On February 13, the BEST, the undertaking which runs Mumbai’s public bus services, announced that it would now bring in private contractors to run BEST buses. The following joint statement was prepared before the February 13 announcement, but it remains relevant. The BEST’s decision to privatize has been taken under duress: the Municipal Corporation has refused to provide a grant to the BEST until it adopts its ‘reform’ package, the centrepiece of which is privatization. The statement counters the Corporation’s claim that the subsidy to BEST is unsustainable. — RUPE

 We condemn the fact that the budget for 2018-19 presented by the BMC does not provide for a grant for BEST  bus services. The BMC Commissioner is demanding that the BEST first implement his unilateral demands or ‘reform package’ that includes: (i) increase in fares, (ii) reduction of routes, (iii) partial privatisation (wet-leasing), (iv) reduction of workers’ emoluments (through freeze of D.A., cancellation of medical allowance, cancellation of welfare schemes for workers, etc), and (v) increased workload on officers. His argument is that the BMC cannot sustain financial support to BEST.

However, it should be noted that it is standard practice worldwide, and in every city of India, to subsidise public transport, in the interests of the whole city. Some cities, such as Paris and Seoul recently, have also taken steps to fight days of extreme air pollution by making public transport free of cost on those days. Continue Reading »

The lead headline in today’s Times of India is that Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur on whom Vijay Mallya modeled his goatee and lifestyle, has signed an intent agreement with the Maharashtra government to develop a hyperloop route between Pune Central, the proposed Navi Mumbai international airport and Mumbai.

The hyperloop is a new technology that moves passengers in capsules at near-sonic speeds. The Times provides us with colourful diagrams and informs us that it will reduce travel times from the present three hours to 20 minutes. Branson says the system will have a capacity of 150 million passengers a year. Branson’s US-based Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) says the Pune-Mumbai route could result in $55 billion (Rs 3.5 lakh crore) in “socio-economic savings (time savings, emissions cuts, accident reduction, operational cost savings, etc) over 30 years”.

The name of the firm is quite apt, as Virgin Hyperloop has not yet set up a hyperloop anywhere in the world. Indeed the technology is not yet commercially operational anywhere in the world. Branson confides that “Possibly India may have this track as the first operationalized route, though Dubai is competing close”. The project is claimed to cost a mere Rs 20,000 crore, about one-fifth the projected cost of the Prime Minister’s favourite project, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, for about one-fifth the distance.[1] As such, it is sure to enthuse the state government, anxious to procure its own white elephant. Like the Prime Minister’s pet, it will be an expensive thing to feed: the Times passingly mentions that “The fare is too early to decide, but will probably be close to airfares.” Presumably passengers will be persuaded to board it with the help of subsidies, a small price to pay for having the world’s first commercial hyperloop. Continue Reading »

The current discussion regarding Aadhaar, both in the Supreme Court as well as in the media, has focussed on the questions of privacy, State surveillance of individuals, and the security of data. All these are valid objections, and any one of these would be sufficient ground to oppose such a system. However, to limit the discussion to these aspects misses the crucial point. Namely, that Aadhaar is intended as an instrument of control not of a small minority, but of the vast majority. It does this indirectly.

Supporters of the official line mock fears of Aadhaar as the worries of a tiny segment (one particularly puerile piece attributed opposition to Aadhaar to “activists of the upper crust, upper class, wine ‘n cheese, Netflix-watching social media elite – mostly of the Left”). The poor, they claim, have no objection, since they are not worried about their privacy; and at any rate why would the Government try to monitor 134 crore citizens? They would only monitor a handful of them, who can be monitored even without Aadhaar. Thus runs the argument. Continue Reading »

The following interview with Fred Engst was conducted by Onurcan Ülker on April 7, 2017, at Beijing. It provides very significant insights into the building of socialism in China on the basis of both direct experience and deep reflection on the questions involved. — RUPE

Onurcan Ülker: Could you please start with introducing yourself?

