COVID 19 AND HUNGER - GAUTAM CHAUDHURI

02 June 2020

At a time when our country has been facing the disaster from the attacks of Corona Virus (COVID 19) along with the whole world, the crisis is further aggravated by the attitude and the steps taken by the rulers of this country. When danger was breathing down the neck with the first Covid case identified in our country on January 30, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was issuing alerts time and again, the rulers instead of paying attention to the danger, jumped with full vigour, energy and enthusiasm into the election fray to win the Delhi Assembly. Then they had their servile program of “Namaste Trump” (24-25 February) and so arranged a crowd to gather there while the WHO was repeatedly appealing to maintain ‘social distance’. And the Sangh Parivar jumped simultaneously into carnage of Muslims in North-East Delhi. They then plunged into the business of purchasing the Congress MLAs of Madhya Pradesh and toppling the Congress Govt. there to establish their own; and for that purpose only, they kept open parliament till 23 March despite the opposition's plea to close it down because of the dreaded virus. And making mockery of social distancing by a “janata curfew” on 22nd, the Prime Minister, all of a sudden, declared lockdown of the entire nation on the 24th night, on a notice of only four hours without any preparation, with the sermon: “this is no hour of politics”. Then the Tabligh Jamat was made the scapegoat for the spread of Corona infection. Attempts were made to incite communalism on this issue too. 

With almost no kits to test, no personal protection equipment (PPE) for even the doctors, the nurses and other health workers serving the infected persons, having no other essentials in hand, the abrupt declaration of the lockdown made the whole country reel. The migrant workers are perhaps the worst hit lot. Having lost their jobs, they were forced to beg for food. In the absence of govt. relief they had no option but to accept private relief with heads bowed. All transport was suspended making their return home virtually impossible. Still many tens of thousands of them along with the aged and children came out on to the streets in a bid to reach home hundreds or more than a thousand miles away on foot with almost no food. The torture they faced on their way, repression, extortions by police and others, deaths by series of ‘accidents’, dehydration, hunger etc have by now surfaced to the world, though that is only the tip of the iceberg. In spite of all this, the obnoxious events taking place later in arranging some trains for them will bow down the head in shame of any shameless chap.

Alongside, an aeroplane at the expense of about Rs. 8,500 crore rupees for personal use of the PM had reached subsequent to the pact with Mr. Trump for importing weapons valued Rs. 320 crores. Besides, a new private relief fund, PM CARES, with no transparency and accountability, is floated with the PM’s repeated appeals to donate and alluring with lofty tax reliefs for donors despite the existence of one official national relief fund (PMNRF). Allegations are rampant that this PM CARES is for strengthening their party fund with the eyes on the upcoming assembly elections. This fund raising has been accompanied by film making on behalf of the PM   of extremely low taste and low quality and circulating in a few regional and foreign languages. But no space is there to dispute because the parliament is no longer a place to debate, here only the ‘vision’ of the PM is propagated, the media are mostly sold out, and the lesser spoken of the judiciary, the better.

What about the other poor people of the country who too have lost their jobs—whose official figure being 14 crores? Most of them are also not getting wages. How they are doing? From before the corona episode, there were about 25 crores of people living half fed (according to World Health Program of the UN), what’s their condition? The Central Govt. and also the respective state governments deemed nothing more to do after announcing that everybody will be supplied with adequate food. But many of them till now got no food. Their number is huge. What is going on is, massive loot of the meagre food materials issued on the one hand and half or full starvation on the other. Hungry people are taking inedible food and hence falling ill, even some are dying. It’s absurd for them to wash hands with soap frequently or maintain ‘social distance’.

But why not all are having rations? Is there any shortage of food in our country? The Govt. food stock in our country is huge—(the Food Corporation of India informs that in March 2020, the stock waps, among others, about 31 million tons (mt) of rice, 27.5 mt of wheat and 28.7 mt of paddy)—which is sufficient to feed all the people of the country with two square meals for two full years. Moreover, this current season has produced crops very well to raise the stock to store. Still why such hunger? Many people accuse the loop holes in the distribution system and corruption for this imbroglio. But that is a very weak excuse. Govt. could stop it easily, if they wanted. The political mafias, so to say, are actually busy collecting money for the coming elections in the name of serving starving people. Despite this all could be fed well, but sadly that is not the case. Why?      

