Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Interlinkages between the food and fuel crisis emerging in India

Important points from a recent discussion among acquaintances.

Land and water resources are experiencing population pressures in India. This is manifesting the lack of growth in the amount of arable land and a gradual decline in rural living standards. Expanding access to water is feasible on a ten year timescale, however a massive investment of this nature would only significantly boost agricultural productivity at a very high ecological cost. A most direct expression of the ecological cost would be in the form of a dropping water table and a gradual but consistent reduction in forest cover. Biodiversity issues are also likely to present on a far larger timescale than earlier anticipated.

A trend that has become more pronounced over the last ten years has been the manner in which sizable tracts of arable land are being acquired by leveraging buyouts from farmers living in debt. The objective of such acquisition is not the construction of new industry or power stations, but rather the development of high end real estate. In these developments, the locals are deliberately driven out of their lands to make way for mahals and havelis that suit the tastes of the modern Indian princes.

This sort of thing creates two major problems. Firstly loss of arable land adds to a growing deficits in food production and secondly, we add to the rural-urban migration trend creating severe resource problems inside cities.

As the shortfall in food production can only be met via food imports - we become *more* reliant on global trade patterns and out overall trade deficit rises. Additionally, in order to move the food from the sources in foreign lands and from the port of entry to our hungry citizens we consume more carbon fuel resources - especially diesel -which we only have a very limited refining capacity for.

The sale of their ancestral land also shifts farmers out of the land based social security system to a paycheck based economy which they are not adequately trained to function in. The collapse of this social security system creates a large pool of internal migrants that are disconnected from their roots and traditional identity structures.

In Pakistan we have seen what happens when this sort of thing is allowed to get out of hand. The vacuum created in the identity structure is filled by new expressions at the individual and social level. In India we can reasonably anticipate the growth and hardening of caste and religion based conflicts in such a migration environment. Perhaps the biggest lesson that India can draw from Pakistan in this context is that using a social polarisation model improperly or incorrectly (i.e. without thought to the consequences) will result in a persistent and bloody internal conflict.

As you are all aware, in Pakistan, a religious model was used to consolidate Sunni youth in the 80s. The full extent of the exact consolidation protocol was never discussed publicly and a cost benifit analysis was abandoned in favour of a pursuit of expedience. The result is that mess that we are seeing today - where no one - not the Army, the Islamists or the Feudals can restore order over any meaningful timescale.

Given the overall similarity between Indian and Pakistani society, it is imperative that we take proactive steps to prevent a repeat of such events in an Indian context. Most specifically, religious indoctrination techniques developed in the 90s in India, should be discarded as a tool for social or political mass mobilisation. Marxist models that have gained currency over the last decade need to be seriously toned down as well - there is no point getting people up in arms over their lack of economic opportunities if no direct relief - even in the internim term is possible.


At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that's what I call a good post!


At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M, great post!

Methinks given the high percentage of arable land in India (upto 66%... if we loosen the definition a bit) we might not hit the tipping point in the near future. I mean, not on a large scale. It's in certain pockets (adjoining booming cities) in Bengal, Haryana, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra that loss of ancestral land directly leads to casteism and other socio-economic tragedies. Nowadays I kinda appreciate VP Singh conjuring up the caste thing way back in '89. (Pleej don't get me wrong I am all for controlled affirmative action... just don't appreciate the royal mess they are making outta it now!) My point is, if the demand for such action had developed from below as a result of the Liberalization changes (instead of starting out as an astroturfed cheap political stunt).... we might have seem major riots and massive internal migrations. We Indians are still very close-minded when it boils down to these long held "advantages" and "natural rights". JMTC.

In Kerala this move from land based identity has been happening for quite some time.... started off in a major way in the 50s though. Due to myriad reasons (comparatively high caste mobility since the 17th century, the later remittance economy, directed relief from outside, balanced religious demographics etc just to name a few) and determined political alignments the socio-economic shock has been dissipated to a good degree. Here we are talking about small numbers..... and one must grudgingly give credit to certain leaders of the then CPI for this. In Tamil Nadu the large contiguous areas, the unique demographic distribution of the various castes, their holdings and homes and the far reaching effects of the early DMK movement has helped to absorb the shock there. Still, we all know what happened to the Tamil Brahmins there.... IMO they paid too heavy a price for the sins of their representatives and ancestors.
Anyway, I am pretty things won't be so peachy when it comes to the aforementioned parts of India. Well, maybe a Bengal can tide it... with her Operation Bagra/Singur-Nandigram background and LARGE arable land (which can be irrigated without major ecological costs). I hope they at least stop doling out MOST FECUND land to every other industrialist in the name of expediency.

