“Our enemy is poverty”, exclaimed Snehal. Several replies came to his question. Teachers and students alike tried to impress the questioner. But the reply of a high school student left an everlasting impression on Dr. Kalam. Such was the effect of that answer that he dedicated his book “Ignited Minds” to her.
“Ignited Minds” is a beautiful book. I, still, clearly remember its dedication. It made me ponder; still does; on our role in tackling our enemy. Poverty is a slow poison that slowly eats away the foundations of a society. An enemy that does not participate in riots, arsons or any crime imaginable. An enemy that is absent from every list of every security organization in the world. An enemy who is the cause of every single crime possible. It is capable of driving normal people to insanities. It steals nutrition from infants, children from couples, education from students, independence from youth and stability from life. It tortures people with hunger and humiliation. It breeds imbalances and perpetuates social disorder. Science pushes the boundary of our understanding every-day. Still, we find ourselves handicapped when dealing with the issue of poverty. Poverty, indeed, is our greatest enemy.
The millennia old thirst of knowledge, that still remains unquenched, has only one ultimate driver: Prosperity. Prosperity is in having a better, comfortable, amiable and peaceful present than the comparable recent past. But, our greatest nemesis has always played a roadblock to our quest. It has repeatedly halted our collective efforts and made us contend with failures masquerading as victories.
Millions; more than the total population of the United States; live under the poverty line in India. We, as a society, have, in more aspects than one, collectively failed their desire for prosperity. We have laid down policies and plans; invested billions in schemes for their perceived uplifting and patted our backs repeatedly for actions that, seemed promising on paper, but utterly lacked in their implementation. Governments were toppled and leaders were changed to ensure a better tomorrow. But most, if not every, effort failed.
For sake of imagination only please envision a society where, millions of youth spend their teenage in classrooms expanding their skill sets rather than working as laborers for meager incomes. Where quality primary education is available uniformly to every child. Where patients do not die for sake of medications they can’t afford. Where every day of life is spent on working for a better tomorrow and not on rectifying mistakes of the past.
Please do not think of me as a utopian idealist. But, the effect of poverty anywhere in a country has its multitude effects everywhere. It raises government expenditure in form of subsidies and the steps that are taken to tackle its repercussions. The responsibility of this falls on those who are already burdened and contributing through various means and taxes. As per Economic Survey 2016-17, there are only seven taxpayers per 1000 voters.
India is caught in a vicious cycle. The workforce of a poor state migrates to richer states for better opportunities. This destroys their home-state’s talent pool and puts an ever increasing stress on the resources of their work-state. Talent migrates for lack of opportunities. Which are a combined consequence of political will (or a complete lack thereof) and missing support infrastructure. Which is again due to migration of deserving talents and states being run and managed by those that are less than capable for their responsibilities and have a belief in maintaining status quo.
Economic Survey 2016-17, highlights the gross misallocation of funds for welfare of the poor, with poorest states receiving lower funds than richer states. Legislators fight tooth-and-nail for largest pie in Union Budget. How these funds are spent and to what effect; is a question to be never answered completely. Even after 48 years of “Garibi Hatao”, garibi (poverty) is still flourishing; whereas; the party; whose leader raised it; not so much. To dismay of many, poverty has been devaluated from being a social stigma, to be fought collectively, to become a political tool, to have an opinion on.
Radically different approach is needed to tackle this issue of poverty. Otherwise, we must prepare ourselves and devote our lives in paying for schemes that to do not work, for plans that will never be implemented (as per their vision) and for promises that will never be fulfilled. In our everlasting search for prosperity, we must tackle this nemesis head-on, because, poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.