Politics of Food

Radhakanta Barik

Ancient Greek philosophy talks of right to food and today no modern state can survive without recognizing it as a basic right. It is enforceable in most of parts of India with having an effective public distribution system. It can be extended to all migrant labour which is their basic human right. Here the central government is violating basic human right of an individual. A mother with five children killed herself by throwing them into river Ganga and Modi as the chairman of Ganga development authority should feel ashamed because of this with FCI having 80 million food in its storage Ganga Development authority has thousand crores under its control which can be spent for providing food rather than cleaning Ganga. Hindutva does not have concept of alleviating poverty through PDS. While I was doing a study of working of PDS in Kashmir I came to know that PDS got introduced by the King Ranjit Singh when started ruling Kashmir. The modern state headed by Modi should introduce the food package for each family who ever be as many migrant families do not have ration cards but they have voters' card which is sufficient for collecting food as a right to entitlement.

 Feb 14, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan assures country by saying that PM Modi is “personally monitoring the coronavirus situation”; ten days later (Feb 24) Modi packs 125,000 people into one stadium as the virus spreads internationally; three weeks later (March 13) the same health minister declares COVID-19 is *not* a “health emergency”; ten days later (March 24) Modi announces national lockdown with no advance preparation; and just over two weeks later (April 11) PM Modi teleconferences wearing a mask.

Did someone say the PM was an “acclaimed visionary”? Oh yes, it was a justice of the Supreme Court. Their judgments are infallible.

1953 saw the most beautiful and artistic film based on the story of a small farmer got pushed out of his land by the money lender cum landlord. He pushed to the city of Calcutta where he worked as the Rickshaw puller and this became a classic. 2020 saw the migrant worker is getting pushed out of the city without food and water in the name of threat of Coronavirus. It looks like the film Do Bigha Zammen today has got reversed in the case of city. Today workers have no work in the city and no roti and no income which pushing them out of the city because of the nexus of capitalism and the Hindutva led by Modi. After seeing the protest of migrant workers in Surat a part of Gujarat's Modi must be working out a plan for extension of Lockdown without any social security package is now impossible. The whole country may be fired up by spontaneous agitation against the BJP government at the center and states. The workers have already lost their income because of the closure of industries and they have gone back to their villages and the whole Indo Gangetic belt may turn into a violent zone as the hungry masses may come to the streets.

Modi has postponed his announcement as he was thinking workers are happy with the construction of the Ram Mandir and will not protest now. Ram is very important in their lives as they live in world without education and health. But not without bread which have made them into an agitating mood. By sending Rs 500 in their Jandhan account while promising for 15 Lakhs they are waiting for thousands as their requirement is minimum as their children are going without food. Modi is in dilemma regarding the extension without or with package and it is going to be his graveyard if he announces extension without package. Politics has seen rise and fall and it is democracy where mood of people can change in a moment which will be difficult to control by his home minister with the help of policemen and not even army.

 Let him listen to leading economists working over India including two Nobel Laureates that investment up to five percentages will be necessary to come out the crisis of Corona pandemic. Pranay Roy held an interview with the leading economist and who was the RBI governor under Modi regime who spoke three things that we have sufficient reserves with the RBI despite its dwindling for last two years and we have sufficient foreign exchange reserves and we have sufficient food in our storage and all these need to be utilized by the government for overcoming the present crisis to overcome the fall outs of Covid 19. Raghuram Rajan as an Indian citizen is ready to come back and work for Modi government. This is a welcome step which Prime Minister Modi must accept his offer.

As we are from rural India and live in flooded areas where there is an element of uncertainty in agricultural production as Odisha suffers from flood in every two years and cyclone every ten years till 2000. People have robust economic commonsense which guides them to survive. Their first preference is for food and they manage well by keeping food for the year and labouring class used to guarantee food by working with the landowning family as Halia which guarantees food for the year. Once they have an access to food they think of educating their children. This is the way rural India have a contributed to education which develops the human capital of India. Then third they prefer to go for health facilities. This is a part of economic commonsense of rural Odisha which may be prevailing all over India.

Now question arises will Modi learn a lesson from these two examples to distribute food stored in godowns of FCI which can keep our people in a healthy and robust body who can work after the Corona virus goes away. Then education and health needs to be guaranteed by government rather than private expensive affair. That is the reason the migrant labour brought their children and wives with them to the cities to educate them while working for earning their livelihoods and contributing to add to the wealth of a nation.

This is the time of the doctors working on the front as the generals leading their team in confronting the powerful disease like Corona virus. They are doing more patriotic works than soldiers on the front. I as a teacher of Indian Institute of Public Administration who teach the civil servants feel sad for those doctors who joined the civil service. There is a report some time back around 30 percentage of the civil services of that year became doctors by profession. Medical services work as the leaders in the domain of health services whereas the civil servants cannot play such a role. Doctors after joining the civil service they remain completely oblivious of their medical profession. I met a civil servant cum doctor as a probationary officer in Kalahandi some years back when hundreds of children died of diarrhea, and then we investigated the case and found that there was shortage of food and non-availability of drinking water created that problem. When we confronted her, she was not ready to accept this. Today in the world many brave things happening such as ministers are resigning from their jobs and going back to their medical profession whereas none today has done in the case of civil service cum doctors. To educate them Indian state spends around 70 lakhs but they leave the profession and join the civil whereas on a general back ground student hardly some thousands rupees are spent for educating them. Indian state must re look at this plight which is a great loss of human capital.

