Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 8 February address from the Rajya Sabha platform is a classic textbook example of fascist propaganda. The occasion was the PM's reply to the debate on the motion of thanks on the President's inaugural budget session speech. The President's customary inaugural address was of course all about congratulating the government for all its claimed successes. The PM's reply to the debate is however meant to respond to the points raised by MPs in the course of the debate, but Modi's speech evaded all the points of debate, repeated the government's claims and rubbished all opposition, saying the country would appreciate his steps when it celebrates the centenary of freedom in 2047! Today's protests are all misled, and people who are opposing today will appreciate in future, only Modi knows what is best for India - the characteristic defence of a despot who loves to project himself as a benevolent patriarch.
Modi devoted a lot of time in his speech trying to justify his disastrous farm laws as being beneficial for small and marginal farmers. It is indisputable that average land holding is declining and the number and proportion of small and marginal farmers is steadily on the increase. The point is successive governments have abandoned the agenda of progressive land reforms and cooperative farming to assist small and marginal farmers. Growing corporate control over agriculture and the entire economy, which is the essence of the three farm laws, will in no way benefit these small farmers by either boosting their income within agriculture or reducing the load on agriculture by absorbing a section of agriculture-dependent population in manufacturing or service sector.
While the PM shed crocodile tears for small farmers in his speech, his government has reduced budgetary allocation on agriculture and allied heads. Even the allocation for the much trumpeted Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), which only transfers Rs 6,000 in three instalments to small land-owning farmers who have land records in their own names, has been slashed by Rs 10,000 crore in this year's budget. Landless peasants, small farmers cultivating their family-held land or tenant cultivators operating on leased-in plots are all denied even this paltry assistance doled out in the name of kisan samman. Prime Minister ridiculed the question of loan waiver as 'election agenda' and not 'farmer agenda'. He also lamented that small farmers did not get bank loans. If small farmers are not getting loans that only exposes the government's much professed concern for small farmers.
The problem of indebtedness and the concomitant coercion for loan repayment has been the biggest factor driving hundreds of thousands of farmers to suicides in India. The demand for loan waiver has emerged in this tragic situation. Only a cruel despot can ridicule a life-saving demand as an 'election agenda'. And if loan waiver is an election agenda, PM-KISAN is even more so. In poll-bound West Bengal, Modi linked it explicitly with the BJP coming to power in the state, much the same way his party had predicated the issue of Covid19 vaccination in Bihar on its poll victory. The farmers' movement never demanded a token monthly assistance of 500 rupees, its core demand has been fixation and guarantee of a fair MSP as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission.
PM's empty assurance 'MSP tha, hai aur rahega' (MSP was there and will be there) sounded only as convincing as his statement after the India-China LAC clash, 'na koi ghusa tha, na ghusa hua hai' (there has been no intrusion into our territory). What the farmers demand is a legal guarantee for all farmers to be able to sell their crops at fair MSP. The government knows that farmers in most States, especially small farmers in whose name Modi is trying to push his disastrous farm laws, are subjected to distress sale. The prevailing market price in most cases is way below the MSP declared by the government, and by pitting the small and deprived farmers against the beneficiaries of the MSP and APMC framework, the government is actually trying to render the MSP-APMC framework increasingly redundant. This is just yet another area of the government withdrawing from its responsibilities and sacrificing the interests of the common people at the altar of corporate profit and power.
The most diabolical point in Modi's Rajya Sabha address has of course been the demonisation of dissent, the characterisation of protesters as 'parasites' and 'conspirators', the instigation of a witch-hunt against democratic struggles by portraying the battle for justice and democracy as a conspiracy driven by 'foreign destructive ideology'. These are words of a rattled regime which has failed to bamboozle the farmers with its laws, whose concerted propaganda against the farmers' movement has failed to hoodwink the common people, and whose fear of the farmers and the growing democratic solidarity around the farmers' movement has been graphically exposed before the global gaze. A regime which seeks to shelter itself by erecting concrete barriers and barbed-wire fences, by digging up roads or studding them with nails, by deploying a whole battery of ministers, filmstars, cricketers and other celebrities to face just a couple of tweets by internationally acclaimed singers and activists, is a regime living in fear. It is trying to transfer its crisis and fear to the farmers and the wider public. We, the people of India, must tell the rattled regime that it has lost the plot.
An Oxfam report titled the ‘Inequality Virus Report’ found that big corporations flourished even during the pandemic, even as workers’ incomes plummeted and jobs disappeared. Yet, the Government continues to waive taxes and loans for these same moneybags, and then claims to have no funds for education, agriculture, health, nutrition, and social security.
Here are the facts about corporate profiteering during the pandemic:
It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what Ambani made in a second.
Mukesh Ambani made 90 crore per hour during the pandemic at a time when around 24% of the people in the country have been earning under Rs. 3,000 per month during the lockdown.
The wealth of Indian billionaires like Kumar Manglam Birla, Uday Kotak, Gautam Adani, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Shiv Nadar, Laxmi Mittal, Cyrus Poonawalla, and Radhakrishan Damani increased by 35% during the lockdown.
Those earning less than Rs.20,000 a month saw their incomes drop to 37% of their pre-pandemic income. Those earning more than Rs.60,000 a month saw a 10% drop in their incomes. 1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020.
In this backdrop, take a look at budgetary allocations in the last couple of years for essentials like food and farmers.
Nutrition vs NPA: Budget 2020-21 allocated around Rs 35,600 crore for all nutrition-related schemes. Contrast this with the fact that Non-Performing Assets (NPAs – i.e defaulting bank loans) caused by a single CEO Anil Ambani alone, amounts to Rs 49,000 crore! Anil Ambani alone has looted almost 1.5 times the 2020-21 budgetary allocation for nutrition in one of the most impoverished nations in the world.
Farmers MSP vs Corporate Tax Cuts: The additional cost for providing MSP for all crops would be from 1 to 1.5 lakh crores annually (Harsh Damodaran, ‘Explained: The cost of guaranteed minimum support price’, Indian Express. The government says it does not have this kind of money. But the government gave a “historic” tax cut of 1.44 lakh crores in 2019-20 which mainly benefited the top 0.9% of corporations! If the Government were to stop foregoing revenues from corporate taxes, it would have more than enough to fund MSP. Are the top 0.9% corporates (several of them cronies of the PM) more important than 14 crore farmers of the country?
The “historic” tax cut was supposed to revive the economy, according to PM Modi, who said it would attract investors from abroad and generate jobs. That has clearly not happened. Yet, the government continues with the same policy.
Bad Loans (NPA): Public Sector Banks (PSBs) wrote off bad loans worth Rs 6,83,388 crore in the last six years of Modi rule, a massive rise from Rs 32,109 crore incurred in the UPA period from 2008 to 2014. In 2016, an India Spend analysis found that if the unpaid loans made by India’s public-sector banks were recovered, they would be enough to pay for India’s 2015 spending on defence, education, highways, and health!
Cess Unspent: According to CAG report 94,000 crores education cess is kept unused with the government. This is enough to fund higher education for 3 years. Moreover, government has cut education funding by Rs 6,000 crores in the latest 2021-22 budget.