Monday, April 28, 2008

Endangered Food Security

The crisis looming over agricultural sector and food security

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Latest FAO report on the food crisis has sent worrying signals all over the world. Those of us who have been working on the issue of hunger and starvation understand that this crisis is not surprising and sudden. The threat to faming sector is world over as the masters of technology want to control our food habits and give us food of their choice. The agricultural production in India has been facing slump and was systematically reduced by successive governments. World over, it has been accepted norm that land and agrarian reforms were key to poverty alleviation programs but unfortunately here in India, the issue of land was made a state subject and therefore lot of manipulations and political gimmickries resulted their complete failures. Courts also came to rescue of the powerful and despite ceiling on land, people had huge track of lands, even in the names of their pets. So while more than 90% population involved in farming did not have 5 acres of land, a tiny population was controlling huge land holding. This tiny population of Zamindars have become today’s farmer leaders and dictate our policies in Delhi. With the advent of market in the post 90s, these Zamindars have become multi billionaires as the land prices soared up and they used power and positions to grab more. They were on a spree to hand over huge track of land to companies who allured them with huge money and the result is today the corporate are not the submissive to the government but have become masters of the government. They are accorded status of state guest; speak to special sessions of assemblies and chief ministers and their associates bow in front of them. This is the change in the post globalization regime that business tycoons have become our masters and those who who votes in large number are voiceless. The situation is depressing.
Three years ago on a trip to Bundelkhand with a friend from abroad who was pursuing her PhD on Indian agriculture, I got an opportunity to sit with the vice chancellor of of the University there, who informed how he belonged to a farmer community and is a pass out from IIT. Vice chancellor was speaking of the green revolution and the changes in the Indian farm sector. I was silently listening to his views which looked as if he was not talking of farmers but of the corporate honchos who have realized the farm sector as the next important thing to invade.

After much discussion, this woman posed a question to the vice chancellor about the growing stress in the farming community particularly in Maharastra. Since she had visited several parts of Andhra also that time particularly Chittoor district, she mentioned the agrarian crisis of Andhra Pradesh as well. The VC listened to her and said that the farmers in Maharastra and Andhra were too emotional and are unable to bear the stress and that is why they are committing suicide. He gave other reasons also which include loans for the marriage purposes of their daughters and failing to repay that. I was shocked to here this answer from a person of his stature. ‘But sir, farmers are committing suicide in Punjab too and Sikhs are always known to be very hard working community. And one village people were so disturbed with their inability to pay the loans that they put a board in the village Panchayat that ‘village was for sale’ as people had nothing to repay. Today, going by the latest stress factors, Bundelkhand is becoming another Vidarbha in the North which has send the government of not only Uttar-Pradesh but also of the centre into deep distress. Daily, the reports of farmers committing suicide are coming from the area.

To understand the agrarian crisis, we have to understand the nature of people we are talking about and the entry of the corporate in it. The dangers and implications of that. We can also learn a few lessons from African food crisis and how the colonization of that country created this crisis which was one of the most natural places of the world. The analyst of the agrarian crisis in India are switching between green revolution and post green revolution India and that is why it is easier for us to blame the economic policies or so-called privatization. The fact is that Indian farming and its methodologies of the green revolution ask for serious introspection not only in terms of economic growth but social exclusion, gender equity and bio-diversity.

Take the case of Punjab and Haryana which benefited from the Green Revolution, the most. What happened? Definitely, it was not the hard work of the Punjab Sikh community but also the real work done by the migrant Bihar labors. Secondly, despite all the profits, why are the Sikhs ready to become cab driver in London, New York or even farm laborers in Toronto and Montréal? What about Haryana. It is one of the most fertile states and latest NSSO data reveals that it has more Crorepatis than we have in Mumbai. But how come so many crorepaties. What is Haryana doing and you will see, again, big malls, SEZ for Mukesh Ambanis and many more things. But these crorepaties do not make Haryana great state at the social indicators are concern. We will come to that later but let us also talk of the third important benefactor of the Green Revolution and it is Western Uttar-Pradesh and here the farmers or so-called farmers are the powerful jaats and Gujjars of the sugarcane growers. All the three states, these farmers are basically middle class peasantry communities who live in their own traditions and patterns. Farming unfortunately faces two threats. It needs to change itself to save it from the corporatisation which definitely hurt the national food security and second, its traditional thinking creates a social chaos and oppression.

