Published: Tuesday 30 April 1996

Missing the point

I read the three views oft economic' liberalisation expressed in the article 'Whither liberalisation' with interest (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 17).

Unfortunately, no clear viewpoint emerges and the reader is left in a state of confusion. The views expressed by the columnists Arun Kumar, Kirit Parikh and Jagdish Shettigar coincide' with those of the CPI (M), the Congress (I) and the BJP respectively.

Arun Kumar points out the existence of large global capital flows which unspecified "godfathers of globalisation wish to harness, by offering ideal terms, free mobility and guarantees against nationalisation". According to him, the issue is not the inflow of foreign capital but the terms on which it comes. The cpi (m) in West Bengal is feeling rather virtuous that it is rolling out the red carpet for foreign direct investment in the basic industries. It has conveniently forgotten, as has Arun Kumar, that the condition on which foreign capital flows in is profit, which can be sourced only from the exploitation of local labour and cheap resources.

Kirit Parikh seeks to hoodwink us by talking of a free competitive market. It is well-known that a free competitive market is a thing of the past. The very processes of capitalist competition have given rise to the concentration and-centralisation of capital leading to monopoly capitalism. Trusts and cartels - rather than small, independent capitalists - dominate the production of commodities. From being price-takers, they have become price-givers. Competition is based less on prices and more on the division and re-division of markets. It is determined by one's economic power, political clout and connections. Surely, Kirit Parikh could not have overlooked the phenomenal increase in mergers, alliances and takeovers and the consistent increase in prices, barring those of a few consumer durables. These trends have been the rule since the beginning of the liberalisation programme.

Shettigar advocates support for agro-based industries and in particular, scientific storage facilities for horticultural products. This gives us the impression that the rural poor would uniformly benefit if only the horticultural produce could be preserved and marketed. But, in reality the situation is quite different. The bulk of the rural population is either landless or subsists on fragmented patches of unproductive, rainfed lands. At the sametime, a small but politically significant rural bourgeoisie controls agro- based industries Re rice mills and sugar factories. Following liberalisation, new trends like contract farming for multinational corporations (MNCs) like Pepsi, and corporate farming promoted by companies like Maxworth Orchards have emerged. These enable MNCs and the domestic bourgeoisie to jointly exploit the rich natural resources, cheap labour and traditional knowledge. For those who benefit from these trends, would Shettigar advocate storage facilities?

It is clear that economic liberalisation is a necessity imposed by the objective conditions of a crisis of market availability, on the Indian capitalist class. It has nothing to do with the economic development of the people as a whole but is solely concerned with enhancing the profits of the capitalists. Instead of exposing the anti-people nature of the liberalisation programme, the three columnists treat it as a mere economic policy that can be suitably tailored according to one's whims. This keeps alive the illusion that an alternative to this policy is possible within the current political system, and all that it required is another party coming to power. The truth is that all political parties are faithfully serving the capitalist class, albeit under various banners and slogans. How long can the people be fooled?

New Delhi - 110 008...

The real thing

In the article 'Playing with life' (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 17), the box entitled 'A council in cause' mentions a Sanskrit term used in Ayurveda called kshaarasootra. The word has been translated to denote a 'medicated thread', but the actual meaning in my opinion should be, 'the principles of chemical salts'. Kshaar in, Sanskrit refers to 'salt' and sootra is understood as 'principle'.

Bombay - 400 054...

Nearer home!

'Call of the wild' (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 19) written by L A K Singh, mentions the Asiatic cheetah. A slight correction seems, necessary. It was the princely state of Korwai and not Korea where the last cheetahs were shot in the year 1948. Kindly refer to page 103 of the Encyclopedia of Indian Natural History published during the centenary year of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The error in the BNHS journal has been corrected.

I have been a regular subscriber of the magazine since its very start. I would like a list of the'important subjects covered by Down To Earth.

Bangalore - 560 019...

Clothing the empire

The letter by T L Arens published in Down To Earth (December 31, 1994). ends with the remark that the Southern countries should determine their own development priorities "without waiting for the consumption habits to change in the North". I am sorry that he does not see the fallacy of his argument.

Southern countries can hardly determine their priorities independent of the interests which develop within their own societies as a result of trade with the North. Fattened by export earnings, these interests gain legitimacy and status because they symbolise eco- nomic growth. This newfound lifestyle is inevitably a copy of the North. So, if a Northerner cannot defecate without 17 litres of water, the same practice becomes ot symbol of the good life in the South. Sadly, Southerners cannot see how a Northern cut in water consumption would help conserving water here.

Arens' other question is less transparent. He asks, "Should the us consume fewer cotton garments from Southern countries?" Apparently, he wants to know how this might help the garment-supplying countries of the South.

Initially, it won't; indeed nothing would, as the South is caught in a trap of unequal terms of trade negotiations. The high consumption of garments in the North ostensibly seems to promote economic growth in the South. Actually this growth is achieved by a Southern country cheapening the costs of its labour and natural resources, bringing about deeper imbalances within its own society.

Ultimately, a Southern country's extra earnings through increased exports to the relentlessly consuming North are frittered away by the devaluation of its'ca acitytob Iuy higher technology from the N6rtfh, The latter is constantly ahead oflis'ih developing such technologies beca 'use the basic necessities of life come to it so cheaply from the'South, leaving it an enormous surplus time.

The centuries of colonial rule provided one such vast block of surplus time. GATT IS going to provide another, though we all seem to agree, in this instance, not to call it a @Sec6nd "colonial rule"!

KRISHNA KUMAR , Department of Education , University ofDelhi, Delhi - 110 007 ...

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.