People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 28

July 15, 2012



What Ice Cream Mr PC Talks About!


THE union home minister, Shri P Chidambaram, appears to have pressed History’s rewind button when he is reported to have said that if people could spend Rs 15 for a bottle of water or Rs 20 for an ice cream, why they made a big issue if the price of rice or wheat were increased by Re 1. 


“If they cannot get bread, let them eat cake” is commonly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution. To be fair, however, there is no record of these words ever having been uttered by her. In fact, a similar expression appears in the famous French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, an autobiography of sorts written in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was nine years of age. Similar accounts appear in other cultures as well. The Chinese attribute to Emperor Hui a similar story that involves rice and meat instead of bread and cake.  Not to be left behind, or remain absent from such cultural legacies, our home minister seems to join issue more than two centuries later. 


People who can afford to spend money on mineral water or ice creams are not the ones who are struggling to eke out their survival. The latest data from the National Sample Survey Organisation on household expenditures show that in every state of India – on the basis of the absurdly low poverty definitions of the Planning Commission, which are around the price of an ice cream that the home minister is talking about – over 60 per cent of the people are below the poverty line in every state. In some states, the percentage is higher. If a realistic definition of poverty is taken, then nearly four-fifths of Indian people, more than 80 crores, would be below the poverty line. This tallies with the estimation made by the commission headed by late Arjun Sengupta (and appointed by the prime minister) which gave out the figure that 77 per cent of Indians are surviving on less than Rs 20 a day. This is the real India. The home minister’s statement actually endorses the current reality that there are two Indias in the making – the IPL India and the BPL India. 


On top of this reality comes the relentless rise in the prices of all essential commodities. The situation is likely to become worse with the weak monsoon, estimated to be 25 per cent deficient as of this week by the meteorological department. The worst hit is the production of pulses, the main source of protein for the vast mass of Indian people. The prices of all dalschana, tur, moong, urad – are soaring. And any hope that imports would improve the situation is belied by the 20 per cent devaluation of the Indian rupee. Clearly, a vast majority of Indian people need to brace themselves for a grim struggle for survival. 


In all areas of daily life, the situation continues to deteriorate. The chair of the Planning Commission’s high level expert group on universal health coverage has estimated that as a result of high health care costs, four crores of Indians are annually pushed into poverty. India has one of the lowest levels of public health expenditures, with both the central and state governments putting together a spending that is less than 1.4 per cent of our GDP. 


The home minister’s argument that the prices of foodgrains are bound to rise because of higher minimum support price paid to the farmers cannot be acceptable. Yes, a higher minimum support price is needed to provide for the health of the farmers, particularly in conditions of an acute agrarian crisis and distress suicides. But then the financial burden of this cannot be passed on to the people.  The government needs to subsidise the sale price of foodgrains for the people. The common argument that is being put forward is that the government does not have sufficient resources to do so. 


This is the biggest fraud being committed upon the people. Last year, the union government gave tax concessions amounting to a whopping Rs 5.28 lakh crore. As the fiscal deficit, standing at 6.9 per cent of GDP, amounts to Rs 5.21 lakh crore, there would have been a surplus, and not deficit, if these concessions were not given. Yet the subsidies meant for the poor are being mercilessly cut in the name of reducing this fiscal deficit. The government has resources for giving tax concessions which are considered ‘incentives’ for growth. It is thus subsidising the rich while cutting the subsidies for the poor. It is this set of policies that is resulting in the creation of two Indias, and causing the gap between the two continues to widen. 


By doing away with such concessions for the rich, therefore, if these monies were collected as legitimate taxes and put to use to increase public investments to build our much-needed infrastructure, then this would have generated significant additional employment, and the consequent growth in domestic demand would have put the Indian economy on a growth trajectory that would have been relatively more inclusive. 


On the contrary, pre-occupied with its agenda to enrich the rich, the UPA-2 government is pushing for greater reforms (sic!) of financial liberalisation. This may generate higher levels of profits for international and domestic capital but will only impose greater burdens on the people. 


Food security for all Indians can be ensured only when every single family in the country, both APL and BPL included, is provided 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg every month. There is no dearth of resources. The fact is that there is complete lack of political will in this UPA-2 government. It seeks to cater to the ‘shining India’ only, with the intensity of its luminosity being directly proportional to the increasing miseries of ‘suffering India.’ 


Public pressure through stronger popular mobilisations must be mounted to force this government to change its trajectory of economic policies in order to create a better India for our people.

July 11, 2012