India is home to the largest number of poor with one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor living here. It also had the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children dying before reaching their fifth birthday, according to the UN Millennium Development Goals report 2014. This is not something which a country that boasts of being one of the emergent economies of the world can be proud of. The new government under prime minister Narendra Modi must place high priority on improving India’s record in these areas. Indeed, his victory was due almost entirely to the desire for change precisely because the earlier ruling dispensation was found to be unequal to the task of ridding the country of its manifold problems.
One of the reasons why there was little progress towards the eradication of the problem was the inability of the previous government to make up its mind about the ways and means of dealing with it. Modi’s emphasis on development has been a departure from the earlier dithering between the growth-based and welfare-oriented models of economic advancement. However, while the determination of the path to be followed is important, what is equally so is to advance rapidly, for thousands may sink into debasing poverty as the planners and executors argue over the right path.
As the poet-philosopher of the Hindi heartland, Tulsidas, said, there is no sorrow greater than that of being poor. Destitution robs a person of dignity and self-respect as he ekes out a miserable existence by the wayside without a roof over his head and enough to eat. Even more demeaning than his own state of decrepitude is his inability to care for his children, especially if they fall ill. The statistical data about the underprivileged cannot convey the magnitude and intensity of what it means to experience gnawing hunger and be helplessly exposed to the vagaries of weather.