Gist of EPW September Week 1, 2018

Topics covered:

  1. Politics of Naming the ‘Naxal’
  2. Crop Residue Burning
  3. A Manifesto for Socialist Development in the 21st Century
  4. Revealing the Demonetisation Debacle
  5. A Glance at the Redefining Nationalism

 

Politics of Naming the ‘Naxal’

Who are the Urban Naxals?

  • The term Urban Naxals remains undefined. It is best attributed to a book and a few essays by film-maker and social media opinion-maker Vivek Agnihotri. His book, Urban Naxals: The Making Of Buddha In A Traffic Jam was released in May this year. Union Minister Smriti Irani was the chief guest of the event.
  • The phrase loosely means people of Naxalite bent of mind who reside in urban areas and work as activists, supporters and protectors of the ideology while the active Naxals battle it out in the jungles and vast swathes of Maoist-dominated areas.

Who were the Original Naxals?

  • The parent term, Naxal entered Indian lexicons in the decade of 1960 and has acquired a certain meaning over the years. The term Naxal comes from a village called Naxalbari in Siliguri district of West Bengal. Naxalism is understood at two levels – as a socio-economic issue and a law and order problem.
  • The people who launched Naxal operations were frustrated with growing inequality among the various classes of society and government’s apathy to address the routine grievances of the poor.
  • They launched armed rebellion against the system and the government dealt with it as a law and order problem. In 2008, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “Naxalism is the greatest threat to our internal security.”
  • The first NaxaI group sprang off as an offshoot of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A small group of the party decided to break away to launch an armed struggle against big landowners and establishment.
  • Their objective was to capture additional lands of big zamindars and distribute the same among the tilling farmers and landless labourers. The leadership was provided by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal. They became the first Naxals or the original Naxals.

From the Author’s Pespective (Reader’s Discretion is advised)

  • In the government’s categorisation, the “urban Naxals,” at least so far, are lawyers, rights activists, poets, writers, journalists, and professors, deemed to be “active members” of the Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist).
  • Bernard D’Mello – the author of India after Naxalbari: Unifinished History (2018) – Says a Naxal is one who cannot remain unmoved upon finding that most of the Indian people are still inadequately fed, miserably clothed, wretchedly housed, poorly educated, and without access to decent medical care, and feels that this state of being stems from India’s deeply oppressive and exploitative social order, crying out for revolutionary change. My perception is that, in this sense of the term, a great many Indians might indeed be Naxals, whether urban or rural and you do not have to necessarily be a member or a supporter of the CPI (Maoist) to be one.
  • The recent attempt of the Maharashtra government to arrest some of the leading social activists and raid the houses of two Dalit intellectuals has been seen by the defenders of democracy as the suppression of the democratic right to dissent.
  • Ruling party combinations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party–Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra, seem to be rais-ing the bogey of charges against intellectuals and civil rights activists as a problem of “law and order,” basically with two pur-poses.
  • First, they raise such a bogey to possibly overcome the “acute” sense of anxiety stemming from the feeling that the 2019 general elections are going to be tough for them.
  • Second, the central government in general and Government of Maharashtra in particular, have involved themselves in the political production of the term “urban Naxal.”
  • For the state, designating someone as “Naxal” is not a mere act of verbal naming. On the contrary, it often deploys methods that are both spectacularly terrifying as well as morally offensive.
  • Such a sense of humiliation seems to have played out in a compounded form, particularly for the Dalit intellectuals. Their humiliation, along with the rest, began with the police raiding their houses without following any intelligible procedure.
  • This overreach, thus, involved not only the violation of the right to privacy but, much more importantly, the moral right to one’s unconditional dignity. This moral good was put on trial in the police interrogation.

Conclusion

  • Activists are being called “Urban Naxals” to criminalise dissent and for holding a differing ideological position. The term, now planted in public discourse and state speech, should be rejected in a constitutional democracy like ours. It violates chapter three of our Indian constitution – fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and the right to life under Article 21.

