Two World Bank Pensioners and the “Greed Revolution”
by Ramtanu Maitra on 23 Mar 2011 11 Comments

On March 15, published an interview with the leading Indian agro-scientist M.S. Swaminathan, describing his disillusionment with the Manmohan Singh government’s policy toward the farmland. Swaminathan was one of the troika - the other two were the legendary American agronomist Norman Borlaug and then-Union Agriculture Minister C. Subramaniam - unleashed by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to transform India from a famine-stricken nation to a food-surplus nation.


Swaminathan told interviewer Sreelatha Menon that the second Green Revolution will never take place: “Since, there is so much greed revolution in this country, there will be no Green Revolution.”


Young Indians who do not know how India became one of the four major powers today - despite having a population of 1.2 billion people of whom more than 400 million still survive without electricity and potable water even after the first decade of the 21st century has come to an end - should understand that India might not have remained in one piece if Swaminathan and his colleagues had not done what needed to be done starting in the 1960s.


The Green Revolution


The term “Green Revolution” is applied to the period from 1967 to 1978. From 1947 to 1967, efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency did not meet with success as they centered entirely on expanding farming areas. By contrast, the Green Revolution had three basic elements: (1) continued expansion of farming areas; (2) double-cropping existing farmland; (3) using improved seeds. While the first two elements were already in place, they were vastly improved upon during the Green Revolution; using seeds with superior genetics was the scientific aspect of the Green Revolution and the key to its success.


The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) was reorganized in 1965, and it developed new strains of high yield variety (HYV) seeds - mainly wheat and rice, but also millet and corn. The most noteworthy HYV seed was the K68 variety for wheat. The credit for developing this strain goes to Dr. M.P. Singh, who is also regarded as one of the pioneers of India’s Green Revolution. The result was a record grain output of 131 million tons by 1978-79 and the conversion of India from a “port-to-mouth” nation into one of the world’s largest agricultural producers.


The Green Revolution achieved success because at that time India’s leadership was not driven by the money-greed that is so prominent today. They understood what was necessary to do to lay the foundation for developing India’s national economy.


Swaminathan pointed this out in a few sentences in the interview. Asked what are the differences between the government then and now, he said: “It was totally different then. The country was under pressure. We were importing 10 million tons of wheat, and the population was only 450 million. A number of books then said India would not survive, and Indians would die like sheep going to slaughter houses. There was political support and determination to make the country self-sufficient. Now all that is gone.”


Starve the Poor…


Asked about the budgetary allocations made recently to help Indian farmers, Swaminathan said: “I have got tired of this kind of lip service. In the last budget there was an announcement to encourage 60,000 villages to grow pulses. But the allocation was so small that each village would have barely got Rs 50,000. Revenue foregone in corporate taxes is Rs 3.75 lakh crore (Rs 3.75 trillion), and you give Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) for a second Green Revolution. It is all lip service!”


Indeed, it is hard to deny that. And it is not too hard to see the reasons why this falsehood is promoted on a daily basis by the powers-that-be in New Delhi. To begin with, India’s economic policies are determined by two leaders - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Kohli and his major domo, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Both were employees of the World Bank earlier in their careers and were propelled into the corridors of power through the machination of “invisible hands.” Both draw pensions from the World Bank, which is not too different from drawing pensions from the US Government.


Perhaps M.S. Swaminathan had that in mind when he made clear that the UPA government authorities in New Delhi have really little concern about the poor farmers: “Their aim is to bring in foreign companies. They want to hand over the retail sector to Walmart and others. These companies have access to people in power, whether it is Montek Singh Ahluwalia or others. They are not looking at how small-scale retail and small-scale farming are the largest self-employment sectors in the country. If you destroy their livelihoods by corporate farming, then what are we talking about? Today, public policy projects itself as pro-farmer but it does it half-heartedly.”


Not that Manmohan Singh and his major domo have adopted this policy to please only the World Bank; the two aim to please a much larger field. They do it by generating high GDP growth and then selling that, like opium, to a vast majority of India’s poor population to lull them into silence. Most Indians are befuddled when confronted with the reality of being part of the fastest-growing nation in the world, on one hand, and not being able to feed their families, on the other.


