Thursday, August 11, 2005

Utsa Patnaik’s Article ( The Death Knell to the pro-reformer in me):

I had attended Prof Utsa Patnaik’s lecture on the agrarian sector’s travails during the times of economic reforms from the early 90s to the present, almost 4 months ago. She had then eloquently talked about how, poverty measures, based on per capita calorie intake of the populace, had shown that, owing to less purchasing power in the rural areas, there was a severe drop in calorie intake. This had resulted in a situation which entailed wide spread hunger and hence the entire episode of widespread farmer suicides in various rural areas in the country. At that time, I wasn’t good enough to understand the linkages between economic reforms, structural macroeconomic policies and spending in the social sector by government. Thankfully, some kind of sporadic but dedicated reading the past few months have educated me to a decent extent and to confirm my understanding, Prof Patnaik herself came up with a well written passionate essay, "Its time for Kumbakarna to wake up", elucidating the exact point mentioned above and exhorting the existing UPA dispensation to work toward ameliorating the fast deteriorating economic conditions of the rural poor.

Prof Zoya Hasan, who teaches Political Science and the erstwhile Chairperson of our department, was also cogent in her exposition of the repercussions of the economic reforms of 1991 in our country. While alluding to the fact that despite some economists saying that the economic reforms of 1991 were inevitable, there existed others who doubted whether we required such measures of opening up the floodgates of the erstwhile semi-closed economy; she also explained how concomitantly the economic reforms brought in dichotomous results: High Growth Rates ranging from 6 to 7% while at the same time exacerbating the disparities in our society.

She went on to quote the Prof Utsa Patnaik findings on the effects on the rural sector; asserted how economic problems faced by the rural poor were one particular reason apart from the Gujarat Riots for the fall of the NDA Government and also talked about in length about the political economy of the 1990s in India. Particular notice was mentioned on the astonishing finding that there was a stockpile of food grains in government godowns despite fall in food grain productivity (for the first time since 1962) during the NDA regime; yet millions of people were starving due to lack of purchasing power (because of the State’s withdrawal from managing the agrarian sector; this in turn being so due to the increased marketization of India’s economy).

She then hopped on to the current hot topic, National Rural Employee Guarantee Act, as to how this act is seen widely as a panacea to the problems of Rural India and how it could act as a much needed tonic to the unemployment problems of our country. Universal NREGA, as opposed to Targetted NREGA, with its side-by-side existence with the Right to Information Act and implementation by Panchayats constituted by the Panchayati Raj doctrine (Third Governance) was what was the need of the hour, several economists concurred, she said. She also mentioned about how certain newspapers took it their brief to scuttle this ambitious plan (the first of its kind in India to serve the interests of its own suffering citizens) by alluding that it was a fiscally imprudent exercise, despite assurance by several eminent economists about its overwhelming feasibility; its clone’s (in Maharashtra) successes, etc.

On the repercussions of Economic Reforms (personalized):

The bright side of Economic Reforms: Sep 2001: My dad got his wish fulfilled. He got his car, his son had bought for him (in a way), by sending him the first remittance at his NRI account from Japan. My mother gets a watch she never expected to be that miniature. She could wear it as a ring and she went about telling her friends proudly that her son got it for her while working in Japan. Those Japanese chocolates that melted in the mouth and those smiles on those swollen mouths filled with chocolate....what else would express satisfaction and pride better in a middle class family.

The dirty side of Economic Reforms: 25th July 2005. Its 12:00 Midnight. I am attending a meeting called by students giving a farewell to a former JNUSU (JNU Students' Union) President, Com. Vijoo Krishnan. I hear murmurs by my side. One friend says that he has heard about serious worker unrest in Gurgaon and severe police reprisal in retaliation. Another says that nearly 500 odd workers were brutally lathi charged and there were graphic pictures being shown on TV. The organizers of the meeting, call an end to the meeting and all of us symbolically troop on to Ganga Dhaba (another of JNU's aithihaasik sthals), where we all order chai and biscuit and call a toast to Com. Vijoo's future. As we are doing so, the murmurs have been raised to a din where all "comrade" students have been outraged by the serious assault on workers. The organizers of the meeting regroup and tell us that they have planned a march to Haryana Bhavan to protest against the police oppression. I join in, partly because I am appalled by what I hear and partly because I feel this is the right time for me to show solidarity to the cause of workers as a student-intellectual.

