Journalism- Then and Now

The 12th anniversary issue of Outlook (link via Abi) carries a discussion on the changes in journalism in the last twelve years, though I’d say that the changes started in the late 1980s.

Some of the most incisive insights are by P. Sainath. Here are a few excerpts from the discussion. All the comments below are by Sainath.

The biggest trend is the growing disconnect between the mass media and the mass reality. A very tiny Indian press, for a hundred years, served a very large social purpose, and tried to speak for the masses. Today, paradoxically, a gigantic Indian press serves a very narrow social purpose, which continues to narrow everyday

If 80 per cent of your revenues comes from advertising, and 20 per cent from sales—what that means is you’re going to give advertisers four times the importance you give readers. Their preferences and priorities take precedence

You see it in the simplest and most direct way: the organisation of beats.

Many beats have become extinct. Take the labour correspondent: when labour issues are covered at all, they come under the header of Industrial Relations, and they’re covered by the business correspondent. That means they’re covered by the guy whose job is to walk in the tracks of corporate leaders, and who, when he deigns to look at labour, does it through the eyes of corporate leaders. Now find me the agriculture columnist—in most newspapers, the idea doesn’t exist any more. If you lack correspondents on those two beats, you’re saying 70 per cent of the people in this country don’t matter, I don’t want to talk to them, they don’t make news.

That is, until the elections, when they screw the media’s happiness

Everyone keeps dividing journalism into serious and non-serious journalism—it’s a bogus division. What is called non-serious journalism is in fact a very serious business proposition, or at least it’s perceived as that by the media owners. They divide journalism into what’s serious…and what makes revenue.

Listen to this article Listen to this post

Technorati Tags: , , ,

P. Sainath on India’s Winter of Discontent

P. Sainath writes on how post- reform poverty differs from that of pre- reform era. Poverty is, after all, as much a relative phenomenon as an absolute one.

The average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of the Indian farm household is a long way from Rs.15 lakh. And further from $115,000. It is, in fact, Rs.503. Not far above the rural poverty line. And that’s a national average, mixing both giant landlords and tiny landholders. It also includes States like Kerala where the average is nearly twice the national one. Remove Kerala and Punjab and the figure gets still more dismal. Of course, inequality is rife in urban India too. And growing. But the contrasts get more glaring when you look at rural India.

About 60 per cent of that Rs.503 is spent on food. Another 18 per cent on fuel, clothing, and footwear. Of the pathetic sum left over, the household spends on health twice what it does on education. That is Rs.34 and Rs.17. It seems unlikely that buying unique cellphone numbers is set to emerge a major hobby amongst rural Indians. There are countless households for whom that figure is not Rs.503, but Rs.225. There are whole States whose average falls below the poverty line. As for the landless, their hardships are appalling.

It is not that inequality is new or unknown to us. What makes the last 15 years different is the ruthlessness with which it has been engineered. The cynicism with which it has been constructed. And the scale on which it now exists. And that’s at all levels, even at the top. As Abhijit Banerjee and Thomas Piketty put it in a paper on “Top Indian Incomes 1956-2000,” “The rich (the top 1 per cent) substantially increased their share of total income [in the reform years]. However,
while in the 1980s the gains were shared by everyone in the top percentile, in the 1990s it was only those in the top 0.1 per cent who made big gains.”

“The average top 0.01 per cent income was about 150-200 times larger than the average income of the entire population during the 1950s. This went down to less than 50 times as large by the early 1980s. But went back to being 150-200 times larger during the late 1990s.” All the evidence suggests it has gotten worse since then.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer

Harish Khare reviews Yashwant Sinha’s book “Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer”, that despite being “patchy” does give an idea about the policy debates during the NDA years and how a party of swadeshis continued the “reform” policies of its predecessor, the Narasimha Rao government.

Sinha talks how he repeatedly ran into difficulties with some of his own colleagues in the sangh parivar. On opening up the insurance sector: “My proposal, however, met with severe opposition from many of my colleagues. They felt that we were going back on all that we had stood for in the past, that the proposal involved a major departure from our philosophy and that it was anti-swedeshi. There was hardly any support for my proposal”

…The problem is that he glosses over the political economy of the Vajpayee phenomenon. He proceeds on a somewhat naive assumption as if vested economic interests and corporate houses had no role in sponsoring the Vajpayee premiership from 1998 onwards. Vajpayee could not be allowed to move away from the “economic reforms” course and it was Sinha’s job to deliver. But the BJP crowd refused to move away from the anti-reform, anti-globalisation slogans of the early 1990s.

…Sinha himself believed that he could easily switch from being a swadeshi pamphleteer to a servant of global corporate interests and would not attract any opposition: “Unfortunately, my views were not appreciated by many other proponents of swadeshi, despite my repeated efforts to explain it to them. An impression gathered ground that, while I started as a staunch supporter of swadeshi, I changed course and became an advocate of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.”

…Sinha himself believed that he could easily switch from being a swadeshi pamphleteer to a servant of global corporate interests and would not attract any opposition: “Unfortunately, my views were not appreciated by many other proponents of swadeshi, despite my repeated efforts to explain it to them. An impression gathered ground that, while I started as a staunch supporter of swadeshi, I changed course and became an advocate of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.”

Sinha recounts many frustrating moments as Vajpayee’s Finance Minister. He chafes at being nicknamed “roll-back Sinha”. However, he does not draw the simple lesson: good intentions and even self-proclaimed patriotic commitments are not enough. A self-advertised ‘deshbhakt’ does not ipso facto become an achiever or doer; nor does RSS orientation equip an administrator with a magic wand that would make disappear entrenched bureaucratic habits and aberrations.

