There is a saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. People of capitalist India under the BJP rule have now been experiencing how apt the aphorism is. With every passing day, the degree of economic onslaught on them is severer to push life and livelihood on the brink of total ruination. The BJP Prime Minister fashions himself as the builder of a new India, basks in self-glorification and is in the habit of making tall claims of great achievements without, of course, caring for substantiating his claims with facts. And then he and his party have a very powerful propaganda machinery in the form of the government-controlled TV channel as well as monopoly-owned corporate media which are pressed into action 24×7 to make people believe in his rhetoric and ride on his basket of promises. The members of his kitchen cabinet also eulogise those fake promises as well-thought out steps to usher in a life of mirth and prosperity even though the promises are not just proved to be a hoax in no time but found masterly chalked out blueprints of slaying the slain with much more ferocity. Of late, the Prime Minister and his sickening sycophants are busy convincing the people reeling under the repeated assaults of savage economic and fiscal policies that by 2022 the poor would see ‘better days’, shall have permanent houses and access to electricity, proper healthcare and sanitation facility and good education. The farmers’ incomes shall double. Ample opportunities would open up before the youth and women to grow and prosper, and the country would be free of scourges of pseudo-secularism and terrorism. For that, he says he is not afraid of taking “big” and “tough” decisions and vows to complete 99 schemes before 2019. So he urges people to make more sacrifices. His colleagues in the cabinet and the party also play second fiddle to his hawking of spurious dreams and hail him for architecting the country’s development and raising India’s prestige abroad. To buttress their claim, they have been highlighting ‘survey’ reports indicating how majority of Indians perceive him as the best Prime Minister. Needless to mention that the highest accolades are received from the top monopolists, the industrial houses, the chambers of commerce and the global bodies of imperialists-capitalists like World Bank and IMF. Because, it is them which the Prime Minister, his government, party and fellow-travellers work for and keep in good humour to remain in power.
Twin blow of demonetization and GST
Of the 99 catalogued schemes so visualized to ‘salvage the suffering millions of their ongoing ordeal’ two have been high-pitched, namely, demonetization and Goods and Services Tax (GST). It was claimed these two ‘grandiloquent ideas’ on implementation would cleanse the economy of all dirt and filth, unearth black money, free the system from corruption and malpractices, plug all the loopholes, bring in transparency, simplify taxation system and shower windfall gains on the people in the form of rising income and dip in prices. But within months of rolling out of these two ‘surgical strikes’ on economy in sequence, the people found that they have not just been fooled but held to ransom. Overnight evisceration of overwhelming proportion of the currency in circulation paralyzed the bulk of the lower end economy like agriculture, providing livelihood to 80% of the countrymen, small and medium (MSME) business, small retail outlets and vast unorganized sector, as everyone knows that cash is the medium of transaction in all these sectors. Once cash vaporized overnight, these sectors came to a grinding halt and means of livelihood of millions of hapless downtrodden Indian citizens became jeopardized.
Growing peril of the peasants because of demonetization and GST
Anyone familiarized with the conditions of the peasants in India is aware that theirs is a life besieged with growing plight and appalling poverty. Ruinous anti-peasant agrarian policies of the bourgeois government have been fostering ruthless eviction from land,unabated sky-rocketing of prices of agricultural inputs, MNC invasion of the agricultural sector with contract farming of cash crops and dominance over input production as well as spiralling rise in diesel and electricity prices. Over and above, an utterly corrupt nexus of unscrupulous middlemen-corrupt government officials-administrative high ups-ruling party leaders-village touts control the crop procurement machinery which deprive the peasants of minimum price of their produce, making so called Minimum Support Price announced by the government remain on paper. These utterly distressed peasants have been further devastated with the attack of demonetization. This came at a time of kharif harvest and the start of rabi crop sowing which is dubbed the ‘busy season’ of cultivation from a standpoint of credit demand, the other being bunching of festivals and weddings. But the Prime Minister as a prelude to doubling their income in five years had indeed gifted a bitter harvest to these countless increasingly pauperized peasants. The procurement machinery refused to buy crops citing absence of cash. The peasants not only failed to sell their crops, but also found whatever little cash they had having been declared invalid preventing them from buying even bare necessities to survive. Cash shortage had led to vegetable procurement prices crashing, delay in wheat sowing and inadequate inputs for winter crops as well as a drastic fall in wages of agricultural labour. Deflationary winds continued to blow in the kharif or summer crop season as well since the after-shock continues to persist. And most disquietingly, the quarters of vested interest who thrive on the hunger of millions of poor, seized the opportunity to make quick bucks through various foul means like cornering the produce at throwaway prices for releasing later in the black market, managing to obtain fresh currency through backdoor in connivance with unscrupulous officials and use that selectively to cheat the peasants with lure of instant payment if willing to sell at prices dictated by them, jacking up input prices and offer that as ‘loan’ to the peasants with stringent conditions of repayment and so forth. Formal financing of the peasants in many parts of the country is significantly from cooperative banks which were barred from exchange-deposit of demonetized currency.
