Sir — I would like to salute Ashok Mitra for his enlightening article, “The plunder economy” (July 15). I fully agree with him when he defines the present economic situation thus: “It is class war.” This is all the more evident to me, since I am the inhabitant of a small town surrounded by villages in remote North Bengal. At the same time, I am doubtful about the identities of the classes at war in present-day India. They are neither so well-defined nor so clearly visible as Mitra makes them out to be. Mitra has put the “petty clerk or the poor rickshaw puller” in the same bracket, and this does not tally with the ground reality prevailing in cities other than the metropolitan ones.
A clerk working in a government or a government-aided institution in the major cities of India can no longer be called petty. He is very much an object of envy in the rural or suburban areas. The clerk — with his handsome salary, perks, greasy palms, retirement benefits and dearness allowance linked to the price index — is hardly the victim of inflation or of the escalation in the prices of essential commodities. In this he is unlike the rickshaw puller, and the antagonism between the two is often visible when the former chooses to take a ride in the latter’s vehicle in the town I live. A village school teacher — with his enviable salary and pension benefits, along with extra earnings from private tuitions — is much like a sarkari babu. He too finds himself far above the common rural folk, who are outside the government-sponsored social security net.
The difference between a government job and a private-sector one can be gauged from the fact that in the open market, the demand for a job of the former kind is about 20 times higher than that for the latter kind. Hence I think that the simplistic class divisions derived from late 19th-century Europe are no longer valid in today’s world, more so in the caste-driven Indian society.
Jai Shankar Agarwala, Jalpaiguri
Sir — I fully agree with Ashok Mitra when he says that inflation is a class instrument which transfers available resources from the poor to the rich. The Central government seems to think that if it increases the price of essential items, it can lower the demand for them, and inflation will fall as a result. But this policy poses more problems than solutions.
In recent years, the price of almost every article has increased. Bank loans have also become more expensive because of repeated rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of India. If loans become dearer, less people will buy property, cars and other related assets. This will decrease demand, and, in turn, will lower industrial output. The overall growth rate of the gross domestic product will come down, and unemployment will be on the rise. Indeed, industrial growth has been remarkably slow over the last few months in India whereas inflation has increased. The rich in our country are getting richer with indirect help from the government. Unless the government finds a more humane way of curbing inflation, India will remain a country where the fruits of development do not reach the majority.
Maloy Pal, Calcutta
Sir — A major problem with congenital communists is that they tend to glorify the poor, often ignoring some of the real reasons behind poverty. Ashok Mitra belongs to this ilk, and so forgets that the poverty line is not the pre-1989 Berlin Wall. People move freely across that line. As an ace economist, Mitra can explain the theoretical reasons behind poverty, but empirically, we find that a fair percentage of the poor remain so by their informed choice.
People are reluctant to work. There are numerous instances when a rickshawwalla refuses to take a passenger on the pretext that he is ‘resting’. An above-the-poverty-line person like Mitra would work on holidays, and forgo social obligations for professional commitments. But many a worker of the unorganized sector must go to Diamond Harbour on New Year’s Day, pandal-hop all through the night in hired cars during Durga Puja, and get drunk on the day of Kali Puja. If the petty clerk or the poor rickshaw puller from Mitra’s article spends some of his earning on kerosene, which is subsidized by the state, rather than fritter it all away on gambling, tobacco and hooch, he will surely find himself in a better position than before. As long as the so-called poor continue with their hedonism, why should the middle-class tax-payers finance their kerosene?
Tapan Pal, Batanagar