– Why India’s agricultural reforms will do little to boost farmer incomes

They are part of reforms that were already underway for the past two decades, says JNU professor Himanshu.

Shreehari Paliath –

New Delhi – India, 01 July 2020. As India deals with growing numbers of Covid-19 cases and the economic ramifications of the resultant lock-downs, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has made a slew of announcements and promulgated ordinances to revive the economy, including the agriculture sector.

It brought in the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance 2020, and amended the Essential Commodities Act, all through ordinances.

India’s economy is expected to contract by 4.5% in 2020-’21 while the world economy is expected to contract by 4.9%, as per International Monetary Fund estimates.

While India is experiencing a slowdown and its first non-agriculture recession, the “growth of agricultural output has to be matched by rising demand”, else the “excess supply with declining demand will only drive prices down”, said Himanshu, associate professor of economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Most of the announcements made by the Centre “are part of the reforms ongoing for the last two decades”, and “marketing reforms alone will not provide remunerative prices for farmers if there is declining demand and depressed commodity prices”, he told India-Spend in this interview.

Agriculture sector will be the mainstay of India’s economy and agricultural growth is estimated to be 3%, Ramesh Chand, member of NITI Aayog, said at a press conference in April.

Although agricultural gross domestic product may be positive, it may not mean an increase in farmers’ incomes. “Forget doubling incomes, farmers will be happy if they maintain positive growth in incomes,” said Himanshu.

Himanshu is a visiting fellow at Centre de Sciences Humaines, and has held visiting fellowships at London School of Economics, United Nations University-WIDER and GREQAM.

He has been part of government committees including the Tendulkar Committee on measurement of poverty, National Statistical Commission and Ministry of Rural Development.

In 2018, he published How Lives Change: Palanpur, India and Development Economics with Nicholas Stern and Peter Lanjouw.

He talks to us about the reforms announced by the government, the outlook for farm income growth, and decrease in rural demand as a fallout of Covid-19.

Himanshu, Associate Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Credit: via IndiaSpend

Edited excerpts:

India has produced surplus food grains over the last two decades. Yet, farm incomes seem insufficient. How are the announcements made by the Centre going to change this reality?

Farm incomes depend on revenue earned by the farmer and the costs incurred. Surplus food-grains do not automatically mean higher profits for farmers if the revenue they earn is less than the costs incurred.

This can happen if the prices of output rise slower than the prices of inputs. Except for a brief period of five months last year, for the last two years output prices have been rising slowly or have declined.

As a result, even though output has increased at 2% to 3%, it has not contributed to commensurate increase in incomes.

Announcements made by the Centre are unlikely to lead to higher prices of output if the demand for agricultural commodities continues to remain low. With rising diesel prices, electricity charges and fertiliser prices, even if the farmers produce more, they can incur losses.

The prices of agricultural commodities will rise if there is rise in demand for these commodities. [But] that depends on domestic as well as international demand, both of which have been declining for Indian farmers.

This slowdown and recession in India will be the first non-agriculture recession. How do you see the agriculture sector perform in the current scenario, and is India on track to double farmers’ income by 2022 as promised?

The slowdown has been driven by declining demand. This has further strengthened after the lock-down and recession in the economy.

While agriculture was less affected by lock-down, the growth of agricultural output has to be matched by rising demand. Otherwise, excess supply with declining demand will only drive prices down.

Recent data on agricultural prices including milk and poultry suggests a sharp collapse in prices received by producers.

With international prices also showing a declining trend, the downward pressure on agricultural prices is only going to intensify further.

Overall agricultural GDP may be positive but it does not necessarily mean an increase in income for farmers.

Given the decline in economic activity in other sectors of the economy, it is likely that demand will decline severely.

If that happens, an increase in agricultural output is unlikely to prevent farmers making losses in agriculture.

Forget doubling incomes, farmers will be happy if incomes grow at all.

While there have been announcements for long-term changes, farmers may not get remunerative prices unless there is demand for the produce. Under the present economic climate, what relief is, or must be, offered?

The only way demand can be revived is by increasing government spending, preferably in rural areas and for the poor who consume a larger share of their total consumption as agricultural produce including food.

While this may take time, in the short-run, the government should procure as much as possible through MSP [minimum support price] operations [in] not just rice and wheat but also other crops such as pulses, oil-seeds and other major crops.

At the same time, there should be efforts to reduce input prices, particularly of diesel and fertilisers. The recent rise in fertiliser prices will only add to input costs, reducing the profit margin for farmers.

The government has announced Rs 50,000 crore for Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana to offer employment to reverse migrants in the 116 districts that have recorded the most migrants’ return.

With the government announcing an additional Rs 40,000 crore for MGNREGA, how different and beneficial do you think will the new scheme be to generate employment and revive rural demand?

The Rs 50,000 crore for Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojana is not additional spending. All of this was already budgeted in the budget of 2020-’21.

It has only been frontloaded. In terms of additional government spending, it has no impact. Further, some of these are infrastructural projects and will take time to get off the ground.

How much of the Rs 50,000 crore is actually spent will depend a lot on the preparedness of state governments, which are struggling with finances and burdened with managing Covid-19 infections.

Similarly, additional Rs 40,000 crore for MGNREGA is not sufficient given the large migration of workers back to rural areas.

With all other avenues of employment declining, MGNREGA will have to do the heavy lifting of providing employment.

The additional amount is barely sufficient to take care of employment generation at last year’s level, with increased wages. Most state governments have already spent a large part of their total allocation.

For it to have any impact, large amounts upwards of Rs 100,000 crore will be needed. [Editor’s note: MGNREGA wages have been increased by Rs 20 with effect from April 1.]

The government has introduced an ordinance to create a national market for farm produce. Farmers are expected to receive remunerative prices from private players. What is your assessment and how does this impact or change MSP?

Most of the announcements are part of the reforms underway for the past two decades. Marketing reforms alone will not provide remunerative prices for farmers if there is declining demand and depressed commodity prices.

The private sector is not going to incur losses to support farmers. It does not change anything as far as MSP is concerned, which incidentally is only implemented for rice and wheat.

For all the fruits and vegetables that are generally traded in APMC [Agricultural Produce Market Committee], there is no MSP.

The success of private markets will also depend on the infrastructure made available for these markets. The cost of providing infrastructure has to come from the government.

There are millions of small and marginal farmers who are subsistence farmers, and need to cover the cost of taking the produce to the APMC and selling it to a private player.

How will this be regulated and will it be essentially up to state governments to decide?

This is a tricky issue. Agricultural marketing is a subject under the domain of state governments. It will depend on how state governments react. Reform does not mean that there are millions of private players waiting with billions of dollars to go and purchase from farmers.

They are not going to do it if the cost of purchase is higher than the sale price. But even for the private players, they are not going to get the delivery of agricultural produce at their doorstep.

Somebody will have to incur the cost of packaging, sorting, grading, transportation and storage. If not the farmer then private players, which also means that their cost of acquisition will be higher.

Dispute redressal or arbitration will be a challenge for farmers, particularly the small and marginal farmers.

