Chilling New Report Cites Greater Death Toll in Allende Massacre

Ginger Thompson is a senior reporter at ProPublica.

Researchers cite a ProPublica and National Geographic investigation revealing the DEA’s involvement and call for answers from the United States.

A disturbing report released today by researchers at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico provides new details about a 2011 massacre in Allende, a quiet Mexican ranching town less than an hour’s drive from the United States, and suggests that many more people were killed in the incident than estimated by Mexican authorities. The report’s authors also repeatedly cite an investigation of the incident by ProPublica and National Geographic in calling for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to provide information about its role in triggering the killing spree.

Based on previously undisclosed Mexican law enforcement files, the report paints a chilling portrait of a powerful drug cartel run amok throughout the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, right across the Rio Grande from Texas. Numerous mayors’ offices and municipal police departments served at the will of the Zetas cartel, the report said. State and federal authorities were either complicit or indifferent, taking no action as the Zetas, one of the most violent drug cartels in the world, took control of a regional prison and used it for years to store drugs and weapons, hold and torture hostages, and dispose of the bodies.

Perhaps the most brazen display of the cartel’s impunity occurred in March 2011, when a convoy of dozens of heavily armed Zetas gunmen descended on Allende and towns nearby and began rounding up friends and relatives of Zetas operatives that the cartel’s leaders believed had betrayed them. Dozens of victims — including some who had no connection to the cartel or the operatives — were rounded up and taken to a ranch just outside Allende, where they were killed and incinerated. There is still no firm count of how many people are either missing or presumed dead. State authorities had estimated that there were about 28 victims while groups formed by victims’ relatives put the number closer to 300.

The new report suggests that victims’ relatives are right and sets the center of the mayhem even closer to the border in Piedras Negras, a grimy factory town within walking distance of Eagle Pass, Texas. Some 1,400 emergency calls came in from residents there during the initial days of the rampage, more than from any other place in the region, according to the report. Many of those calls were about shootings or fires at locations that were known, like the prison, as Zetas extermination sites.

“The investigation into this vengeance is still not over,” said the report, whose lead author is the widely respected human rights investigator Sergio Aguayo. “The possibility exists that the number of dead and missing is greater than 100, and its even possible that it approaches 300.”

ProPublica and National Geographic, after months of interviews and poring through documents, found evidence of at least 60 people whose deaths and disappearances were connected to the attack.

Other unanswered questions, the report said, have to do with the role of the United States in triggering the massacre. It cites extensively from an investigative oral history published in June by ProPublica and National Geographic that revealed that the killing began after the DEA and its partners in the Mexican federal police mishandled sensitive intelligence. That intelligence wound up in the Zetas’ hands, and alerted the cartel that there were snitches inside the organization. The Zetas’ leaders ordered their henchmen to round up and kill those it believed had betrayed them and anyone linked to them.

The DEA did not conduct an investigation of the leak, or discuss it with either Mexican authorities or victims’ families. The agency had never commented publicly on the incident until interviews with ProPublica and National Geographic. In those interviews, the DEA apologized about the intelligence leak, but placed the blame for the violence on the Zetas.

“The indifference with which such delicate information is shared is typical of the informality that characterizes the security relationship between Mexico and the United States,” the report says. “It is characterized by the absence of the kinds of protocols the United States applies in other countries, like Colombia; the lack of accountability, which is evident by the agency’s failure to conduct an internal investigation of a leak that cost the lives of hundreds of people; and the government’s efforts to cover up information and deny responsibility.”

In an interview, Aguayo said he has long understood that the United States shared responsibility for the drug-related violence that has plagued Mexico in the last decade, leaving tens of thousands of people dead and missing across the country. The reporting by ProPublica and National Geographic, he said, made those connections real, and urgent. As a result, authorities in Coahuila have formally requested information from the DEA about the former cartel informants connected to the leak that set off the massacre.

Aguayo and other researchers at the Colegio de Mexico were given access to law enforcement files by the governor of Coahuila.

A DEA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

“If we’re ever going to understand not only what happened in Coahuila, but why, so that it doesn’t happen again,” Aguayo said, “it’s important that we follow the leak.”

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रॉबर्ट मुगाबे और पश्चिम के पैंतरे

प्रकाश के रे bargad.org के संपादक हैं.

सैंतीस सालों तक जिंबाब्वे के शासन प्रमुख रहने के बाद राष्ट्रपति रॉबर्ट मुगाबे ने इस्तीफा दे दिया. उपराष्ट्रपति इमर्सन मननगाग्वा के हटाये जाने और मुगाबे की पत्नी ग्रेस मुगाबे के उत्तराधिकारी बनने की अटकलों के बीच सेना ने हफ्ते भर पहले दखल दिया था. मुगाबे की पार्टी, आजादी की लड़ाई के सेनानियों और सेना में लगभग सभी इस बात से नाराज थे कि ग्रेस मुगाबे की महत्वाकांक्षाओं और जीवन-शैली से राष्ट्रपति मुगाबे और उनकी सरकार की छवि पर नकारात्मक असर हो रहा है. ग्रेस को पार्टी में युवाओं का कुछ समर्थन था. बहरहाल, इयान स्मिथ के गोरे शासन से जिंबाब्वे को आजाद करानेवाले मुगाबे पर तानाशाही और विरोधों के कठोर दमन के गंभीर आरोप हैं. इसके साथ ही, उन पर और उनके नजदीकी सहयोगियों, जिनमें मननगाग्वा और कई सेनानी शामिल हैं, पर भ्रष्टाचार के आरोप भी हैं.

जिंबाब्वे के भीतर और बाहर मुगाबे के कई विरोधी इस सत्ता-परिवर्तन से उतने उत्साहित नहीं हैं. इसका कारण है कि मननगाग्वा, ओल्ड गार्ड (स्वतंत्रता सेनानी) और सेना की पकड़ सत्ता पर बरकरार रहेगी. उनकी नजर में मुगाबे के साथ यह समूह भी दमन के लिए उतना ही जिम्मेदार है.

Nelson Mandela pictured with Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe

बहरहाल, इतना तो तय है कि मुगाबे की लंबी छाया से मुक्त होने के बाद देश की सियासत में बदलाव आयेगा. द गार्डियन में जिंबाब्वे के पत्रकार रंगा मबेरी ने लिखा है कि उनका देश पश्चिमी देशों की कल्पना का ‘बनाना रिपब्लिक’ नहीं है, और मुगाबे के बाद यह बेहतर ही होगा. मबेरी की इस बात में यह तथ्य भी निहित है कि मुगाबे चाहे जैसे भी नेता रहे हों, अपने देश को अराजकता, अस्थिरता और अव्यवस्था से हमेशा बचाये रखा. वर्ष 1980 में आजादी के बाद दक्षिणी जिंबाब्वे में हुई हिंसा में हजारों लोगों की मौत और फिर 2008 के राष्ट्रपति चुनाव में धांधली और विपक्ष के दमन का दाग तो मुगाबे पर जरूर है, परंतु यह समझना गलत होगा कि इन कारणों से उनके इस्तीफे पर जिंबाब्वे के लोग खुशी का इजहार कर रहे हैं. उन दोनों मामलों में मननगाग्वा राष्ट्रपति की ओर से मुख्य रणनीतिकार थे और उन्हें बड़ी संख्या में जिंबाब्वे के लोग पसंद नहीं करते हैं. लेकिन जब आज उनके राष्ट्रपति बनने की पूरी संभावना है, तो उनका विरोध नहीं हो रहा है. यही तर्क सेना प्रमुख जनरल चिवेंगा के लिए दिया जा सकता है, जो मुगाबे और मननगाग्वा के विश्वस्त हैं तथा यूरोपीय संघ और कुछ पश्चिमी देशों ने प्रतिबंध लगाया है.

