Identifying Six Most Urgent Priorities of India in Exceptionally Difficult and Uncertain Times


Recent times have been exceptionally difficult and full of uncertainties for most people. While there are so many important issues that face India today, this review seeks to focus attention on six exceptionally urgent ones.

Firstly, we need to give much more attention to all those people who are living in poverty and denial of basic needs, including those who have suffered significant loss of income and livelihood in recent times. The number of such persons and households in India today is at a very high level, it is higher than most current estimates suggest. Several factors are responsible—rapidly growing inequalities over the years, big policy failures like demonetisation, flawed fiscal decisions including GST and higher dependence  on indirect taxes, a deeply flawed development model, climate change and disasters, the pandemic and the highly flawed pandemic response. As a combined result of all this, distress relating to poverty, deprivation and loss or serious erosion of livelihoods has spread very widely and a top priority of policy should be to try to reduce this distress in various ways.

Secondly, as certain forces very unfortunately inclined towards spreading inter-faith disharmony have become more active and  feel that they have more space now to spread their ideas , the wider society has to be more careful and concerned to protect the essential unity and harmony of Indian society. The essence of the idea of India which has enabled us to survive all efforts to divide and weaken us is the idea of unity in the middle of diversity. We should respect and even celebrate our various diversities which acually enrich our culture, yet remember that we are one as a nation, all communities to always help each other and never to harm. If the wider society holds out for unity in the middle of cultural diversity, the harm done by those who feel they have more power now to spread hate can still be minimised.

Thirdly, the food and farming system should be protected from any irreversible damage that can be unleashed by its ongoing corporatisation. The biggest threat at present relates to the possibility of GM foods being allowed, or the existing ban on GM foods being weakened. This possibility has been expressed very recently not just by several environment, health and farming activists but even by the Swdeshi Jagran Manch which is an important part of the Sangh Parivar. Some of those placed at a senior level for protecting the safety and standards of food have been behaving in some contexts as though they are more the friends or allies of those who are trying to harm food safety and security of our country. There are very powerful multinational companies and international forces which want the ban on GM foods in India to end so that the future of this very important farming country as a producer and supplier of safe, healthy food can be destroyed.  One hopes that wiser counsel will prevail at high levels of our government and any efforts to lift the ban on GM foods will not be allowed to succeed. Instead the ban on GM food and feed needs to be strengthened further.

Similarly, the attempts of multinational companies and big pharma to gain undue control of the health sector, particularly using the vaccine route, should be guarded against with a lot of care. The pandemic should not be allowed to be used by them to bring distortions in health sector and increase their control, again with the help of powerful international forces. If these forces have their way, the bulk of health funding in developing countries will go to fill their coffers and priorities will be distorted by them in a tightly controlled system.Integral to this is the need to take entirely evidence-based decisions on issues relating to pandemic and in fact all important health issues, uninfluenced by powerful interests. A very important aspect of this is the ability to assess in unbiased ways very important issues like safety and efficacy of vaccines. The debate on such issues of great importance for public health should be democratic and the voices of caution being raised in several countries by thousands of senior scientists and doctors on issues like COVID vaccines and in particular their extension to children and teenagers, the safety aspects, should receive adequate attention.

Coming to a different issue, there has been much concern in recent times that the tolerance for dissent in India has been diminishing and this has been reflected in the imprisonment of a significant number of dissenting persons including some highly reputed and eminent persons. The death of one such eminent person of great eminence Fr. Stan Swamy, who had devoted his life to protecting the interests of weaker sections particularly tribal communities, has shocked the conscience of the nation and faced well justified criticism all over the world. The poor health conditions of several other such eminent dissenting imprisoned persons or political prisoners have been highlighted in media. Those dissenting persons from much humbler grounds who are victimised for their participation in social protests or for resisting injustices around them are many more in number. There is thus an urgent need for a nationwide review of all such cases on the basis of which the rapid release of all those unjustly imprisoned should be secured.

Last but of course certainly not the least, the democratic base of the ability of people to change government using elections and electoral processes should be protected. This essential component of democracy can be eroded in several ways. For example a strong relationship between the ruling regime and leading billonaires can be created so that in return for favors they contribute such huge amounts to the coffers of a single political party, using non-tranparent processes (like the electoral bonds system) which may be given legal recognition. Hence unprecedented huge funds are available for arbitrary, non-transparent use to only one political party not just for election expenses but also for post-election manipulations. Hence we already see the verdict of people can be changed in local and assembly elections on this basis, as has happened several times in recent years. Another way in which erosion occurs is by exerting undue influence on important institutions like the Election Commission. Other relevant issues in this context are unfair use of official machinery, use of muscle power and criminal elements or mafias, tampering with the electronic voting system. All these aspects must be monitored with care and resisted by a broad-based democratic movement.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine-A Path to Peace.


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