India: The power of food as ultimate weapon in world politics

“The Indians need a mass famine. But they aren’t going to get that. We’re going to feed them a new kind of wheat. But if they’re not going to have a famine, the last thing they need is another war.” Those are President Nixon’s words in a conversation with his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger in the morning of May 26, 1971.

During the 1950s and 1960s the United States and Canada were the major food aid donors in the world. US foreign policy calculations were usually driven by threats or opportunities. One of the threats was the difficult act of balancing India’s economy which was undermined by disagreements between President Johnson, Mrs. Gandhi and the Government of India especially according US foreign policy towards Vietnam. President Johnson therefore adapted policy of adjusting the release of aid to India in relation to the responsiveness of its Government to suggestions for changes in Indian agricultural policies and US foreign policy interests. (Brass)

The economic and military power of the United States was vast during this period but still limited and the government was unable to control or determine the development of a capitalistic and democratic India. To win control over more territory, the US wanted to make usage of food as control over Indian working policy, because without autonomous sources of food, people were forced into the country’s labor market. This monopoly of control gives capitalists the power to impose work. The history of capitalism equals the history of business efforts to achieve monopoly control of land in this very point of history. A policy of enclosure was created: “A combination of altruism and self-interest, the short-tether scheme linked U.S. food shipments to the willingness of the Indian Government to implement American-style economic and agricultural reforms.” (Ahlberg)

On the other hand, Food aid can further economic development through several channels. It adds resources that can be used for current consumption or accumulation. Food aid provides balance of payments support by reducing the foreign exchange spent on food imports, it augments the domestic availability of food and it can alleviate poverty, a major goal of economic development. By improving the health and nutritional status of the poor population it multiplies their human capital and future income earning capability. Food aid can be credibly tied to the initiation of growth-promoting policies and reform of policies detrimental to growth which can be important in the structural adjustment process. Here, I want to underline the word ‘can’ and not ‘will’.” (Srinivasan)

Effects of US imperialism and revolutionary strategy abroad: Unforeseen consequences of the Green Revolution

The major impact of the United States emerged when a team of officials reexamined the pattern of P.L. 480 grain shipments to India. “The Johnson administration broke the tradition of pro forma, multiyear food agreements in the spring of 1965, preferring to substitute short-term grain shipments.” Through President Johnson in the role of his own “county agriculture agent,” shipments became increasingly politicized and centralized.

The promise of food in exchange for the acceptance of capitalist rules of the game and the integration into global economy was the biggest factor of the “development decade” of the 1960s.  The adoption of high-yielding varieties of wheat and technologies such as IRRI, CYMMIT in Punjab and Haryana soon resulted into the “Green Revolution”. At the same time fertilizer subsidies, irrigation subsidies, and price supports at levels that led to the accumulation of stocks appeared.

Capitalist farmers are accumulating more and more of their capital in the form of mechanical equipment as overvalued currencies and government subsidies have sharply reduced the relative cost of this equipment. “Labor shortages” in some areas are the result of the raising of cash wage rates and labor displacing by labor utilization caused by the new seed-fertilizer package. Therefore another major impact of the Green Revolution became the change in the Indian class structure which had an influence on the form of revolutionary activity. “A major restructuring of rural society would destroy the stability of both quasi-feudal and village relationships and lay a broader basis for a struggle for land and higher wages.” One very demonstrative example would be the violent clash between laborers and scabs which occurred in Tanjore in 1968, where 43 peasants were burned to death in a fight over wages. (Cleaver)

US – Indian relationship today: The Eagle and the Elephant?

Developing countries have obtained short-term benefits at the cost of long-term dependency by accepting economic aid. Whereas in the case of India outcomes turned from short-term benefits into a long-term change of their agricultural system. (Cleaver, 177)

In a world of growing food shortage, it remains to be seen how far the U.S. will go in linking food resources with industrial commodity needs. “In the case of 21 important minerals, the U.S. is 60% to 100% dependent on foreign suppliers – some of which are large importers of U.S. food. India, for example, is a major supplier of titanium, the Soviet Union of chromium.” (BusinessWeek, 15.12.1975)

India is now the world’s third-largest grain producer after China and the United States. Food security is still India’s No. 1 challenge, as it was half a century ago. We are still facing a country where 43% of children under age 5 are underweight. “The adoption of higher-yielding crop varieties and the spread of irrigation have led to this remarkable tripling of output since the early 1960s. But India’s population is growing by nearly 30 million every two years, equal to adding another Canada to the number of people to feed. Within 20 years, India’s population is expected to hit 1.5 billion, surpassing China. (…) Even though the country now produces close to 240 million tons of grain compared with the 95 million tons needed in 1965, people are suffering under starvation. What India is experiencing is a “food bubble”: an increase in food production based on the unsustainable use of irrigation water.

But one big question remains: Which effects does this have on modern US-Indian relations and what is Modi’s role in this new era of strategic investment?

“If Modi needs US investments and strategic support in Asia where China’s futuristic moves are narrowing India’s space, the US equally needs the world’s largest democracy for its market and for maintaining a fair balance of power in the region.” (Sirohi, 2014)

With a third of the U.S. grain harvest now going to fuel for cars and another third going to feed livestock, U.S. exports are down. Global demand is increasing rapidly as more people move up the food chain, consuming grain-intensive animal products. “A tightening grain situation means rising food prices for all, a trend that will continue without a global mobilization to use water more efficiently and quickly stabilize population and climate.” (Brown, 2013) Even though the US are repeatedly stressing out that they have made a long-term „strategic bet“ on India and that they support the country’s rise. “They want to strengthen its comprehensive national power and want it to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.”


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