Telling the to the editor

Telling the to the editor

This is an exquisite collection of essays offered as a tribute to one of India’s most celebrated editors, N Ram, by his friends and colleagues who knew him well. The contributors include some very distinguished academicians and also a few who worked with him closely. Ram was not a mere journalist.

As the reputed scientist, M S Swaminathan observes in his essays in the volume, ‘‘Ram has brought his journalistic talents to the fight for the causes that are important for the evolution of a just, egalitarian and secular democracy.’’ Parvathi Menon, a former colleague of Ram, says that for him the panchasheel of journalism was: ‘‘truth telling; freedom and independence; justice; humaneness; and contributing to the social good.’’ Ram also picked up quite a number of promising journalistic talents and trained them to excel in their field.   

The volume has 13 articles, plus a concluding chapter, ‘Working with N Ram’, consisting of reminiscences and observations of some of those who worked with him. A dominant, if not the common, feature of most of the articles is their pronounced ideological orientation opposed to neo-liberalism and Hindutva. N Ram himself did not believe in neutrality for its own sake, and did not hesitate to take sides. Most of the articles in the volume also follow him in this regard. 

 The only non-ideological — yet very useful — article in the volume is by M S Swaminathan. It is on ‘‘the zero hunger challenge’’. In spite of the significant rise in the rate of economic growth in the last two-and-a-half decades in India, and equally significant increase in foodgrains and milk production,  the country ranks very low in the Global Hunger Index — at 100 out of 119 countries as per the 2017 report.

Swaminathan points out that according to the National Family Health Survey-3, 45% of children in India under three years of age were stunted and undernourished. The prevalence of unequal access to food is obvious from this. One may say that it is precisely such a situation which makes many social scientists bitterly opposed to  neo-liberalism of the governments in India which, according to them, is responsible for it. Swaminathan refers to the National Food Security Act 2013 as promising in overcoming undernutrition. He insists on restoring the importance of millets which are the mainstay in the diet of the poor, and makes many valuable suggestions to make Indian agriculture climate-smart and poverty-eradicating.

In the paper ‘Shaping the Post-war World’ , Noam Chomsky reviews the main developments in the post-war world, and regrets that though the risks nuclear and environmental catastrophe have become extreme which no sane decision maker should accept, perfectly sane world leaders are accepting them, trapped as they are by a ‘pathological institutional logic’. He says that the urgent need for humanity is to cure it and quickly so. 

Four articles by Venkatesh Athreya, C P Chandrasekhar, C T Kurien and Prabhat Patnaik offer a brilliant critique of neoliberalism, the market economy, and of economics as a discipline respectively. Chandrasekhar explains neoliberalism as marked by market fundamentalism, notion of a minimalist state, replacing home market and deficit-financed state expenditure by exports and debt-financed private expenditure as the principal stimuli of growth.

Another, though a simple way of defining it could be that neo-liberalism privileges liberty over equality as the guiding principle of state policy, while socialism privileges equality over liberty. The need, however, is to balance the two, which is possible only in a social democracy. Unfortunately, a discussion of social democracy as an alternative  is conspicuously absent in the volume. Chandrasekhar dismisses the possibility of a sustainable and successful welfare state with neo-liberalism dominating as an ideology, but does not discuss the nature and prospects of a feasible alternative. Patnaik discusses the role of ‘external props’ which have saved capitalism which, however, economics has ignored. An external prop is “an activity that stimulates consciously or unconsciously the level of aggregate demand, constitutes for the system an external prop.’’ That is why capitalism is an incomplete system, according to Patnaik. Two papers launch a strong attack on Hindutva. Prakash Karat critically traces the history of the rise of BJP, and Romila Thapar shows huge holes in the Hindutva notion of India’s history, which is used to divide Indians into antagonistic communities. T Jayaraman’s persuasive paper stresses the need for a scientific temper in India, and regrets its lack. 

The excellence of the articles in the volume certainly constitute a well-deserved tribute to  the rich personality of N Ram. 

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