Will contract farming, which is supposed to help farmers get a better price, make them dependent on the bureaucracy to resolve issues?

It will depend on the nature of contracts. It remains to be seen how many farmers opt for it; whether contracts are registered, and where.

As of now, the government is yet to come up with model contracts, but even if it is implemented, the litigation costs are definitely going to be higher for farmers.

It is unlikely that a small or marginal farmer will stand against a large corporation. There are so many questions that need to be worked out before this comes into effect.

Remember, we are a country where almost all of agricultural [tenancy] contracts are oral with no legal guarantee. Most of these tenancy contracts are similar to contract farming.

But the presence of tenancy laws has only encouraged both landlords and tenants to avoid the state rather than use the legal remedies available.

Cost of cultivation per unit of a crop varies state-wise. Often MSP is lower for crops other than paddy and wheat, which forces farmers into distress sale. Do the new announcements resolve this issue?

No, the government does not even procure the 23 crops for which MSP is announced. Other than rice and wheat, there are procurements at a small scale for some pulses.

But even for rice and wheat, there is large regional variation with more than three-fourth of total procurement contributed by three or four states.

For example, for the current wheat harvest, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh accounted for 85% of all procurement with almost negligible [procurement] from Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. The new announcements will not resolve these issues.

The government wants to create 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations in five years. What role do you see FPOs play in the current scenario?

FPOs have been in operation for quite some time. In fact this scheme was launched during the United Progressive Alliance government.

But it has failed to take off. Creating FPO requires cohesion among farmers and also some support from the government.

While there has been negligible support from the government, it has also not materialised due to the existing structure of production in rural areas.

Issues such as caste, tenancy, choice of crops [among other issues] require a different level of cooperation for the model to succeed.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit. – ‘China’s historical memories of subjugation have fuelled its obsession with territory’: Rana Mitter

An interview with the China expert at the University of Oxford

Arunoday Majumder

Oxford – Oxfordshire – UK, 29 June 2020. China is dominating news cycles globally, beginning with the corona-virus outbreak in Wuhan early this year and Donald Trump’s accusation that it has “total control over the World Health Organisation”.

Earlier this month, military tensions with India along the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh escalated after the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

There is now growing anti-Chinese rhetoric in India amid calls to boycott Chinese goods. China also recently engaged in territorial disputes with Nepal and Japan.

This interview with Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, explores China’s social, political and economic history to help determine a global response to the country’s recent actions.

Mitter describes China’s evolution from “command socialism to market-driven socialism”, its rise as the driver of a global consumerist economy, and how the “century of humiliation” continues to be the dominant narrative of its nation building.


These days the focus is almost entirely on the Chinese state and its diplomatic, military and trade arms. Do you think that the responses to China will be far more fruitful if the world tries to know a little more about the society in which the Chinese state operates?

That’s a very shrewd question and I think it gets to the heart of something very important. Within the last 30 or 40 years, China has turned from command socialism to market-driven socialism.

I think if you look at the society as a whole, there are a lot of phenomena that do not immediately seem to be obvious results of that kind of one-party system.

One thing is that economic freedom has grown very considerably in the last 30 or 40 years.

There has been a sort of bargain, unspoken but real, particularly after the Tiananmen Square killing incident in 1989, that the party-state is ordering its people not to get involved in politics. But it is promising a sort of economic harvest.

Like an economic growth that will emerge as a result of their policies. So that means a very great deal of most exciting part of Chinese life on the ground is in the small and medium enterprise sector.

It’s a country which has generally been very amenable to starting up and doing business and that has been one of the reasons behind its huge economic growth in the last 30-40 years.

Particularly in the manufacturing sector?

Traditionally in the manufacturing sector. I think that’s moving and changing very much into a whole variety of areas considered to be more high value.

A lot of manufacturing these days, meaning within the last five to 10 years, is moving off-shore from China to places like Vietnam and Cambodia.

China is now developing hugely profitable and productive domestic services. Companies like Alibaba, Tencent are taking advantage of the fact that one quarter of the earth’s population is in China.

That means China has also driven a very powerful, sort of, consumerist economy that I think isn’t often appreciated.

So the Chinese are opening the economy and at the same time not allowing people the freedom that Western democracies or even India or other postcolonial nations have experienced. How does the Chinese state maintain that?

It’s a very interesting question which is asked frequently. But the answer I shall give is that you are starting from what many Chinese would regard is the wrong premise in the first place.

If your point of comparison is why China could develop one of the world’s most innovative and powerful consumer-driven economies while having very heavy censorship and authoritarian party-state, arbitrary arrest of many academics and lawyers; ask the question differently.

Ask it this way: 50 years ago in the early 1970s, China was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, one of the most destructive periods. Even the Chinese themselves, the Chinese Communist Party, rejected it as a massive, destructive era.

And 50 years after that, which in historical terms is not really a very long time, they have the second biggest economy in the world and a country with geopolitical influence.

Now that doesn’t happen by accident. Many Chinese, the ordinary Chinese, the middle-class Chinese, are very proud of what their country has managed to achieve.

So their point of comparison is not saying whether we necessarily have everything the liberal society has but rather how does China look now compared to what their parents had or what their grandparents had. That would be their logic.

So what you are then saying is that their comparison is not with their contemporaries. It’s not a horizontal comparison in time that they are making but their comparison and sense of satisfaction grows from a vertical comparison through time, that is to go back in history?

Broadly speaking, yes. I mean today even the middle-class Chinese, particularly ones living in big cities like Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing, travel overseas very frequently and it’s actually quite normal.

The fact that they can go on quite expensive holidays is also regarded by them as sign of their developing middle class lifestyles that their parents could never afford. But they also go to these places and see clearly what it is like having uncensored TV.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they come to China and say, “We have it so much worse.” In some cases they do.

But in other cases, they come back and say, “Well that’s just one of the differences, but what we’ve been living with actually does show year on year, decade on decade improvement in terms of our industrial lifestyle compared to what we were used to.”

There’s a lot of focus about China being primarily an authoritarian, communist political culture.

But I am also interested to know whether China is only a communist, political culture which looks up to Mao very favourably or is it that it is equally nationalistic and we are forgetting about the influence of Chiang Kai Shek?

You have to dig a little bit into modern Chinese history to understand some of what you have implied.

But essentially up till 1949, China was ruled by a succession of nationalist leaders like Chiang Kai Shek, who you mentioned, and probably the most prominent till 1927 and 1949; particularly during the period of WWII in China.

After that Chairman Mao came to power and the Chinese Communist Party has been in power ever since.

But one of the phenomena that’s most notable in the last 25 to 30 years is that as China has moved from a socialist top-down command economy as it was under Mao, to being a country that is authoritarian but has a certain amount of leeway for non-state organisations, more under previous presidents than under Xi Jinping, many people have looked back at the earlier period and said in some senses that it looks more similar to the kind of nationalist governments of pre-communist era than Mao period.

The major difference was that Mao’s China was dedicated to revolutionary social change.

One thing that is very clear is that Xi’s government does not want any kind of revolutionary social change. It wants evolution and not revolution in terms of economy and in terms of social welfare.