The green revolution in India actually killed the traditional knowledge system of farming. It created a new rowdy class of upper caste peasantry which would arrogate itself to talk on any subject under the sun, take moral positioning and became highly biased and gender prejudiced. Today, India is facing regular slump in agricultural production and the responsibility of this must be shared by high profile ‘farmers’ and innovators like M.S.Swaminathan. In the traditional pattern where small and marginal people could produce enough for their survival, but green revolution made us believe that farming needs big land holdings resulting in crisis in the family. The farmers became biggest enemies of land reform as the land meant for the Dalits and landless workers were illegally occupied violently or fraudulently in these regions by these farmers. The water level in Punjab and Haryana has depleted and therefore aggravated the crisis further. Moreover, the pesticides and their companies added salt to the injury. Punjab’s farmer’s switched to ‘cash crop’ and therefore would like to produce ‘rose’ for the Valentine day abroad and sun flower for the exporters, rather than producing wheat and rice. When he produces more, the prices are down but it is not his fault. It is the manipulation by the ‘market’ which our political class is involving every where as a theme song to eliminate the crisis. Whether it will eliminate the crisis or escalate it further needs discussion. And some more examples would suffice the point. Today, the farming by the corporate need big land holding. We abolished Zamindari system long back though much in papers but with the entry of corporate and SEZ’s we are entering into a new fascist zone where the corporate goons will take every step to kill the legitimate demands of the people. Yes, I remember not to long back a great friend said that India will face the corporate fascism in future and that is coming true. The vulgar display of wealth and material in public, the purchase of national players, the skimpy cloths girl who are dancing at every four and sixes at the cricket matches is the sign of the future India. While you may boast this, Adivasis would die of hunger in most fertile land of Kalahandi, Akru Valley, in industrialized Maharastra or a Bahujanised Uttar-Pradesh or in Santhal Pargana in Jharkhand. The political class is busy playing politics, people trapped in identities of caste and region, nobody is there to question their manipulations. It is a frustrating situation today.

What is happening today in Punjab and Haryana, will shock any new moralist but not the social scientists who have seen the dangers of the growth of the ‘agrarian crisis’. Since, green revolution asked for big land holdings, family system, division is creating further chaos. In many places in Punjab, to avoid division of land further, brothers married one woman to keep the land holding intact? In all these places, violence against the Dalits is rampant and mostly goes unreported. Women are considered as subject. There are no women in India’s so called farmer’s movement and not even the Dalit. It became another bashing point and platform for political manipulations by those who used farmer’s identity to boost their political ambitions. Thus, Charan Singh, Devi Lal, Ajit Singh, Prakash Singh Badal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Om Prakash Chautala, Chandra Babu Naidu, Sharad Pawar, Y.Rajshekar Reddy, Mahendra Singh Tikait, all are farmers and unfortunately nobody questions their business interest and their stand on these crisis. We all feel proud of these farmers who just do not have time to look beyond their own families and their business interest that route through farming. Today, they remain unquestioned leaders of farming communities despite their important role in the current crisis. If we leave Tikait who never tasted political power though his social clout can give Bal Thackeray a run for his rhetoric.

These leaders and others like them (and the list could go on, it was just a sample) are ‘farmer leaders’ but is that true? What are their issues? We do not pay electricity bills, we do not pay fertilizers bill, ask sugar factories to raise the price of sugarcane and so on. When the agricultural sector is in crisis, our farmer leaders have no time for it. Actually, they use farming as a tool to mobilize their own interest and their strength come from their caste identity. Take the case of Sharad Pawar, the mighty Maratha man, who is busy with cricket these days and have rarely visited Vidarbha where his own community persons are committing suicide.