इस सत्ता-परिवर्तन को न तो किसी तख्ता-पलट की तरह देखा जाना चाहिए और न ही किसी तरह के सत्ता-संघर्ष के रूप में. जिंबाब्वे की सत्ता पर ग्रेस मुगाबे और उनके तिलंगों के कब्जे से ओल्ड गार्ड का चिंतित होना स्वाभाविक है. जिंबाब्वे के पास बेशुमार प्राकृतिक संसाधन हैं, और वे इसीलिए बचे हैं क्योंकि मुगाबे ने उन्हें औने-पौने दाम पर बहुराष्ट्रीय कॉरपोरेट मुनाफाखोरों को नहीं बेचा. जिंबाब्वे उन कुछ अफ्रीकी देशों में है, जो कबीलाई और सांप्रदायिक आंतरिक हिंसा से मुक्त है. राजनीति स्थिरता और संसाधनों की रक्षा के उद्देश्य से ओल्ड गार्ड का यह कदम समझदारी भरा ही कहा जायेगा. इस पूरे मामले पार्टी, सेना और संसद ने मौजूदा कानूनों का पूरी तरह पालन किया है तथा राष्ट्रपति मुगाबे के प्रति पूरा सम्मान दिखाया है.

इसमें कोई दो राय नहीं है कि मुगाबे और ओल्ड गार्ड ने अपनी सत्ता को बरकरार रखने के लिए हिंसा का सहारा लिया, उनकी नीतियों ने आर्थिक विकास को बुरी तरह अवरुद्ध किया और मजदूर संगठनों में अपने विपक्ष को उन्होंने शासन में जगह नहीं दी, जिस कारण देश में राजनीतिक तनाव का माहौल बना रहा. लेकिन क्या जिंबाब्वे के आर्थिक विकास को बाधित करने में अंतरराष्ट्रीय प्रतिबंधों की कोई भूमिका नहीं रही? क्या अफ्रीका के संसाधनों की सांगठनिक लूट ने कोई असर नहीं डाला? क्या लोकतंत्र और मानवाधिकारों की बकालत करनेवाले पश्चिमी देश अफ्रीका और दुनिया के अन्य हिस्सों में अपनी औपनिवेशिक मानसिकता से मुक्त हो सके हैं? इन तमाम सवालों को नजरअंदाज कर रॉबर्ट मुगाबे के शासन की समीक्षा मुकम्मल नहीं हो सकती है.

जो लोग अफ्रीका का आधुनिक इतिहास जानते हैं, वे यह जानते हैं कि 1960 के बाद से अफ्रीका में 200 से अधिक तख्ता-पलट हो चुके हैं जो कि आम तौर पर बहुत ही हिंसक होते हैं. इन सभी मामलों में पश्चिमी देश- जिनके अफ्रीका में कभी निवेश थे, बड़े कॉरपोरेट- जिनकी गिद्ध-दृष्टि अफ्रीका के कीमतों संसाधनों पर लगी रहती है, और अमेरिका की प्रत्यक्ष-परोक्ष भूमिका होती है. ऐसे में जिंबाब्वे में आजादी के तुरंत बाद के विद्रोहों के दमन को एक खास संदर्भ में देखा जाना चाहिए. यह जरूर है कि देश में और अफ्रीका में अपने सम्मान के असर को देख कर मुगाबे के भीतर एकाधिकार की प्रवृत्ति आ गयी होगी, पर यह भी रेखांकन करना जरूरी है कि जिंबाब्वे के गरीब आज भी उन्हें मसीहा मानते हैं तथा अफ्रीका में उन्हें एक आदर्श के रूप में देखा जाता है.

यदि वे सचमुच में ऐसे होते, जैसा कि पश्चिम हमें बताता रहा है, तो फिर इतने लंबे समय तक वे सत्ता में कैसे रहे. और, अगर जोर-जबर के दम पर रहे, तो आज उन्हीं लोगों को देख कर जनता खुश कैसे है जो मुगाबे से इस्तीफा ले रहे हैं. आखिर उन्हीं के जरिये ही तो मुगाबे दमन करते होंगे!

मुगाबे की खामियों और दमन के इतिहास को भी परखा जायेगा, लेकिन आज सबसे जरूरी इस बात की पड़ताल है कि आखिर पश्चिमी देशों को मुगाबे से इतनी चिढ़ क्यों है. वर्ष 2008 में महमूद ममदानी ने लंदन रिव्यू ऑफ बुक्स में ऐतिहासिक परिप्रेक्ष्य में मुगाबे और पश्चिम के दुष्प्रचार पर लिखा था. उन्होंने रेखांकित किया है कि मुगाबे सिर्फ ताकत के बल पर सत्ता पर काबिज नहीं रहे, बल्कि उन्होंने जन-समर्थन का सहारा भी लिया. गोरे जमींदारों से जमीनें छीन कर भूमिहीन लोगों में बांटने की उनकी नीति ने उन्हें जिंबाब्वे और अफ्रीका के दक्षिण में अपार लोकप्रियता दी.

यदि आप मुगाबे और पश्चिम के संबंधों की पड़ताल करें, तो आप पायेंगे कि 1980 से 1995 तक पश्चिम को उनसे कोई दिक्कत नहीं रही, बल्कि उन्हें सराहा ही गया, जबकि आज उनके विरुद्ध दमन के जो आरोप हैं, वे उन्हीं बरसों में अंजाम दिये गये थे. उस दौरान पश्चिम को खुशी थी कि मुगाबे ने गोरे जमींदारों के पास जमीनें रहने दीं. बेशकीमती खदानों के कॉरपोरेट द्वारा दोहन को कायम रखा. जब 1990 के दशक के मध्य में मुगाबे ने जमीनें छीननी शुरू की, तो उन्हें दुनिया में एक खतरनाक खलनायक के रूप में पेश किया जाने लगा.