So to that extent, I suspect that that the mindset would have been much more familiar to Chiang kai Shek than it would have been to Chairman Mao.

There seems to be almost an obsession with territory as far as China and the Chinese state is concerned. Is there any historical ambition which they think is unfulfilled and which they now wish to fulfill?

I think history is very important. You are right. The Chinese still talk today and they talk extensively about the early 20th century, about what they call the “century of humiliation” lasting from “the opium wars” of 1840s to the World War II in the 1940s.

And this is the idea very much understood by all educated Chinese that China had been previously invaded and occupied by Western powers.

In fact, they look at India under the British as an example of how a nation could become completely occupied and lose its national status because of the actions of outside imperialists.

The “century of humiliation” still lives very strongly in the historical memories of the Chinese and it has created this huge, as you have implied, sensitivity about territory because they still have memories of imperial powers essentially deciding what China’s borders were going to be.

And having regained their autonomy from 1945 to 1949, they are determined that one thing one they are unwilling to make any sort of compromise is the question of borders.

That’s one of the reasons, I think, why it has become such a strong and in many ways, obstinate obsession on the part of the Chinese state.

There seems to be some sort of sympathy towards both Mao and Stalin in academic circles. I study in a university which had Mao and Stalin on its library walls even a few months back. Why is that?

Not the academic circles in which I move, I can tell you that. I think anyone would have to say that it’s an objective fact that Stalin and Mao were responsible for millions of deaths and that they operated totalitarian systems of government which created immense suffering amongst their people. I think that that’s something which is historically demonstrable.

Arunoday Majumder is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and an assistant professor of sociology at the School of Law, NMIMS Bengaluru.

Waliya Hasan has helped transcribe the interview. – With Harsh Mander named in Delhi riots chargesheet, Indian democracy has slipped into a dark hole

He gave a speech that called for love and non-violence. Government agencies consider this an act of provocation.


New Delhi – India, 20 June 2020.

“What does the future of our country look like? You are the youth of today. What kind of a country would you like to leave behind for your children? Where will this decision be taken, One, it will be on the streets. We are on the streets today.

But beyond the streets there is another place where this will be decided. Which is the place where the final decision on this question will be taken? It is in our hearts. In your heart, and in mine. We will have to give an answer. They want to kill our hearts with hate. If we reply with hate, hatred will deepen.

If someone is darkening the future of the country, and we reply in the same language then we will only be amplifying the darkness. Darkness can be fought only with light. We have only one answer for their hate, and that is love.

If they use violence they will compel us to use violence as well but we will never choose the path of violence. You must understand their motive is to arouse you to become violent so that if you are 2% violent they can respond with 100% violence.

We have learnt from Gandhiji how we must respond to violence and injustice. We will fight with non-violence. Whoever encourages you to use violence is not your well-wisher.”

Do you see any instigation of violence in this speech? You won’t find it, but the Delhi police believes it reflects a conspiracy to provoke violence. They want us to believe that it is a call for violence couched in the language of peace.

This is the speech given by Harsh Mander on 16 December 2019, addressing the students of Jamia Milia Islamia.

It was a tense time. The students were angry. On 15 December, the Delhi Police had launched an unprecedented attack on them in their institution. The next day, all of us congregated at Jamia.

The sight of broken glass, injured students and spots of blood left us hurt and angry. At a time like this, Harsh Mander came forward to inspire the students, with a call for love, strength and non-violence. But government agencies consider this an act of provocation.

What is the matter?

If we were to believe the Delhi Police, Harsh Mander was involved in instigating the riots that rocked Northeast Delhi in February. This speech is being presented as evidence against Mander. If it did not have serious legal implications, we could have laughed it off.

The life of Mander, an administrative officer, Indian head of an international organisation and head of self-established institutions and campaigns, has been a crusader against violence.

He has dedicated himself to unveiling the various faces of violence in our society, showing it to those who turn their faces away, working towards systemic changes using the state machinery and legal system, and ensuring the longevity of these initiatives by creating an environment of legal and social awareness. This is an example of a life dedicated to the cause of non-violence.

A ‘minority supporter’?

The purpose of this article is not to applaud Mander. If someone has chosen to dedicate himself to the most underrated Constitutional value of fraternity, which is equal to other values of justice, equality and freedom, and such a person is unjustly targeted by the state, then it is not the question of this one man alone.

Over the past two decades, Mander has developed an image of being a minority supporter. Especially since the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and his work with the Muslim victims of the majoritarian violence, he has been maligned and presented to the Hindus as evil.

Mander chose to bring justice to minorities through the legal system. Along with this, he believes in public dialogue. This is not possible through the language of animosity and hate. Both communities will have to learn to speak with each other in the language of friendship and understanding.

Faith in courts

However, this does not mean that crimes must be forgotten and justice denied. That is the reason Mander tenaciously kept fighting the long-drawn out legal battles in the Gujarat pogrom cases.

Having been an administrative officer himself, Mander knows that if communal riots go on beyond a few hours, it is clear the violence enjoys state support.

The government wishes it to continue. It is a state-approved and organised violence. Hence, it is imperative that the government is held responsible.

As a young officer in 1984, Mander ensured violence did not break out in the area under his charge. He is aware that violence can be stopped if there is an intention to do so.

Whenever anti-minority violence is justified by claiming it is spontaneous, people like Mander call out the lie. That is why people like him are hated.

Mander, with several others, fought for and achieved the passing of the Right To Information, Right To Food, and minimum guarantee of employment laws by holding the government accountable.

This is another reason for this attack on him. He has been called a “jholawala” and an “interference”. He is like a thorn in the side of the country’s elite, who wants to seize control over every resource and process.

In the past six years, attacks on Muslims, Christians and Dalits have multiplied. During this time, the Indian media worked hard at invisibling the violence.

Mander and his companions never allowed it to disappear from the public eye.

He has constantly shown everyone that it is possible to combat violence even when a political party with a majoritarian ideology is in power.

Why is he disliked?

Everyone loves to talk about love and affection, when justice is not on line. Justice is a bitter issue. Were Harsh to keep himself to singing “Ram Dhun”, there would be no problem.

Our society is full of Gandhivaadis who keep chanting of love and avoid the mention of justice. Mander speaks of justice and hence, is unpleasant to some people.

Last year, when the Bharatiya Janata Party government adopted a legal route to divide and disgrace Jammu and Kashmir and later, to delegitimise Muslims through citizenship laws, Mander knocked on the doors of the courts.

Fighting for the people in detention centres in Assam, he locked horns with the Supreme Court.

In February, when violence was unleashed upon Delhi and the police and administration as usual began targeting Muslims, Mander approached the court again.

Fighting the legal battle does not imply turning away from the movement on-ground.

When Muslims and the youth of this country took to the streets to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register, they found Mander, and several like him , standing by them in solidarity.

He spoke up against the attack on the students of Jamia and even went to the institute. There, Harsh Mander gave a call to all Indians to stand up for our rights through Constitutional and non-violent means.

