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Destitution


I

 

The Hindustan Times  is a leading herald of the  developmental  path that the current Indian government vows to carry forward in the main.  Namely, the route that goes through free-market fundamentalism, fiscal prudence, and greater and greater transfer of wealth into private entrepreneurship.  Which includes disinvesting public equity in  what it sees as  inefficient, corrupt and retarding Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).  Never mind that precisely the PSUs  prepared the ground over some four decades of  Independent India for the industrial and  technological prowess  that  corporate India never fails to flaunt. For example, by making such core inputs as coal, oil, and steel available to  a nascent national bourgeoisie at subsidized rates!  No problem with subsidies then.

 

So when you notice that this Daily has been running an admirably laudable series on hunger in the hinterland, complete with  brutally honest statistics, you  cannot but acknowledge  how dire  Indian destitution must be.

 

 

And it does not matter a jot what its motives might be. 

 

 

Do recall that Edmund Burke  did not for a  moment wish the British empire to be liquidated; which is why he was to become the most trenchant arraigner of  the  Company’s  barbaric excesses  in the Colony.  And who can say that  he made a mistake in  initiating impeachment against Hastings.

 

Or that it  was  that arch Tory prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who first coined the phrase  “two nations” in an unreadable novel called  Sybil, or the Two Nations (the “two nations” being the rich and the poor).  Or that Thomas Carlyle wrote some of the most moving tracts on behalf of “reform”  because he  was terrified that  were the Whigs not to make a gesture towards  British destitution, the French Revolution would surely happen in England.  And what could have been worse.  And remember that it nearly did during the “hungry Forties” but was averted by a combination of the gestures, the sticks, and loot from the Colony.

 

Thus, recognizing the ideological history which  The Hindustan Times  replicates, we are thankful that it has  made the  no-nonsense disclosures it has; and for the reason that  coming from it rather than from  the Indian Left or the myriad  non-governmental  civil society activist groups,  the  fact of  Indian  hunger has a greater plausibility  among  India’s  heady, consumerist elites who swear by this  English Daily.  Though it is much to be doubted that they will lose much sleep over the disclosures.

 

All that, even as The Hindustan Times also remains routinely and rather sniggeringly contemptuous of what  right-wing opinion calls  the  “hand-outs” approach to social upliftment, often critiquing the recent policy initiatives of the government (under pressure, it must be noted, of  the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, now also again the head of the re-constituted  National Advisory Council, a policy think-tank derided in past years for recommending  higher levels of social spending) to invest at impressive scales in schemes that are meant to benefit the lowest of the low.  Impressive merely in relation to past practice of course, although  in absolute terms, still a pittance.

 

Thus, even as it  unleashes an editorial war on hunger (“Treating the Poor Like Dirt,” HT, April 6), it doesn’t quite know where to go from there, except to recall, most amusingly, that, among other things—“sovereign,”  “secular,” “democratic,”—India  also denotes itself in the Preamble to its Constitution a “socialist republic.”

 

A clear case of the Devil quoting scripture, since the Daily’s diatribes at anything sniffingly socialist remain its raison d etre.

 

II

 

 

So, why this new-found concern for the destitute? 

 

 

Clearly  because  there is now a recognition of the fact that things are so abominably inequitous that  merely  upholding  the  suigeneric  prerogatives of the State, or mouthing pious deprecations against social unrest and  violent recourses by sections of the polity may not stem the tide.

 

 

And what could be more fatally  threatening to the  nation’s aspiration to super-powerdom via the corporate route, which will now increasingly include strategic corporates from afar as well. 

 

 

After all, even as the numbers of dollar billionaires grow exponentially at one end,  a half of India’s children—a whole half—are  malnourished to a point where a whole new generation of Indians is faced with slow but certain  extermination  well before it grows into adolescence.

 

Infact, where  the  French Queen had recommended cake for the  sancullotes,  children in India have been discovered by the Daily to be actually subsisting on mud laced with silicon.

 

You read  that right—mud.

 

When you remember that even in 2010—some six decades into Independent existence—India harbours the world’s largest numbers of poor people in absolute terms,  mud has great prospects.

 

Where mud is available, that is.

 

Even this minute some canny corporate might be working out the idea of manufacturing mud cakes at affordable prices, for all you know.

 

It is another matter that these numbers range from some 27% to 77% of the population in various officially constituted findings, giving policy-makers a headache as to which figure to authenticate as it formulates schemes like the “Food Security Act” etc.,

 

III

 

What is of importance in the  attention that hunger receives in the HT is the recognition, however unstated and denied otherwise, that  a polity so  execrably unequal (because exploited)  is a natural breeding ground for all sorts of mayhem.

 

Thus, contrary to the oft-repeated  mantra of the prime minister that  “Naxalism” is the greatest  internal danger that India faces, there is an unacknowledged  and shamefaced realization that infact it may be destitution that lies at the root of the problem.

 

And that this destitution, far from being an other-worldly imposition, is very much the yield of policies pursued, especially over the last two decades of “reform.”

 

Now, The Hindustan Times  and the material interests it espouses and  projects would die before  ascribing India’s  destitution to the political economy of free-market fundamentalism.

 

 

Which is why its panaceas encompass the  well-worn  moralisms of  ruling class elitism:  root out corruption, reign in the bureaucracy, de-hoard the grains, invest in storage facilites, encourage more private initiatives in the food industry, accept  BT technologies, eliminate middle men in retail, let in  corporates directly into trading food, and  put down civil unrest with a firm hand. But at no cost  pull down the  private mining corporates  who busily and illegally rob millions in the hinterland of their right to forest wealth, to land, to water, to livelihoods which have sustained them for centuries.  

 

 

And  at no cost  make any public acknowledgement that  Naxalism is causal. As in the case of “terrorism” condemn it several times a day as being without cause and  merely an expression of metaphysical evil.  And waiting to be bombed out of existence.

 

IV

 

As I write,  the government’s  touted  “Operation Green Hunt” against  the  Maoists  has received an ugly jolt in the jungles of Dantewada in Chattisgarh—a state ruled by the Bhartiya Janata Party:  some seventy five soldiers of a hunting Central Reserve Police Force party have been wiped out in a cannily orchestrated  attack.  And most of those killed perhaps as destitute as the Adivasis  among whom Naxalism breeds.

 

The no-nonsense  home minister of India, P.Chidhambaram, has  shaken his erudite head and pointed to the indescribable barbarism of the Naxals.  Nothing here about the failure of the state government, whereas only two days ago he was pleased to berate the chief minister of West Bengal for the failure of his administration to curb Naxalism in Lalgarh, reminding him that the buck must stop at his table.

 

So much for the politics of the issue.  And no mention of where the buck may stop after today’s massacre.

 

The Maoists who are accused of  wishing to overthrow the State and the Constitutional regime  are told that all their grievances will be heard if they abjure violence.  But it is not explained  why those who routinely espouse allegiance to the Constitution while espousing the cause of the destitute are routinely done violence to by the State.  Except of course that they are suspected to be  Naxal “sympathizers”  rather than  committed to the cause of the destitute.

 

And the test of loyalty to the realm  is univocally held to be everybody’s unequivocal  readiness to condemn  Maoist barbarities  while  upholding the right of the State to the course it follows, as all debate on the issue of  destitution is sought to be reduced to a  “you are with us or you are against us” formula.  Familiar Bushism.  Not for nothing was he so well-loved in India.

 

Some time back the Maoist made an offer of a cease fire for seventy two days (a riposte to the official assertion that it would be willing to undertake talks within seventy two hours if the guns were silenced).  That offer was expectedly accompanied by the stipulation that the State would  put a hold on the ravaging Corporate activities in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa,  and  declare an adherence to the forest rights of the tribals as by Statute established.

 

There of course is the catch.

 

Many voices among India’s civil society ask  why it is that in dealing with the problem born of destitution the State is unwilling to  respect  laws that indelibly protect those rights, to  take cognizance of the  bandit corporates who care a tuppence for the laws and the Constitution, and  carry out their depredations with full connivance of the local authorities, or to enlist democratic voices who may be willing to bring the parties to  the  table on  terms which are seen to be fair by contending interests.

 

Not surprisingly, such unwillingness is construed as the State’s  class commitment to private marauders out to make a kill.  While, India’s children  blunt the edge of their hunger by eating silicon-laced mud.

 

Nor is there any acceptance of the fact that making war on  its own destitute may not solve the problem.  After all the days when  genocide could be visited upon  native populations with any conclusive prospect—the Native Indians in America, or the Aborigines in Australia—are long gone.

 

One would think that at a time when  India

has its hands full with  depredations visited upon it by inimical neighbours, and when elements within the State do seem to favour  a wider investment in social  programmes, it would be good policy to unite the polity behind sound national purposes. 

 

 

And that would  require  a bold acknowledgement that mere militarist or moralist bravado  may not meet the situation.  Rather a  paradigmatic recognition that social violence  that afflicts large parts of the country issues from  policies that are  brazenly calculated to fatten the already fat at the cost of those that eat mud.

 

Exactly as the State does now recognize that the social unrest among its religious minorities issues from causes that are and have  lately been firmly identified as well.  For example in the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Mishra  committee reports with respect to Indian Muslims.

 

What is it then that prevents the State from according similar credence to dozens of its own reports on the extent, nature, and causes of destitution, and the remedies thereof?

 

Might it not be the case that whereas inequities that relate to caste, religious community, gender, linguistic and ethnic allegiance,  are  seen to be negotiable by the State in one way or another, sooner or later, and often profitably, those that relate to class remain simply non-negotiable?

 

If indeed so, a great task awaits India’s social theorists in determining as to how the Constitution of the Republic may be squared with so blind a refusal to address  inequities rooted in  a  non-negotiable devotion to  Capitalism which seems to make its own laws and  write its own Constitution.

 

And whether, should that devotion remain unmitigated and rather drunk with the  prowess of the state-apparatus behind it,  violence can ever be conclusively put down.

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