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India: The Assault on Scholar and Social Activist Swami Agnivesh

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The International Movement for a Just World (JUST) is shocked to learn that the prominent Indian social activist, Swami Agnivesh, was assaulted on the 17th of July 2018 in the Pakur area of Jharkhand State while leaving a hotel where he had participated in an event.

The assassins are allegedly from the youth wing of the BJP, the ruling party. They had torn his clothes and hurled abuses at Agnivesh. They were angry that the activist had made a statement defending the consumption of beef. In recent months, the consumption of beef in a society where the cow is venerated has become a volatile issue with cases reported of Muslims being killed because they had eaten the meat of the animal even within the confines of their homes.       

The BJP has denied that its youth workers were involved in the Agnivesh assault. One hopes that a fair and unbiased investigation will be carried out by the authorities. The culprits should be severely punished according to the law. 

It is a shame that intolerance and aggressive bigotry of this sort is gathering momentum in parts of India. It has been facilitated according to certain sources by the increasing legitimization of a narrow notion of religious identity which in a sense is a travesty of the universalism and inclusiveness of the Hindu faith. Those who wield power and influence in politics and religion should not lend credibility to such gross misinterpretations of the sacred beliefs of the majority of the populace. 

Swami Agnivesh is one of those few Indians who has always sought to combat bigotry and hatred propagated in the name of religion, any religion.  He has adopted principled positions on major controversies in his country with courage and integrity for many decades. A multi-religious, multi-cultural democracy should eulogise – not assault – such individuals. 

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Featured image is from The Indian Express.

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Refocus on Pakistan-India Water Dispute

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Image result for Pakistan-India Water Dispute CARTOON
By Sajjad Shaukat
Since its inception, India has never missed an opportunity to victimise Pakistan by creating
deliberate water scarcity with the aim to damage the latter agriculturally. Last year, Indian
extremist Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given the concerned departments to continue
construction of dams and ordered diverting water of Chenab River to Beas, which is a serious
violation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960. Therefore, Pakistan-India water dispute has
been deepened.

In this regard, a high-powered Pakistani delegation led by Pakistan ‘s Attorney General Ashtar
Ausaf Ali met with World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva and other senior
officials in Washington on May 21-22, 2018 for resolution of disputes on Kishanganga Hydro
Electric Power (KHEP) and Rampur Hydro Electric Power (RHEP). World Bank’s, senior vice
president and Group General Counsel has forwarded a letter to Ashtar Ausaf Ali. The letter
contains a summary of ideas to resolve the stalemate and proffers two proposals for which
concerned authorities (MoWR/AGP) will shortly convene a meeting to finalize Pakistan's
proposals—Proposal 1: Pakistan accepts Indian request to appoint neutral Expert (NE) and
Proposal 2: India accepts Pakistan’s request for emplacement of Court of Arbitration (COA).
The World Bank is working with Pakistan and India to resolve Pakistan-India disputes on
Kishanganga Hydro Electric Power (KHEP) and Rampur Hydro Electric Power (RHEP) in light
of the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

A statement of the World Bank said: “The delegation of the Government of Pakistan also shared
with the Bank their concerns about the recent inauguration of the Kishanganga hydroelectric
plant” and the World Bank assured that it will address Islamabad’s concerns regarding Indian
violations of the IWT.

But, quite contrary to the above, it has been observed that a deliberate and sustained dis-
information campaign has been launched on both print and electronic media of India that
Pakistan has lost its case of water dispute at international forum i.e. World Bank.
It is notable that in the recent past, Prime Ministeri had inaugurated the 330MW Kishanganga
hydroelectric project in Jammu and Kashmir. Islamabad had protested the inauguration, claiming
that the project on a river flowing into Pakistan will disrupt water supplies.

It is mentionable that Pakistan is a grave victim of water scarcity, because of being on lower
riparian in relation to the rivers emanating from the Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK). New Delhi is
creating deliberate water shortages for Pakistan with the aim to impair Pakistan agriculturally.
Historically, India has been trying to establish her hegemony in the region by controlling water
sources and damaging agricultural economies of her neighbouring states. India has water
disputes with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Under the extremist government of Prime
Minister Modi, Pakistan has become specially target, as India’s water terrorism continues
unabated.

In this respect, in an article, Zofeen T. Ebrahim, Joydeep Gupta (Co-Authors) under the caption,
“India resists World Bank move to resolve Indus Water Treaty dispute”, published in The Third
Pole and reproduced-updated by a Pakistan’s renowned daily on January 6, 2017 is notable.
Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta wrote, “India has asked the World Bank not to rush in to
resolve a dispute with Pakistan over the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects. Indian
officials told a World Bank representative in New Delhi on January 5 that any differences over
the projects can be resolved bilaterally or through a neutral expert. Pakistan has objected to the
projects–being built by India in Jammu and Kashmir–on the grounds that they violate the 1960
Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between the two countries. After India rejected the charge, Pakistan
has gone to the World Bank–the designated IWT mediator…Islamabad has also asked the United
States (US) government to intervene, and has added the component of water security to the
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement…The Kishanganga project is on a
tributary of the Jhelum, while the Ratle project is on the Chenab..”

Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta elaborated, “As the dispute flared up, the World Bank
had recently suspended all proceedings–the setting up of a court of arbitration or the appointment
of a neutral expert. On January 5, World Bank representative Ian H Solomon met officials of
India’s External Affairs and Water Resources ministries in New Delhi in an effort to break the
deadlock. The Indian delegation, led by Gopal Baglay, Joint secretary in the Ministry of External
Affairs, made a detailed a presentation on the two projects to support their argument that neither
project violated the IWT. After the meeting, a government official told journalists that the Indian
side had described the objections raised by Pakistan as “technical”, and therefore they would be
best resolved by a neutral expert…Pakistan has dismissed this suggestion earlier, and is seeking
a full court of arbitration.

The World Bank had agreed to a court of arbitration and then to the
appointment of a neutral expert, leading to objections by both countries. That was when both
processes were suspended. Explore: World Bank pauses dam arbitration to ‘protect Indus Waters
Treaty.’ At the January 5 meeting, Solomon did not raise any question on the designs of the two
projects, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Instead, he explored ways to resolve
the dispute. With nothing decided, the World Bank official is going from New Delhi to
Islamabad to continue this effort…Under the IWT, India is allowed only non-consumptive use of
water from the three western rivers in the Indus basin–Indus, Jhelum and Chenab…The recent
stance by India where it “lobbied aggressively and influenced” the World Bank, he feared, had
further undermined the already “fragile” treaty. “The WB needs to take the right action–which is
to act as arbitrator in this matter, as it has done before,” pointed out water expert Simi
Kamal…The Bank needs to maintain this role and not back off now, when its arbitration role is
most required in the face of a belligerent Indian government.”

In fact, New Delhi’s construction of several dams and new plans for more dams in the Indian
Occupied Kashmir is part of its most dangerous scheme of bloodless warfare, being conducted
against Islamabad in order to further harm all political, economic, financial and social spheres of
Pakistan.