Thus, the accumulated effect of a whole set of factors—dominantly cash-dependent sale, transport, marketing and distribution of ready produce to wholesale centres or mandis, disruptions and breaks in the supply chains feedback to farmers because of fall in sales, increased wastage of perishables, lower revenues that show up as trade dues instead of cash in hand and when credited into bank accounts with limited access affect the sector—shattered the peasants and agrarian economy beyond recovery. But the Prime Minister shamelessly goes on saying that ‘‘The Government’s decision has several gains for farmers, traders, labourers, who are the economic backbone of our nation. No longer will the progress and prosperity of rural India be curtailed by corruption and black money.”
Agriculture and the peasants are in further peril with spluttering start of GST. Cost of essential inputs like seed, fertilizer and pesticides went up by 200 to 300%. The government has incorporated a new definition of ‘agriculturalist’ in the goods and services tax law to enable select farm items to be brought under the tax net nationwide. Accordingly, floriculture, horticulture, sericulture, the raising of crops, grass or garden produce and also grazing, dairy farming, poultry farming, stock breeding, the mere cutting of wood or grass, gathering of fruit, raising of man-made forest or rearing of seedlings or plants would all come under the purview of agriculture and attract GST.
Obvious target is the poor farmers somehow eking out a livelihood from such activities. Farmers now are to buy many raw materials by paying GST loaded price, farmer leasing out his land is liable to pay GST at the rate of 18%. He would also need to take registration under new tax regime, and file 37 returns annually.
Cascading effect of a shattered agrarian economy is felt in the retail market even today. Sudden declaration of note ban robbed the ordinary vendors and small dealers of cash in hand to buy agricultural goods and sell in the market. So, there had been chaos and uncertainty all around. At one stroke, the prices of rice, pulse, edible oil, sugar, green vegetables and other essential items shot up on an unprecedented scale making life nightmarish for common people. And then the corrupt businessmen, black marketeers, hoarders and price manipulators with the government-administration as an indulgent onlooker took full advantage of the situation to increase prices under this or that plea. Ambiguity over GST rates and rising cost of transportation have further given a free hand to these unscrupulous lobby to raise the prices anyway and every way to squeeze the common people. Even after much of craftsmanship in fudging figures and revising computation methodology, the government has to admit now that India’s retail inflation including food inflation is on a spiral forcing people to curtail purchase of essential items including food articles which is bound to affect the health of the people further.
Escalated woes of the working class and small business under demonetization and GST
Adverse impact on the industry, particularly on the Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), has been tremendous. Cash accounts for 90 per cent of the transactions in this sector drop in March 2017. With demonetization, MSMEs recorded a drop of 60% in employment and loss of 55% in revenue. So, rollover of cash (meaning buying fresh raw material or other accessories with sale proceeds of goods) suffered immensely causing virtual stalemate. There is growing murmur among the owners of small business since they are in the process of being extinct. Migrant and casual workers have lost jobs en masse. Unorganized sectors which employs 93% of the non-agriculture working population shed workforce in large numbers because they had no cash to pay wages. Around 65% of daily wage earners went without work in urban areas in the wake of demonetization and returned to their villages. Corporate media also could not but admit the loss of 1.5 million jobs. But unofficial sources put the figure to be much higher.
