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Policies towards the poor don't work

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    http://www.livemint.com/Politics/Hstkx4JTWpBlXBXraioTUK/Policies-towards-the-poor-dont-work.html Policies towards the poor don t work: Dipankar Gupta
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 20, 2013

      Policies towards the poor don't work: Dipankar Gupta

      Sociologist Dipankar Gupta on the idea of a citizen elite and why every
      democracy needs a dream

      First Published: Fri, Jul 19 2013. 09 09 PM IST

      In his new book, Revolution from Above: India's Future and the Citizen Elite
      (Rainlight Rupa, Rs.495), sociologist Dipankar Gupta makes the case that
      India can deliver quality services to all its citizens only through the
      active and forceful intervention of an elite that has the courage to leap
      over the short-term profit of electoral politics.

      Gupta, a former member of the faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University, has
      written and edited 17 books. The most recent was in 2011-Justice before
      Reconciliation: Negotiating a 'New Normal' in Post-riot Mumbai and
      Ahmedabad. The ideas for Revolution acquired a substantial shape after Gupta
      was appointed visiting professor at Deusto University in Bilbao, a city in
      Spain's Basque region. During a three-month-stay in 2009, he met many Basque
      nationalists "who took enormous pains to further my understanding of how
      their part of the country grew out of poverty to prosperity"-the book's
      final chapter is titled The Basque in Spain: From a Basket Case to a Model
      of Development.

      In an interview at his home in Delhi's Palam Marg, Gupta said, "The one
      thing I heard loud and clear in the Basque country is that the most
      important things in a democracy take place not because people ask for them,
      but because the leadership thinks it is good for citizens as a whole, for
      society as a whole." Edited excerpts:

      You describe the citizen elite as persons who do things for society that
      benefit other citizens universally without discrimination.

      In almost every case, members of the citizen elite do not benefit from such
      measures directly. Leadership, in such cases, obviously plays a determining
      role. The citizen elite have intervened in many democracies in Europe and
      Canada and in the US too, which is why those societies moved forward. From
      universal health, education to minority rights to gender equality and the
      abolition of child labour, it is the citizen elite that took the lead. In
      India, Gandhi was a citizen elite in the way he campaigned against
      untouchability. When Nehru fought against communal forces post-partition and
      when he campaigned against polygamy among Hindus, he was not responding to
      the crude call of the popular will.

      Is Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi a citizen elite?
      Modi is immediately disqualified because he clearly discriminated against
      Muslims, particularly in the way he climbed to power. A citizen elite thinks
      universally, for the society as a whole. If, in this process, a certain
      section is singled out for special protection, it is only to integrate that
      section with other citizens on an equal footing.

      Modi realized early-two years into his chief ministership-that hurt and
      anger cannot work for too long and take you beyond a point. This is a
      cynical calculation quite unlike what is typical of the citizen elite. He
      knew that you could work religious passions to a pitch and have a riot or
      two, but to be able to keep it going is tough because most of us are not
      professional Hindus or professional Muslims. We think of jobs, education,
      food on the table and so on. After capturing the imagination among the
      Gujarati Hindus as a strong ruler, Modi went on to show his abilities as a
      developmentalist. But he still does not make the grade as a citizen elite
      not only because he cannot forsake his pro-Hindu preferences without losing
      his political clout, but also because he has no policy on universal health
      and education, nor has he shown any real initiative on improving those human
      development indices, such as nutrition, health and mortality, where Gujarat
      fares poorly.
      The title of your book refers to revolution from above. What about
      grass-roots democracy?

      In the last 60 years, there has been a kind of regression in terms of
      democracy-not only in India, but also in the rest of the world. The US has
      been a trendsetter in the business of merging religion with capitalism and
      it was not really important any longer if citizen rights were undermined as
      long as free enterprise was protected. It is not considered to be
      democratically improper any longer to espouse such views openly. Other
      countries, including India, have picked up this refrain; if America can do
      it, then it must be right. After all, is not America exporting democracy?

      True democracy is achieved not by votes alone, but by making the people
      equal at base. The best way to accomplish this would be by providing quality
      health and education to all so that they can function as equal citizens. At
      base we must all be equal so that we can be different and unequal later on
      the basis of our individual accomplishments. The problem is that this is
      often mistaken with the idea of giving these services only to the poor.

      We have focused our welfare programmes towards the poor.

      The policies targeted towards the poor do not work. These do not affect
      people like you and me who, unfortunately, really matter in this world. As
      they do not address us, we don't pay attention to them. It is only when
      programmes are universal in character, that they have a chance of really
      meeting their objectives. Programmes for the poor are poor programmes and
      attract corruption. This is true of the public distribution system as well.

      A universal policy, say towards healthcare, is not just about giving people
      a right to healthcare. A right means nothing for you if you land up in a
      public hospital where nobody looks after you. If we have universal
      healthcare and education, then all of us are being taxed to provide quality
      healthcare and education to everybody, which is the European model. In
      France, if you want to educate your children well, you go to a public
      school. If you have a major illness, you go to a public hospital. This is
      how citizenship is realized in democracies. I hope that in India too one
      day, all of us should be queuing up for the same schools and hospitals.
      If a privileged person too gets access to benefits that are meant for the
      poor, then isn't he eating into the share of those who actually need it?

      There is something called removing poverty. Then there is something called
      keeping the poor alive. With good intentions perhaps, we are doing the
      latter. Instead, we must give people, regardless of backgrounds, education,
      health and housing of the kind that should be available to each of us at
      quality level, and that is not impossible. If that is on the agenda, the
      fear you express in your question will be unfounded.

      Your book is critical of the food Bill.

      The food Bill assumes that we Indians are cereal-starved-that's a 1940s
      famine model. We are nutrition-starved. We don't have access to sanitation
      and water. And if you think these things only affect the poor, you are
      wrong. Anyway the public distribution system only serves the interest of the
      status quo. You are not thinking to change the system. You are not thinking
      of working on schools and hospitals such that they deliver at quality levels
      universally. All that requires mobilization, hard work. The government
      school teachers today, for instance, constitute a vested interest group and
      are often used for political purposes. Trying to change all of this requires
      dedication and energy, which is why politicians do not want to get into all
      of that. Keep the poor alive and not let things spill over on the streets is
      what concerns them the most. In that case then there is no fuss anywhere.

      Can (anti-corruption campaigners) Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal relate to
      your book?

      They led a mass movement that resonated with many of us because they raised
      issues that hurt us every day. But addressing today's grievances is a
      totally different ball game from thinking about policies for tomorrow. You
      may not like Nehru or Gandhi, but think of the dreams they had. Do you have
      dreams of a similar kind? No. Economic liberalization and the free market by
      themselves do not generate dreams that are social, but only ambitions that
      are sectional. Democracy is a very difficult project that is made to look
      easy because we play the game of numbers and the politics of the given. When
      there is no dream to charge democracy, when there is no utopia that drives
      people to look beyond the given, then public passions such as hurt, anger,
      primordial values, and prejudices rush in. That is dangerous.
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