वर्ष 1889 से 1950-60 के बीच गोरे उपनिवेशवाद ने जिंबाब्वे में जमीन की लूट का काम पूरा किया था. इयान स्मिथ की हुकूमत अश्वेत-बहुसंख्यक शासन के विरुद्ध थी. उन्होंने अपने शासन को मजबूत करने के लिए ब्रिटेन से संबंध भी तोड़ लिया था. जब 1960 आजादी की लड़ाई निर्णायक दौर में पहुंच गयी, तब फिर उपनिवेश को ब्रिटेन के हवाले किया गया और महारानी एलिजाबेथ के शासन के तहत सत्ता मुगाबे और उनके लड़ाकों को सौंपी गयी.

रोडेशिया (पहले जिंबाब्वे का यही नाम था) में सेना और प्रशासन के अधिकारी रह चुके डगलस स्कोर मानते हैं कि अफ्रीका की गरीबी का मूल कारण औपनिवेशिक विरासत है. वे मुगाबे के घोर आलोचक हैं, पर पूंजीवादी पश्चिम के पैंतरों को भी खूब समझते हैं. उन्होंने लिखा है कि मुगाबे ने दस-वर्षीय लैंकास्टर समझौते का अक्षरशः पालन किया, कर्ज अदायगी का वादा किया, उनके शुरुआती हत्याकांडों में गोरे सलाहकारों का समर्थन रहा. स्कोर याद दिलाते हैं कि शुरुआती सालों में स्मिथ और उनके सैन्य अधिकारी मुगाबे के अच्छे दोस्तों में बने रहे. अगले दशक में तो ब्रिटेन उन्हें नाइटहुड से भी नवाजा. आज भी हीरा खदान कंपनी के पास बहुत बड़ा इलाका है, संभवतः सबसे बड़ी निजी मिल्कियत इसी कंपनी के पास है.

ममदानी ने बताया है कि 1980 में सत्ता-हस्तांतरण के समय करीब छह हजार गोरे किसानों के पास 15.5 मिलियन हेक्टेयर की सबसे उपजाऊ जमीन थी यानी देश की पूरी जमीन का 39 फीसदी हिस्सा. दस लाख अश्वेत परिवारों यानी 4.5 मिलियन किसानों के पास मिल्कियत 16.4 मिलियन हेक्टेयर की उसर जमीन थी और वह भी सामुदायिक इलाकों में जहां से उन्हें औपनिवेशिक दौर में हटाया गया था या मजबूरन शरण लेनी पड़ी थी. बीच की 1.4 मिलियन हेक्टेयर जमीन का स्वामित्व 8.5 हजार अश्वेत किसानों के पास थी.

आजादी के लिए हुए लैंकास्टर समझौते (1979) में इस असमानता को ठीक करने का कोई प्रयास नहीं था. इस समझौते में तीन फीसदी गोरी आबादी के लिए नयी संसद में 20 फीसदी सीटें आरक्षित की गयीं जिसके सहारे वे जमीन और खदानों से संबंधित किसी बदलाव को रोक सकते थे. जमीन के हस्तांतरण के लिए समझौते में व्यवस्था थी कि 1990 के बाद बाजार मूल्य पर खरीद-फरोख्त की जा सकती है. और, सीटों की व्यवस्था 1987 तक के लिए थी. अश्वेतों को जमीन देने के लिए ब्रिटेन ने आसान कर्ज देने का भी वादा किया था.

जब सरकार ने 1.62 लाख गरीब किसानों को बंजर इलाकों से हटाकर बेहतर जगह बसाने के इरादे से आठ मिलियन हेक्टेयर जमीन खरीदने का प्रस्ताव रखा, तो जमीन की कीमतें उछाल लेने लगीं. समझौते के तहत जबरदस्ती जमीन नहीं ली जा सकती थी. इस स्थिति का लाभ उठाते हुए गोरे जमींदारों ने अपनी बेकार जमीनें बेच दीं. एक दशक के दौरान सिर्फ 58 हजार परिवार तीन मिलियन हेक्टेयर जमीन पर बसाये जा सके.

कृषि अध्ययन के प्रोफेसर सैम मेयो के शोध के हवाले से ममदानी ने लिखा है कि 1992 तक अधिगृहित जमीन का मात्र 19 फीसदी हिस्सा समुचित रूप से उपजाऊ था. वर्ष 1990 तक ग्रामीण आबादी का 40 फीसदी हिस्सा या तो भूमिहीन था या फिर स्थितियों की वजह से इस हीनता का शिकार था.

जब समझौते की मियाद 1990 में खत्म हुई तो अंतरराष्ट्रीय मुद्रा कोष ने एक स्ट्रक्चरल प्रोग्राम तय किया और उसी दौरान सूखे का संकट भी लगातार बना रहा. इसी संकट में भूमि सुधारों के लिए जोरदार आवाजें उठनी शुरू हो गयीं. वर्ष 1980 से 1992 के बीच जमीन खरीदने के मद में ब्रिटेन ने मात्र 44 मिलियन पौंड का योगदान किया था और 1997 में ब्रिटेन से इस जिम्मेदारी से तौबा कर ली. इस माहौल में 1999 में मुगाबे ने संविधान में दो बड़े संशोधन- जमीन अधिग्रहण और अपना शासनकाल बढ़ाना- का प्रस्ताव रखा, पर कबीलाई विभाजन, निजी क्षेत्र के दखल और राजनीतिक प्रतिद्वंद्विता के चलते इस प्रस्ताव को लगभग 45 फीसदी समर्थन ही मिल सका. इस नतीजे से अंतुष्ट असंतुष्ट स्वतंत्रता सेनानियों ने कुछ इलाकों में बलात जमीन दखल का काम शुरू कर दिया जो धीरे-धीरे पूरे देश में फैल गया.

इस स्थिति से निपटने के लिए मुगाबे सरकार ने खेती की सभी जमीनों को राज्य की संपत्ति घोषित कर दिया. करीब चार हजार गोरे किसानों से जमीनें छीनी गयीं, 72 हजार बड़े किसानों को 2.19 मिलियन हेक्टेयर और 1.27 लाख छोटे किसानों को 4.23 मिलियन हेक्टेयर जमीन मिली. उत्तर औपनिवेशिक दक्षिणी अफ्रीका में इतने व्यापक स्तर पर और इतनी तीव्रता में किसी भी देश में संपत्ति का वितरण नहीं हुआ है. निश्चित रूप से यह एक बड़ी सामाजिक और आर्थिक क्रांति है.

इस प्रयास को बचाने के चक्कर में मुगाबे और उनके साथियों ने राजनीतिक स्तर पर दमन की नीति अपनायी. इसकी आलोचना करते हुए व्यापक संदर्भ को भूलना नहीं चाहिए. यह भी ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि पश्चिम ने मुगाबे के खिलाफ प्रोपेगैंडा वार तो चलाया, पर उन्हें लगातार लुभाने की कोशिशें भी की गयीं ताकि बेशकीमती संसाधनों का दोहन किया जा सके. प्रतिबंधों और बेईमान कर्जे के द्वारा अर्थव्यवस्था को तबाह करने में पश्चिम की बड़ी भूमिका रही है.

