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Admin 2020-04-20

20 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Resetting balance


Delhi’s move to prevent a predatory(preying naturally on others) Chinese hunt for Indian companies comes at a time when the stock market has been badly bruised by the coronavirus. It underlines the emerging perception in Delhi that there is no separating commerce and security in dealing with China. Delhi’s concerns are similar to those being expressed elsewhere in the world.


A number of European countries have already moved in that direction. In recent years, apprehensions have grown, in both the developing and developed world, that China is targeting their infrastructural, industrial and technological assets for control. But many governments were willing to give the benefit of doubt to Beijing. No longer. That willingness has rapidly eroded (gradually destroy) in the wake of the corona crisis that has devastated the Western world.


Although few world leaders want to join the US President, Donald Trump, in publicly attacking China, many of them know that Beijing bears some responsibility for letting a health emergency in one of its cities become a global pandemic.

That Chinese companies, with access to easy money and strong political support in Beijing, are now taking economic advantage of other nations’ misery has added insult to injury. While most leaders are preoccupied with the corona crisis, they are not likely to let Beijing have its way.

Even in Britain, where the Boris Johnson government — which came into power with the determination to strengthen economic partnership with China and willingness to distance itself from its close ally, the US, on the question of adopting 5G technologies — is now taking a second look. Last week, the British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said there will be no going back to “business as usual” with China.


Beyond the question of accountability for the spread of the coronavirus, many countries are rethinking the very nature of their commercial engagement with China. On a host of issues ranging from trade and investment to intellectual property protection, there is an inescapable sense that China has gamed the global system for unilateral gains.

India certainly has had a longer learning curve than the West in recognising the relationship between commerce and national security. Since the early 1990s, Delhi bet that expanding economic cooperation with China will help mitigate(lessen) political disputes. But the differences have only become intractable even as China became stronger economically.

Delhi gave China an easy pass into the WTO. It let cheap imports from China undermine India’s manufacturing sector and run up a massive trade surplus. India allowed massive Chinese penetration of its telecom, digital and other advanced sectors only to discover the multiple negative consequences.


The last few years have seen a new approach that has seen India oppose China’s Belt and Road Initiative and walk out of the RCEP negotiations citing the trade imbalance with China. The decision on Chinese FDI can be seen as one of that piece.

But the puzzle of dealing with a rising China’s strategic economic onslaught(assualt) will test Delhi for a long time. Delhi’s decision on FDI from China is part of its own learning curve on linkages between commerce and national security.


2) Agriculture’s moment


Farmers are currently harvesting, if they haven’t already, a bumper rabi crop. The India Meteorological Department has forecast a 100 per cent normal southwest monsoon (subject to a model error of ± 5 per cent), with the possibility of weak La Niña conditions (the opposite of El Niño that is generally not favourable for rainfall in the subcontinent) developing in the second half of the four-month season from June to September. That bodes well for the coming kharif planting season too. There must be proper marketing of bumper rabi crop, planning for kharif. Much depends on it.


(El Niño and La Niña are a global climate phenomenon caused by cyclical shifts in the water temperature of the Pacific Ocean. While focused on a small section of the Pacific near the Equator, these shifts have global ramifications. They influence both temperature and rainfall.

Each El Niño or La Niña event lasts between 9–12 months, and, on average, occurs every 2–7 years. )


Agriculture is important from two standpoints. The first is inflation control, which is predicated(based) on adequate supply of food, feed and fibre. Secondly, farmers and rural labourers have high marginal propensity(tendency) to consume. The Indian economy today needs both low and stable inflation as well as boost to spending, which is best guaranteed by increased farm production and incomes.


That being so, concerted efforts are required to ensure proper marketing of the rabi wheat, mustard, pulses and other harvested crops. The issuing of coupons or SMSes by governments to farmers for bringing their respective produce to mandis at given dates and times is fine, given the imperative(need) for maintaining social distancing.

But it raises the question: Why limit procurement(the action of obtaining) only to mandis? Why not open purchase centres at rice and dal mills or, for that matter, even village schools, panchayat offices, primary cooperative societies, district courts and other unused public places during lockdown?

Wheat and chana, after all, only have to be unloaded, cleaned, weighed, filled in gunnies and stocked. There’s no necessity for cold storage or reefer vehicles for subsequent movement to Food Corporation of India’s godowns. If the idea is to procure(obtain) and pay farmers fast, while preventing overcrowding, the best way is not to stagger(hesitate), but spread out purchases beyond mandis.


Equally urgent is planning for kharif, where sowing of cotton and paddy nurseries will start from early to mid-May in North-West India. Plantings of these and other crops across the country will take off from June, with the arrival of the monsoon. There is no time to lose with regard to arranging supply of seed, fertiliser and crop protection chemicals. The same farmers who would sell grain in hordes(crowd) now will very soon queue up for buying inputs for the next crop.