In this connection, in March, 2011, speaking in diplomatic language, Indus Water Commissioner
of India G. Ranganathan denied that India’s decision to build dams on rivers led to water
shortage in Pakistan. He also rejected Islamabad’s concerns at water theft by New Delhi or

violation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, assuring his counterpart, Syed Jamaat Ali Shah that
all issues relating to water would be resolved through dialogue. However, ground realties are
quite different from what Ranganathan maintained.
Besides other permanent issues and, especially the dispute of Kashmir which has always been
used by India to malign and pressurize Pakistan, water of rivers has become a matter of life and
death for every Pakistani, as New Delhi has been employing it as a tool of terrorism to blackmail
Pakistan.

In this regard, Indian decision to construct two hydro-electric projects on River Neelam which is
called Krishanganga is a blatant violation of the Indus Basin Water Treaty. The World Bank,
itself, is the mediator and signatory for the treaty. After the partition, owing to war-like situation,
India deliberately stopped the flow of Pakistan’s rivers which originate from the Indian-Held
Kashmir. Even at that time, Indian rulers had used water as a tool of aggression against Pakistan.
However, due to Indian illogical stand, Islamabad sought the help of international arbitration.
The Indus Basin Treaty allocates waters of three western rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to
Pakistan, while India has rights over eastern rivers of Ravi, Sutlej and Beas.
Since the settlement of the dispute, India has always violated the treaty intermittently to create
economic crisis in Pakistan. In 1984, India began construction of the Wullar Barrage on river
Jhelum in the Indian Occupied Kashmir.

In the past, the issue of Wullar Barrage has also been discussed in various rounds of talks, being
held under composite dialogue process between the two rivals, but Indian intransigence has
continued. In the mid-1990s India started another violation by constructing the Baglihar dam on
the Chenab River. In 2005, Pakistan had again sought the World Bank’s help to stop construction
of the Baglihar dam. Although WB allowed India to go ahead with the project after a few
modifications, yet it did not permit the interruption of the agreed quota of water flow to Pakistan.
In 2008, India suddenly reduced water flow of the Chenab River to give a greater setback to
Pakistan’s autumnal crops. Islamabad on September 17, 2008 threatened to seek the World
Bank’s intervention on the plea that New Delhi had not responded to its repeated complaints on
the issue appropriately. But, India did nothing to address the problem.

It is mentionable that India had been using water as an instrument to pressurize Islamabad with a
view to getting leverage in the Pak-India dialogue especially regarding Indian-Held Kashmir
where a new phase of protests against the Indian illegitimate occupation has accelerated. In this
respect, the then Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said on February 8, 2010 that
Pakistan’s case on Kashmir and water was based on truth, and the government would fight it
with full strength.

As a matter of fact, New Delhi wants to keep its control on Kashmir which is located in the Indus
River basin area, and which contributes to the flow of all the major rivers, entering Pakistan. It is
determined to bring about political, economic and social problems of grave nature in Pakistan.

In this context, China Daily News Group wrote in 2005: “Another added complication is that in
building a dam upstream of Pakistan, India will possess the ability to flood or starve Pakistan at
will. This ability was witnessed in July of 2004 when India, without warning, released water into
the Chenab River, flooding large portions of Pakistan. The history of conflict between these two
nations makes it possible for New Delhi to use nature as a real weapon against Islamabad.”
According to an estimate, unlike India, Pakistan is highly dependent on agriculture, which in turn
is dependent on water. Of the 79.6 million hectares of land that makeup Pakistan, 20 million are
available for agriculture. Of those 20 million hectares, 16 million are dependent on irrigation. So,
almost 80% of Pakistan’s agriculture is dependent on irrigation.

Notably, many of Pakistan’s industries are agro-based such as the textiles industry. Besides, 80%
of Pakistan’s food needs are fulfilled domestically. Thus an interruption of water supply would
have broad-ranging effects. For example, when the country suffered a drought from 1998 to
2001, there were violent riots in Karachi.

It is noteworthy that half of Pakistan’s energy comes from hydroelectricity, and at present, our
country has been facing a severe crisis of loadshedding which is the result of power-shortage in
the country. During the recent past summers, people in a number of cities like Karachi, Lahore,
Multan, Faisalabad etc. lodged violent protests against the loadshedding, culminating into loss of
property and life.

It is of particular attention that the then Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Water and Power
Khawaja Asif had warned on February 10, 2015 that although the electricity shortage in the
country would be overcome within two to three years, the scarcity of water is another issue
looming in the country.

Nevertheless, New Delhi employs water as an instrument by increasing its scarcity, making life
too often miserable for Pakistanis with the ultimate aim of creating poverty which could produce
more terrorism in turn. And, India is likely to deepen differences among Pakistan’s provinces
over various issues which are directly or indirectly related to water.
It is worth-mentioning that in January, 2017, even the US administration has initiated the process
for peacefully resolving the water dispute between India and Pakistan—the latest dispute which
concerns two hydroelectric power plants—Kishanganga and Ratle, which India is building on the
Indus rivers system.

In this backdrop, after a pause of two years and ‘water war threats’ from the Indian Prime
Minister Modi, Pakistan and India on March 20, 2017 resumed talks in Islamabad over the water
issues with Pakistan welcoming the development, but vowing to defend its rights with ‘full zeal
and vigour’. The two-day talks of Indus water commissioners of the two countries marked the
first formal engagement between the arch rivals, during the Mod-led India. Under the Indus
Waters Treaty, New Delhi is bound to hold such meetings with Islamabad. Notably, last year,
Premier Modi had threatened to revoke the water accord with Pakistan.

Nonetheless, after the latest meeting with the Pakistani delegation, we should hope that the
World Bank will resolve the Pakistan-India water dispute, particularly regarding the issue of
Kishanganga Hydro Electric Power and Rampur Hydro Electric Power projects.

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Corporate India vs indigenous peoples

Dalit Indian people

By Graham Peebles

The commercialization of the land in India is shattering the lives of millions of the country’s poorest, hungriest and most malnourished people.

The state has more or less abandoned rural people (70 per cent of the population) and turned the countryside over to corporations. Mineral extraction, dam building, infrastructure projects, water appropriation and industrial farming make up their burgeoning business portfolios.

The acclaimed author and political activist Arundhati Roy says the land and everything inside it is now owned “by the corporations, every mountain, every river, every forest, every dam, every water supply system”. Add to this the telephone networks and the media, and some say the judiciary, and the world’s largest democracy looks rather less democratic. Indeed, to the persecuted people in the forests and the urban poor crying out for justice, democracy is a city fable of little significance and no reality.

Violence in the name of development

Land sympathetically and sustainably nurtured by the Adivasi people for generations is being violently taken from them in what Roy describes as “the biggest land grab since Christopher Columbus”. In varying degrees of intensity, conflict and resistance is taking place throughout the areas affected by the land appropriation.

Massive numbers of people are being displaced, villages destroyed and women raped. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) states, numerous people “have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and charged with politically motivated offences that include murder, conspiracy and sedition”.

Mira Kamdar, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, says India’s oldest and most marginalized people are “completely cut off from the economically vibrant, rapidly growing India of the country’s major cities”, and they are facing a major threat to their livelihood. They are sidelined, intimidated and labelled Maoist (or Naxalite) terrorists by the government and most of the media.