However, to his credit Sinha gives the impression of remaining his own man, not easily troubled by the critics, in and out of the party. He does see through the so-called civil society’s deceit: “People who belong to the tax-paying class, like the middle class, industrialists, journalists and high net worth individuals — those who are the opinion makers in our society — praise a finance minister who gives them concessions, and criticises the one who imposes a burden on them. It is as simple as that.” His party continues to refuse to see the class and elitist biases at work in the dominant sections of the Indian media.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Scavenging the Sticky Glue

What struck me in this story about scavenger children using improvised boats and magnets to collect coins from the Yamuna river in Delhi, was this comment by Dr Shreekant Gupta, professor at the Delhi School of Economics:

According to Dr. Shreekant Gupta, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics specializing in the environment, factoring in the cost of environmental damage in India would shave 4 percent off of the country’s gross domestic product. Lost productivity from death and disease (water-borne diseases are India’s leading cause of child mortality) are the primary culprits.

“Some of this feeling of euphoria gets a bit dampened thinking of environmental degradation,” says Gupta. After environmental corrections, he puts India’s rocketing 9 percent annual growth rate at a mediocre 4.5 percent.(link)

Lack of regulations, and a still worse record in implementing them is one side to the story, a change in paradigm going away from centralised form of disposing the effluents is another. It is amazing that while governments display excessive triumphalism in inviting FDI, neither the multinationals nor the international agencies prescribe any sort of regulations on environment.

The story in India is not unique, as more and more production moves offshore to countries like China and India, the exploitation of natural resources pushes more and more people in these countries to the brink. A recent World bank report has suggested that close to 500,000 people in China die because of air and water pollution.

In a recent inspection of 529 firms along the Yellow, Yangtze and other major rivers and lakes, 44% had violated environmental laws, while almost half of the 75 waste water treatment facilities underperformed or did not work. Zhou said some waterways resembled “sticky glue”.(link)

But this is not too bad if compared with the conditions in Africa which bears the brunt of environmental change.

Despite contributing under 5% of the global amount of the six key greenhouses gases, Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change, a recent United Nations report on climate change found.Between 75 and 250-million people in Africa are expected to face even greater water shortages by 2020 as a result of climate change, the report said.

“It’s not enough to stop pollution now,” Worthington told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. (link)

Cross posted at How the Other Half Lives

The news inside the gaffes

Two news items in the last two days made me see things more carefully than I would have had there been no gaffes in the headlines.IBN Live carried a headline: China is India’s best neighbor. The news item, however puts it differently:

Describing China as India’s “greatest neighbour”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said that New Delhi wanted the “strongest relationship” with Beijing.

Well, there is a difference between being the greatest and the best: the greatest is not necessarily the best.

In another report in The Hindu, the headline “G8 pledges to lift Africa out of poverty” is misleading since the news item- in fact, the sub- text itself says something else. The sub- text says:

$60-billion plan to fight AIDS, tuberculosis

While the news report further clarifies:

“They say $60 billion for AIDS, TB and malaria and it sounds great, but that’s not earmarked for Africa, it’s a global figure and there’s no timeline,” he said. The G8 agreed during its summit on a programme worth more than $60 billion in aid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. However, in its final communique, the amount pledged had no timeframe and did not specifically single out Africa as the beneficiary.

Removal of poverty from the continent will have to wait. Even in the time of globalization.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Resisting Globalization with Stones and Potato Sacks

It is very clear which side the dice is loaded on- there are about 16,000 policemen in full gear protecting the Kempinski hotel, that anyway 10,000 protesters have managed to infiltrate upto 20 meters of the barricade. Kempinsiki hotel is where the the leaders of the G-8- the group of 8 industrial countries that account for 65% of the world’s economy, are meeting to confabulate over issues ranging from global climate change, to a follow up on the $50b aid to Africa to subtle messages from President Putin about the re- emergence of a a new Cold War. 

The protests have become almost as ritualistic as Mr Bush’s statements on a techno- miracle to fight the environmental challenge. The protests are marked by near primitive methods of resistance even as they are highly planned and deliberately so. In Bad Dobean, for example, around 10,000 protesters entered the zone Wednesday morning by avoiding “police roadblocks by simply walking through fields and woods“, and then bombarded the police with stones. Also interesting were the other methods of resistance.

As they were being dragged away, the months of training many anti-globalization activists had participated in was obvious. It is not advised, many demonstrators said, to lock arms during such blockades as it just gives the police an excuse to take out their batons. Balling up and being carried away is the safest alternative. The “potato sack” method is also a possibility, though not guaranteed to be free of pain — police drag protesters away and don’t pay much attention to what part of the body is scraping along the asphalt. There is little defense against the disabling neck and nose grips often used by the police.

The protesters come from diverse backgrounds:

Groups range from the “Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army,” with its colorful rubber noses, to relatively established anti-globalization movements like Attac, to radical far-left anarchists. In the building’s 55 rooms, a myriad of different strategies for forms of action are debated. With so many divergent approaches under one roof, organizers have decided to call the school the “Convergence Center” — a place to meet and find common ground.

Why are these people protesting? The answer is very simple- even as globalization creates islands of the first world in the malls in Shanghai and Banglore, it is also creating a Third World-like underclass in the developed world. The BBC explains it in a much nicer way with this graph that shows a continuous decline in the share of workers’ wages as a percentage of total national income.


There is little expected from this meeting, most likely it will end with some declaration of the promised $50b aid to Africa- no one is demanding more than what was promised, and it is a mere fraction of the G-8’s economic might. Other issues, like climate change are likely to be pushed under the carpet, and form the topic for the next ritualistic meeting, slated to be in Toyako, Hokkaido in Japan in 2008.

A video on the riots in Rostok.

Cross Posted at How the Other Half Lives

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Is it Trickling?

