Category Archives: Prime Minister Norendra Modi

Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny

According to Reuters, more than 500,000 farmers attended a rally in the city of Muzaffarnagar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on 5 September. Hundreds of thousands more turned out for other rallies in the state.

Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader, said this would breathe fresh life into the Indian farmers’ protest movement.

He added:

We will intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer.

Tikait is a leader of the protest movement and a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers’ Union).

Since November 2020, tens of thousands of farmers have been encamped on the outskirts of Delhi in protest against three new farm laws that will effectively hand over the agrifood sector to corporates and place India at the mercy of international commodity and financial markets for its food security.

Aside from the rallies in Uttar Pradesh, thousands more farmers recently gathered in Karnal in the state of Haryana to continue to pressurise the Modi-led government to repeal the laws. This particular protest was also in response to police violence during another demonstration, also in Karnal (200 km north of Delhi), during late August when farmers had been blocking a highway. The police Lathi-charged them and at least 10 people were injured and one person died from a heart attack a day later.

A video that appeared on social media showed Ayush Sinha, a top government official, encouraging officers to “smash the heads of farmers” if they broke through the barricades placed on the highway.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar criticised the choice of words but said that “strictness had to be maintained to ensure law and order”.

But that is not quite true. “Strictness” – outright brutality – must be imposed to placate the scavengers abroad who are circling overhead with India’s agrifood sector firmly in their sights. As much as the authorities try to distance themselves from such language – ‘smashing heads’ is precisely what India’s rulers and the billionaire owners of foreign agrifood corporations require.

The government has to demonstrate to global agricapital that it is being tough on farmers in order to maintain ‘market confidence’ and attract foreign direct investment in the sector (aka the takeover of the sector).

The farmers’ protest in India represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country: a conflict between the local and the global. Large-scale international agribusiness, retailers, traders and e-commerce companies are trying to displace small- and medium-size indigenous producers and enterprises and restructure the entire agrifood sector in their own image.

By capitulating to the needs of foreign agrifood conglomerates – which is what the three agriculture laws represent – India will be compelled to eradicate its buffer food stocks. It would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market or with its foreign reserves.

This approach is symptomatic of what has been happening since the 1990s, when India was compelled to embrace neoliberal economics. The country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital which rides roughshod over democratic principles and the needs of hundreds of millions of ordinary people.

The authorities know they must be seen to be acting tough on farmers, thereby demonstrating a steely resolve to foreign agribusiness and investors in general.

The Indian government’s willingness to cede control of its agrifood sector would appear to represent a victory for US foreign policy.

Economist Prof Michael Hudson stated in 2014:

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports… It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

On the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms.

Smashing protesters’ heads

A December 2020 photograph published by the Press Trust of India defines the Indian government’s approach to protesting farmers. It shows a security official in paramilitary garb raising a lathi. An elder from the Sikh farming community was about to feel its full force.

But “smashing the heads of farmers” is symbolic of how near-totalitarian ‘liberal democracies’ the world over now regard many within their own populations.

The right to protest and gather in public as well as the right of free speech has been suspended in Australia, which currently resembles a giant penal colony as officials pursue a nonsensical ‘zero-COVID’ policy. Across Europe and in the US and Israel, unnecessary and discriminatory ‘COVID passports’ are being rolled out to restrict freedom of movement and access to services. And those who protest against any of this are often confronted by a massive, intimidating police presence (or actual police violence) and media smear campaigns.

Again, governments must demonstrate resolve to their billionaire masters in Big Finance, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Economic Forum and the entire gamut of forces in the military-financial industrial complex behind the ‘Great Reset’, ‘4th Industrial Revolution, ‘New Normal’ or whichever other benign-sounding term its political and media lackeys use to disguise the restructuring of capitalism and the brutal impacts on ordinary people.

This too, like the restructuring of Indian agriculture – which will affect India’s entire 1.3-billion-plus population – is also part of a US foreign policy agenda that serves the interests of the Anglo-US elite.

COVID has ensured that trillions of dollars have been handed over to elite interests, while lockdowns and restrictions have been imposed on ordinary people and small businesses. The winners have been the likes of Amazon, Big Pharma and the tech giants. The losers have been small enterprises and the bulk of the population, deprived of their right to work and the entire panoply of civil rights their ancestors struggled and often died for. If a masterplan is required to deliver a knockout blow to small enterprises for the benefit of global players, then this is it.

Professor Michel Cossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalization says:

The Global Money financial institutions are the ‘creditors’ of the real economy which is in crisis. The closure of the global economy has triggered a process of global indebtedness. Unprecedented in World history, a multi-trillion bonanza of dollar denominated debts is hitting simultaneously the national economies of 193 countries.

In August 2020, a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated:

The COVID-19 crisis has severely disrupted economies and labour markets in all world regions, with estimated losses of working hours equivalent to nearly 400 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2020, most of which are in emerging and developing countries.

Among the most vulnerable are the 1.6 billion informal economy workers, representing half of the global workforce, who are working in sectors experiencing major job losses or have seen their incomes seriously affected by lockdowns. Most of the workers affected (1.25 billion) are in retail, accommodation and food services and manufacturing. And most of these are self-employed and in low-income jobs in the informal sector.

India was especially affected in this respect when the government imposed a lockdown. The policy ended up pushing 230 million into poverty and wrecked the lives and livelihoods of many. A May 2021 report prepared by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) has highlighted how employment and income had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels even by late 2020.

The report, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ highlights how almost half of formal salaried workers moved into the informal sector and that 230 million people fell below the national minimum wage poverty line.

Even before COVID, India was experiencing its longest economic slowdown since 1991 with weak employment generation, uneven development and a largely informal economy. A recent article by the Research Unit for Political Economy highlights the structural weaknesses of the economy and the often desperate plight of ordinary people.

To survive Modi’s lockdown, the poorest 25% of households borrowed 3.8 times their median income, as against 1.4 times for the top 25%. The study noted the implications for debt traps.

Six months later, it was also noted that food intake was still at lockdown levels for 20% of vulnerable households.

Meanwhile, the rich were well taken care of. According to Left Voice:

The Modi government has handled the pandemic by prioritising the profits of big business and protecting the fortunes of billionaires over protecting the lives and livelihoods of workers.

Michel Chossudovsky says that governments are now under the control of global creditors and that the post-Covid era will see massive austerity measures, including the cancellation of workers’ benefits and social safety nets. An unpayable multi-trillion dollar public debt is unfolding: the creditors of the state are Big Money, which calls the shots in a process that will lead to the privatisation of the state.

Between April and July 2020, the total wealth held by billionaires around the world has grown from $8 trillion to more than $10 trillion. Chossudovsky says a new generation of billionaire innovators looks set to play a critical role in repairing the damage by using the growing repertoire of emerging technologies. He adds that tomorrow’s innovators will digitise, refresh and revolutionise the economy: but, as he notes, let us be under no illusions these corrupt billionaires are impoverishers.

With this in mind, a recent piece on the US Right To Know website exposes the Gates-led agenda for the future of food based on the programming of biology to produce synthetic and genetically engineered substances. The thinking reflects the programming of computers in the information economy. Of course, Gates and his ilk have patented, or are patenting, the processes and products involved.

For example, Ginkgo Bioworks, a Gates-backed start-up that makes ‘custom organisms’, recently went public in a $17.5 billion deal. It uses ‘cell programming’ technology to genetically engineer flavours and scents into commercial strains of engineered yeast and bacteria to create ‘natural’ ingredients, including vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and flavours for ultra-processed foods.

Ginkgo plans to create up to 20,000 engineered ‘cell programs’ (it now has five) for food products and many other uses. It plans to charge customers to use its ‘biological platform’. Its customers are not consumers or farmers but the world’s largest chemical, food and pharmaceutical companies.

Gates pushes fake food by way of his greenwash agenda. If he really is interested in avoiding ‘climate catastrophe’, helping farmers or producing enough food, instead of cementing the power and the control of corporations over our food, he should be facilitating community-based and lead agroecological approaches.

