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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 49

Nuclear Deal, The Left Parties and Priorities for People

Wednesday 28 November 2007, by K Saradamoni


The media in general has made the question of the Indian government’s ‘nuclear deal ‘ with the United States of America into an affair between the Congress and the left parties., or to be precise a few leaders in select left parties. Both the print and the electronic media report what they understand as happening between the two sides. This does not mean that there are not people who understand the intricasies of the deal. Even in the limited number of dailies and journals I see, several knowledgeable people have written in detail about the deal. Even after dramatic developments like the news about the fall of the UPA led government and possible general election in the country, the Hindu dated 31 October 2007 on its front page has this caption “Not the end of the road: Manmohan.. Efforts on for consensus on nuclear deal.” The Prime Minister in the same month has repeatedly made statements like ‘Consensus process still on,’ ‘I have not given up hope’ etc. All this makes clear his disappointment in not having signed the deal or having been let down . Strangely, this appears to be the major concern before the PM. when there are endless life and death problems facing the people. and the PM has a major role in resolving them.

Inequality and poverty, unemployment and hunger, migration, land grabbing, are glaring at us. Inequality has two sides, and one side is certainly with the PM. They are actors in the process that results in the 9% rate of growth and also its beneficiaries, which is not limited to mere economic gains. They have power, influence and access to decision making centtres and individuals and ability to manipulate things for themselves, relatives, friends and aides. This has continued for long and they have come to believe that it is the way things should happen. All those who are left out of this privileged section are not a homogeneous group. They come from different religions and castes; their educatinal attainments , employment/ work, nature of security or lack of it, income/ wages/ assets differ. On the whole they lack the visibility, access to powers that be, information, and hence fail to get even their rightful demands heard. They have a right to work and right to food, both of which have been agreed upon by the government of India. The Central government ‘s rural employment scheme is different from the people’s fundamental right to work which would enable them to have nutricious , balanced food which would safeguard their mental and physical well being. The scheme does not ensure decent , regular earnings. The minimum wages differ between Rs. 26 and 125 among the states. We have had endless schemes for the poor, especially the rural poor. But none of them have succeeded in freeing their life from permanent deprivations. whether it be work, wages, proper food,habitat, health care or education for the children. In the process of what is called development and which we think is taking us to modernity and prosperity they have lost their relatively contended life and skills and knowledge they had acquired over generations. These are all known facts and need not be elaborated. They are essential features of countries where our type of development takes place.

Even if our experts and some politicians call our development inclusive it is far from truth.. Perhaps it may be correct to say that it is against the poor, the marginalised the deprived and the needy. We are made to understand that wider and wider roads, endless cars and huge vehicles, ‘world class’ airports, shopping malls and the mesmerising world it creates and the stream of shoppers is development. In addition, . twenty four hour television channels highlight before us as products of development the overarching role of the market, profit, rise and fall of sensex, newer architectural ventures, the richest Indians as well as the Indian who is the richest man in the world and who can give a plane worth rupees 240 crores as birthday gift to his wife.

What has all this to do with the Nucleal deal, some may ask. Nuclear deal is not taking place in a vacuum. The problems we had to face at the time of independence were tremendous. The partition rocked the nation. There were tremendous social and economic problems. Despite all these in less than five years we declared ourselves as a Sovereign Republic. We had pride, self confidence and determination. We discussed, we sought advice and we brought experts( sometimes unnecessarily) from different countries. Many new ventures were started in the fiels of industry, science and technology and education. I cannot believe that today we have pride as citizens of an independent, beautiful, rich country with enormous diversity. In recent decades, especially after 1991 when the so called new economic policy or reform was launched. two Indias have been created. The ideology behind it is market, competition and individual gain.. The ground where the game of the market is played is very uneven . While there are the successful ones, the failed people are also inevitable. It is heartening that some countries and communities are trying alternatives. Such experiments are there in the USA also. Unfortunately those are not the things that our media informs us.

