The poor know how to work hard

‘The poor know how to work hard, the intermediaries should just get out of the way’ A panel of young parliamentarians, business leaders and sportspersons debate the ways to empower India in India Empowered by Indian Express.

Redistribution of wealth, kerosene subsidies, the need for consistency in policy-making, ‘‘growing the pie’’, the role of politicians and the India vs Bharat mindspace battle. All this and more came up for animated discussion at the post-lunch interactive session of the India Empowered Conclave hosted by The Indian Express here today.

The panel — comprising Biju Janata Dal MP Jay Panda, the CPI(M)’s Mohammad Salim, young turks Manvendra Singh and Sachin Pilot, India Inc representative Gautam Thapar, hockey star Viren Rasquinha, cricketer Anjum Chopra and Dhananjay Dubey, brother of slain whistleblower Satyendra Dubey — finally seemed to agree that large-scale reforms were necessary in the political and bureaucratic structure if the one billion population was to be empowered.

While redistribution of wealth was seen as the biggest hurdle in the process of empowering the individual — as pointed out by Thapar — Lord Meghnad Desai, seated in the audience, provided a simple solution.

Directing his ire at politicians, he said, ‘‘The poor of the country don’t need the government, they need money. The Food Corporation of India should be abolished and the government should instead send out money orders to people in the BPL list. The poor know how to work hard, the intermediaries should just get out of the way.’’

Thapar was less radical, seeking only two things from the government for India Inc: ‘‘Transparency and accountability. All the corporate sector wants is consistency and a role in trade-related decisions.’’

While defending the role of politicians in nation-building, Pilot admitted that the government needed to drop its populist line and become more realistic. ‘‘All this talk of economic growth rate means nothing to the man who survives on subsistence agriculture on a bigha of land in a remote village. From time to time we hear of the Andhra package or the Bengal package. Where is the India package? Creation of wealth is not evil. But for the nation to be empowered, wealth has to percolate down to the people who need it.’’

Moving away from politics, sportstars Rasquinha and Chopra emphasised that there was a need for transparency and reform in sports as well. ‘‘Men’s cricket has just sewed up a sponsorship deal for Rs 318 crore. That’s a huge sum of money. If a few crores were spent on other sports, our international results would be so much better. As in business, where we have to have the latest equipment and techniques to compete at the international level, so too in sports we need investment.’’

Chopra took the microphone to draw attention to the politics of sports. ‘‘A certain system is in place, but we have to fight our way through it. We need freedom of speech for everyone on the circuit so that new ideas can come up,’’ she said. ‘‘There’s something in the current system that does not allow us to achieve glory.’’

Taking the debate to a very personal level, Dhananjay Dubey said, ‘‘One of the biggest problems is that we Indians keep on discussing things. I’d suggest we make a difference — not to someone else, but to your own life. You and I, sitting in this hall, are empowered because we are aware. But the people in the villages are not. For them, the story of my brother says they should not educate their children and send them to work in the big city. If they stay at home, they stay safe. It is them that we have to empower. Empowering India means empowering each and every Indian.’’

It was a line of thought taken up by Barmer MP Manvendra Singh. ‘‘India as we know it has to give way to Bharat, in space, in planning, in politics. So far all the thinking has been for India, for the elite. The structure of Bharat is exploitative, there is a colonial structure still in place in rural areas. Dilute the power of the capital, give it to the district. Change will come when India yields space to Bharat,’’ he said.

Adding another dimension to the debate, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss focused on his own sector to say that while there was cause for optimism, change was not happening fast enough. ‘‘We have the highest infant mortality in the region, one of the highest maternal mortalities. Fifty-eight years after Independence, only 20 per cent of the health infrastructure is in the public sector. While public spending will double soon, the huge size of the population holds us back. I can confidently say if we had 70 million people, India would have been a developed country by now.’’

At the same time, Ramadoss said it was not fair to blame the politicians for all the failings of the country. ‘‘The people of the country have not got involved in its affairs. You need to be an active part of the process. Your job does not end with casting the ballot,’’ he emphasised.

Taking that thought forward, CPI(M) heavyweight Sitaram Yechury said it was time the huge Indian population came to be regarded as an asset, not a liability.

The interactive session was moderated by well-known television anchor Vikram Chandra.

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