But he will not because there is no scope for patents, external proprietary inputs, commodification and dependency on global corporations which Gates sees as the answer to all of humanity’s problems in his quest to bypass democratic processes and roll out his agenda.

India should take heed because this is the future of ‘food’. If the farmers fail to get the farm bills repealed, India will again become dependent on food imports or on foreign food manufacturers and lab-made ‘food’. Fake food will displace traditional diets and cultivation methods will be driven by drones, genetically engineered seeds and farms without farmers, devastating the livelihoods (and health) of hundreds of millions.

This is a vision of the future courtesy of Klaus Schwab’s (of the elitist World Economic Forum) dystopic transhumanism and the Rockefellers’ 2010 lockstep scenario: genetically engineered food and genetically engineered people controlled by a technocratic elite whose plans are implemented through tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership.

Since March 2020, we have seen the structural adjustment of the global capitalist system and labour’s relationship to it and an attempted adjustment of people’s thinking via endless government and media propaganda.

Whether it involves India’s farmers or the frequent rallies and marches against restrictions and COVID passports across the world, there is a common enemy. And there is also a common goal: liberty.

The post Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Amazon: “Economic Terrorism” and the Destruction of Competition and Livelihoods

Global corporations are colonising India’s retail space through e-commerce and destroying small-scale physical retail and millions of livelihoods.

Walmart entered into India in 2016 with a US$3.3 billion take-over of the online retail start-up Jet.com. This was followed in 2018 with a US$16 billion take-over of India’s largest online retail platform, Flipkart. Today, Walmart and Amazon control almost two thirds of India’s digital retail sector.

Amazon and Walmart have a record of using predatory pricing, deep discounts and other unfair business practices to attract customers to their online platforms. A couple of years ago, those two companies generated sales of over US$3 billion in just six days during Diwali. India’s small retailers reacted by calling for a boycott of online shopping.

If you want to know the eventual fate of India’s local markets and small retailers, look no further than what US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. He stated that Amazon had “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.”

Amazon’s corporate practices

In the US, an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee concluded that Amazon exerts monopoly power over many small- and medium-size businesses. It called for breaking up the company and regulating its online marketplace to ensure that sellers are treated fairly.

Amazon has spied on sellers and appropriated data about their sales, costs and suppliers. It has then used this information to create its own competing versions of their products, often giving its versions superior placement in the search results on its platform.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) published a revealing document on Amazon in June 2021 that discussed these issues. It also notes that Amazon has been caught using its venture capital fund to invest in start-ups only to steal their ideas and create rival products and services. Moreover, Amazon’s dominance allows it to function as a gatekeeper: retailers and brands must sell on its site to reach much of the online market and changes to Amazon’s search algorithms or selling terms can cause their sales to evaporate overnight.

Amazon also makes it hard for sellers to reduce their dependence on its platform by making their brand identity almost invisible to shoppers and preventing them from building relationships with their customers. The company strictly limits contact between sellers and customers.

According to the ILSR, Amazon compels sellers to buy its warehousing and shipping services, even though many would get a better deal from other providers, and it blocks independent businesses from offering lower prices on other sites. The company also routinely suspends sellers’ accounts and seizes inventories and cash balances.

The Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers’ and farmers’ organisations.

JACAFRE issued a statement in 2018 on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart, arguing that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihoods of millions in India. The committee said the deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. It would also allow them to own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

In January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

Although there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores, online and offline worlds are now merged: e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production and logistics. Through this control, e-commerce platforms can shape much of the physical economy.

What we are witnessing is the deliberate eradication of markets in favour of monopolistic platforms.

Bezos not welcome

Amazon’s move into India encapsulates the unfair fight for space between local and global markets. There is a relative handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms. And there are the interests of hundreds of millions of vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Thanks to the helping hand of various COVID-related lockdowns which devastated small businesses, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s executive chairman, could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID. Jeff Bezos – his fortune constructed on unprincipled methods that have been well documented in recent years – increased his net wealth by $78.2bn during this period.

Bezos’s plan is clear: the plunder of India and the eradication of millions of small traders and retailers and neighbourhood mom and pop shops.

This is a man with few scruples. After returning from a brief flight to space in July, in a rocket built by his private space company, Bezos said during a news conference:

I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.

In response, US congresswoman Nydia Velazquez wrote on Twitter:

While Jeff Bezos is all over the news for paying to go to space, let’s not forget the reality he has created here on Earth.

She added the hashtag #WealthTaxNow in reference to Amazon’s tax dodging, revealed in numerous reports, not least the May 2021 study ‘The Amazon Method: How to take advantage of the international state system to avoid paying tax’ by Richard Phillips, Senior Research Fellow, Jenaline Pyle, PhD Candidate, and Ronen Palan, Professor of International Political Economy, all based at the University of London.

Little wonder that when Bezos visited India in January 2020, he was hardly welcomed with open arms.

Bezos praised India on Twitter by posting:

“Dynamism. Energy. Democracy. #IndianCentury.”

The ruling party’s top man in the BJP foreign affairs department hit back with:

Please tell this to your employees in Washington DC. Otherwise, your charm offensive is likely to be waste of time and money.

A fitting response, albeit perplexing given the current administration’s proposed sanctioning of the foreign takeover of the economy, not least by the unscrupulous interests that will benefit from the recent farm legislation.

Bezos landed in India on the back of the country’s antitrust regulator initiating a formal investigation of Amazon and with small store owners demonstrating in the streets. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) announced that members of its affiliate bodies across the country would stage sit-ins and public rallies in 300 cities in protest.

In a letter to PM Modi, prior to the visit of Bezos, the secretary of the CAIT, General Praveen Khandelwal, claimed that Amazon, like Walmart-owned Flipkart, was an “economic terrorist” due to its predatory pricing that “compelled the closure of thousands of small traders.”

In 2020, Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh (DVM) filed a complaint against Amazon and Flipkart alleging that they favoured certain sellers over others on their platforms by offering them discounted fees and preferential listing. The DVM lobbies to promote the interests of small traders. It also raised concerns about Amazon and Flipkart entering into tie-ups with mobile phone manufacturers to sell phones exclusively on their platforms.

It was argued by DVM that this was anti-competitive behaviour as smaller traders could not purchase and sell these devices. Concerns were also raised over the flash sales and deep discounts offered by e-commerce companies, which could not be matched by small traders.

The CAIT estimates that in 2019 upwards of 50,000 mobile phone retailers were forced out of business by large e-commerce firms.

Amazon’s internal documents, as revealed by Reuters, indicated that Amazon had an indirect ownership stake in a handful of sellers who made up most of the sales on its Indian platform. This is an issue because in India Amazon and Flipkart are legally allowed to function only as neutral platforms that facilitate transactions between third-party sellers and buyers for a fee.

Under investigation

The upshot is that India’s Supreme Court recently ruled that Amazon must face investigation by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for alleged anti-competitive business practices. The CCI said it would probe the deep discounts, preferential listings and exclusionary tactics that Amazon and Flipkart are alleged to have used to destroy competition.

However, there are powerful forces that have been sitting on their hands as these companies have been running amok.

In August 2021, the CAIT attacked the NITI Aayog (the influential policy commission think tank of the Government of India) for interfering in e-commerce rules proposed by the Consumer Affairs Ministry.

The CAIT said that the think tank clearly seems to be under the pressure and influence of the foreign e-commerce giants.

The president of CAIT, BC Bhartia, stated that it is deeply shocking to see such a callous and indifferent attitude of the NITI Aayog whch have remained a silent spectator for so many years when:

… the foreign e-commerce giants have circumvented every rule of the FDI policy and blatantly violated and destroyed the retail and e-commerce landscape of the country but have suddenly decided to open their mouth at a time when the proposed e-commerce rules will potentially end the malpractices of the e-commerce companies.

Of course, money talks and buys influence. In addition to tens of billions of US dollars invested in India by Walmart and Amazon, Facebook invested US$5.5 billion last year in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms (e-commerce retail). Google has also invested US$4.5 billion.