I retire back to my hostel room, in the way, going to the TV room to check out what is the hullabaloo all about. I find horror on screen. Workers being beaten up black and blue as if they were ordinary criminals by policemen wielding lathis as if they were wreaking havoc on dogs. One worker is beaten simultaneously by nearly 5 constables mercilessly without a regard for the fact that this worker is unarmed, is wafer thin in structure and he is protesting innocence while being in excruciating pain. I ponder again. Whatever happened to the State, the annadaatha, who is supposed to care for its workers?
The next day, I wake up early (for a change). I gulp up whatever every newspaper that comes to my hostel offers: The Hindu, TOI, HT, Indian Express, and The Asian Age. All of these papers express angst at the police action as if by rote. Photos on the papers are graphic. My classmate (who was with me the whole time the previous day) and me pick up the papers and prepare for the pamphlet of the day protesting against Police Atrocities in Gurgaon. We cut off the photos and hand them over to the artist-friend of ours to complete the pamphlet. We then take the bus to Haryana Bhavan.

In the road adjoining Haryana Bhavan, we find representatives from Trade Unions, Leftist workers already in "attire" (flags, et al). We bide our time. One "leader" says that other "comrades" were not allowed by the Police to join this congregation and therefore "we" would have to block traffic in the adjoining road so that the police co-operates and lets the other representatives come over. The congregation rushes to the road and blocks traffic for a full 5 minutes, before the police relents and assures that no vehicle carrying representatives shall be blocked. The funny thing is that even while the traffic was stopped for a while, the people inconvenienced do not bark on their horns and are rather amused but at the same time watching the whole episode earnestly. Once "we" receive the assurance, the congregation then starts marching toward Haryana Bhavan. It encounters a barricade and overcomes the same. Before it encounters the second barricade, yet another congregation of a "friendly" trade union joins hands and together we stand before the second barricade. Here we face trouble, the police have mobilized water cannons on the marching brigade and soon most of the brigade is drenched with water and 2 of these are injured. All these for making a symbolic gesture against the action taken by the police against those workers in neighboring Gurgaon.

Two days later: Articles galore in The Hindu. Harish Khare condemns the behavior of the Haryana Police and alleges that the State acted in Cahoots with the Honda Management. He points out his accusing finger at the apathy of the State owing to its disposition toward the capitalist class in the so called Investment Haven in Gurgaon. P.Sainath is more scathing. He explains the dichotomy between the Mall and the Chawl and how the structural economic policies of the Indian State have created such a malodorous environment for most in a majority and piquant pleasure for others in a minority.

Yet, the other Bourgeois Media papers change tack. The Indian Express' lead headline is a statement from a West Bengal Left Minister who says what happened in Gurgaon would not happen in Bengal. The TOI alludes to a militant section in the workers' procession starting the entire episode of violence and counter violence. Reports are then published about how a Japanese minister says that FDI to India could be affected due to such labour related issues. The TOI then asks its readers whether Gurgaon's reputation as a investment location will be tarnished by the incidents.

Crocodile tears for the sufferings of the workers for a few days and then reverting to the management's story about the entire incident and putting the blame on the accursed leftists...that’s the take of the bourgeois media on La Affaire Gurgaon.

No mention of the fact that if such a labour dispute happened in Honda Company in Japan, a) the State would have enforced penalties on the Management, b) the Workers of the company would never have allowed such a dispute to occur first place!.

Which face should I see and interpret? The face of my parents who were proud of their son's so called achievements in a foreign country (where all he did was write a few bytes of code for some bloody program that was part of a huge set of 10000 programs) or the face of those workers beaten up by the police ostensibly to keep intact the Investment friendly face of Gurgaon? I am still deeply troubled. A crisis engulfs me.