Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect

From time to time, I remember Sanjay Gandhi. I was growing up as a teenager in the middle of the emergency and Sanjay Gandhi and his five point program was some thing that was well known then. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had her own twenty point program but it was her son Sanjay and his five point program that was far better known to people. Eventually, it was Sanjay Gandhi’s program that also proved to be her undoing too as it was excesses carried out in the family planning program that led eventually to the first ever electoral defeat in the 1977 elections.


Since then the family planning program in India has seen several avatars. Among the first was to officially abolish the nomenclature “family planning” from official vocabulary because of its odious associations and call it Family Welfare. Subsequently , after the landmark international conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994, when connections were established between population size and other aspects of development , the program as it was known and administered since independence with the “Do ya teen bus” and “ Hum do , Hamare do” type programs was abandoned and recast as an integral program where family planning was just one of the many components offered as a basket of many health and development offerings from the government.


Meanwhile, a couple of years prior to the conference at Cairo, India had begun its journey into liberalization and a market driven economy.  Since Nehru’s time, a whole generation had grown up learning that no amount of development in India would not adequate results without some form of population stabilization at the national level and some birth control at the family level. But slowly these voices began to get drowned. The numbers became assets in the economy as purchasers of products and commodities and India began marketing itself as the destination of the world’s finished goods. Some where population stabilization and birth control lost out.


Looking at the crowd of passengers crowding New Delhi railway station last week as lakhs of passengers used it to return home to Bihar for the Chatt Puja, the traditional worship of the sun, I could not but reflect on how Sanjay Gandhi’s program is so hugely relevant to India , even today.  Human beings are invaluable assets to a nation and not just because they can one day be productive cogs in the economy but simply because of who they are.


When we have more people in a country than we can really look after, we provide most of them only a semblance of life, not the one they deserve or could want. The site of the New Delhi railway station with people being herded to their platforms like cattle through ropes and barricades with police lathis hovering conspicuously in he background is reminiscent of a life that even animals would chafe at, let alone human beings. The next sight of over crowded trains with railway police with batons controlling entry into the general compartments and those unable to get in perched and crouching on the roof top is heart wrenching.


People are valuable and they make up the numbers that we need to help position ourselves as a global market of consumer goods. But till we have the ability to provide for the ones who exist today and provide for them an environment that assures them a life of dignity, we still need family planning. Sanjay Gandhi was right even though his methods were wrong.

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