Since the early 1990s, when India opened up to neoliberal economics, the country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital which ride roughshod over democratic principles and the needs of hundreds of millions of ordinary people. ‘Foreign direct investment’ has thus become the holy grail of the Modi-led administration and the NITI Aayog.

The CAIT has urged the Consumer Affairs Ministry to implement the draft consumer protection e-commerce rules at the earliest as they are in the best interest of the consumers as well as the traders of the country.

Meanwhile, the CCI will probably complete its investigation within two months.

The post Amazon: “Economic Terrorism” and the Destruction of Competition and Livelihoods first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India

In June 2018, the Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) issued a statement on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart. It argued that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihood of millions in India.

The deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. These two US companies would also own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

JACAFRE was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers and farmers organisations.

On 8 January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

The government is facilitating the dominance of giant corporations, not least through digital or e-commerce platforms, to control the entire value chain. The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

And this is not lost on Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change (a member of JACAFRE). Referring to Walmart’s takeover of online retailer Flipkart, Singh notes that there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores; however, online and offline worlds are now merged.

That is because, today, e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Through the control of data (knowledge), e-commerce platforms can shape the entire physical economy. What is concerning is that Amazon and Walmart have sufficient global clout to ensure they become a duopoly, more or less controlling much of India’s economy.

Singh says that whereas you can regulate an Indian company, this cannot be done with foreign players who have global data, global power and will be near-impossible to regulate.

While China succeeded in digital industrialisation by building up its own firms, Singh observes that the EU is now a digital colony of the US. The danger is clear for India. He states that India has its own skills and digital forms, so why is the government letting in US companies to dominate and buy India’s digital platforms?

And ‘platform’ is a key word here. We are seeing the eradication of the marketplace. Platforms will control everything from production to logistics to even primary activities like agriculture and farming. Data gives power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Singh argues that the digital platform is the brain of the whole system. The farmer will be told how much production is expected, how much rain is expected, what type of soil quality there is, what type of (genetically engineered) seeds and are inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready.

This is not idle speculation. The recent article ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’ on the grain.org website, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are moving in on the global agrifood sector.

Those traders, manufacturers and primary producers who survive will become slaves to platforms and lose their independence. Moreover, e-commerce platforms will become permanently embedded once artificial intelligence begins to plan and determine all of the above.

It is a clear concern that India will cede control of its economy, politics and culture to these all-powerful, modern-day East India companies.

Of course, things have been moving in this direction for a long time, especially since India began capitulating to the tenets of neoliberalism in the early 1990s and all that entails, not least an increasing dependence on borrowing and foreign capital inflows and subservience to destructive World Bank-IMF economic directives.

But what we are currently witnessing with the three farm bills and the growing role of (foreign) e-commerce will bring about the ultimate knock-out blow to the peasantry and many small independent enterprises. This has been the objective of powerful players who have regarded India as the potential jewel in the crown of their corporate empires for a long time.

The process resembles the structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on African countries some decades ago. Economics Professor Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book ‘The Globalization of Poverty’ that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p. 16)

The game plan is clear and JACAFRE says the government should urgently consult all stakeholders – traders, farmers and other small and medium size players – towards a holistic new economic model where all economic actors are assured their due and appropriately valued role. Small and medium size economic actors cannot be allowed to be reduced to being helpless agents of a few digitally enabled mega-corporations.

JACAFRE concludes:

We appeal to the government that it should urgently address the issues raised by those farmers asking for the three laws to be repealed. Specifically, from a traders’ point of view, the role of small and medium traders all along the agri produce value chain has to be strengthened and protected against its unmitigated corporatisation.

The struggle for democracy

It is clear that the ongoing farmers’ protest in India is not just about farming. It represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country. As the organisation GRAIN says on its website, there is an intensifying fight for space between local and territorial markets and global markets. The former are the domain of small-scale independent producers and enterprises; the latter are dominated by large-scale international retailers, traders and the rapidly growing influential e-commerce companies.

It is therefore essential to protect and strengthen local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale enterprises, whether farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores. This will ensure that India has more control over its food supply, the ability to determine its own policies and economic independence: in other words, the protection of food and national sovereignty and a greater ability to pursue genuine democratic development.

Instead of this, we could, for instance, see India eradicating its buffer food stocks at the behest of global traders and agrifood players. India would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market. Instead of continuing to physically hold and control its own buffer stocks, thereby ensuring a degree of food security, India would hold foreign exchange reserves. It would need to attract foreign reserves and maintain ‘market confidence’ to ensure this inflow.

This is one intention of the recent farm legislation and constitutes a recipe for further dependency on foreign finance, unpredictable global events and unaccountable corporations. But mainstream economic thinking passes this subjugation off as ‘liberalisation’.

How is an inability to determine your own economic policies and surrendering food security to outside forces in any way liberating?

It is interesting to note that the BBC recently reported that, in its annual report on global political rights and liberties, the US-based non-profit Freedom House has downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. It also reported that Sweden-based V-Dem Institute says India is now an “electoral autocracy”. India did not fare any better in a report by The Economist Intelligent Unit’s Democracy Index.

The BBC’s neglect of Britain’s own slide towards COVID-related authoritarianism aside, the report on India was not without substance. It focused on the increase in anti-Muslim feeling, diminishing of freedom of expression, the role of the media and the restrictions on civil society since PM Narendra Modi took power.

The undermining of liberties in all these areas is cause for concern in its own right. But this trend towards divisiveness and authoritarianism serves another purpose: it helps smooth the path for the corporate takeover of the country.

Whether it involves a ‘divide and rule’ strategy along religious lines to divert attention, the suppression of free speech or pushing unpopular farm bills through parliament without proper debate while using the police and the media to undermine the farmers’ protest, a major undemocratic heist is under way that will fundamentally adversely impact people’s livelihoods and the cultural and social fabric of India.

On one side, there are the interests of a handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms that seek to control India. On the other, there are the interests of hundreds of millions of cultivators, vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Indian farmers are currently on the front-line against global capitalism and the colonial-style deindustrialisation of the economy. This is where ultimately the struggle for democracy and the future of India is taking place.

The post Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Breaching Digital Rights: India’s Platform and Media Ethics Code

Having made something of a splash last month with the fuss over Australia’s News Media Bargaining code, Facebook, and the digital giants, are facing another stormy front in India.  The move here has nothing to do with revenue so much as alleged bad behaviour.  “We appreciate the proliferation of social media in India,” stated Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister of electronics and information technology. “We want them to be more responsible and more accountable.”

Such responsibility and accountability will purportedly be achieved through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.  They are part of a program that has been incubating for some years.  An IT industry consultant advising the government expressed the sentiment to Wired in 2018.  “The government’s message is: If you want to do business in India, do it on our terms and conditions or you are free to leave.”  Previously, the Indian approach has been more timorous.  It had “always been ‘Do it the Apple way, do it the Facebook way, do it the Amazon way.”

Behind such rules is a crude, self-vested interest at work.  The primary role of social media lies in the sharing of information.  Governments tend to be happy with material they can finesse, curate and control on such platforms.  When the platforms become home for material that challenges the official version, stirring the blood of the citizenry or encouraging misrule, problems emerge.

To make its case, the Indian government has resorted to the marketing of moral outrage.  Over the last years, fake news has become something of a favourite, the Zeitgeist driving the regulatory truck.  In 2017 and 2018, over 40 deaths due to mob violence were said to have arisen from generously circulated disinformation.  On July 1, 2018, in the hamlet of Rainpada, five men, all members of the Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi wanderers, were beaten to death.  They were victims of a rampaging mob incensed by rumours circulating on WhatsApp that the area was crawling with opportunistic child kidnappers.

The Indian authorities duly asked WhatsApp to assist in stopping the “irresponsible and explosive messages” on its platform.  Some actions were taken.  The number of forwards was limited to five at a time.  Those messages also sported a “forwarded” tag.  This did little to pacify government officials.

