Down the Memory Lane – 1970 and 2020

Bhaskar Majumder

Lest history be erased from the memory of the common people, I pen what follows. It is remembering 1970, or extended 1970s, in the light of 2020 where we stand today. Statistically-historically it is enjoying also – imagining the past half-a-century back and then juxtaposing that to find out what went right or wrong. The task is difficult also for 50-year ahead in history collecting or restoring facts most of which remained unrecorded. One way could have been asking senior citizens but now it is also difficult for lockdown indefinite. Telephonic conversations and WhatsApp method do not reveal much. So I rely on my own recapitulation.

2020 could not have been foreseen in 1970; 1970 did not show the image of its own future. Though 1975 showed Internal Emergency, it hardly reflected the kind of Emergency that we have been experiencing in 2020. Begin with border conflicts with Pakistan, Nepal and China. The immediate victims have been 20+ soldiers now called martyrs. Take regular death of soldiers on Pakistan border, probably located in J&K. Take deaths of walking and travelling migrant workers post-lockdown. And take lockdown for Corona virus that took away lives of more than 12,000 so far. In between Amphan in West Bengal and Odisha that killed some that is not properly known by number. Death under such circumstances becomes a number – the human face is lost. All these happened in first six months of 2020. Six months remaining.

2020 also locked people – made them immobile. Excepting the emergency services of doctors, sweepers, police and some selected Corona-warriors, the nation was locked. Some revolutionaries expressed dissent assuming functioning democracy and had to face the consequence by being jailed or named in FIR and/or circumscribed in surveillance. The 2020 crises, of course, are national. All these are readily available for common people.

What is not visible is 1970. That was a period when the country just restored its Planning – 4th Plan launched (1969-74) just after Plan Holiday (1966-69). Plan Holiday because the time was crises-ridden like drought of 1966-67, Indo-Pak War 1965, food scarcity, political turmoil in West Bengal, import of trash wheat under Public Law 480 from the United States to feed India’s common people and all that. All the educational institutions were open then but fear was there because of the political turmoil that is seen as Naxal movement the history of which is partially recorded. It was also a period of agony for West Bengal for maladministration and inflow of brain-locked CRP to go for combing operations wherever they were guided. There were, it seemed, local collaborators for the purpose.

What radicalism could not do in 1970, social distancing post-lockdown could do in 2020 and of course through social consent – all educational institutions closed since end-March 2020. What food scarcity failed to do in 1970 for it was still then joint families mostly along with social support, 2020 has already achieved that – food fear. Of course, in many regions community kitchens are in operations and Fair Price Shops are open to distribute food grains. But fear is now in the blood – one reason could be confidence shaken.  Confidence is shaken mostly for the migrant workers but also for natural disaster, job loss and all that. Confidence is also lost partially for the Corona virus threat.

One striking difference is there between 1970 and 2020 – 1970 was internally fought on food front, Naxalism front while 2020 is being fought on both internal and external fronts. It was not surprising that Naxalism was fought for it started with 1959 Kerala episode – communism needs counter. It was understood. But 2020 is hardly understood for those expressing voice on a different axis is often termed as Urban Naxal. It seems over 50-year the capacity to comprehend what was Naxal movement and what some thinkers have been opining of late are different. Some of the spokespersons use the term without understanding that the Naxal movement was around land while the voice of dissent that is heard from very few persons now are hardly around land. Even the labour questions are also not much talked about like draconian changes in labour laws and all that.

In my understanding the old state of India 2020 feels shakier relative to the young state of India 1970. If yes, the question comes, Why? One explanation could be, the political apparatus that runs the Government at the Centre is confused. The other could be that it suspects all. Or, it may have false confidence in its ability. Or, it has overextended itself. While it may be a combination of all these factors, I subscribe to the last possibility of overextension. This reminds me the history of Great Britain that overextended itself and paid the penalty. By 1914, Britain had 60 dependent colonies plus India. The strength became her weakness for it became unmanageable.

Now 2020 governance is in internal turmoil around Corona-crises and rising number of deaths leaving nobody untouchable and the virus is invisible to make it difficult for the political apparatus to fight against. The internal trouble is inter-polity rivalry even if it is not of much significance. Still then if democracy is needed to show that it exists, then occasional all-Party meetings minus some are needed to arrive at a consensus on issues that affect the nation. But the strength of the political apparatus by its presence in both the houses of the esteemed Parliament of India may be in deficit if the hostile neighbouring countries decline to accept that power or authority. This is explained well in David Vital’s book, The Inequality of States.

By overextension I did not mean India’s hegemonic wish to annex territories of neighbours – that is not practical also. What I mean is application of power beyond capacity what in conventional Economics is termed “deficit capacity’’ that shows rising cost disproportionate to output produced by a firm. The state produces output – welfare of citizens, internal legitimacy, faith of people in the system and all that. In overextension, some of these may get lost. The choice is of the state.         

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jun 23, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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