Then has come down the “Damocles’’ sword of GST. The mandates that all goods and services produced by registered or unregistered enterprises ought to be taxed at source. It requires that all the 63.4 million unincorporated enterprises including 45 million small and micro enterprises are forced to bear the extra costs of developing infrastructure for online registration in order to comply with the GST Act. The second way in which small enterprises suffer is in terms of rising input costs for supply side inputs. For example, in the textile industry only 4 per cent of the fabric is produced in composite mills and the rest of the fabric is purchased from small producers. By putting 18 per cent tax on synthetic yarn, the cost of production of synthetic fabrics (often purchased by lower middle class) is going up. Complying with requirement of GST by adding to cost and that too substantially is another predicament of the MSMEs. In fact, they have now been shedding existing manpower or resorting to layoffs under GST regime. Small apparel manufacturing units like hosieries, handlooms etc. are in deep trouble following introduction of GST. This sector employs women in large number and continued loss forces the sector to terminate jobs of many. Already struggling to survive and compete with cheaper machine-made goods, the added burden of GST compliance is out to decimate self-employed artisans or craft workers. 93% of adult workers, are in the unincorporated, unorganised sector. A little over half of these are self-employed. Many are semi-literate or illiterate. The craft sector employs about 11 million people of which 43 lakhs are in the handloom sector. This 11 million is almost as large a number as those who work in the organized private sector. It is also the second largest employer in the country after agriculture. Now with GST, the lives and livelihoods of this enormous mass of people, most of whom barely make ends meet, are at stake. So if one looks carefully, it would be revealed that beneficiaries of GST are the big industrial houses, giant MNCs and large corporates. Because they, apart from receiving input cost benefit, also find GST as a convenient means of uprooting competition from the smaller units or at the very least putting pressure on them. And finally, being an indirect tax, burden of GST is ultimately borne by the end consumers, just like in the current process. Hefty rise in the prices of all items of daily need attests to this.
So, all sections of the toiling population, including small traders, salaried employees, daily-wage earners and poor farmers, have been mincing no words in expressing the immense hardships they have been suffering over the past one year, not only on account of GST, but because of the cumulative problems that followed the ‘historic economic initiative of demonetization’. Clearly, in a bid to soothe the frayed temper of the people particularly before ensuing Gujarat assembly election, the government has now announced GST rate cuts in 210 items as if this would bring down the prices. This is another big-ticket deception. The rate slash might facilitate much-clamoured ‘ease of business’ but would hardly reflect in end-price. But our Prime Minister goes on prattling that “increased competition due to GST will lead to moderation in prices. It will directly benefit poor and middle-class consumers,” and “GST has made articles of need cheaper” in his so called televised propaganda of “Man ki baat”.
Economy in tailspin, poverty and misery going up
However, much to the discomfiture of the Prime Minister and his party colleagues, the country’s economy is on a tailspin with GDP growth rate recording continuous dip. Estimated loss on economy after demonetization and GST is put somewhere near Rs 12 lakh crore as per National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
Visibly rattled at this, the BJP government in order to hoodwink people, has now knocked at the doors of IMF and World Bank, the international organizations of the imperialist powers, to elicit a certificate of optimism about India’s long term growth prospect. Not only that. Moody’s, an international rating agency whose job is to anyhow serve and protect the class interest of the imperialists-capitalists, have tried to rescue the BJP government by announcing about so called marginal increase in the creditworthiness of India (meaning how safe it is to give loan to Indian government in terms of its repayment capability). This is being showcased to prove how firmly the economy is held on the rails. Clearly, it is not the economic health of common people but the loan repayment capacity of the government which is highlighted as evidence of economic stabilization. More loans by the government means more and more mortgaging the country to the loan-givers. So, when the Prime Minister says that he is “not selling the country”, does he speak the truth? What could be more ludicrous than this! But irony is that close on the heels of Moody’s declaration, Standard and Poor, another international rating agency, kept its India rating unchanged at the lowest investment grade. It showed diversity of opinions even among the agencies of the imperialist world about the extent of bankruptcy the Indian government is inching towards because of its suicidal policies in the interest of the ruling monopolists. Most disquieting is the role of the economists-columnists who have sold themselves out to the government and are hence busy discovering ‘positives’ out of the disastrous policies and serve the aggrieved minds with craftily manufactured and suitably punctuated ‘clinching and irrefutable’ evidences of ‘long term’ benefits.