The scope of the proposed changes is far from negligible.  The draft IT rules take aim at over-the-top (OTT) media services responsible for content on such outlets as Amazon, Netflix and Prime and news media platforms.  Applicable entities include “publishers of news and current affairs content”; “intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of news and current affairs content” and “publishers of online curated content”.  Finally, “intermediaries which primarily enable the transmission of online curated content” are included.

The regulatory framework will entail three tiers: self-regulation by the entity itself; self-regulation through “self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities” and an “Oversight mechanism by the Central Government.”  The creation of “Chief Compliant Officers” by the companies is envisaged as are “nodal” persons responsible for 24 hour “coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance to their orders or requisitions made in accordance with the provisions of law or rules made thereunder.”  Resident Grievance Officers will also have to be appointed.

The introduction of this additional layer of regulation will constitute a form of bureaucratic strangulation, with the oversight mechanism open to censoring content in a manner that goes even beyond the current powers of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for TV regulation.

The Internet Freedom Foundation considers the mechanism a calamity in waiting, breaching the digital rights of citizens, causing economic harm “and [will] also negatively impact India’s growing cultural influence through the production of modern and contemporary video formats entertainment.”  In anticipation of the government code, 17 OTT platforms have already developed “self-regulation toolkits” which risk embracing the genie of self-censorship.

The incorporation of news media in the Code goes beyond the ambit of current legislation and potentially exceeds the safe harbour protections for intermediary platforms outlined by section 79 of the Information Technology Act.  That section exempts intermediaries hosting material from liability provided they follow various stipulated guidelines.  The draft rules, as they stand, circumvent due process and parliamentary scrutiny through regulation.  Media would also be censored if the government were to take a broad reading of the definition “publisher of news and current affairs content”.

Prasad does not merely want social media channels to be more diligent monitors and, if necessary, censors.  He is clear that such digital platforms lend a hand in identifying culprits who might be behind the dissemination of information and be targets of government prosecution. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation or other objectionable content.”

Sub-rule (2) of Rule 5 proposes to do this, stating that the significant social media intermediary primarily responsible for providing messaging services “shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required by a judicial order passed by a court of competent jurisdiction” or by “the Competent Authority” pursuant to legislation.

The unacceptable content officials have in mind is detailed in a government release.  The objectionable material would be the sort that relates to Indian sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with States, “public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years”.  Prosecutors will have much to play with.

Breaking the resistance of companies such as WhatsApp to traceability requests has been a central aim of the Modi government, despite such proposals being dismissed as ineffectual in actually achieving their stated purpose.  They are not the only ones.  End-to-end encryption is seen by states as a technique for concealment, ripe for abuse, which is always a mean spirited way of clamping down on digital sovereignty.  Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia fantasise about creating backdoors to content.  That very subject is being currently considered by the Indian Supreme Court in the case of Antony Clement v Union of India (TC Civil No. 189 of 2020).

The emerging trend here is that, while such policy may fail to achieve its stated goal, it will certainly be pernicious in other ways, as any backdoor weakening of encryption or vital escrow systems would breach privacy and security.  Given that encryption acts as a safeguard in the current digital environment of data aggregation, while also deterring identity theft and code injection attacks, the draft rules look menacing.

Manoj Prabhakaran, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering based at ITT Bombay, suggests that States should do the opposite.  In a furnished expert report in the Antony Clement case, he urges government authorities to “promote strong encryption and anonymity.  National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that allow anonymity online.”

While the conduct of digital platforms is monstrous in terms of their operating rationale, not least their tendency to monetize privacy and commodify predictive behaviour, government scapegoating is a shallow distraction.  The agenda of the Modi government is moral stringency, surveillance and the monitoring of unruly citizens.  Breaking down the doors of encryption while encouraging social media giants to regulate themselves into censorship, is all in keeping with this theme.

The post Breaching Digital Rights: India’s Platform and Media Ethics Code first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Neoliberal Death Knell for Indian Agriculture

In a 2017 article, I asked what might a future India look like and concluded that, if current neoliberal policies continue, there could be dozens of mega-cities with up to 40 million inhabitants and just two to three hundred million (perhaps 15-20% of the population) left in an emptied-out countryside. And it could also mean hundreds of millions of displaced rural dwellers without any work.

The policies referred to have not only continued but have been given a massive boost in the form of three parliamentary bills: The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

The ordinances were issued by the Modi-led government in June and (according to official rhetoric) seek to create barrier-free trade for farmers and allow them to enter into agreements with private players prior to the production for sale of agri-produce.

Some have commended these bills, claiming they will completely ‘liberalise’ the farm economy, leading to greater flexibility and efficiency and offering freedom and choice to farmers and buyers of produce. Others claim they effectively serve to impose the tenets of neoliberalism on the sector, finally clearing the way to restructure the agri-food sector for the benefit of large commodity traders and other (international) corporations: smallholder farmers will go to the wall in a landscape of ‘get big or get out’, mirroring the US model of food cultivation and retail.

As reported in the Economic Times, the Congress party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said his party will fight the government “tooth and nail” on this issue:

These three draconian ordinances are a death knell for agriculture in India. They will subjugate the farmer at the altar of a handful of crony capitalists….

He added that farmers would not be able to get a remunerative price for their crop under the current system of minimum support price and that his party will join with other parties to put up a joint opposition to the draconian ordinances of the BJP government aimed at:

Subjugating the farming community and abolishing the livelihood of crores [tens of millions] of people who are aligned with the grain markets and other market systems.

The proposed legislation will mean that mandis – state-run market locations for farmers (overseen by Agricultural Produce Market Committees) to sell their agricultural produce via auction to traders – can be bypassed, allowing farmers to sell to private players elsewhere (physically and online), thereby undermining the regulatory role of the public sector. In trade areas open to the private sector, no fees will be levied (fees levied in mandis go to the states and, in principle, are used to enhance market infrastructure to help farmers).

This could incentivise the corporate sector operating outside of the mandis to (initially at least) offer better prices to farmers; eventually, however, as the mandi system is run down completely, these corporations will monopolise trade, capture the sector and dictate prices to farmers.

Another outcome of the proposed legislation could see the unregulated storage of produce and speculation, opening the farming sector to free-for-all profiteering for the big players.

Randeep Surjewala argues that the three ordinances are also a direct attack on the federal structure of India (farming and mandis come under the jurisdiction of states), but the government did not even consider it appropriate to consult them before promulgating the ordinances.

Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India, tweeted:

No amount of propaganda and spin can conceal such destruction of India and it’s economy. Withdraw these ordinances handing over our agriculture to multinational agribusinesses, further ruining our ‘annadaata’, demolishing India’s food security.

The proposed legislation will enable transnational agri-food corporations like Cargill and Walmart and home-grown billionaire capitalists like Gautam Adani and his agribusiness conglomerate and Mukesh Ambini and his Reliance retail chain to decide on what is to be cultivated, how much of it is to be cultivated within India and how it is to be produced and processed. From seed to field to plate, the corporate take-over of the food and agriculture chain will be complete.

Smallholder and marginal farmers will be further forced out and those remaining in the sector will be squeezed, working on contracts for market-dominating global seed and agrochemical suppliers, trader, distributors and retail concerns. Industrial agriculture will be the norm (with all the devastating externalised health, social and environmental costs that the model brings with it).

It may make some wonder who is actually determining policy in India when hundreds of millions of ordinary people could lose their livelihoods. Instead of pursuing a path of democratic development, the Indian government has chosen to submit to the regime of foreign finance, awaiting signals on how much it can spend. The imperatives of global capital require nation states to curb spending and roll back interventions and support mechanisms so that private investors can occupy the arena left open. And this is exactly what we are seeing in agriculture.

Foreign capital and sections of India’s billionaire class are working to displace the prevailing agrifood model and recast it in their own image. Tens of millions of small-scale and marginal farmers are already suffering economic distress and leaving farming as the sector is deliberately made financially non-viable for them.

