It will remain a moot point for argumentative Indians if a slide on a social-scale negates positive gains registered on an economic index. The cynics would contend that the bubble of euphoria created by gaining an impressive jump of 30 places on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’ has been punctured by India’s slipping 21 notches in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Index ‘.
The government’s economic managers, however, insist that its programme of economic reform has been validated by the Bank’s assessment. Perhaps it boils down to how much stock one puts in a healthy bank balance being a criterion for overall well-being. Certainly after some none-too-encouraging performances, the Bank has provided a morale booster for the government as it and the Opposition gear up for a battle of rhetoric on November 8 ~ the “anniversary” of demonetisation.
And though it still has some way to go, the government would find much to appreciate in the observation of a senior Bank official that “”The significant jump this year is a result of the Indian government’s consistent efforts over the past few years and India’s endeavour to strengthen its position as a preferred place to do business”.
The ultimate pointer will be the increase in FDI flows, and the extent to which private investment picks up: particularly in the employment-generating medium and small sectors of manufacturing industry. A counter view is that the Bank tends to “favour” western corporations, and domestic units have yet to perceive alluring signals, despite Dalal Street’s response to the Bank’s upgraded rating. The “western” criticism could be levelled the other way around when interpreting the WEF’s Gender Gap Index.
It is indeed disappointing to note that India slipped behind Bangladesh and China primarily due to less participation of women in the economy and lower wages. The WEF attributed much of India’s declined position to a widening of gender-gaps in political empowerment (what happened to the Women’s Reservation Bill?) as well as healthy life expectancy and basic literacy.
“India’s greatest challenges lie in the economic participation and opportunity pillar where the country is ranked 138, as well as health and survival pillar where the country is ranked 141” said the WEF. No doubt the Gender Gap index, like the Bank’s EDB index will ignite firestorms aplenty with the government coming under attack for failing to promote gender-equality.
In fact if there was an accredited mechanism that evaluated an “ease of politicking index” it would be a one-horse race with India winning “by a distance” ~ Amartya Sen was being conservative when he spoke of being argumentative, Indians can now “politic” over anything under the sun. And there would be no gender-gap in that sphere ~ Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Smriti Irani and now Nirmala Seetharaman too can “scrap” as well as the best of the rest