Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Uplift them before they rise in revolt"

The Statesman (Calcutta) today carries an interview with the Vice President of India, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Mr Shekhawat makes some strong comments. That he says this after long years of holding high public office - should make one think.

"A vast segment of our population, more than 26o million, are living below the poverty line. They constitute the fifth pillar of our democracy ~ rather the most important pillar of democracy. The other four pillars ~ legislature, executive, judiciary and media ~ cannot harm each other, but if the fifth pillar gets organised and rises in revolt due to protracted poverty and distress, then not only the four pillars but also the very foundations of our democratic system can be jeopardised."

"The stark reality is that about 26o million people are living below the poverty line, about 25 % men and 47 % women are still illiterate. Our country, which was self-reliant in the production of food grain till some time ago, is compelled to import food grain, pulses and oil seeds. Farmers commit suicide because of indebtedness. We have acknowledged primary education as a fundamental right, but about 30 % children are deprived of basic education even today. The drop-out rate before reaching 8th standard is 53 % and by 10th it is about 63 %. Can we deny the fact that despite having more than 300 universities and about 12,000 colleges, only about 8 % are able to get higher education? In many developing countries this figure is as high as 25 %. It is my firm opinion that we may secure high levels of GDP to whatever extent we want, we may add to our foreign exchange reserve as many millions of dollars we want, we may attain dominance in the fields of technical knowledge, industry and trade, but unless we improve the living standards of the fifth pillar of our society or provide them the right to live with dignity we cannot have all-inclusive development."

"Despite having higher education, children belonging to poor families attain a low level of employment with marginal salaries whereas children belonging to affluent families with similar educational attainment get lucrative employment opportunities with handsome salaries. Here comes the role of the state. We need to establish a system in which poverty should not be a hindrance to one’s development and everyone gets equal opportunities to ensure there’s no sense of dissatisfaction among poor children."

"While the edifice of democracy rests on its four estates, the key pillar of strength of democracy is people’s welfare. In my view, this pillar ~ the fifth pillar ~ needs to be nurtured and strengthened by everyone because the actual strength of democracy lies in it. Uplift them before they rise in revolt."

Read the full interview here.

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