Progress reminds me of the crab. It progresses backwards. If so, it makes sense to go back in time to make sense of what is happening today. But here’s a caveat. We can never be sure about the inferences we make. A large margin must be left for error. Nothing of what I say below may come true. Would to God, they don’t.
When the farm laws were rammed through the parliament, my mind went back by a few millennia to the days of Joseph in Egypt. I opened the Bible and re-read the grim story of how Joseph used food to rob Pharaoh’s subjects of their freedom. Here’s the story in its bare outlines.
Joseph reads the signs of the times –the expert interpreter of dreams that he is- and foresees the deadly famine in the offing. A typical Jew, to him a crisis is an opportunity. So, what does he do? In a way reminiscent of the agri-honchos of our times, he builds massive storage facilities. Buys up the entire farm produce of Egypt. Stores. Waits.
Famine hits Egypt. Joseph is now supreme; the Pharaoh, his mere shadow. The best way to control a people, he knows, is to control their food. You can make millions dance to your tune or sign on the dotted line, holding hunger as a noose around their necks. Joseph begins by selling food to the famished people. It’s safe to infer that he controls the price-line. Soon their money runs out. The famine continues to rage. The people grow desperate.
Joseph makes the next move. He sells corn to them in exchange for their livestock. Soon they are left with nothing to exchange for corn. Joseph pursues his scheme relentlessly. He sells them corn in exchange for their land. Landlessness, we know, is a prelude to slavery. When they are left with nothing, Joseph buys their labour and consigns them to slavery.
Spell-bound by the mantra of development, you forget who, or where, you are.
Globalisation is the corporate gospel of delusional development
at the expense of individual freedom.
This is not a stray event. A core pattern in history, as Dostoevsky argues in the Grand Inquisitor is the correlation between food and freedom. Interpreting Jesus’ first temptation, the old Cardinal tells Jesus Christ in Dostoevsky’s story that the rulers of the world know the weakness and vulnerability of the masses in relation to food. It doesn’t take much to make them barter freedom for bread. The contemporary counterpart of this insight is the deployment of development as an alibi for undermining citizens’ freedom. Spell-bound by the mantra of development, you forget who, or where, you are. Globalisation is the corporate gospel of delusional development at the expense of individual freedom.
The crucial question implied in Jesus’ first temptation is, ‘How far will you go, or should go, in assuaging your hunger?’ Hunger must be mitigated; but at what cost? At the cost of the dignity of life? All right, turn stones into bread. But after that, your stomach now stuffed with this new-fangled bread, you are still left with having to live as a human being. What if you have relieved your belly-ache by corrupting your humanity?
The hallmark of Modi’s New India is that the State progressively abandons citizens to the whims of the corporates.Once the wealth of the nation is concentrated in the hands of a few, those ensconced in the seat of power can shake themselves free from being accountable to the people. In olden days, democracy had to be upstaged with a military coup. That is quite unnecessary today. Democracy can be quietly by-passed and the will of the people rendered superfluous to governance. Elections can be won without the encumbrance of having to deliver good governance; and that, without even having to resort to electoral malpractices.
The on-going farmers’ struggle is the last-ditch effort in hindering this slide downhill. Consider the grimness of it. It looks as if the decision to heed the cry of the farmers, or to grind them down, does not rest with the political class. Just as, in failed States like Pakistan, there is a deep-State, there is a cryptic-State in modern economies, unfettered by regard for citizenship rights and democratic ethos. A pantheon of ever-burgeoning corporates comprise that cryptic-State. The State, per se, is in decline, despite the suggestions to the contrary. Yes, the State is supreme, but for the cryptic-State. Watch out. See for yourselves who calls the shots.
So, what shall we do? Well, not much. But still, here are a few hints. Remember Gandhi. Simplify life. Be self-reliant, to the extent you can. I am now reinventing myself as a farmer, hoping to be quasi-self-reliant in food. Take a hard look at your lifestyle. The corporates are as powerful as your lifestyle is lavish and wasteful. Simplicity is the best weapon against corporate greed. Cut the coat according to the cloth you have. I don’t spend, for example, over Rs. 2000 per month on petrol. I can’t afford to. So, I use public transport, if I am up to it. If not, I stay at home and turn the time thus saved into a banquet for my mind.
It is not only a virus that is driving us indoors at the moment. Not far from now, we shall realize that a deadlier virus too is at work. We are as vulnerable in our stomachs as we are in our lungs. Simplicity, the reduction of needs to their ascetic granularity, is the only PPE conceivable against it. Thank God, that’s affordable! I don’t rant against Ambanis and Adanis. I merely reduce my dependence on them. Jai Hind!