Saturday, December 5, 2009

Obama-Singh Joint Press Conference and an impoverished democracy: National integration and the radical groups - Part II

The nation waited with bated breath in anticipation of a historic press conference to be addressed by the first officially visiting Constitutional Head of a country during the tenure of President Obama. To the disappointment of many, there wasn’t any apparent expression or demonstration on the part of either of the Statesmen to prove that was any major breakthrough or spectacular understanding, except for the fact that Dr. Singh put it in so many words, during the joint statement session, that he was ‘satisfied’ with the outcome of his discussions with the President of USA, and that Obama termed India a natural ally in the war against terrorism.

Whether Dr. Singh was able to remove the bottlenecks created by the Obama administration to the nuclear deal and hasten up the process was unclear. Neither was it apparent whether President Obama could pressurise India enough to bend to the demands of the developed nations related to the signing of the nuclear NPT or agreeing to the emission standards to prevent climate change. It seemed as if the entire media hype surrounding the summit came a cropper.
But, one statement made by President Obama got me thinking. He mentioned during his address that America has quite a few things to learn from India and took the example of India's story of being a food sufficient nation. Pride is the natural feeling that I should have experienced immediately. On the contrary I was engulfed by a strange feeling of helplessness and sorrow. Can you beat the gaping paradox, staring right at our face, that in a statistically food sufficient country like ours, nearly 400 million is languishing in severe poverty, barely surviving on a meal a day, earning much less than a dollar a day worth income?

We are spending billions on research and developing technologies to try and search for the ever-evasive, yet-to-be-detected ‘life’ on extra-terrestrial locations when we have not being able to protect or improve lives of our own very real people in our own very real, very independent country, right here, right now. I have nothing against lunar missions or nuclear energy. But I am certainly not ok with the pretentious stances taken by our statesmen and myopic politicians, while proclaiming the huge successes of the 5-Year Plans and path-breaking economic measures taken by successive governments, for complete eradication of poverty.

Even after more than 50 years of Independence India still has the world's largest number of poor people in a single country. It’s like the proverbial albatross, the noose around the neck that the world’s largest democracy is doomed to live with, forever. An extremely powerful ex-Prime Minister of this country had once famously admitted that post independence, we have faltered as a nation, in three primary areas – food, healthcare, education. Three decades later, the situation hasn’t changed much. Or has it? This is a no-brainer.

Our equity markets are buzzing with bullish sentiments and activities, more than ever before. FIIs never get tired listening to the India story and keep coming in hoards, even during phases when the rest of the world’s economies were facing crippling credit crisis scenarios.

The world’s pretty much convinced ... India is the next big thing! But are we, in reality? If yes, then at what cost? I would like to understand the true meaning of economic prowess? Is it the ability of few of the large industrial conglomerates to make mind-boggling multi-billion dollar global acquisitions or is it the nation’s ability to provide food, shelter, adequate healthcare, qualitative education, employment, social security and empowerment to all its subjects?

Ensuring national energy sufficiency is important, no doubt. But equally important, if not more so, is eradication of impoverishment plaguing hundreds of millions. Do we want to build our growth story on extremely weak socio-economic foundations?

Going by the projections recently provided by the United Nations, over a billion people are hungry, worldwide. And it’s incredible a fact that India accounts to nearly 40% of that figure. Doesn’t it sound like a farce, when our politicians proclaim India as the next economic superpower or Nobel-winning American President wishes to learn the tricks of being food grain sufficient and independent from the Indian economists and policy makers, while 400 million of our countrymen cannot generate enough income to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, healthcare and education?

Poverty rarely receives any lip service from the self proclaimed socio-political crusaders (aka political leaders and activists), nor do they get any footage in media platforms – ‘poverty’ is hardly a glamorous subject or spectacle for the ‘revolutionary’ Indian media in comparison to say a failed lunar mission, or the news related to the inability of the Indian bureaucrats to drive the nuclear deal through the Obama administration. As a nation we are obsessed with “Breaking News” ... and ‘poverty’ doesn’t qualify!

Pics courtesy: Mangalore Today

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