-Anand K

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mav, can we learn something from China in managing rural to urban migration?They are also managing a transition and that too on a much larger scale.surely coercion by CCP cant be the only reason as its normally made out in media(leave out tibet for a moment).i think for enironmental thing we need to come up with some solution of our own.China has been a disaster in this area.Of course i am assuming we can decouple the two things.


At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contd from above....

BTW, remember that Hemant Babu article on Gujarat violence. I think it is safe to extrapolate to the other hot spots of India in the light of the second theme of your post. Extending your own thoughts on that issue:- communalized societies and socio-political organizations that constantly seeks to displace socio-economic problems (if not the dynamics itself) into religious/caste-based animosities. The political organizations and Pied Pipers having grand plans and wet dreams of socio-political polarization and "ruling social groups" may strike gold for a while.... but the failure is systemic, the very factors they use to prop up their movement can be turned against them.... and there WILL be a reckoning down the lane.

The loss of ultimate securities like land holdings have other far reaching effects. A large section of Indians will ultimately be unable to avail of loans and accumulate more debt if their new businesses go bust. This may even develop into tightly drawn and "contained" caste-based informal economies..... a malaise many times more serious than the existing money lender driven rural financial system . Isn't this the very thing IG tried to curtail with her Bank and Insurance Nationalization? {PS: I have heard stories of how post-Godhra Gujarat has seen rising reluctance to have any sort of financial/business deals with Muslims. The horror stories of cashiers/couriers with severed heads is not the only factor. AFAIK even the Gujarat Govt is feeling the bite now.... Modi's recent, recurring assurances (but only AFTER the elections ;) ) like "Let the dead past bury it's dead" and "Muslims have forgotten and forgiven Godhra" is case in point.}

One thing the GoI can do is make sure that such "remunerations" for such transactions a take place over a period of time.... i.e. let the children of the rural masses be resettled into the service/industry sectors. A friend who has done extensive study in Gurgaon told me many farmers/potters who became rich overnight were blinded by the money and blew it all/were cheated out of it away in few years. Only VERY few kept aside the "fortune" to send their kids to good schools while they themselves left the Potter's Wheel and the plough to menial jobs in the NCR region.

It took us a looong time ( 2 generations) to resettle the most depressed castes like the Scavenger/Night Soil Carrier/Tanner castes.... let's hope we can do the same with the millions of farmers.

Just a ramble onlee.
-Anand K

At 9:07 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anand K,

No we are not at tipping point, but it is time we should do something proactive/preemptive.

The OBCs are now emerging as a vocal segment in every major population area - rural and urban and quite frankly that is where India's next leaders are coming from.

Transitional support services (especially transitional finance services) helping people moving out of villages to cities/towns may be what is needed at this point. It is worth thinking very hard about this at the NGO level and at the Govt level.

At the very least we have to come up with basic information and citizen tracking services that enable us to gain some knowledge of what the patterns are. And put money into cities to improve high volume communication links.

Yes I too have heard distrubing rumours about the situation in Gujurat. To some degree this is an indirect consequence of the particular consolidation model used there by various political parties.


Controlling migration patterns is very difficult in a country like India.

I am deeply skeptical of the success of the Chinese methods in this regard, and at the very least I do not think they will work in the Indian context.

A much simpler approach would be carefully increase police - NGO interaction and create NGOs that provide services (information gathering, social integration, etc...) to migrants entering cities. We need something like the Crimes Against Women Unit/JAPU but directed at migrants.

I know this sounds very weak and soft compared to just sending a few battalions of SRP in to kill people, but then I am a follower of Sri. Ved Marwah's line of thinking.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous kg said...

Hi Maverick, Anand:

I've occasionally wondered about how situations like this would evolve once it reaches the conflict stage: i.e. if we fail to do anything effective in prevention and reach a tipping point.

One quite interesting site I've been keeping an eye on is this one:


I find them quite interesting. And I find John Robbs description of Henry Okah's smashing takeon of the Nigerian oil people really chilling. On this link: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2008/02/henry-okah.html

I came across it because of the energy angle and the article on Okah, but I find the whole site worth reading.

