People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 19, 2003
The Political Scenario In Maharashtra – (2)
of the most serious questions facing the state today is that of the severe
drought affecting over 80 tehsils in the Solapur, Sangli, Satara, Pune and
Ahmednagar districts of Western Maharashtra and the Usmanabad, Latur, Beed,
Jalna and Aurangabad districts of Marathwada. The drought is so severe that even
drinking water has become scarce, and tankers have had to be employed in over
2000 villages in these parts throughout the monsoon. Lakhs of cattle have been
herded in specially set up cattle camps. Crops have been lost and the peasantry
is in distress. Rural employment for agricultural workers has become a burning
usual, the response of both state and central governments to this recurring
tragedy is pathetic. Many of these tehsils have long been identified by expert
committees as permanently drought-prone, yet nothing has been done by successive
state governments to initiate any long-term strategic measures. The Left parties
have held large conventions and demonstrations in some of the drought-hit
districts to demand immediate relief to the people.
PRIVATISATION OF POWER
fresh attack on the people is in the offing in the power sector. With the
passage of the retrograde Electricity Act 2003 at the behest of the BJP-led
central government with tacit Congress support, the decks have been cleared for
the privatisation of power in Maharashtra. The INC-NCP regime lost no time in
declaring its intention to trifurcate and privatise the Maharashtra State
Electricity Board (MSEB). Actually, this move was on the anvil last year itself,
but had to be stalled as a result of mass agitation by the left and secular
parties and a threatened strike by electricity workers.
state government has begun the process of handing over the distribution of
electricity in four metropolitan cities to private companies. On top of this, it
has proposed a massive power tariff hike to the tune of Rs 1063 crores, wherein
cross-subsidy given to the peasantry and the domestic consumers will be further
reduced. The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) is to hold
public hearings on the proposed power tariff hike in six divisional
commissionerates of the state from October 9 to 20. But at the same time, in a
shocking move, the MERC has sought suggestions for the privatisation of the MSEB
- from the Tatas and the Ambanis!
counter all these moves, a joint meeting of all Left and secular parties and
various workers’ unions in the power sector was held in Mumbai on September 7,
and the Maharashtra State Power Struggle Committee was set up. As a first step,
it decided to hold large demonstrations at each of the divisional
commissionerates when the MERC holds its public hearings in October. A detailed
memorandum will be submitted to the chief minister. And a broad-based campaign
will be organised throughout the state on these issues, for which effective
literature will be published. The CPI(M) has given a call to all its units to
participate in the struggle in a big way.
sugar industry in Maharashtra is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. This
is a direct result of the liberalisation policies, the massive import of sugar
by the centre and the astronomical corruption and mismanagement of the sugar
barons. Of the 132 sugar factories in the state, over 50 have closed down, and
another 45 are on the verge of closure.
factory workers in several places have not been paid their wages for months and
are being threatened with wage cuts; sugarcane cutters are being mercilessly
exploited and are now facing the additional scourge of unemployment; and
sugarcane peasants have not only been denied their arrears but are also facing a
massive fall in prices from around Rs 1000 per tonne to just about Rs 500 per
tonne. The peasants have been badly affected by the onslaught of a virulent pest
called ‘Lokri Mava’, which has destroyed a large part of the crop in
Kolhapur, Sangli and elsewhere.
month, under the leadership of the Left Front, a massive demonstration of over
5000 sugarcane peasants, workers and cutters was held at Ambajogai in Beed
district to demand redressal of their grievances from the Ambajogai Sugar
Factory which is controlled by BJP leader Gopinath Munde. Instead of taking
steps to settle their demands, they were severely lathi-charged, tear-gassed and
there was even firing in the air. Several of the participants, both men and
women, were grievously injured. To top it all, cases under section 307 (attempt
to murder) were lodged against the Left Front leaders.
Left Front at the state level decided to organise a massive Marathwada level
convention of sugarcane peasants, sugar factory workers and sugarcane cutters at
Ambajogai on September 30 to condemn this wanton repression and to give a call
for a regionwide struggle on the burning demands of these toiling sections. The
AIKS, AIAWU and CITU called for mass participation in this convention. Similar
moves to initiate a struggle of these sections are being made by Left forces in
the sugarcane citadel of Western Maharashtra.
liberalisation policies have led to an equally serious crisis in the cotton belt
of Vidarbha, Marathwada and Khandesh regions. Under pressure from imperialist
institutions and domestic textile magnates, the central government has been
importing large quantities of cotton each year and has been refusing to increase
the paltry 10 per cent import duty on cotton. (In fact, there are recent reports
that there are moves to do away with this import duty altogether!) As a result,
cotton prices have fallen precipitately and it is not a coincidence that the
largest number of peasant suicides is precisely from the cotton belt of Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
the specific case of Maharashtra, there is a Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme
in existence for the last three decades to protect the cotton-growers against
the ravages of unscrupulous traders. But, again as part of the liberalisation
drive, attempts were made by the state government for the last several years to
first make the scheme unattractive by stalling payments to the peasantry. Last
year, it declared its intention to wind up the scheme altogether. This was
prevented as a result of a massive Left peasant and agricultural workers rally
at Nagpur. But while retaining the scheme, the state government nevertheless
gave simultaneous permission to private traders to deal in cotton. And the
stalling of payments under the scheme still continues unabated. This will become
another major issue for struggle by the Left forces when the cotton season
commences in November.