There are bigger issues in suicide. It is not just distress due to agriculture but due to our very own social system. As most of them hail from upper middle sections of the upper castes and politically mobile backward communities, prestige is a big issue. They are not supposed to do ‘NREGS’ work or labour work as it is beyond their dignity. Despite crop failures, our family system is that you can not stop important family functions like marriages of daughters and sons. It is here that this false prestige is taking its toll. We are on spending spree despite our problems and hence the loans that the farmers take may not be for the farming but getting other things done like marriage of daughter, buying a tractor, constructing house or buying for pesticide and so on. Once the crop fails, he has no option. But one factor is there that ‘dream’ sold to them by big companies and moneylenders resulted in the crisis which has turned manifold today. Farmer’s in Maharastra were in distress because they adopted a new technology highly unsuited for them. What should be a farmer’s choice has been left to profiteering corporate and the result is farmers who thought of making good money with high yields got nothing. And mind you, it is not just high yield, the quality of product that needs to be checked. Those who advocate latest technology for the current food crisis and for GM foods are corporate who want to control the vast market of India. India’s rural sector is the future of the country as far as marketing forces are concern. After some time, there would be saturation like Europe in the metros and cities and then these forces would go to the villages and hence they are trying to gain their access there. The idiocies of the farmer leaders are coming handy. The problem is not that technology is good or bad. Question is even criticism is politicized and take away the entire debate from one point to another point and debate become highly emotional and charged and leads no where.

Technology is good and we all welcome it. It is for us but it cannot be the only criteria. You may bring thrashers, tractors and many new machines and thus kill the labor force, the vast human resource that exists in our villages. The relationship between people and their role in production would be reduced by the mechanization process. Could we understand the enormous social cultural chaos that we would go through this? It would be unimaginable.

And let us be fair. Bring technology and socalled professionalism but first fulfill your promises. Have we implemented land reforms completely? Ask any state government? Contrary to fulfilling their own agendas, the state went on distributing people’s land, selling forests and water to industries. Do you think people would keep quiet at this and you would be allowed to do things that easily? No government or political class should think of that. The conditions are volcanic and one hopes that the examples from Orissa, Chhatisharh and Jharkhand are not encouraging where the governance is hostage to Naxals. It is tragic but truth. The failure of political class will send people to those who claim to revolutionise the system. Though it does not happen but betrayal of the political class is much bigger an issue. Nepal’s verdict has clearly been a vote against corrupt political leaders and people’s faith in those who bring changes with Danda. While, it’s not that the Maoists are too big a revolutionary yet given such situations of desperations, people want those who speak for them and talk their issues. We should introspect this as we just can not survive on the laurels of democracy which is totally in the hands of corporate czars and being played at their whims and fancies. While the Prime Minister can say that there is no crisis as it is a political statement, the fact is that it not just the crisis but volcano that is waiting to erupt and the impact would be widely felt and catastrophic to the nation.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Democracy in Nepal

Democratic Secular Republic of Nepal By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Cynics in India might feel offended as how the only ‘Hindu’ Rastra of the world has democratically sealed the fate of an over pampered as well as highly autocratic monarchy in the recently held elections. For them Hindu dharma epitomizes the democratic spirit in true sense, for that matter the reason of India’s being secular republic. Yes, the present elections in Nepal has thrown more challenges in front of the future leaders, for it is definitely a different world of agitational work and when you are in power and will have to see interest of various parties, communities as well as ethnicities. Nepal lost its tryst with democracy many times in the past as the political parties behaved in entirely undemocratic way as well as were thoroughly corrupted and used their proximity to the Royal palace to settle their scores with each other, giving the over sized king enough ammunition to intervene whenever and wherever he wished.