Clear off, we want our Bauxite

Within some of the poorest states of India, from West Bengal and Chattisgarh in the northeast to Karnataka in the southwest, sits a treasure trove of minerals worth trillions of dollars. The area affected is huge and incorporates large tracks of ancestral land where the Adivasi, numbering about 150 million, and Dalit peoples have lived for millennia. Rich in bauxite, iron ore and uranium, this area is an Aladdin’s cave of minerals, which India’s corporations, and the 1 per cent beneficiaries of a decade of economic growth, see as theirs by right.

To facilitate easy access to the bauxite, corporations need the land to be cleared of obstacles, i.e. the indigenous people and their homes. According to Ashish Kothari, author of Churning The Earth, in recent years India “has seen a massive transfer of land and natural resources from the rural poor to the wealthy. Around 60 million people have been displaced (although some put the figure much higher) in India by large-scale industrial developments.”

The millions of mainly Dalits and Adivasi, made homeless and destitute, are forced to relocate to the slums and shanty colonies of small towns and mega cities where they are also unwelcome, all in the name of an apparently greater good. But as Roy says in Capitalism: A Ghost Story, “by now, we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of ‘growth’, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganized [unprotected and unregulated] sector.”

India’s internally displaced persons fall into a bureaucratic chasm, with neither local nor national government taking responsibility for them. Moreover, although the government occasionally publishes figures of internally displaced persons in camps, there is no monitoring of the number of people in displacement outside camps, including in urban areas. Official figures are therefore likely to underestimate the scale of the actual situation.

…to the Adivasi the bauxite is an ecological keystone, its value resting in its being in the mountain because … it “makes the mountain a porous reservoir, which holds water, that irrigates the plains”, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people.

According to HRW, in the resource-rich areas of central and eastern India, where large-scale mining and infrastructure projects are taking place, fast economic growth has been accompanied by rapidly growing inequality and widespread displacement of forest-dwelling tribal communities. Furthermore, despite the fact that India is bound by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which places internally displaced persons under the protection of the state and entitles them to the same rights as everyone else, “the government has yet to enact comprehensive laws to protect, compensate and resettle displaced people”.

A violent, undemocratic river of greed and indifference is drowning the indigenous people of eastern and central India. The Adivasi and Dalit peoples are, according to Roy, being surrounded by government forces and cut off from their resources, so much so that they cannot come out of the forest and are dying of malnutrition, all of which constitutes genocide by attrition. To their great credit and indomitable will, these ancient peoples are fighting back, waging a tribal uprising against the range of security forces deployed against them.

As it attempts to clear tribal land of millions of people and extract the treasures sewn into the fabric of the earth, the Indian government is   trampling on a range of international treaties and vandalizing the constitution in support of Indian businesses. The prize for these businesses is a wealth of minerals. One of these, bauxite, runs through the mountains of Orissa and, when extracted, is estimated to be worth 4 trillion US dollars.

However, to the Adivasi the bauxite is an ecological keystone, its value resting in its being in the mountain because, as Roy tells us, it “makes the mountain a porous reservoir, which holds water that irrigates the plains”, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people. To the people who live on the land and in harmony with the environment, the bauxite outside the mountain is worthless – they will not benefit in any way from the minerals being extracted, nor indeed will the people of India generally. Corporations, which are exempted from all manner of taxes and offered a range of government incentives to rape the land, pay only a nominal “royalty” to the government of India.

Out of step with the time

Destructive government policies pursued for the last two decades are at the root of the intense suffering being caused to millions of Adivasi and Dalit people, not just in the Dandakaranya forest but also in towns and cities across India. They are seen as remnants of the past, to be swept aside and eradicated, lest India’s image as a financial destination of choice and a great shopping centre of Asia be tainted. These policies are condemning hundred of millions to extreme poverty, fuelling cataclysmic inequality, and feeding a system of injustice and division that is trapping the poor into ever greater poverty and destitution, while concentrating more wealth and power with the wealthy and powerful.

Under the banner of growth and development, international financial agencies are dictating the economic plans of governments, offering them support on condition that they keep to their diktats and, in effect, turning them into little more than agents of corporate power.

The outcome is a system that is destructive, divisive and often violent in its methods and impact. It promotes separation and inequality, and seeks to reduce mankind to think in limited and limiting material terms, with everything and everybody seen as a commodity to be exploited until utterly spent. Crude by any standards, its manifestations fuel the corporate political machinery that is violating the lives of millions of India’s most vulnerable people in the forests of central and eastern India.

Out of step with the new time that speaks of cooperation, unity and social justice, this neoclassical model has served its purpose and had its day. It does not meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people of India or the world. It restricts the possibilities for change to its own limited paradigm. It is a model that has quashed the imagination of the unimaginative who deny even the possibility of a fair and just alternative.

But there has to be an alternative. As Roy says, we “have to begin to formulate some kind of vision and that vision has to be the dismantling of this particular model, in which a few people can be allowed to have an unlimited amount of wealth and power, both political and corporate. That has to be dismantled” and “a new imagination” beyond the restricting ideologies of communism and capitalism explored.

A system that grows out of and perpetuates injustice and suffering, as market totalitarianism does, is one for which an alternative is not only required but is essential for the health of the planet and the wellbeing and survival of humanity.

What is required is a pragmatic alternative that is rooted in principles of sharing, justice and freedom.

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India’s inequality and destructive development

Indian inequality

By Graham Peebles

The “new” India is racing towards the altar of materialism and market fundamentalism, abandoning its hallmark of spirituality, its philosophical treasures and any notion of unity, justice and service.

Under the careful guidance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund the Indian government has for the last 20 years or so – during which time inequality has doubled – embraced market liberalization and the global market, garlanded corporations with all manner of subsidies and damned the poor to greater poverty, destitution, suffering and suicide.

In a country of 1.2 billion people and counting, all the numbers are mega. Seen through corporate-tinted spectacles, India is a marketplace unlike any other and, provided business doors stay open 24/7, the international community – meaning the USA and its bedmates – will allow India to occupy Kashmir, murder, rape and displace the needy, and further marginalize the already marginalized.

Have-nots and billionaires

There are, according to Arundhati Roy, around 450 million Indians living in direpoverty, the equivalent of the combined poor of all the countries of Africa. Dire poverty means surviving on just 12 rupees (30 US cents) a day or less and does not allow for anything other than bare survival.

Is it possible to be healthy on such a sum – to eat nutritiously or to eat at all, to drink clean water, sleep in clean clothes on a clean bed, brush your teeth with toothpaste, wear shoes while working or retain ones dignity? All “normal”, recognizable requirements of living are regarded as luxuries, the divine seen as a fresh loaf of bread, and men, women and children shrouded in anxiety and despair, condemned to a life of drudgery and exploitation.

But among the ugliness and agony of such widespread poverty there is “good” news – billions of it: the fabulous Forbes list of money-men places India fourth in the world league table of the largest number of billionaires – 61 at the last count with a combined wealth of 250 billion US dollars. These are, incidentally, “rich billionaires”, unlike the German or Japanese ones, who are “poor” by comparison. In addition to these billionaires, there are around 200,000 dollar-millionaires, and between them they run the massive Indian corporations that in turn run India.

