Resurrecting ‘Garibi Hatao': Congress' Latest Confidence Trick

On the eve of Assembly polls in several states, the Congress-led UPA has resurrected the slogan introduced by Indira Gandhi 35 years ago, in an attempt to counterbalance the terror unleashed against the Naxalbari movement: ‘Garibi Hatao' (Eradicate Poverty) and the ‘20-point programme'. But this move serves instead to underline the supreme failure of the Congress' ‘Human Face' promises (be it the three-decade old Garibi Hatao, or the contemporary ‘Rural Employment Guarantee', or the grand Vidarbha Package) to eradicate poverty. The ranks of the poor, destitute, and desperate have only swelled – and UPA's slick slogans like Garibi Hatao and Bharat Nirman are bound to meet the fate of the NDA's India Shining.

Addressing the First Agricultural Summit at Delhi on April 9, 2005, Manmohan Singh had said “I am not sure whether we can say that there is an agricultural crisis”. Now, faced with a stubborn flood of starvation deaths and farmers' suicides, the same Manmohan, while addressing the Second Agricultural Summit hosted by FICCI on October 19, 2006, was forced to admit there is an agricultural crisis in the country and that the crisis is very acute in some regions. However, he maintained a polite silence on farmers' suicides as well as the issue of displacement by SEZs and mega projects. He suggested that there was a “duality” between the regions farmers are experiencing “acute distress” and those where farmers are benefiting from advanced marketing strategies, improved infrastructure and technology and so on. He pitted “food security for the poorest” against ‘returns to farmers' and warned that it might not be possible to check inflation, since “we cannot sacrifice the interest of the farming community”. He called for a “paradigm shift” in agrarian policy – brave words indeed. But in the name of a ‘shift', all he offered was a half-hearted suggestion of the need to “debate” a law to “regulate private moneylenders”, and the announcement of yet another “package” for distressed farmers, not to mention praise for the NREGS.

The PM ought to remember that it is precisely in those regions ( Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra , and Andhra Pradesh) which boast of the most “advanced” technology and infrastructure, which are the killing fields of debt and farmers' suicides. How effective are the PM's cosmetic “packages” can be guessed by the fact that since his visit to Vidarbha, the monthly count of farmers' suicides in the region has reached an all-time high of 125 per month: an average of four a day. And it is no secret that it is hoarding, speculation, and black-marketeering that cause inflation, and the dismantling of the PDS endangers food security, rather than the virtuous will of the Government to ensure returns to farmers! Rather, farmers' suicides are caused precisely because of the Government's refusal to guarantee minimum support price and its policy of imports of agricultural products rendered cheap by massive farm subsidies in the advanced countries. And the Congress' “policy shift” is unwilling to roll back these policies, unwilling even to consider loan waivers, even at the cost of continued suicides. Instead, responding for the first time to criticism of wheat imports, Agriculture Minister Pawar at the Summit declared that more time must pass before the “full benefit” of such “reforms” could be realised! How many more farmers must die before the “full benefit” is achieved, we wonder?

As for the NREGS, not even one-fourth of the intended beneficiaries have been provided jobs and a mere 25% of the allocated funds have been spent. And everywhere, activists and the rural poor agitating for implementation of the NREGS have faced bans, batons, and brutal torture!

Two pieces of black comedy parody Manmohan Singh's earnest expression of concern. TV reports reveal that in Vidarbha, wheat imported from Australia is black in colour: the MNC has palmed off inedible and substandard grain and our Government has accepted it. And in various districts of UP, as well as in Sharad Pawar's own home district of Akola in Maharashtra , farmers have been issued cheques of Rs 3 to Rs 25 in the name of drought relief! Congress' Con-game goes on, reaping its deadly harvest…