blogbharti spells diversity

around 1830 unique blogs/sites linked to in around an year (maybe less). through around 2,100 posts. rough estimates- but, i guess you know what those figures mean. precisely.


manmohan singh on subsidies- do you really want to know what he said?

manmohan singh tells the country:
"We spend far too much money funding subsidies in the name of equity, with neither equity objective nor efficiency objective being met," he said while speaking at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi.

The Prime Minister called for more rational solutions to deal with the problems of regional imbalance and inequities in growth.
who asked him his opinion, anyway? i am sure the congress party doesn't want to know what he thinks. neither does the left. nor do karunanidhi, laloo prasad yadav, sharad pawar, ram vilas paswan and mayawati.

for the last three years, on rare occasions, at the little boys's parties (that no one really significant in the government bothers to attend) that he is allowed to go to unchaperoned, manmohan singh has made similar noises...but his minders know better. they brought in the employment guarantee act which guarantees steady incomes to village level politicians, fixers and sundry entrepreneurs, state governments like andhra pradesh and tamil nadu have issued ration cards in such generous numbers that there are significantly more ration cards in those states than families, and more money has been pumped into lossmaking psus and more money shall be paid to government and public sector employees by way of pay hikes in the near future.

i hope he shuts up. i hope his minders would stick some plaster over his foul mouth.


race and caste

While trying to blog on connections between Dalit struggles and people of color struggles in the U.S. one thing that struck me was the similarities of caste and whiteness; specifically on not seeing one’s own privilege as an upper caste Hindu or as a white person. One thing whites have done in America is try to co-opt movements from people of color and try to make them their own or try to co-opt them by trying to enfold certain leaders from communities of color into the mainstream political fold so only cosmetic changes are done and no real change happens. [...] So too for the Congress Party of India, which for a long time was really the only political party that had control of the Indian government. While Gandhi and the Congress Party claimed to represent the interests of India and to be for all Indians in reality the Congress Party was actually run by upper caste men; while, even though many of whom were more “liberal” minded when it came to religion, they still enjoyed the benefits of caste.
in the second post in 'the spotlight series' on blogbharti, jack stephens of the mustard seed, looks at the similarities between the struggles of the lower castes in india and the people of color in the united states.


the spotlight series

dilip d'souza on being a liberal:
You want to know about being liberal? This woman might have some thoughts. I’ve always thought that one of the things about being liberal is that you live your life as you want and leave others to their lives. Man and woman kissing, hurting nobody — leave them be. But Organizer Lady must think that’s for the crows. Instead, we must foist our values on others, especially if we wear an official-looking badge.
the first in a series of posts, the spotlight series, by articulate and thinking bloggers from a diverse spectrum of worlds in the indian blogworld and outside, at blogbharti.


smart cards: time for a smart dole?

a recent news report:
The Centre is finalising a proposal to use multi-application smart cards with unique IDs for citizens to check largescale illegal immigration and to better target and implement government schemes.
the smart cards can be used in other, much more important, ways too:
"The multi-purpose smart card will help in effective targeting of subsidies and better monitoring of programmes and ensure that fraudulent multiple claims are minimised. It will also help in checking illegal migration in the border areas," said an official.

The need for a multi-purpose national identity card has been felt for purposes as diverse as drawing benefits from government’s flagship schemes like NREGA, getting ration from PDS shops or meeting security concerns.
'effective targeting of subsidies and better monitoring of programmes'? i'd talked about how a straight forward dole would be much more effective than a hundred different varieties of elaborately devised poverty alleviation schemes in this post. and how poor the monitoring of programmes such as the nrega is, in these ( a, b, c) posts. and i'd talked here about how other developing countries like mexico are using variants of the dole to not just supplement the incomes of poor villagers- they're also using them to achieve better spread of education, and to improve women and child care etc., looks like the goi has learnt some important lessons- but has it learnt the most important one? a hundred different schemes run by a hundred different kind of central, state and local government agencies would always mean that the programmes could spring several thousand holes through which funds could leak. why not keep things simple?

