RIP-aa.jpg“RIP  Here lies the AAM AADAMI.”  The Leaders second in command assures the Leader who was taken aback: “Don’t worry, sir!  We will exhume him just before the Next Elections, Sir!”  Such is the state of affairs to which democracy has been reduced in this country!

After every Election, the members of the winning parties strut about, proclaiming how fortunate the people are in having elected them and given them the “mandate” to govern according to their perception of what is good for the people which, in intent and practice, means their families, their party and last, the country and the people. 

What are the ground realities?  Subhash Kashyap points out that, under the “first past the post” system of election which we are having, a candidate is often elected by a minority of votes, which could be as little as 5% or 7% of the total votes cast, not to speak of the total number of Registered Voters in the constituency.  This would suggest that something like 95% of votes were against the winning candidate.  The winning candidate represents a very small percentage of the votes cast.  Thereby, the “representative legitimacy” of the elected candidate(s) is often seriously in doubt.  Thus, the claim of the majority party that they have secured the mandate of the people, is hollow.

Do the ruling parties work for the good of the people, after securing what they call the “mandate” of the people.  An illustration will serve the purpose well.  Writing of the government in Maharashtra, the veteran journalist, Inder Malhotra, says that the Congress-NCP alliance has always been uneasy, working at cross-purposes and motivated primarily by greed, the two coalition partners have brought governance in Maharashtra to a very low depth.  After the horrific terrorist attacks on 26/11, there was a glimmer of hope : the Congress leaders started admitting things had been allowed to get out of hand; if the electorate gave them a third chance, they would make afresh beginning and make up for the past, giving the state a bright future.  It is already crystal clear, says Inder Malhotra, that these promises were not only insincere but downright false: The new Maharashtra government is really old wine in old bottles! 

The scenario is similar in all the states in the country.  Switching over to the Centre, a beautiful – but sad! – Cartoon in a National Daily tells it all.  The Leader of the Party which “won” in the Elections and formed the government, suddenly remembers about the Aam Aadmi who voted for him, believing his promises to do everything possible for his (Aam admis) welfare.  The Leader goes out in search and finds him interred in the Cemetery!  The epitaph on the Gravestone read:

“RIP  Here lies the AAM AADAMI.”  The Leaders second in command assures the Leader who was taken aback: “Don’t worry, sir!  We will exhume him just before the Next Elections, Sir!”  Such is the state of affairs to which democracy has been reduced in this country!

If the ruling party brushes aside in this fashion, the aam admi who has voted it into power, who is its constituency, for whom does it run the government?  The Constituency comprises the industrialists, the import-export traders, the IT Moghuls, the elites and so on, who create “wealth” according to the ruling classes.  So, all sorts of concessions, tax benefits, etc., are showered on them.  Huge revenue due under the direct and indirect tax laws are forgone every year through exemptions granted to them.  The amount forgone in 2008-09 (for example), as shown in one of the Annexures to the Receipts Budget for 2009-10, was a whopping Rs.4.18 lakh crore (or 68% of aggregate collections)!  A study should be made of the organizations which are the major beneficiaries of this munificence of the government (from the taxpayers’ money).  It is a matter for shame – and not for pride – that billionaires have been growing faster than the economy.  The count of the billionaires has doubled to 52 now from 27 a year ago.  Can you imagine a more deplorable state of affairs?

The Indian economy may be the “second fastest growing” in the world.  (God knows whom this benefits in this country!)  Inder Malhotra observes, the excruciatingly painful paradox is that the poor, whose number is increasing, are being crushed more and more.  Food prices have soared to such an extent that a large number of families can no longer afford vegetables or even dal, the poor man’s protein.  But, the government, scared of touching the “vulgar salaries” of tycoons and corporate executives, seems not to be bothered.  In this connection, Inder Malhotra recalls that, some months ago, Sharad Pawar was pontificating that there was enough sugar in the country and some of it could perhaps be exported!  But, there is a huge shortage of sugar now (competing with the shortage of all essential commodities – cereals, pulses, vegetables, etc.).  But, in a ukase, ironically named the Sugarcane (Fair and Remunerative) Price Ordinance, issued just before Parliament’s winter session, the disingenuous government fixed the price of sugarcane that was lower than last year’s!  That the UPA government had to eat the humble pie, reverse its absurd position and pass on the additional costs to the mill-owners (instead of the State governments), was poetic justice.  Inder Malhotra observes that Sharad Pawar is not the only senior minister to take his work casually, and queries: Shouldn’t the Congress President and the Prime Minister be doing something about it?  Are we having a government or a circus show, one wonders!

The state of affairs highlighted by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is worth pondering on, as it epitomizes the result of the ‘growth rate’ in the GDP paradigm followed by the government in its wonderful governance.  He has put it mildly to say that the government’s actions tend to favour the affluent and often come down hard on the underprivileged.  He recalls that, towards the conclusion of a function in the ballroom of a five star hotel in Delhi, where a television channel was giving awards, celebrating excellence in human and social development in Indian States (!!)”  this really tickles one to death  and a little before the whisky started flowing, one of the judges of the competition, Bimal Jalan, Member of the Rajya Sabha, and a former Governor of the R. B. I., stood up to make a brief intervention; he stated that the total value of the assets of the country’s top five billionaires (in terms of U.S. dollars) equaled that of the bottom 300 million people.  This did not dampen the spirits(!) of the party the least bit: scarcely an eyebrow was raised over this state of affairs; before long, the party was back to the booze!

In a recent article, the economist Pranab Bardhan has argued that inequality in India is not merely higher than that in China but is possibly “in the Latin America range?  Refuting Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar’s contention that there is erosion in the wealth of the rich on account of the worldwide recession, Dr. Bardhan writes,

“the reduction in the net worth of India’s corporate oligarchy has not at all reduced its corrupt grip on the country’s political life, lowered the power of local landlords or the political elite that capture local governance and misappropriate funds and services meant for the poor.”

The Report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector headed by Arjun Sengupta stated that 78% of those who work in the Unorganised Sector in India live on Rs.20 a day or less.  In December 2009, expert group headed by Suresh Tendulkar, estimated that roughly a quarter of the country’s urban population lives on Rs.19 a day, while close to 42% of the rural population consume goods and services roughly worth Rs.15 a day!

The fact of the matter is that, despite a lot of hot air about the need to ensure growth with equity, India’s track record in this regard has been extremely poor.  Traditionally, unequal countries like Mexico, Brazil, Chile have been far more successful than this country (where the ‘netas’ talk big but are most dishonest in their actions) in reducing poverty and inequality.  How does this happen, and how do those who have been “governing” the country go unscathed, without a single hair of theirs turning grey with remorse?  That is because, as the Analyst Arun Kumar Singh, in the context of the media reports of 11.1.2010 says: an official report indicates that India has lost substantial land along the LAC to China in the last two decades”; this is shocking, but not really surprising, in this land of ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY.  What a land of Utopia for our Ministers, bureaucrats, industrialists, import-export traders and various sundry officials who can exercise power  none of them need fear any accountability, not to speak of retribution for their misdeeds!

This is the India of ours, dear citizens.  A country where a steaming cup of tea in the hotels such as I T C Maurya Hotel (owing Rs.64 crores to the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Taj Palace Hotel (owing Rs.43 crores to the NDMC), the Oberoi Hotel (Rs.37 crores), the government owned Ashoka Hotel (dues: Rs.31 crores), and Samrat Hotel (dues: Rs.20 crores), could cost you more than what an unskilled labour will earn as his or her daily minimum wage for eight hours of work under the NREGA, viz., the princely sum of one hundred rupees, provided he gets the work, and the intermediaries do not pocket moiety of the wages due to them.

Was this the destination intended by the framers of our Constitution to be reached by the country sixty years later?  What was the future envisaged for the country by the Constitution, for drafting which the framers devoted so much thought, time and energy?  Let us see what the Constitution says in this.  The Drafting Committee felt that it was not desirable to embody socialism in the Constitution, as the word ‘socialism’ had no accepted definition and had varied meanings; therefore, it would be sufficient to frame a democratic Constitution with a socialist bias.  In the year 1976, the changes were made in the Preamble to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment.  The first change was to substitute the words ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’ in the place of the words ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’.  Justice S. Ranganath observes in his book, ‘Constitution of India – Five Decades (1950-1999)’ , that there can be two views as to whether it was necessary to amend the Constitution, so as to insert the extra two words into the Preamble, which is concerned with an enunciation of the ultimate goals rather than the paths of their achievement.  But, there is no need to join issue with this amendment because according to him, India, since 1950, has been treading the socialist path, and the Government and the people at large are generally in favour of socialism.  He recognises that the recent changes in the economic policies of the Union Government may constitute a prelude to a change-over to a different path (with ominous consequences, concerned citizens may perhaps agree!)

Certain directive principles of State Policy have been set out in Part IV of the Constitution.  Article 37 states that the provisions in the directive principles are fundamental in the governance of the country and should be kept in mind by the State while enacting laws — though the Directive Principles are not enforceable in a court of law.  Nevertheless, they are to be read conjointly with, and as supplementary to, the fundamental rights so as to constitute collectively the ‘conscience’ of our Constitution.

Article 38 thus states that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.  The State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities – amongst individual, as well as amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.  Art. 39 enjoins that the State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing inter alia (a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to adequate means of livelihood; (b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subscribe the common good; (c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.

