ARE WE RUSHING TOWARDS PERILOUS TIMES? WHAT MAY BE IN STORE?

VARGHESE PAMPLANIL

 

The pandemic Covid–19 seems to redrawing the contours of societies all over the world. The economic downtrend consequent to the paradigm shift in the economic scenario to the disadvantage of the vast segment of human population deprived of sufficient food, widespread job losses, inadequate medical supplies, scare hospital facilities to treat the raging pandemic bodeill for humankind. The jockeying for world hegemony by certain countries have created convulsions. 

 

Our country is also going through trying times in the social, political and economic spheres. The shortsightedness and narrow sectarian views of the governing dispensation add to the woes.

 

Our country may be cohesive as a geographical entity but is very divided on the basis of class, caste and regions.

 

The Indian Society

The caste system in India is the construct of the Indo- Aryans, who had overwhelmed Northern India around 2000 BCE. The fair skinned Indo-Aryans arrogated themselves as “Devas” and marginalised India’s original inhabitants as “Assuras/Vanaras”.

 

Despite the artificial divisions fostered in the Indian social milieu, there are no pure bloods — large scale mixing of genes had happened and continue to take place due to inter-breeding among the various castes and classes of Indians throughout our chequered history.

 

The Double Standards

The privileged castes were well aware of which side of the bread was buttered. They had remained cosy with the ruling cliques, including the now derided Mughals.

 

The votaries of the virtues of the Indian culture shamelessly sided with the colonial British rules. If a caste wise census of Indians, butchered mercilessly by the British, is taken, with rare exceptions, the now condemned lower castes were victims of the British fury. The so called upper castes had been collaborators of the colonisers. It is the, now marginalised classes, who boldly bared their chests to the British bullets and forfeited their lives for India’s freedom. How many upper class persons were shot and killed in the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre? Any idea?

 

The weak and the fearful may exhibit pretended bravado. In the crunch situation, they will take to their heels and run for cover.

 

The Modern State

The modern State is, by and large, a secular entity; it keeps religions at arms length. The State is neutral towards religion. The U.S. constitution as well as those of Europe, disassociate themselves from the predominant Christian religion. These countries do not fund or sponsor any religion —religions function within the boundaries of the laws of the State. However, Protestant white conservative evangelicals hold considerable sway on the U.S. government, mostly  through the rightist Republican Party.

 

Diehard Islamic countries are unfortunately theocratic States. And the world is worse because of it.

 

The preamble of the Indian constitution emphasises our secularity. Ours is a sovereign socialistic republic, where every citizen is equal before the Law. But the present dispensation seems to be bent up on transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra. The present rulers tout the irreligious affinity and affiliation want only for all the world to see and laugh at. They blatantly participate in the Hindu religious functions and  take pride in their Hindutva stance; looked upon the beliefs and food habits of non-upper caste Hindus. Quite often, they resort to violence against minorities, especially the Muslims.

 

The followers of non-Hindu religions are sought to be treated as second class citizens. Non-Hindus are told to be subservient to the majority community. The aim seems to be to isolate and demean the minority religions whose origins are outside Indian borders.

 

The other side of the coin

On their part, the adherents of Islam and Christianity, should never entertain the idea that their religions are superior to the beliefs,practices and worship pattern of the religions evolved in this land. Muslims, in particular stand out as “sore thumbs” in their behaviours, manners and  attires. They vehemently adhere to the symbols and practices of arid Arab region, alien to our land. Hindus, obviously and legitimately resent these. The followers of foreign originated religions fail to realise that they are Indians “first and last”. They seem to forget that they all are Indians; born, nourished, sustained and finally buried in the soil of India.

 

Outside India’s borders, we are called “Hindu or Hindi”; and not Islamic or Christian. Always remember,we quench our thirst by the waters of India; our hunger is assuaged by the food grown with the aid ofthe waters of Indus, Ganga, Yamuna, Krishna, Kaveri and other rivers. Our culture is ancient.

 

The Christian hegemony and the the assumed superiority of Islam irritates the followers of indigenous religions. They should never think even for a moment that they are superior to the ideas and culture of India.

