The Boss is Talking

The media has been awash with niceties on Sonia Gandhi’s pet scheme of food security after parliament gave its nod to the much talked about and yet less understood Bill on September 2. The programme being the biggest of its kind to fight hunger, is likely to benefit, they claim, 82 crore people. Maybe, this is Mrs Gandhi’s easiest way to reach millennium goals and win the forthcoming elections. In a land of massive corruption from top to bottom level administration, how they will implement the food security plan covering nearly two-thirds of the country’s population is anybody’s guess. No doubt it will open a new floodgate to loot the exchequer by the persons in power. And the amount is staggering—Rs 130,000 crore. Whatever remains of the public distribution system is in a shambles as they have systematically crippled it over the years with the sole objective of appeasing overseas bosses and allowing market operators to call the shot. Many are in favour of engaging panchayet bodies to distribute subsidised grains. But panchayets are part of the system and they are equally corrupt. A recent survey conducted by an NGO has revealed that almost one third of sitting Loksabha members and an equal number of Assembly members in various states face criminal charges. The scenario cannot be otherwise in rural bodies.

They call the ‘fight hunger’ programme historic, whether the hungry are listening is not known. Harried at home and abroad over scam charges and economic down-turn, perhaps this is the only area where Congress has some advantages in cornering their opposition in electioneering. The main opposition—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—is not opposed to the food programme but they think the timing of this ‘food business’ is at a time when elections are round the corner. That it is aimed at winning votes is a fact of life. Then it is part of Indian parliamentary culture and for them ‘grapes are sour’.

The Congress party that has been struggling from one crisis to another, sees in Mrs Gandhi’s political wisdom a real game changer. Elections in India are fought on catchy slogans. The late Indira Gandhi did it and her successors too hope to retain power by indulging in ‘populism’ that seems to be unsustainable. After all the economy is bankrupt. Ruling elites accept it and they simply don’t know how to tide over the crisis.

Unemployment is mounting. So is inflation. Price rise of essential commodities is unprecedented as it follows no logic. No doubt food price hikes in recent months have alarming social implications as families, poor and lower middle class families to be precise, struggle hard to feed themselves. For ordinary wage earners world is crumbling everyday. And everywhere people are working harder over long hours but their wages are not keeping pace with inflation. So they have to adopt wherever and however possible. The failure of wages to keep up with rising prices of basic necessities is putting a severe strain on family relationship.

The opposition has so far failed to offer a viable alternative. They simply criticise this issue or that for the sake of criticism and stall parliamentary proceedings from time to time to make their presence felt. The main opposition—BJP—continues to ridicule itself by prolonging the Modi factor in their electoral calculations. While wandering in political wilderness for sometime they are now back to revive religious fanaticism as a way out to face the challenge of Congress Party’s populism.

As for the left the less said the better. They have increasingly marginalised themselves in national politics over the years by withdrawing from the hazards of mass mobilisation against anti-people policies of the Union Government. They too are in search of short-lived popular issues to fight elections. But their tokenism and that too regionally cannot cut ice. They simply resort to ad-hoc-ism to avoid sustained campaigns against the adverse consequences of economic liberalisation. They have no long-term strategy because they have no goal to reach other than parliament.

Food prices are rising and rising and yet agriculture is no longer considered as a lucrative venture for farmers. While a hike in food prices should ideally inspire more people to engage in agriculture to produce more cereals and vegetables, the result has been the opposite. Farmers are leaving agriculture and committing suicides. In truth agriculture has become less reliable over the past few decades for traditional farmers as a result of uncertainties related to input costs, returns and the effects of climate change.

Mere passing law is no guarantee to improved management of food reserves without which the vulnerability of the poor will continue. There are no strict regulations to regulate the grain trade. Vague talks about hoarding is no answer to market mayhem as it is affecting almost all sections of the society. How to make agriculture a more reliable vocation is not on their agenda.

The old slogan of land to the tillers no longer enthuses the left, not to speak of the right. The slogan is now land to the industrialists and transnationals and agriculture is becoming industrial agriculture. They talk of all kinds of ‘reforms’, all the time, only they don’t think in terms of ‘land reforms’ any more. In a way the broad-based Food Security Programme expresses the depth of today’s social crisis. The stakes are high. Like many of previous poverty alleviation schemes it is likely to fail and those who are calling it historic will not be there to defend history.

Vol. 46, No. 10, Sep 15 - 21, 2013

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