Middlemen and women

While half a billion men, women and children crawl through life on their 30 cents a day, a river of rupees flows ceaselessly into the judiciary, the body politic and the corporate lakes. As Arandhati Roy says, wealth is concentrated “onto the tip of a shinning pin on which our billionaires pirouette”. Indeed, in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to a quarter of the GDP.

Power and rupees move unceasingly into the pockets of the wealthy and mega rich, who are boosted by an “economic system that ensures the flow of wealth goes upwards via what academic David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession”. This flow feeds a new middle class, estimated to be between 30 and 50 million people – professionals and semi-professionals who have adapted to hallowed capitalist values.

To the delight of Western corporations, there is “a huge market being created for the white goods and automobile makers, [and] huge demand for the products”, Rajesh Shukla of the Centre for Macro Consumer Research excitedly proclaims. Mention of such “demand” sends tremors of excitement and anticipation through businesses small and large, while the people of Orissa and Kashmir, Jharkhand and West Bengal starve and are displaced, raped and persecuted.

In an economic world that sees everything through the simplistic prism of markets and profits, nation states are recognized as vast department stores, markets to be exploited until exhausted and returns maximized, the natural environment stripped of all that is of value. As for the ordinary people – the rural poor who make up 70 per cent of the population and those who crowd into the glowing, overcrowded filthy cities – it’s survival for the fittest

Growing inequality, deepening poverty

Hailed as an economic miracle, India is ranked by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 129th out of 146 countries on the Human Development Index. The number of poor people in the country has barely fallen over a 30-year period. According to India Today, the poor in rural India were better fed 30 years ago. By the government’s own figures, 50 per cent of the rural population (836 million people) live in poverty, surviving somehow on less than 50 US cents a day – that is, 20 cents more than those in “dire poverty” but still not what one would call comfortable. Furthermore, according to Indian government figures, child malnutrition stands at 46 per cent – the highest in the world. In fact, India comes 73rd out of 88 countries in the annual Global Hunger Index – six places lower than the previous year. The 2010 Multidimensional Poverty Index showed that Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have 421 million poor people.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, India has the “the highest number of poor in the world”, with the top 10 per cent earning 12 times that of the bottom 10 per cent compared to six times 20 years ago, i.e. inequality under the economic miracle is growing apace. There are sub-divisions within the divisions as inequality stalks the land – for example, with the urban wealthy spending 221 per cent more than their rural rich cousins, a chasm between the city comfortable and the rural desperate that is approaching cosmic proportions.

Such are the contradictions – and we have barely scratched the surface – in a country where a mere 1-3 per cent, according to Palagummi Sainath, have enjoyed “unprecedented success due to economic reforms”. The big growth story, he maintains, is inequality, which has “grown faster than any time in the last 50 years”, promising to cause the eath of democracy.

Still it’s not all bad news: the richest billionaires in the world are Indian and the world’s most expensive “house” – Antilla, a 27-story residential abomination, is in Mumbai. It is built for India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, whose personal wealth is said to be 20 billion dollars. He holds a controlling share in Reliance Industries Ltd, which has interests in businesses ranging from oil to stem cell storage, supermarkets to schools and, of course, the media.

Everything, everyone, everywhere

Throughout India there is systematic movement towards the commercialization of the countryside, the raping of the land for its bounty and the commoditization of each and every part of human existence. All of this is impelled by the government, which is happy to channel corporate propaganda and instil it in every mind and in every village in India.

The inevitable and unfortunate consequence is the death and destitution of obstacles to market fundamentalism – mainly the Adivasi and Dalit people who are demonized as Maoist terrorists by a government waging war not on terror but on its own marginalized and disadvantaged citizens. In this situation, to talk of human rights, social justice or environmental concerns is to talk humbug in the face of a capitalist crusade that has might on its side.

To its advocates, this is a model that is unchallengeable and beyond alternatives ideas of sharing and justice. It is a model that is bathed in a misty glow of polished yet polluted uniformity, one where the individual is absorbed into the consumer collective and told where to shop, what to buy, how to love and in which colour, what to think and when to think it and, if in doubt, tune into your local multinational media outlet for an update on corporate global acceptability.

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India: Historic Victory for Farmers of Maharashtra

NOVANEWS

The farmers in Maharashtra won a historic victory after 50,000 farmers threatened to siege the state assembly. The Devendra Fadnavisgovernment of Maharashtra has agreed to the demands of protesting farmers.

A committee has been set up, which will consider all aspects of their demands, which includes loan waiver, free electricity and a higher price for their produce.The government has given its acceptance in writing, said state minister Chandrakant Patil, after a delegation of farmers met government representatives this afternoon. Mr Fadnavis said the Chief Secretary will do the follow up.

The Fadnavis Government has decided to table a bill in the Monsoon session of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, which will assure minimum price for agricultural products. If traders offer lower price below minimum price then it will be considered as a criminal act.

The Maharashtra Government is also planning to revise milk prices and appoint an independent observer for dairy business to help farmers. The decision on hiking milk prices would be taken by June 20.

The Government has also agreed to waive off penalty and interest on pending power bills and also look to set up more cold storages and agro-processing units in the state.

Nearly 50,000 farmers assembled in Mumbai after a grueling 180-km, six-day march from Nashik, with plans to gherao the assembly. The protest was called off after the government’s acceptance.

The Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha or AIKS, which spearheaded the march, wants the implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission that mandates farmers be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price be fixed for their produce.

The adivasis or tribal cultivators, who joined the march in huge numbers, want the land they have been tilling for years to be transferred to their names and implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which they say will benefit them.

The farmers want the state government to stop forceful acquisition of farm lands for projects such as super highways and bullet trains. Inter-linking of rivers and to discontinue sharing of waters with Gujarat was another concern that they wanted to discuss.

They also want a compensation of Rs. 40,000 per acre for farmers whose crops were hit by hailstorm and pink bollworm.

Source: Countercurrents

Even though the farmers planned to begin their march towards the Vidhan Sabha after 11 am, they chose to walk at night so that the students appearing for their Board exams weren’t affected and the traffic ran smoothly.

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Offshoring Indian Agriculture: Is India Becoming a GMO Trash Can?

NOVANEWS

The regulatory system for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in India is in tatters. So said the Coalition for a GMFree India (CGMFI) in 2017 after media reports about the illegal cultivation of GM soybean in the country.

In India, five high-level reports have already advised against the adoption of GM crops:

1. The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal [Feb 2010];

2. The ‘Sopory Committee Report’ [August 2012];

3. The ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ [PSC] Report on GM crops [August 2012];

4. The ‘Technical Expert Committee [TEC] Final Report’ [June-July 2013]; and

5. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests [August 2017].

Given the issues surrounding GM crops (including the now well-documented failure of Bt cotton in the country), little wonder these reports advise against their adoption. Little wonder too given that the story of GM ‘regulation’ in India has been a case of blatant violations of biosafety norms, hasty approvals, a lack of monitoring abilities, general apathy towards the hazards of contamination and a lack of institutional oversight.

Despite these reports, the drive to get GM mustard commercialised (which would be India’s first officially-approved GM food crop) has been relentless. The push for approval is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, even though, despite serious concerns, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) deemed it necessary to give it the nod.

GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no testing) and a lack of public scrutiny: in other words, unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency.

This crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which is wholly inappropriate for a country like India with its small biodiverse farms that could be affected by its application.

GM crops illegally growing

Despite the ban on GM cops, in 2005, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM crops were being sold to farmers. In 2008, Arun Shrivasatava wrote that illegal GM okra had been planted in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

In 2013, a group of scientists and NGOs protested in Kolkata and elsewhere against the introduction of transgenic brinjal in Bangladesh – a centre for origin and diversity of the vegetable – as it would give rise to contamination of the crop in India. As predicted, in 2014, the West Bengal government said it had received information regarding “infiltration” of commercial seeds of GM Bt brinjal from Bangladesh.

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of a GM HT soybean was reported in Gujarat. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a national farmers organisation, claimed that Gujarat farmers had been cultivating HT crop illegally – there is no clearance from the government for any GM food crop.

There are also reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India.

All of this is prompting calls for probes into the workings of the GEAC and other official bodies.

CGMFI spokesperson Kavitha Kuruganti says that the regulators have been caught sleeping. It wouldn’t be the first time: India’s first GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat, spread surreptitiously and illegally by the biotech industry. Kuruganti said the GEAC was caught off-guard when news about large scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crops were still underway.

In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India. To this day, no liability was fixed for the illegal spread.

The tactic of contaminate first then legalise has benefited industry players before. In 2006, for instance, the US Department of Agriculture granted marketing approval of GM Liberty Link 601 (Bayer CropScience) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports. The USDA effectively sanctioned an ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy.

Illegal GM imports

Now, in 2018, Kuruganti says that a complaint lodged with the GEAC and a Right to Information (RTI) application seeking information regarding the illegal GM soybean cultivation in the country has stirred the apex regulatory body to bring the issue to the notice of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), months after the issue became public.

In reply to the RTI application, the GEAC responded by saying it had received no complaint about such illegal cultivation. Kurauganti says this is a blatant lie: the BKS had collected illegally cultivated soybean samples for lab testing and the report was sent to the GEAC along with a letter of complaint. GM HT soybean has not been granted permission for field trials, let alone large-scale cultivation.

It is also understood that apart from the BKS, the Government of Gujarat also alerted the GEAC to the illegal cultivation.

Kuruganti says:

“The fact that the GEAC is writing now to the DGFT to take action (on preventing the illegal GM imports), makes it clear that it lacks any real intent to take serious action about the violations of its own regulations. It also indicates that it is putting up a show of having “done” something, before an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on PILs related to GMOs.”

Her assertion is supported by Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food:

“Commerce Ministry’s own data on imports of live seeds clearly indicates that India continues to import genetically modified seeds including GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (apart from soybean) from countries such as the USA… with no approval from the GEAC as is the requirement.”

Kuruganti concludes that the regulatory system is a shambles and is not preventing GMOs from being illegally imported into the country or planted. Moreover, the ruling BJP has reneged on its election promise not to allow GM without proper protocols.

Offshoring Indian agriculture

It is not a good situation. We have bogus arguments about GM mustard being forwarded by developers at Delhi University and the government. We also have USAID pushing for GM in Punjab and twisting a problematic situation to further Monsanto’s interests by trying to get GM soybean planted in the state. And we have regulators (deliberately) asleep at the wheel.

The fact that India is importing so many agricultural commodities in the first place doesn’t help. Relying on imports and transnational agribusiness with its proprietary (GM) seeds and inputs is not a recipe for food security. In the 1960s, Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter. Today, courtesy of World Bank, IMF and WTO interventions, the continent imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer.

Is this want India wants? Based on its rising import bill, self-reliance and food security seems to be an anathema to policy makers. In response to the government’s decision to abolish import duty on wheat in 2017, Ajmer Singh Lakhowala, head of the Punjab unit of Bharatiya Kisan Union, said sarcastically:

“The import of cheap wheat will bring the prices down. It appears the government wants the farmers to quit farming.”

As I have previously outlined, at the behest of the World Bank and courtesy of compliant politicians in India, it certainly seems to be the case.

Self-sufficiency is not to the liking of the US and the World Bank. Washington has for many decades regarded its leverage over global agriculture as a tool to secure its geostrategic goals.

Whether it involves the import of subsidised edible oils, wheat, pulses or soybean – alongside the ongoing neglect of indigenous agriculture and farmers by successive administrations – livelihoods are being destroyed, food quality is being undermined and Indian agriculture is slowly being offshored.

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Maldives crisis: US-Indian strategic alliance forming

NOVANEWS

By M.K. BHADRAKUMAR | Asia Times 

Developments in Maldives have begun unfolding according to script. India, the United States and Britain are spearheading the demand that Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen comply with the order by his country’s Supreme Court to release his political opponents from prison and reinstate 12 former lawmakers as members of Parliament.

The script has a striking resemblance to what happened in Sri Lanka in 2014, with some minor variations on the fundamental theme – regime change. Thus, as in Sri Lanka, sworn enemies who had been at each other’s throats for decades suddenly made strange bedfellows to oust the strongman in the presidential palace, and as dawn broke one fine day, the ground beneath the regime shifted dramatically.

In the earlier case, a defecting faction of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party aligned with its sworn enemy, the United National Party, undermining thereby the towering incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s grip on power. Now a similar realignment has happened in Maldives, which now threatens President Yameen’s continuance in power.

This latest unholy alliance is between two former presidents, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (a cousin of the incumbent president) and a man who once overthrew Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed. Gayoom and Nasheed have been sworn enemies. What adds to the intrigue is the mysterious role by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abdullah Saeed – who was, incidentally, appointed to the top court in 2009 by Nasheed when he was in power.

To what extent external powers promoted this opportunistic alliance to dethrone Yameen is a moot point. The US ambassador (based in Colombo) has been working closely with New Delhi to “promote” democracy. Nasheed and Saeed have visited Delhi in recent months at India’s invitation. Nasheed even addressed a panel at Brookings India to present his case for regime change in his country. Nasheed is a cult figure in London and Washington.

In sum, there is close coordination between New Delhi and Washington to get rid of Yameeen, who is branded as “pro-China.” Indeed, geopolitics is at the root of the current crisis in Maldives.

The missing link has been the secret move by the administration of US president Barack Obama in early 2013 to negotiate with Maldives about a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which would have led to increased military cooperation between the two countries, possibly including US bases there. But someone leaked a draft of the agreement to the press, and the US was forced to concede that such talks were indeed going on.

The negotiations got derailed when Yameen was elected president in November 2013 by narrowly defeating Nasheed. If Nasheed returns to power, the negotiations for the conclusion of the SOFA would be back on the table. Despite China’s firm and repeated denials that it has any intention of setting up a military base in Maldives, the China bogey has been whipped up by India.

The real US-Indian game plan is to create a “second island chain” (similar to the one in the Western Pacific) connecting Maldives with Diego Garcia (and Seychelles, where India has a base on one of the islands and has just concluded an agreement to build an airstrip and a sophisticated “monitoring station” at a cost of US$45 million) to curb the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and to control the sea lanes through which China conducts the bulk of its foreign trade. By the way, the US and India closely cooperate in monitoring the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

As part of the overall US-Indian strategy, New Delhi signed a Bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation with Singapore last November that provides Indian Navy ships temporary deployment facilities and logistics support at Singapore’s Changi naval base, which is near the disputed South China Sea, enabling India to engage in more activity in the Strait of Malacca through which China’s oil and natural-gas imports pass.