 

WE ALL ARE MOTHER INDIA’S CHILDREN. NO ONE LIVING IN INDIA SHOULD EVER SHOUT “PAKISTAN ZINDABAD”.

 

NO ONE SHOULD  FEEL THAT THE AYATOLLAH OR THE POPE IS A NOTCH ABOVE A HINDU MAHANT OR MADATHIPHATBI.

 

THEY RAYS OF CIVILISATION HAD BEAMED TO OUR LAND MUCH BEFORE EUROPE.

 

Statecraft and Governance

Unbridled arrogance and the attitude: “I know everything and won’t listen to any one; my opinions are always right; I will steamroll any one standing in my way” is a dangerous tendency. Governance is not as simple as running a pan shop. A wise and mature ruler seeks the opinions of knowledgable persons. They welcome the ideas and expertise of technologists and financial experts necessary to run an efficient and useful administration.

 

Rabble rousing and empty slogans have only short term life. Religious gimmicks will be of temporary help.

 

When the pangs of hunger gnaw at the innards of humans, gods and mantras will take to their heels. Rhetoric will be of no use in a crunch situation.

An autocratic and arrogant ruler spells doom for any nation. People with matured minds will listen to many,  including those who disagree.  Good governance is not easy. People at the top ought to know the nuances of managing the affairs of a country, especially in economic matters, more so in a developing country as diverse as India. Sadly this seems to be absent in the present dispensation.

 

No one is the custodian of all wisdom; everyone has feet of clay; almost all have no answers to all problems.  Only the arrogant dare to exhibit the imaginary broad chest.

 

Demonetisation of High Denomination Bank Notes

The first monetisation was the taking out of circulation of Rs. 1000, Rs. 5000, and Rs.10,000 notes in January 1946. The ban did not have much impact, as the currency of such higher denominations, was not accessible to the common people.

 

The second demonetisation of registered notes of Rs.1000, Rs. 5000 and Rs.10,000 was announced in 1978 by Morarji Desai the then Prime Minister of India, out of political pique, despite the stiff opposition of the then Reserve Bank Governor Dr. I. G. Patel. But the obstinate Morarji Desai went ahead with demonetisation,ostensibly for unearthing black money. No worthwhile amount of black money could be unearthed. The common man was not in possession of high denomination currency and therefore not affected.

 

The Disastrous Third Demonetisation of 2016

The Union cabinet  was informed about the plan of demonetisation on 8 November 2016,in a meeting called by the Prime Minister. Soon after the meeting, the Prime Minister announced the demonetisation, in an unscheduled live national televised address at 20.15 IST; he declared Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series, invalid effective from the midnight of the same day. The issuance of new Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000 bank notes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series, in exchange of the banned notes, was also announced.

Demonetization: Its Impact So Far - Finance Buddha Blog | Enlighten Your  Finances

Many persons were alleged to have been aware of the incoming demonetisation and took steps to protect themselves by stocking lower denomination notes. Even after the ban, the well connected did not have any problem in converting the banned notes. Huge quantities of new notes were reported to have been supplied to the favoured ones.

 

The complicated manner put in place for the “aam admi”for the exchange of the banned notes, which they had kept for legitimate purposes, such as buying properties, conducting marriages of their wards and such other urgent purposes, was a disaster. They were caught all of a sudden in a bind. The plight of people standing in miles long queues, under hot sun and rain and bitter cold for hours in front of designated bank branches for withdrawing paltry amounts, was pitiable; an ordeal beyond description. Many people especially, the elderly collapsed and died.  Lower denomination notes were very scarce. Soiled notes meant for destruction were recirculated. Many such notes were so dirty so as to cause infectious skin diseases.

What is demonetisation, what are different ways of demonetisation, and  demonetisation in India by PM Modi explained | Business News,The Indian  Express

How can a person given a Rs. 2000 note, in exchange of the demonetised notes,could make payments for small transactions such as purchasing daily groceries or vegetables or paying wages to domestic help or casual labourer, could manage with a Rs. 2000 bank note? Tear it into numerous pieces? How was it possible for an ill clad  “angutha chapwalla” to open an account with a bank situated miles away and cash a wage cheque received late in the evening to buy daily necessities? Only insensitive rulers are capable of putting thousands into such extreme tortures.

