Forty years after headlines about an extraordinary correlation between transistor radios and vasectomies were censored out of the press, population control again fires the political imagination. Going with the flow, it demands the demographic dividend this time. Motormouth minister Giriraj Singh wants population policy altered to enforce a two-child norm on the entire population, across faiths. This, he reckons, would both reduce the rape rate and assure Hindus of numerical parity with other faiths.
Aryabhata and Varahamihira would have been baffled by such calculating policy, but Singh has an unexpected fellow traveller in Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who feels that India must go forth and multiply if it does not wish to become an aged country. He proposes that national population policy should pivot smartly from Indira-era population control to population promotion, following the lead of Japan and China. Now, the nation wants to know if cash incentives or free colour TVs are proposed for prodigious breeders. Policy details are awaited, hopefully forever.
Japan and China are indeed greying, but India presents a different picture. The incumbent government was voted to office partly because it fired the imagination of the youth, which it proposed to leverage as the “demographic dividend”. It has since learned that the youth are not productive economic units alone. They also have social and political dimensions. And animal spirits. These facets of the demographic dividend have baffled the government and exercised the police forces in the course of ugly campus confrontations. Intriguingly, two prominent leaders want more of the same. What is it about the issue of population which sets off politicians on such surprising quests, whether for the deviously forcible vasectomy of the poor, or the generation of ever-larger generations?