Rising onslaught of communalism-casteism-parochialism-separatism
But the ruling class and its subservient BJP government know that such gimmicks and fustians by the Prime Minister and his associates and their indulgence in surfeit of counterfeit optimism would not be able to keep the people silent for long. Life’s experience would bring them on the road of protest. And if that protest finds right channelization to turn into a united conscious anti-establishment upsurge, the whole capitalist system would be in danger. So, ploy is woven simultaneously to disrupt the unity of the toiling people by driving wedge of communalism-casteism-parochialism-chauvinism and blunt their thinking process and reasoning faculty by incessant propagation of religious fanaticism, blindness, obscurantism, bigotry and all kinds of irrationalities, and leave no stone unturned to nix any possibility of their convergence on common interest and cause. Under mandate from the ruling capitalist class, the ruling RSS-BJP and their Sangh Parivar allies have been arraying their entire arsenal to plunge people into this dungeon of divisiveness, disunity, intolerance, mutual distrust and hatred. The ruling powers are also embroiling the toiling masses back-broken by savage incessant economic assaults like demonetization and GST in fratricidal bloodbath, casteist-communal clashes and such other internecine conflicts. Every day, reports of communal conflagrations, dalit lynching, honour killing and persecution of religious minorities are pouring in. Even rationalists are assassinated to threaten people dire consequence if they dared to launch any conscious protest against all inhuman acts and nurture logical bent of mind. In most of the cases, frenzied armed hoodlums belonging to RSS-BJP and their affiliates are perpetrating such ghastly crimes with impunity.
While people of the country are bleeding white because of severe economic onslaught and crying for bare survival, the ruling RSS-BJP, their leaders and government have found the agenda of building Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, organizing ‘Namami Gange’ ‘Namami Brahmaputra’ festivals with pomp and grandeur and lighting one lakh lamps on the banks of Sarayu river by recklessly spending from public exchequer. Likewise, they are erecting 100-feet tall statue of Chhatarapati Shivaji and Sardar Patel incurring expenses of thousands of crores of rupees and connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad by bullet train at a whooping cost of $ 17 billion. Whose money is this? Is it not people’s money which instead of being spent on mitigating people’s hardship is wasted on all kinds of unnecessary non-productive activities? Obvious question is would building a Ram Mandir or installing sky high statues provide any relief to the growing predicament and impoverishment of the people? Would these wipe out the calamitous effects of ruinous economic and fiscal policies? Likewise, the primary social obligation of RSS-BJP is now to highlight and create communally motivated issues like cow vigilantism. Anybody with a saffron band on head is now licensed to brutally assault or even mercilessly kill anyone he thinks is ‘dishonouring’ mother cow. The same ‘mother cow worshippers’ remain conspicuously silent when modesty of women is outraged, rapes and gang rapes rise menacingly, female foeticide and infanticide soar alarmingly and dowry deaths grow abysmally. Fuelling mysticism and spewing venom against the religious minorities, particularly the Muslims, to glorify Hindutva are the other priority areas of RSS-BJP. An armed brigade of saffron-clad storm-troopers is now let loose to glorify Hindutva, assault and establish ‘Ram Rajya’ and behead anyone who shows courage to oppose this ‘suddhikaran’ (purification of the country) agenda of RSS-BJP. This craftily designed scheme of promoting frenzy and fanaticism, raking up obsolete thoughts and creeds and pitting one section of the people against the other serves nothing but the heinous class interest of the ruling bourgeoisie towards disrupting solidarity of the toiling people. Thereupon it deflects attention of suffering millions from the ruthlessly oppressive, utterly corrupt dying capitalist system, the root of all their woes and pains. It thus dehumanizes people, breaks their moral backbone and dispossesses them of the very power of thinking. So, it is another mortal blow on humanity, human essence and finer human qualities and fellow-feeling. As obedient order-takers of the ruling capitalist class, the RSS-BJP know that unless people are so dehumanized, they cannot rule over them. So this sinister conspiracy.
Moreover, no one has right to criticize the flawed policies or tell the truth. If one is a sticks to facts, is not sold on fairy tales and flights of fancy and seeks concrete evidence, he is branded as anti-national. Any sort of criticism of the BJP government is not only brushed aside as a non-permissible offensive against the Prime Minister but is often inviting punitive action as well. It has virtually become mandatory to gulp whatever stories are dished out by the government, the ruling party and its leaders. Otherwise, it is painted as unpatriotic and held as being tantamount to sedition.