Aug 11, 2015

The great legacy of Abdul Kalam most will not even want to talk about

The other day I was a watching a replay of Shekhar Gupta’s Walk the Talk with the late A P J Abdul Kalam. To a question whether it was right that he had walked into the Rashtrapati Bhawan with just two suitcases and when his term ended he left the sprawling presidential estate with the same two suitcases, Abdul Kalam innocently shared details of what all he carried in those two boxes.

In today’s world, where increasing consumption is the key to economic growth, and especially given the immense popularity of ‘People’s President’ Abdul Kalam, I thought the great legacy left behind by him -- to live within your means -- would leave an indelible mark on this nation’s psyche and perhaps inspire the Gen Next.

It didn’t happen.

For a generation born much after Independence, Abdul Kalam symbolizes simple living and high thinking. As if emerging from the pages of Aesop’s Fables -- the story of a fisherman’s son becoming a nuclear technologist and then going on to occupy the highest office of a President -- would remain part of the public discourse. The only difference being that this is not a story but a reality. Abdul Kalam is certainly the new role model.  

While his life is truly inspiring I doubt if the legacy he left behind in the form of simple living would ever receive as much attention. Keeping your wants to the minimum and reducing your needs is the key to retain the sustainability of the planet. The more we consume, the more we exploit the natural resources, and that leads to an irretrievable damage. If only we were to gradually shift from an ostentatious lifestyle to simple living as Abdul Kalam had remarkably shown, we would have done our bit to save the world.

In a desperate effort to ape the western lifestyle, the burgeoning middle class in India, is on a killing spree. Several studies have shown that if an average Indian household were to consume as much energy as an average American family, the world would have boiled over some 50 years ago. Not only energy, living at a time when the popular slogan is “To Shop, Till You Drop Dead,” the middle class is on a buying spree as if there is no tomorrow. The more you shop, the higher is the GDP growth. So, the Reserve Bank of India’s macro-economic policies are aimed at increasing consumption, industrial growth including the growth in the sale of FMCG products depends upon your capacity to buy. The government creates the enabling environment so as to increase consumption.

Many a times I am reminded that the real cause behind the continuing agrarian crisis is that farmers have failed to reduce the cost of production. At a time when the input prices have been soaring and the output prices have remained almost static – wheat procurement prices have risen by an average of 7 per cent only over the last three years – all hell breaks loose when food inflation inches up. Cut down on wasteful subsidies – which means cutting down on subsidies for the poor -- to reduce the fiscal deficit is the common refrain. But when I ask why middle class can’t be made to reduce their cost of living, which in turn would reduce the massive salary hike bill every year, I am looked upon with a lot of disdain.

Just think. If only the middle class would refrain from replacing electronic gadgets and household goods at the drop of a hat like replacing the 38-inch LED TV with a 68-inch quad pixel version; upgrading from Toyota Innova (selling it on Quickr) to an expensive BMW, and so on, the cost of living would come down. The lower the consumption, the lower would be the cost of living. The responsibility to reduce cost of production should not be left to farmers alone. The middle class too must reduce its cost of living. What you don’t realize is that because the urban middle class is organized they manage to get salary hikes and DA installments that take care of all the luxuries they splurge in.

Abdul Kalam’s pious message is somehow lost in this maddening rat race aimed at making you consume more. 

Source: The great legacy of Abdul Kalam. Aug 5, 2015.


Pinaaki Aggarwal said...

Respected Sir, I am Pinaaki Aggarwal, a final year MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad. I am heading IIM-Ahmedabad's International Food, Agribusiness and Rural Management Summit called Amaethon (January, 2016). I would love to get in touch with you regarding this. Can you please share with me your email address? My email address is:

Hari Prasad.S said...

This is a very important message sir. Thanks.
- Hari Prasad.S