Special Correspondent

“U.S. diverting farm produce to make bio-fuel”

There should be limit to this kind of talk: Jairam Ramesh

Millions of Indians suffer from malnutrition: Karat

NEW DELHI: Right across the political spectrum, parties were one in criticising the remarks attributed to U.S. President George W. Bush who suggested that prosperity in India had led to demand for more food and hence the rise in global food prices and shortages.

Party leaders here asked on Saturday whether Mr. Bush thought the Indians did not have the right to eat better. Why should the U.S. talk about this when India was producing most of the food needed by its people and when it was well known that the U.S. was diverting farm produce like corn to make bio-fuel, they asked.

Speaking to The Hindu from Guwahati, Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh described the remarks as “totally wrong.” He wondered who was advising President Bush. “It shows how wrong President Bush is in his understanding of economics — first he blamed India and China for spiralling oil prices and now he is blaming India for increased food prices. There should be limit to this kind of talk.”

Pointing out that millions of people India did not get enough food and suffer from malnutrition, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said it only showed how insensitive the remarks were. “This is adding insult to injury,” Mr. Karat told The Hindu.

He said Mr. Bush was covering up the U.S. policy of subsidising and promoting bio-fuel out of crops like corn — the major reason for the shortages and spurt in food prices.

CPI national secretary and MP D. Raja described the remarks as “ridiculous and smacking of an imperialist mindset.” He said probably Mr. Bush did not know about “a vast majority of our people who do not even get enough food.”

While the Bharatiya Janata Party blamed Mr. Bush and the government in equal proportion, the Congress asked how anyone could blame poor India for eating better and causing shortages when in fact it was a net exporter of food and self-sufficient for several decades.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar described Mr. Bush’s remarks as “irrelevant” but added this was similar to Ministers blaming global prices for inflation in India, which was not dependent on imported food.

He pointed out that the global population had not doubled overnight and it was the business of planners in India and the world to ensure that food supply remained secure.

Mr. Javadekar said perhaps Mr. Bush had his eye on his domestic constituents in an election year and a time when the U.S. economy had slowed down. While BJP leader M.A. Naqvi said the remarks were “unwarranted” since the majority of Indians needed more nutrition not less, V.K. Malhotra described them as “laughable.”

Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said the U.S. was perhaps agitated that India had banned exports of some food items to check domestic inflation and ensure adequate supply.

His colleague and another spokesperson Manish Tewari said that since the 70s India had been self-sufficient in food grains. “The view that global food shortage is a result of enhanced consumption is erroneous.”