After Mani Shankar Aiyar, it is the turn of Jagmohan to question the wisdom and direction of “reforms” and the trickle down effect- after 16 years, even he cannot find the trickle down effect promised by the Manhoman- Chidambram- Montek economics.

The disparities of income are mounting. While one third of our rural population lives only on Rs 12 a day, a fresh graduate from a Management Institute can get an annual salary of Rs one crore, that is, about Rs 25,000 a day. A recent World Bank report titled Global Economic Prospect (2007) – Managing the Next Wave of Globalisation, has observed: “India, a country with low initial inequality, is headed for one of the fast increase in income inequality anywhere”. In a country where millions remain hungry and diseased, the combined wealth of 36 richest Indians had touched dollar 191 billion in the year 2006”.

In the matter of poverty reduction, too, the performance of the Indian economy has been dismal. In absolute numbers. About 300 million Indians were below the poverty line in 04-05.

There is another method of measuring poverty – percentage of low-weight babies to the total number of babies born in a country. This percentage reflects more accurately the state of malnutrition; that is, the state of poverty. In India, the current percentage of low-weight babies to the total number of babies born is as high as 48. On this reckoning, the percentages of the Indians living in poverty should be taken as 48….

Ironically, the economic ‘reforms’ of 1991 are resulting in a swelling of the ranks of unemployed and under-employed persons. The Economic Survey (2006-07) has observed: “Employment growth in the organised sector, both public and private, declined during the 1990s. The annual employment growth in establishments covered by the employment-market and market information system of the labour ministry, decelerated from 1.20 per cent during 1993-94 to 0.38 per cent per annum during 1994-2004.”

The Planning Commission’s Approach Paper to the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012), too, has expressed particular concern over “the sharp increase in unemployment (from 9.5 per cent to in 1993-94 to 15.3 per cent in 2004-05) among agricultural labour households which represent the poorest groups”.(read on)

On a related note, Madhukar has a post on Manmohan Singh’s point on the salaries of corporate CEOs.

Cross posted at How the Other Half Lives

Dalits and Hindutva

At EPW Pralay Kanungo reviews Hindutva and Dalits: Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis edited by Anand Teltumbde.

Gopal Guru makes an insightful observation on Hindutva’s penetration into the dalit bastion. As Guru explains, the public sector not only provided material security to many dalits, but also gave them psychological confidence to resist upper caste domination; with its dismantling, employment is rapidly shrinking and the expanding private sector is unwilling to open its doors to them. Hence, they fall back upon Hindutva primarily for material gains. However, their material objective is very much intertwined with a cultural quest as well. When dalit youths take part in Hindu religious festivals it is not just for a little pocket money, but also for glamour, public visibility, and some kind of cultural satisfaction. The glamour of Hindutva’s culture industry with electronic and digital spectacle overshadows the philosophical, rational and moral rigour of Ambedkarism.Hindutva’s cultural domination gets further reinforced as globalisation fails to provide any meaningful cultural alternative to the dalit youths, thereby compelling them to go for “subsidised satisfaction”. Hence, they fall prey to the promising cultural universe of Hindutva, which is more of a pragmatic choice rather than a substantive one. Hindutva conveniently transmutes the caste into the communal category where dalits become Hindus, forgetting their caste antagonism and adversarial identities.

In the context of Mayawati’s so- called “social engineering” (when it is little more than political opportunism), the following observation by Suhas Paliskar is relevant.

Palsikar concludes that in Maharashtra due to the political and ideological weakness of dalit politics Hindutva has made inroads into the space once occupied by the progressive forces. He rightly suggests that the issue of dalit-Hindutva alliance needs to be examined beyond the realm of electoral politics; it involves larger questions of hegemony and fascism which threaten to obliterate democracy and justice. Dalit politics in Maharashtra might have failed to checkmate Hindutva, but unlike Uttar Pradesh it certainly did not become Hindutva’s partner. Gatade accuses the BSP for subverting the dalit agenda by making an alliance with Hindutva purely for the sake of political power. Analysing the three spells of cohabitation that Mayawati had with the BJP, Gatade argues that Mayawati, who was firm and confident to start with, finally gave in to the communal politics of the Sangh parivar. The worst happened when she gave a clean chit to Narendra Modi and even campaigned for him in the Gujarat elections. Ramesh Kamble mentions that reckless pursuit of political power ironically compelled her to ally with the very Hindu upper caste forces whose hegemony the BSP wanted to demolish.

India’s New Cities: Globalization’s Perfect Storm

Eurozine has write ups on two Indian cities in its current issue whose editorial is titled “The city as stage for social upheaval“. One is on Calcutta/ Kolkata and another on Bombay/ Mumbai (the latter in German, though). In the backdrop of the architectural history of Calcutta, Swapan Chakravorty observes the more recent changes wrought about by globalization:

Now that the city has to adjust to the global market, the Communists find themselves saddled with the ironic task of imposing the orderly claims of civil society against the carnival of the fringe. The old industrial map has changed with the dismantling of the protectionist economy. The premises of defunct factories are being handed over to developers who build condominiums, malls, and multiplexes. The patriarchal communitarianism of the neighbourhood has no place in these new enclaves. The fishermen in the eastern suburbs have moved out, with developers buying up every available piece of land flanking the Eastern Bypass. Derelict warehouses along the river may be soon converted into Singapore-style restaurants. The High Court has banned political processions and meetings on weekdays; crackers and microphones are illegal; the Election Commission has outlawed political graffiti. Communists now plead with their own trade unions to ignore the workforce in information technology so that American clients are not upset.