मुगाबे की समीक्षा उपनिवेश-विरोधी आंदोलन और अन्य देशों में उनके सहयोग तथा देश में आर्थिक बराबरी की कोशिशों को नजरअंदाज कर नहीं किया जाना चाहिए. तीसरी दुनिया का एक बड़ा नेता सेवानिवृत्त हुआ है, और यह उम्मीद की जानी चाहिए कि सत्ता में आनेवाले उनके सहयोगी उनकी अच्छी नीतियों को जारी रखेंगे तथा गलतियों के दुहराव से बचेंगे. उन्हें अंतरराष्ट्रीय वित्तीय संस्थानों, बैंकों और कॉरपोरेशनों से सावधान रहना होगा. जब ये लुटेरे यूरोपीय देशों का दोहन कर सकते हैं, तो ये जिम्बाब्वे को पटरी पर कैसे आने देंगे! देश के निर्माण और कर्जों की वापसी के लिए पर्याप्त संसाधन हैं जिनका ठीक से इस्तेमाल होना चाहिए.

 

Mandate 2017: Mapping Electoral Trends in Himachal Pradesh

Prashant Negi is Joint Director, Centre for Distance and Open Learning and Assistant Professor, Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

constitutional-history-of-himachal-pradesh-himachal-pradesh-general-studies
Representative image from hpgeneralstudies.com

 

The 2017 Himachal Pradesh (HP) assembly elections, notified for November 9, 2017 across 68 constituencies (of which 48 are general, 17 reserved for Scheduled Castes and 03 for Scheduled Tribes) in 12 districts, it is expected are likely to usher a ‘new normal’ in the politics of the small hill state and are thus, being keenly watched.

Table 1, District-wise Constituencies with General and Reserved Seats in HP, 2017

District

T

G

SC

ST

Kangra

15

12

03

Mandi

10

07

03

Shimla

08

06

02

Chamba

05

03

01

01

Hamirpur

05

04

01

Una

05

04

01

Solan

05

03

02

Sirmour

05

03

02

Bilaspur

04

03

01

Kullu

04

03

01

Kinnaur

01

01

Lahoul and Spiti

01

01

Total

68

48

17

03

Note: T= Total, G= General, SC= Scheduled Caste, ST= Scheduled Tribe.

Source: Report on General Elections to the Vidhan Sabha – 2012 and Lok Sabha Bye-Election – 2013 from 2 Mandi PC of Himachal Pradesh, Election Commission of Himachal Pradesh, January 2014.

While social mobilization for political action has largely altered the character of politics in India; politics in HP is still characterized by bipolarity of the contest between the two dominant national parties – the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

Such consistency, however, exists only at surface level. Subterraneously, both the parties have been marred with factionalism in the recent times. The power struggle between Chief Minister (CM) Virbhadra Singh and Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu is only well known and has played out publicly on various occasions. To mediate worsening power equations within the HPINC, the central leadership had in between appointed Sushil Kumar Shinde as the general-secretary in-charge of party affairs in HP. Shinde’s declaration that elections in HP would be fought under a collective leadership without a CM face was immediately denounced by Virbhadra Singh, who on his own accord, firstly, pronounced himself the leader of the HPINCs campaign and then to further establish his indispensability iterated that he would neither contest nor lead the party in the assembly elections.

Virbhadra’s rigidity had the desired impact and his candidature, as the leader of the party, was ratified by none other than the party Vice President Rahul Gandhi. Further, providing a clear signal of his authority to the rank and file of the party and also to the electorate, he had Sukhu removed as the Chairman of the Campaign Committee and also forced the central leadership to abandon its ‘one-family-one-ticket’ policy by ensuring a ticket for his son, Vikramaditya [from the Shimla (Rural) constituency] and for the progeny of some of his loyalists.

Individually for Singh, the move may be politically beneficial, but for the INC, at a broader level, it presents a predicament of sorts. Ridden with factionalism and internal strife, the INC has multiple and localised power centres, each trying to appropriate surplus in a manner most suitable to them. By reposing faith, yet again in an octogenarian politician utilizing pressure tactics, the Congress high command has indicated that inner-party democracy, decision-making and its policies are negotiable and has completely ignored the rumblings of an internal revolt possibly in a hope that the results of the HP elections will herald its own revival (theoretically conceptualized as re-nationalization) across India.

Lately, the Congress’s performance in general and state level elections has been far from satisfactory and blemished by mismanagement and infighting. Given poor levels of political perception and social mobilization around various issues in the northern region, the INC continues to represent a formidable political force in HP, Haryana and Punjab. Otherwise, despite gaining 31 per cent vote share in the 2014 general elections, its decline elsewhere is nothing short of astounding.

Affirmation of a CM candidate only rhetorically establishes the so-called political sense of clear thinking and purpose. In part, it is symbolic of a party’s inability to curb regional influences concentrated in individual-centric politics. This, as the case may be, is a result of a rather protracted process and given that it was actively fostered for years by the INC cannot be undone abruptly. By being coerced into presenting a leadership face and altering established party principles, the party has, to an extent, exposed its own fallibility by assuming that it will somehow unite collectively and dissent will quell overnight. Conceptualized within the rubric of ‘leadership crisis’, the Congress, therefore, is certain to face imminent complications alongside increasing localized assertions in the future and must consider that dissent only spirals, remaining dormant on accommodation of interest(s), only to re-emerge on their denial.

Correspondingly, the method of reliance on ‘time-tested’ leadership by the Congress, if successful, will only strengthen generic perpetuity in political observation. Its failure, on the contrary, will facilitate the ease with which the first generation of leadership in the state will be replaced by the Congress high command.

Also, the perception that HP Congress suffers from a leadership deficit is not entirely true. What is probably true is the INCs overall inability to promote internal democratization and decentralization of leadership – with HP merely being a cog in the wheel. How else can accommodation of continuing dissent, power politics and shifting party principles against individual appeasement be explained?

Initially, till about the end of October 2017, the BJP too conformed to its recent practice of not naming a CM candidate, probably to avoid an open factional feud between the camps of its then CM probable’s – Prem Kumar Dhumal (former CM) and Jagat Prakash Nadda (present Union Health Minister). The declaration of Dhumal as the CM face for the BJP, however was through the Party President Amit Shah in the presence of Nadda during an election rally in the Thakur dominated (Dhumal himself is a Thakur) Rajgarh on the 31st of October, unlike the candidature of Virbhadra, who had declared himself as the CM face of HPINC.

It is clear in the manner in which the political drama has unfolded in HP that in comparison, decision-making in the BJP is centrally institutionalized and is based on a popular-governing structure. The BJP also has an edge with a far superior organizational strength and cadre management than any of its counterparts. The issue, however is that such potency is synchronous to increased consolidation of leadership within the BJP. Such crystallization obviously renders the rapidity of organizational change and execution ineffective and increases the possibility of dissent, as was evident in the recent criticism by the former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

With both parties plagued by internal power struggles, their organizational prowess will depend upon the manner in which leadership, both at the state and the central level, is able to exercise organizational control. The overall trend of fragmentation of the party system towards increased regionalization should not really be worrisome as in HP politics is predominantly characterized by a two-party system wherein both the parties are dominant.