 

Arbitrary limits were placed on the withdrawal of cash from bank accounts and ATMs, due to the non-availability of adequate number of notes in stock.

 

The paper on which the new notes are printed is of poor quality. After handling them a few times, they become similar to old newspaper. In order to countpresent the now circulating notes, thongs may be necessary. The much touted notes do not have the safety features of either the British pound note or the US dollar bill.

 

Petty traders, small businesses men in rural areas, who are compelled to do cash transactions, suffered the worst; the village economy collapsed. The acute shortage of currency due to the demonetisation, led to chaos. Ordinary persons faced extreme difficulties in depositing or exchanging their demonetised notes. There was unbearable crowding outside banks and ATMs all across India. The necessity to calibrate the new notes, with reduced size, with the then existing ATMs led to further difficulties.

 

“The images on television were troubling; harassed people queuing for hours; an elderly person, obviously quite sick, crying helplessly. The hospital wouldn’t admit him for the required surgery nor would the chemist sell him the drugs he needed, because his money had ceased to be legal tender. A lady crying, her husband had just died because no hospital would admit him. The treatment money she had, had suddenly become worthless” (“Mint” of 18 November 2016).

 

Black Money

The government estimated that Rs. 5 lakh crore, or approximately 20% of the demonetised bank notes would be permanently removed from circulation. However, according to the 2018 Annual Report of R.B.I., 99.3% of the demonetised bank notes –  Rs.15.30 lakh crore out of the Rs. 15.41 lakh crore that was demonetised, were deposited with the banking system. The bank notes not deposited were worth Rs. 10,620 crore only. These included notes in possession of NRIs who could not come to India for various reasons for exchange; they had held relatively small amounts.

 

Commentators concluded that the government failed in its aim of purging black money from the economy.

 

Thus, the demonetisation of high value notes did not achieve the stated aims. The efforts to unearth black money by banning the notes met with abject failure simply because unaccounted wealth is not kept in money: but in assets such as gold, real estate and other valuables or parked abroad.

 

Black money finds safety and sanctuary in the coffers of political parties in power with which they can elect MLAs and MPs and topple governments they dislike.

 

They were also deposited in the hundies of major temples.

 

The sudden bolt from the high: the high voltage curfew and the sudden lockdown

On March 22 Sunday night, the Prime Minister of India,  without any warning, announced a CURFEW for the next day. The authorities claimed that the curfew would serve as a way of preparing the population of India to face any total shutdown.

 

Before the expiry of the curfew, the ill-prepared Indians found themselves in the jaws of  a prolonged lock down with no options. That day, the PM  announced total prohibition for all Indians from leaving their homes for the next 21 days; forcing most people to survive without essential items. The PM said “venturing out of one’s home as irresponsible behaviour”. The move was followed by days of further lockdowns.

 

The sad plight of migrant labour caught between the devil and the deep sea

It became crystal clear that the total lockdown on 24 March 2020, had spawned terrible repercussions for the unorganised and casual workers, especially migrant labourers.

Police personnel inspect the spot after a goods train ran over a group of migrant workers while they were sleeping on the tracks, in Aurangabad district, Friday, May 8, 2020. 14 migrants were killed in the tragedy. (PTI Photo) (PTI08-05-2020_000032B)

Police personnel inspect the spot after a goods train ran over a group of migrant workers while they were sleeping on the tracks, in Aurangabad district, Friday, May 8, 2020. 14 migrants were killed in the tragedy. (PTI Photo) (PTI08-05-2020_000032B)(PTI)

The sudden government decision turned out to be a catastrophe like the abrupt demonetisation of higher value currency notes.

 

The haphazard implementation of the lockdown resulted in mayhem, destitution and misery. The migrant workers have been the worst affected by the unprecedented lockdown. With the cessation of nationwide transportation network and without jobs and income, the migrant workers, after waiting for a time, were forced to return to their native places. In the absence of any means of transport, these hapless people walked on foot, traversing thousands of miles in the scorching heat or pouring rain with very little food. Many perished on the way, knocked down by speeding trucks, mowed down by goods trains or died for want food and water or by sheer exhaustion.