Crop Residue Burning

Introduction to the issue

  • Stubble burning refers to the use of a controlled fire to clear the crop residue that remains in the paddock after harvest and could more accurately be called ‘crop residue burning.
  • It is mainly carried out in Haryana and Punjab.
  • Open burning of husk produces harmful smoke that causes pollution. Open burning of husk is of incomplete combustion in nature. Hence large amount of toxic pollutants are emitted in the atmosphere. Pollutants contain harmful gases like Methane, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

What is combine harvesting?

  • Combines are machines that harvest, thresh i.e separate the grain, and also clean the separated grain, all at once.
  • The problem, however, is that the machine doesn’t cut close enough to the ground, leaving stubble behind that the farmer has no use for.
  • There is pressure on the farmer to sow the next crop in time for it to achieve a full yield. The quickest and cheapest solution, therefore, is to clear the field by burning the stubble.                       

Why do Farmers Burn?

  • Cost Factor: The straw management equipment is costly and process is time consuming. Also, the cost of stubble management is not taken into account while determining the minimum support price (MSP).
  • Increasing mechanization of agriculture: Stubble problem was not as severe when paddy was harvested manually because the farmers use to cut it as close to the ground as possible. Due to mechanization the crop residue that remains in the field is of larger quantity. Labour costs are very high now
  • Those who want fodder have to get the stubble removed manually or use specialised machines to do the job. But that is costly.
  • Time Factor: Delay in sowing means yield decline, this leaves very little time to clear the farm for sowing.
  • Unlike wheat stalks that are used as animal fodder, the paddy straw has high silica content that animals can’t digest.
  • Since farmers need to sow wheat within a fortnight of harvesting paddy, they burn the straw to save time, labour and money.

Analysis of the issue

  • The assured irrigation-based agriculture of north-west India produces a large quantity of wheat and paddy to ensure food security of the country. This region produces an equally large quantity of crop residue.
  • During late October to middle November, the whole of the north-west region appears to be burning and the sky is filled with gases injurious to health.
  • This makes children and the elderly prone to sickness, which often proves fatal in many cases. With decline in visibility due to smog, road/rail accidents also take place frequently, snatching away thousands of lives.
  • Due to high levels of pollution in the air, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been issuing directions to governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to take concrete steps to check this menace.
  • The governments have been issuing orders to fine those farmers found burning crop residue. But, until now, these orders have been largely defied by farmers who find no other alternative to burning.
  • They hold the view that alternatives are costly. Zero tillage technology through the use of Happy Seeder machines or mixing of crop residue in the soil through mulching requires purchase of costly machines beyond their reach. The operation of these machines requires tractors with stronger horsepower than those possessed by most of the farmers.

Paddy Straw as a Resource

  • Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh produce nearly 40 million tonnes of paddy straw annually.
  • Punjab alone produces 22–23 million tonnes of paddy straw which is mainly burnt (CRRID 2018).
  • This precious raw material, when burnt, causes pollution, environment degradation, and warming of temperature, leading to accidents as well as afflicting people with breathing-related diseases.
  • This is avoidable as paddy straw can be used for the production of energy, thereby generating employment and incomes for farmers.
  • At the same time, productivity of soil can be maintained, environmental pollution can be contained and consequently, ill health of the people and smog-related accidents can be avoided.
  • There are several uses suggested by experts to convert crop residue, which is an important resource.
  • There are four uses for paddy straw and other crop residues, such as generation of power, production of cardboard and packing material, production of ethanol by fermentation, and bio-compressed natural gas (CNG). In addition, the agricultural research system has been working on building new machines to mulch paddy and other crop residues in the soil itself to increase fertility.

Way Forward

  • It needs to be noted that the whole region is water-stressed and groundwater tables are falling at alarming rates. Production of paddy is the major factor causing water shortage in the region.
  • Agricultural experts are stressing the need to reduce this crop from at least 20% of sown area. The supply of paddy straw should not be calculated at present rates in the near and distant future, for the policy towards utilisation of paddy straw as a resource has to take this aspect into consideration.
  • A common agency like the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, can play this role better by involving different ministries and experts. The states need to be given a solution acceptable to all the stakeholders. In order to tackle this problem, there is a need to take a relook at the national policy on biofuels, and budgetary allocation of machinery subsidy in light of the emergence of new and efficient technologies for bio-CNG, ethanol, and manure production.