It does not require a great deal of effort to realize that the “policies” and actions of the government are exactly on the lines prohibited by the above Directive Principles.  To illustrate the government forgoes revenue to the extent of Rs.3.03 lakh crores in 2007-08.  The revenue forgone in 2008-09 (through exemptions under direct and indirect tax laws) is Rs.4.18 lakh crores, which is 68% of the aggregate collections, as pointed by the financial analyst, A. Rangachari.  He has suggested that Parliament should discuss steps to bring this (monstrous aberration!) under its control; one method may be to treat the amount involved as tax expenditure and have it passed by Parliament under the Demand for Grant.  This will be in the interest of Parliamentary control over the purse, and facilitate monitoring of the need for and effectiveness of such tax exemption.

All these massive dole outs and other huge expenditure are termed “fiscal stimulus” by the government, while the amount borne by government in moderating the prices of food grains, fertilizers (for agriculture), petroleum products, etc., which is of the order of a meanly Rs.1.11 lakh crores in the budget for 2009-10 is called ‘subsidy’ and the government bemoans ceaselessly that such a huge amount (according to them) has to be spent on these subsidies (which are, in fact intended to benefit more than 70% of the population).  In fact, the latter should be called a stimulus for increasing farm output; and the amount to be spent on this and on employment generating infrastructure projects should be increased three or four fold, while the amount spent in the industrial and service sectors should be called subsidies and slashed drastically.  There is no evidence to support the government’s thesis that the fiscal stimuli’ has helped in increasing the growth rate in these sectors.

The “policies” of government which favour the industrials, services, I.T., and the export-import sectors, to the detriment of the agricultural sector as well as the rural and urban poor, go against the Preamble to the Constitution and by Directive Principles of State Policy, referred to above.  There is no hope of the government seeing reason in this regard, as the ‘Economists’ have ‘sounded out’ a general caution against an exit of the fiscal ‘stimulus’ measures, as the “economic recovery” was still fragile, and the “packages” should continue for some more time.  What Paul Krugman has written on the Financial Crisis in the U.S. is very relevant for us.  He says that, as Congress and the administration try to reform the financial system, they should ignore the advice coming from the supposed wise men of Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer!  This applies to the advice of our own Economists to government to continue the (massive, unconscionable) tax sops to the favoured sectors.  But, such advice is sweet to the ears of the powers that be.  That will be the “justification” for the government to continue what, in any case, it wants to do; and that will be the alibi when the consequences of these ‘policies’ become unbearable for the 77% of the population (according to the Arjun Sengupta), which is not able to spend more than Rs.20 a day (which, of course, is probably the starvation level at the current prices of food articles).

As noted above, Art. 37 of the Constitution lays down that the Directive Principles of State Policy are fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws. Yet, the government has been flouting these basic provisions of the Constitution, by following “economic policies” inspired by the Western Economists, the World Bank, the I.M.F., etc.  The inevitable result of these “policies” is there for all to see.  The Columnist Seumas Milne has graphically described this model: “A voracious model of capitalism forced down the throats of most of the world for the last 20 years as the only acceptable form of economic management, at a cost of ever-widening inequality and devastating environmental degradation has now been discredited… In less than 10 years, the baleful twins of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism have been tried and tested to destruction.”  Our government is embracing (to its heart!) this discredited model of economic management of the country, and is flouting with impunity the fundamental principles of governance ordained by the Constitution.

There is not even a whimper of a protest from the Constitutional pundits, innumerable intellectuals, and social activists, in the media or other forums.  How does one explain this?  Probably because we want to have the Constitution only pro forma — to be referred to when convenience demands, and to be treated as of archival interest rest of the time.  Probably, the centuries of slavery under the foreign invaders, through our history, have so altered our ethos that we believe that government can do no wrong, or government knows what is good for the country, or what the government does is good for the country!  Sixty years of political independence are apparently not sufficient to turn us into people who are steeped in the traditions of democracy and of respect for the provisions of the Constitution of the country.  If we had been so steeped, the persons at the helm of affairs will not even think of functioning in a manner which contravenes the provisions of the Constitution, and the people will not allow them to get away with that.

To cut a very long (and tiresome) story short, my humble request to concerned citizens is: Let us not compete with the ostrich any longer.  Let us raise our head and work around, to see what is happening elsewhere.  Seumas Milne draws attention to the fact that the decade’s significant shift — less often remarked on than the others — has been the tide of progressive social change that has swept Latin America.  Driven by the region’s dismal early experience of neoliberal economics — to which our government is pathetically attached — and assisted by the U.S. absorption in the war on terror and the emergence of China, a string of radical social and social-democratic governments have been swept to power in Latin America, attacking social (and racial) injustice, challenging U.S. domination and taking back resources from corporate control.  Our government is taking this country on the reverse direction.  Twenty years after we were told that there would be no 21st Century alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, Latin Americans are creating these alternatives here and now.