If statistics for the past four assembly (from the 9th to the 12th) results are considered then the role of anti-incumbency as a primary factor determining election outcomes is unambiguously established. On other occasions, the parties have blamed infighting and improper articulation of development issues among the primary issues.

Also, the percentage share of votes in a state with merely 68 assembly seats has rarely fluctuated (with a difference usually ranging between 5-6%) to an extent so as to denote electoral volatility for either party (see Table 2). In other words, the contest between INC and the BJP has always been close in HP. Further, the trend towards regionalization of national parties and the disposition of the electorate to vote on issues of localized interest and leadership has led both the parties to field their strongest leaders and overload their manifestos with resident concerns – while the BJPs campaign is conceptualized under the banner of ‘Jawab Mange Himachal’ (Himachal Wants an Answer), the INC is contesting under the umbrella of ‘Mission 2017: Jawab Dega Himachal’ (Himachal Will Give an Answer).

Table 2, HP Election Results: Various Statistics, 1998-2012

9th State Assembly (1998-2003)

Party

Contested

Won

Percentage Votes

INC

68

31

43.51

BJP

68

31

39.02

HVC

62

05

9.63

IND

52

01

4.18

10th State Assembly (2003-2007)

INC

68

43

41

BJP

68

16

35.38

HVC

49

01

5.87

IND

110

06

12.60

LJNSP

27

01

01

LMHP

14

01

2.17

11th State Assembly (2007-2012)

INC

67

23

38.90

BJP

68

41

43.78

BSP

67

01

7.26

IND

60

03

7.97

12th State Assembly (2012-2017)

INC

68

37

42.81

BJP

68

25

38.47

HLP

36

01

2.40

IND

105

05

12.14

Source: Statistical Report on the General Election to the Legislative Assembly of Himachal Pradesh, Election Commission of India, 2003, 2007, 2012, and Election Commission of Himachal Pradesh, 2017.

In the 2014 general elections, the BJP contested in 427 constituencies and won in 282. The INC, similarly, contested on 462 seats, of which it won merely 44. Though the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) wrapped up 336 seats as an alliance, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) folded at 60. With the BJP, at 282, emerging as the single largest party, all political discourses centred around coalitional and identity politics, regionalization etc. were paradoxically challenged. With the core leadership of the BJP being far stronger and its campaign being centrally managed, it is likely that the BJP in HP will benefit from centralization of democratic decision-making and pitching the rhetoric around localized issues. Prime Minister (PM) Modi’s poll pitch in Gujarat exhorting the electorate to vote BJP if they would like the pace of development in the state to continue certainly has implications for HP as well.

While the BJP would like its winning juggernaut to endure in HP, it is really Gujarat that the party desperately wants to win. With the Gujarat mandate having national implications, it is hardly surprising that the Election Commission of India notified the dates for the HP elections 13 days prior to those for Gujarat. Since the results of both the states will be declared on 20 December, the outcome of either state is unlikely to influence that of the other.

With Singh (contesting for the record seventh time) and Dhumal (attempting to return at the helm for the third time), the issue is merely not of power, but of its perpetuity and concentration within their families. In the eventuality of being voted back, either one, will try to entrench their dynastic ambitions by locating their political heirs to power positions. The question is who would succeed and whose political career will subsequently dependent upon emerging political exigencies.

Also, in comparison to plausible CM candidate(s), it is the candidate from the Congress who is allegedly tainted with allegations of criminal culpability, an issue already being exploited by the HP BJP within the banner of ‘Jawab Mange Himachal’. Singh, in this regard, has consistently maintained that he is the victim of ‘politically motivated vendetta’ and has initiated ‘Mission Repeat’ to demonstrate his accountability. Public perceptions, in this aspect, are widely divided with the treatment of various non-BJP politicians and political parties ranging from Lallu to Kejriwal validating public opinion on how public enforcement institutions are being differentially utilized by the BJP.

The BJP in HP, on the other hand, has certain advantages. Firstly, the party and its Hindutva philosophy is finding wide acceptance across India. Secondly, the charisma of PM Narendra Modi and the organizational abilities of its President, Amit Shah will indeed be exploited by the party. Thirdly, in comparison to the INC, decision-making is democratically centralized within the BJP, and finally, given that anti-incumbency has always been a deciding factor in the state elections, the BJP will definitely contest with an edge. In terms of leadership ability and deliverability followed by perceptions of development both the parties seem to have more or less similar experiences.

In an era of coalitional politics, the BJP has basically white-washed all opposition forcing a major realignment and rethink in the Indian political structure. The charisma of Prime Minister (PM) Modi, the ability of Modi-led government to substitute embedded leadership whereby, a generation of BJP leaders were rendered jobless, unification of public opinion on issues of nationalism (especially, after the JNU incident and the cross-border strikes by the Indian army) and Hindutva etc. have ensured that its saffron right-wing ideology finds widespread acceptance within the Indian society.

The biggest strategic advance made by the party, in my opinion, was enthused by an understanding that its ideology would always be questioned by the minorities and that it needed to diversify to accommodating the Indian middle class, which was precisely what it did.

The election juggernaut for the BJP, which is hopeful of returning to power in HP, was stimulated by the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Bilaspur on October 3. During his visit the PM laid the foundation of a 1,350 crore AIIMS project at Bilaspur, Indian Institute for Information Technology at Una and a steel processing plant at Khandrori, Kangra – all BJP concentrated districts. In his speech, he also focussed on corruption terming the Singh government as ‘jamanatisarkar’ (Government on bail) and raked in issues of cross-border strikes and One-Rank-One-Pension, fully aware of the sizable people HP has in the Indian armed forces.

The matter is, however far more complex given that the social is political and that HP does not exist in isolation. Politics is consequential to changing perceptions and the impacts of demonitization, Goods and Services Tax, overall economic slowdown characterized as ‘jobless growth’ and the manner in which majoritarian cultures are being forced upon people etc. are fast changing opinions of the electorate on the BJP government.

Additionally, and perhaps for the first time in HP, several socio-political and ideological issues are converging with the elections. The alleged murder of a forest guard by the timber mafia, the rape and murder of ‘Gudiya’, a sixteen-year-old school-going girl, whose mutilated body was discovered in Kotkhai on July 6, 2017 resulted in a huge public outcry. The matter is simply not of a heinous crime being committed in a so-called peaceful state, but of a breakdown in the moral consciousness. The issue of ‘Gudiya’ is emphatically linked with the notion of values, ethics and access to justice and will certainly have political implications.