As Prime Minister requesting the rich to feed the labouring class which is a shameful act. He is the Prime Minister who is the leader of the nation under whom the whole exchequer is working. He as the Prime Minister can go ahead with the higher amount of budgetary deficit and which can be printed by the RBI. He is speaking like the RSS person who do not feel to feed the poor by the state. They are not really poor as they have been working as a part of working class who has done work in value addition to wealth of a nation. Their working style has been disrupted by the government by declaring some form of emergency under which all industries are closed today. The government of India has FCI which is overflowing with food which needs to be diverted to PDS and get distributed to these families.

Under the RSS ideology the rich has to help the 9 poor families. Under Vajpayee government the Department of civil supply added it known as anthodoy programme which provided food to the destitute. I was doing a study on PDS in Kashmir and searching for somebody under anthodoy and while walking on a street I found a destitute woman sitting on the road side and I went to her and inquired of the programme. Yes she answered positively and she was getting ten KG of rice under such a programme. But Modi as the leader of the RSS searching for destitute which is difficult to find and we are talking of migrant labour who have lost their income because of lockdown. If they remain healthy they will come back to factories to contribute to nation building work.

As Prime Minister he has right to give food from the storage which is their entitlement. It is not charity. Modi must differentiate him that he is not the RSS leader but the Prime Minister of the Republic of India and where state has enough to provide social security package where food and money can be given which is their right. 4oo million Indians at risk of sinking into poverty according to UN report but Indian rulers are not worried as these people are living in hungry without work and income. No human package by government yet and at least five leading economists including two Nobel Laureates and two who worked with the present government are of opinion that at least 5% of GDP to be invested in people.

 But time is passing and rivers like Yamuna and Ganga look cleaner as the industries are closed now. PM Modi as the Chairman of Ganga Authority is feeling proud that rivers are clean as he gets elected from Banaras where people are suffering from hunger and without income already trapped in poverty Can they come out of it as UP and Bihar are being ruled by the BJP but other States are attempting to provide some help to the poor despite center has not allocated their demand for managing corona. The poor are standing in Que in front of the bank to get her five hundred rupees sent by Prime Minister Modi in her Jan Dhan account. It is taking the whole day to get that money and she has no money she has to buy rice for Rs 500. Three days they may eat only rice. Our granary is full of rice and wheat but the Modi has learnt from American experience that wheat can be dumped in the sea but not to be given to the poorer countries. This happened to India under PL 480 where the President of America humiliated Mrs. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister told her "you have come with begging bowl" She was proud woman and daughter of Nehru who retorted that she will not return back. That gave her confidence to invite the best agricultural scientist Swaminathan, best civil servant Shiv Raman and best agricultural minister C Subramanium who brought India into self-sufficient in food by 1971. She has kept the storage full with food but the present Prime Minister Modi does not give to ten percentages of migrant population who do not have food today. He is behaving like the emperor rather than an elected leader of Indian Republic.

 The chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde has no understanding of moral philosophy of Indian constitution. Bobde says that why to give money and he has such poor understanding of Indian constitution and Art 21 to have life with dignity which includes access to food and education and health according to Justice Chenappa Reddy. He does not understand the social philosophy of Indian constitution but the chief justice of Supreme Court getting fat salary and free accommodation and foreign trips with servants and vehicles. The state governments are able to manage the COVID19 in a better manner rather than PM Modi.
The chief ministers had wider consultations with the political leaders from opposition building a consensus for policy making. In implementation of a public policy they are taking the help of the NGOs and panchayats. Information on the ground is flowing to them before taking a step further. This is governance by wider consultation. They show that public administration can produce the result with the cooperation of people and having a participatory management. This is not happening in the case of Modi and command and order and those do not obey get punished. This system of governance is not functioning in normal times. The best administrators I have seen build a team from the top to down and rather than command from the top and consultation leading to implementation helps in creating result. Modi has not consulted the opposition leaders and all these leaders were available in Delhi as Parliament was on session when he announced the janata curfew. In late he has written letters to the opposition leaders for their advice. Sonia Gandhi as the leader of the Congress Party has given five suggestions which have not yet got reaction from the PM.

This is too late by Modi but it is better to be late than never. Public administration is failing in the case of Modi as he was not aware of millions of migrant labour would leave the cities and walk miles without food and water. Some of them died including children. These are symptoms of an authoritarian administration which got exhibited during demonitisation which resulted in more than deaths of hundred people. He is an elected leader but other elected leaders have same legitimacy as he is having.