If prevention fails, we're going to get our own "superempowered individuals" like Okah, who if they're independent of the Pakees, Unkil, or the Chinese, they'll make the Bhindranwales and Mian Sheikhs look like amateur wannabes.

We're seeing something similar to Okah in Pakeeland I think - that whole plethora of warlords going "independent" from the Pakee Armee.

Not quite sure what to make of this stuff currently. Some of it is clearly over-the-top rubbish and "fearmongering" that only benefits the "security industry" types - note the quite fatuous articles there on the Scientology issue for example.

But there's a kernel there worth looking at, I think. It never hurts to be over prepared.


At 8:55 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi kg,

That site is interesting, I will go through it in greater detail soon.

The "superempowered individual" label fits Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Khatib of Lal Masjid like a glove! Larger than life presence in the Jihadist circuit, strong links to the ISI establishment, and unbreakable links to the Islamist political spectrum. I recall Musharraf's own arguments against the Lal Masjid guys centered on the idea that these are not team players and will utterly fuck the entire Pakistani political spectrum over the first chance they get.

The mid-level in any social heirarchy are happy to keep their place if they sense a social mobility structure that allows them to progress per aspirations.

However if a disconnect develops between the aspirations and the mobility framework - a conflict builds up rapidly.

"Superempowered individuals" are a by product of a system prone to the appearance of such sudden disconnects.

In India the mid-level is the (urban and rural) OBCs, in Pakistan, the mid-level is random pseudo-ashrafs and middle-to-low income non-ashrafs.

Via the Mandal Commission Report, India addressed a bulk of the OBC's mobility needs and warded of a collapse into Punjab style clashes on a nationwide level. Pakistan tried to use a religious subversion model to try and induce these people to modulate their aspirations - this is back firing now.

We need to move very proactively on this rural-urban migration front.

I propose the following
"solutions" (or more correctly restatements of the core problems here)

1) Ultimately all problems scale with population density. We need to devise ways to keep the population density in urban areas down at manageable (in terms of energy,social security) levels.

2) A sustainable transit economy needs to be created that meets the needs created changing rural aspirations. Financially speaking, we need high stability mutual funds and the like that will create places for people invest the money they earn from land sales.

3) Resource (Human,Energy,Water etc...) handling infrastructure needs to be put into place to promote the most sustainable use humanly possible.

4) We need to work on a new social security system - one that compensates for the loss of land based financial security, and allows the necessary leeway for gender empowerment shifts that will affect the family structure.

ps. I wish to thank C Kapur for sharing his discussions with RKM on the social security aspects.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger maverick said...

More thoughts on social security - I would really appreciate feedback on this.


A lot of the problems we are going to face in the immediate future (next 20-30 years) are going to come from two groups of people.

Firstly empowered OBCs trying to "make it big" in life. I don't have a problem with anyone reaching for a bigger piece of the pie, I only have problems with people trampling on others to get there. One has to come up with a way to ensure that the OBCs do not trample on everyone else to get to wherever they want to "go".

Secondly, women are likely to become increasinly dissatisfied with their place in society. I mean lets face it, not so long ago, we burnt them when their husband's died, after that we said, okay - you can live - but you must not work. After that we said, okay - you can work but you must give your husband all your money. Now we are saying, - you can have your money, just don't spend it any-which-way you want - because I might need it. This level of control is unrealistic - it is going collapse. Indian women are going to seek out complete financial independence and with it will come political challenges that will be felt deep inside the family and society.

The discussions on social empowerment and affirmative action from OBCs are quite frankly startling. The way they talk about other socially backward groups is truly disheartening. They spit on the very same affirmative action process that got them to where they are. I feel OBCs are unprepared for the challenges that social mobility brings. They welcome the prospects of going up the social ladder themselves, but loathe the idea of anyone they consider "below them" doing it. This is could create serious mobility issues within society.

The absolutely last thing one wants is a social conflict between status-conscious OBC men, and empowered women that develops to the point where the sheer numbers involved overwhelm control resources.

It is important to note that OBC men have been subject to serious indoctrination on religious issues over the last twenty or thirty years in India because of.. well .. point fingers.

This has a counter-productive side as feeding OBC men with ideas of "how great vedic India once was" leaves them very vulnerable to male egocentric ("Main-Bhi-Bhagwan-Ram") notions and to ideas that a *rigid* caste based pecking order is absolutely necessary for the Indian social organism to survive.