About Mumbai, the editorial observes:

In Mumbai (Bombay), with its 19 million inhabitants, the enormous wealth disparities take on grotesque manifestations. In India’s biggest city, slums are cleared to make way – quite literally – for golf courses. Ilija Trojanow describes how, among the bureaucratic classes, the word “Slum” has become a synonym for “encroachment”. The efforts of the wealthy to keep the poor at bay reminds him of the laager mentality of the European settlers in South Africa. There, life within the barricaded settlements that kept out the indigenous population was seen as orderly and harmonious, everything outside filthy and chaotic. That mentality led directly to the Apartheid regime: a comparison not at all far-fetched in the context of contemporary Mumbai.

Cross- posted at How the Other Half Lives.

An Alternative to Globalisation

Economist Amit Bhaduri has an insightful article in EPW (pdf), where he argues for an alternative development model bypassing the corporate- led globalization. It is only the resistance of people at the ground level that seems to be working to thwart the current economic orthodoxy- that too, only when this resistance results in deaths as in Nandigram. If economics is nothing but concentrated politics, there is little to differentiate between the Hindutva BJP and the secular Left, to say nothing about the Congress party.

He contends that while there are time bound programs to follow the neo- liberal, IMF imposed strictures; there are vague promises and presumptions about the miraculous trickle down effect that is supposed to uplift the masses. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2003 is a case in point. Siba Shankar Mohanty, in this article written in 2004 provides a criticism of the Act.

The government, in no way, can actually reduce this expenditure till 2008 except deferring a part of it, which will further aggravate the fiscal situation. The government of the day will never compromise with defence expenditure particularly in a situation where the people in the government visualise threats to national security from all possible corners of the world. So if the government of the day tries to reduce expenditure it may do so in crucial sectors like social services and some of the economic services only. This will affect the all-round development of the country and further aggravate the fiscal situation. (link)

Indeed, a comparison between the fiscal deficit in 2003 and 2007 reveals that the deficit has come down from 5.7% of GDP to 3.3% in 2007.

At the same time, the spend in the social sector declined between 2001-2002 and 2004-2005, picking up slightly in 2005-2006 and 2006–2007 (Table 10.3 in the section on Social Sector in the Budget for 2007-08), though only projections are available for these last two years.


  2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 (RE) 2006-07 (RE)
Spend on Social Sector (% of GDP) 6.04 5.93 5.68 5.66 6.23 6.04

(A related analysis on the social sector spend here.)

Presuming himself on the fact that a deficit is in a demand constrained economy is not necessarily a bad thing (as long as it is a social investment), Bhaduri calls for a scrapping of this act which serves the purpose of further reducing funds for social investment. Surojit Das, incidentally has an article in the same issue of EPW where he dwells on this theme.

Bhaduri also looks away from the centralized, bureaucratic model of socialist orthodoxy to suggest that funds for employment generation need to be pushed to rural India where 70% of the population still lives instead of relying on a an urban centric model of industrialization that relies on the demands generated by extremely rich urban social classes resulting in a misleading perception of growth.

India’s recent high growth accompanying the process of industrialisation answers unambiguously the question as to who is in charge of this process. It is led by corporations,which are mostly private. The role that the governments have assigned to themselves both at the central and at the state level is that of a promoter, an agent of private corporations, not one of a regulator between big business and poor people. In this context we are repeatedly reminded that industrialisation has its costs, but it is conveniently left unsaid that the cost must be borne by those who are least capable of bearing it, the poor and the most marginalised sections of the population. The rich corporations on the other hand are subsidised handsomely by the governments in various ways, e g, in CPM-ruled West Bengal, for the Singur car project, the estimated subsidy to the Tatas is over Rs 850 crore for an investment of Rs 1,000 crore.

Although land is the most visible symbol of transfer of resources to the corporations, the transfer mechanism is more pervasive, working systematically against the poor both directly and indirectly. For instance, the direct bias is seen in plan allocation. Despite over 60 per cent of our working population living in agriculture, recent five year plans under different governments could allocate less than 5 per cent of planned investment to agriculture. The indirect bias operates pervasively through the pattern of consumption and production promoted consciously by the state….

Direct estimates indicate that labour productivity in manufacturing nearly doubled since 1991, and in services it increased even more while in agriculture it increased not even by 10 per cent. This is the result of two sets of factors. On the one hand, selected non-agricultural products consumed typically by the rich command a higher and higher price (think of real estates, fancy apartments, cars, restaurants, etc), as the rich become richer with even more purchasing power to buy these goods. This is a vicious circle of cumulative causation, of mutually reinforcing positive feedbacks created by economic liberalisation with little concern for the poor. Higher growth is then achieved by transferring more and more resources to the so-called high productivity sector producing for the rich in the name of comparative sectoral advantage, while the higher demand from the rich keeps the apparent sectoral productivity and corporate profits high. It benefits enormously large corporations which organise this pattern of production for profit, and the privileged sections in India rejoice at the economic progress the country is making. The other side of the same process is to deny resources to the poor in the rural economy because they have no purchasing power. So money is not found for basic health or education, for local investment to create employment by the panchayats or for two square meals for children. The annual tax concessions to big business envisaged originally in the SEZ proposals is estimated to have been about five times the annual national rural employment guarantee budget; alternatively it could feed some 55 million people a year! (link) (emphasis added)

He suggests that demand needs to be stimulated in the rural economy. Though he does not mention it, this is something that was achieved in China after Mao’s break from the Soviet Union and its model of centralized planning. Chun Lin has argued in his recent work ‘The Transformation of Chinese Socialism’ (2006) how rapid industrialization in the 1980s needs to be seen in the context of the decentralized approach that Mao Tse Tung had initiated.

To stimulate internal demand, he advocates stronger measures to generate employment in the villages via a novel scheme using the nationalized banks to disseminate funds to the village Panchayats, thus reducing bureaucratic structures.