The Modi administration is fully on board with the World Bank’s pro-corporate ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ and other such policies aimed at further incorporating nation states into the neoliberal fold, while equating neoliberal policies with ‘development’. Other recent policies will also serve to accelerate current trends in Indian agriculture as we see with regard to the Karnataka Land Reform Act, which will make it easier for business to purchase and consolidate agricultural land (leading to landlessness and urban migration).

Both ongoing and proposed ‘reforms’ are ultimately about ‘liberalising’ agriculture to further ease the entrance of foreign agribusiness interests and serve the needs of India’s home-grown billionaires. The Modi government is predictably facilitating what could eventually lead to a trillion-dollar (value of the Indian economy according to Modi’s former associates at APCO Worldwide) corporate hijack of India three steps closer with the ‘ordinances’.

By bringing the full force of liberalisation to the farm economy and in the process fundamentally restructuring Indian society (around 60% of the population still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods), any remnants of economic sovereignty and sovereign state status will be hollowed out and India will become a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism and its fundamentally flawed and exploitative food regime.

Of course, many millions have already been displaced from the Indian countryside and have had to seek work in the cities. And if the coronavirus lockdown has indicated anything, it is that many of these ‘migrant workers’ have failed to gain a secure foothold and were compelled to return ‘home’ to their villages. Their lives are defined by low pay, insecurity and callous treatment by the government.

It raises the question: what does the future hold for the hundreds of millions of others who will be victims of the dispossessive policies of neoliberal capitalism?

The post Neoliberal Death Knell for Indian Agriculture first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid

In a world where nationalism and social division is increasing, bigotry growing, are the words refugee, asylum seeker, migrant worker, derogatory labels triggering prejudice and intolerance? Such terms create an image of ‘the other’, separate and different, strengthening tribalism, feeding suspicion, our common humanity denied.

Under the shadow of Covid-19 those living on the margins of society have been further isolated; the refugees and migrants of the world, those displaced internally or in a foreign land, people living in war zones, and the migrant workers in the Gulf States, India, Singapore and elsewhere.

Refugees/migrants and migrant workers are among those most at risk from Covd-19, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as xenophobic abuse linked to the virus. Migrant workers (who universally have few or no labor rights) from Qatar to India have been discriminated against, discarded and ignored. Migrants, particularly those of Chinese or Japanese appearance in the US and elsewhere subjected to violence and abuse, and in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East, including Gaza, thousands have been left in unsafe camps without medical support.

Homeless, hungry and at risk

Even before the pandemic erupted, to be a refugee, migrant, or migrant worker was commonly to be mistrusted, marginalized and in danger. Whether working as a maid in one of the Gulf States, an internal migrant worker in their homeland or living inside an overcrowded refugee camp these men, women and children are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. In Europe, where thousands of refugees (many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are packed into camps, their lives already swamped by uncertainty, the fear of the virus hangs heavy. Lacking sanitation and essential services these overcrowded tarpaulin cities are unsafe; the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, for example, was designed to accommodate 2,840, but now has 19,000 people; 40% are under 18, self-harming and attempted suicides are widespread. Compounding the heightened risks Covid has created, since July 2019 asylum seekers throughout Greece no longer have free access to the healthcare system, other than emergency support.

Meanwhile, in countries with large populations of migrant workers Covid-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic is adding additional layers of suffering to already arduous lives, not just of workers, but the families migrant workers support. According to the UN, round 800 million people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers. Families depend on such payments to pay rent and buy food; when this flow stops, as is the case for many now, poverty and the risk of starvation is made more acute. The World Bank is warning of huge drops in global remittance payments of around 20%, resulting from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, which they say has impacted on migrant communities particularly hard.

In the Gulf States, which depend on millions of workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, Covid-19 is intensifying discrimination and increasing abuse against migrant domestic workers, including abrupt termination of their contracts. In Kuwait suicide among migrant workers has surged; Saudi Arabia has deported thousands of Ethiopian workers (A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, UN state), without any medical screening, which the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia said, is “likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond.” And in Lebanon (where the majority of migrant workers are Ethiopian) and elsewhere across the region, lower income families unable to cover salaries, cover food costs or provide accommodation have laid off domestic staff; resulting in migrant workers being at high risk of forced labor, including prostitution.

Worse still is the case of freelance (‘live out’) workers, whose work has stopped, leaving them with no income, no food and nowhere to go. In Qatar, (one of the richest countries in the world, with over two million migrant workers) which has one of the highest rates of infections per capita, many of those suffering from the disease are migrant workers. Foreign workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines are being laid off or remain unpaid, as the economic impact of the virus hits. Some domestic workers (women) have been made destitute. In Singapore, widely thought to have responded well to the pandemic, migrant workers, employed mainly in the construction industry, were thrown to the wolves. And in India following the hasty decision by Prime Minister Mahendra Modi to lock the country down on 25th March, (giving people four hours warning!) tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of internal migrants working in cities were forced by their landlords to vacate their homes and had no choice but to head back to their native village. Without funds and with transportation suspended, huge numbers were forced to walk the hundreds or thousands of miles home.

Homeless, hungry and at risk of contracting coronavirus, migrant workers were ignored by the Modi regime. Reacting to this wholesale neglect, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing and on extreme poverty said (4th June), “we are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalized minorities and lower castes…..the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality [which is commonplace in India] and by failing to stop their stigmatization as ‘virus carriers’.”

Contemporary Slavery

Covid-19 has highlighted a raft of social inequalities and destructive practices throughout the world. As such issues float to the murky surface of human affairs an opportunity presents itself for reform, for changes in attitudes and practices.

There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of employment rights for migrant workers throughout the world, with migrant workers receiving the same protections as native employees, including access to health care, limits on the hours of work, rates of pay, days off etc.

The Kafala System is used throughout the Gulf States, where the UN estimates there to be “35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.” Under Kafala a migrant worker, many of whom are domestic staff and therefore out of sight, cannot resign if an employer is abusive, the work exploitative or the conditions unacceptable. Amnesty International relates, that it “ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer.” The system enables employers to essentially own workers, giving them total control of workers’ movements. This legitimization of modern-day slavery must be brought to an end immediately.

Refugees and migrants are human beings fleeing violent conflict (are often traumatized), persecution and economic hardship. The journey into an unknown future is often treacherous, always uncertain. In the vacuum left by governments and regional authorities like the EU, that should be processing asylum applications in designated centers and offering safe passage, criminal gangs control migration routes and methods of travel, which are unsafe and extortionately expensive. Deaths are commonplace, abuse and exploitation widespread. If they survive the dangers and arrive in their destination country, all too often they are viewed with distrust and antagonism, instead of being warmly welcomed. They are pushed into the shadows, the margins of society, offered little or no state support and made to feel unwanted.

This must change; all should be embraced, not only those with skills in short supply.  The idea of judging who can and cannot enter a country based on some discriminatory points system related to national need (the Australian way – a country with a shameful immigration record), as the UK government is proposing, reduces human beings to commodities, some of which are more valuable on the ‘open market of immigration’ than others – and is completely abhorrent.

Deal with the causes of migration, help construct a world at peace by cooperating, sharing and building relationships; reject competition and nationalism in favor of unity and tolerance and see a dramatic fall in the numbers of people forced to leave their homeland, whether in search of safety or opportunity.

BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy

It was only a matter of time before the anti-Muslim sentiment in India turned violent.

A country that has historically prided itself on  its diversity and tolerance, and for being ‘the largest democracy in the world’ has, in recent years, exhibited the exact opposite qualities – chauvinism, racism, religious intolerance, and, at times, extreme violence.

The latest round of  violence ensued on February 23, one day before US President Donald Trump arrived in Delhi on his first official visit to India.

Trump is a beloved figure among Hindu nationalists, especially supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014.

BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, has wreaked havoc on Indian politics and foreign policy. However, the damage that this ultra-nationalist movement has caused to Indian society is unmatched since the country’s independence in 1947.

