18 January 2015

‘Real’ inclusion necessary for internal security

Dr Shubhashis Gangopadhyay
Jan 16 2015

Dr Shubhashis Gangopadhyay Professor and Head, Department of Economics, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University

People live in a society because it is better than living like Robinson Crusoe, alone on an island. And the reason we do that is because we believe that if we are addressing some problems collectively, it is more effective as well as less expensive. The big advantage we have by being in a society is the protection of life and property, and these are very basic to people coming together. When society fails to ensure either of those, it begins to crumble.

Imagine there is an external threat and we are trying to decide what to do. And the first meeting we have is among economists, who are deciding on who can afford to protect themselves and who cannot. We do not think like that when it comes to an external threat. We think that regardless of whether we are rich or poor, the nation as a whole will protect you. When you take this concept to internal security, somehow the economists come back and we never think along these terms. Since security is a collective concern, an immediate corollary is that it has to be provided to all citizens. It is irrelevant who can afford it and who cannot.

Cover for all

In a rule of law, these issues of internal security do not become significant simply because a large proportion of people face this problem. Even if a small proportion of people are facing these problems, we are not internally secure. We are not going to give up small portions of the country just because you cannot afford it. Similarly, we cannot keep small portions of the population internally insecure. There is no point talking about an all-encompassing national security concept if we do not carry through the same philosophy for all. So, internal security is not a threat to those in Maoist or conflict-ridden regions, it is for us, wherever we might be in India.

Security of women is not for women alone, but for us. We do not want free and affordable education so that the poor can be trained better. We want affordable education so that all of us can be productively trained. Similarly, there is no good health policy for the poor. There is only a health policy.

Take, for example, the right to education. The point that we need it because we need to educate the poor is wrong. If we had considered this as our right and not only that of the poor, we would have made sure that we attained the highest quality in our educational system. Instead, we have allowed government schools to decay as we move our children to private schools, which the poor cannot afford. Even when we reserved 20 per cent of school seats for the economically weaker sections, we were happy to allow some schools to run evening classes for the poor, thereby ensuring that we segregated the poor from the rich. That is not internal security. That is not trying to look for training and ensure education for the poor. Imagine what would have happened if we viewed external security in this way. Policy-making for the poor is what has left large sections of the people excluded from development. This has led to a two-tier delivery system of essential services. The poor go to a hospital with no medicines and doctors while the rich can get some of the best care in hospitals only they can afford. The ability of the rich to stay away from government hospitals has allowed these hospitals to remain understaffed and under-equipped. Including the excluded has become a politically correct buzzword that we dangle around in various forums. Over the years, we have moved, in the name of the poor, to policies that foster inclusion. How do we implement such policies of inclusion?

Building skills

Telangana announced that it wants the local business to hire local labour for all skills below a certain level. It is true that unskilled and semi-skilled labourers are likely to be poorer than those who are skilled, and hence this policy was unveiled to include those in need of development, which the newly-formed state is going to bring in. The reason for unskilled labour in Telangana being poor is not that the jobs are going to be pushed from outside of Telangana. It is because the poor in Telangana are unskilled. Why can’t we see that? This is not a Telangana issue alone. We hear this all the time from various parts of the country, including Maharashtra. Local politicians everywhere raise this issue.

Suppose one took the logical next step. Instead of only the unskilled and semi-skilled workforce, let all employees hired by the local business be local. Why only include the poor? This will mean a highly-trained Bihari engineer from IIT-Kanpur will get stuck in Bihar. Similarly, a Tamil from IIT-Delhi will remain in Tamil Nadu. This we will never want. However, what has proven to be good for us does not seem to be good for the poor. We want them to stay where they are, we want to make policies that make them stay where they are.

The moment we see through this, we will realise that the IIT graduate is not poor for two reasons. He/she is well trained and can gravitate to where he/she finds a job that is most suited to him/her; not decided by me, not decided by anyone, but decided by him/her. The fact that he/she is a certified IIT product helps. In the worst fiscal deficit years, we had no qualms in announcing more IITs and IIMs. However, when it comes to schools and hospitals where everyone can go, we suddenly become aware of the fiscal deficit and decide to slow the process down. This is where the economist plays a role.

The mindset change we are talking about is moving away from policies for the poor to policies for all. Think about the wonderful roads being built with no public transportation so that private car owners can go to their places of work, but not those who do not own cars.

Another example is of the Delhi Metro. It is air-conditioned, has the latest technology and is highly reliable. The poor travel on it, as do CEOs of companies. Imagine what would have happened if the purpose of the Metro was to ferry the poor. We would have recreated the notorious Blueline experiment of Delhi. We would immediately have had the worst possible trains that were available. The first step, therefore, is to get rid of policies targeted for the poor and make policies for the citizens, whoever they may be. Inclusion is necessary for internal security. Thinking only about what is good for the poor keeps the poor excluded from the good lives we lead. This is a threat to internal security.

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