Of course, this is a far cry from the current policies of the government, whose own Minister for Rural Development has remarked few days back:

There is nobody so marginal in a government as the minister of Panchayati Raj. I count for nothing. Nothing! (link)

Bhaduri suggests that banks should be used to push social funds to the Panchayat level, and also monitor the projects. In fact, one aspect that he has not indicated, but can be useful in this scenario is to leverage information technology to gather data and monitor progress of the plans.

First, we must learn to rely far more on the internal rather than the external market. The biggest driving force of the internal market is the purchasing power of the ordinary people derived from employment growth. Growth of the internal market through rapid employment growth, requiring a far more selective approach to globalisation, is essential rather than repeating the mantra that there is no alternative to this corporate-led globalisation. Second, economic growth must be the outcome of employment growth. Our benchmark should be a time bound programme for full employment. How much the growth in employment would contribute to growth in output depends on how productively labour can be employed. …

A start can be made here and now by extending the present national employment guarantee scheme to an ambitious time bound full employment programme, and delegating much of the decision-making power to the maximum to the panchayats and local bodies. They must have maximum freedom and responsibility to identify, formulate and execute local employment generating productive projects. A precondition for this is fiscal autonomy for the panchayats. No government, central or state, is willing to do this yet although the provision was made in 1993 for a finance commission to make panchayats financially self sufficient. The record of Kerala has been the best while that of West Bengal has been among the worst…

(After generating funds from deficit planning) the money for employment generation can be kept in a separate account in nationalised banks with credit line extended to panchayats. This would avoid duplication of institutions, while a system of mutual checks and balances between the panchayats and the local branch of nationalised banks can be devised based on their performance as borrowers and lenders. Banks would lend the next round only if the previous project succeeds, and panchayats can borrow the next round only if the money is well spent. It might turn out to be a situation akin to “repeated games” in which both sides gradually learn to recognise the mutuality of their interests, paving the way for genuine cooperation over time. It is this mutuality of interest which has to be strengthened over time in creating new institutional forms of sustained decentralised financing for development. A programme of decentralised, employment-intensive, rural industrialisation through participatory democracy at the local level is no utopia. It is the compulsion of our time.

Admittedly, Bhaduri’s take is that of an economist, not that from a political economy perspective and needs to be worked out in detail, but it provides a very good start for a practical alternative model for development.

Not that this will be without its problems, ultimately the social composition and the balance of class forces at every level will determine the full realization of such a scheme, but then at least this can be measured in more tangible terms than the promised light at the end of the currently seemingly unending tunnel.

(Cross posted at How The Other Half Lives)

Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization

(a) Sikh Women grinding grain, 1945 (b) A gurudwara of Dalit Sikhs, 2004 (c) A modern agro industry

Guest post by Surinder S. Jodhka

Regions and regional identities are inherently fluid categories, constantly changing and being constructed by the people in given social, political and historical contexts.

The history of Punjab or Punjabiyat during the 20th century offers a good example of such a process. Though the Indian Punjab was reorganized as a separate state of independent India on the basis of language, it is often seen as a land of the Sikhs, despite the fact that Hindus and Muslims were in larger numbers in the region.

While dominant Hindu elites geared towards de- regionalizing themselves and claim opportunities opened up by the new nation, the Muslims elites of Western Punjab veered towards Urdu and legitimizing their dominance over the new nation- state of Pakistan.

Post- independence, Punjab also came to be identified as mainly a state with prosperous agriculture, the success of the agriculture also consolidated the position of the land owning classes/castes, the Jutt Sikhs.

The success of canal colonies in West Punjab had motivated the British colonial rulers to lay an extensive network of canals in the region. The Bhakra Nangal dam, one of the first major irrigation projects launched by the government of independent India, was also located in Punjab.

The Jutt Sikhs were also the ones who constituted the armies of the British Raj, and were the pioneers of the migration to Western countries a century ago.

Apart from the long tradition of migrations and global contact, the Indian Punjab also had a vibrant urban economy. Until recently the industrial growth rate of Punjab was higher than the average for India. Punjab continues to be among the more urbanized states of India and ranked fourth in terms of the proportion of urban population among the major states of the country during the 2001 Census. Against the national average of less than 28 per cent, the urban population of Punjab in 2001 was 34 per cent.

Of all the states of India, Punjab’s growth rate in agriculture was the highest from the 1960s to the middle of 1980s. The annual rate of increase in production of food grains during the period 1961-62 to 1985-86 for the state was more than double the figure for the country as a whole.

While Punjab had 17,459 tractors per hundred thousand holdings, the all India figure was only 714. The same holds true for most other such indicators. These achievements have also been widely recognized.

At the sociological and political level, this growth of rural capitalism during the 1960s and 1970s imparted a new sense of confidence and visibility to the agrarian castes in different parts of India. Institutionalization of electoral democracy helped them dislodge the so-called upper caste elites from the regional and national political arena.

In the case of Punjab, the landowning Jutts had already been the ruling elite of the region. The success of green revolution and institutionalization of democracy helped them further consolidate their position. Even Sikh religious institutions came under their sway.

The triumph of agrarianism and the rise of the dominant caste farmers in the 1970s also set in motion a phase of populist politics at the regional and national levels in India. The newly emergent agrarian elite not only spoke for their own caste or class but on behalf of the entire village and the region. Their identification was not just political or interest-based and sectarian, as they saw themselves representing everyone, encompassing all conflicts and differences of caste, class or communities.

The rise of the Khalistan movement, a secessionist demand by a section of the Sikh community during the early 1980s, was a somewhat unexpected development since apart from its economic success, socially and politically too the border-state of Punjab had been a well-integrated part of India, having been at the forefront of the national freedom movement.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the rise of a secessionist movement in the state was for many a puzzle.