There are individuals and groups who object not only the nuclear deal but also several plicies of our government which are not beneficial to the people, and are detrimental to the interests of our country.. Take for instance the changes the government is bringing about in labour laws, agrarian relations by encouraging contract farming and allowing multinational companies like monsanto to spread the use of GM seeds though the harmful effects of their use have been seen in our own country. It cannot be believed that those at the highest level of decision making bodies in our country are not aware of the implications of indiscrete opening up of the economy. Opening up of our retail sector to foreigners and Indian corporates will certainly results in the suicides of thousands of people especially women who for generations have been satisfying the daily needs of our households through regular fairs, way side sales, small and medium shops. Only that small section of the really rich would want to connect our shops to the global chains. It is difficult to believe that without the new economic reforms such demands would have emerged .What I want to emphasise is that Nuclear Deal is not an issue unrelated to several socio-economic decisions taken in our country and which are not in the interest of the majority of people.

However, I wish to briefly touch upon a development many may not associate with the changes in the socio economic changes. It is the growing violence at all levels, within the home ,on the road and at most public places. They include all sorts of criminal acts that one would not have dreamt two or three decades back. Practically everyday one reads news of child abuse, rape of women including minor girls, fights between groups of youth or adults, minor and major theft, looting of banks, shops especially thejewellery shops and homes. All these reflect the way in which our society has taken shape and the values generated and spread in the society. I was shocked to see two photos recently in a Malayalam daily where I found young men, who I thought could be students, arrested for running brothels, and the other in connection with stealing motor cars. Quick money at any cost is a goal set before the psople. This cannot be tackled by the police, jails or the court.

I am bringing these in this piece to highlight questions which should get high priority. They are: ‘where is our country going? and ‘how do our people live’.

I have no doubt that there are people who would say that our country has taken the correct path to become a super power. We have a constitution which promises all citizens equal opportunity. And to realise that we have to be clear as to what sort of a society we wish to create. Some may want us to be an America.Others may say Singapore, Japan, or Malaysia.. There is no guarantee that any of them will succeed.. We celebrate fifty years’ and sixty years of our Independence. We celebrate the 1857 mutiny as the first freedom struggle. We remember Gandhiji and Pundit Nehru on their birth and death anniversaries.

But it is hard to believe that we remember or value the legacy of our glorious freedom struggle which taught us to be free, dignified, and understand the sense and meaning of equality. Are they to be left in the pre-1947 years? I am reminded of the words of Steve Biko, the most important leader of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa and who unfortunately was killed by the apartheid regime. He asked black South Africands to learn a new , deep appreciation of themselves as themselves — not as compared to white people. They had to see themselves not as “non- Europeans” or “non-whites” but as blacks. He said that white people were considered normal, usual,and correct——— “the norm”. Black South Africans needed to become their own norm. We were our norm, but we are losing it and feel inferior or unequal to the whites,especially the Americans. This is a great achievement for the protagonists of globalisation which has crept into our system and injects a sense of helplessness, and inferiority. The agents of globalisation are shrewd and clever to make any situation created by the above to increasing their presence and hold over the country and people.

It is strange that we do not realise the speed with which we become dependent. The World Bank bank has been giving loans to us forsome time., atleast after we gave up our firm decision not to acccept foreign aid or loans with “strings attached’. There are old and young in India who may consider them as follies of an earlier era. But in truth they are all making us lose our sense of proportion and even thinking capacity. Otherwise how can we allow such agencies like the World bank to interfere in our domestic programmes , whether it be agriculture, rural employment and poverty. We accept the findings they put forth in their annual reports without any doubt. And alsotheir advices. And how did people like Kissinger and Mulford visit the leaders from the left parties and the BJP in connection with the said deal.

With so much of coastal area and open land we can easily search alternative sources for energy, like waves, wind and water. In small villages of twenty or thirty households we can help them generate their own energy from water ( if there is a small waterfall ) waste material or from the Sun. These can be experimented in many parts. There should be people’s involvement from the very beginning. so that they will learn to be responsible for their efficient functioning. I see so many unknown people without any special education or training coming up with so many innovations which can be used , of course after testing and improvement if necessary.

Farmers still continue to kill themselves. Weavers will start the same in large numbers. Others from the unorganised sector are thrown out of work and means of living. They roam about aimlessly. Young boys from far away Assam and Bengal come to Kerala to work in the construction areas. The minimum wagres are better here. Are they getting their due? But what about their living conditions here? Prostitution is on the rise. A people who have lost faith in tomorrow and self worth cannot make any country proud.
Let us examine our priorities. Nuclear Deal is certainly not a priority.

A renowned economist and concerned social activist, K. Saradamoni is the President of the National Federation of Indian Women.

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