With a population of more than 1.26 billion, India cannot afford to let an issue as essential as family planning get politicised and lose its importance.

The nation must learn from history. Millions of people were sterilised as part of the government’s heavy-handed population control programme in the late 70s. This was followed by a major backlash, and the common man began to fear family planning methods.

Today’s politicians aren’t doing much to advance the cause of family planning either. While Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan blames poverty in the Muslim community for the lack of family planning, Sadhvi Deva Thakur of the Hindu Mahasabha is calling for forced sterilisation of Muslims and Christians. All this will only serve to alienate people further. While political parties and politicians are using sterilisation, or the fear thereof, to enlarge their religious vote banks, the real agenda of family planning has taken a back seat.

The importance of family planning was realised early on in India, and post-Independence, the government had come up with several measures to achieve this goal. But politicians chose to highlight sterilisation and use it as a political tool instead.

Many religions frown upon sterilisation. But it is important to remember that family planning is not about sterilisation alone; it is a form of education that aims for a better and healthier life for mother, child and the complete family.

Instead of polarising voters, leaders must create awareness about measures such as contraceptives. Educating families is key; having too many children is not only a financial burden but is also harmful for the health of the mother and child.

As a growing economy, our greatest asset is an educated and healthy population, and the greatest threat is a burgeoning population that will cause the system to collapse. It’s high time politicians realise the importance of family planning and make it a bigger priority than vote-bank politics.