A former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who is currently a professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, spent long periods in distant villages and city slums of India to study their problems. The result: A scholarly work that presents possible solutions to the problems of neediness and inequity in India….writes Saket Suman for Asian Lite News
Delving into the lives of ordinary individuals, Anirudh Krishna realised that there is a lot of latent talent in these parts of the country but individuals in these situations do not have the opportunity to rise to a level commensurate with their capabilities.
In an interview on his just-released book “The Broken Ladder: The Paradox and the Potential of India’s One Billion” (Penguin/Rs 599/382 pages), Krishna focused on the three factors that, according to him, combine to keep poverty alive in India.
The first factor, perhaps the most important one, is the question of poverty-creation. Krishna said that one-third of all those who are poor today were not born poor, they fell into poverty because of various reasons. The author lamented that bad health and high treatment costs play a very large role in turning people poor in India.
“It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of the population fall into poverty every year on account of health care bills that are unaffordable. It’s one of the highest rates of poverty creation in the world. That has to be controlled,” Krishna, who holds a PhD in Government from Cornell University, said.
The second factor that Krishna holds responsible for continuing poverty in India is the failure of the State. He said that there is relatively little that is being done to support people’s movement out of poverty. While agreeing that “we have a number of impressive schemes and programmes” that serve as a source of succour, providing wage employment and subsidised rations and mid-day meals and so on, he maintained that these are only in the nature of “survival benefits”.
“They help poor people get by from day-to-day, which is important and necessary. But these schemes and programmes don’t generate investible surpluses or send a child to college. Those who obtain these benefits remain near-poor,” said Krishna, who has published five other books and more than 50 journal articles.
The final reason that Krishna presented for massive poverty in India has to do with “beliefs and values”. He said that the beliefs harboured by the rich and well-to-do about the poor and the reasons for their poverty has no basis.
“For instance, many believe that people are poor because they don’t work hard or are feckless or given to drink, and yes, there are some such individuals. But a wider search shows that the majority haven’t become poor or remained poor because of character flaws,” he pointed out.
The nature and depth of poverty is known to most Indians and the author regretted that very few, no matter how talented, are able to rise high from situations of poverty in India.
“Many smart young women and men who, given a chance, could have been star athletes or artists or business managers, have become vegetable vendors, delivery boys, and labourers. The ladder to higher opportunity, which these individuals encounter, has many broken rungs. Nearly 60 percent of the population has trouble accessing higher opportunity. Fixing the broken rungs in the ladder is necessary for social justice. It is essential for sustained economic development,” Krishna maintained.
The author added that “the tragedy of India” is that it provides few viable opportunities to its teeming millions. Many talented children who grow up in faraway villages and city slums are not given the support that all children need if they are to make superior achievements, he said.
“Tackling inequality of opportunity is essential so the country can grow faster, making better use of its human potential. Too many people remain unrepresented at the higher levels in diverse walks of life, as a result of which the country punches well below its weight in international competitions. India wins the fewest Olympic medals per million population of any country, lower by a factor of 10 than the next-lowest country’s score,” he contended.
Krishna received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University, Sweden in 2011; the Olaf Palme Visiting Professorship from the Swedish Research Council in 2007; the Dudley Seers Memorial Prize in 2005; and the Best Article Award of the American Political Science Association, Comparative Democratisation Section in 2002. Before returning to academia, he spent 14 years with the Indian Administrative Service, managing diverse rural and urban development initiatives.