This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
You Can't Have It All Your Way
The feast of the Barmakids…
There is a story in The Book Of One Thousand Nights And One Night where (Shahrazad tells the Sultan Shahryar) a beggar is called into the house of an allegedly generous man, a member of the house of the Barmakids, who makes him sit at a feast; yet when the food is brought in, it is all imaginary – empty dishes which the host pretends to eat with great gusto. The beggar, perforce, has to join in the pretence, smacking his lips and licking his fingers and praising the dishes that his host pretends to serve up.
In the end, having tested him and found him worthy (of what, being a loony’s stooge?) the rich man befriends the beggar and makes him a bosom companion for the rest of his days…
In real life it turns out a bit different.
In this emergent superpower of ours, as I have pointed out at various times in the past, we have a system where the wishes of the middle class and the rich are being actively allowed to ride over the poor majority; where multi-crop farmland is being forcibly taken from its owners at a pittance to be handed over at an undisclosed profit to corporates; and this is happening in a state, West Bengal, ruled by allegedMarxists. The condition in less leftist parts of the country does not even have to be left to the imagination; a survey of farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh is just the tip of the iceberg.
The reason I am returning to this topic is the media offensive (carefully orchestrated, I suspect) in support of industrialisation in the place of agriculture. The excuses given to back this line of thinking are varied, but all seem to compete for space in the cloud cuckoo land that passes for Indian society today.
The first excuse is that development can come only from industry, not agriculture. There is something at even first glance a mite fishy about this thinking. Industry is all very well if you can serve a dedicated market and you have the resources and training to serve it; yet you cannot turn an entire country into a giant industrial estate. There are, I’m sorry to say, problems.
You see, agriculture is necessary if you are going to feed the people who are going to be working in all those wonderful factories, pouring out products to flood the marketplace and supply every need. You need to be able to feed and clothe all the people who will have to train all the people who will have to work in all those wonderful factories; and you will have to find employment for all the people who are to consume the products of those wonderful industries, so that they have the wherewithal to buy them in the first place.
In this regard I’d just like to point to a The Times Of India article which pointed out that in retail price terms, we have had a 30% inflation rate over the past year and that we are now importing five million tons of foodgrains – after exporting our own buffer stocks at a loss to the US to use as pig food.
You can have cheap food – or you can have cheap cars. You can’t have it both ways.
Speaking about cars, how come public transport is not as important to this government as facilitating the manufacture of cars and disbursing automobile loans are?
The other argument is that people working in factories will come off the land, and then that land can be amalgamated into giant farms like those that provide Western nations with their food security. I don’t think these people are actually serious, or whether they have any idea of the actual numbers that will have to be cleared off the land to make way for these giant farms.
So, anyway, just what happens to the people who are thrown off the land by all these grand schemes of taking farmland and turning it into Special Economic Zoneswhich will be treated as foreign territory for taxation purposes and where Indian labour laws will not "strictly" apply? Will they be adequately compensated? That’s a laugh. Besides, just who will be compensated? The owners of the land, or the people who actually till the land, who are often not the same? The sharecropper who tills the land for a living, paying rent to the absentee landlord, is left high and dry. Not to talk of the illiterate landless labourer or the workers of agriculture-related ancillary industries. What happens to them? Will they be, as claimed, re-trained as industrial workers? That is, unfortunately, a sick joke. They can’t even migrate to the cities for jobs, because there are no jobs left for them, and because there is no longer space for them in the city. The city people no longer want village immigrants to foul their pristine (not half!) cities. They make noise, they’re dirty, and they are poor, than which there is no greater crime.
One can’t even say that there is a democracy in this country and whichever coalition falls short of the peoples’ expectations can be displaced at the polls. It can; but, as we’ve already seen with this putatively centre-left coalition, it can be even more right wing than the right wingers it replaced. It’s the money, honey.
Which is why the Communist Party of India (Marxists)’s suggestion to give out farmland to corporates on lease only, and not as owned land, is not going to be taken up. The Tatas can spend billions of dollars biding for steel companies; yet for their plant in Singur, they demand that land be handed over to them virtually as a gift. No corporation will ever want to pay rent in perpetuity when they can force their ownership directly; it’s common sense for them. I suspect the CPI(M) knows this perfectly well itself; besides, its own record in West Bengal shows its own utter hypocrisy in this matter, where farmers in Nandigram and Singur have been beaten and shot down instead of being given the same option the CPI(M) suggests for the nation.
No, that is not going to happen. So what is the way out? Revolution?
Let’s remember that before being accepted as the rich man’s friend, the beggar assaulted him and beat him thoroughly.
You shouldn’t even try to fool all of the people all of the time.