubbed him a liar.
Irked by the claims made by Kulkarni in his column, Ramesh points out that the ISI's survey stops at 2004-2005.
Here is the text of the e-mail written by Ramesh:
You will no doubt be surprised to receive this e-mail from me.
I know that party hacks are often called upon to lie in the interests of the party they serve. This is particularly true during election campaigns when facts, truth and sobriety are at a tremendous discount. I normally ignore claims and counter-claims during election season but one assertion by you in some of your recent columns has shocked me, especially coming from someone who has a professional background.
You write that poverty has gone up during 2004/05-2008/09. I am not entering into any debate on how poverty is measured or how accurate the NSS (National Sample Survey) estimates are. That is a separate issue. I also don't want to reduce the visible and vast poverty and destitution that we see in India to cold statistics. But the incontrovertible fact is that the latest year for which we have NSS estimates of poverty ratios is 2004/05. There is no officially certified estimate for subsequent years. This can easily be checked from the Planning Commission.
I also got in touch with ISI, Kolkata, which has done the maximum data-bashing of the NSS consumption expenditure surveys of 2004/05. Dr. Buddhadeb Ghosh met me yesterday and confirmed that their work stops at 2004/05. I also drew his attention to a recent article in The Mint on the ISI's analysis, the article that I suspect forms the basis of your wild assertions. He said that The Mint article was highly misleading and in any case he had never stated that there is NSS evidence to suggest that poverty ratios have gone up during 2004/05-2008/09.
As a member of the BJP's think tank, you are naturally under constant pressure to revile the Congress. But given your IIT education and long stint in the PMO, I would have thought you would have been more careful with data.
Since it was my senior colleague Digvijay Singh who first drew my attention to your completely false and misleading claims, I am marking a copy of this e-mail to him as well.
My mother makes inquiries of you every now and then,