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Three Seasons (and a Preview of the 4th) of the Great Indian Poverty Game

'Winter is coming, will PM-Kisan pay for my frostbite?' Here's why 'Game of Thrones' has nothing on this show.

Globally, as extreme poverty levels have gone up, Indians have been among the worst sufferers. A study by the World Bank last year saw that nearly 80% of people who slipped into poverty in 2020 due to the pandemic were from India.

Yet in the same country where inequality has worsened – the richest 5% own nearly 62% of the wealth – the very idea of poverty and of who can be considered ‘poor’ has been changing quite fast depending on how such considerations reflect on policy makers.

India, as many global watchers have pointed out, has effectively stopped counting its poor. The effects of such a decision are clear.

The following was tweeted by sociology professor Sonalde Desai in the form of a thread on January 25, 2023. It has been edited slightly for style and presented in article format.

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The HBO series Game of Thrones has nothing on the Great Indian Poverty Game this Republic Day.

Here’s the synopsis of seasons 1 to 3 and the preview of season 4.

Season 1, episode 1. 1971 AD to 100 AN (Anno Naoroji):

Dandekar and Rath say that counting the daal, chawal and garlic chutney consumed, Rural Raghu needs Rs 15 and Urban Omkar needs Rs 22 per month to get enough calories to keep toiling. Maybe a little left over to buy soap for sweat-stench.

Season 1, episode 2. 1980s.

Raghu does not need so many calories. Indians can take lessons from Sudama and survive on handful of rice, says Sukhatme.

Season 1, episode 2. 1999-2000.

National Service Scheme is tired of the same old, same old. Who can remember daal consumption over a whole month? Make it easy and ask about last week.

Raghu did not go to the market, Somu bought a soap. Multiplying by four brings up Somu smelling roses. Both only bathe twice a month, a minor detail

Season 2, episode 1. 2005.

Oops, what a khichadi NSS has made, claim Sen and Himanshu. Liberalisation winter is coming. Great pow-wow held by Ravallion, Deaton, Kozel and more.

Go back, go back and find mixed recall period, National Sample Survey Office.

Voila, poverty is back where it should be. Or is it?

Season 2, episode 2.

But Rural Raghu smells more than Urban Omkar, says Tendulkar.

Let’s leave Omkar where he is but add smelly Raghu’s brother to the poor list. ‘Magic versus logic’ and Tendulkar poverty line is born.

Season 3, episode 1. 2018.

Raghu likes ragi and Seema likes sooji. We can’t measure all that doodah. One cup of noodles much lighter than a cup of millet, says NSS! So presto, no poverty data and hence, no poverty in India.

Season 3, episode 2. 2022.

Hocus pocus turn CMIE aata into bread, roti, naan and thepla.

Convert and estimate, says World Bank.

CMIE misses Rural Raghu but we can take Tara’s arms and Somu’s legs and make up Raghu.

Noodles to roti and Raghu rules.

Not so fast, add desi ghee and fatten him, says IMF.

Season 3, episode 3. 2022.

Stop this nonsense about Raghu and Tara. Let us get down to whether the National Democratic Alliance sold more mobiles or the United Progressive Alliance.

Didn’t building toilets reduce the stench?

Battle of Bhalla versus Dreze.

Lux versus Lyzol?

No need to worry over price changes or inflation – more is better.

Preview of season 4. 2023.

NSSO is smirking, ‘Thank god, they won’t even know we changed the questionnaire.’

So now who will know if Raghu is eating less rotis than in 2011? We will count his noodles!

Behind the scenes.

‘Winter is coming, winter is coming,’ cries Raghu. ‘I don’t care if I smell. Will PM-Kisan pay for my frostbite?’

‘I have diabetes and have to diet,’ says Tara. ‘But count my insulin costs and I look rich.’

Omkar was lost when his basti was cleared to build an airport.

Please cancel the show. I am getting dizzy. Can’t we just figure out how thin Tara is and whether Raghu is being dunned by the moneylenders?

It wouldn’t be bad to know whether Omkar is dead. Let someone else count up grains of murmurs and sev and cut up the onions to make bhel.

Sonalde Desai is professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and National Council of Applied Economic Research.