We must concede that the right-wing is the quickest with the polemical gun.
And its timing on the draw is immaculate as well.
For some years now, the honourable Narendra Modi has, in speech after speech, educated the republic and the wider world as to how India’s “demographic dividend” is among its biggest plus points.
But as the polling booth beckons in the all-important Uttar Pradesh, that Modi polemic now yields to its opposite.
Suddenly, population, the Yogi tells us, is India’s biggest curse.
Never mind that India’s population growth rate has nearly halved since 2001, and that our total fertility rate, across all communities, it needs to be emphasised, has similarly shown a sharp decline during the said period.
Indeed, reputed demographic studies suggest that India will soon reach a “replacement level” of population growth, with one birth compensating one death.
So, what explains the Yogi’s alarm?
Put simply, the following:
Whereas after the failure of the politics of Kamandal in the West Bengal elections, the social restructuring of the Union cabinet came rather brazenly to embrace the politics of Mandal (stealing the enemy’s weaponry as it were), the right-wing knows it must nevertheless foreground Kamandal in its campaign in Uttar Pradesh.
As the Indian Express puts it plainly, the call to population control is clearly intended as a communal “dog whistle,” to polarise the electorate along familiar lines.
The Yogi clearly states that the exercise is meant to restore the “balance between communities.”
More comprehensively, Narendra Modi’s praise of India’s “demographic dividend” notwithstanding, the right-wing via the feisty Yogi may have come up with an idea close to the heart of India’s chattering classes; and one that may be trusted to deflect a whole bunch of failures that beset the record of the BJP, both at the Centre and in the states that it rules.
Ergo, not the failures of governance but an alleged population boom is responsible for:
gruelling price rise;
collapse of the health services during the pandemic, with the corpses in the Ganga testifying to population explosion;
the misery of migrant labour, the homeless, and the hungry;
unconscionable cruelties vented on women, Dalits and minorities;
collapse of management during the second phase of the pandemic;
the failure of the state to put money into the hands of the millions whom the virus-related shutdowns rendered destitute;
To name just the most blatant failures only.
In one word now – population – this litany of failures is sought to be fig-leafed with the canny knowledge that the base of the right-wing, which includes opinion-makers and media houses as well, may be trusted to say ‘yes indeed’.
And any reference to facts be damned.
Or argument, for that matter, however compelling.
For example, if population is at bottom responsible for economic woes, China ought to be the poorest nation in the world.
But guess what, they have a GDP five times that of Bharat, and forging ahead for more.
Indeed, having suffered badly from gender imbalance and consequent social ills, China, if anything, is encouraging its citizens to go for larger, three-child families.
And, please, let us not be told that this is because China is a totalitarian state and we are a democracy. In ordinary times this cliché may have washed, but not after what we have seen of India over the last seven years.
Think also that if an 80% Hindu majority pretends to worry about being overtaken by a 14% Muslim minority, how genuine must seem the anxiety of white Americans and English people at the prospect of being swamped by Asians and other non-white citizens, given that they now hover around just a half of their populations?
Clearly, extrapolating from Yogiji’s worry about “community imbalance” in Uttar Pradesh etc., White people in those countries must be thought to be more than justified in seeking a reversal of their demographic profiles?
Where may that leave the darling expatriate Indians, whom Narendra Modi so high-fives on his visits, thither?
One may of course put on record a more basic poser: how should it matter in a secular-democratic republic which community of citizens grow slower or faster, even if the ideological landscape of Bharat now may revile such a democratic and non-discriminatory argument?
Just to recall: the British cabinet currently has Britains of Indian and Pakistani origin in the most important portfolios, and America has an Indian-origin woman for its vice-president—all things that our right-wing never fails to laud.
What then of our own Muslim Indians, for a start?
Yogi’s problems seem, however, to emerge from the right-wing itself.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, for example, has already expressed disagreement with the proposed law that the Yogi seeks to bring forth. And for a canny reason: if citizens are to be penalised for having more than two children, it is Hindus who would stand to lose most from the measure, since Muslim representation in government employment is forgettable anyway.
Nor would the measure help to further the call often made to Hindus by diehard right-wingers to have as large families as they can. Even the figure of 40 has been mentioned.
More sensibly, allies like the Janata Dal (United) have correctly pointed out that the most effective way to reduce family size is to invest heavily in women’s education, and in education generally, as well as in the health sector.
Everywhere in the world, history shows that family size comes down as purchasing power increases and living standards improve.
Consider that in the Kashmir province – population 68% of the Jammu & Kashmir state – the total fertility rate is 1.7, considerably less than the national average!
But that, most uncomfortably, is an argument for delivering better and more rational governance, when the whole point and purpose of the Yogi putsch is to deflect attention from governance issues across the board.
Given that the captive media will no doubt go to town with the “threat” of population explosion and laud the Yogi and his camp for the alacrity in the matter, it will be no easy task for the political opposition to meet this new polemic.
When a Trump or a Yogi says it is thus, it is thus, alas.