ByÂ Gitanjali Maria:
Veteran American leader Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy is a clichÃ© today – For the people, by the people and of the people. Going by this statement, it is quite natural to think that political leaders of at least democratic countries would have a good connect with the masses and thorough understanding of their living conditions and the general socio-economic picture. But sadly, majority of the political leaders of the largest democracy in the world, India, seem to be living far from reality and are totally disconnected.
The fact that politicians expect to get a full lunch at meagre rates of Rs.12 and Rs. 5 suggests not just their lack of intellectual capabilities and estimation levels, but also their total disconnect from the real world outside. Their cosy living within government villas (provided for by the tax payer’s money) and travelling in red ‘batti’ lit cars has totally isolated them from even seeing the economic changes taking places around them. Their unreal numbers show that they hardly know what the real rates for various items of daily consumption are and how their lives are so different from that of the ‘aam admi’ who is worried about his next meal, ‘kapda’ and ‘makaan’. It’s difficult these days to get even a cup of tea for less than Rs.5 leave alone a full ‘thali’ or complete meal.
The average Indian politician is generally considered uneducated and not bothered about the socio-economic and scientific changes taking place around the world and such comments are proof to it. They live in a surreal world and hence such comments from them, though unjustifiable, are often ignored by the elite. But what is saddening is the way how the planning commission and other statistics institutions manipulate the poverty numbers to help the government’s claims that poverty has reduced during its regime. But the reality is that Indian poverty rates are comparable to that of some African countries suffering from worst forms of malnutrition and ill-governance.
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data published that the percentage of population below the poverty line has come down from 37 per cent in 2004-05 to 22 per cent in 2011-12. Planning Commission announced in March 2012 that poverty percentage has come down by 7.3 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10 to 29.8%. But despite all these percentage point difference that are being boasted about, none of them have been able to come out with poverty lines acceptable to the educated and sensible Indian. Claims of the commission that one needs Rs. 32 per day to live comfortably within urban areas and Rs. 28 in rural areas has been pooh-poohed by even the Supreme Court and can be labelled as statistical jugglery trying to project unreal figures when real eyes see something different.
What our leaders need to do is to acknowledge the fact that poverty still exists in India and to try to take concrete and sustainable steps to help these sections of the society improve their economic conditions. Poverty is a grave threat today than in the past due to the widening of gap between the ultra-rich and the poor. While MNREGA has helped poor homes get some form of sustainable income, corruption in such schemes prevents full utilization of its benefits. The decision makers instead of trying to feed ‘fish’ to the poor should initiate steps that will teach them to ‘fish’. Creation of more jobs, improving the wage structure, equipping, especially the women and people of rural areas, with vocational skills and improving the standard of education in the country can help improve poverty rates without having to manipulate them. Providing an enabling environment for self-employment and entrepreneurship will also help.
Even a small kid in kindergarten or primary school would today probably know that a full meal cannot come at Rs.12. It’s a shame that our leaders feel that the ‘aam admi’ can be fed at these measly rates while they themselves enjoy the luxury of gourmets. It’s high time that they start walking around the streets to understand the hard realities of living the life of an ‘aam admi’!