Communalization of politics, which was hitherto unknown in HP, bared its tentacles in yet another case of alleged rape in Tissa area of Chamba district. Since the girl and the suspected perpetrator of rape belonged to two different religious identities, the incident flared up as a communal incident.

Two possible diagrammatically opposite scenarios therefore, are emerging in HP. In one there is a downturn in the political fortunes for the INC and the BJP fares as a majority party. The first eventuality is likely to engender a vertical split within the HPINC with multiple stakeholders claiming for control of the party and its leadership. Also, with the party lacking age dividend and leaders with mass appeal – questioning Singh’s six-decade long domination in HP politics will create issues of legitimacy.

In the second scenario, in the eventuality of INCs win, Virbhadra would be able to establish the political legacy of his family by ensuring the transfer of power to his son. That would certainly not bode well for Dhumal who will lose out on a similar possibility.

HP, on the whole, is witnessing what is sociologically termed as ‘social change’. Due to rampant urbanization and imitation of lifestyles unknown to the region fueled by substantial increase in disposable incomes, the state is undergoing changes, which are fundamental and structural in nature. Coupled with such changes are assertions in the form of political mobilizations, which will impinge on the 2017 elections.

Such transformations are having significant impacts on HPs primarily rural agrarian structures. Coupled with such variations are expanding aspirations and a burgeoning middle class. Any government being voted to power will have to accommodate such concerns.


Climate change, food security and sustaining peace

Dr Florian Krampe is a Researcher in Climate Change and Risk Project of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

‘We have succeeded at keeping famine at bay, we have not kept suffering at bay’, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres while briefing members of the UN Security Council on 12 October. Explaining the impediments to an effective response to the risks of famine in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, and, Guterres named conflict as a root cause of famine.

Guterres is right. In fact, a recent report on the state of the world’s food security—jointly published by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO)—puts the number of people affected both by hunger and conflict at 489 million. That is about 60 per cent of the 815 million people suffering worldwide from hunger and malnutrition. The report further details that the connection between conflict and hunger is especially notable ‘where the food security impacts of conflict were compounded by droughts or floods, linked in part to the El Niño phenomenon’. There appears to be a general consensus among UN agencies that conflict, as a root cause of hunger and malnutrition, needs to be addressed. Evidently, this is easier said than done.

Complex conflict, comprehensive peacebuilding



Building peace in post-conflict countries is rarely, if ever, straightforward. International actors often face insurmountable challenges when programming and implementing their projects. In addition to stopping violence, the aim of their work is to set states and societies on a peaceful path. Yet, the food-security situation clearly shows that the indirect, long-term effects of war further exaggerate this challenge. Many of these challenges relate to political and social aspects of post-war countries, such as human rights abuses, reconciliation and justice, as well as economic recovery and public health. Environmental and climate change expose post-conflict states further to new risks, exaggerating the human costs of war long after active combat has ceased.

The Lake Chad Basin is sadly one of the key examples of this dynamic. The ongoing insurgency in the region and the continued shrinking of Lake Chad (which is the main source of livelihood for millions of inhabitants) are causing a massive humanitarian crisis, intensifying the fragile security situation and increasing the cross-border displacement of populations. The Report of the Secretary-General points out: ‘Some 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region currently need humanitarian assistance, including 8.5 million in Nigeria.’ According to the report, 7.2 million people currently suffer severe food insecurity in the region, of which 4.7 million are located in the north-eastern Nigeria.

The interconnectedness of food security, natural resources, peace and conflict is not new to anyone familiar with fragile and conflict-affected states. The question is how to reverse this negative spiral. It is instrumental to focus on the questions of how interventions are interacting with other factors, what negative side effects may appear and how to reduce or, even better, prevent them. But, most of all, the reversal of this spiral involves developing a mindset that goes beyond ‘do no harm’ doctrines. In practice, that means focus and emphasis must be placed on opportunities and synergies to equally end hunger, reduce poverty, foster a healthy ecosystem, support sustainable natural resource management and, ultimately, to help sustain peace.

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Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). A farmer at work in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region. (from Wiki)

How can governments and international agencies better respond to food security in post-conflict settings?



Acknowledge complexity. Involved actors must acknowledge the complex underlying dimensions of the problem. While Guterres emphasizes conflict as a root cause, he downplayed the role of environmental and climate change—both in his current and previous assessments. His previous assessment of the humanitarian crisis around Lake Chad fell short of addressing and acknowledging the underlying environmental dynamics that significantly affect the water and food security of local communities in the region and make them vulnerable to insurgent recruitment.

Improve assessment capacity. There is a need for more integrated risk assessments that focus on climate and environmental factors, but also social, political and economics. For example, climate-related security risks are not just related to climate but are part of larger social–ecological processes and interactions that need to be better understood. The assessments must seek to understand the role of women, local contexts and the inclusion of marginalized groups, especially with regard to access to natural resources.



Be prepared. Both states and international state actors have to understand the state–society relationship—before, during and after crisis. One key way governments can increase their ability to cope with shock is to simply be prepared. This is of course difficult in conflict-affected states and, admittedly, often one of the actual sources of post-conflict fragility. Yet, supporting government efforts to focus on the state–society relationship is necessary, because a state that focuses on the delivery of services to those it is suppose to serve is a state that cares about its inhabitants. Service delivery is fundamental in two ways: one, it reduces vulnerability and increases resilience; and two, it reduces distrust towards the government. Without a certain level of trust between state and society, shocks cannot be adequately addressed.

Think holistically. Lastly, there is a tendency, especially among UN agencies—often due to their mandate—to treat issues such as food security and natural resources as technical issues in need of a technical solution. This approach is doomed to fail because, fundamentally, access to food, land and other natural resources—like the conflicts themselves—are deeply political processes. They need to be treated as such.

Future steps



Unquestionably, within the past year with Guterres at the helm, space has opened within the UN system to more frequently discuss the questions of sustaining peace and conflict prevention. The strategies above are some examples that enable national and international actors to successfully get at the root causes of food insecurity in conflict-affected states. Each of these steps must explicitly include a focus on gender as a crucial, yet often neglected, dimension. Most importantly, in addition to understanding risk, there is a need to further shift the discourse of intervention programming and implementation towards opportunity. Will such an approach stop conflicts and prevent people from taking up arms? Absolutely not. But the evidence is clear that it will make it much harder for insurgent groups to mobilize people for their cause.

The Perils of Military Engagement Against North Korea

Jonathan Augustine

The $20 million we spend daily maintaining the US nuclear arsenal could instead be used to provide $1,000 per day for every one of the twenty thousand children who die from hunger. – J. Philip Newell (A New Harmony)

Faced now with the possibility of nuclear war in East Asia, I often wonder what civilians annihilated in the heartless campaigns of modern warfare might have said about their untimely deaths that were ordered by tyrants and presidents far removed from the scenes of devastation.

So many innocent lives have been lost to conventional bombs, atomic weapons and in recent years, drones. Have democratically elected leaders searched their souls and come to terms with what really occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Technology has made warfare impersonal and cruel, yet it seems that the heads of nations are willing to discard their highest principles in exchange for the latest war technologies and weapons of mass destruction.

