Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 20, 2009

New Delhi - There was a downpour when the plane touched down in Delhi the night before India's big day.

A week ago a friend from Bangalore had asked for a bit of the rain that he said Manila seemed to have too much of. And indeed the rains came with the plane.

Night showers seeded puddles across the tarmac and the wheels of cargo vehicles hissed at the wet concrete. For the next three days, intermittent rainfall persisted, and then the heat returned to seize the day.

No one expected precipitation and the functionaries and politicians who had gathered at the historic Red Fort in Delhi to mark India's Independence Day were left drenched as the annual ceremonies rolled out under the watch of 15,000 security personnel.

The ceremony grounds were secure from the land and the air but the clouds had their way.

As temperatures plunged briefly in the great city, the Independence Day speech delivered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew high due to its weightlessness, alongside kites tied to strings coated with metallic powder (the better to cut loose rival kites).

People welcomed the cool spell with sighs of relief, having waited so long for the monsoon to arrive. But many received it with hidden disquiet. Because lower temperatures were not expected to last.

Two weeks previously, the mercury had climbed to 41 degrees Celsius. [i]

Rain deficits registered 85 percent in areas such as east Rajasthan as total foodgrain sowing went down by 11 percent. In states such as Uttar Pradesh, the decrease in paddy propagation plunged to 28 percent.[ii]

The dryness has made the seat of India's rule in Delhi anxious.

If rain does not pick up in the next 45 days, there may likely be a repeat of the 2002-03 period, when productivity sank to 18 percent across India. With the current drought, India is already looking at "a fall of 17 percent."[iii]

Frenzied digging of borewells has erupted throughout the drought-hit regions in a mad search for groundwater.

State governments are scrambling to save what little is left of the kharif crop – foodgrain planted during the monsoon period – while praying for a bit more moisture to stay in the soil for the winter season's planting.

There is, as the Times of India put it, a "drought of hope," particularly in hard hit Andhra Pradesh, a state heavily dependent on rain and where 21 farmer suicides were recorded just in the last 40 days.[iv]

In the new India, there are, of course, the Mittals and the Tatas – global corporate empires run by the tycoons of India – and officials like D. Subbarao, the Reserve Bank of India's governor, whose words deserve elevation to the global pantheon of absurdities.

Responding to the success of India's measures to address the economic crisis, Subbarao recently said "Financial stability is like pornography. You can't define it but when you see it, you know it."[v]

But then there is the rest of the vast country, many represented by people like 55-year-old farmer Peddolla Nadipi Bhumana from the village of Donchanda, who hanged himself the other week, in the face of massive crop failure which had compounded with finality his inability to pay mounting debts.

Bhumana is now part of the roster of ruined farmers who took their own lives – 21 in the last 40 days; in the period 1997-2007, 182,936 recorded suicides, most of them cash crop tillers – as a result of India's increasing integration into the global economy.[vi]

On the evening of India's independence anniversary, thousands milled around a memorial surpassing the majesty of the Arc du Triomphe of Paris – India Gate – which was built to honor Indians martyred in the wars India fought, including its fight against the British.

The last struggle was the most just, in all senses of the word. Because had India paid a dear price for the rise to economic prominence of its erstwhile conqueror, the United Kingdom.

Today, it is the occasion for the pillage of India's coffers and ideals at the hands of its own officials, but this detail stands largely atop an interesting reality of the past.

As the writer Mike Davis noted recently, “If the history of British rule in India were to be considered into a single fact, it is this: there was no increase in India's per capita income from 1757 to 1947.”

In contrast, “in Britain, the per capita incomes rose 14 percent between 1700 to 1760, 34 percent between 1760 to 1820, and 100 percent between 1820 t 1870."[vii]

At the base of India Gate is a monumental flame kept alit for perpetuity.

Gautam Kumar Bandyopadhay, who still lights candles in India Gate when the occasion permits, said the eternal fire is a reminder.

"It reminds the times," said Gautam, "so that Indians do not to go back to bondage.

"To me," said the Chhattisgarh resident, "it's one among many spiritual sources in the struggle against any sort of exploitation in today's colonial frame of development, led by robber corporations, banks and Indian tyrants."

[i] Abhishek Sahran, "Dusty Delhi unwinds on special Saturday," Times of India, 16 August 2009.
[ii] Rajeev Deshpanda and Nithin Sethi, "Govt scrambles to save kharif, prays for rabi," Times of India, 15 August 2009.
[iii] "Zia Haq, "Drought sting as sharp as 2002-03?" Hindustan Times, August 16, 2009.
[iv] Zia Haq, "Drought of hope: 21 farmer suicides in 40 days," Times of India, 16 August 2009.
[v] Times of India, 15 August 2009.
[vi] Renato Redentor Constantino, "The National Imperative," BusinessMirror, 09 March 2009.
[vii] Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocaust: El NiƱo Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, London: 2001). Davis cites the 1998 study by Angus Maddison, "Chinese Economic Performances in the Long Run."

India photos by Redster.


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