India also maintains a big naval base in the Bay of Bengal in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands near the Strait of Malacca. Clearly, institutionalized mechanisms are being put in place to monitor Chinese naval activities in both the Strait of Malacca and the Arabian Sea – and to develop “chokepoints” to strangulate the Chinese economy in the event of a confrontation.

Suffice to say, control of the Maldivian atolls is a crucial template of the overall US-Indian strategy to counter China’s rapidly growing blue-water navy and its capacity to project power in the Indian Ocean.

The big question is whether India will intervene in Maldives and chase the recalcitrant Yameen out of power and put some amiable face like Nasheed in power, who can be trusted to act as “our man in the Arabian Sea.” Of course, any such intervention would constitute a violation of international law and the UN Charter.

Traditionally, India has taken a pragmatic approach toward “democracy deficits” in its neighborhood – in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for instance – or its extended neighborhood of West Asia or Central Asia. But the US has been encouraging India to shed its shyness and become assertive, worthy of a great power in the making.

To be sure, if India intervenes in Maldives, no matter its legality or legitimacy, New Delhi can be 100% certain of Anglo-American backing.

In Washington’s calculus, a unilateral Indian intervention in Maldives would signify a leap of faith on New Delhi’s part in the direction of a strategic alliance with the US. The Donald Trump administration has identified India as a key partner in its Asian strategies, but has found that getting India to shed its “strategic autonomy” and “independent foreign policies” has been an exasperating experience so far. An intervention in Maldives would signify that India is willing to cross the Rubicon, finally, and act shoulder-to-shoulder as America’s ally in Asia. To be sure, Maldives presents a defining moment for Indian foreign policy.

However, this is India’s Haiti moment, too. Simply put, the mulattoes and blacks of the Arabian Sea have locked horns and are seeking foreign intervention. The US Navy sent ships to Haiti 19 times between 1857 and 1913 to “protect American lives and property” and finally occupied Haiti in 1915 – until, ultimately, Haitians united in resistance of the US occupation and American forces had to leave in 1934. A repressive dictatorship took over from that point.

Posted in USA, India, MaldivesComments Off on Maldives crisis: US-Indian strategic alliance forming

O Palestine! Modi is coming

NOVANEWS
Image result for Modi CARTOON
By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline 

Frankly, it was hard to believe when some newspapers mentioned a few months ago that PM Modi was planning to travel to Palestine in a near future. No Indian prime minister ever visited Israel or Palestine. A de-hyphenation of India’s Israel relationship and its ties with Palestine has been the stated Indian policy all along, ever since 1991 when India established relations with Israel, hardly three years after recognizing Palestine – one of the first countries to do so – in 1988. But it is mere sophistry.

The fact remains that India carefully calibrated the dynamics of the two tracks. Paradoxically, Modi will be flagging openly for the first time that hyphenation firmly continues to be the Indian policy. Every time Delhi adds a new dimension to relations with Israel, it feels a compulsion to burnish the ties with Palestine. After Modi’s visit to Israel, he is left with no option but to travel to Palestine.

Modi can be very excessive in the diplomatic arena – such as introducing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Gandhi recently in Ahmedabad (“Ghandi”, as Netanyahu spells the famous name.) Perhaps, Modi’s intention was good, because Netanyahu is the very antithesis of Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence and he hoped that something of the principles of ‘ahimsa’ might rub on the militant Israeli leader. (Gandhi would never have condoned the assassination of foreign adversaries as state policy, no matter the pretext.)

There was no rational explanation to hype up the relationship with Israel, a country with which India has a trade volume of $4 billion (including arms purchases). But Modi went overboard, and a Palestine visit became unavoidable. Would Netanyahu get upset with Modi for visiting Palestine? Why should he? The world leaders routinely visit Palestine – Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, Vladimir Putin and so on. Even Donald Trump dropped by Bethlehem while visiting Israel.

But the real significance of Modi’s visit to Palestine on February 9, which was announced by South Block on Saturday, lies elsewhere. The visit is being scheduled within a few weeks of the Trump administration’s announcement to withhold $65 million out of the $125 million in annual support it gives to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and to freeze an additional $45 million it had authorized in December for food relief to refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. The stony heart of Netanyahu applauded Trump’s decision. Netanyahu seeks “a new model” for aid disbursement that would entail greater Israeli control over Palestinian funds as a means to arm-twist the Palestine Authority, and he and Trump would seem to be working in tandem.

To the extent that Modi’s visit is a gesture of solidarity at a juncture when Trump brutally threatens to pass a death sentence on Palestine by cutting all aid, Delhi’s move is invested with a lot of political symbolism. Certainly, it will be interesting to see what Modi says while on Palestinian soil. His joint statement with Netanyahu was almost ditto a narrative of the Israeli position on Palestine. It even omitted any reference to a two-state solution. Will Modi make amends?

More importantly, it remains to be seen what Modi has to offer to the Palestinian people to alleviate their suffering. When he could offer $1 billion to the beleaguered Mongolians who are sandwiched between Russia and China, a similar gesture to the Palestinian people will be noted regionally and internationally as a noble gesture.

Of course it will be a far more fitting tribute to Gandhi’s legacy on Modi’s part than escorting Netanyahu to Sabarmati Ashram.

Read a dispatch in the weekend Guardian newspaper on what awaits Modi in Palestine.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, IndiaComments Off on O Palestine! Modi is coming

Countering Hate Politics

NOVANEWS

 

Simin Akhter Naqvi

Supremacist forces essentially play on our sense of vanity and our desire to externally reinforce parochial notions of cultural identity. When we see our immediate identities threatened, we are bound to react in self defence. The victory of divisive communal forces is in being able to make us see ourselves essentially and primarily as Hindus and Muslims, Men and Women, Hindi speaking and non-Hindi speaking, and as beef eaters and non-beef eaters, much before we see ourselves as rich or poor, workers or owners of capital, or as privileged elite or marginalized underclasses. Having achieved this, it is then not too difficult for them to turn this sense of exclusivist identities into antagonism and hatred. It is therefore necessary, that to counter supremacist arrogance we turn hatred around into constructive social dialogue and respond to propaganda with humility and sanity.

According to the Sachar committee report, Muslims in India are by far the poorest and educationally most deprived. More than 46% of Muslims concentrated in self employment in urban India in 2011 and only 13.5% employed in regular wage employment (NSSO, 2011). Educationally, 42.7% Muslims are illiterate as opposed to a figure of 36.4% for Hindus, according to census 2011 data. Only 2.75 % of all Muslims have studied till graduation or further and according to a Ministry of Minority Affairs report uploaded on the Ministry’s website n the 27th of July, 2017, “The recruitment of minorities in Government, Public Sector Banks, Public Sector Undertakings was 8.57% in 2014-15. Religion-wise data as well as employment in Private sector are not maintained”. Who then, can this deprived and backward community of barely 14% of all people, threaten?