Contrary to much of the academic speculation that employed every known school of thought- from modernization theory to psychoanalysis, after some fifteen years of violence and bloodshed, Sikh militancy began to decline.

By the mid 1990s, the Khalistan movement was virtually over without having achieved anything in political terms. The end of the Khalistan movement, however, did not mean an end of ‘crises’ for Punjab. It was now the turn of economics and agriculture.

The green revolution had already begun to lose its charm by the early 1980s. Several scholars had in fact attributed the rise of militancy directly to the crisis of Punjab agriculture. By the early 1990s, there were clear signs of economic stagnation. Unlike some other parts of India, Punjab had lost out on the opportunities opened-up by the ‘new economy’ and investments of foreign capital that had begun to come to India with the introduction of economic liberaliztion.

The discourse of crisis found more ammunition during the post-reforms period when Punjab and some other parts of India saw a sudden spurt in the incidence of suicides by cultivating farmers.

By the turn of the century, agriculture in Punjab had lost nearly all its sheen, the emblematic Punjabi farmer seen nowhere in the new imageries of a globalizing India.

The changes that came about in the countryside with the success of the green revolution also produced a new class of rural rich who had experienced economic mobility through their active involvement with the larger capitalist market.

The new technology gave them tractors, took them to the mandi towns and integrated them with the market for buying not only fertilizers and pesticides but also white goods and an urban lifestyle.

Most agricultural households in Punjab today have become or are trying to become pluri-active, ‘standing between farming and other activities whether as seasonal labourers or small-scale entrepreneurs in the local economy… Agriculture and farming is no more an all-encompassing way of life and identity.’

The available official data on employment patterns in Punjab has begun to reflect this quite clearly. For example, the proportion of cultivators in the total number of main workers in Punjab declined from 46.56 in 1971 to 31.44 in 1991, and further to 22.60 by 2001. While the share of cultivators has been consistently falling, that of the agricultural labourers had been rising until the 1991 Census. However, over the last decade, viz. from 1991 to 2001, even their proportion declined significantly, from 23.82 to 16.30. In other words, though two-third of Punjab’s population still lives in rural areas, only around 39% of the main workers in the state are directly employed in agriculture. The comparable figure for the country as a whole is still above 58%.

The trend of moving out of agriculture is perhaps not confined to any specific class or category. While marginal and small cultivators seem to be moving out of agriculture, the bigger farmer is moving out of the village itself. The big farmers of Punjab invariably have a part of their family living in the town. Their children go to urban schools/colleges, and they invest their surplus in non-agricultural activities.

The rural social structure has also undergone a near complete transformation over the last three or four decades.

Over the last twenty years or so a large proportion of dalits in Punjab have consciously dissociated themselves from their traditional occupations as also distanced from everyday engagement with the agrarian economy and even investing in building their own cultural resources in the village, in gurudwaras and dharamshalas.

The growing autonomy of the dalits from the ‘traditional’ rural economy and structures of patronage and loyalty has created a rather piquant situation in the countryside with potentially far-reaching political implications.

In the emerging scenario, local dalits have begun to assert for equal rights and a share from the resources that belong commonly to the village and had so far been in the exclusive control of the locally dominant caste groups or individual households.

Seen purely through economic data, Indian Punjab continues to be an agriculturally developed region of the country, producing much more than what it requires for its own consumption. Even though occupying merely 1.53% of the total land area of India, Punjab farmers produce nearly 13% of the total food grains (22.6% of wheat and 10.8% of rice) of the country.

Interestingly, in terms of objective indicators, Punjab has been a ‘progressive’ state otherwise also. For example, in terms of the Human Development Index, Punjab is second only to Kerala.

The growth rates of Punjab – agriculture or industry – are no longer negative. Notwithstanding the frequent reports of corruption and scandals, the urban centres of Punjab seem to be picking-up in terms of growth of infrastructure and real-estate.

However, the Indian Punjab today needs to be re-imagined in more than economic terms alone. The canvas of its change is much larger and broader.

Given that Punjab has a large proportion of Scheduled Caste population, the newly acquired agency among the dalits can also have serious implications for regional politics.

The earlier hegemony of the rural Jutt culture is fast disintegrating and this will change the manner in which the larger interests of Punjab are articulated politically.

Globally, the Punjabi/ Sikh diaspora has been investing in building its cultural resources and participating in local political processes, getting elected to local and national political bodies, more than any other component of the Indian diaspora.

At home, the fast changing geopolitics of the world during the opening decade of the 21st century has important implications for the Punjabs and their futures.

Though the hostile visa regimes of India and Pakistan continue to be an obstacle, traffic of common citizens across the Indo-Pak border has been steadily increasing. The opening up the border between Indian and Pakistan has produced a sense of excitement and opened a window of hope for all shades and sections of Punjabis .

What implications would these new processes have for the manner in which we have imagined Punjab and Punjabiyat – within the national and global contexts? Will the processes of globalization and the new technologies enable the two Punjabs to rediscover their common cultural heritage? How would a loosening of the border and opening of trade routes influence the economies of the two Punjabs? Would the decline of agriculture and rapid urbanization of the state develop a new middle class imagery of the state?

Though it is not easy to answer these questions, some of these processes are sure to bring positive and enriching outcomes.

Surinder S Jodhka is Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has done pioneering work on Dalits in Punjab and authored a number of works on the subject.

This guest post is further elaborated in ‘The Problem’ statement in this month’s edition of The Seminar magazine Reimagining Punjabwhich he has edited. (online next month)

Image acknowledgements:

Comrade Sunil Janah’s Site
Punjab govt Official Site
The Hindu

Why the Left lost the battle of Globalization

Perry Anderson in an interview by Harry Keisler (see video)

Harry Keisler: One of the concerns in your Elberg Lecture is that internationalism, which we’ve talked about as being a guiding theme in the way you’ve looked at problems, is now the perspective of international capitalism. Whereas the opposition, the protests, tend not to have the same capacity to think and act globally.