Therefore when the Maoists made a clean sweep in Nepal, it raised many eyebrows in India, not because the Indian establishment will be threatened with Maoists power but for sure, the fear is in Delhi is that a Maoist democratic government will undermine New Delhi’s controlling mechanism in Nepal. And the indication from Nepal have clearly reflected in that it is poised for an independent foreign policy and want to remain a younger brother of India and not as a colony of India. Nepalese have often resented this despite the fact that Nepal and India share common cultural values and have close relationship but then so are India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Do we not have relations and common culture of language and food habits? Don’t Muslims in India have family relations with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Tamils in Tamilnadu with Sri Lankan people? Don’t the Pakistani Hindus have relations in India like the Bangladeshi Hindus? But this over emphasis on Indo Nepali friendship comes from Nepal’s Hindu background. This was used by the Monarchs in Nepal for their own benefits, strengthening their own positions and denying Nepal a truly democratic government. A rigid Hindu regime in Nepal not only denied people opportunity for social reform but in certain pockets Nepal follows outdated brahmanical values. That Brahmins and Kshatriyas remained too powerful in Nepal because of such crafty politics that Nepal’s governing castes played on various occasions. And while the change in Nepal is welcome yet it is the beginning of another order which will be democratic but the real transition of Nepal will only happen once the democracy reach the grassroots and the tribal and Dalit minorities in Nepal stand up against the corrupt social order which is patriarchical and feudal. One does not know how the so-called Maoists with red mark over their head will deal with this. Whether, their secularism will ever stop that the religious holidays in the government offices be reduced. Whether the form of rigid varnashram dharma that we witness in Nepal will end? Whether the Maoist government will have fair representative of various communities in Nepal or whether it will turn out another dose of brahmanical system that we have witnessed in India under secular garb.

Democracy is not just ‘secular’ government or government of ‘proletariat’. Unfortunately, both democracy and, communism rarely went together and we have seen various example. We might boast some of these great in Latin America and elsewhere where they ‘take on’ the ‘mighty’ George Bush. It is the double standard when we cry for the freedom of expression at one place and keep quiet in our own place. Clearly, it is the ideology which has become powerful than the people. People have to be slaughtered for ideology, a very similar exercise that the religious thugs did in the past world over where religion became a tool to slaughter the people. Comerade Prachanda and his company must not repeat the same. Democracy in Nepal should mean end of not only Monarchy but also hegemonies that exists in Nepal’s village. And for that Nepal can take a few lessons from India, for its constitution was drafted by a true republican called Ambedkar. The man who came from the formerly untouchable communities, championed the cause of freedom and dignity, decried the much romantic Indian village system. ‘Indian villages are den of corruption, nepotism and feudalism,’ he said. Castes live in Indian villages. Every caste is a village and Indian republic is failing in dismantling it. The 9% growth rate does not help if these caste republics in India are not destroyed. I am sure the Maoists know it well that Nepal’s villages are not heaven as the rigid caste system that pervades in Nepal lives in villages predominantly. And how will that end. It will not end with just upper caste leaders of the Nepali dalits. No doubt, we need ideologically committed people and I am sure Nepal’s Dalits and ethnic communities will throw some great leaders in future who will not participate in democracy just as a Dalit but as leaders of the society. Change makers of society, if I could say them. Some time construction of these identities creates further middlemen who sale communities interest for their own one and equate both as happened in the case of India. But democracy strengthened with the participation of people. It will learn from mistakes, as in India, the Dalit and other minorities are learning. It is a new phase where people would not question their own party and leaders because the ‘others’ have rarely helped them, so some time leadership which manipulate survive because of the absence of an alternative. But today, if we see growth of the politics and groups of the marginalized in India right from Panchayats to every political party, there is a lesson, that the communities will challenge every one, even the so-called own leaders. Ultimately, it is the people who have to be benefited. People can not remain happy to see one former milk seller riding helicopter or becoming chief minister. That is a great thing but you can not exploit that sentiments for next twenty years and that question would always come. Hence Prachanda’s ‘revolutionary’ leaders have brought many hopes to millions of the people in Nepal, but it need to be seen how revolutionaries are they. Whether they have guts to challenge the status quo in Nepal or not or they will be another instrument in maintaining the status quo ante in the social system, it will be the biggest questions for all of to observe.

