Monday, October 15, 2007

Whose interests does Amartya Sen take care of?


By Sankar Ray

Prof Amartya Sen’s arguments in an interview to a Kolkata-based daily seem somewhat delinked from reality. In fine, he tries to sell his ideological allegiance to market-driven economy in the setting of globalization. He assumes a symbiosis between his economic philosophy which is attuned to the exploitative goals of what Sukomal Sen, CPI(M) central committee member and secretary-general, All India State Government Employees’ Federation, described as a ‘menacing trinity- - IMF, World Bank and WTO – and commitment of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government to capitalism as path of development.

He rightly says that the Europeans were aware of “industrial areas of huge prosperity” near Calcutta and were interested in the industrial products of this area. The British resorted to de-industrialisation of classical industry but new industries came in the form, for example, of jute. Gradually that went off after Independence and there was further de-industrialisation.

But this is only a partial statement. Earth scientist Sunil K Munshi in his treatise, Calcutta Metropolitan Explosion showed that colonial rule destroyed 25 ‘flourishing’ trading towns such as Tamralipta, Dainan, Khagra, Bishnupur, Dacca, Kalna etc and Calcutta was “a colonial outpost”. Murshidabad was richer than London, wrote none other than Robert Clive prior to the decisive Battle at Plassey. At the time of the Battle of Plassey, Calcutta was not at the centre of those flourishing towns. The British, Dr Sen knows better than most of us, had chosen Bengal (which included Bihar and Orissa too) because of its huge financial wealth at a time when the remaining parts of Mughal India were in a major economic crisis.

According to English Records, quoted by Sushil Chaudhury in his Ph.D. thesis, Shaishta Khan amassed Rs 64 crores excluding gold and jewellery during eight years as the Subadar of Bengal.

Prof Sen’s comparison between West Bengal and ‘Manchester or Lancashire’ is void of relevance. Did Bengal witness full-scale capitalist development? Was Britain under colonial phase? Bengal – described by Bankimchandra thus - sujalaam suphalaam malayaja sheetalaam sasyashyaamalaam (translated by Sri Aurobindo - Rich with thy hurrying streams, bright with orchard gleams Cool with thy winds of delight) – remains a predominantly agricultural economy like the majority of Indian states.

On his comments about the relation between union movements and the closing of industries, Prof Sen is either oblivious or blissfully unaware of a paper on this issue presented by D Bandyopadhyay, then labour secretary, Government of West Bengal in the early 1970s at probably the first seminar organized by the newly-born Centre for the Study of Social Sciences in Calcutta. With authentic data and analysis thereof, he questioned the controversial single bench judgment on gherao. The verdict, delivered in 1967, in a nutshell was that industries were being forced to be shut down due to gherao, while Bandyopadhyay’s paper sought to refute the conclusion showing that reasons like mismanagement led to lock-outs in most cases.

The Nobel laureate argues that “industrial production could generate many times more than the value of the product produced by agriculture” but skips the issue of employment generation. Paresh Chattopadhyay in a discussion-piece in Economic and Political Weekly ( 14 July 2007) asserts, under present day capitalism industrialization cannot create employment by drawing surplus labour away from agriculture”. Prof Prabhat Patnaik, one of the economic ideologues of CPI(M) admitted in an article in EPW (26 May 2007), that capitalism under the dominant neo-liberalism “creates very little direct employment” and in the post reform India organized employment “remained constant in absolute terms”, despite 8 per cent annual growth in manufacturing output. He differed with “proponents of grande industry” – implicitly meaning the West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee – who are ga-ga about the prospect of “downstream employment generation”. Patnaik earned the wrath of Bhattacharjee, a CPI(M) polit bureau member, in having refuted the PB leader and stating, that “this argument is no more than a pie in the sky for the dispossessed peasants.

Besides, there are two problems with this argument: first, it does not take into account the fact that even while employment is created directly and indirectly by grande industry, there is a simultaneous destruction of employment in activities supplanted by such industry and its off-shoots”. Prof Sen surprisingly ignores the high fertility of the land, marked for the Tata Motors at Singur. The Gangetic alluvial basin is one of the few remaining high-fertile tracts which the majority of earth-scientists and agricultural scientists want to be preserved keeping in view the threatened food security. Eminent Indian farm scientist M S Swaminathan holds this view. We should be guided by the latter than economists like Sen. Main conclusions in the Fourth Assessment Report on Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change are at variance with Sen’s inexplicable lack of faith in

In fine, Prof Sen appears to have voluntarily assumed the responsibility between the ideologues of “menacing trinity” and “proponents of grande industry” in the CPI(M) brass, especially West Bengal. The latter have the blessings of the CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, who, demolishing his image as a so-called hardliner, often tries to provide imposed arguments in bucking up the new sympathizers of capitalism ( inescapably subservient to neo-liberal finance capital). Prof Sen even distorts the opposition’s standpoint to say, “Prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self defeating”. The objection is, everyone knows, on the use of multi-crop lands and reluctance of the Left Front government in using thousands of acres of lands, locked up in sick industries and ignoring over fallow lands that comprise 4 per cent of the state’s geographical area, according to the status report of land, uploaded in the website of the department of land and land reform