Here lies the peculiarity of the bourgeois system.

Capitalism has unleashed productive forces over the last two hundred years. This is true for food production too. Per capita food production has also increased. But the number of hungry people is also increasing. This is nothing strange in capitalism. Many products are required in a society, people need those, lots of people can be employed in the production, but those are not produced if less profitable, instead only those goods are produced which would fetch higher profit. Those may be from precious luxury goods to weapons of mass destruction. Tens of millions of people remain jobless to supply cheap labour power. Housing in the society grows tremendously, yet billions of people remain homeless. Similarly, millions of people go to bed hungry, die of malnutrition and various diseases, when food rot in warehouses, often even thrown into the sea. This is capitalism.

People are advised austerity. The petty bourgeoisie teaches everyone to feel guilty for their own relative well-being. It's a childish idea that comes from a very vague perspective. Their austerity will not satisfy the hunger of the poor, unemployed people. According to the United Nations World Food Program, there is a famine ahead, a famine of the kind the world has never seen before.

Actually, the problem lies with the system itself. Everything that is produced in this system is for the market. Demand is what will be sold in the market. That is, demand is determined by people's purchasing power. There is hunger in your stomach—it is not demand; it is how much you can afford to buy that is the demand in capitalism. If production exceeds that demand, the ruling class, with a small portion of it donating to alleviate the anger of the people, mainly does business. If there is no market in the country, then shipping abroad. And, if you can't find a market anywhere, you waste it. This is the rule of capitalism.

As a result of the corona virus outbreak in the country, 140 million people will lose their jobs (says the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), so the unemployment problem will increase from 6% to 26%. But even before this attack, one third of the people of the country used to go to bed hungry (Amartya Sen). They do not have enough food to survive.

It's not just in our country. Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in such a state of hunger in the midst of the vast luxuries around them. And today, in the "open market" of world trade, in this age of globalization, food too, like all other commodities, rushes where there is more profit.

Today, people are confronted with the question—which is the better option: dying in Corona or in starvation? They are becoming increasingly desperate. Like the workers in Surat, they are coming out breaking lockdown restrictions. They are not ready to die starved, rather risk the other devil’s attack. Food riots are erupting in many places. It will perhaps happen more and more, gradually, and it will happen all over the world. Even in developed countries like Italy, people are fighting for a piece of loaf. The situation in France and England is not good either. 

This crisis was due. The system, run by the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, has been plagued by decades of debt, the way the speculative market has swelled, the swelling of fictitious money, and the occasional bubble-burst crisis making billions of dollars vanish. As a result, the danger in the society was increasing. Together the flagrant attacks on nature for hunting profit have brought about crisis of existence. So people can no longer think that capitalism is the best system. They want a change. Today, the attack of Covid-19 may be playing a catalytic role in that desired change.

Today we have entered an era of perhaps the most turbulent times in world history. One violent push after another is coming. The whole capitalist system has become unstable, which means that this system can no longer function as a world system. That is why there is so much conflict, terrorism, as well as the rise of counter-revolutionary forces. The roar of the far-right forces around the world means that even though the system has become obsolete and diseased, it is not willing to die easily.

Now it is the job of the working class leadership to call on all unemployed, hungry, humiliated people to change the system on the basis of a comprehensive democratic program aimed at overthrowing the corporate monarchy. Today the world is waiting for that call. If they do not get this call, they will go and crowd in the fascist camp. That is, either revolution—formation of a new society, or fascism. There is no other alternative. The corona virus that has shaken world capitalism today and the devastating effects it is going to have will probably not allow capitalism to turn around again.

19 K2_VIEWS
Kabeer Katlat

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.