In the present confrontation with North Korea, the foremost consideration of the U.S. government is whether an attack on North Korea will endanger the American homeland. In theory, the United States is supposed to defend its allies, South Korea and Japan. However, if the authorities are truly concerned with the safety of their allies, provoking a desperate dictatorship that has openly declared its intent to launch missiles against South Korea and Japan is extremely problematic, both strategically and from a humanitarian point of view.

The U.S. military routinely advertises the pinpoint devastation that can be wrought by its ‘bunker-busting’ weapons, with the clear aim to ‘decapitate’ the North Korean regime. Military experts argue that 300 Tomahawk missiles are sufficient to disable North Korea’s military, but this does not guarantee that they can destroy all existing missiles and nuclear weapons, were these to be simultaneously launched from hidden bases, mobile launchers and nuclear-submarines.

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It seems that the Pyongyang regime has been forced into a siege mentality—a rational fear that the U.S. will use its conventional forces to eradicate them at any moment. Ironically, however, the world now faces the troubling predicament that the current U.S. administration is itself caught in a similar psychological trap. While Pyongyang pushes ahead with the deployment of nuclear-tipped ICBMs, the Trump administration may conclude that its only recourse is to launch an immediate attack, in spite of expected collateral damage to its allies.

 

It is unnerving that presidents, prime ministers and dictators alike have the power to detonate weapons of mass destruction. The citizenry of these military powers has not officially sanctioned or granted them this authority through referenda or other democratic means. When one looks back at the Manhattan Project, it becomes painfully apparent how General Groves, the project’s director, swayed President Truman to authorize the dropping of the atomic bombs.

In the decades that followed, few checks were placed on the chain of command to prevent emotionally unstable presidents from acting impulsively on their animosity and fear. Simply put, both Trump and Kim Jong-Un have dangerous degrees of authority that neither the American Founding Fathers nor Marx and Engels could have envisioned.

It is surprising that the South Korean and Japanese heads of state are not more insistent in their opposition to a U.S. offensive against North Korea. Koreans above the age of 70 remember in graphic detail the devastating carpet bombing that wiped out Pyongyang, and are aware that Kim Jong-Un’s army will attempt to wipe out Seoul with equal fury. The Japanese position has remained the same since current Prime Minister Abe has ascended to power. Pledging unquestioning support to Trump’s foreign policies, Abe has repeatedly declared that Japan will soon try to amend the Constitution to allow for its own military to “defend the country”—a development that undoubtedly would destabilize East Asia even further. Instead of trying to seek mutual understanding of the past, Abe and his team of nationalist historians have promoted a revisionist view of the Second World War which denies the coercion of the so-called “comfort women” and downplays the conscripted labor of 600,000 Koreans under brutal conditions. In fact, in both North and South Korea, politicians and diplomats have long felt humiliated by the Japanese government’s lack of sincerity and contrition.

Any country that considers an attack on North Korea must confront the question of who turned the DPRK into such a defiant rogue nation. As much as Kim Jong-Un’s regime is to be blamed for the plight of the country, the three decades of brutal Japanese colonial occupation and the firebombing of North Korea—which exceeded the damage done to German or Japanese cities during World War II—bear partial responsibility for creating this vindictive military regime.

Resolving nuclear confrontation requires self-reflection and relativistic thinking. Looking back a few decades, it’s not difficult to find examples of national leaders who were willing to dispense with bombast to avoid disaster. Notably President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, who responded rationally to the prospect of a nuclear holocaust by meeting to address their political and strategic differences in the Reykjavík Summit of 1986, which led to a de-escalation of tensions.

To serve one’s nation can also mean to enter into dialogue with the citizens of every nation, and between individuals there is always a hope for healing and transformation. So why should it be impossible to alter the relationships between antagonistic nations?

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The Presidential Election

Dr Gopa Nayak is a writer and an academician. She has a DPhil from the University of Oxford and her first Master’s degree is in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. She writes in both Odia and English and her poems have been included in anthologies of poetry of women. She can be contacted at gopanayak[at]gmail.com.
Gopa Nayak
Gopa Nayak

I have been following the news about the presidential election and I must admit among all the names floated around I would have preferred the name of the metro man who symbolized modernity, communication and effectiveness among others. These are perhaps the virtues that India needs to swim in the 21 st century. However, it was not to be. That did not send me into despair though. When I read about the candidate who is set to win the election for the coveted post of the President of India I could not help but think that it is yet another triumph card of the ruling party.

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Ram Nath Kovind (photo: wiki)

The candidate’s Dalit background came up for discussion and within a few hours the opposing candidate was another Dalit. The politics for the election of the most coveted ceremonial position in the Indian democracy cannot escape the political drama. However, the selection of the candidates by both the ruling and the opposition parties in this huge democracy suggests a lot. That Dalits have become visible as a power to reckon with. That, this is perhaps, the final death knell on Brahmanism. Or maybe, it symbolizes equality across different sections of the Indian society bringing an end to segregation. Finally has India got rid of the inherent inequality persistent for decades if not centuries?

I was taken back to my Delhi School days in the 80s when I came across Professor Srinivas who wrote in the late 1950s that Indian society is constantly changing and this change is more cultural than structural. Indian society has definitely gone beyond the cultural changes of brahminisation and sanskritisation.

Although the present government is often accused of brahminisation by focusing on the leaders’ and their supporters’ penchant for vegetarianism, brahminisation with its focus on vegetarianism and forbiddance of drinking alcohol has been abandoned by most Indians. Indians are influenced by political and economic agendas which drive the cultural change in Indian society today.

There was a time when Brahmins controlled the right to knowledge through their acquaintance with Sanskrit language. Growing up as the daughter of a Sanskrit professor who was not a Brahmin by birth, I have seen my father, a Fulbright scholar from Harvard University fighting till his last day, trying to establish the fact the Sanskrit is a secular language in which some Hindu religious texts are written. It is not the prerogative of the Brahmins alone to study this language and the texts written in the language.

Thankfully these modern thoughts are now accepted without any pretentions in present day India. Moreover, another facet of Brahmanism, which is reflected through ban on alcohol has been promoted by leaders like Nitish Kumar as a political move with cultural underpinnings. In a similar vein perhaps the choice of the Presidential candidates is a reaction to the political climate. However, it is also a reflection of the cultural changes that Indian society has lately embraced.

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Meira Kumar (photo: wiki)

It is worth noting that, finally, we have not one but two worthy Dalit candidates who are educated and cultured enough to be the first citizen of this huge democracy where social stratification traditionally happened on the basis of birth. The selection of these candidates may be criticized as an example of tokenism towards the most backward sections of Indian society. However the fact remains that these sections of the society can no more be ignored by politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties.

