Angus Maddison has noted that India was the richest country in the world and had controlled a third of global wealth until the 17th century. The village was the centre of a rural economy that was an economic powerhouse of entrepreneurialism. The British Raj almost dismantled this system however by introducing mono crop activities and mill made products, and post independent India has failed to repair the economic fabric.
If anything implies that India’s social and economic fabric requires restoring, it is the findings of the 2014 global MultidimensionalPoverty Index. Out of its 1.2 billion-plus population, India is home to over 340 million destitute people and is the second poorest country in South Asia after war-torn Afghanistan.
Some 640 million poor people live in India (40% of the world’s poor). Just 20 years ago, India had the second-best social indicators among the six South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan). Now it has the second worst position, ahead only of Pakistan. Bangladesh has less than half of India’s per-capita GDP but has infant and child mortality rates lower than that of India.
What is going wrong?
Former Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram once claimed that his government’s economic neoliberal policies were pro-growth and pro equity and envisaged 85% of India’s population eventually living in well-planned cities. That would mean at least 600 million moving to cities. He stated that urbanisation constitutes ‘natural progress’. After 24 years of a shift towards neo-liberalism and increasing urbanisation, to what extent has the process thus far been ‘pro-equity’ or ‘progressive’?
The drive towards neo-liberalism and urbanisation has thus far been underpinned by unconstitutional land takeovers and the trampling of democratic rights. For supporters of cronyism, cartels and the manipulation of markets, which to all extents and purposes is what economic ‘neo-liberalism’ has entailed over the last two decades (see this, this and this), there have been untold opportunities for well-placed individuals to make an under-the-table fast buck from various infrastructure projects and privatisation sell offs: assets such as airports, seeds, ports and other infrastructure built up with public money or toil have been sold off into private hands.
The neoliberal model of development has seen the poverty alleviation rate in India remain around the same as it was back in 1991 or even in pre-independence India (0.8 percent), while the ratio between the top and bottom ten percent of the population has doubled during this period (see this and this). According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.
Unsurprisingly, struggles (both violent and non-violent) are now taking place in India. The naxalites and Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor’s exploitation. How easy it is to lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and unaccountable cartels.
The subjugation of India
Powerful corporations are shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India and have signed secretive Memorandums of Understanding with the government. The full military backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to hand over land to mineral-hungry industries to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development. Around the world, this oil-dependent, urban-centric, high energy, high consumption model is stripping the environment bare and negatively impacting the climate and ecology.
The links between the Monsanto/Syngenta/Walmart-backed Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the US sanctioning and backing of the opening up of India’s nuclear sector to foreign interests have already shown what the models of ‘development’ being pushed onto people really entails, not least in terms of the powerful corporate interests that really benefit and the ordinary people that lose out (see this and this).
Almost 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economicliberalisation. And yet the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed and/or envisaged only leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no water, bad health, poor or falling yields and an impending agrarian crisis (see this, this, this and this). This form of agriculture has meant the US and the UK are now facing similar crises (see this and this). It’s a global crisis.
In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land. Moreover, it has been a case of massive tax breaks for industry and corporations and underinvestment in ruralinfrastructure and farming. It’s not difficult to see where policy makers’ priorities lie.
With GDP growth slowing and automation replacing human labour the world over in order to decrease labour costs and boost profit, where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of former agricultural workers or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as corporations move in and seek to capitalise and mechanise industries that currently employ tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions)?
Farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem’: a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth producers of a nation, only became a problem when Western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image. This is who is really setting the ‘development’ agenda.
India is acquiescing to foreign corporations. Take a look at the free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India. It all adds up to powerful trans-national corporations trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights.
We could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments. This agreement could see rural Indian society being restructured and devastated in favour of Western corporate interests and adversely impacting hundreds of millions and their livelihoods and traditional ways of living.
The bedrock of any society is its agriculture. Without food there can be no life. Without food security, there can be no genuine independence. Nowhere is this the case than in India where 64% of the population derives its sustenance from the agricultural sector. To control Indian agriculture is to exert control over the country. One needs to control only seeds, agro-chemicals and resultant debt and infrastructure loans. The World Bank, the IMF and the US State Department are well aware of this fact. Indeed, US foreign policy has almost always rested on the control of the agriculture of poorer countries.
Looting the economy
Global agritech companies have been granted license to influence key aspects of agriculture by controlling seeds and chemical inputs and by funding and thus distorting the biotech research agenda and aspects of overall development policy. Monsanto already controls the cotton industry in India and is increasingly shaping agri-policy and the knowledge paradigm by funding agricultural research in public universities and institutes: it has been described as the “contemporary East India Company”.
In an attempt to control agriculture and despite evidence that suggests otherwise, agritech corporations promote the notion that they have the answers to feeding the world. People are generally hungry not because of insufficient agricultural production but because they do not have money to buy food, access to land to grow food or because of complex problems like food spoilage, poor food distribution systems and a lack of reliable water and infrastructure for irrigation, storage, transport and financing. If these deeper problems are not addressed and as long as food is not reaching those who are hungry and poor, increased agricultural production will not help reduce food insecurity.
