Monday, 27 April 2015

Current Events 9: Poverty is Not Romantic

A new post in the series - Current Events

A strange political drama is unfolding in India these days. Opposition to most of the proposals put forth by the current government is happening not because of any substantive merit but simply because the opposition's role is to oppose. Controversies are being created, simply to derail any effort to initiate and put together any developmental projects that may have some potential to alleviate mass poverty in rural areas.

Speeches after speeches, hyperbole after hyperbole, protest marches after protest marches....the so-called champions of the poor are busy ensuring that poor are always kept at the mercy of the governmental handouts, that they never get to really be part of the national growth story. Basically, the poor should remain poor in order to fulfill some parties' twisted political agenda.

A certain section of Indian intellectual class with its weird romantic notions of poverty provides the ideological support for these political games. They are quick to characterise every proposed development plan as anti-poor through their continued hold in the Indian mainstream media. The opposing noise is becoming louder and the truth is beginning to get buried in the shrill discourse.

After a decade-long lull in India's economic prospects a new hope is beginning to emerge with a strong central government which, unlike several previous governments, is not weighted down by the pressure of coalition-politics. There is a renewed sense of doing something substantive for the country's economic growth, a focused push for efficiency and effectiveness, a greater degree of accountability and responsibility.

No national economy, especially one like India's which is responsible for the material sustenance of 1.25 billion people can prosper or even survive in the long run without massive and well-planned industrialisation. All economic common sense tells us this. In the last six decades since India's independence good beginning has been made in the industrial sector, but a lot more, really a lot more needs to be done if India has to bring out its rural masses out of the vicious cycle of extreme poverty, indebtedness and financial misery.

The changed world economic scenario of the past several decades has made it even more critical that India's manufacturing and industrial sector is revived big time. Over-dependence on service sector and a miserably failing agricultural sector can't bear the burden of pushing economic growth in the times to come. Serious efforts must be made now.

Surely, no sane person expects any miracle overnight when it comes to a mammoth task like alleviating massive poverty in rural India. But effort has to be made, one small step at a time. Developmental projects have to be started, infrastructure has to built, irrigation projects have to be planned, investment has to be secured. Some plans will pan out, some may not, but some serious dent has to be made. This requires careful planning, detailed rethinking, strategic reforms, as well as committed and sustained action over time. A task of such proportions necessitates collaborative efforts by those interested in the national economic revival rather than selfish politicking and mindless propagandizing by those whose interest only rests in blocking and hindering.

It is na├»ve to go on romanticising poverty, it is downright insulting to the poor.

Back in 1926 in one of his evening talks with close disciples and sadhaks, Sri Aurobindo had expressed his views on a related matter. It might be relevant to revisit that extract in the light of the current events being played out in Indian polity.

Disciple: What are the possibilities of industrialism in India?

Sri Aurobindo: About that you can say as much as I. What do you mean by industrialism?

Disciple: I mean the system of large-scale production through big machines.

Sri Aurobindo: Big machines are bound to come. The poverty of the people can only be removed by large-scale production.
Disciple : The real question is : how to prevent life from being mechanised?

Sri Aurobindo: That is a different question. But big machinery does not necessarily imply all the evils of industrialism.
Disciple: Even in cottage-industries men are mechanized to a certain extent.

Disciple: Yes, but cottage-industries leave the social life intact.
Sri Aurobindo: Why should the present form of social life remain intact? New forms of social organisation will rise with the advent of large-scale production. It is the tendency of Indians towards poverty which is really responsible for their cry against machinery.
Disciple: The problem is: how to introduce big machinery and yet avoid all the evils arising out of it?

Sri Aurobindo: The evils are bound to disappear. The different ideas and schemes suggested in Europe* show that people are trying to correct the defects. Unless one enters into industrialism how can the evils be overcome?

Disciple: Will India have to pass through all the evils of industrialism?

Sri Aurobindo: But why should India wait till other countries solve the problem, so that it may imitate them afterwards?

Disciple: How will India avoid the evils?
Sri Aurobindo: Let her first acquire wealth. Without wealth they cannot expect to make any progress.

~ A. B. Purani (2007, 4th ed, revised). Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 298-299
* (Today we may substitute West for Europe).

To see previous post in the Current Events series, click here.
To see all posts in the Current Events series, click here.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, P: P is for Poverty, Politics


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