How “swadeshi” is the BJP? A checklist suggests maybe not very much.
India is India because of its rivers, forests, hills, beaches and biodiversity. The devastation of the environment is in fact the devastation of Bharat Mata. No government can call itself swadeshi if it promotes judicially documented, environmentally and socially destructive activities.
Two recent decisions of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government in New Delhi have caused consternation in the minds of those who believed that the BJP would base its policies on a strong nationalistic plank. The two decisions involve the shifting of around 320 items on to the “free import list” and the revival of the Aquaculture Authority Bill (AAB) which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the United Front Government to protect the interests of the environmentally destructive aqua farming lobbies but failed to go through because of protests by coastal villagers, fishing communities and environmentalists.
The Export-Import (Exim) Policy is the main policy instrument for controlling imports and exports, and it is generally acknowledged to have impacts on domestic production, livelihoods and the environment. Trade liberalisation pressures require that all restrictions of the kind embodied in India’s Exim Policy be removed in the interests of global traders. In particular, Article XI of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) makes any trading restrictions illegal.
From 15 to 19 April, the WTO was scheduled to undertake a Trade Policy Review of how far India has gone in liberalising its imports and exports. The dilution of its Exim Policy two days prior to the Trade Policy Review is proof that, like earlier governments, the BJP Government is going out of its way to carry out the WTO agenda long before the pressures even build up.
The fact of the matter is that it was not at all necessary to have such a heavy dilution of the Exim Policy as was announced by the Commerce Minister on 14 April. The BJP Government could have studied the issue and taken a long-term decision in the national interest rather than a short-term ad hoc response purely to get good marks from the WTO.
On the domestic front, the Aquaculture Authority Bill – which died an ignoble death under the last government – is being resurrected by the BJP-led Government to protect the very interests that were defended earlier by the United Front and the Congress. The AAB is basically aimed at undoing the Supreme Court judgement of December 1996, which ordered the closure of all shrimp farms within the coastal zone. It is part of a policy to undo the entire environmental regulatory system meant to control destructive activities within the fragile coastal areas. It is tantamount to announcing “the rape of the motherland”.
The BJP is required, in the interests of its much-touted swadeshi policy, to have a far superior and committed environment policy than any of the previous governments. If the BJP seeks to compete with the previous government in dismantling India’s environmental regimes then it will have to be denounced in even stronger words.
In the coming months, the BJP’s commitment to swadeshi will face an even greater test. The government will have to take decisions on the following issues as a result of the WTO process, pressures from the World Bank/International Monetary Fund, and cajoling by the United States. All will involve critical swadeshi components, and the BJP’s actions will indicate whether or not it can be trusted to defend the country’s interests.
The Patents Bill. Amendments to the Indian Patents Act have become necessary in view of several new developments concerning plant genetic resources, plant breeding and biotechnology. The amendments have to promote culture, ethics and fundamental human rights of the people of India by excluding patents on life and on indigenous knowledge in India and abroad, and by placing restrictions as well as having compulsory licensing in the area of essential medicine. If, however, the government at the Centre buckles under pressure of the MNCs and Washington DC to merely increase the monopolies of the US pharmaceutical and seed sectors, it will fail the swadeshi test.
Biodiversity legislation. India’s economy and culture is based on biodiversity, and the Biodiversity Convention provides scope to protect India’s culture, knowledge and lifestyles. If the BJP Government implements the Convention in full spirit, it will take the swadeshi agenda forward. But there is a danger that it may promote the undemocratically prepared present draft of the biodiversity law inherited from the earlier Janata Dal regime, which merely seeks to provide foreign corporations with access to intellectual property rights.
The Farmers’ Rights Act. The basmati rice patent controversy has proved the urgency of immediately moving to protect farmers’ right by preventing the global seed industry from gaining rights over indigenous seeds. To evade the “anti-national” charge, the BJP Government will have to draft laws which promote the conservation of India’s biological diversity and seed heritage, and which protect farmers’ rights and farmers’ innovation with legitimate and limited granting of breeders’ rights to the seed industry.
Food grain imports. Here, the Centre has already failed the swadeshi test, having stayed with the mindless decision of the last government to import wheat from Australia to the detriment of Indian farmers. New Delhi is also in the process of importing genetically engineered soyabean from the United States, even though soyabean neither is a staple in the Subcontinent nor a part of the food culture. During the recent visit to India by the US envoy Bill Richardson, there was ample indication that the Vajpayee Government was negotiating an anti-swadeshi agenda in the area of food and food security.
Exports of meat and raw hides. While all non-BJP governments have promoted meat exports, leading to rapid depletion of the country’s animal genetic wealth, the BJP has always promised to take steps to halt this destruction of bovine stock. Will the new government, with its commitment to animal welfare, be able to announce within a year that it has reduced or completely halted all export of meat, and export of live animals for meat? Will it be able to say that it has successfully rejected the new pressures for exporting raw hides to the international market?
Foreign direct investment and liberalisation of the financial sector. There is pressure building in the WTO process to permit free and restriction-less investment by foreign companies, and this is embodied in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) proposal which is being negotiated in the OECD. The BJP government must play an energetic part in an international effort to permanently block the MAI proposal. Similarly, it must prevent the takeover of India’s banking and insurance sectors through the liberalisation of the financial services. Will it? As far as the entry of multinationals into non-priority sectors such as food processing is concerned, the entire BJP election campaign was run on the slogan, “Computer chips, not potato chips”. However, key ministries are already stating that the potato and agro-processing sector will have the highest priority in terms of liberalisation and foreign investment.
Alcohol and tobacco advertising. There is a wholesale takeover of the country’s electronic media by programmes that promote wholly degraded Western lifestyles. These are creating enormous social and gender related problems in the society and undermining the very fabric of traditional cultural values. The programmes on sports, for instance, unabashedly promote the consumption of foreign liquor and foreign cigarettes. We await appropriate action from the Ministry of Culture, which is controlled by Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, and from Sushma Swaraj at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
You cannot fool all the people all the time, and on all matters mentioned above it is clear that the BJP Government itself is not convinced about its swadeshi agenda. In which case there was no real need to have installed a new government in place of the old.