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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 30 New Delhi July 18, 2015

The Real Face of Modi’s Governance

Monday 20 July 2015

by Arun Srivastava

In the seventies when the message from Naxalbari was spreading fast to other parts of India and the police, especially the Calcutta Police, was brutally killing youths and students, particularly those from Presidency College and Jadavpur University, on the plea of being Naxalites at the directive of the Congress Government headed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a theatre group had produced a play Football which depicted the craziness of the Bengali people towards football at a time when the State, in fact the country, was faced with severe economic crises and challenges. Unem-ployment was at its peak. Utter socio-economic confusion prevailed. The play tried to convey how the establishment or the government was trying to intoxicate the people by promoting and popularising football and not let them think and realise the potential of the crises. The people were apparently more concerned of a goal in favour of East Bengal or a victory for Mohan Bagan.

After 40 years the situation remains the same. There is no change. The ruling classes, the capitalist forces, have been striving to keep the common man intoxicated. Of course with the change of time, the tactics, the symbol has undergone change. If in the seventies it was football, in 2015 it is yoga, the mantra to keep fit. It is not that yoga was not practised in India before June 21. But the zeal with which Narendra Modi launched yoga points to the deep design: keep the people, particularly the youth, intoxicated. Your desire for a healthy life could be fulfilled through yoga.

During the last hundred years yoga has reached almost all the rich and powerful Western countries notwithstanding some opposition to it from the Christian community. But this fresh initiative needs to be analysed in the proper perspective. What has been really surprising is that some of the protagonists have gone to the extent of claiming that it would connect the spiritual and the world and may one day achieve what Marxism’s many struggles have failed to do.

There are two specific dimensions to the move: first, the RSS and BJP intend to trap the youth and enroll them as the future agents of the saffron agenda and second, to turn them addicted to yoga so that they do not bother to find out whether the Modi Government failed or succeeded in providing good governance and living upto the promises it had made to the people during the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. It is a fact that the poor do not need to do yoga because they work hard.

The fact is that the government has been pushing yoga only to hide its failures on poll promises: controlling prices and retrieving black money stashed abroad. A government usually indulges in this nature of abstract gimmick only when it finds the going tough. No doubt the one-year rule of the Modi Government has come under severe scrutiny for its inability to take on any of the people’s problems, least to speak of solving it. The Modi Government is found to be fumbling on all fronts. His handling of the domestic problems provides an insight into the lack of proper understanding of both the nature and gravity of the issue.

Let us look at some of the nationally important issues: curtailing of the MGNREGA, Food Security Act and the increasing suicides by the farmers and peasants. Though Modi made corruption a major election issue, his government has sent a clear message through its actions and postures that it is not at all inclined to curb the menace. Had the NDA Government been serious, Modi must have striven to get back the black money stashed abroad.

India has been passing through a critical period. While 80 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture, the government has not been concerned of making it a profitable avocation. The decline in agricultural activities has been witnessing the worst form of migration. It is not that migration is a new element in the lives of the rural poor. Migration had started during the British rule and continued even in independent India. But it has multiplied manifold during the last two decades. If earlier it was undertaken with the aim to earn and expand, in the recent years it has been more of a subsistence nature. The people migrate to simply survive.

Migration primarily happens due to the collapse of agriculture. This collapse has made nearly 2000 farmers lose their status every day. The medium and small farmers, who have been feeding the people, have been facing the spectre of pauperisation. They are virtually at the mercy of corporate farming. The thrust of the government to shift to cash-crop farming has further aggravated the situation. Cash crops have some advantages but the disadvantages are numerous. No doubt cash crops bring profit, but they require a huge bank borrowing. Often the crop fails and the farmer has no other way out but to commit suicide. Farmers’ suicide in advanced States is mainly due to the failure of cash crops. The situation is comparatively better in the States where the cash crop fashion has not been so rampant.

Cash crops also consume a huge amount of water. At a time when the ground water is depleting severely, the farmers have been forced to pay a big amount to get water for irrigating cash crops. Consumption of huge water and the corporate sector dictating the returns on them have put the farmers in a piquant situation. It is significant that farmers’ suicide has attained alarming proportions in the States where cash crops are being cultivated. What has been most striking is that the bulk of the agricultural credit, nearly 90 per cent, is usurped by the corporate farmers; such credit is in fact badly needed by the small and marginal farmers.

According to the RBI, nearly 50 per cent of the agricultural loan goes to the coffers of the non-farmers. In 2011, around 53 per cent of the agricultural loan was sanctioned by the urban and metro branches of the banks. What is also interesting is that the number of borrowers going for the agricultural loan of Rs 10 crores to 50 crores has substantially increased. It is an open secret that a genuine farmer does not need an amount of Rs 10 crores as loan.

It is said that crop production is on the increase. But the fact is otherwise. In 1991 the availability of crop was 510 gm for an individual. It came down to 444 gm in 2010. If the crop production has really increased, the availability of crop ought to have increased. The fact of the matter is that agricultural production has been on the decline. This is also manifest in the decline of 1.5 crore farmers in agriculture.

The agricultural labourers migrated as they were not getting the opportunity to sell their labour. Even in the eighties they could sale their labour and earn. The seventies and eighties witnessed violent struggles for minimum wages. The migration created an alarming dearth of working hands in rural India. With agriculture turning out to be a non-profitable activity, the agricultural labourers were not getting the minimum wages. The National Rural Employ-ment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was launched by the government in 2005 to respond to the needs of the country’s poor and check their migration. The middle peasants, who mainly engaged them, were not in a condition to pay them their wages.. The Congress Government, instead of evolving a mechanism to promote agriculture, incorporated the NREGA. This capitalist initiative was viewed as a socialist move which eventually boosted its image.