The challenge of managing crowds at fertiliser sale points is serious enough in normal times. In the time of novel coronavirus, it would be a herculean(major) endeavour(task). That extra logistical effort is, however, worth mounting for a sector offering some hope in this most uncertain economic environment. This is also the time to free agricultural markets. Allow the farmer to sell to anyone and anywhere, while simultaneously lifting all restrictions on stocking, domestic movement and export of produce.


3) Covid asks us to heed Gandhian principles of swadeshi, swachhata and sarvodaya


COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the postmodern world. In line with the adage “every problem is an opportunity in disguise”, the present dramatic scenario of pandemic proportions spotlights the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s clarion(loud and clear) call (articulated in his 1909-manifesto Hind Swaraj) to extricate(extract) ourselves from the mesmerisation(capture the complete attention of (someone)) of modernity. He even went as far as to discredit modernity’s alleged civilisational status as a “disease” to which we must endeavour not to fall victim.

Whether this can be deemed an illustration of prophetic(accurately predicting what will happen in the future) prescience(the fact of knowing something in advance) or not, in any case, Gandhiji’s vituperative(bitter and abusive) phraseology — admittedly constituting part of a polemical(critical) diatribe(forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone ) with the aim of subverting(destabilize) the legitimacy of the colonial enterprise, epitomised by his criticism of the railways (targeted strikingly as carriers and spreaders of epidemic disease!), law courts, modern medicine and English education — embodies for us today an uncanny significance as the virus spreads exponentially and the death toll is on the rise.


With modernity’s shining gloss getting unmasked as a deceptive mirage, it is dawning on us that our globalised lifestyle has made us weaker than ever (from a Gandhian perspective morally as well as physically). Admittedly, free trade, cheaper flights and social media have brought us closer than ever, but they are also making us more vulnerable. What is more, mass hysteria(exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement) is on the rise as rumours and fake news are spreading faster than the virus. And yet, the primary victims are the “first world” including India’s and the South’s upwardly striving jet-setting elite, who until now enjoyed the specious privilege of living in an age of unparalleled sophistication(worldliness), freedom and comfort, claiming supremacy over the natural world and mastery of science.

Yet with jeremiads(list of problems) blasting in the media that we are only a step or two away from disaster, not only the hubris(excessive pride or self-confidence) of post-modernity (boasting to have conquered disease, etc.) but also its scourge of criminal injustice — in view of the glaring social and economic disparity — is exposed as the killer virus’s onslaught(attack) threatens the lives of unsuspecting millions living in extremely vulnerable conditions.

Confronted with this ominous(threatening) scenario, let us recall Gandhiji’s allegorical premonition(a strong feeling that something is about to happen) in a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru (October 5, 1945). He wrote: “When the moth approaches its doom it whirls round faster and faster till it is burnt up. It is possible that India will not be able to escape this moth-like circling. It is my duty to try, till my last breath, to save India and through it the world from such a fate.”


Gandhiji’s forebodings(a feeling that something bad will happen) should summon us to urgently adopt a new mindset. Guided by his inspirational example, we are called upon to chart out a viable alternative model of polity that could extricate(extract) us from the contemporary impasse. His roadmap of integrating economics, politics and technology with ethics (all the while foregrounding the Daridranarayan’s well-being) can function as our sheet anchor in these precarious(difficult)times.

More immediately, to mitigate(reduce) the spread of the virus, for which allopathic medicine offers no cure, we should model ourselves on Gandhiji, the indomitable(impossible to subdue or defeat) experimenter in naturopathy, to use effective preventive treatment (and household remedies), practise excellent personal hygiene, promote and ensure community sanitation, and restrict ourselves to our localities, avoiding long-distance travel and attendance at public assemblies.


In short, the Gandhian principles of swadeshi, swachhata and sarvodaya should be our guidelines. More comprehensively, rather than indulging in a globalised lifestyle, we should endeavour to respond to Gandhiji’s call for putting into practice a unique variant of “glocalisation” — learning to experience the entire world within the precincts of our immediate village or neighbourhood (in line with the Upanishadic dictum viswam prushtam grame asmin anaathuram), and to live in harmony with our environment, eschewing(avoiding) exploitative practices as far as possible.


Last but not least, in view of the catastrophic(disastrous) disruption caused in the global economy, this would be the ideal moment to focus on regenerating our rural economy to bring about Gandhi’s cherished dream of gram swaraj. Indeed in following his dictum “Be the change you want to see in the world” through “simple living and high thinking”, each of us can make our contribution towards redeeming humanity and Planet Earth and thereby, pay homage to the Mahatma.