The Greed Revolution


Addressing New Delhi’s growth obsession, Swaminathan said: “High economic growth reflects neither in food intake nor in the prosperity of farmers. The GDP may be growing, but the contribution of agriculture to GDP is going down. People dependent on agriculture are, however, growing in number. So people are getting poorer not because of poor productivity, but because plot sizes got reduced. As for food intake, the government has a list of programmes that don't seem to be reflected in outcomes of good nutrition. These have to be revisited, and the matter has to be looked at holistically.”


Those who follow closely the money-stealing activities of the members of the present UPA (Mark II) government and its earlier version, UPA (Mark I), must enjoy deep, hearty laughs reading about Indian political leaders showing the Americans their stash of crores of bribe-money collected to ensure the Bush administration that New Delhi was ready to adopt all means to see the US-India nuclear deal through. It was evident that the Manmohan Singh government did not cut any corners ensuring Washington that nothing would go wrong in the Indian Parliament.


Those who are interested in seeing India become strong - not just by citing the country’s foreign exchange reserves, or how many billionaires India has, or how many Indians have become directors or CEOs in multinational companies - must remember that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, educated in colonial Britain and having served at the World Bank, is as capable of building a national economy as he is capable of building a rocket. In other words, he is utterly incompetent as an economist in the Indian context. And his major domo is in a position of power only to please foreign companies such as Walmart and promote privatization, undermining the agro-industrial sector where India’s strength lies and separating India’s political economy into politics and economy.


In the old days, before economic reform became the mantra of those who minted money from the process, India’s growth rate was small and the government was all-pervasive, critics point out. However, India’s agricultural sector, where more than 60 percent of the country’s workforce still eke out a living, was all owned by individuals; hence, it was altogether a part of the private sector. Despite the large government, the sector was in much better shape at that time than it is today.


Once the reform crowd took over using that slogan as a cover for unleashing the Greed Revolution, it became necessary to separate politics from economy. Politics would remain under the control of India’s politicians, such as Advani et al., who do not have a clue how to build a nation’s economic foundation. All they fret about is how to generate cash to win elections and maintain a party fund. The only objective of these stereotype politicians is to run for political office and a political organization post through collection and distribution of money. In other words, to these politicians, money is all there is.


The Corporation-Politician Entente


Now, India’s new-fangled economy has a point of intersection with these politicians. Under the Manmohan-Montek duo, the Indian economy as a whole has been virtually handed over to various corporations such as Tata, Ambani, Infosys, Wipro et al., whose prime objective is to grow bigger and generate more profit. They recognize that such growth and expansion of profit is not possible without having a “business” relationship with the politicians. They know better than most that, like the Indian bureaucracy, the politicians have the power to derail their plans and money-making proposals. Like many Indian bureaucrats, politicians of all colours and hues use their power to say ‘no’ to generate cash for the individual or the political entity that individual represents. 


The added advantage that these corporations enjoy in the present era of globalization is that their profits generate foreign exchange, which has become holier than the Ganges water, better known as the Gangajal. In addition, these corporations also bring in as their partners foreign companies, raising the level of confidence among foreigners about the Indian economy. That means more foreign investment comes into India, however negligible that is in light of what the country needs to build a decent power and water infrastructure, education, healthcare and to modernize its archaic railroads.


Infrastructure is the essential preconditions for building a nation. But Since Manmohan Singh’s promised infrastructure-building program depends largely on the country’s foreign exchange intake (here the time remains undefined since no one knows when such a vast amount of foreign exchange would be accrued), the captains of our economy have set up a nice, cozy arrangement with the politicians at the expense of the nation’s poor. If you are in the network, the arrangement is not only fine, but is also rewarding financially. If not, as the farmers are not, it is death for them.


And that is why M.S. Swaminathan is a frustrated man. As he said in the interview: “I feel frustrated all the time. So much can be done. But what you see is the Adarsh and black money scams. Agricultural land is under attack all the time. There seems to be no law prohibiting acquisition or changing land use of agriculture land. Land is a shrinking asset. It goes for housing, roads, everything. But prime farm land should be conserved…” 


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

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