Vivek Kaul – The Vivek Kaul Letter (IND)
The year was 1976.
Indira Gandhi was the prime minister.
Her younger son Sanjay was rising fast through the ranks and was more or less ready to take over the Congress Party from her.
As Vinod Mehta writes in The Sanjay Story: “[Sanjay] was… looking desperately, for a specific major national ailment he could spectacularly remedy. Planting trees, eradicating dowry, cleaning lanes, promoting literacy was all very well, but it was hardly the stuff to build charismatic leadership credentials on.”
Family planning was one such thing that could help Sanjay build charismatic leadership credentials. As Mehta writes: “In a country whose population galloped away…If Sanjay could even minimally arrest this population it would be stupendous achievement calling for national and international acclaim.”
Like all other Big Government ideas, the idea of population control was also very a noble one.
The only trouble as Mehta puts it: “Sanjay did not have time for gentle tact and sustained persuasion. He wanted results, latest by day after tomorrow.”
Given that his mother ran the government, Sanjay’s hand was strengthened by the government. It announced a National Population Policy Statement in April 1976.
This statement essentially stated that sterilisation or nasbandi would be the main way through which family planning would be carried out in India.
A target of 40 lakh was announced for the year. At the same time, the long term objective was to reduce the birth rate from 3.4 per cent in 1976 to 1.4 per cent in the early 1980s.