Under BJP rule, the hatred for Muslims, a sizable minority of over 200 millions, among other minority groups, has grown over the years to represent the core discourse of a movement that is ideologically and morally bankrupt.

Jumping on the Islamophobia band wagon, which has grown exponentially since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Hindu nationalists disguised their racist and chauvinistic ideology as part of a global ‘war on terror’.

It was no surprise, then, to see Modi reaching out to like-minded islamophobes, the likes of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The seemingly unbreakable Modi-Netanyahu ‘friendship’ underlies a growing pro-Israel movement among Hindu nationalists.

Hindu nationalist ideologues and pro-Israel Zionists have long discovered a common cause, one that is predicated on a collective sense of racial supremacy and intolerance for Islam and Muslims.

In fact, Israel has, in recent years, emerged as the common denominator between various such ultra-nationalist and far-right groups in India and across the globe. Strangely, but tellingly, some of these groups are known for hostility towards Jews and outright antisemitism. However, for these groups, the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiments were far more pressing priorities than all else.

While Europe and North America have received a greater share of political analysis regarding the rise of Islamophobia around the world, countries like India, Burma, and China have largely been excluded from the discussion.

It is true that the discrimination and violence against China’s Muslim minority, the Uyghurs, Burma’s Rohingya population and India’s Muslims, have all received a relatively fair share of media attention and analysis. However, the targeting of Muslims in these polities is largely perceived as provisional ‘conflicts’ that are unique to these areas, with little or no connection to global anti-Muslim phenomena.

But nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the fact that BJP politicians often refer to Muslim migrants in India as ‘infiltrators and termites’ mirrors the same dehumanizing lexicon used by Buddhist nationalists in Burma and Israeli Zionists in Palestine.

The likes of the Hindu Samhati movement, known for its anti-Muslim bigotry, has, therefore, become essential to this new global anti-Muslim brand. And, according to the same disturbing logic, hating Muslims then becomes synonymous with loving apartheid Israel.

Hence, it was not a complete surprise to see tens of thousands of Hindu nationalists rallying in Calcutta in February 2018 in what was described by organizers as “the largest pro-Israel rally” in history.

But what took place in New Delhi in February was more ominous than any other previous display of violence. Dozens of Indian Muslims were beaten to death and hundreds more were severely injured by angry Hindu nationalists.

While India is no stranger to mob violence, the recent bouts of bloodshed in that country are most alarming considering it is a rational outcome of a racist trajectory that has been championed by the BJP and their supporters.

Particularly alarming were the scenes of Indian security forces either watching the brutality against Indian Muslims unfold without intervening or objecting in any way or worse, participating in the violence themselves.

While it is rightly argued that the anti-Muslim campaign in India was triggered by Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act which ultimately aims at rendering millions of Muslims in India stateless, the ailment lies in the BJP itself – a purely xenophobic movement that exploits the grievances of the poor and marginalized in India to maintain political power.

It goes without saying that India’s Modi is a far cry from the India that was envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi or the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Unfortunately, with Modi and the BJP in power, India will experience yet more tragic days ahead. Flanked by equally racist and violent allies in Tel Aviv and Washington, Modi feels empowered to carry out more such sinister and discriminatory measures against the country’s vulnerable minorities, especially Muslims.

It is essential that we educate ourselves further about the situation in India, and that we understand the anti-Muslim politics and violence in that country within the larger global context. India’s Muslims need our solidarity more than ever before, especially as the emboldened BJP and their chauvinistic leader seem to have no moral boundaries whatsoever.

Indian Adventures: Policing, Facial Recognition and Targeting Privacy

The chances for those seeking a world of solitude are rapidly run out.  A good case can be made that this has already happened.  Aldous Huxley’s Savage, made famous in Brave New World, is out of options, having lost to the Mustapha Monds of the world.  State and corporate regulation of life, surveillance and monitoring, are reviled only in the breach.  And, like Mond, we are told that it is all for the better.

Facial recognition is one such form, celebrated by the corporate suits and the screws of the prison system alike.  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a keen devotee, and it is telling that his company has now reached a level of influence that it can actually write the legislation on its own facial surveillance technology.  Whether Congress or other parliaments pass it is another thing, but political representatives are always up for rent when required.  What matters is selling them the right template of faux protections and safeguards that will enable them to sleep more soundly at night.

The critics come across as Cassandras and killjoys but they are trenchant and convincing.  Artificial intelligence expert Luke Stark argues that, at a technical level, facial recognition systems possess “insurmountable flaws connected to the way they schematize human faces.”  Gender and race categorisations are not only created but re-enforced, a point highlighted by Amazon’s own Rekognition system.  The risks of using such technology, Stark expounds, is “reminiscent of hazardous nuclear technologies.”

Evan Greer continues in the same vein, looking at a world of saturation surveillance with some despair.  “The use of computer algorithms to analyse massive databases of footage and photographs could render human privacy extinct.”  Greer has no need for the qualifier there.

Such concerns keep falling on the stubbornly deaf ears of those in power.  Those like Bezos have software and systems to sell, coated in save-the-world gloss; authorities are seeking products to purchase that are affordable and supposedly effective.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for instance, uses Rekognition on some level.  On January 15, 2019, a sternly worded letter from a coalition of 85 different groups and organisations took issue with this tendency, rebuking Bezos and the buccaneering tendencies in the facial recognition market.  “By continuing to sell your face surveillance product to government entities, Amazon is gravely threatening the safety of community members, ignoring the protests of its own workers, and undermining public trust in its business.”

This tendency became all too real this year, with an announcement by the Indian government that plans to install a national facial recognition system were being implemented.  The inspiration behind such a measure is characteristic.  Authorities find themselves stretched.  There are few hands to achieve their objectives.  In this case, law enforcement authorities claim to be starved of resources, funding and foot soldiers.  Technological options which stress speed, data compilation and comparisons are being sought as a remedy.

The country’s National Crime Records Bureau, operating within the purview of the Home Ministry, expressed interest in tenders for what would be the world’s first central facial recognition surveillance system.  The NCRB is matter fact and businesslike in describing the intentions of the program.  “This is an effort in the direction of modernising the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and dissemination among various police forces and units across the country.”

There is no shortage of contenders for such a system, though indigenous variants were a bit slow in coming.  Indian homeland security, like other markets, is thriving.  Atul Rai, who features in a BuzzFeed contribution, is one such exponent. He is CEO of Staqu Technologies, which specialises in data analysis and facial recognition.  His company have been happy to work with the police to digitize musty, filed records lost in papered chaos.  But his approach is sinister in its confidence.  “America had Palantir. China had SenseTime.  India didn’t have a single brand like that in this space.  So we wanted to be that.”  To be that involved training “our model on the Indian facial ecosystem.”

Problematically, the NCRB never saw fit to raise the issue with policy makers, a point deemed more significant for the finding by the Indian Supreme Court in 2017 that privacy is a fundamental right.  (The jurisprudence prior to this decision had been divided on this point.)  The case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India dealt with a petition concerning the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, an Indian biometric identity scheme.  The nine judges found that, “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.”

As Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at the open-internet advocacy group Access Now warns, “It is deeply concerning that [the NCRB] have done this without any policy consultation and there’s not even a policy document.  There’s no clarity on what problems they are trying to solve”.  Vidushi Marda, lawyer and researcher at Article 19 and Carnegie India, has been wise to the language being used in selling the program; “safety”, “security” and “crime prevention” pepper the platform with arresting confidence.  But according to Marda, it is even more threatening than Aadhaar. “Unless we get plastic surgery at the same time, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Even then, the confident types in government are convinced that plastic surgery modifications can be defeated with the assistance of sketches, pictures published in newspapers, CCTV camera footage, and images from public and private video feeds.

The Indian context is particularly important, given the nationalist ambitions of Narenda Modi’s government, and those of his Bharatiya Janata Party.  Social and military control is central to their politics, with minorities high up the list of targets.  The quasi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir has been rescinded; detention camps are being built with the intention of keeping 2 million people in the north-eastern state of Assam under watchful eye.

