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Social Justice and the Inclusive Policy of Shri Ram Vilas Paswan

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
October 25, 2020

“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

Nelson Mandela

Shri Ram Vilas Paswan was an Indian politician and a government official who was a long-serving national parliamentarian and was the founder and a longtime leader of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a regional political party in Bihar state, eastern India. He was one of the most iconic Dalit leaders in the history of India.

In 1977, he registered a Guinness World Record by winning the election from Hajipur, Bihar, India with a margin of 4.24 lakh votes, the maximum margin by any politician in the world. This record was, however, broken by PV Narasimha Rao when he won from the Nandyal constituency in Andhra Pradesh in 1991 by five lakh votes.

Voice of the marginalized

As a political leader, Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan would be remembered in history for the steps he took to get the Mandal Commission report implemented in 1990 during the V.P. Singh government. Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan was then Minister of Welfare and was among the vociferous campaigners for the implementation of the report. He worked closely with the legendary social justice-oriented civil services officer P.S. Krishnan in this period. This was an association that continued for many decades, until the retired administrator’s death in November 2019.

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

                                           ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Nothing best describes the political leadership and style of Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan as the quote by the associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was always accommodative and welcoming to anyone who ever came to visit him, which made him extremely popular among not just people from his community but to everyone who met him.

Reinvigorating Indian Railways

Indian railway network is the third largest railway network in the world. Being a people’s leader from Bihar, Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan, a seasoned parliamentarian, took several strategic decisions. The most important of them was the creation of six new zones with headquarters at Allahabad, Jaipur, Bangalore, Hajipur, Jabalpur and Bhubaneshwar. [The headquarters at Bangalore was subsequently shifted to Hubli]. Another zone with headquarters at Bilaspur Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh) added later after the local people agitated for the creation of a separate zone.

There was a popular sentiment among the people of Bihar of being marginalized. Though four out of the then nine zones catered to the state, none of the headquarters was based in Bihar. Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan understood this and created these zones with the objective of decentralizing the organization and manage the Indian Railways better. He started the preliminary work for setting up Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). This has now grown into a behemoth. He also proposed to provide telephone facilities to passengers from moving trains in an era when there were no mobile phones. This was based on a successful trial of this facility on the Mumbai Rajdhani in association with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.

COVID -19 and Food Security: Achieving the impossible

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 was awarded to the United Nations World Food Programme for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented health and socioeconomic crisis that is jeopardizing India’s tremendous gains in poverty reduction and improving access to food and nutrition for 1.3 billion people. India faced a tumultuous task of feeding its 1.3 billion population especially during the pandemic. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution headed by the Honorable Minister Shri Ram Vilas Paswan took proactive actions to ensure delivery of basic services and essential commodities. An additional 5 KG of rice or wheat per person and 1 Kg pulses per household was provided, free of cost, for all the 800 million Targeted Public Distribution System beneficiaries from March through November. Also 5 Kg rice or wheat per person per month, free of cost was provided to nearly 80 million migrants that are not covered under any food security scheme.

Under the expert leadership of the Shri. Ram Vilas Paswan, the Modi Government heralded the, “One Nation One Ration Card,” scheme implemented under the National Food Security Act. Under this plan, the distribution of highly subsidized food grains is enabled through nation-wide portability of ration cards through the implementation of IT-driven system by installation of ePoS devices at FPSs, seeding of Aadhaar number of beneficiaries with their ration cards and operationalization of biometrically authenticated ePoS transactions in the State/UTs.

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.

                  ~ Nelson Mandela

Sh. Ram Vilas Paswan, born in a humble Dalit family, was a leader for everyone. He imparted a great deal of innovations to every ministry he took over. He was a seasoned politician with over five decade of political experience who died in office during the pandemic. He was a true champion of the marginalized with a heart of gold who left the fabric of Indian politics much richer.

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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