Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

The government that sold India

with 5 comments

On 14 September, India’s ruling political coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, of which the Congress (the Indian National Congress is its full name) is a dominant member, decided to allow foreign investment into a number of sectors. These include what is called ‘multi-brand retail’ and aviation. This government in taking this decision has ignored and overlooked the views and fears of tens of thousands of small shopkeepers, small traders associations, consumer groups and citizens – representing the will of several millions of households – who have publicly expressed in many fora their opposition to permitting foreign control (or consolidated, large domestic control) of the processes of aggregating and selling food products.

The decision, which has been raucously welcomed by the three major industry associations (CII, Ficci and Assocham) and which has been uncritically hailed by the Indian (English-language) business press, represents the whole gamut of neo-liberal policies which have been pursued by the Congress-led UPA government since coming into office in 2004 (and since 2009, when its current term began).

In their shrill and utterly partisan acclaim of the foreign investment decision, the business and financial press – in particular the newspapers Economic Times, Business Standard, Financial Express and Mint – have further underlined their role as propaganda sheets for the industrial-political class and their global partners in the project to loot India.

There has been a differential impact of the more than 20 years of economic liberalisation on the various classes of Indian society. Inequalities have grown rapidly, and there are some sections who have been more adversely impacted. Some sections of the middle class have benefited, at the cost of rural landless labour and the urban poor. Under this neo-liberal regime a large section of the working class is now in the unorganised and informal sector. Those who are on contract work and other irregular forms of employment constitute the bulk of the urban poor. There is also a large section of self-employed persons in the services sector who eke out a subsistence living.

In India, there are substantial classes and sections of society most affected by the policies of liberalisation and the intensified exploitation in the countryside. Landlords, big farmers who are politically well-connected, contractors, moneylenders and regional politicians (those in state assemblies) constitute the rural rich and have intensified the exploitation of the peasantry, agricultural workers and the rural poor. It is this tendency that has deepened India’s agrarian distress, contributed to the food and agricultural crisis – and it is in these chronic circumstances that this Congress-led government has allowed the inflow of foreign investment into food retail, fully aware of all the consequences that decision will heap onto the struggling rural and urban poor.

To illustrate some of these, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its Political Review Report in early 2012 had commented: “The issue of land acquisition has acquired a new dimension after the onset of the neo-liberal regime. As part of the capturing of natural resources the corporates and the real estate companies are out to grab land cheaply with the aid of the State apparatus. The peasantry, particularly the small peasantry sees this as a serious threat to its livelihood and especially when corporates and real estate speculators are going to make huge profits out of such lands.”

Can there be an alternative? As far as economic policies are concerned, most of the regional parties adhere to the policies of liberalisation. These regional parties represent mainly the interests of the politically astute and opportunist rural rich, the district bourgeosie who see themselves as brokers of every description to fit ‘reform’ decisions of every prescription. That is why most regional parties take no stand against the ‘liberalisation’ (or ‘reform’, to use the notorious International Monetary Fund-World Bank term) policies which have benefited regional rich too.

The very logic of neo-liberal reforms leads to and perpetuates the rapid growth of a labour force that is increasingly relegated to what is called the unorganised sector. The conversion of regular employment into casual and contractual labour, apart from generating higher profits, is part of the programme to ensure that working class unity remains divided. Larger and larger numbers – from the affected districts, such as the 320 drought-affected districts of 2012 – are joining the ranks of casual, temporary and self-employed workers, with few rights, uncertain wages, in the face of galloping food inflation, with no collective representation or honest political representation. These are the circumstances so ruthlessly exploited by India’s current government to usher predatory forces into our agriculture and food sector.

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5 Responses

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  1. Rahul, the Government should have a big sign on itself saying “SOLD OUT”.

    hetapandit

    September 16, 2012 at 22:30

    • True, true. Also “Going Cheap While Stocks Last” and “Buy One Get One Free”! See this speech by the PM for a quick lesson on ‘how to rationalise loot’. And this in a country where the poverty line is INR 672 per month (USD 12.4) for the rural Indian and INR 859 per month (USD 15.9) for the urban Indian.

      makanaka

      September 17, 2012 at 11:24

  2. This is a very timely and a burning current issue. It is also right that you capture the overzealous celebratory over drive that is becoming a hall mark of late from and by the media and mostly from the business and business related think tanks.

    At the heart of the subject you are drawing our attention to the growing poverty in the country accompanied by the unprecedented inequality in addition to pointing out how the model that is pursued is dividing and weakening the labour sector and its very voice.We need to keep saying, pointing, and exposing this fundamental and profound exclusion of a substantial majority.
    Whilst I appreciate the above my appeal to you is not to use phrases and sweeping ideological judgements that will bye-pass the uninitiated and in so doing misses the very objective of this essay.
    I hope you will and I am sure of this you will do a follow-up blog that can highlight the core issues with a few numbers and also bring that razor sharp analysis of yours.
    Thanks for what you do.
    Regards
    Push

    Pushpanath Krishnamurthy

    September 17, 2012 at 14:06

  3. There are two issues here .

    Firstly, the the slew of articles in the newspapers welcoming this decision is a bit perverse. Indian media, mainly ELM have abdicated their role as independent challengers to the government on key issues such as FDI, trade,reform,development,climate change. Media coverage and narrative are strongly influenced by the government’s position and often uncritically report government policy. Domestic challengers are given short-shrift or marginalised. The imbalance does not serve any public interest agenda. Indian media reporting needs to raise its game significantly if it is to provide an independent and authoritative voice on FDI/Reform reporting rather than merely peddle official propaganda.

    Secondly – why does reform mean only mean FDI – if UPA was committed to reform surely they could start with land reform, police reform, tax reform, and a whole bunch of out dated rules and regulations that are screaming for reform , which are really crippling any sort of movement out of poverty for India s 400 million who continue to live below the poverty line 65 years later

    The only benefactors are Congress and its crony capitalist friends – like its always been.
    And I guess, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    viva kermani (@vivakermani)

    September 17, 2012 at 15:03

  4. Just wondering what is the vernacular reporting and response to FDI in multi brand retail and civil aviation . Have you looked at this ?

    viva kermani (@vivakermani)

    September 17, 2012 at 15:04


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