While the options for solitude may be thinning at a goggling rate, pockets of resistance against biometric technologies can be found.  There are those within the mother ship that is Amazon who fear abuse.  There are legislatures and local councils in the United States digging in against the adoption of such technologies.  The European Parliament has been showing concern; Sweden found itself falling foul of the Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation in using facial recognition in schools.  But the Indian move suggests that facial recognition continues to hold cash strapped bureaucrats and corporate technologists in thrall.

India is Confused: where does it go from here?

At J. Nehru University, most students know about China and Russia only from the BBC, Reuters and other Western media outlets. Even those individuals who claim they belong to the left are not immune; influenced mainly by the British propaganda.

*****

It has been like this for years: usual confusion, all around India: tough nationalistic, even chauvinistic rhetoric, mixed with almost religious economic submission to the West, and often, to Western geo-political interests.

During the last few years, nationalism, as well as Hindu religious dogmatism, have been gaining ground while capitalism, often in its most vulgar and grotesque form, has been turned into a worshipped and bulletproof demagogy.

Gone are the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Now, there is no flirtation with socialism anymore, and no attempt to create a country that would serve all of its citizens.

Like in Thailand, which is now the country with the most unequally distributed income on earth, Indian elites are thriving on their exceptionalism, on being separated from the poor majority by entire galaxies.

Here, Bentley and Jaguar showrooms rub shoulders with terrible, impenetrable slums. Expensive private hospitals are shamelessly seducing foreigners into “cheap” medical tourism, while the local poor are dying in pain and misery, often with no help at all.

*****

For many years, I have been writing about this country, from Kerala and Tamil Nadu to the oppressed Northeast and Kashmir. I have encountered, and worked with, many local thinkers, opposition figures and artists.

Humble monument to Communist workers who died fighting capitalism, Kerala India

Then, four years ago, after covering Kashmir, Assam and the deprived villages north of Delhi, something broke inside me, and I couldn’t stand what I saw here, anymore. I could not deal with the gang rapes, with people being tortured and forced to eat their own flesh. And I refused to be subjected to the most grotesque “security”measurements and bullying on earth.

“Democracy!”, people laughed at me, when I mentioned the word. “Yes, democracy, for them, for the rich. We the poor only stick pieces of paper into a box, take small bribes and alcohol from various political parties, before elections. We get beaten up if we do something the rulers and the rich consider wrong.”

I have had enough of the farce: in India, Indonesia, Thailand – wherever the brutal, nihilist regimes which have been reducing the majority of the population into beggars, have been clinging, almost unopposed, to power.

*****

Then two months ago, the Student Association at Jawaharlal Nehru University, wrote me a letter, inviting me back to speak, this time about China and the conflict between the PRC and the United States.

The email exchange with the Students Union Leaders included a piece of information which I was actually aware of:

The International Relations field is being completely taken over by pro US / pro NATO people here…

Everybody here is occupied with JNU student union elections next week. It is one of the most important places of ideological resistance to the current Fascist government in India.

Modi… Yes. They hate Modi at JNU. Many do. But then later, in Delhi, after accepting the invitation, in an Uber from my hotel to the university, I was told, bluntly:

Your friends, including Arundhati Roy and a Kashmiri documentary film director Sanjay Kak, used to speak at this university often. Now they cannot even show their faces here, or there would be a riot organized by the RSS.

At that moment I knew that I am on my own. Ready to face the students at the school which could be still considered the best public university in India, but which was hostile to even the most luminous intellectuals this nation has recently produced.

I recalled how, four years ago, in a café in New Delhi, sitting at a table with Arundhati Roy and Sanjay Kak, I committed an indiscretion, exclaiming:

But India has such great opposition figures!

Arundhati looked at me, sarcastically, and uttered:

Yes, and most of us are sitting, right now here, at this table.

*****

My encounter with the JNU students and researchers was colorful from the beginning to the end. They wanted me to speak about the “Global South”, and about the conflict between the West and both China and Russia.

I did. But I also wanted to “take the pulse”, to understand, from their questions and statements, what they actually know, and what they would like to learn from exchanges like this.

Author speaking at JNU

For two full hours we faced each other, and these were not always pleasant moments.

I spoke about China and Russia as I knew them, experienced, and wrote about. They were shooting many questions at me, questions that were often shaped by the Western propaganda language, and by mass media jargon.

“Human rights”, “democracy”, “why does China do this?”, “why does Russia do that?”

I stood my ground.

“Why did China do nothing to help Cuba?”

I patiently explained that China saved Cuba, after the Soviet Union decomposed under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Sarcastic sounds followed.

“Fidel Castro quoted me, and wrote that I was correct,” I uttered. This restored order. There was not much to add.

There were questions about Hong Kong. Confrontational questions. Definitely not questions that are asked among comrades. I did not lose my temper. Patiently, I explained what I recently witnessed in Hong Kong: the confusion of the rioters backed by European and North American countries. Violence and hate; destruction.

JNU students not so left anymore

At the end, one young man asked me, with a smile: “And what about Iranian imperialism?”

“Iranian imperialism?” I couldn’t understand. I still did not fully comprehend that this was a different India that I knew in quite a recent past.

“Yes. Iranian imperialism… You know: supporting Yemeni rebels, and brutal Assad’s dictatorship…”

I recalled how I was approached: [JNU] is one of the most important places of ideological resistance to the current Fascist government in India.

One of the left-activists and research scholars at JNU who asked not to be identified, and who was present during my presentation, later wrote for this essay:

On the extreme right-wing violence kind of things like lynching, riots, hate speech, Hindutva interpretation of history etc. – there is some resistance from a section of liberal elites. Or resistance on caste issues from people who care about these issues.

But on long term policies of Indian state – pro-US foreign policy, neoliberal economic policies, etc – there is hardly any understanding or resistance. 

I even heard one ex-WTO guy in a seminar here – who was surprised to see the consensus among students on the ‘rule-based international trading system’ in contrast to fierce disagreements when he came a few years back. 

There are few teachers who are exceptions – but in general a far-right shift (in economic and foreign policy) is unfortunately true.

That is obviously and unfortunately what is happening. I witnessed it at JNU, I was told this by my friends, and I felt it on the street.

*****

Binu Mathew, the legendary Editor of “Countercurrents” magazine, based in Kerala, explained:

During the cold war India was one of the conscience keepers of the world. It took a moral stand on world issues. Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the founders of the Non Aligned Movement during the Cold War. It was a huge moral force during those maddening times. It has completely lost now. It was done by the very followers of Nehru’s Congress party. They made India a minion of the USA by signing a military strategic partnership in 2008. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which came to power after the Congress-led government, took it to another level. In 2016, the US designated India a “Major Defense Partner”. Now India is following the dictate from Washington… I think the USA is using India as a bulwark against the growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Narendra Modi used to be the Chief Minister of Gujarat during those brutal massacres that I covered. The right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization, RSS, responsible for those massacres, is now a major force on the Indian political scene. Mr. Modi is held responsible for the pogroms. The academic view of the “events” is summarized by Martha Nussbaum, who said:

There is by now a broad consensus that the Gujarat violence was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law.

Mr. Modi is now Prime Minister of India. Under his rule, acts of state terror are continuously taking place in Kashmir and North-East.

The misery of the poor (the majority of the nation) is deepening. The shameful caste system is still firmly in place.

*****

Leaving India for Thailand, I watched the extremely long Hindi film, called “Guru”. Melodramatic, badly acted and directed, but it was still worth watching.

Nowhere else in the world would such films be possible to make, a film glorifying capitalist, thuggish cronyism and corruption, a feel-good film about an ambitious young man becoming the owner of an industrial empire. In India, no one laughs at such propaganda, turbo-capitalist monstrosities. Such films are actually admired. People are dreaming to be like the main character.

While right-wing publications were lying everywhere, I couldn’t find or purchase the relatively progressive weekly news magazine Frontline; in my hotel, at the airport or on board the airplane.