Capitalist-roader economists impressed upon Modi to do away with the NREGA as it was against the basic tenets of capitalism and market forces. It was at the initiative of these economists that Modi slashed the allocation to the scheme. But soon he came to realise that with agricultural activities failing to support them, the government ought to continue with the scheme. What is of primary concern is that the Modi Government did not undertake any measure or initiative to streamline or strengthen the agrarian economy on which still 80 per cent of the Indian population is dependent. The NREGA is nothing but doling alms. The Modi Government was simply perpetuating the anti-agrarian policy of the Congress.

In these days of spiralling prices of agricul-tural inputs, dwindling ground water and shortage of manpower, continuing with farming is an uphill task. It is imperative that agriculture is made the focus of our policies. How will we live without food? Our farmers need attention so that we all survive. During its one-year rule, the Modi Government did not drop any hint of the alternate mechanism to augment the agrarian economy. Modi followed the Congress doctrine and political line. The Modi Government, guided by the capitalist-roaders, has only perpetuated the policy of the USA of growing cash crops and doing away with the coarse crops even after being aware of the fact that the poor of the country survive on coarse crops.

With increasing shift to cash crops, the pressure on the ground water also multiplied. Rampant exploitation of water resources has seen the water-table plummet across the country. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has told the Ministry of Water Resources that around 56 per cent of the wells, which are analysed to keep a tab on ground-water level, showed a decline in its level in 2013 as compared to the average of the preceding 10-year (2003-12) period. Depleting ground-water level may be a real worry if one looks at the future demand for water in India. It is estimated that the country would need 1180 billion cubic metres (BCMs) of water annually by 2050. India has, at present, an annual potential of 1123 BCMs of ‘utilisable’ water with 690 BCMs coming from surface water resources and the remaining 433 BCMs from ground water resources; that is why there was a sharp rise in inequalities in the country in the last 15 years than the previous 50 years. The important issue troubling the country in the next 10 years would be water.

Depletion of ground water has witnessed large-scale drilling of the borewells. The water crisis in Maharashtra saw many thousands of borewells drilled in just the Marathwada region. And the borewell itself was a major source of debt. Most of the rigs were from Tiruchengode in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu. The rig-operators are providing a real response to a real demand but with grave consequences for groundwater supplies. Interestingly, Tiruchen-gode is the nation’s borewell rig capital and thousands of machines and operators survive on this. The rig operators of Tamil Nadu have agents and brokers in every State. The workers are mostly from Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

In fact the ground water situation in five southern States adjoining the Western Ghat has worsened to such a extent that these States are finding it a tough proposition to supply drinking water to the towns and cities. Bangalore is the worst victim of this syndrome. Since no more water is likely to be pumped from the Cauvery, it is groundwater that is being used for domestic needs and also for development activities.

A study published by the California-based agricultural scientists in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe underlines that suicides decrease with increasing farm size and yields, but increase with the area under Bt Cotton. A look at the annual suicide data for Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra during 2001-10 makes explicit that 86,607 of 549,414 suicides were by farmers, and 87 per cent were men with the numbers peaking in the 30-44 age-group. The water markets of Marathwada are booming. In the town of Jalna alone, tanker owners transact between Rs 6 million and Rs 7.5 million in water sales each day.

Most of the regions in Maharashtra are in the throes of a full-blown water crisis. When bore-wells first came to be drilled, it was mainly for agriculture, but in recent years, the demand for domestic and commercial purposes also increased. About 75 per cent of the borewells are drilled for agriculture while the rest is for other purposes. A majority of the borewells are drilled in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Rajasthan,. It is learnt that nearly 1.5 lakh people directly and indirectly are employed in the industry.

According to the World Bank, “India is the largest groundwater user in the world.” It has a relatively decentralised access and is conve-nient to use, making it the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security. As a common pool resource, it also remains the only source of drinking water for most rural households. Almost 60 per cent of the water used for irrigation in India is groundwater. Incidentally the 12th Five Year Plan recognises that groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30 million groundwater structures in play, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over extraction and quality deterioration. In fact, according to the World Bank report, “If current trends continue, within 20 years 60 per cent of all aquifers in India will be in a critical condition.” (World Bank 2005)

The severe depletion of underground water supplies in India poses a threat to the nation’s food security. Without serious efforts to stem the mining of groundwater, food production will decline, unleashing painful social and economic consequences. The problem is most serious in India, where 60 per cent of irrigated farming depends on groundwater. Scientists have estimated that northern India, which includes the nation’s breadbasket of wheat and rice production, is depleting groundwater at a rate of 54 billion cubic metres per year, a volume that could support a subsistence-level diet for some 180 million people.

It is in this background the the importance of the National Food Security Act ought to be assessed. The rural poor was striving for survival. When Parliament passed the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, it had already become one of the most debated pieces of legislation in decades. The NFSA was, after all, an outcome of remarkable public and judicial action—a battle of over a decade to secure freedom from hunger for millions who had not gained from India’s emergence as a major economy. With all its inadequacies, the Act is still seen by many as a final assault on the unconscionable hunger that has stalked the countryside and urban slums. Over two-thirds, or more than 820 million Indians, came under its ambit.

The Prime Minister, instead of indulging in gimmicks, should have taken the challenges head-on. But what he has been doing is to trivialise the issues of national importance. During the last one year Modi not even on a single occasion tried to send the message that he was worried of the situation and the crisis the country was facing. What is in fact most unfortunate is that the government, based on the utopian recommendations of the Shanta Kumar Committee, was contemplating to reduce the coverage of the NFSA from 67 per cent to 40 per cent of the population.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com