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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 26, June 13, 2009

Reflections on the Election Results and Tasks Ahead

Saturday 13 June 2009, by Sailendra Nath Ghosh

Sonia Gandhi, aided by her son Rahul, has shown her mastery over electoral politics. Of course, UPA’s victory has been facilitated by the follies and infighting within BJP; the latter’s failure to understand that the religious community called the Hindus are so secular and so permeated with the “Sarva dharma samabhava” ideas that they will no longer become a solid vote bank for communal politics; its failure to drop Varun Gandhi as its candidate after his infamous “hate speech”; its failure to gauge the repulsive image of Narendra Modi to the Muslim masses and the secular Hindus in general; its constant personal attacks on the suave and soft-spoken Manmohan Singh as a “weak PM” without showing where his policy was indeed wrong and thus exposing its own lack of positive thinking. The UPA’s victory was also facilitated by the formations of the Third Front and the Fourth Front which were so unprincipled that the Congress, in spite of its stains, appeared as a paragon of virtues.

Even then, Delhi was the only State where— thanks to the Sheila Dikshit Government’s sensitivity to people’s demands—the people decisively voted for the Congress. Rahul Gandhi’s appeal to the youth swung large chunks of the youth throughout India. Yet, unbiased analysis will show that in the most populous States like UP, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the UPA’s victory basically meant the people’s rejection of State-level power-hungry politicians’ gang-ups. In Bihar and Orissa where honest and sensitive CMs ruled, the Congress failed to win many seats. In a word, the votes were against fearsome instability in governance, against communal bellicosity, against casteism, and against the alliance of self-seekers whose winged ambitions earned people’s wrath and derision.

No Endorsement of Globalisers’ Tailism

If the UPA leadership comes to believe that it has received people’s endorsement of the policies that the Manmohan Singh Government has been following, it will be grievously wrong. Despite the eulogies that are being showered on Dr Singh by Sonia Gandhi and many mediamen, future historians will judge the PM harshly for the policies he has hitherto followed. As the Member-Secratary of the International Commission for the South chaired by Julius Nyerere, he submitted a report recommending that the countries of the South should concentrate on developing trade and mutual assistance between themselves to reduce their dependence on the countries of the North. Soon after this report, he joined the Government of India and actively pursued a policy of depending even more on the North. It is he who, despite President Mugabe’s and Malayasian PM Mahathir’s suggestion for India’s lead to doggedly oppose the Dunkel proposal, led the Narasimha Rao Government up the garden path to be a member of the WTO, the forum initiated by the rich countries to tighten their grip over the whole world. It is he who spearheaded the acceptance of the neo-imperialists’ scheme of globalisation and pro-MNC reforms which very adversely affected Indian farmers, ruined small enterprises and aggravated unemployment. Palliatives like “loan waivers” and NREGS provided some relief to some people. But measures like these will not work in the coming period against the systemic drawdown that has got in-built.

During the course of negotiations on the Indo-US nuclear deal, his government is reported to have given a “strong letter of intent” to the USA for import of ten nuclear reactors from the USA, which will cost anything between Rs 50,000 crores and Rs 80,000 crores. Then, there will be costs of nuclear power plant imports from France and Russia. At a time when many American commentators are saying that even the US economy would not be able to bear these high-cost reactors, it is foolhardy to adopt the nuclear path for power generation. During the last thirty years, the US people have not allowed the setting up of even one nuclear plant. To argue that nuclear power generation, which inevitably spreads lethal radioactivity all over the land, is the alternative to greenhouse gas emission, is downright tomfoolery. Besides, it will pre-empt the resources for renewable energy generation which in myriad forms, are many times more productive. Manmohan is thus setting a wrong trend.

Manmohan Singh’s government tends to allow FDI in retail trade which will ruin India’s retailers. There is no knowing whether, even after the global meltdown experience, it will revive its previous proposal of allowing foreign investment in insurance to rise from 26 per cent to 49 per cent, and also allowing the entry of foreign insurers and Lloyds of London. It may even seek to abolish the 10 per cent limit of voting rights of foreigners in banks operating in India with larger shareholdings and also allow foreign investors to manage our pension funds for which his government had shown some inclination earlier. Brains steeped in market economics are unsuitable for countries where millions suffer from stark poverty despite Nature’s rich endowments.