A Manifesto for Socialist Development in the 21st Century

Introduction

  • In early 2017, it was revealed that eight men owned as much wealth as half the world’s population (Oxfam 2017).
  • This is in a world where, according to the most conservative figures, around one in three workers live in poverty. More realistic calculations show that the majority of the world’s population suffers from poverty of one form or another.
  • These inequalities and deprivations are only one symptom of capitalist development. Others include environmental destruction, systematic racism and gender discrimination, each of which generate their own poverty burdens.

Analysis of the issue

  • Theories of capitalist development are united by a common conception of labour as a resource, or as an input into the development process.

Such capital-centred development perspectives reproduce themselves in at least four ways:

  • They identify capital accumulation as the basis for the development of the poor;
  • They identify elites (corporations and/or states) as drivers of capital accumulation;
  • Myriad actions, movements and struggles by the poor are disregarded (that is, not considered developmental), and are often considered to be hindrances to development;
  • Elite repression and exploitation of the poor is legitimised, especially when the latter contest capital-centred development.

A socialist development strategy in a poor state must contribute to

  • Immediately ameliorating the conditions of the labouring classes within that state
  • Establishing the foundations for the (re)production and expansion of labouring class power through a newly established state
  • Increasing the possibilities for other socialist states to emerge, and collaborate within (but ultimately beyond) the capitalist world system.

Solutions to overcome the problem created by Capitalism

  • Capitalist exploitation occurs because labouring classes lack the resources (such as money and land) to sustain themselves, and are compelled to sell their labour power for wages. A universal basic income (UBI) can contribute to eliminating this compulsion, the construction of a solidarity-based political economy, and to the socialisation of reproductive labour. It will also, immediately, alleviate many forms of deprivation and poverty.
  • The UBI will have one condition attached to it. Every able-bodied adult recipient will have a duty to carry out some unpaid household work within their communities to support and care for those who are unable to take care of themselves.
  • Cash transfers in poor countries have helped combat poverty. For example, in the 2000s cash transfer programmes in Malawi helped raise school attendance among girls by 40%, and in Namibia, they cut malnutrition (from 42% to 10%) and truancy (from 40% to almost 0%).
  • A socialist industrial policy aims to shift manufacturing away from exchange value (for profit) towards the production of use values (to serve workers’ and the wider communities’ needs). The transformation will be managed to maintain some foreign exchange earnings to purchase essential goods that cannot be produced locally. It will also aim to shift manufacturing away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy-based production through investments in the latter.
  • The objectives of an agrarian reform are to (i) contribute to the achievement of national food security (where enough food is produced to satisfy the populations’ needs), and (ii) to generate high-quality employment. In contrast to the examples of pro-capitalist agrarian reform, these objectives serve the goal of de-commodifying land, food and natural resources, and, in so doing, establishing a society where adequate food consumption becomes a real human right.
  • Agrarian reform would extend into urban centres. Unused buildings can be transformed into greenhouses, flat roofs can be used as new growing spaces, unnecessary roads can be transformed into fields, allotments and parks, home gardening will be encouraged and facilitated through provision of inputs, technologies and permaculture education.
  • The protection and preservation of indigenous people’s right to live according to their practices can potentially inform our conception of socialist development. We have to learn from them – the art of living in plenitude, knowing how to live in harmony with cycles of mother Earth, of the cosmos, of life and of history, and in balance with every form of existence in the state of permanent respect.
  • The foreign policy will be founded upon a dual approach. On the one hand, the guiding principle of external relations is non-aggression and the search for peaceful coexistence with capitalist powers. And on the other, we will establish links with social movements around the globe that strive to transform their societies. The assistance to these movements will consist of the demonstration effect.

Conclusions

  • Capitalism has established enough wealth on a global scale for a world free of poverty but it can never realise this potential. It is a system of endless competitive capital accumulation, exploitation, oppression, and environmental destruction.
  • Mainstream theories of development may differ on the weight they allocate to markets and states in the development process. They concur, however, that labour exploitation are necessary ingredients of capitalist development.
  • Capitalist theories are based on a fundamental paradox—that while they proclaim their wish for the amelioration of the conditions of the world’s poor, they do so by advancing theories and practices that legitimate and facilitate the exploitation of the world’s poor.
  • Socialist approaches must be founded upon the recognition that labour exploitation is the curse to real human development.