Further Impoverishment of our people has been accomplished by the totally unacceptable and unwarranted rises in the prices of food articles, vegetables, etc.  Writing under the heading “Food prices need an urgent check”, the editorial of a national daily noted that food prices had been galloping by the week at their fastest in 11 years.  The ‘humble’ potato has shot up the most, by 102%, which speaks volumes of the inefficiency and callousness of the country’s government, in that it cannot even grow enough potatoes, so that all the scarcity of the item does not put it beyond the reach of the vast majority.  The prices of every commodity, from pulses to fruits and vegetables, and wheat and rice, have ‘gone through the roof’.  The government’s disregard for the so-called below the poverty-line population says the editorial, is evident in the rotten quality of grains they are made to pay for under the public distribution system (PDS).  The government should have by now (12th of December, 2009) tackled the rising food problem on a war footing.  A Congress functionary from Mumbai wrote to the Prime Minister and the Congress President, complaining about the wrong policies of the government on the wheat front, which had only helped unscrupulous traders.  In the case of wheat, the style diet of countless Indians, the government had procured huge quantities of wheat at a minimum support price of Rs.1,000 per quintal; yet, under the open market sale scheme, the government released wheat at a high price of Rs.1,500 per quintal, the justification for which is questionable.  The government, which is so concerned about GDP growth, probably feels that, since agriculture contributes just 17 to 18% to GDP, it is not worth worrying about.  But, it concerns ‘the stomachs, health and nutrition’ of the people.  The problem needs administrative measures.  Last year, when food prices started to rise on the eve of the elections, the government took various measures, like imports, cutting import duties, cutting exports, etc.  With all major elections being over, the government is not taking any measures, which is extremely surprising and disturbing, says the Editorial.

Writing under the heading “Aam Admi finds dal-roti out of reach in the UPA’s second innings,” Gargi Paran notes that the year 2009 began with enhanced prices of essentials, which were explained away its part of the global scenario (and even global warming!)  As the year progressed, there was no easing of the situation in food items, and the blame was laid at the door of deficient monsoon (in 299 districts in 13 States).  The government was trying yet again to mislead, as the effects of deficient kharif monsoon would be felt only later or even next year.  Through the deficient southwest monsoon, the government assured the nation that food grains stock totaling 233 million tones were enough to tide over the situation.  In fact, towards the last quarter, the government decided to offload wheat and rice in the open market, to enhance availability and hold prices.

 

As regards sugar, the position is reflected as under:
Year            Production   
———————————————————
2006-07             282       
2007-08             263                       
2008-09            146.8                  
2009-10            160.0        
  (Estimate)
———————————————————-

It is intriguing why the production 2008-09 has come down by almost 50%.  It is not clear whether any investigation is made to ascertain how much of the shortfall is due to climatic conditions, how much is due to fall in the acreage under sugar cultivation, the reasons for that decline, and how much is due to outgo (from the sugar mills) because of the future trading, and how much is due to exports and hoarding by the traders.  The central government is trying to toss the blame on the state governments, saying that they must take action against hoarding, speculation and diversion from PDS.  He says that, in the year to come, the aam admi will have to bear the consequences of the free market forces and speculative trading which the UPA government favours, while the government will go gaga over recession not hitting India, because of the false sense of comfort it gets from the parallel economy in the country.

It will be clear that a very large section of the population has been reduced to utter penury, while the constitutional provision to the effect that the State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that every citizen has the right to adequate means of livelihood, has practically been tramped under foot.  A large proportion of the population might even be on the verge of starvation.  There is clearly a case for the Human Rights Commission to prosecute the members of the government for this deplorable violation of the human rights of the vast number of poor people in the country.  The stark reality is brought home by a Cartoon in one of the national dailies.  It depicts the totally famished rural couple sitting on a rickety cot, at a time when dozens of our Ministers, bureaucrats, and members of the delegation were making dozens of trips to Copenhagen and back.  The famished man says that so far as his family is concerned, they would not be adding to the global warming (with the smoke from their choolaks) as they had stopped cooking because of the increases in the prices of cereals and pulses etc.  He does not seem to be overawed by the 9% growth rate in the GDP achieved by our government!

The alternative before the concerned citizens is clear — the Constitution has to be treated as a sacred document; the Minister must faithfully comply with the provisions of the Constitution which they have sworn to uphold and protect (including those of Articles 37 to 39).  If these provisions are not considered important and fundamental, the Constitution should be amended to delete these provisions, and substitute them with provisions which will synchronize with the paradigm for “economic development” which the government wants to follow.  Concerned citizens should act to stem the rot which is eating at the very vitals of our country.

By Mr Balasubramnian

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