Whatever discussions one has on political consolidation paradigms - one has to make the choice sensitive to the above.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Faizi said...

The OBC's have been the dominant political force in many states for a while now, and are also often pretty well off. The real empowerment that is worth keeping track of is the groups represented by Mayawati. She has revived the old brahmin-dalit alliances that the congress party relied on to win and control the national and north indian legislatures. Except, here she and her dalit base forms the dominant partner in this alliance. I think she has a good chance at the Prime Ministership.

W.r.t the food crisis, there is already a significant problem, with rice prices almost doubling in all of Asia (see the NYT for an article:

The UPA is already facing political pressure on this.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Faizi,

I think upper tier OBCs made it big in the last 20 years. Middle and lower tier OBCs are trying to move upwards now.

This kind of tumbling is normal and one needs to make sure it keeps happening. One has to ensure that OBCs do not fall victim to loss-of-status pressures. Whatever progress has been made on the empowerment front, it has been because of the OBCs and their desire to keep pushing on these issues.

If the OBCs lose interest in the empowerment agenda, I fear the whole thing would lose traction and create very serious mobility problems - comparable to the mess India was in prior to independence.

Mixed strategy/patchworking ideas like Mayawati could work but I am worried about a massive fissure appearing between status-conscious OBCs and women.

One does not seek a return to a colonial rent collecting state. One seeks a responsive government where the machinery of government is completely and utterly dedicated to reform of society. A caste bias has plagued GoI since independence (and before), we need to make sure that this condition does not get *any* worse.

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A nice summary of the current situation of nuclear deal. It really captures the need, constraints, costs that we need to analyze. I am not posting the article. It is also ready pasted at DF.



PS: there is a bug in firefox or blogger CSS which eats out long URL. Look at the source to get it.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear DFer,

I have already addressed the issue of further testing and "credibility" in the previous post titled "The Gigaboom and Other Stories".

The arguments presented by Ashok Kumar Singh are no different from what most of the readers have already seen in the "Document 10" on the DAE website.

What the DCH must grasp somehow is that the military will always ask for more demonstrations of a weapon. This is natural as this "having more than the enemy" thinking dominates the military machine. Barring the SF community - no one inside the military understands the concept of a "precise application of force".

It is usually benificial to test a weapon as many times as possible. However in the case of nuclear weapons - each demonstration risks exposing the weapons development process to penetration. This risk has to be incurred only when the benifits are tangible.

The present level of tests are sufficient to murder people into submission.

If one is keen to define a deterrent in terms of an arsenal of size - you have to have the money to pay for that.

We do not have the money to pay for a large arsenal.

Without money to support such an arsenal - no one will take our claims of testing seriously.

Hypothetically speaking a test could be used to demonstate an enhanced capability to murder larger numbers of women and children, however - one must ask the question who are we trying to prove things to?

If one feels the need to make such a point to the Chinese or the Pakistanis, then yes, a test may be necessary. I do not see any such need at this time.

I feel it is unlikely that India will test for public entertainment. The overly sensitive rakshaks will have to settle for a daily dose of murder in CI ops instead.

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Faizi said...

I am generally in agreement with you on this issue. Unfortunately, my concern is that the upward mobility of the OBC groups will render them status-quoist groups. My reasons for this are that the OBC communities as a whole constitute a majority of the population, and as is apparent from the current situation in UP and Bihar, their interest is very much aligned against the likes of Mayawati. I also am of the opinion that in the current and near future caste will trump gender divisions. I think people like Mayawati appeal more to caste than to gender (her brahmin southern counterpart in temperment and imperiousness, the great Puratchi Thalaivi, on the other hand has considerable support from women). I hope I am wrong about this, but caste is going to dominate national politics and Govt for a long while to come.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Faizi,

I feel the caste system should continue to play a prominent role in the national polity until caste based differences in opportunity structure are removed.

I fear that if OBC's lose interest in affirmative action for whatever reason, the entire process could come to a halt. I think that cannot be allowed to happen - it is our only working model for mobility. A society that is 1 billion strong without a working mobility model would simply implode.

Pragmatically speaking even if it does not actually achieve equality, it will act as a barrier to religious, ethnic, gender etc... based consolidation ideas.

In the near future, caste will dominate over religion. However even today, Puratchi Thalaivi has said, she is the only self-made woman leader. I contest that, as I feel that honour goes to the Sanyasin, but you can see things are changing.


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