WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8272

Date uploaded in London – – – 2 July 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

So, the ‘dearth’ was turned into a famine. (Other famines regularly followed- in 1783, 1866, 1873,1892,1897, and the last one in 1943-44, due largely to Churchill. But mercifully, the British had to leave India within 3 years this time!) More than some injudicious restrictions were however involved. Smith returns to it later. After referring to the oppressive measures of  the Dutch and the Portuguese in their territories, Smith says:

The English company have not yet had time to establish in Bengal so perfectly destructive a system. The plan of their government, however, has had the same tendency. It has not been uncommon for…the first clerk of a factory, to order a peasant to plough up a rich field of poppies, and sow it with rice or some other grain. The pretence was, to prevent scarcity of provisions; but the real reason, to give the chief an opportunity of selling at a better price a large quantity of opium, which he then happened to have on hand.

Upon other occasions, the order has been reversed; and a rich field of rice or other grain has been ploughed up, in order to make room for a plantation of poppies; when the chief foresaw that extraordinary profit was likely to be made by opium. The servants of the company have upon several occasions attempted to establish in their own favour the monopoly of some of the most important branches, not only of the foreign, but of the inland trade of the country….. In the course of a century or two, the policy of the English company would in this manner have probably proved as completely destructive as that of the Dutch.

 Part IV, chap.vii (Page numbers  vary in different editions. For convenience, one may refer to the one volume selected edition in the Oxford World’s Classics,1998: pages 29, 72, 325, 367. Do not miss to see the notes.)

We can see in these instances how objective and sensitive Smith is to the issues of human welfare among all the people! He is writing as a humanist, social scientist, with a thorough knowledge of his subject. He combines the social, historical and the economic aspects, and does not shrink from exposing the misdeeds of the company. He wrote within 6 years of the grave famine, but he knew why and how it happened! And as he predicted, within a century, the company totally destroyed India’s economic prosperity and even the bases of its survival.

Do politicians ever learn anything?

Incidentally, our politicians never seem to have a head to learn. Even today, whenever there is a shortage of anything, they impose restrictions on movement of food grains between States within India, and even between districts in the same state!  Finance ministers  and politicians routinely blame traders for shortage, when thousands and thousands of tons of grains are rotting in the open yards of the FCI. They have a shameful public distribution system, but cannot make it corruption-free! I have two experiences of drought in Indian states, and first hand knowledge of bureaucratic apathy and their utter idiocy and total muddle headedness.           

 Recent drought     

In 1972 and 1974, there were two severe droughts in Western India, where I was then. In Ahmedabad, there was no rationing for income-tax payers; prices of food grains and edible oil increased three-fold, but they were freely available, brought form every corner of the country. We could still get choice Surti Kolam rice, and Daudkhani wheat, but at higher prices. No one hoarded. 

But in neighbouring Maharashtra the picture was different. There everyone had to have a ration card. And when we came by train say from Gujarat or the South, the train would be stopped somewhere before Bombay and our luggage checked to see whether we were carrying rice or wheat. (Let me admit: we did, to help our friends there!) Now, the point is:

when we were bringing food grains into a region of shortage, why should they bother, and try to stop it? But that is bureaucracy! Can it be anything other than idiotic? Gujaratis were practical businessmen and they knew how to solve shortage.  In drought conditions, availability is more important than price, for those who could afford! But see how the govt-run Railways are charging high price for urgent travels, in the name of Tatkal!! They are eliminating black marketing, by themselves becoming the black marketers!!

Wah re wah!

Incidentally, rationing was introduced by the colonial government during the War. It is a shame on our politicians, and double shame on bureaucrats, that even 70 years after Independence, they have not had the sense to get rid of it! Rajaji as Chief Minister abolished rationing in Madras in 1952, but alas, it has since come back!


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