The hate campaign

The speech quoted at the start of this article took place in December, after which we saw an organised hate campaign. It was targeted at those who were sitting in protest at various places against the citizenship amendment laws.

This hate campaign ran under the shadow of an election campaign and involved senior members of the ruling party.

The plan to incite violence against the protestors worked. Shots were fired at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Milia Islamia. Then violence erupted in Northeast Delhi in February. Murders, looting, arson followed.

Mander got involved in the relief work, while also reminding the court that those who had deliberately provoked violence must be brought to justice.

It is his insistence of identifying those behind the violence of Delhi that has angered those in the government.

They are now trying to fabricate a conspiracy involving him.

All of Mander’s work has been open, transparent and non-violent. Secrecy and conspiracy is not his style of working.

He was open about his opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. He has spoken publicly against the unconstitutionality of the government’s actions.

The only agency that could call him a riot conspirator is the one under whose watch Jawaharlal Nehru University students and teachers were attacked by thugs and then went scot-free, and whose chief laughs off the attack on former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and calls the victims of violence the perpetrators.

Why hasn’t a chargesheet been filed against the political leaders who openly instigated violence against the protestors and spread hate? This question must be raised and remembered.

We must also remember, if a chargesheet can be filed against Mander then the country has already slipped into a grave dark hole. This move is a test to check if the democratic spirit of India is still alive or has it breathed its last.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.
The original article in Hindi has been translated by the Karwan e Mohabbat team. – India’s chest-thumping BJP seems surprised that Nepal too has resorted to nationalist politics

Sulking is a diplomatic approach that is unlikely to pay dividends for New Delhi.

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

New Delhi – India, 16 June 2020. For a government that relies so heavily on muscular nationalism and rhetoric around territorial sovereignty as well as the freedom to take independent foreign policy positions, the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled India seems oddly surprised that another country might resort to the same strategy.

New Delhi has known about Nepal’s claims on Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, which fall in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, since the 1990s. It was alerted to Kathmandu’s current concerns in November 2019.

Yet the Indian government appeared to be taken aback when its virtual inauguration of a road that travels through this territory into China provoked a nationalist response in Nepal, with hashtags like #BackOffIndia trending on social media.

The Nepal Parliament on Saturday passed an amendment to its Constitution that would alter national maps, showing the territory claimed by India as its own. A statement from New Delhi called this move “violative” and “not tenable”.

Yet the fact that it had even come down to a Constitutional Amendment, passed with two-thirds majority in Nepal’s Parliament, reflects a serious diplomatic failure. India is now reportedly trying to reach out to Kathmandu, asking it to undo the changes.

Kathmandu is undoubtedly being belligerent here.

Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s government, which appeared beleaguered just a few months ago, has latched on to this perceived slight from India, even though the construction of the road was hardly a secret and New Delhi has built infrastructure in the region before.

The issue appears to have put wind into Oli’s sails, which may explain why he was so willing to rush a Bill before Parliament, despite the risk this poses to what is undoubtedly Nepal’s most important international relationship, even if it is no longer a “special” one.

It is extremely unlikely that any Nepali politician or bureaucrat believes that India is actually going to concede any ground, even if Kathmandu tries to play the China card or attempts to take the matter to a multilateral forum.

India knows this, and may have even expected some mild concern from Nepal following the inauguration of the road. Yet the vehemence of the domestic anger against India also seems to have surprised New Delhi, which responded by sulking.

“India’s silence is the greatest cause for concern for the future of bilateral relations and is creating natural uneasiness in Kathmandu,” wrote Constatino Xavier of the Brookings Institution.

“After indirectly indicating its displeasure at the politically charged environment in Nepal, India has largely remained silent.

Silence speaks volumes and the relationship may now be in for a deep freeze. We do not know the exact reasons why, but it certainly transpires that Delhi does not feel comfortable to address the issue at this point or in the current context.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First approach, a policy objective of addressing India’s immediate sphere of influence, brought a new sense of urgency to ties that had been in various states of disrepair earlier.

The policy has led to significant achievements on the connectivity front, yet the growing influence of China in the neighbourhood and India’s usual implementation failures have meant that the efforts are still well below their potential.

Meanwhile, the muscular nationalism that the BJP-run government promotes at home has risked endangering India’s political ties with neighbourhood nations, even as other arms of the Indian state push South Asian cooperation as the way forward.

New Delhi will have to recognise that even as it seeks to assert itself in its traditional sphere of influence, particularly with Beijing’s money being showered all around it, it cannot ignore that each country has its own domestic constituency and that pushing back against Indian hegemony will be a powerful motivator for many.

This does not mean India should give in. But its diplomatic corps and strategic planners should take into account how its moves, and the belligerent rhetoric of the BJP, will affect these ties, so that they are not surprised by similarly vehement reactions from neighbours. – In an age of alternative facts, India is being told that our best young people are terrorists

The close connection between campuses and the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement has alarmed a regime newly accustomed to total domination.

Apoorvanand & Satish Deshpande

New Delhi – India, 08 June 2020. No Indian needs to be told that our democracy has been under lockdown for almost a year. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made it starkly visible.

This political lock-down is mostly a product of the inability of the opposition parties to offer any resistance, leave alone an alternative narrative.

Energised by its electoral success, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime is seeking to build a political universe of perpetual photo-ops, lubricated by sycophantic praise, with no trace of the constructive friction that principled dissent produces in a true democracy.

This project has almost succeeded. The metaphorical Ashvamedh horse sent forth by this regime has trotted unchallenged throughout the realm with only two exceptions.

One of these spaces of resistance is the university campus, and the other is a political movement, the campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act and its complement, the proposed National Register of Citizens.

Pandemic conditions may have forced it to fade from public memory, but the political significance of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement cannot be exaggerated.

At a time when Modi and Shah believed that they had no worlds left to conquer, a challenge suddenly emerged from the unlikeliest of sources: Muslim women.

Unflagging moral stamina

This unique movement, symbolised by the Shaheen Bagh site in New Delhi, remained steadfastly non-violent despite repeated provocations. It was dignified and unapologetic in its Muslimness, but insisted on speaking the language of secular citizenship, foregrounding the Constitution.

It managed to evoke a response all over the country, appealing also to large numbers of fair-minded non-Muslims who watched silently.

It was an informal and inclusive campaign that surprised everyone with its unflagging moral stamina. It endured months of deliberate disregard from elected representatives and fended off continual attempts to discredit it.

It could only be disrupted by the orchestrated violence that merged seamlessly into Delhi’s state-condoned riot of February 2020.

And then the Covid pandemic arrived like heaven-sent relief for an authoritarian state, enabling it to muzzle all public protest.

The challenge posed by university campuses is older. For all its successes in silencing opposition and moulding opinion elsewhere, the regime has struggled to capture campuses.

Even where it wins student elections, it does so with faceless candidates forgotten as soon as they are elected. Right-wing ideologues attribute this to leftists monopolising positions of power in universities and keeping out other ideologies.

If vice-chancellors and deans could manufacture movements and create charismatic leaders at will, the last six years would have produced an unprecedented rightist renaissance.