Since the embrace of globalisation, successive governments of India have been, in the name of building infrastructure, concentrating on the Infrastructure for Business—express highway, more airports, more seaports, improved telecommunication etc. This has often been at the cost of Infrastructure for Life, such as reforestation of mountain ranges and denuded hills, rejuvenation of depleted rivers by reforestation of both banks from the source to the delta, restoration of wetlands, restoration of Eries, Bowris and farm ponds, desalination of deltaic regions by enhancing the fluvial flows, rejuvenating the estuaries and restoring the planktons in the seas. These are the priorities for the common people. The GDP approach does not care for these.

Unfortunately, even after the country’s Partition on the ground of religious divide, there is no political party in India working for religious harmonisation. No party’s election manifesto declares this as a goal. The Congress party has been practising pseudo-secularism appeasing the bigoted Islamist clerics, for the purpose of using the Muslims as its vote-bank. This feeds communalism, creates in others a feeling of “siege within” and provokes them to be more rabid. The BJP’s Hindutva slogan is also purpoted to create a rival vote-bank. Harmonisation needs that at the mass level, each should know the basic tenets of his/her own religion and also of the neighbour’s religion. It requires the use of traditional tools by way of soulful interpretation of the scriptures of all religions for realising their pristine values in today’s condition. Organising lectures by pious and highly reputed spiritual leaders from some centres of Islamic studies in West Asia could be an effective answer to the un-Islamic, anti-Koranic Talibanic ideas now spreading in Pakistan and India. But a positive approach is bypassed by all parties. India’s secularism has even meant avoidance of instruction of moral values which could be culled from the lives of great men and women of all faiths. As a result, negative values such as craze for sectarian power and selfishness are spreading. Will the UPA and the Opposition give serious thought to this basic problem? Without this, there will be no harmony, no national unity.

In line with all post-1965 federal governments in India, the UPA Government, too, has so far been following a policy of chemical-driven industrial pattern of agriculture, subsidising chemical fertilisers, encouraging widespread pesticide use, erecting big dams across the rivers (thus setting the rivers on the dying course), allowing foreign giant corporations to capture India’s seed market (extinguishing indigenous seed varieties and reducing our farmers to permanent dependence on these corporates), and even permitting genetically modified crops which are fraught with the dangers of Genetic Holocaust that is no less hazardous than Nuclear Holocaust. In the coming period, climatic change is likely to be more severe and bring about alternating droughts and floods more frequently. In that condition, the industrial type of farming is sure to bring famine, hunger and insatiable thirst.

Will the UPA, in its new incarnation, wake up to these dangers—the dangers emanating from the flouting of Nature’s principles? Will Dr Manmohan Singh, the economist, now cognise that economics, uninformed by Nature’s economy, is a dismal and destructive force?

BJP’s Thinking Needs New Direction

The BJP has been so obsessed with Hindutva that it has so far had no time to bother about these secular issues. The only popular issue that it raised on the eve of the election is to get back the black money which has been stashed away in foreign banks by Indian nationals. How seriously it pursues this campaign remains to be seen. It has been talking of Indian culture. If it turns to understanding how in pre-British days Indian culture was reflected in its soil conservation, forest and water management culture (water conservation, irrigation, drainage and flood plains management), how India’s diversity-based farming was the world’s most ecological and productive system, how organic farming could in the past—and can even now—produce abundant and multi-varietal food to keep all our people healthy, it will be doing a much better service to our people’s material wealth as well as culture. If it turns to seeing how to keep the water of our sacred rivers pure by afforesting their both banks from their source to the delta and by microbiologically treating effluents from industries and towns at decentralised levels and by maintaining their free flows instead of damming them, then it will not have to fight for saving the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri or the Ram Sethu on religious grounds. Ecological reasons will give these causes much greater strength. These will also prove to be efforts at mitigating poverty and improving all people’s health, enhancing the motherlands’ macro-and-micro-environment and cultural tradition. It will thereby be able to earn the loyalty of all denominations. Will it rise to face these challenging tasks?