The next President of India will reflect the ethos of the changing Indian society. A society which finally feels the urgency to cater to the needs of everyone and desires to meet the demands of all. Equal opportunity for everyone is the premise on which the election of the next President of India will be finally settled.

Why should Bharat have to feed India at its cost?

Mohan Guruswamy is Chairman and founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi, India. He has over three decades of experience in government, industry and academia. He can be contacted at mohanguru[at]gmail.com.

Mohan Guruswamy

It was around the mid-1960s when the Paddock brothers, Paul and William, the ‘prophets of doom’, predicted that in another decade, recurring famines and an acute shortage of food grains would push India towards disaster. Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich in his 1968 best selling book The Population Bomb warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s in countries like India due to over population.

Their prophecies were based on a rising shortage of food because of droughts, which forced India to import 10 million tonnes of grain in 1965-66 and a similar amount a year before. Little did they know that thanks to quick adoption of a new technology by Indian farmers, the country would more than double its annual wheat production from 11.28 million tonnes in 1962-63 to more than twice that within ten years to 24.99 million tonnes. It was 71.26 million tonnes in 2007. Similarly rice production also grew spectacularly from 34.48 million tonnes to almost 90 million tonnes in 2007.

Total food grains production in India reached an all-time high of 251.12 million tonnes (MT) in FY15. Rice and wheat production in the country stood at 102.54 MT and 90.78 MT, respectively. India is among the 15 leading exporters of agricultural products in the world.  The value of which was Rs.1.31 lakh crores in FY15. 

Despite its falling share of GDP, agriculture plays a vital role in India’s economy. Over 58 per cent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. Census 2011 says there are 118.9 million cultivators across the country or 24.6 per cent of the total workforce of over 481 million. In addition there are 144 million persons employed as agricultural laborers.  If we add the number of cultivators and agricultural laborers, it would be around 263 million or 22 percent of the population.  As per estimates by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the share of agriculture and allied sectors (including agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishery) was 16.1 per cent of the Gross Value Added (GVA) during 2014–15 at 2011–12 prices.  This about sums up what ails our Agriculture- its contribution to the GDP is fast dwindling, now about 13.7 per cent, and it still sustains almost 60 per cent of the population.

With 157.35 million hectares, India holds the world’s second largest agricultural land area. India has about 20 agro-climatic regions, and all 15 major climates in the world exist here. Consequently it is a large producer of a wide variety of foods. India is the world’s largest producer of spices, pulses, milk, tea, cashew and jute; and the second largest producer of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane, cotton and oilseeds. Further, India is 2nd in global production of fruits and vegetables, and is the largest producer of mango and banana. It also has the highest productivity of grapes in the world. Agricultural export constitutes 10 per cent of the country’s exports and is the fourth-largest exported principal commodity.

According to the Agriculture Census, only 58.1 million hectares of land was actually irrigated in India. Of this 38 percent was from surface water and 62 per cent was from groundwater. India has the world’s largest groundwater well equipped irrigation system.

There is a flip-side to this great Indian agriculture story.

The Indian subcontinent boasts nearly half the world’s hungry people. Half of all children under five years of age in South Asia are malnourished, which is more than even sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 65 per cent of the farmland consists of marginal and small farms less than one hectare in size. Moreover, because of population growth, the average farm size has been decreasing.  The average size of operational holdings has almost halved since 1970 to 1.05 ha. Approximately 92 million households or 490 million people are dependent on marginal or small farm holdings as per the 2001 census. This translates into 60 per cent of rural population or 42 per cent of total population.

About 70 per cent of India lives in rural areas and all-weather roads do not connect about 40 per cent of rural habitations. Lack of proper transport facility and inadequate post harvesting methods, food processing and transportation of foodstuffs has meant an annual wastage of Rs. 50,000 crores, out of an out of about Rs.370, 000 crores.

There is a pronounced bias in the government’s procurement policy, with Punjab, Haryana, coastal AP and western UP accounting for the bulk (83.51 per cent) of the procurement. The food subsidy bill has increased from Rs. 24500 crores in 1990-91 to Rs. 1.75 lakh crores in 2001-02 to Rs. 2.31 lakh crores in 2016. Instead of being the buyer of last resort FCI has become the preferred buyer for the farmers. The government policy has resulted in mountains of food-grains coinciding with starvation deaths. A few regions of concentrated rural prosperity.

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Image: wikipedia

The total subsidy provided to agricultural consumers by way of fertilizers and free power has quadrupled from Rs. 73000 crores in 1992-93, to Rs. 3.04 lakh crores now. While the subsidy was launched to reach the lower rung farmers, it has mostly benefited the well-off farmers. Free power has also meant a huge pressure on depleting groundwater resources.

These huge subsidies come at a cost. Thus, public investment in agriculture, in real terms, had witnessed a steady decline from the Sixth Five-Year Plan onwards. With the exception of the Tenth Plan, public investment has consistently declined in real terms (at 1999-2000 prices) from Rs.64, 012 crores during the Sixth Plan (1980-85) to Rs 52,107 crores during the Seventh Plan (1985-90), Rs 45,565 crores during the Eighth Plan (1992-97) and about Rs 42,226 crores during Ninth Plan (1997-2002).

Share of agriculture in total Gross Capital Formation (GCF) at 93-94 prices has halved from 15.44 per cent to 7.0 per cent in 2000-01. In 2001-02 almost half of the amount allocated to irrigation was actually spent on power generation. While it makes more economic sense to focus on minor irrigation schemes, major and medium irrigation projects have accounted for more than three fourth of the planned funds

By 2050, India’s population is expected to reach 1.7 billion, which will then be equivalent to nearly that of China and the US combined. A fundamental question then is can India feed 1.7 billion people properly? In the four decades starting 1965-66, wheat production in Punjab and Haryana has risen nine-fold, while rice production increased by more than 30 times. These two states and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh now not only produce enough to feed the country but to leave a significant surplus for export.  

Farm outputs in India in recent years have been setting new records. It has gone up from 208 MT in 2005-06 to an estimated 251 MT in 2014-15. Even accounting for population growth during this period, the country would need probably around 225 to 230 MT to feed its people. There is one huge paradox implicit in this. Record food production is depressing prices. No wonder farmers with marketable surpluses are restive.

India is producing enough food to feed its people, now and in the foreseeable future.   Since food production is no longer the issue, putting economic power into the hands of the vast rural poor becomes the issue.

The first focus should be on separating them from their smallholdings by offering more gainful vocations. With the level of skills prevailing, only the construction sector can immediately absorb the tens of millions that will be released.  Government must step up its expenditures for infrastructure and habitations to create a demand for labor. The land released can be consolidated into larger holdings by easy credit to facilitate accumulation of smaller holdings to create more productive farms.

Finally the entire government machinery geared to controlling food prices to satisfy the urban population should be dismantled. If a farmer has to buy a motorcycle or even a tractor he pays globally comparative prices, so why should he make food available to the modern and industrial sector at the worlds lowest prices?

Why should Bharat have to feed India at its cost?