Perry Anderson: For the century between, shall we say, the 1840s and the 1940s, the capacity to transcend one’s own national limitations and national interests for a much wider set of interests, and to translate this transcendence into actually organized actions, belonged on the whole to the labor movement and to the left. The capacity didn’t belong to businessmen, capitalists, and so on. Since the 1950s, that has very dramatically changed. We have seen in the postwar order a higher degree of coordination, the ability to make a more than national viewpoint on the interests of the system, for the interest of the system, on the part of the privileged. Whereas, those who are less privileged are more and more confined to a local region and at best a national framework of action, and that’s partly to do with the destruction in some of the traditions of the Communist International, and the withering away of many of the traditions of the alternative Socialist International as well.

Globalization and the Lumpenproletariat

Gabor Steingart on the changing nature of the European lumpenproletariat.

Rather, what stand out are the symptoms of intellectual neglect. The poor of today watch television for half the day. These days, television producers even refer to what they call “Underclass TV.” The new proletariat eats a lot of fatty foods and he enjoys smoking and drinking — a lot. About 8 percent of Germans consume 40 percent of all the alcohol sold in the country. While he may be a family man, his families are often broken. And on Election Day, he casts a protest vote for the extreme left or right wing party, sometimes switching quickly from one to the other.

But the main thing that sets the modern poor apart from the industrial age pauper is a sheer lack of interest in education. Today’s proletariat has little education and no interest in obtaining more. Back in the early days of industrialization, the poor joined worker associations that often doubled as educational associations. The modern member of the underclass, by contrast, has completely shunned personal betterment.

Marx and Engels on the nature of the lumpenproletariat:

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.

and here is a reference to this class in Grundrisse that I found interesting and needs to be kept in mind when looking for the modern lumpenproletariat- since there has been a significant rise in the services sector since Marx’s time- note the interesting reference to the ‘honest’ and ‘working’ lumpenproletariat that stands in marked contrast to his comments on the class elsewhere (in the Manifesto, quoted above, and elsewhere)

The same relation holds for all services which workers exchange directly for the money of other persons, and which are consumed by these persons. This is consumption of revenue, which, as such, always falls within simple circulation; it is not consumption of capital. Since one of the contracting parties does not confront the other as a capitalist, this performance of a service cannot fall under the category of productive labour. From whore to pope, there is a mass of such rabble. But the honest and ‘working’ lumpenproletariat belongs here as well; e.g. the great mob of porters etc. who render service in seaport cities etc. He who represents money in this relation demands the service only for its use value, which immediately vanishes for him; but the porter demands money, and since the party with money is concerned with the commodity and the party with the commodity, with money, it follows that they represent to one another no more than the two sides of simple circulation; goes without saying that the porter, as the party concerned with money, hence directly with the general form of wealth, tries to enrich himself at the expense of his improvised friend, thus injuring the latter’s self-esteem, all the more so because he, a hard calculator, has need of the service not qua capitalist but as a result of his ordinary human frailty.

See also the Wikipedia entry for the term.

Link to Der Spiegel article via Eugene Plawiuk’s Le Revue Gauche.
Image Source

Contradictions of Globalization- the strange case of India

Left: Inside a mall in Gurgaon: all that glitters is not gold
Right: Outside, familiar scenes of child

Two news reports on the same day and at the same site show the contradictions in the neo- liberal model that currently holds sway in India.

Here are two short extracts from the two reports:

Indian economy registered this decade’s highest first quarter growth during the current financial year at 8.9 per cent on impressive showing by manufacturing and services sectors….Agriculture grew by a flat 3.4 per cent, chipping in 19.1 per cent to overall GDP growth.

(Indian economy booms; Q1 GDP growth at 8.9%)

On the other hand:

According to the National Sample Survey Organisation data, about 42 per cent of the population was employed during fiscal 2004-05, which meant that the remaining 58 per cent of the country’s employable population was without jobs…Rural areas accounted for 44 per cent of the employed while urban India had 37 per cent of its population employed.

(More than 50% jobless in India in 2004-05)

In other words, the gains of the booming economy are impacting a small percentage of the urban population leaving a majority sweating outside.

The impact of this “boom” is manifested even in something as insignificant as the sale of books published in English in India with non- fiction books like Thomas Friedman’s flawed The World is Flat and Amartya Sen’s grossly insufficient The Argumentative Indian appealing to a “new class” of readers:

“There is a whole new class of readers emerging out of the Indian economic boom. This genre strikes a chord with their concerns,” said Thomas Abraham, Penguin’s president and chief executive officer.

(Fact more engaging than fiction for Indian readers)

There is some truth in Joseph Stiglitz’s “prescription” in making globalization “work”:

The prescription for making globalisation work is what is generally called “the Scandinavian model.” That means high levels of investment in education, research, and technology plus a strong safety net. That of course also entails, as in the Scandinavian countries, a highly progressive income tax.

However, the proponents of the Narasimha Rao- Manmohan Singh neo- liberal economic model that has been the ruling paradigm since 1991 have little to show in terms of either trickle down effects of the policies or any semblance of following the Scandinavian model, a decade and half later after the sudden change of gear in the backdrop of a financial failure (though not an economic one).

The truth of the Manmohanomics model is glaring in the face with agricultural land being up for grabs, the suicides in the countryside unabating and the FDI, export lead model overly reliant on the assumption of a growing US economy.

However, it is unfair to compare India with the Scandinavian First World countries.