Fred Engst (Yang Heping): I was born in Beijing in 1952 and raised in China’s ancient capital, Xi’an. I came back to Beijing when our family got transferred in 1966, before the Cultural Revolution started. I spent first twenty some years of my life in China—mostly in Xi’an—and the last eight years of that time was in Beijing during the peak of the Cultural Revolution; but Beijing was not as chaotic as other places at that time. After the middle school, I spent five years working in a factory together with my classmates. Some other classmates of mine went to the countryside and I also wanted to go with them, but I was not allowed because I was a foreigner. Later, after I tried, my brother and sister were able to go. Then I went to the U.S. in 1974 and spent another thirty some years there. But I came back often: I spent the whole year here in 1988 right before the events in Beijing in 1989. Then I spent another year, 2000, to teach here. In between, I also came back quite often to see my parents and my classmates. In the end, I decided to move back to China in 2007. Since then I’ve been teaching and doing my research here. My lifelong pursuit is understanding politics and economics of Mao’s period. In this sense, I can say it has been most fruitful in last ten years.

Fred Engst

Fred Engst

The real question: How to build a new, socialist society?

OÜ: So, you spent quite a lot of time in Maoist China. Western critics of Maoism usually accuse it of over-politicizing the people and therefore, consistently undermining stability and institutionalization. How was the daily life of ordinary people in Maoist China? Did the so-called “over-politicization” of masses really create a sort of chaos?

FE: Well, that is a loaded question. It comes down to: do you justify the oppression or do you try to overcome the oppression? In other words, the problem is: do you want to overthrow the old oppressors to become a new oppressor or completely eliminate the system of oppression?

Continue Reading »

The survey report and article we publish below is significant in that it has been carried out, not by a Government agency, academic institution or private firm, but by an agricultural labourers’ organisation. Indeed, the surveyors were members of agricultural labour households of the very villages they surveyed.

The article points out that, while there is much discussion about the debt of the landed peasantry, there is a paucity of even information about the debt of landless agricultural labourers (largely Dalit). The organisation, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, has consequently carried out its own survey of agricultural labourers in 10 villages of Punjab’s Malwa region and two villages in the Doaba region. Among the facts of particular interest that emerge from the survey: 

(1) 84 per cent of the agricultural labour families surveyed were in debt, with an average debt of over Rs 91,000 per family.

(2) Interest rates on most of this debt ranged from 18 to 60 per cent per annum.

(3) The share of banks and cooperative societies in these households’ debt was only 16 per cent; indeed, the share of public sector banks was negligible.

(4) Nearly 30 per cent of the debt was extended by landowning farmers of different size categories (half of this amount came from those owning more than 10 acres).

(5) Private moneylenders accounted for almost one-fourth of the debt, charging usurious rates.

(5) A significant new finding is that microfinance agencies too accounted for almost one-fourth of the loans, charging interest rates as usurious as those of moneylenders. The authors of the article have commented on this new phenomenon in the latter half of the piece.


[Download tables and Hindi version of survey]


Continue Reading »

Available now in PDF format is a Hindi translation of Aspects of India’s Economy No.s 66-67: India’s Peasantry Under Neoliberal Rule. The original journal may be accessed at www.rupe-india.org.

The translation is done by the Karwan Collective, which may be contacted at karwancollective(at)gmail.com.

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Which Interests Will Benefit from the Beef Ban?[1]

Manali Chakrabarti, June 2017

No one could accuse the present Government of a lack of a sense of drama. The last few months in particular have witnessed one spectacular move after another – so completely unexpected that they have caught even the Government’s diehard supporters gasping. And each manoeuvre has led to a trail of shrill debates, speculations, analyses, protests, jubilation as to the ‘real’ reason behind the unanticipated move.