CPM Needs Rethinking its Fundamentals

A word about the CPM will be in order here. During the recent—and continuing—global economic meltdown, Sonia Gandhi admitted that India has escaped the worst effects of this crisis because this country did not privatise or de-regulate its banks and insurance companies, as many other countries did. The CPM and its allies can legitimately take credit for checking the Manmohan Singh Government’s endeavours to follow the globally dominant trend. But the CPM needs to search its soul to know that it has hugely discredited itself by its pro-China bias, its non-resistance to Chinese expansionism, its reticence over China’s suppression of Tibet, its adherence to the “Marxist” dogma of the industrial economy’s superiority to the peasant economy, its discipleship to Deng Xiaopeng, its implementation of SEZs in the States ruled by it while opposing SEZs in other States, its lack of qualms in snatching away the poor men’s lands in the interest of industrial tycoons, its blindness to the danger to food security implied in the use of fertile lands for siting factories or townships, its brutalities in Nandigram and Singur, its abject surrender to bigoted mullahs in west Bengal by evicting Taslima Nasreen and its unholy alliance with rabid Islamist communalists in Kerala.

The CPM and CPI are now calling their cadres to reach out to the people and also to practise humility in relation to the people. But if the minds remain closed and the critical faculties remain suspended in this era of global warming when the survival of life on this planet is at stake, these calls will not be fruitful. Padayatra to people’s cottages will have to be accompanied by Manasyatra, questioning every theory, intensive interaction with people at all levels, gathering people’s wisdom, comparing with the traditions and experiences of the people from other agro-climatic conditions. “Theory is gray, my friend; green is the eternal tree of life” is the Hegelian adage quoted by Lenin and is true of all times.

Need for a Paradigm Shift in Agriculture

We have stated above that unless there is a paradigm shift in agriculture, there will be famine, hunger and thirst. This needs a little explanation. This is not an empty warning of the doom’s day. Nor is it a mere reiteration of what this writer and other environmentalists have been predicting for the last three decades. Two recent authoritative inter-national reports also have emphatically said this.

One is the study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This study was co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), World Health Organisation (WHO), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and Global Environment Facility (GEF). This is the most rigorous and comprehensive study on agriculture at the global level to date.

The other report is by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and UNEP. There is yet another series of recommendations by the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).

Agriculture is admittedly the mainstay of life and livelihood and is the core of all economic activities. Hence each of these reports has called for a switch from chemical-intensive industrial farming to organic farming/ecological farming. Much of the great harm the former is doing to agriculture, food security, people’s (and animals’) health and the environment is already known to our people. But a false notion has been inculcated in the political class that there is no alternative to this model if the people are to be fed. Much more and also healthier food can be produced by organic/ecological farming. This will be shown in a forthcoming article, with substantiation by data from India and the above-mentioned global studies. Organic and biodiversity based farming is the only sustainable agriculture in the age of climate change.

Before concluding, this writer would like to mention one grotesque fact. Have we ever paused to ponder how unnatural our—and in fact, the so-called “civilised” world’s—economy is? We all know that agriculture alone—none else—yields renewable wealth from the bowels of the earth. Industry merely processes these yields and the non-renewable extracts from mines. Trade, banking, insurance are mere service providers constituting the tertiary and quarternary sectors. Yet, the aspects which are in the descending order of importance in the natural system derive income in the ascending order. Agriculturists’ income is the lowest; the banker’s and insurers’ profits are the highest. Often there are conglomerates of industry, trade and finance. This unnatural system has become unbearable to Mother Earth. Will our political leaders wake up to these incongruities?

The author, who in the fifties was the Secretary of the Economic Unit attached to the Central Committee of the undivided Communist Party of India, is one of the country’s earliest environmentalists and a social philosopher.