Instead, the ruling regime has been on a collision course with campuses across the country and the alphabet, in Aligarh, Allahabad, Banaras, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune, for example.

But it is the close connection between campuses and the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement that has alarmed a regime newly accustomed to total domination. However popular student leaders may be on campuses, they have been easily defeated on the electoral battlefield.

But the association of student activists with an unexpectedly successful movement, one that was both deeply political and self-consciously non-electoral, presented a new and unsettling challenge to be suppressed at all costs.

Hence the recurrent witch hunts against student leaders with viable connections to larger movements, from Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar to Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal now.

Hence the need to present all links between students and social movements, so vital for our democracy, as sinister. In the relentless drive to break this link, no lie is too shameful, no allegation of conspiracy too far-fetched, and no procedure or law too sacrosanct to be bent or distorted.

How to respond?

What can the targets of such a drive do in response? Faced with the mighty state machinery, backed by political impunity, a brazenly biased media, and a mostly malleable judiciary (with honourable exceptions), there is little that law-abiding activists can do to protect themselves.

The constitutional right to legitimate political activity is no longer available to opponents of the regime, who are now being threatened with indefinite incarceration under draconian laws, with the collateral damage of the harassment of relatives, friends, and colleagues.

The crowning irony here is that most of the student activists involved in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement were also at the forefront of rescue and relief work after the riots, and later they have been on the front-lines of the corona-virus lock-down relief work.

The activists being hounded now as conspirators have been doing the state’s work of providing relief for those whose lives have been devastated by the lock-down.

It is pointless to ask if those in power feel any shame at the fact that one branch of the administration is seeking daily reports on these activists’ relief work to claim as its own, while another branch is fabricating cases against the same activists for the imaginary offences that they will then be coerced to confess to.

An age of alternative facts

These are our best-educated young people in the truest sense, they have tried to internalise and act upon all the pious sentiments that every policy document on education foregrounds.

This is part of an established tradition of hypocrisy, where everyone knows that social sensitivity, community service and thoughtful engagement with civic issues are meant to stay on paper, in textbooks and exam answers.

At best, they may rate a token effort for the sake of decorating a resumé or job application. Those who take these things seriously are invariably punished if their political beliefs diverge from the beliefs of the powerful.

We are being asked to believe that our best young people are really terrorists.

When power depends on controlling narratives, the distinction between truth and falsehood is deliberately undermined. But living in an age of alternative facts is no excuse. We will be judged tomorrow by what we choose to believe today.

Apoorvanand and Satish Deshpande teach in Delhi University.

The views expressed here are personal. – Even as India stands up to Chinese incursions, New Delhi needs a more nuanced diplomatic approach

With regards to Nepal, India must acknowledge that the ‘special relationship’ no longer exists.

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

Op/Ed, 02 June 2020. India is currently facing two crises along its northern borders, neither of which have anything to do with Covid-19.

In Ladakh, the Indian Army appears to be involved in a stand-off against Chinese troops at several points along the disputed Line of Actual Control.

At the same time, on Sunday, the Nepal government tabled a Constitution Amendment Bill that would alter the map of the country to include hundreds of kilometres of Indian territory.

The Indian Army Chief suggested that both these issues are connected, an insensitive comment that did not help matters in Kathmandu. Yet, they present two distinct problems for New Delhi to tackle.

Nepal map

On Nepal, the Indian government seems to be stuck in the past.

New Delhi seems miffed by Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s tactic of drumming up nationalistic sentiments within the country as a means of putting pressure on its larger neighbour, even though it is an approach India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is fond of using at home.

India would rather Kathmandu settle this friction through diplomatic talks, paying respect to New Delhi’s role as the dominant power in South Asia.

Yet, as Indian Express’ C Raja Mohan writes, “It makes no sense for Delhi to hanker after a ‘special relationship’ that a large section of Kathmandu does not want.”

The Ministry of External Affairs, which is now making last-minute efforts to prevent the map being approved by Nepal’s Parliament, has struggled to handle Kathmandu over the last few years, as China’s influence has grown.

It would be prudent for New Delhi to acknowledge that discomfort at the very idea of Indian hegemony is a major driver of Nepal politics, one that offers Beijing an opening.

India’s ministry of external affairs must instead push for a reset in engagement based on interests that are common to both sides.

China stand-off

The Chinese issue is more complex, though nearly a month after the initial clashes between the two armies in Ladakh, the Indian government has only offered a limited acknowledgment of how serious the issue really is.

Though it may be wise for New Delhi to avoid coming out strongly against Beijing in public statements, giving both sides the political space to de-escalate from the stand-off, the Indian government cannot ignore the fact that the BJP has built up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image as being a leader who gives no quarter.

Modi’s party has done little to create the space for a public conversation about the borders that involves anything other than “56-inch rocks” (the purported width of the prime minister’s chest) and “ghar mein ghus ke marenge” (we will come into your house and attack you).

The emergence of a video showing Indian troops challenging Chinese soldiers sparked an alarmed reaction from the Indian Army “We strongly condemn attempts to sensationalise issues impacting national security,” it said in a statement, claiming that any “attempt to link [the video] with the situation on the Northern borders is malafide”.

Chinese social media accounts passed around another photo, showing injured Indian soldiers, some of whom had rope tied around their legs.


The authenticity of these leaks may be contested, but their effect, to whip up bellicose sentiment, is uncontested.

Even as it stands firm against Chinese incursions on the Line of Actual Control and India’s right to build infrastructure along the border, New Delhi needs to create the domestic space for a broader set of responses, whether military or diplomatic, without making them seem either as weakness or as a declaration of war.

The government also needs to examine questions around intelligence and operational failures, which some are being compared to Pakistan’s 1999 Kargil intrusions, that led to this situation int the first place.

China’s incursionary actions, even as the world is dealing with a pandemic that Beijing could have done more to contain, are deplorable.

But India’s comments by senior officers like “China stabbed us in the back” seem to betray a naivety about the India-Chinese relationship.

Meanwhile, New Delhi is pushing back against Chinese investments and its Hindutva supporters are pushing for Indians to boycott Chinese goods.

“Unless India is able to find an effective counter-strategy to this pattern of Chinese behaviour,” writes former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, “incidents of the kind we have seen at many points on LAC are not only likely to continue but to intensify.” – How colonial India fought locust attacks – and what we could learn from those tactics

One simple strategy: protect birds that eat the predatory insects.

Pallavi Das & Vineet K Giri

New Delhi – India, 30 May 2020. As India struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it faces a new challenge. Several parts of the country have experienced heavy infestations of locusts, an insect that devours crops and foliage, often leaving devastation in its wake.

If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, it is that India has two centuries of experience in dealing with locust swarms.

India’s Locust Warning Organisation, which is at the forefront of battling the infestation, was established 81 years ago during the colonial era.

Perhaps India could use some lessons from the past to avert the crisis that the current locust outbreaks might trigger.

It is not surprising that the colonial authorities made relentless efforts not only to contain the threat of locusts but also understand the science behind infestations. After all, the insects had the power to devastate the agricultural economy.