As the future head of Nepal, Prachand’s demand to reevaluate the Indo-Nepalese treaty is welcome. Nepal is an independent country and its people have a right to decide about its relationship with India and any country in the similar way as India has a right to plan its strategic interest in Nepal but Indian establishment must not shy away in welcoming the change in Nepal. When Nepal become a republic, it will have to shed many burden of its past. The migration is growing phenomenon world over and Nepal is not new. The only thing is that Nepal’s politicians and monarchy did everything to kill the spirit of the Nepalese. Nepal is at the threshold of a new era when in democracy its citizens will take pride and in return democracy would provide equal opportunity to every one which theocratic Nepal never did to its untouchable population. If democracy remained caged to gimmickries and rhetoric’s of imperialism and capitalism, then contradictions in the Nepalese society would deepen. Every body wants freedom. We all enjoy it and aspire for it hence when Nepal enjoy political freedom, how can it deny social-cultural and economic freedom to a vast segment of Nepali population which are treated as unequal. Nepal’s future leaders will have to keep that in mind and resolve it. Often the ruling elite create an enemy to suppress the internal contradictions and one hope that the dispensation which take over Nepal would not do the same to retain its power and position by creating false enemies. They will have to deliver and now when they have the power with them, further pretence would not work. Anti Indian sentiments in Nepal are some time used for political purposes which ignore the vital factor of genuineness of the grievances that the Nepali people have towards India and its ruling establishment which never supported democratic movements any where despite people protest, popular uprisings, under the pretext of ‘internal’ problems of the country. It is also interesting that Prachanda has spoken against the recruitment of the Nepalese soldiers in Indian as well as British army but one does not know whether those who join the forces as a lucrative profession would take such a stand lightly. Nepalese as brave fighters are well known and as long as they get good salaries should not have that concern but Prachanda should focus more on agrarian reform, pending land reform, land entitlements to ethnic minorities, Dalits and also the pathetic conditions of the Nepalese migrants in India. That is an image which hurt Nepal a lot and it has reflected in the Nepalese middle class and intellectuals as they have to go through that image problem created by the Indian middle classes and media about Nepal due migrants laborers in various Indian cities. When the Indians tourists travel to Nepal, this image of immigrant Nepali workers again force them think of not just a big brother but big boss of Nepal and that baggage of past must go. Yes, India and Nepal will have to sit together and sort out their issues and strengthen their legacy.

These results of the elections in Nepal and its transformation to democracy, secular republic can be a lesson to India’s right wing elements who considered the Monarch of Nepal as the true symbol of Hindu pride. Nepalese do not take pride in an autocratic king which the political formations in the name of Hindus in India do. Modern nation need modern ideas and secular inclusive constitution which have no place for old fashioned monarch who consider himself as the sole representative of Vishnu. We need true representative of the people who can serve them and not enjoy on the fruits of the poor. Nepal must shun the values of an old kingdom which was religious based. It must ensure not only political representation to all sections of Nepali population and ethnicities but also special arrangements should be made to bring these people into the mainstream of the country, in the government jobs, in judiciary, in the police and army. Unless, each section is represented in government and power structure, Nepal transition to democracy and secularism would just proves hollow and people will rise against those in power. Once people taste freedom and democracy, it would be difficult for any regime to suppress their ideas and aspirations. One hope that the would be prime minister of Nepal and his government would understand that people of Nepal have huge expectations from them. They have decided to do away with a Monarchy which is a good step though it will be seen when they are able to do so and then they need to deliver to the people and dismantle the feudal and casteist structure prevailing in the Himalayan kingdom and first step in that direction would be to admit the problem that Nepal’s problem does not lie in economic issues only but deep rooted socio-cultural prejudices. Hence many observers might claim that Nepal has won a class war but it will always be superficial and hollow without the participation of Dalits and ethnic minorities in the power structure as well as in village republics that the new democracy will throw. One sincerely hope that democracy does not strengthen the old feudal structure where the marginalized, the Dalits, religious and ethnic minorities and women, just remain the vote banks and the elite become ‘revolutionaries’. Nepal’s tryst with democracy has just begun and one hope the present dispensation on whose soldier people have highest hope will not fail it.