We already produce enough food to feed the world’s population and did so even at the peak of the world food crisis in 2008. Moreover, India canalready feed itself and arguably doesn’t need modern technology of poisonous pesticides, destructive fertilizers and patented GE seeds that can’t match 1890 or even 1760 AD yields in India. India has been self-sufficient in food staples for over a decade and more than that for cereals. The country has reached this stage through, first and foremost, the knowledge and skill of farmers who have bred and saved seed themselves and exchanged their seed in ways that made our fields so bio-diverse.
Globally, four GM crops account for almost 100 percent of worldwide GM crop acreage. All four have been developed for large-scale industrial farming systems and are used as cash crops for export, to produce fuel or for processed food and animal feed. The answer to food security, food democracy and local/national food sovereignty does not lie with making farmers dependent on a few large corporations whose bottom line is exploiting agriculture for their own benefit under the guise of ‘feeding the world’.
Various reports have concluded that we need to support diverse, vibrant and sustainable agroecological methods of farming and develop locally-based food economies (see this and this). After all, it is small farms and peasant farmers (more often than not serving local communities) that are more productive than giant industrial (export-oriented) farms and which produce most of the world’s food on much less land. However, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction.
Part of the current ‘development’ agenda in India is based on dismantling the Public Distribution System for food. Policy analyst Devinder Sharma notes that the government may eventually stop supporting farmers by doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price for farmers and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. He argues that farmers would be encouraged to grow cash crops for supermarkets and to ‘compete’ in a market based on trade policies that work in favour of big landowners and heavily subsidised Western agriculture.
The result will be what the WTO/ World Bank/IMF have been telling India to for a long time: to displace thefarming population so that agribusiness can find a stronghold in India (aided by the free trade agreement, which could see land in the hand of foreign entities who prioritise cash crops for export).
Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, Walmart, Archer Daniels, Sygenta and other large corporations are ultimately eyeing control of the food system from lab to seed to field to shop to plate.
Hostage to ideology
Me-first acquisitiveness is now pervasive throughout the upper strata of society. Run out and buy some useless product because Kareena, Priyanka or another icon of deception says ‘because you’re worth it’… but never ever let this narcissism give way to contemplate why the rivers and soils have been poisoned and people are being been made ill in places like Punjab, agriculture is being hijacked by powerful agritech concers, land is being grabbed on behalf of any number of corporations or why ordinary people are violently opposing state-corporate power.
Much of this acceptance results from deals hammered out behind closed doors. Much of it results because too many are conditioned to be ignorant of the facts or to accept that all of the above is necessary for ‘growth’.
This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains for being representations of god or for being somehow touched by the hand of god. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.
Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’. How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism, as well as the ignorance of reality ‘out there’.
And the corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.
Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands, the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP. And India suddenly becomes capitalism’s poster boy ‘economic miracle’.
If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, consider that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed. Forests are just part of the problem. We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven some wildlife species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.
Levels of consumption were unsustainable, long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits. The current model of development is based on a deceitful ideology that attempts to justify and sell a system that is designed to fail the majority of the global population and benefit the relative few.
This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources. The outcome is also environmental destruction and an elitist agenda being forwarded by rich eugenicists, who voice concerns over there being ‘simply too many mouths’. The super rich who currently run the world regard most of humanity as a problem to be ‘dealt with’.
The type of ‘progress and development’ on offer makes any beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived them of their lands and livelihoods. If people cannot be removed from their land via making it economically non-viable to continue farming, tens of thousands of militia into the tribal areas to displace 300,000 people, place 50,000 in camps and carry out rapes and various human rights abuses.
The type of development that we are seeing is legitimised by a certain mindset and ideology: the ‘poor’ must be helped out of their awful ‘backwardness’ by the West and its powerful corporations and billionaire ‘philanthropists’. As with Monsanto and the Gates Foundation in Africa and the ‘helping’ of Africans by imposing a highly profitable (for the corporations) and controlling system of agriculture, the underlying premise harks back to colonialism and an imperialist mindset. What some might regard as ‘backward’ stems from an ethnocentric ideology, which is used to legitimize the destruction of communities and economies that were once locally based and self sufficient. The disease if offered as the cure.
If what is set out above tells us anything, it that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal hemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without.
“There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada , the aboriginals in Australia , the tribal people in India . Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.” – Noam Chomsky.
Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva callsa view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror andowner of the Earth. This has led that the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.
And therein lies the true enemy of development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.
To open economies to private concerns, proponents of economic neoliberalism are always fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods will be used. When increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear do not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, beefed up ‘homeland security’ and paramilitary force is an ever-present option.
Across the globe, powerful corporations and their compliant politicians seek to sweep away peoples and their indigenous knowledge and culture in the chase for profit and control. They call this ‘development’. They will allow nothing and no one to stand in their way.
Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.