For the British imperialist state which drew significant revenue from the exploitation of Indian agriculture, locusts posed no trivial threat: they could lead to famine and cause starvation, which would threaten the slender basis of British power in India.

How could the British let a tiny organism ruin their ambitious project of colonisation?

The origins of locust control

In the nineteenth century, India experienced serious locust outbreaks in 1812, 1821, 1843-’44, 1863, 1869, 1878, 1889-’92, and 1896-’97. Several efforts were made to combat the swarms.

The first of these measures was to systematically collect and record data regarding locust occurrences. The British encouraged entomologists, scientists who study insects, to research locusts with the hope of understanding this phenomenon.

Until the early twentieth century, the containment of locust plagues remained a regionalised effort. The responsibility of control lay largely with provincial revenue departments.

However, the colonial system of locust control yet remained a dynamic one, employing an interesting mix of local reliance and global cooperation.

It rested on the exchange of knowledge and techniques between various provinces of India as well as with other countries similarly ravaged by the pestilence.

Only after the 1927-’29 outbreak that ravaged the central and western parts of India was the need felt for a centralised organisation to gather information about locusts and control them.

This resulted in the formation of the Standing Locust Committee in 1929 and the Central Locust Bureau in 1930. This culminated in 1939 in the establishment of the present-day Locust Warning Organisation.

One of the key ideas in colonial times was to destroy the breeding grounds and locust larvae before they could fly. Several techniques were employed for this purpose.

One of them was the use of oil-tarred screens to kill locusts (also known as Cyprus screen, because it was popular in that country). They did not prove effective.

The other two popular methods were the net system and the dhotar method. The net system involved holding a “capricious” bag and swinging it around fields, trapping young locusts in the process.

The dhotar method involved using a blanket to trip locusts resting on bushes.

All of these methods required great manpower, so the British began employing Indians for the purpose.

The challenge was that many Indians regarded locust attacks as a “heaven-sent visitation” and felt that god would take care of them.

They were not very enthusiastic about extending their support to the colonial state, they believed that locust control was part of the British government’s responsibilities.

Moreover, villagers were often preoccupied with harvesting and sowing crops and felt that carrying the extra burden of locust annihilation work was too cumbersome.

Encouraging public participation

The British deployed a very tactical carrot-and-stick method to incorporate Indians into its system of locust management.

The villagers were often told to render all possible assistance in their power and were warned that if they refused to do so, they would have no help from the government in their claim to remission of the tax assessment if their crops were destroyed.

This was not an unpaid job. They were often rewarded with cash for the locusts they killed. It was believed that this would serve as a kind of relief work.

Incorporating local people into the system of locust control often took into account the caste dynamics and ritual hierarchies.

It was mostly people from the “lower castes” who participated in these exercises, attracted by the monetary compensation on offer. The upper castes mostly remained aloof.

British colonial officials in the late 19th century relied heavily on observing Indian ecology, which helped them realise that birds could help to limit the locust population.

Officers in various parts of India noted that kites, crows, storks, starlings, peafowls, and rosy starling birds fed on locusts.

They also observed that birds killed more locusts than human effort ever could.

Official devised an insect-control technique that involved ploughing the fallow lands where locusts were resting: the escaping insects became an easy target for birds.

Officials were helped by the knowledge that similar techniques were being applied in places like Syria, where birds like rosy pastors, domestic fowls, partridges were used to exterminate locusts.

This method became so successful that it was practised well until the twentieth century.

It received favourable mention in the interim report of the Locust Committee of 1929, which recommended protecting birds like starlings and mynas which fed on locusts as a preventive measure against locust outbreaks.

It is notable that this scientifically sound, non-chemical method employed by British authorities in India to counter locust attacks was a common practice followed by many countries through the 19th and 20th centuries and remains relevant to the present day.

International cooperation

The colonial state realised that fighting locust outbreaks required inter-state and international cooperation, along with coordinated efforts of the state and its subjects.

Even at a time when India lacked an organised system of locust control, networks of knowledge and technique exchange existed between various Indian provinces as well as with other countries.

From 1929 onwards, it became evident that the periodic locust invasions in India had their origins outside the country, mostly in Iran, Arabia, or Africa.

By then, the British and the French colonies started to develop centralised bodies for locust control. In British India, this culminated in the establishment of the Locust Warning Organisation in India.

In the following decades, research on locusts was further encouraged , cross-country exchanges intensified and several international bodies formed aimed at the global control of locust infestations.

Today, when countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East grapple with the locust menace, perhaps, it is time to learn from history.

The magnitude of locust attacks and the need for international cooperation were deemed so essential that in 1943, at the height of World War II, the French resistance organised a conference in the Morrocan city of Rabat to deal with the problem.

The meeting was attended by representatives of several Saharan countries.

It is time to also reconsider some old techniques for combating locust infestations.

During China’s Great Leap Forward from 1958, a plan to eliminate “four pests” rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows, greatly reduced the sparrow population.

China paid the price for this when a locust outbreak occurred because sparrows had maintained an equilibrium by feeding on the insects.

In the following decades, as locust swarms multiplied, China developed a “duck army” to wage a fight against the swarms.

China’s deployment of the duck army is now becoming a diplomatic policy.

In February, there were news reports that China was considering sending its duck army to Pakistan to deal with the locust menace. (This didn’t not materialise eventually.)

Among the other species known to be effective in checking the locust population are pigs, toads and snakes. Ground beetles and parasitic flies are known to reduce the locust population too.

Insecticides may give temporary relief during an infestation, but they might also endanger the birds that act as natural predators of locusts.

The way ahead lies in state-supported protection of birds. This should include a conscious effort to bring back species like house sparrows that have been disappearing rapidly.

Pallavi Das is a doctoral candidate at University of Delhi specialising in the history of science, technology and medicine.

Vineet K. Giri has an MPhil from the University of Delhi and specialises in environmental history. – BJP’s cynical drive to topple Maharashtra government amidst Covid crisis fits the Amit Shah playbook

Shah built the party only to seek power, no matter how opportunistic the path.

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

Mumbai – Maharashtra – India, 27 May 2020. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the Centre and a number of states, has struggled to handle the Covid-19 crisis. It has sparked off an exodus of migrants from cities, messed up the procurement of tests and put together an economic package that has failed to convince anyone.

Yet this hasn’t stopped the party from continuing to play political games, even at the cost of hurting India’s ability to battle the coronavirus.

Earlier in the year, the BJP used the Covid-19 crisis to continue demonising Muslims, a tactic that has significantly contributed to the stigma around the disease.

It used the cover of the lockdown to whitewash the protest art at demonstration sites in Delhi that had been vacated because of the restrictions. It then carried out arrests of several people who had spoken out against the government’s citizenship initiatives.

As the medical crisis began to swell, the BJP toppled the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, hobbling the state’s ability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in the early weeks of its spread.

Now, the BJP has turned its eyes on Maharashtra, which is ruled by a coalition consisting of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.

