The current public discourse has irreversibly shifted gear into election mode, not to pause with the completion of five state Assembly elections but to continue until the 2014 general elections. The content of this discourse is, by the day, distancing itself from the ground realities of people’s livelihood. This is, indeed, surreal. The 116 million electorate in these states (more than the 92 million in France and Britain put together), however, are casting/have cast their votes in the hope of getting some relief from growing economic burdens. Notwithstanding this, the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant has now fired his latest salvo in the unrelenting quest to focus on the core communal agenda — the reconsideration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
While, in a democracy, all issues must be raised and discussed, some prioritisation is essential. This must be related to the compelling issues on which people are crying out for relief. Unfortunately, the current discourse is totally devoid of any measures to contain runaway inflation, reverse the economic slowdown, generate jobs and improve people’s livelihood. In the process, two important issues in the international fora on which India must take a position safeguarding the interests of the vast millions of our people are not only being ignored but decisions are being left to the mercy of officials with little or no political guidance by the Congress-led UPA.
The first relates to the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Bali starting December 3 concerning trade in agriculture and the subsidies provided by countries like India. There is an international outcry against the largely inadequate food security legislation recently passed by the Indian Parliament saying that this is a ‘market distorting’ subsidy and is not permitted under the WTO. The United States and the European Union (EU) subsidise their agricultural sector, on an average, by nearly half of the GDP originating from agriculture.
India, in contrast, subsidises through government expenditure less than 10% of the GDP originating from agriculture. However, the Indian subsidies are through providing remunerative prices and cheap inputs to farmers and prices to consumers. While in the US and the EU, the bulk of subsidies are in the form of cash transfers and less than 10% through price mechanism. In the US and the EU, only over 1% of total employment is in agriculture, meaning that in the US about four lakh households are dependent upon agriculture. In India, over 60 crore people are dependent upon agriculture.
Cash payments to four lakh are an entirely different matter compared to an administrative system required for over 600 million. In the Indian conditions, therefore, the most effective way of providing succour to both producers and consumers is through price intervention. The current food security law, even though covering only 67% and not the entire population, may well exceed this 10% WTO limit. At this Bali meeting, India, leading a group of 46 developing countries (the G-33), has been pressing that this 10% cap must be removed for countries to achieve food security.
The US and the EU do not accept this and are moving for a compromise of permitting the suspension of this provision for four years (the so-called ‘peace clause’). In other words, after four years, India cannot exercise its sovereign obligation of providing food security to its people. The US and the EU would then want India and the developing world to buy their domestically subsidised agricultural products giving them ‘super profits’ while ruining our domestic agriculture and forcing many more farmers to commit distress suicide.
The second issue relates to the global climate negotiations to arrive at some global agreement on carbon emissions in Paris two years from now. The urgency on this score cannot be overemphasised. The already underway climate changes have begun adversely affecting India with the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, changes in rainfall patterns leading to floods, droughts, etc. Undoubtedly, there is a need to urgently act to limit carbon emissions and ensure that global temperatures do not rise beyond 2ºc.
Given the prolonged destruction of the environment by the developed countries in their industrialisation drive, the achievement of this objective was based on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ — meaning that developed countries undertake greater responsibility in reducing carbon emissions today. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for the developed countries, exempting developing countries, to reduce emissions by 5% from 1990 levels.
Developed countries refused and the US, instead, increased its emissions by a massive 17% by 2000. Having negated previous commitments, the developed countries are now calling upon all countries to accept voluntary but binding targets of emission cuts. US President Barack Obama, at Copenhagen in 2009, cleverly re-phrased “differentiated responsibility” with “differentiated response”.
Given the large-scale prevalence of poverty, India requires a huge amount of energy generation to tackle this menace. Any succumbing to western pressures on accepting binding emission reduction targets will cripple India’s efforts at eliminating poverty and providing our people a decent livelihood. Way back in 2009, the Indian Parliament had drawn two red lines in these negotiations — (a) no binding emission cuts will be acceptable and (b) India shall not accept any deadline for peaking of emissions. In the ongoing negotiations, however, India seems to be diluting its stand on these red lines.
India’s positions on both these issues will crucially determine the future livelihood status of the vast majority of our people. The forthcoming Parliament session must reassert our agreed commitments on this score. It is only in doing so that the current political discourse can be brought back to the ground realities instead of meandering its way into some sort of a ‘wonderland’.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal