BA and Venkatesh Sundaram

A report published jointly by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe ranked India 107 out of 121 countries surveyed based on Global Hunger Index (GHI), which considered several factors that affect children including child stunting, wasting and mortality.

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The country has slid several places compared to the previous published report, and predictably the Government and its various agencies have protested the `methodologies’ and claim that the situation is not as dire as one might conclude from the report.  This comes on the heels of other reports that include a decline in life-expectancy and overall gloom in the economic scenario including shrinking of the job sector and the collapse of manufacturing and services across the country.

The Covid-19 period is also held responsible for the general gloomy outlook of the economy, the Ukraine war, and the concomitant world economic crises, are all given as factors.  Surprisingly, international agencies have said that the Indian economy is faring better than other economies, even while numbers are less than encouraging with roll-back on the growth expected from nearly 8% to little over 6%.

While one may spend a lot of time debating various aspects of the macro-economic scenarios, the condition and plight of the Indian poor remain alarming.  The Government itself recently extended rations to roughly 80 crore persons under the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Yojana, which is a tacit admission that such an enormous population, constitution over 10% of mankind itself is on the brink of famine on a near permanent basis.  This statistic alone is enough to indict the policies of Governments of India, past and present, and how little has been done to give a barely human standard of living to the population in the so-called largest democracy in the world.

This may also be considered against the backdrop of India being a country where bulk of the population even today lives off agriculture, where large parts of the landmass are arable, and can provide harvests on a scale unparalleled in history, with modern inputs like fertilizers, modern science, irrigation and the like.   While typically there are two or even three harvests a year, and bumper crops are announced, the torturous methods of procurements, storage and distribution remain disastrous, with Public Distribution Systems remaining woefully inadequate.  There is much ferment in the farm sector with disputes over Minimum Support Price and other issues that erupted during the passage of the Farm Laws, protests against them and subsequent repeal.

The permanent crisis in food production and distribution lies not so much in nature but in man-made policies, and those executed by Governments.  India is signatory to several sanctimonious conventions and agreements including those at the United Nations and elsewhere for ensuring human dignity and rights. But there is no enabling mechanism either domestically or internationally or politically to ensure that these are upheld in practice.  In India, measures to ensure the well-being of the people are generally being relegated to the Directive Principles of the Constitution, and while at times being `enshrined’ in Fundamental Rights and are not in any way enforceable.

To come to grips with this, one must necessarily look at the orientation of the Indian economy, and how it has come to being, by digging into the post-1947 history.  The supreme political power passed from the hands of the British colonialists to the rich Indian business houses. The Congress and other political parties were at their service, and instituted mechanisms to carry out the rule of the land to serve their interests.  The basic structure of the State and Government were inherited from the British. The 1950 Constitution of India was modelled after the British Government of India Acts 1935, despite all the debates in the Constituent Assembly.

In essence the power remained in the hands of an elite section that would come into power legitimized by periodic elections based on universal franchise.  A federal structure that would try and navigate the choppy waters between different states tugging in different directions was mooted. But the Central Government remained all-powerful and had the right to overthrow even elected state governments and impose Central rule.  And yet the people of India were completely deprived of any kind of political power except that of voting in elections every few years.  The “representatives” whom they elected had to follow the dictates of the political parties who gave them ‘tickets’ to contest in the election, without caring about what the people who elected them really wanted. The people were in fact to be kept in check by the awesome power concentrated in the hands of the ruling elites and their police and courts.

At no point was this clearer than during the protests against the Farm Laws during 2020-21.   While the farmers of the country already faced many problems, the Farm Laws were enacted to help the big corporations to increase their control over the agricultural sector. Handing over the profitable sectors of the agricultural activity to the monopoly corporations would certainly have led to worsening of the conditions of farmers. In course of time, farmers would lose their very lands to these monopolies. The continued neglect of the poor of the country, and formulation of policies and laws to benefit the monopoly capitalists is a direct consequence of political power not being in the hands of the people. It is instead being wielded by the superrich through their control over the political system.

While fundamental rights and equality and fraternity remain empty slogans, well over 50% of the people of land live in a sub-human existence, without enough food, clothing, shelter, education, or future.  Today’s GHI ranking is a new indictment of what everyone knew all along.  That the political and economic systems established in India are not capable of even feeding its population or providing them any basic rights.  All the people of justice loving people of India and the world must critically examine the world system of economics and politics that has brought mankind to this pass.  That would pave a path to finding a solution to the crisis.

By admin