The state currently has the highest number of cases in India, accounting for almost a third of known infections. In part because of the sheer population density in Mumbai, Maharashtra’s capital and the state are struggling to contain the outbreak, even as the rest of the country attempts to re-open after a long, harsh national lockdown.

Amid all this, the BJP has seen an opportunity to pull down the government.

Its online bot-armies have spent the last month attacking Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, first by spreading communal rumours and then criticising him for the situation in the state, despite the questions being raised about the Centre’s strategy.

Over the last week, BJP leaders have been visiting Raj Bhavan to speak to the governor, sparking more rumours that the party wants to topple the government. Then BJP Member of Parliament Narayan Rane came out and said it: “Maharashtra should be put under President’s rule. The Governor should step in.”

Worried that this would be construed as dirty politicking in the middle of a crisis, former chief minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis insisted that his party was not trying to topple the government, but added that it would “collapse” on its own.

Reports have suggested that the BJP’s “national leadership wants the state unit to keep the pressure on, but does not want it to take the blame of toppling it, which could create sympathy for Thackeray”.

Criticism from the Opposition, even in a time of crisis, is a good thing. It helps ensure accountability and if the government is listening, creates the conditions for course correction.

But this is not something that the BJP understands, even though its governments have struggled to deal with the virus at the national level as well as in states like Gujarat.

When criticism is leveled at Modi for his mishandling of many aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, party supporters say that this is unnecessary, and even anti-national. Yet the same kind of criticism directed at Maharashtra is seen to be an act necessary to save the state from collapse.

The BJP, as it has been shaped by former party president Amit Shah, understands much more about political power games than real governance.

With thousands of Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra and hospitals running out of beds, the BJP has decided that this is the time to take advantage of the crisis, unsettle the state government and overthrow the parties that outsmarted it last October.

It would be a reminder of the nakedly opportunistic way in which the party approaches its politics. – Six reasons why the Modi government is squarely responsible for India’s worst migrant crisis

It has abdicated responsibility, leaving overburdened states to coordinate the return of the workers

Supriya Sharma

New Delhi – India, 18 May 2020. The Indian state has decades of experience managing relief work during natural disasters. The Modi government considers the corona-virus epidemic a disaster.

That is why it has invoked the Disaster Management Act to give itself extraordinary powers to issue sweeping orders even in areas that normally fall under state governments.

However, in a domain that comes under the Centre even during normal times, the Modi government has abdicated responsibility.

It has left the transport of stranded migrant workers entirely to state governments.

The result is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis: millions of impoverished working-class Indians are walking, cycling, dangerously hitchhiking home, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km, often on empty stomachs.

More than 170 people have died in accidents on the way. “Tragedy and shame,” said the front page of the Indian Express, while reporting on the latest accident that left 26 workers dead.

Here are six reasons why responsibility for the worst ever migrant crisis seen in India after the 1947 partition lies squarely with the Modi government.

1. It announced a nationwide lock-down with just four hours of notice

The first corona-virus case was detected in India on 30 January. The number of cases kept rising through March. The government had enough time to prepare the country for an impending lock-down. But on 13 March, officials maintained the corona-virus epidemic was “not an emergency”.

Five days later, on 18 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on national television and urged Indians to observe a self-imposed “janata” or people’s curfew on March 22 to defeat the virus.

The announcement set off an exodus of migrant workers who feared the closure of work in cities would leave them vulnerable. But as they rushed to get back to their villages, the Indian Railways cancelled most trains. On 21 March, the entire rail network came to a halt.

At 8 pm on 24 March, the prime minister announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, starting midnight. Just four hours of notice.

2. The government did little to help stranded workers

Over the next few weeks, stranded workers found themselves running out of food and money. The Modi government issued directives to states, which in turn issued advisories to employers asking them to pay full wages and salaries to workers during the lockdown period.

But the government did not account for the fact that many small businesses had limited cash reserves. The government did nothing to support small businesses during this period.

On 26 March, the government announced the doubling of food rations for Indians enrolled in the public distribution system. But it completely ignored the fact that most migrant workers do not have ration cards.

Finally, fifty days into the lockdown, the government announced food support for 80 million Indians who are not part of the public distribution system. The actual disbursal of foodgrains, however, will take longer.

Meanwhile, across India, stranded workers continue to report rising levels of hunger.

3. It restarted trains but asked states to coordinate on their own

On 29 April, the Modi government announced that it would allow migrant workers to travel home, without explaining why it had put them through five weeks of anguish. Not much had changed on the ground, if anything, the number of coronavirus cases had risen in the interim.

The initial order of the Centre only mentioned transport by buses, but two days later, it followed up to say it would operate special Shramik trains for workers.

However, the Indian Railways was reduced to a transport agency: it would supply a train only when both the origin state and the destination state had jointly made a request.

This essentially meant Indian states, which rarely ever spoke to each other directly, had to open multiple channels of communication. Karnataka, for instance, appointed 13 officers to coordinate with Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and the North Eastern states.

Every state had to contact every other state to finalise how many migrant workers could travel between them.

This proved to be a recipe for disaster. Many states, preferring to keep the number of returning workers limited, went slow on the process. An official in Gujarat, for instance, exasperatedly asked a reporter of to get West Bengal to respond to his requests.

Eventually, this degenerated into a political slugfest.

This could have been avoided. If the idea was to decentralise decision-making, the Centre could have set up an interstate council that allowed better communication among states.

Now, 53 days into the lockdown, the Modi government has finally announced the creation of a national migrant information system to “facilitate their seamless movement across states”.

Why couldn’t the Centre have done this earlier?

4. It created a process that punishes workers

The Modi government’s April 29 order said migrant workers would be allowed to travel only after they had been screened and found asymptomatic.

On the ground, this has resulted in a complex system where some states have made it mandatory for migrant workers to secure medical certificates, which they have to pay for, before they can board trains.

The process is punishing: migrant workers must first register with their home states by filling an online form, secure a medical certificate to show they are fit to travel, then report to the local police station to get a travel pass to reach the railway station.

The websites are complex and often don’t work. Many workers lack vital information, do not have smartphones. They are simply walking to railway stations, where the authorities have not even bothered to set up a help desk for them.

Even those who are able to register with their home states have no way of tracking their applications, no way to know when they might get a berth on a train to travel home.

Contrast this with the relative ease with which middle-class Indians are travelling on the special Rajdhani trains. All they need to do is buy tickets online and show up at the station where they are thermally screened as they enter.

Why couldn’t the Modi government create a similar process for working-class Indians who are also paying their way back home?

5. It extracted fares from destitute workers

The Modi government has claimed it is paying 85% of the train fare for migrant workers. This is simply not true. The Indian Railways is charging full fares on the Shramik trains, despite knowing that many migrant workers are destitute after weeks of going without work.

India has 5.6 crore interstate migrants, according to the 2011 census. The actual number is likely to be much higher: an economics professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University estimated it as 6.5 crore.

Even if all these workers chose to return, the total cost of their train fares would come to around Rs 4,200 crore, researchers working with the Stranded Workers Action Network have calculated. “To put this number in perspective, the cost of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat is reportedly Rs 3,000 crore,” they wrote in an article. “The PM-Cares as per news reports from early April had Rs 6,500 crore.”