In the context of the rest of the Third World countries forging their their way into a globalized 21st century, rather than comparing India’s economic model with the Scandinavian countries, it is instructive to see this comparative essay on South Africa and Venezuela- the former following the neo- liberal diktat and Hugo Chavez taking a different path, it is clear that India’s direction is more akin to that of South Africa.

I can compare two countries taking two radically different approaches to their social development — Venezuela trying to redistribute social services and opportunities, and South Africa trying to hold on to the failed economic policies of the past, in efforts that benefit the small elite of both whites and blacks but come at the direct expense of 60% or more of the population of all racial groupings. In Venezuela, I saw hope among the poor; in South Africa, dejection and dissatisfaction.

In terms of a political fallout, it is very easy to predict a defeat of the UPA by any ramshackle conglomeration in the next elections if the UPA government continues to follow its lop sided policies.

It is in the terms of social contradictions that this galloping but unequally distributed economic growth poses that is more difficult and scarier to imagine.

(Link to interview with Joseph Stiglitz via Abi and Krishworld)

Tags: , ,

"What the heart does not feel, the eye can never see"

Farm suicides have also been on for several years in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. To imply they are only happening in Vidarbha is false. The agrarian problem is nationwide. So are many of the policies driving it. But all regions are not the same. Some crops are more subject to price shocks. Some communities more vulnerable than others. Some cultivation practices more destructive than others. And some governments are far worse at handling distress than others.

P. Sainath, author of Why Everyone Loves a Good Drought, on the myths surrounding the farmer suicides.

Related Post

Tags: , , ,

Macondo in India, China

The Chinese writer Wang Anyi, describes Panhuang, a small rural town in Jiangsu province with the rivetting imagery from Garcia Marquez‘s fictional place of Macondo (in One Hundred Years of Solitude):

Evening after evening would seem to be filled with revelry, yet this is also a lonely place. One might think of Macondo, and the tumult in its seclusion. Modernity hovers over the town like an iridescent cloud, but its life remains unaltered.

I felt the last sentence describes very well the kind of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ that is today shaping India as well. Between the less than a dozen cities booming with call centers, BPOs and software companies are endless number of small towns and villages that resemble Panhuang.

From “For Whom the Bells Toll”, reprinted in One China Many Paths.

A previous post with another quote by Wang Anyi in the same book here.

Tags: , , , ,

Hobsbawm in Conversation with Jacques Attali

Nearly fifteen years after the collapse of ‘existing socialism’ and over a decade after Derrida warned of the return of specters of Marx, there certainly is a new found respect for Marx, even though he is now seen as a champion of globalization and free trade.The pitamah of Marxist historiography, Eric Hobsbawm in conversation with international banker Jacques Attali, whose recent biography of Marx, the second one after the collapse of Soviet Union, is selling like hot cakes in France.

If you look at the history of mankind in the past two centuries, this is the fourth attempt at globalisation. The first came at the end of the 18th century, collapsing with the Napoleonic wars. The second came at the end of the 19th century and collapsed with the First World War. The globalisation of the 1920s collapsed with the Second World War. We are in the fourth attempt at globalisation in two centuries and the most probable outcome is that this attempt will go the same way as the previous, leading to isolationism and protectionism.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

France Riots and Globalization

Jean Baudrillard examines the France riots last November and indicates how they represent a broader challenge of globalization- a question of how the haves and have- nots can “integrate”- in this case the culture of the poorer immigrant with the (implicitly) superior Western culture.In the backdrop of many European nations themselves refusing to integrate with the European Union, the expectation for non- Europeans to integrate with the “mainstream” is itself a contradiction.

The article was apparently written before the cartoon controversy, but has relevance to the controversy as well.

The French exception is no more, the ‘French model’ collapsing before our eyes. But the French can reassure themselves that it is not just theirs but the whole Western model which is disintegrating; and not just under external assault—acts of terrorism, Africans storming the barbed wire at Melilla—but also from within. The first conclusion to be drawn from the autumn riots annuls all pious official homilies. A society which is itself disintegrating has no chance of integrating its immigrants, who are at once the products and savage analysts of its decay….

Yet French or European discrimination is only the micro-model of a worldwide divide which, under the ironical sign of globalization, is bringing two irreconcilable universes face to face. The same analysis can be reprised at global level. International terrorism is but a symptom of the split personality of a world power at odds with itself. As to finding a solution, the same delusion applies at every level, from the banlieues to the House of Islam: the fantasy that raising the rest of the world to Western living standards will settle matters. The fracture is far deeper than that. Even if the assembled Western powers really wanted to close it—which there is every reason to doubt—they could not. The very mechanisms of their own survival and superiority would prevent them; mechanisms which, through all the pious talk of universal values, serve only to reinforce Western power and so to foment the threat of a coalition of forces that dream of destroying it.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Meghnad Desai on India and Globalization

A critical review in The Hindu:

East Asia achieved high growth rates without significant foreign direct investment (FDI). They chose instead to acquire modern technology by purchase or imitation, improve it indigenously and use it to produce a wide range of manufactures at a cost and of a quality capable of competing in world markets. China no doubt got huge FDIs, but mostly from expatriate Chinese entrepreneurs who had acquired modern know-how, skills and organisational capacity in manufacturing.

Indian model

By contrast, the model currently being pursued by India relies heavily on imported technology, designs and equipment through foreign collaborations and FDI with far too little attention and effort at building indigenous capability.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Globalization and the Assamese Farmer

” Because of the lack of proper agricultural policies, the Assamese farming community lost their rights on their own fertilizers.With the use of hybrid fertilizers, the farming lands of the country are on the verge of destruction.” Pabitra Daimari, executive president of the Samiti, urged the farmers to raise their voices against the unfair policies adopted by the Government against the farmers. The meeting also urged the Government to declare Nagaon as a drought-hit district and provide ration for the farming community of the district for six months starting November.

Full Story