In the case of a first-generation learner, empowerment comes out of education. In the case of a landless peasant, empowerment comes from owning a parcel of land. In the case of a jobless youth, empowerment comes out of obtaining productive employment. In the case of people who are discriminated against on grounds of caste or religion, empowerment comes from being accepted as human beings and treated with dignity.
Empowerment, therefore, must be seen through the eyes of the disempowered.
There is of course one tide that will lift all boats. That is the tide of economic growth.
Poverty is the biggest hurdle to empowerment. It is poverty that denies access to education; fails to create adequate number of job opportunities; forces a mother to give away her girl child in marriage. It is a matter of common knowledge that higher family income results in greater spending on education for the children; better food and clothing; search for better housing; more forceful assertion of rights and the willingness to seek legal remedies; and the capacity to influence, individually or collectively, decisions that affect large sections of the people.
It is in the countries with high per capita incomes that few people feel that they are powerless or disempowered. It is in poor countries that most people feel helpless and victimised.
I, therefore, believe that it is sustained economic growthand the consequent reduction in levels of povertythat will empower millions of people of India.
Sustained high economic growth is attainable.
India is often described as a poor country. I disagree. It is a country where a large proportion of its people is poor. There is no iron law which requires that the poor must remain poor for ever or that a country with a low per capita income should remain so for all time.
Growth is a function of investment, and is a result of using the vast human resources to exploit the abundant natural resources. On the one hand, there are millions of people who aspire to lift themselves out of poverty; and, on the other, there are vast opportunities which remain unexplored.
India has a long coastline of 7,600 km. From every point on the coastline, we can draw a straight line that is 200 km long, and all that water and all the wealth under that water belong to India.
If we can find a way to exploit those resources through investment and enterprise, we can create millions of jobs and generate large incomes for millions of people. Besides, fishing would not be considered a degrading occupation; nor would it be demeaning to be called a fisherman.
We have coal reserves that are estimated to be able to support our fuel requirements for 200 to 300 years. Yet, these reserves remain largely unexploited. When we exploit, we do so inefficiently. If our coal reserves can be exploited efficiently through investment and enterprise, we would be able to create huge wealth that can be shared by millions of people.
Examples of this kind can be multiplied.
An empowered India is a nation where everyone in the working age group has worka job or a business or a profession. Where everyone is able to consume more goods and services, particularly goods like food and clothing and services like education and healthcare. Where everyone can aspire to aspects of life that go beyond work such as self-improvement, life-long education, entertainment and leisure. Where everyone can exercise his political and human rights without fear of discrimination or oppression.
I firmly believe that it is economic prosperity that will empower India. Sustained high growth is essential to establish the groundwork for this empowerment of every Indian in the working age group through gainful employment. The growth momentum observed in the last two and a half yearsparticularly the first six months of the current financial year at 8.1 percentis encouraging in this regard.
We need to not only consolidate but also to accelerate this momentum. Through a combination of appropriate and timely policies and delivery mechanisms we need to enlarge the areas for, and enhance, investment; rapidly improve our infrastructure; and accelerate improvements in education and health of the people, particularly the vulnerable sections. That is the golden path to sustained, robust and inclusive growth. And the path to empowering India.
The world respects India. Some countries are in awe of India. India is respected not because it has acquired the capacity to launch rockets or satellites, or because of the size of its population, or because of its dominant presence in Asia. The world respects India because of its capacity to emerge as an economic powerhouse. The world recognises that when India emerges as an economic powerhouse, it will be unstoppable.
When India is unstoppable, no one will feel disempowered.