That as Prime Minister he is the number one not a dictator. This is not understood by Modi that is where Modi is failing in handling a major crisis like Coronavirus. Public administration teaches us wider consultation with the political groups and social leaders and NGOs and experts. He is failing on each front as his government has done witch hunting of NGOs as his government has banned taking foreign fund which Supreme Court has withdrawn two days before. His distance with political opposition has created distrust with the political leaders. Bureaucracy is ready to give an independent opinion as they fear the abuses which happened recently against the Yes Bank Chief by his Finance Minister. There is an atmosphere of distrust around the PM this is where he is creating a model failed administration in the case of management of Coronavirus.

 On the occasion of Picasso's death anniversary today we must remember a radical artist who opposed fascism by making the famous painting Guernica (1937) when the German fascists were bombing Guernica. Today Indian poor specifically ten percentages of migrant labour are under attacks from Modi government. There was no body like Picasso or like him in India MF Hussain whose radical paintings made the Hindutva forces angry during Vajpayee rule. I kept a chapter on M F Hussain in my book Saffron Regime as the paintings talk more radical ideas through lines and graphics.

 It is interesting to note that the unemployment has risen to 23 percentages but without calculating the poor migrant labour who are also unemployed. It is like in a village the poorest of poor gets ignored by their relatives. In our sahi where four families used to live together, one family four years back died of hunger but after their deaths the other three families came to know that they died of hunger. Those who are calculating the unemployment have ignored the ten percentages of poor migrant labour according to their interviews in the TV channels. We are happy with our poverty as there are poorer than us. We are a stratified society. So many classes live together. The elite enjoys here as the poor are in happy mood as they look at their neighbors who are poorer than them. Happiness is here relative to our own needs and once our needs are satisfied we do not bother of others That brings the rulers to rule over us as we are a divided a lot in terms of income here not caste or community. That is real all other categories get mixed up with these categories. For instance before Independence the poor labour used to belong to Dalits and today from all castes. They used to stay in the name of untouchable dalits got sanctified by our religion. This is being recognised by Rajagopalachari that the moment Hinduism will disintegrate there will be rebel all around. Once religion got diluted with education and rise of political awareness the rise of Hindutva has brought the religion to the center of our thinking. Everybody wants to identify with this or that. This is the game of the elite and we all enjoy by participating in the drama.

India is facing the challenge of handling of Coronavirus as a health disaster. As the central government has announced the lockdown but without any responsibility towards its citizens of a country. The center has all the resources under its control but handling of the public finance is in an adhoc manner. As most of the states are facing the problem in a serious manner in terms of health and generating income for the unemployed and the problem of migrant labour. This may bring a demand by the people of India that Indian Republic needs to decentralised in true sense and no point of keeping resources under the control of center when they are not showing their responsibility towards people of India. There may be a demand for a coalition government by a rotation of chief ministers getting the post of Prime Minister.

On World Health Day we must relook at the health system in capitalist countries including USA and India where there has been hardly any investment in public health system. In America the President Obama planned for a health care system for an average citizen could not get the majority support from the Senate. In India there was an attempt under the NHRM for an additional investment in health sector by the UPA government but does not work anymore because of the hatred against poor by the Modi government. The private sector is making money even during the Coronavirus time in India which is a shameless activity. This is time to go for health provision for all by investing at least 6 percentages of our GDP.

But Modi government is not ready as it is investing less than one percentage in labouring class who are losing the jobs today and then one cannot think anything good from this government but some state governments are trying to help the poor by providing quality health services. A friend has written that those industrialists like Tata and others have provided help in various ways to the affected people by corona virus and they mostly belong to different religious groups. It is an interesting observation and I want to elaborate it that when Hindu men and women enter into the temple and offer their coconut to gods and goddesses and they do not give those poor left over after one piece is taken by the priest. This is different if one visits the Gurudwar or Masjid and Church one finds the worshipers are coming out of these places and offer something to the poor and needy. They may offer food to the poor. This may be the reason behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Srilanka are ahead of India in the Human development Index measurement although the poor are in just above India.

Gandhi realised the attitude of an average of Hindu in acute sense. He imagined the concept of Draridranarayan seva which is being practiced by a small section of Hindus. This brings out truth that this negative aspect of HInduism has been appropriated by the Hindutva forces and the members of the Hindutva and their leaders are involved in business simultaneously doing politics of hatred against the others. Modi has gone for extension of the Lockdown till May 3. This is being done without providing any responsibility towards its citizens. In his address he appeals to the rich to provide help the poor. Here the state has withdrawn completely. A state in the era of neo liberalism period has withdrawn to some extent by providing some form of social security such work under the NREGA and provision of free school education and health facilities. Modi government is not interested to show his commitment to the people of India by providing social package in the time of national emergency situation arose because of the Coronavirus. So many economists spoke of going for 5% of GDP. His government will remain within 1 percentage of GDP by which poor will die. There is a plenty of food in FCI but no special package by the government. This is going to be worse April in the lives of people. As TS Eliot says 'April is the cruelest month' perhaps he is right to prove the point in the case of India.

Radhakanta Barik <>

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Apr 15, 2020

Prof. Radhakanta Barik

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