Deepening Poverty of the Poor: The immediate challenge


By Amar Yumnam
Adam Smith wrote in 1776 in his celebrated  classic An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations thus:  ‘‘Political economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.” The key words are ‘to enrich both the people and the sovereign’. Now an assessment of the contemporary Manipur scenario from this perspective would be both necessary and heart breaking.

We now experience impossible and unwarranted traffic in Imphal today. In a non-industrial town and non-vibrant city, we are experiencing a kind of congestion of vehicular traffic explained only by retarded and biased expansion and not by any functioning engine of growth. But this is not Manipur. Getting into and moving around the villages and observing the households inside villages reveal a picture of Manipur far removed from this traffic growl, and a picture which does not enliven one’s heart. Manipur does not have a history and culture of displaying poverty in the public domain. The fluid intelligence of the population is so lovingly rich that this culture of putting poverty under wraps keeps on changing the cover with the changing times. This however by no means implies that there is no poverty. Poverty is stark and painful. The indicators are absolutely loud and visible to anyone who had experienced poverty in the journey of life.

Moving about the rural areas and the village households, one group of poor people comes out glaringly. There is a group of people aged about forty to fifty and married with a family. Their poverty is visible both as couples and as single parents, notably women. These are groups of people who

a.    have crossed the age limits on joining any service;

b.    have not inherited wealth to serve as foundations for applying whatever fluid intelligence they have;

c.    do not have resources of their own which can either serve as collateral for resorting to meaningful borrowing for undertaking activities;

d.    do not possess the capability to harness the opportunities provided by widening horizons of technology;

e.    have the spousal love and family to be sustained;

f.     who have only the common property resource, open fields, river banks, etc. to exploit whatever little extra to collect; and

g.    who look much older than their actual ages.

These are the groups of people most-aloof from the social gatherings and least vocal in making their grievances and worries heard. But these are the people who would be quick in jumping into opportunities to help others physically; they know the disadvantage and long to see everybody including themselves getting out of it.

Attending to the needs of these people has long term economic and political significance. Most of them have children of their own. They do lament the comparative situation of their children and do pray that their poverty should not be inherited by their children. In fact, their children are the ones in need of facilitation for escaping from poverty, for joining general economic development and ensuring long term social stability.

But the polity and state we have in Manipur is such that we have failed on two counts terribly. First, we are yet to experience a capable state committed to broad-basing the welfare foundations. This is the reason why policies and programmes in the name of poverty have led to altogether different outcomes. Second, the failure of the state has now been extended to the community sector as well. Thus we observe a collapse of the traditional social security and none-emergence of a modern social-safety mechanism. These are the people whom we see as experiencing a deepening of poverty in their daily lives.

Here one encouraging aspect of our society is the recent emergence of people who can take advantage of technology on the human capital they have accumulated for themselves. The technology frontier is determined globally. In other words, the technology drive is external. Compared to this, human capital formation is done domestically. We now have young entrepreneurs emerging who can keep pace with the moving global technology frontier and dovetail their domestically generated human capital to this frontier. Fortunately they are now able to surpass or successfully negotiate the limitations imposed by the weak state and the non-state forces. Even more fortunate is the context of changing mind-set of the latter.

The poor people we are discussing have not had the luck to be in such kind of a situation of new entrepreneurs. But, as said above, it is imperative that we somehow include these people into the changing dynamics for superior well-being for the long run interest of the society and land. Both the state and the emerging entrepreneurs should apply their mind on how to attain this. Love begets love, and care ensures peace and prosperity. Development dynamism can be sustained only when inclusive.


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