why not stick to one smart programme, a dole, instead of making the poor try to prove their identity, their deprivation, their need to several authorities through several kinds of registration, documentation, endorsement and verification, every time a government, at any random level, develops doubts about a certain programme or wants to a introduce new scheme-scam to further its own electoral or other interests? in this context, i'd like to express my agreement with the indian communists- they have always fought against targeting. i've different reasons for endorsing universalization- one smart universal scheme, i believe, would be more effective than several poorly targeted, and even more poorly monitored schemes. one smart scheme, i'm sure, would eliminate the need for all the other schemes. a dole for every rural family could be used to achieve much more than a small reduction in current levels of poverty. as i'd tried to point out in this post, it could also be used to ward off future poverty.

john elliot, writing here, discusses the smart cards too.

no mogambo, no story

a few days ago, times now, the television channel, had broken some wind- here's the gist:
Union health minister A Ramadoss has generated yet another controversy by virtually charging four chief ministers and as many as 150 MPs of lobbying with him for the "powerful tobacco industry"[...]. Speaking in Chennai, he said: "Four CMs and 150 MPs have met me to tell me that they don't want anti-smoking advertisements and labelling of products. Seven CMs wrote to me pleading for the beedi workers and one CM met me three times regarding this."

When TOI contacted Ramadoss, he refused to identify the chief ministers. However, he said: "Where is this country heading towards? Are the lives of 1.1 billion people not more valuable than the livelihood of 30 lakh beedi workers from this kind of work? The powerful tobacco lobby is going all out to ensure the warnings don't appear."
for the next few hours, and a couple of days, the channel tried its utmost to present the news as a major issue that you should be concerned about, and the presenters went on to tell you every few minutes after they were finished disclosing to you the latest on other critical issues such as vengsarkar's writing commitments, the bachchan family's tirth yatras and so on...that the minister was refusing to divulge the names of those wicked politicians who had tried to sabotage the passing of an important piece of legislation..and the minister was still refusing to divulge... well, they were trying as i said, doing everything but standing on their exquisitely manicured hands, to stir up some indignation in our constipated souls..

to check whether their efforts were working, the channel also asked viewers to respond to a question that went something like- do you think ramadoss should disclose the names of the politicians? they also said something about national interest and other prurient interests etc., actually, it'd have taken the reporters/performers not more than a couple of minutes to discover who the politicians were if they had checked their own or the toi's or indiatimes' archives. and found this:
In a day and age when encouraging smoking is politically incorrect, political parties in the state as well as Congress president Sonia Gandhi have become champions of beedi smokers, thanks to the electoral compulsions triggered by the Karimnagar byelection scheduled for December 4.

In the eye of the storm is the recent central directive which made it mandatory for 50 per cent of the beedi packet wrappers to be covered with the statutory warning sign.
and they'd have also found a lot more news coming in from chattisgarh, madhya pradesh, bengal and elswehere about how bidi workers were agitated, and agitating, over the directive. and then they would've found out about how mps from several states had made representations to the health minister and even the prime minister about their concerns..they'd have discovered that there are around 8 million beedi workers in the country, and not 3 millions as the minister says, working, and dying young from, long hard hours with virtually no health or other protection at wages ranging from 20 to 50 rupees a day. most of them are women and young children from obc, dalit and muslim families. and the reporters could've given up their search there. 8 million lower caste, marginalized families- how can so many and such kind of people be stitched together into a powerful, but largely elusive tobacco lobby? would dilute the dramatic interest, right? i mean a small group of dapper suited, mysterious, corporate executives lurking in the shadows of the corridors of power and 8 million families living in neighbourhoods even your maid would find ugly- who'd you cast as mogambo? no mogambo, no story. the channel, you'll notice, has lost its interest in the story. they did check their archives, perhaps, eventually. what does it all mean? it means that politicians are good listeners and presswallahs are bad readers and worse screenwriters.


trade is good...for the poor

i've often wondered why the young/middle aged/old semi-literate bania chugging around the countryside on a rickety auto-trolley, on dirt roads that wouldn't have been there if many others like him hadn't paved them with older, more rickety contraptions, before him, carrying the world, sachetized, to the poor is such a universal target of revilement while the braminized doctor/engineer/babu who's paid to visit the village, but never does, is such an honoured member of indian society. they both serve certain needs- the bania performs his job sincerely while the brahmin uses almost the same rhetoric as that voiced by anti-globalisation protesters in doha and seattle to justify his non-performance. the state supports the doctor and it also supports those who go to jnu to learn to coin new terms of abuse for the bania. for his trade. in an old article, meghnad desai too echoes the view that the bania is a friend of the poor, across the world:
The world as it is now is unequal. In 1975, the OECD countries had around 80 per cent of world GDP. By 2000, that proportion has come down to 70 per cent. And this is what the first world fears. For the first time in the history of capitalism, the metropolis is worried. This is because capital is finding more profitable niches abroad and is prepared to desert the industrialised north. These rich countries must now find jobs for their unskilled male manual workforce. They have to invest in training and to restructure their welfare states. The rich have problems and so they want to slow down the pace of trade liberalisation. They want to impose social and green clauses to stop poor countries exporting.

