Poverty is big business in a poor country especially on the eve of elections. As poll booths hover over the horizon, ruling parties suddenly discover what a fabulous job they have done, in marked contrast to the parties they displaced from office, and boy, shouldn’t they get another chance?
And so it is, in the year of the 2013.
With the general elections no more than a few months away, the Congress-led UPA, using figures from the national sample survey organisation (NSSO), is putting out the word that under its masterful watch, poverty has come down a full 15 per cent: from 37 per cent in 2004-05 when it took charge to 22 per cent in 2011-12.
Shorn of the jargon, it means there are 15 fewer poorer people amongst every 100 Indians than when the UPA came to power. It means that in a nation of roughly 120 crore people, about 18 crore people have been lifted out of poverty by the policies of Manmohan Singh and his “dream team“.
But, poverty repeats itself in mysterious ways in India.
In 2002, two years before the current calibration began, the BJP-led NDA too made a similar claim. The then finance minister Yashwant Sinha said the poverty ratio had come down from 37 per cent to 26 per cent.
On his blog, the food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma writes that soon after the economic reforms were unleashed in 1991, the then deputy chairman of the planning commission Pranab Mukherjee said he had brought down poverty from 37 per cent to 19 per cent in one go.
So, whether it is 1991, 2002 or 2013, the starting point for poverty reduction, it seems, is 37.
After all, as the Wikipedia page for 37 claims, it is the number that most people utter when asked to name a random number between 0 and 100..