The latest in this series is the notification by the Union government, announced barely three days before the start of the holy month of Ramzan, banning slaughter of bovine animals, including cows, buffaloes, camels, calves, oxen, etc. This has led to a spate of reactions from all over the country, especially from states where substantial sections of the population consume beef or buffalo meat. The outrage in the social media has spilled into various kinds of protests, some of which have turned violent, and are making regular headlines in the mainstream media too. In all this din several extremely important decisions of the Government are getting away virtually uncontested, even unnoticed – such as the selling out of major public sector units (PSUs) in various industries.[2]

Amid all this noise, let us try to make sense of this decision of the Government. We will start with understanding the legality of the notification and its immediate implication for the trade in cattle. Then we would analyse the impact of the notification on various sectors of the economy and the people engaged in them. And finally we would try to explore the possible reason(s) for the notification by the ruling party, which by all accounts would not only further rip the already damaged secular fabric of the country, but also severely harm the economic life of the people. Or, in other words, we would attempt to figure out who stands to gain from the notification. Appendix 1 gives an overview of the impact of the notification on related industries.

Continue Reading »

— By Manali Chakrabarti

This is not my story. This is my friend’s but since he may never get around writing it I am going to pen it down as I remember – because this one needs to be told.

Well a description of my friend (henceforth referred to as MF) is in order as that would play an important role in this episode. He is one of the most interesting persons I have met in my entire life – he is well read (he seems to know something about almost everything under the sun and some over it too), well travelled, the most un-mundane way of leading life and most importantly he seems to be looking at the world at a crazy angle, always. This particular vantage point maybe uncomfortable to the conventional, but once you settle in with the unsettling perch a whole new aspect emerges on issues and situations which seem familiar to us from our regular vantage point. So having a discussion with him is always ‘interesting’. He is an engineer, has worked for long years in corporate world but gave it up to pursue a PhD to make interesting toys for children. He has two of his own, but they do not feature in this story so will not talk any further on them. Well after the CV let me briefly dwell on his appearance as that features in this story too – rather prominently. He is tall and stockily built, classical ‘Dravidian features’ and complexion, he is dressed nonchalantly (interpret it ‘as he does not care’ but may also come across as ‘he cannot afford any better’) not by design but by default. Well that is the picture except for a further detail – he is from a state situated in the South of Vindhyas, staying in the one of the cow-belt state and cannot speak any Hindi. He speaks English and Tamil – not necessarily in that order. Continue Reading »

A review of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh 

By Suvrat Raju

“The Great Derangement” is a very well written book. It is difficult to write accurately and readably about a complex issue, but Ghosh explores the cultural, historical and political questions surrounding climate change with remarkable grace. Ghosh’s attention to detail, his research into the history of the British Empire in Asia, and his fondness for science are evident throughout the book.   And at times, in some of the parts that I found the most enjoyable, he throws in obscure but fascinating details—an eleventh century Chinese poem about coal use, for example.

Ghosh divides the book into three parts —“stories”, “history” and “politics.” In the last two parts, as I will describe later in this review, Ghosh turns to the contemporary politics of climate change and his intervention deserves careful analysis. Continue Reading »

III. How One Class Enriches Itself at the Expense of Another

What, then, accounts for the growing divergence and inequality that the Survey itself reveals?

In the first place, it is a mere myth that the ‘free market’ equalizes outcomes across society and the global economy. In fact, any market is only a social institution, the product of a history of the exercise of political power. When that history has placed the control of resources in the hands of particular classes and countries, and spawned vast inequality of wealth, the ‘free market’ continuously reproduces and perpetuates that inequality. Had the free market dogma been reality, the vast inequalities prevailing across the globe would have disappeared long ago. But in fact historical experience has proved that capitalism concentrates wealth at one end of the pole and the vast mass of labouring people at the other, imperialist countries at one end and underdeveloped countries at the other. As Marx noted, “If the free-traders cannot understand how one nation can grow rich at the expense of another, we need not wonder, since these same gentlemen also refuse to understand how in the same country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.”[1]

Casting aside such ideological blinkers, we need to look at Indian society as it actually is. We need to look at the structures which determine the paths along which the social surplus will flow. Continue Reading »