 

Their muted cries were unheard by the mighty and the powerful in their plush habitats amply provided with food, wine and choice women.

 

The GST Fiasco

A tax regime for the entire country in the place of multiple state taxes, octrois and umpteen others, is a good idea. But the complex structure with a plethora of ifs and buts — item-wise rates too,is unnecessarily confusing and difficult to implement. The shortsightedness of the babus,who drafted the rules, is glaring. For instance packed grains, pulses and cooking oil were taxed at a higher rate compared to unsorted loose ones encouraging adulteration of food articles and cooking oil. There were innumerable other glitches in administering the new tax system. The rationale of exempting petroleum products and alcohol etc. from GST is unfathomable. The VAT system in Britain apparently appears to be easy to implement; the purchaser of any item is paid the full amount on returning any purchase even after a month or so.

 

The Obnoxious New Laws Relating to Agriculture

The President of India gave his assent on 2019 September to three contentious agriculture bills steam rolled in the parliament viz., I ) Farmers’ Produce, Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2) The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm services and 3) the Essential Commodities (Amendment Bill 2020) seeking to remove itemslike cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.

Protestors on the border between Haryana and Delhi

There's been mounting anger over the new farming laws – GETTY IMAGES

The above high sounding deceptive enactmentrelating to agriculture seem to be wolves in sheep’s clothing aiming at in edging out the poor kissans and from their merge land holdings by big corporates; depriving them of their very livelihood. Already the subsistence agriculturists, tillers of the soil, are struggling for their precarious survival. They are unable to make both ends meet.

 

The Steep Decline of Rural Incomes

More than 40% of India’s workforce, is engaged in agriculture according to World Bank. No official figures for rural income in recent years is available; but there is data on agricultural wages (an important component of rural income) from 2017 to 2019 according to Reserve Bank of India. India conducted surveys in 2013 and 2016 which showed an increase in farmers’ income in absolute terms.

 

Agricultural policy expert Devinder Sharma believes farmers’ income have remained stagnant or even declined for several decades.

 

Extreme weather such as droughts have affected livelihoods of rural folks.

 

In 2017, a government committee said that an increase of 10.4% growth each year to double farmer income by 2022 that would need 6.39 billion (63.9 crore) rupees in the agricultural sector. The data on both public  and private investment shows decline over the period 2011 to 2019. (Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare).

 

A survey conducted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in 2017, found that in the three years up to this point, the average amount of farmers’ debt had doubled.

 

In the absence of gainful alternative employment avenues, the vast majority of the rural India, is likely to become destitute and beggars.

 

The present Central Government’s attitude is one of favouring the crony capitalists, monopolists and big business. The reason may be they are the sources of party funds for purchasing MLAs to topple governments run by the opposition parties.

 

The Dread of An Imminent Fall

In tune with Economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction”, disruptive technologies and events are now considered to be good things. These forces drive competitive capitalism. The demonetisation, the haphazard implementation of GST, the shockingly sudden lockdown, and now the unthought out farm laws are likely to further the causes of big businesses, crony capitalists and the wheelers and dealers.

 

A city dweller is unable to feel the pulse of the poor villagers struggling to survive in this land of gross inequities.

 

No nation can survive where people are dehumanised on  the basis of “accident of birth”. The different religionists are egged on to gnarl at each other in mutual antagonism. If we look at the history of our land, insularity and inward looking mindset,  ever occurring fights among communities and classes enabled outsiders to conquer India and establish hegemony over us.

 

The shopkeepers from a far away small island could rule us for two hundred years by taking advantage of the antagonism and feuds among princely states. Our great nation got partitioned due to hatred between Muslims and Hindus much to the pain of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our nation.

 

The balkanisation of our nation, which the British predicted, may not happen with the brute force available to the Indian State. But our people may end up hating each other in the name of religion and classes.

 

It is our bounden duty to preserve the soul of our Mother Land unscathed.

 

“Vande Mataram”.

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