Revealing the Demonetisation Debacle

Context

  • On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that all Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, comprising 86% of the total value of the currency in circulation at that time, would no longer be recognised as legal tender.
  • The Reserve Bank of India’s second annual report shows that since demonetisation cash transactions have increased.
  • Nearly two years after demonetization, about 99.3% of the notes sucked out of circulation has been returned. Besides, the value of bank notes in circulation has increased by 37.7% over the year, reaching Rs 18,037 lakh crore by the end of March 2018.

Outcomes of demonetization:

  • Over the last two years, at least three of major claims of demonetization have collapsed.
  • First, it was supposed to flush out black money and end corruption. The government predicted that Rs 3 lakh crore in currency would not return to the banks. This has proved to be false, as most of the cash has returned.
  • Second, demonetisation was to help detect fake currency, which apparently funded terror and distorted the economy. The government claimed that at any point of time, there was Rs 400 crore in fake currency notes floating in the economy. Nine months after demonetisation, it was claimed that Rs 11.23 crore in fake currency had been detected. Now, the Reserve Bank reports a huge jump in fake Rs 2,000 notes, which were introduced after demonetisation.
  • Third, demonetisation was to pave the way to a cashless economy and the gleaming new world of digital India. Two years later, the amount of cash with the public has reached a record high, the bank has claimed.

Analysis of the issue

  • The revelation in the 2017-18 Annual Report of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) that 99.3% of the specified bank notes (SBNs) have returned from circulation has put an end to the current government’s fanciful propaganda of demonetisation being successful in curbing black money
  • The whole exercise of demonetisation was done in the most undemocratic manner, disrespecting matured opinions of institutions.
  • Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has gone on record to say that he had conveyed his opposition to any such adventures a year earlier. Similar opposition came from all other previous governors, too. Historically, the central bank has been resistant to governmental pressure for demonetising high-denomination notes because of the same reason.
  • Demonetisation exercises, erstwhile, had targeted such high-denomination notes that constituted only 0.6% or so of the total currency in circulation. In the current case, where over 86% of the currency was being demonetised, it must be backed up with substantial intellectual exercises on issues like household currency-holding propensities and the country’s economic structure.
  • Of the total workforce, over 92% belong to the informal category. Even in such an environment, and under the pressure of transition to a “less-cash society,” “currency in circulation” grew by 37% in 2017–18 and the currency to GDP ratio increased from 8.8% in 2016–17 to 10.9% in 2017–18.
  • Apart from the anecdotal evidence put out by the media and intellectuals on the massive suffering that the citizenry at large have faced due to losses of output, jobs and incomes, there are no systematic estimates of the real impact of the note ban. A plausible reason could be that the country’s statistical machinery does not capture data on the informal economy on a regular basis.

Conclusion

  • When the objectives of arresting black money have not been achieved, it appears bizarre how the purpose of demonetisation is shifted to containing of terrorism and Naxalism, closure of shell companies, widening of the tax base and increasing digital payments.
  • All of these could have been achieved without inflicting such a heavy toll of miseries on the nation, and particularly on poor households.

A Glance at the Redefining Nationalism

  • In Kerala, during the floods that devastated large parts of the state with as many as 300 persons dead or missing, natives—Hindus, Muslims and Christians—came together as one to provide relief to one and all in a manner that is being singled out for its professionalism and speed, unmatched till date by any other response to tragedies in other states in India.
  • Some of those who helped with relief work lost their lives and, in all probability, would not have subscribed to the patriotism and nationalism being peddled today. Are they any less patriotic or nationalistic?
  • Thus, we need to redefine nationalism as a thought process that helps the nation move forward, by working towards empowering the minorities, especially Dalits and women; preventing the spread of revanchist ideas that hark back to an imagined utopian nation state; and working for the collective good, thereby spreading the message of inclusiveness and oneness. These are the kinds of interventions necessary to redefine patriotism and, by inclusion, nationalism.

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