The WTO meeting in Seattle was the south's opportunity to register its demands. But the exigencies of the US presidential elections and the financial needs of Al Gore's campaign were more important for Clinton than the needs of the third world. So he sabotaged it. The rich will use any excuse to hang on to their privileges - even anti-capitalism.


'worthy but ineffective'

Whether it is called the market, or capitalism, or neoliberalism, it is a tool that has not yet been harnessed fully for poverty alleviation. As Desai points out, the market is a tool for eliminating scarcity. It is departures from the free market, such as big subsidies for agriculture in rich countries, that are doing most to solidify poverty. Even from a tactical perspective, arguments expressed in the language of the free market are listened to, whereas moral sentimentality about excessive inequality is worthy but ineffective.
from an old review of meghnad desai's marx's revenge. seems like an interesting book.


why most indian states should seriously think of seceding from india

THE Green revolution from the late sixties onwards, owing to its markedly greater success in Northern and North western India compared to other parts of the country, had led to increase in the regional concentration of foodgrains output, to a degree of which few are aware. Over a decade ago we had worked out the changing structure of the various regions' contribution to aggregate food output in India for the period 1960-61 to 1987-88 and presented the summarised data in the form of snapshots of three sub-periods, in Table 1. This shows a marked, indeed dramatic shift. Total food output in the regions considered rose by 82 per cent from the early sixties to the mid-eighties. Accounting for just around a quarter (26 per cent) of total food output during 1959-60 to 1961-62 (taking the average of the three years), North and North-Western India had increased its share to two-fifths (39.8 per cent) by the mid-eighties, taking the triennial average for 1983-84 to 1985-86. All other regions of India showed a greater or lesser decline: Eastern India from 23.2 per cent to 20.2 per cent, South India from 21.5 per cent to to 17 per cent and West-central India from 29.1 per cent to 23.1 per cent. Of the addition to grain output during this period, which was 65 million tonnes, nearly 37 million tonnes or over half came came from North India alone.
read ms.utsa patnaik's glib explanation of how this severely distorted growth has been good for india- read and understand that the grotesque edifice of food security in india has been built and rests on growth in a few states in the north and north-west and the concomitant decline in food production across the majority of states! food security at the national level sorely depends on food insecurity in most of the states!

and that is exactly the point i've been trying to make in this series [ (1), (2) and (3) ] of posts. i'd outlined how difficult it is for most indian states to think of producing enough food for all the residents living in any given state. it's not possible because a) the country already produces enough food for everyone, and b) the government distributes surpluses from a few states in all the deficit states so that the total market for local farmers in any given state stands diminished. why should farmers use 100% of the resources at their disposal to produce enough food for 80-90% of the consumption needs in any particular state? any producer would produce only as much as his market demands- in deficit states in india, the government of india ensures that the deficit (5-70% of total consumption needs, across various states) is bridged by bringing in surplus grain from punjab and a couple of other states. so where can the farmers in that state sell their produce if they produce enough for 100% of the consumption needs in that particular state? they can't a) sell in their own state all their produce because the grain sold through the pds takes away 5-70% of their market- their produce can't compete with pds grain on price, and b) they can't sell in other states, because of increased transactional costs, trade restrictions and because their grain, in all probability, would be costlier than grain from surplus states like punjab which have over the years achieved certain economies of scale (i shall touch upon these reasons again, later).

in the final analysis, what the governnment of india does in all the deficit states is to follow precisely the kind of ugly, neo-imperialist strategy that patnaik and sainath and many like them accuse the e.u., and the u.s., of adopting in most of the third world- dumping cheap, subsidized produce and driving the local farmers to suicide.

to survive, any food-deficit indian state needs to produce enough food for all the citizens in that state - it is also necessary for the overall development of the economy of that state that agriculture, and farmers, should be able to grow. that isn't possible for most indian states as long as they remain indian states.

older posts in this series: [1], [2], [3].
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