[Marxism] India: Intensify the Struggle against Food Inflation and Hunger
epoliticus at gmail.com
Sat Sep 5 12:58:55 MDT 2009
The following editorial appears in the September 2009 issue of
Liberation, the monthly organ of the CPI(ML) Liberation. I have
nominally edited the article to improve readability for the U.S.
India observed her 62rd year of Independence with a solemn Prime
Ministerial pronouncement: not a single Indian citizen would be
allowed to go hungry. The Premier was immediately contradicted by
reality and lampooned by fresh reports of starvation deaths (from
Bihar) and farmers' suicides (from Andhra Pradesh). More ominously,
we know that for every starvation death, there shall be at least a
thousand men, women, and children eking out a miserable existence on
one or half-a-meal per day. It is evident that 62 years of
independence have not given us freedom from either extreme hunger,
which results in starvation deaths and grabs headlines, or from
endemic hunger, the silent killer which slowly slaughters tens of
thousands across the land unnoticed, the deaths being explained away
as those caused by "disease" or "improper food habits".
The situation shall deteriorate further in the coming months, the
Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister inform us, with rising
food prices and plummeting stocks of edibles. Their explanation
centers on the poor monsoons and consequent drought conditions in 246
out of India's 593 districts, i.e., nearly half the country. Well,
this appears to be quite a plausible argument. But wait, have not food
prices been rising through the roof also during the past few years of
good monsoons? Did India need unusual droughts, or floods, to
experience a chilling series of starvation deaths and farmers'
suicides during the previous term of the Congress-led United
Progressive Alliance; or to be ranked below countries of sub-Saharan
Africa and all of South Asia, barring Bangladesh, in the Global Hunger
Index and the India Hunger Index released by the International Food
Policy Research Institute in October 2008?
Food scarcity - at least for the poor - is thus perennial to this vast
land of ours. Vagaries of monsoon only worsen it occasionally and do
not constitute the root cause.
So we cannot just let the powers that be cover up their own policy
failures by finding a convenient scapegoat in the failure of monsoons.
Why did they allow Indian agriculture, which boasts a much higher
proportion of cultivable land compared to most other countries
including China, to fall prey to decay and decline over the past six
decades? What prevented them from expanding – rather than curtailing,
as they had actually been doing – public investment in agriculture?
Why does the Agriculture Minister denounce “black marketeering or
hoarding” but remain silent on forward trading in agricultural
commodities, a major source of speculation and artificial rise in
We must confront the Union government with such questions. We must
demand: (1) Meet the rural poor’s urgent need for a monthly provision
of 50 kg rice, or wheat, at Rs. 2 per kg; (2) Bring edible oils,
sugar, and pulses within the scope of Public Distribution System; (3)
Implement the recommendations, hitherto neglected, of the Commission
for Agriculture Costs and Prices on Minimum Support Prices; (4)
Vastly expand the scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act, not just as a relief measure but to improve rural infrastructure;
(5) Mete out quick punishment to all officials responsible for delays
and irregularities in the implementation of the N.R.E.G.A.
While conducting militant agitations on immediate demands like these
against the Central and State governments as well as various local
authorities, we should bring pressure to bear on the Centre to
expedite the proposed legislation that vows to convert food security
into a legal entitlement. And why should bureaucrats, ministers and
“experts” alone determine the contents of the proposed bill? We
should demand that peasants’ and agrarian labourers’ organizations,
trade unions and other mass organizations must be consulted, so that
the Bill really addresses their needs and aspirations. Once the Act
is passed, we should start using it as a catalyst for action, a tool
for collective bargaining to pressure the state machinery, as we have
been doing with the N.R.E.G.A.
In a country with 200 million food-insecure people - the largest
number of hungry people in the world - the struggle against the
increase in food prices and for freedom from hunger, including fear of
hunger, is both an immediate and long term movement. We must lead and
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