A Waiting Game

Impacts of the beleaguered left’s renewed attempts to regain what they have lost—credibility for political space—in view of the coming parliamentary poll might be limited. Faced with a dilemma of how to get rid of the moribund state they have been in for such a long period, it is quite natural for them to raise some popular issues affecting a large segment of the population. It’s a time when the future of the vast majority of the people looks more uncertain than ever before while office-goers, factory workers, not to speak of ordinary wage earners find it increasingly difficult to balance their daily budget. The All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) that advocates ‘socialist path with Indian characteristics’, possibly formulated by Netaji, announced in Delhi recently that they would launch a country-wide agitation against AADHAAR card, price rise and corruption. Earlier the Kerala unit of CPM too resolved to fight the authoritarian move of the government authorities in violation of apex court’s orders, for making AADHAAR mandatory to get subsidised LPG cylinders. The dubious business of AADHAAR has been going on for quite some time. It’s an extra-parliamentary exercise with no legal sanction. But their wisdom of remaining silent on the controversial issue for all these years is no less intriguing.

With the 2014 Loksabha Elections approaching, they are now in a hurry to react to woo middle class voters—their reserved constituency. It is not merely the question of subsidised LPG—it is the question of national self-respect. Maybe, it is a conspiracy to mortgage national security to American agencies though the persons in authority feign innocence, if not ignorance. The Centre is spending millions of rupees to execute a project that is hardly beneficial to the people in any form. Indians are already bundened with too many cards and one more identity card having no relevance to citizenship proof is useless. Yet the government is hell bent on thrusting AADHAAR–based cash transfer schemes on the unwilling people, hopefully with an eye to election. It’s an indirect way to pay cash for vote. But it may boomerang on the Congress Party. Surprisingly, the official left never raised the issue in parliament. Nor did they oppose the government seriously in any forum on this issue.

As for price rise they no longer think it is possible to mobilise masses on this burning issue. They seem to have reconciled themselves with market forces. The double digit inflation is a continuing agony, albeit the crisis managers never get tired to tell the people that better days are just round the corner. The people are basically hard hit by mounting food inflation. And this food inflation has several angels to deal with.

Most states in India have failed to reform their agricultural produce marketing committee laws to cut down unduly high marketing costs that fuel food inflation in no minor way. The Centre’s open-end procurement based food management system is said to be driving up prices by constraining grains supplies in the market. It leads to an artificial shortage which again hikes prices—a vicious circle. Over the last six months, the prices of pulses, edible oils and sugar have tended to either moderate or decline. But staple cereals, notably rice and wheat, and of perishable items, mainly vegetables and fruits, continue to propel food inflation higher.

In truth the Centre’s procurement and stock-holding policy is a major factor in pushing food inflation. Official agencies mop up 90 percent of rice and wheat arriving in markets (mandis) of major grains producing states like Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. For all practical purposes the Centre has become the biggest hoarder of food grains. It’s now common knowledge how grains are rotting in Food Corporation of India godowns. There has been no serious effort to bring down cereal prices by off-loading surplus stocks in the domestic markets or export markets, by selling it at prices equal to higher than the minimum support prices, but lower than the ruling market rates. Then commission agents multiply the misery of common consumers as they charge around 14 to 15 percent for trading fruits and vegetables. As a result food inflation is hovering around 17 percent. There is every reason to believe that price rise will continue unabated. When the Centre itself behaves as a big hoarder adding fuel to fire all the time, it is quite natural for private operators to make quick buck by manipulating market to the disadvantage of common people.

While AIFB is talking sense, their big brother CPM has no popular issue other than grilling the ruling elites in Bengal and Kerala, on their lapses. Given electoral compulsions they are now organising rallies, sending olive branch to bureaucrats in advance. But they seldom talk of workers these days. Nor do they think they have anything to offer to the people who are migrating to towns and cities in search of job.

Their entire strategy is how to win elections and live in comfort while doling out relief to the aggrieved when the situation becomes explosive. If they fail to win polls, it is better to wait and see. For them it’s a waiting world!

Vol. 46, No. 29, Jan 26 -Feb 1, 2014

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