It was also asserted that Muslims are all set to witness some sort of a population explosion in the decade to come. 2011 census data pertaining to population growth of Muslims was released by the government in 2015, stating that the average rate of growth of Muslim population for the decade 2001-11 was 24%, 6 percentage points higher than the national average of 18%. A Times of India report asserted that the rise was mostly due to an explosion of Muslim population in Assam and deliberately linked the increase to illegal immigration of Bengali speaking Muslims from Bangladesh into West Bengal and Assam. What was however, not reported was that the rate of growth had actually come down from 29% in the previous decade (1991-2001) to 24% in 2001-11, a natural correlate of increasing levels of educational attainment, and economic and social mobility. Is it not then, well within the interests of those who feel threatened by a rise in Muslim population to in fact help provide the community greater access to education and formal labour markets, in keeping with the spirit of Article 46 of the Constitution which states that, “The State shall promote, with special care, the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people”, so that like any other socio-religious group they transit to a higher average level of income and educational attainment, and consequently to a greater degree of secular social integration and smaller average family size?

The All India Muslim Personal Law board has taken a very bold and long overdue step in accepting and undertaking in an affidavit to the hon’ble Supreme Court in May this year, that ‘talaq e biddat’ (or instantaneous triple talaq) is an undesirable practice, and that the board will issue an advisory against it. Similar reflection and reform must also be carried out on questions of Polygamy and ‘nikah halala’, for though politically tragic and unfair, it is only then that the community can raise the more important questions of educational deprivation and denial of equal work opportunity. The terrain of this argument may not be rational, given that polygamy by way of illegal second marriage is more a matter of economic affordability than religious sanction and is common among people of all religions in India, if NFHS data is to be considered. Culturally, however, this is the only way the right wing’s propaganda can be challenged. Hate can only be countered with humility and criticism must be turned around into constructive reflection.

Alienation and ostracization of Muslims or any other social group, based on cultural and religious practices only leads to social disintegration, ghettoization of living spaces and only furthers the cause of exclusion in education and economic marginalization. The more the minority community closes up within, in response to attempts at communal polarization, the more it serves the ends of divisive communal forces. Majoritarinism cannot be countered by a similar ‘minoritarian’ assertion of cultural supremacy or rigidness, for they follow the same inverted logic of non-tolerance of difference and negates the continent’s long history of syncretic socio-cultural evolution. Which means, any attempts being made to overarch a pan-Hindu unity in the face of a projected cultural/economic threat from the Muslim ‘other’, must be countered with a secular socio-political mobilization of the working poor; Dalits, Mahadalits, Muslims, women, Tribals, Transgenders and everybody else on the margins of society. It is not coincidental that from Rohith Vemula to Akhlaq and Junaid, and from Dadari and Mewat to Una, Mehsana and Rajkot, those who have been persecuted and lynched at the hands of bigotry and hate were all from a certain economic strata. They were Dalits and Muslims but before that they were poor, which is what made them vulnerable; and so it is in this understanding of the class-dynamics of the practice of politics of hate and bigotry, that the answers to the ongoing attempts of communal polarization of society must be explored.

Migrant Bengali workers are being projected as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and held down in despise as the social benchmark ‘other’. The working classes are thus, being divided into ‘our poor’ and ‘their poor’ and it is this aspect of our social identity that secular forces need to reclaim. When social sector budgets are rolled back, it is the ‘poor’ who are hit. When expenditure on public health and NREGS was cut down, it is the poor who were thrown off the social security net, it is the poor who were hit by loss of jobs when demonetization was enforced last year and it is the poor who will be hit when higher education is privatized. An appropriation of the identity of the ‘poor man’ (and by deliberate corollary that of the ‘poor woman’) by the right wing in popular imagination is what will ultimately fulfill their political project of divide and rule and it is precisely this that needs to be resisted, by forging a strong and politically robust social and cultural unity of the social ‘underclasses’, for the project to be defeated.

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The Story of Independent India

NOVANEWS

The Story of Independent India: Capitalist Accumulation Grapples with Semi Feudal Dis-Accumulation.

Book Review

Nasir Tyabji

Chirashree Das Gupta State and Capital in Independent India: Institutions and Accumulation (Delhi, Cambridge University Press: 2016) hb. pp. xiii+315. Rs. 795

Chirashree Das Gupta’s book can be read at two levels: firstly, as an account of India’s industrial growth experience from the time of independence to the 1980s; and secondly (and to this reader, and hopefully to readers of RD, more profitably) as an examination of the features of the capital accumulation process that led the country to be what it was, at the beginning of the neo liberal phase, starting with Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980. Colloquially put, while in the first phase the state led the accumulation process, in the second it acquiesced in the private accumulation decisions of capitalists, particularly those representing large capital.

Of course, as Das Gupta observes, throughout the post-independence period there were zones of engagement, and zones of disengagement where through conscious choice, the state chose to let private decisions prevail. Foremost of these, of course, was the agrarian sector where pre-existing structures of land ownership were left undisturbed, along with the social relations that these structures underpinned. The impact of this feature on industrial capital accumulation, which Das Gupta has not explicitly examined, will be discussed later in this review.

In the industrial sector, skilful use was made by policy makers of the Gandhian inspired sympathy for the village artisan to create within the category of “cottage and village and small-scale industry” an arena within the economy where small capitalist enterprise could develop and grow, outside the purview of licensing regulation and, indeed, free of the responsibility of providing welfare provisions to workers employed in these enterprises. Over time, the investment limit that defined what constituted a small scale industrial unit was raised. While this practice was justified in terms of the effects of inflation, it also ensured that the arena of small enterprises was continually enlarged, leading to the charge of “once a small unit, always a small unit.” More seriously, while the original intention had been to extend support to the person of small means, the porous boundaries of a definition which depended on a scalar value such as investment, allowed large capital to enter the field of the small-scale sector.1

If this was one aspect of the functioning of a zone of non-intervention, a more serious encroachment on the state’s intentions in guiding capital accumulation lay in the distortions in the allocations sought by industrial licensing, by which the more powerful blocs of industrial capital gained disproportionate opportunities for investment and accumulation. As far back as 1939, Asoka Mehta had determined that the form of operation of Indian big capital was not through a diversified enterprise, or a limited number of enterprises, but by a conglomerate of firms straddling industrial and commercial activities, as also firms in traditional banking which extended to money lending.2 Despite the widespread awareness of this feature of big capital’s operations, and the controversies over the functioning of managing agencies, which bound many enterprises to centralised decision making, industrial regulation legislation confined its attention to discrete enterprises. This allowed many fractions of large capital, particularly the Birla Group to concentrate enormous economic power.

Although RK Hazari began his work on business group in the late 1950s, it was not for more than a decade subsequently that parliamentary pressure, after the findings of the Mahalanobis Committee on Incomes and Wealth, and the Dutt Committee on Industrial Licensing, led to regulatory innovations. It was with the passing of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act in the early 1970s, that the state took official cognisance of the business group.

If big capital used these methods to thwart the accumulation priorities of the state, Das Gupta points to another feature which, by boosting the rate of surplus, increased capital accumulation. This lay in the inadequate legislative support for ensuring fair wages to workers, even in the organized sector. She points out that for 9 years, between 1947 and 1956, the concept of the workplace was not defined. Later, this was narrowed to exclude a substantial portion of workers. The implication of this was that welfare measures provided by law were available to a small section of workers. Unlike the common perception that informalisation of the workforce is a recent phenomenon, it has been a feature of the Indian economy virtually since independence.