A few years ago, I wrote an essay: “India Is Where? On Two Chairs!” Now, it is clearly sitting on the lap of the West. It has found “its place”.

The Global South? BRICS? Just words; at least for now. A few great individuals like Arundhati Roy are still fighting, but they are locked out, even from the J. Nehru University.

It is painful to accept, but it is the reality.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences]

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises

Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success. The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by adopting a range of GM food crops, amounting to what would be a full-scale entry of GM technology into Indian agriculture. Currently, Bt cotton is India’s only officially approved commercially cultivated GM crop.

With the aim of putting the record straight, a media event took place on Friday, 6 September in New Delhi at the Constitution Club of India during which it was declared that Bt cotton has been a costly and damaging failure. Speakers included prominent environmentalists Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva who presented a good deal of information based on official reports, research papers and documents submitted as evidence to the Supreme Court on Bt cotton.

It was argued that even the government’s own data contradicts its tale of Bt cotton success and that the consequences of irresponsibly rolling out various GM crops based on a false narrative would be disastrous for the country.

PR and broken promises

In the early 2000s, Bt cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. However, pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton.

As will be shown, farmers now find themselves on a chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production. For many small-scale cotton farmers, this has resulted in greater levels of indebtedness and financial distress.

Failure to yield

Over 90% of cotton sown in India is now Bt. Although initially introduced to the country in 2002, its adoption was only about 12 and 38% respectively in 2005 and 2006. A good deal of data was contained in the media briefing that accompanied the event in Delhi. In it, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva show that, even then (2005-2006), average yields had already reached the current plateau of about 450-500 kg/ha. Average all-India Bt cotton yields hovered around or below 500 kg/ha during the period 2005-2018.

What is particularly revealing is that cotton production for 2018-2019 will be the lowest in a decade, down to an estimated 420.72 kg/ha, according to a press release issued in July by the Cotton Association of India.

Furthermore, the argument is that increases in yields that may have occurred were in any case due to various factors, such as increased fertiliser use and high-yielding hybrid seeds, and not Bt technology.

The data presented by Rodrigues and Shiva shows that cotton yield in the pre-Bt era increased significantly from its 191 kg/ha low in 2002 to 318 kg/ha in 2004-2005, registering an increase of 66% in just three years (the baseline for Bt cotton is 2005-2006 as prior to this adoption rates were not significant). The two environmentalists say this was a result of increased acreage under hybrids and a new class of insecticides.

They note that the momentum of this upward swing carried into the Bt era and had nothing to do with that technology. Their argument is that Bt cotton has failed but is being trumpeted as a success under the cover of increased fertiliser use, hybrid seed trait yield (not attributable to Bt technology), better irrigation and insecticide seed coating.

Biotech treadmill and ecological disruption

Bt technology was used in conjunction with high-yielding hybrids (as opposed to pure line varieties) and has no trait for intrinsic yield. This, Rodrigues and Shiva argue, conveniently allowed a smudging of the yield data (isolating the precise impact of hybrid yield would prove to be difficult) and also provided a ‘value-capture’ mechanism for Monsanto: the introduction of these hybrids disallows seed saving, forcing farmers to buy new expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year (hybridisation gives one-time vigour).

Prior to Bt cotton, the extensive use of insecticides to cope with the Pink Bollworm (PBW), which is native to India, had become a problem. Spraying for PBW caused outbreaks of the American Bollworm (ABW). The ABW is a secondary pest that was induced by extensive insecticide use and became the target for Bt cotton.

Although Bt cotton was supposed to control both species of bollworm, PBW resistance to Bt toxin has now occurred and the ABW is also developing resistance. Moreover, post 2002, new pests have appeared, such as whitefly, jassids and mealybugs.

However, Rodrigues and Shiva note that resistance in PBW now occurs to both Monsanto’s Bollgard I and Bollgard II Bt cotton (BGI and BG II). BGI was replaced by BG II as early as 2007-8, just six years after its introduction because the PBW had developed resistance. The ABW is also now developing resistance to stacked Bt toxins in BG II.

Irresponsible roll out

Hybrids are input intensive and are sown at suboptimal wide spacing. Unlike in other countries that grow Bt cotton, they are long season cottons and are thus more susceptible to pest build-up. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva refer to Dr K R Kranthi, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, who says:

Insecticide usage is increasing each year because of resistance development in sucking pests to imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides—by 2012 insecticide usage was at 2002 levels and will continue to increase inducing further outbreaks of insecticide and Bt resistant pests.

Bt cotton hybrids also require more human labour and perform better under irrigation. However, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.

In fact, Professor A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose: his research has noted a link between Bt cotton, weather, yields, financial distress and farmer suicides.

Monsanto’s profiteering

Rodrigues and Shiva note that Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Drawing on conservative estimates (by K R Kranthi), on average, the additional expenditure on seeds (compared to non-Bt seeds) was at least Rs 1,179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total extra amount of Rs 14,000 crores (140 billion) on Bt cotton seeds during the period 2002-2018. The trait value charged (2002-2018) is around Rs 7,000 crores. This excludes royalties accruing to Mahyco-Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton) and yet allowed by the regulators.

Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs were increasing in the face of stagnant yields.

Why GM anyway?

At this point, it is worth broadening the scope of this article by noting that in 2010, an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal, which would have been India’s first GM food crop. Despite the current push for a full-scale entry of GM into Indian agriculture, the moratorium is still in place: the conflicts of interest, secrecy, negligence and lack of competence inherent in the GM regulatory process that were acknowledged at that time remain unaddressed.

It would therefore be grossly irresponsible to roll out GM. If the experience of Bt cotton tells us anything, it would also be extremely unwise to proceed without carrying out independent health, environmental and socio-economic risk assessments.

Of course, establishing the need for GM – crops that outperform current non-GM options currently available – is paramount but totally absent. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva cite evidence that traditional plant breeding and newer methods outperform GM agriculture at much less cost, release fewer carbon emissions and earn much greater profits for farmers.

Given this situation (the fraud of GM and its dubious track record aside), anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the plan to get GM into Indian agriculture is solely driven by ideology and commercial interest. Instead of drawing on proven traditional knowledge and practices to ensure food security, the strategy seems to be to place farmers on biotech-chemical treadmills for the benefit of corporate interests.

Green Revolution to ‘gene revolution’

If we look at the Green Revolution, it too was also sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. But in India, according to Professor Glenn Stone, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

More generally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.

Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. It would also mean the undermining of national food security.

GM-based agriculture is key to what would amount to a wholesale corporate capture of the agri-food sector: a sure-fire money spinner that would dwarf the amount drained from India courtesy of Monsanto’s ‘royalties’ on Bt cotton.

Agroecological solutions

This wholesale shift to industrial agriculture would have devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security, seed sovereignty, nutritional yield per acre, water tables and soil quality, etc. Industrial agriculture has massive health, social and environmental costs which are borne by the public and taxpayers, certainly not by the (subsidised) corporations that rake in the massive profits.

It is no surprise, therefore, that an increasing international consensus is emerging on the role of agroecology. In this respect, smallholder farmers are not to be regarded as residues from the past but as being crucial to the future.

And this is not lost on Rodrigues and Shiva who note the vital importance and productivity of small farms (which outperform industrial-scale enterprises and feed most of the global population) and the advantages of agroecological farming. They refer to the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts which concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, according to Rodrigues and Shiva, regenerative organic farming can draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil, thereby reversing climate change and making agriculture climate resilient. They argue that organic systems are competitive with conventional yields and leach no toxic chemicals. As for cotton, they state that ‘desi’ species of cotton varieties are highly amenable to low-cost organic farming, providing an excellent opportunity for India to emerge as a global leader in organic cotton.

The take-home message is that if GM food crops are to be rolled out – based on a narrative about Bt cotton that relies more on industry spin than actual facts – it would be disastrous for India. Given the evidence, it’s a warning that should not be taken lightly.

An eight-page briefing was issued to coincide with the media event and contains relevant references, additional data and numerous informative charts. It can be accessed here.