Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

India’s Spaniel Press

On one pronouncement of his, you have to agree with prime minister Manmohan Singh. This is not a ‘lame-duck government.’  Cooked goose seems the more appropriate  soubriquet.  However, not a single new scam worth over  20 billion crore (I crore = US$10 million) has surfaced for ten days now.

So maybe things are getting better. Yet, even a doting corporate media find that the Professor did not come out looking good from his interaction with a few favored students. That is, electronic media chiefs and editors who have mostly adored Dr. Singh for nearly two decades. If even the largely  free ride they gave him left him unnerved and defensive, it’s a measure of how much things have changed.  Not that the editors emerged looking better. If asking the right questions is at the heart of journalism, then somebody had a bypass.  At no point did it occur to them that the corruption they questioned him on with some passion, flowed entirely out of policies and from a policy altar at which they have worshipped for years.

Some of the questions in fact indicated a need by worried editors to be reassured that those very policies would continue. For instance, a fear that there is “no big reformist wave coming from UPA 2 second government of the United Progressive Alliance headed by the Congress party. Have we lost the will to take hard reformist decisions?”  “No way,” responded the Prime Minister. “We have not lost the will. We will persist.”  In asserting that what he (and the editors) view as “reforms” are on track, Dr. Singh speaks the truth. The chaos and corruption troubling the editors was the outcome of those very ‘reforms’, if they cared to see it.

Even on corruption, the questions ranged from those revolving around some ministers’ actions to a couple implying wrongdoing by people within the prime minister’s office (PMO) or cabinet. Nothing that suggested the country’s basic direction under the Professor’s guidance is destructive and dangerous.  But once you’ve accepted the neo-liberal economic framework scripted since 1991 as wonderful and beyond reproach, then your questions get limited to asking who fluffed his lines. And as for corporate criminality, editors step on to that terrain only when left without a choice and at their own risk.

The first question, fair enough, was about the 2G telecom scam and the lack of an auction in the sale of spectrum. There’s something missing here, though. There was in fact an auction of spectrum — a successful one. Only it was not conducted by government but by their corporate sector cronies who they gave it to for a pittance. Having been gifted that scarce public-owned resource by the government, the cronies then auctioned it privately for astronomical sums of money. The argument that consumers today enjoy low prices because the privateers got it cheap, is a fraud. Customers are getting those cheap prices even after this double sale, after the crony cabal had milked huge profits in its own private auction. Had that process been cut out, consumer benefits would have been far greater. Also auctioned alongside were the government’s individual ministers, posts and integrity. Two auctions for the price of none.

The press conference saw one abstract query and a no less abstract reply on ‘black money.’ Not a single question on Indian illegal funds parked overseas in Swiss and other banks. None on why the government does not reveal the names it has in this connection. The illegal flow of such funds, according to the startling report from Global Financial Integrity, costs the nation $530 million every single day, on average. As much as $96 billion (twice the highest estimate of the 2G scam losses) has been lost in just five years between 2004 and 2008. And who are the main culprits?  “High net-worth individuals and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India’s private sector.”  Seems a good subject to ask the Prime Minister some questions about. But it didn’t happen.

Nor was there a single question about the Amnesty / Immunity schemes his government seems to be planning for such criminals. This, even as it plans tougher and tougher laws for ordinary citizens, abridgement of rights for displaced persons, gutting of the public distribution system and arrests for those protesting the incredible price rise.

Nor, while on morality and corruption, was there a single question from the editors about the Prime Minister making Vilasrao Deshmukh Union Minister of Rural Development. A man castigated by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Maharashtra now controls rural development across the country.  The Maharashtra government has even paid up the Rs. 1 million ($22,000) fine imposed by the Court in that case, signalling acceptance that wrong had been done while he was chief minister of that state. Manmohan Singh cannot plead  ‘coalition compulsions’ here. Deshmukh is from his own party. If he remains in the union cabinet after the Supreme Court trashes him, it is only because Dr. Singh wants him there. There were no ‘coalition compulsions’ in brewing the Commonwealth Games scam either, but that too wasn’t touched upon  in the questions.

It would, of course, be insane to expect the editors to raise a question on the nearly quarter of a million farmers who have committed suicide in this country since 1995, going by the data of the National Crime Records Bureau. Or on migrations out of villages going berserk. Or on worsening levels of unemployment. But there was not a single one on hunger either.

The only serious question on food inflation, linking that to its impact on the poor in a country with 8.5 per cent growth came from a foreigner. Now our editors present knew this to be a burning issue, even for their middle class audiences. Yet Sara Sidner of CNN was the only one to raise it. The other question on inflation related to the need for ” the second (round of) structural reforms to be done in agriculture.” Another query on price rise  —  not linked to hunger or poor people  — was not answered at all. The Prime Minister was not challenged when he virtually equated losses in the 2G scam with subsidies to the poor. “If auctions are not taking place then what is the basis for you to calculate a loss?… It is very much a function of what is your starting point.

And also depends upon your opinion. We have a budget which gives subsidy for food, 80,000 crores  per annum, some people may say these foodgrains should be sold at market place. Will we say then because they are not sold at market prices, because you are giving them a subsidy, it is a loss of 80,000 crores?”

Firstly, he equates plunder with the pathetic subsidies tossed at the world’s largest hungry population.  We rank 67th out of 84 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Secondly, subsidies for the super-rich soar each year. While food subsidies for hundreds of millions were cut by $ 100 million in the last budget.

All those carping critics attacking direct cash transfers miss the point that the government has become really good at this. It routinely transfers billions of rupees, directly or indirectly,  at each opportunity to the corporate world. And it is equally good at corporate karza maafi. $ 110 (nearly $ 18 billion)  billion under just three heads (direct corporate income tax, customs and excise duties) in the last budget.  That’s two and a half times the 2G scam estimate. It also gets bigger with each new budget. The dominant media have never once raised a peep of protest against the corporate plunder of public money thanks to the government Dr. Singh presides over. Nor did they in this conference with the prime minister. So Dr. Singh is understandably peeved when asked about the petty cash  transfers of the 2G scam to a handful of hucksters. The prime minister wanted to know if the editors would view the Rs. 80,000 crore his government commits to food subsidies as ‘losses.’

Actually, most of them do. Quite a few of the editors would like to see all subsidies directed at the poor to be wound up.  The politically correct way of going about this is to call for ‘streamlining of systems,’ or ‘proper targeting,’ or ‘efficiency.’  A demand never once made of the tsunami of subsidies given to a handful of super-rich (media owners amongst them).

One positive point: Dr. Singh announced no new Group of Ministers at his conference with the editors. Though one’s probably required to conduct a GoM Census. That might help Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee figure out how many of these he chairs. And spare him the embarrassment of having to ask “so which GoM is this?” at his next meeting. A ‘lame duck’ government? Not really. More like an integrity-challenged Cuckoo.

P. SAINATH is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, where this piece appears, and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories From India’s Poorest Districts. He can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

 

More articles by:

P Sainath is the founder and editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ You can contact the author here: @PSainath_org

Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail