Ideological Stereotypes – FDI & Food Security

It’s an ironic world. When the Cabinet gives its clearance to Foreign Direct Investment in the field of retail to initiate retail revolution, to boost growth, to bring in necessary capital, to propel development, to improve the supply system, to turn a highly unorganized retail sector into a hugely organized one, it is accused of being capitalistic, administering in favour of American companies and is referred to as a government which is controlled by corporations and multi-billionaires. When the Cabinet gives its nod to a highly ambitious Food Security Bill with the aim of providing subsidized food to millions across the country living in a deprived state in rural as well as urban areas then the Government is accused of indulging in populism, it is said that the Government is concentrating on elections by strengthening its rural votebank and it’s decision is called economically expensive.

Similarly when somebody opposes FDI in retail, he is branded as a pseudo-poor sympathizer, anti-west, technology-basher and is thought to be caught in the web of 19th century. When somebody speaks out against the Food Security Bill he is looked upon as an elitist, spokesperson of some greedy private organization and as somebody who has no concern for the poor. I don’t understand why we resort to baseless stereotyping. All individuals have a right to voice their concern but it needs to be substantiated with valid arguments. I am a great admirer of the idea of having FDI in retail since it will bring in better technology and capital, will eliminate middlemen, establish a better supply chain and most importantly provide both the farmers as well as the consumers with more options. According to me they won’t pose any significant threat to the roadside small ‘kirana’ shops. If Walmart will come to India it will go and open its stores in established commercial places like Connaught Place, Saket, Vasant Kunj, Noida Sector 18 etc. It will not open a store in a residential colony. If I need to buy some small item like a pencil or a refill for my pen then I’ll buy it from the small store next to my place. I will not take the pains of going to buy a pencil, a small item or any commodity required in urgency to CP or Noida. This is the reason why road side small shops will never cease to exist and will always be in demand. They should be ready to take on and wrestle with malls. They’ve been doing so since quite a while. The only difference is that once FDI in retail is brought, the owners of the malls will be foreigners. Why should small store kirana shop owners be afraid of malls? And believe me they’re not. This huge concern raised over FDI is purely political rhetoric and nothing else.

I also find the intention of the Government especially Sonia Gandhi led NAC behind the Food Security Bill as commendable but I have certain reservations. If we would have brought in FDI in retail instead of suspending the decision under widespread political pressure, we would have managed to arrange for enough funds required to provide subsidized food to the poor but now since FDI in retail is out of the loop, how do we arrange for necessary cash? In such testing times is it logical enough to further burden the Public Exchequer with subsidies? Let’s be realistic. We can afford to heckle and tumble a bit on the economic graph but we cannot afford to let our people die of hunger. Sometimes short term growth can be sacrificed or compromised on for the sake of greater benefits in the future. But my biggest concern is not the subsidy in relation to the Food Security Bill (I know that the Government will arrange for necessary finance somehow) but the fact as to how will the Government overcome distribution discrepancies is the issue which is playing on my mind. It’s tough to think as to how the Indian bureaucracy will be able to implement this scheme (it has failed miserably in enacting rural schemes in the past) and it remains to be seen as to what changes they will bring in to make this venture successful. I personally feel that in relation to this particular initiative the Government needs to decentralize the assignment of handing out food items to small NGO’s working in rural areas and Panchayats instead of banking on bureaucratic establishments. These are matters which need to be debated. But we need to be very clear about one thing, we cannot hold the rich guilty for being wealthy nor can we penalize the poor for being financially broken. The poor and the rural areas need to be brought up by means of government plans and schemes but that doesn’t mean we hold back the rich and the urban areas from further developing until and unless the poor rise up to the same status. I again stress on the need for ‘inclusive growth’.