Why couldn’t the government have borne the cost of travel for destitute, working-class migrants?

6. It simply abandoned migrants who are walking home

On Saturday, the Ministry of Railways announced that it had transported 15 lakh migrants in Shramik trains. This looks impressive but is a tiny fraction of the number of migrants wanting to travel. Even a conservative estimate of only a quarter of interstate migrants wanting to go back home would come to 1.4 crore people.

No wonder, millions of Indians are on the road.

Some are walking long distances with their children. Others have hired rickety cycles, one worker wrote an apology note after he was forced to steal one since he did not have money and needed to take his disabled child home. Others are stuffing themselves into container trucks, paying thousands of rupees for standing space.

Playlist for the prime minister: 12 videos of migrant journeys that the Modi government must watch

On the way, there is no certainty over what they would encounter. In the initial weeks, the police were stopping workers and herding them into shelters, forcibly detaining them to prevent them from getting to their villages, presumably to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This only pushed migrant workers into taking more dangerous routes.

In recent weeks, as the lockdown was extended repeatedly, the police began to overlook migrants travelling on the highways, allowing many to get home after arduous journeys.

But the authorities made no efforts to reduce the pain of the journey: barring sporadic instances of policemen offering biscuits and namkeen to hungry migrants, no highway kitchens were set up to feed them on the way.

Now, even this benign neglect is set to change for the worse. The Modi government has once again instructed states to disallow migrants from walking on the highways. This has already resulted in Uttar Pradesh stopping migrants from crossing over into the state. One district has even passed orders prohibiting local residents from extending any help to them.

With the Modi government digging in its heels, refusing to fully accept the scale of human suffering underway, this man-made disaster is unlikely to be over anytime soon. will continue to track it closely. You can read our reports here. – Ramzan in riot-torn Northeast Delhi: As desperation grows with lock-down, charities feed the hungry

Many people in Shiv Vihar and Mustafabad lost their homes in the communal violence in February. The Covid-19 epidemic has pushed them to the edge.

Saba Naqvi

New Delhi – India, 14 May 2020. On 23 February, vicious communal violence broke out in Northeast Delhi and continued for three days. Homes were set on fire, vehicles blasted, neighbourhoods looted and over a dozen mosques vandalised. Though Hindus faced loss of life and property, the brunt of the violence was borne by the Muslim community.

A month later, the nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 was implemented on 25 March. Before long, media and state narratives began to claim that Muslims were “super carriers” of the coronavirus. By then, media persons had mostly disappeared from the riot-torn areas.

Northeast Delhi, one of India’s most densely-populated districts according to the last census, is a microcosm of the community’s livelihood patterns. Data shows that most Muslim workers are self-employed in the unorganised sector. Participation in salaried jobs is abysmally low. With the lockdown, the vast majority of people here have lost their sources of income.

I spent three days catching up with the people I had met during the violence, nearly 75 days earlier, to find out how the victims, beaten, profiled, isolated, and largely abandoned by the state, had been surviving, from riots to lockdown.

Scenes from riot-torn areas

Zardozi is an elaborate form of embroidery. The process involves craftsmen sitting cross-legged over a wooden frame with fabric stretched across it, using hooks and needles to create patterns with gold wire and sequins. Until a few months ago, Mohammad Qasim used to own a tiny zardozi unit in the Jafrabad neighbourhood, where he embroidered lehengas and sold them to big showrooms in the national capital.

Around three weeks ago, he opened a grocery shop and is now distributing rations to those in need. Most of the skilled zardozi workers from Bareilly and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh who worked for Qasim were able to leave for home, but some got left behind.

Qasim’s friend Babbu Malik is a community leader and businessman who used to trade in ready-made garments. He dealt in jackets made from nylon polyester fabric imported from China. They were manufactured in Jafrabad and sold all over India. Now, the entire supply chain has been snapped.

Malik has dipped into his reserves and along with his friends, started distributing food packets for free. “It is the month of Ramzan when those who can, will give,” said Malik. “Inshallah [God willing], no one will starve in the neighbourhood.”

Similarly, Haji Waseem Ansari a garment manufacturer who had to shut his unit employing a few hundred workers, says he is getting frequent distress calls from those in need. He says it is God’s will that he give whole-heartedly this Ramzan.

Nadeem Siddiqui, who runs a small transport business, spends his days procuring edible goods from wholesale markets to distribute in Jafrabad.

Jafrabad has a thriving middle class, which makes such acts of charity possible. But in neighbourhoods like Mustafabad, there seem to be few signs of hope. Burkha-clad women walk up to visitors and ask whether they are social workers and can they help. Many are widows, while others emerge as men find it humiliating.

“From working with my hands, I now have to hold out my hands,” said an out-of-work tailor.

There are complaints that amid the despondency, a “survival of the fittest” hierarchy is emerging, with local thugs dominating the food distribution chain. Ali Mirza, a builder, probably distributes food packets only because a man of his stature is expected to do so during the holy month. When a woman comes to his doorsteps to return the spoilt food she had been handed, Mirza asked his staff to send her away.

At food distribution outlets run by the state, the quality of the food is abysmal. “We are only alive because we are now eating what dogs eat, as we have no money to buy anything,” said the caretaker of a mosque.

The Mustafabad lane leads to Shiv Vihar, the neighbourhood worst-hit by the riots. On 26 February, I had met Salman Ansari, a welder who fled when his rented home and workshop were burnt down. The only help he has received has not been from the state, but from some activists who transferred money into his account. He came to meet me in Mustafabad with his infant daughter, coincidentally named Saba.

He led me through winding lanes to the room where he now lives with his wife and two daughters. It is his third home in two months. The first was in a relief camp that was abruptly shut down due to Covid-19; the second, a room where he could not afford the rent. He said he would never return to Shiv Vihar.

The absent state

Reyazuddin used to distribute toast made in a local bakery. After his home on Street Number 18 was burnt down in the riots, he got an interim relief amount of Rs 25,000. He was forced to leave the relief camp where he was staying with his family of six, including his aging mother after the lockdown. He had no choice but to return to his burnt home.

In early February, during the Delhi elections, Reyazuddin had been enthusiastically rooting for the Aam Aadmi Party MLA Haji Yunus. Now, he says, he realises that no one really cares.

The Delhi state government has been distributing cooked food on the premises of Manoj Public School, located opposite the destroyed Medina Masjid. But Reyazuddin’s family has been fasting during Ramzan and the food is distributed at a time when they cannot eat it, at 11 am and 6 pm.

However, he is grateful to volunteers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, who distributed 10 kg wheat, five kg rice, oil, dal and dates to break the fast.

Shiv Vihar is filled with burnt homes, soot-covered streets and filthy open drains from which corpses were pulled out. Here and in Mustafabad, there is a daily struggle for survival.

Meanwhile, even amid lockdown, the government has arrested more than 20 people for participating in the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. Residents of Jafrabad say the state sees them as enemies. They say they are treated like terrorists, cut off, adrift, surviving one day at a time.