If the operation of big capital in the form of the business group is by now well known, an original contribution which Das Gupta has made to our understanding of the role of the state in moulding the capital accumulation process is that of identifying the institution of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). Although the HUF gained recognition in the process of the late 19th century codification of Hindu personal law, it was subsequently incorporated within the Income Tax Act in 1922. After independence, the state granted special privileges to the HUF, including in the initial years, a taxation level lower than for individuals. It is significant that the term “Hindu” is defined negatively, as incorporating all those who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsis or Jews. It may be noted in passing that this definition makes followers of Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and all those who are followers of theistic practices outside organized religions, also Hindus. Conversely, there is no institutional mechanism for non- Hindus to benefit from institutional arrangements corresponding to the HUF.

So, Das Gupta points out, big capital operates not only through the various forms of corporate bodies, share market listed and non-listed public limited companies, private limited companies, and unincorporated partnerships and proprietorships: nested within such interlocking entities are HUFs, whose internal financial operations are more opaque than those of even partnerships or proprietorships. In a subsequent paper, Das Gupta has elaborated on the consequences of the legal recognition of the HUF to the enhancement of the private aggrandizement of those privileged to operate such institutions.3 The word aggrandizement is used advisedly here, as there is no method to establish that the resources that remain tax free are actually utilized for accumulation of productive assets.

Fundamentally, then, the opaqueness permitted by law in the operations of a HUF lends opaqueness to the entire financial operations of the business group and thus to the overwhelming mass of large capital operating in the economy. The most that can be done is for the tax authorities to examine the accounts of individual enterprises. They have no way of determining how funds may be diverted for personal ends or in furtherance of non-productive expenditure. In the paper mentioned earlier, Das Gupta has described the structure of a Mumbai based business group which she surveyed as part of a study of 150 business families which had as many as 7500 firms, corporate and non-corporate, affiliated to these families. Significant here, in a group whose large enterprises were integrated into the global textile industry, was the inclusion of a partnership firm (i.e. a firm subject to no formal financial scrutiny) engaged in financial services. And thereby hangs a rather large and disturbing tale.

The 1967 report of the Congress Parliamentary Committee recommending bank nationalization suggested that one important reason for bank nationalisation was that integrating the organized banking sector with the cooperative banks4

would also help to curb the flow of financial resources into the unorganized money market which plays havoc with the economy in the present situation of acute scarcities and shortages

and further

Moreover, in the presence of such a unified financial system, the unorganized money market would lose much of its attraction and concealed power to engage any financing operations which will be beyond the purview of the organized financial system.

Finally:

Let us not imagine that the unorganized money market in the country operates entirely outside the banking system. There are strategic points of linkage between the unorganized money market and the banking system.

Around the same time, Charles Bettelheim had pointed to the fallacy of the argument that the large differences between interest rates in the urban and rural money markets implied that these markets were entirely distinct. On the contrary, he used evidence provided by the Banking Enquiry reports of the 1930s, and the RBI credit survey of the early 1950s to argue that urban resources, including surplus value generated by industrial production was flowing through a number of intermediaries to highly profitable rural money lending activities.5 In other words, a process of capital dis-accumulation was taking place, a truly ironic feature of an economy where the state was otherwise encouraging capital growth.

Lending credence to this apprehension is a relatively recent RBI Survey that points out that the non-institutional share (i.e. the share of private money lenders)in rural credit), which had fallen consistently after bank nationalization, had begun to increase again after the 1991 series of structural reforms.6 In other words, 70 years after Independence the semi feudal structure of the agrarian sector is not only the cause of continuing mass misery, but also allows for a drain on industrial surpluses and so on capital accumulation. It is not fanciful to suppose that the money trail spreading out from Ramalingam Raju’s collapsed Satyam Computer Services would have led to rural money lending operations, if the entire circuit could indeed have been traced.

At the time of writing this review, new information has emerged that indicates that the effects of demonetization and the introduction of GST has had profound implications of feeding further into the flow of urban funds into the informal money-lending market. An informal survey of small scale industry shows that7

In Punjab, Odisha and Tamil Nadu as well, businessmen were putting their money into speculative schemes instead of factories. In Punjab, businessmen diverted working capital loans for their sinking businesses to land purchases. In Odisha, earnings from the state’s iron ore boom were funnelled into gold, real estate, apartments, education and chit funds. In Tamil Nadu, money-lending appeared to outperform more productive enterprises in terms of returns.

It may be noted that as early as 1931, capitalists were aware that their cohabitation with landlords might allow the latter to use their position to siphon off not just part of the peasants’ necessary product, but also capitalist surplus. In a note to the FICCI executive before the Karachi session of the Congress, Ambalal Sarabhai had suggested nationalization of land (with compensation) for non-cultivating landlords as this class “…gives no service whatever, while on the other hand it consumes a lot which it neither earns nor tries to earn.”8

This review has concentrated on the points that seemed to this reviewer to be the more significant features of the accumulation process that Das Gupta’s book has pointed towards. Taken together with the more factual data on industrial performance that also forms a part, this is a monograph of considerable value, more so because its approach to the subject it covers is now a rarity.

References:

1. Nasir Tyabji “Nature of Small Enterprise Development: Political Aims and Socio-Economic Reality” Economic and Political Weekly 19 (1984): 1425-1433; S.K. Goyal et al Studies in National Development: Small Scale Sector and Big Business (New Delhi, Corporate Studies Group, IIPA: 1984)

2. Originally published under the title of “India Comes of Age,” the article was republished along with a similar study of the situation in 1949 in Asoka Mehta Who owns India? (Hyderabad, Chetna Prakashan: 1950)

3. Chirashree Das Gupta and Mohit Gupta “The Hindu Undivided Family in Independent India’s Corporate Governance and Tax Regime” South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 15/2017

4. Congress Party in Parliament Banking Institutions and Indian Economy: A Critical Review (Delhi, CPP: 1967): 65-66. The Report was commissioned by Chandra Shekhar, then Secretary of the Congress Party in Parliament and authored by H.K. Manmohan Singh of Patiala University, V.B Singh of Lucknow University, S.C Gupta of the Agricultural Economics Research Centre of Delhi University with S.K. Goyal of IIPA as convenor

5. Charles Bettelheim India Independent (New York, Monthly Review Press: 1968): 74-76

6. Narayan Chandra Pradhan, Persistence of Informal Credit in Rural India: Evidence from ‘All-India Debt and Investment Survey’ and Beyond Working Paper Series, Department of Economic Policy and Research, No 05/2013 (Mumbai, Reserve Bank of India: 2013)

7. https://scroll.in/article/851343/why-small-businessmen-in-gujarat-are-leaving-industry-for-financial-speculation, accessed on September 26, 2017

8. Ambalal Sarabhai Note to FICCI Executive, pp. 12-13 enclosed with FICCI letter F. 1306 dated 16.10.1931, Walchand Hirachand Papers, File 8 (Part II), pp. 92-93 Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi

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