The bleak industrial scenario in Maharashtra continues as before, with no silver lining in sight. Thousands of mills and factories remain closed, and their number continues to grow with every passing month. No succour is provided to the lakhs of unemployed workers of these factories. The exploitation in the unorganised sector keeps growing, with denial of minimum wage and even the right to form unions. The minimum wage of agricultural workers has not been revised for years and the present unrevised wage is consistently flouted with impunity. The state government has now initiated a move to exempt all units in the Special Economic Zones being newly set up, from the operation of labour laws. With the Supreme Court judgement banning the right to strike, the capitalist owners are getting even more arrogant than before.
CITU has been leading a consistent statewide struggle on all these issues, and
it recently organised a big convention at Nashik to focus on the demands of the
workers of closed mills and factories. Struggles of the unorganised sector like
beedi, powerloom and anganwadi workers are being led by the CITU at the local
level. On August 13, thousands of workers of several unions all over the state
held joint militant demonstrations against the Supreme Court’s retrograde
judgement banning the right to strike. Another large demonstration of thousands
of railway workers was organised on August 11 by the National Railway Mazdoor
CITU in Maharashtra is now making hectic preparations for the All India Working
Womens Conference to be held at Mumbai on October 11-12 and for the CITU state
conference at Nagpur on November 8-10. The NRMU is preparing for its Golden
Jubilee session at Mumbai in October.
Supreme Court judgement of October 31, 2002, has played havoc in the field of
education all over the country. Its repercussions were immediately felt in
Maharashtra, which has had a politically influential and well-entrenched
educational mafia for the last two decades, ever since the No Grant principle in
education was introduced by the Congress regime in 1983.
anarchy has been let loose in the professional education sector this year,
especially in the medical, engineering, B Ed and D Ed colleges, in the form of
massive fee hikes, astronomical donations and capitation fees, delay in
admissions, contrary court judgements and the government policy of bowing to the
education mafia, many of whom are INC-NCP ministers.
SFI in Maharashtra has led an imaginative and commendable struggle against the
prevailing crisis in education this year, and this has been highlighted by all
sections of the media. In several instances, SFI activists have been beaten up
by the police while staging demonstrations in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad,
Nanded and other centres. The DYFI has also participated in the struggle in
Mumbai and other centres.
teachers organisations in Maharashtra came together to launch a struggle, not
only for their own demands but for radical changes in the education system as a
whole. They held statewide dharnas on August 8 and a Jail Bharo stir on
September 4, in which hundreds of school and college teachers participated.
Preparations are now on to hold the conference of the All India Federation of
University and College Teachers Organisations (AIFUCTO) at Mumbai in October.
central government policy of the virtual dismantling of the public distribution
system is endangering the food security of the urban and rural poor as never
before. In Maharashtra it is reflected in prohibitively high prices for ration
foodgrains leading to greatly reduced off-take, the state government sharply
slashing its subsidy to the PDS, non-availability of foodgrains and kerosene in
ration shops, massive corruption and black-marketeering at all levels, including
in the foodgrains distributed as part of the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS),
and the faulty and spurious surveys of BPL families, denial of BPL ration cards
to the deserving, and so on.
the festival season coming, all these questions have become more acute. Taking
up these burning issues under AIDWA leadership, road blockades, gheraos of
officials, marches and dharnas were held on September 22 in 15 districts of
Maharashtra, in which over 15,000 women took part. Large and militant actions
took place in districts like Thane, Hingoli, Nashik, Kolhapur, Wardha, Raigad,
Pune, Solapur, Mumbai, Satara, Nanded and Gondia.
this period, the AIDWA also took up social issues, and a 1000-strong Marathwada
level convention against dowry was organised at Parbhani on August 24. It was
attended by AIDWA president Subhashini Ali. A concerted AIDWA struggle against
liquor is going on in Wardha district, and a 3000-strong demonstration was
organised there on September 2.
in the unprecedentedly corrupt footsteps of the BJP-led regime at the centre,
some leading lights of the INC-NCP regime have also been mired in corruption
scandals. At the centre of this corruption in Maharashtra today is the
co-operative sector, comprising district banks, sugar factories, milk societies
and so on. Much of it is controlled by the NCP. Last year, a big share scam to
the tune of hundreds of crores was discovered in co-operative district banks in
Nagpur, Wardha and Usmanabad. Recently, another big scam came to light in the
Jalgaon district bank controlled by Suresh Jain. Then there were the corruption
scandals in several sugar factories.
scams in the co-operative sector were kept under wraps by a pliant bureaucracy
which was hand in glove with the powers that be. But recently, the commissioner
of the co-operative sector, Ratnakar Gaikwad, started taking determined steps
against the culprits. Then came the news that he was thinking of instituting an
inquiry against the apex Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank itself, which is
directly controlled by Sharad Pawar’s nephew and state minister Ajit Pawar.
Immediately the wheels began to turn and Ratnakar Gaikwad was summarily
transferred! This created a furore and Sharad Pawar was pronounced guilty in the
dock of public opinion.
is against this background that Anna Hazare hurled corruption charges against
four NCP ministers. Anna Hazare’s fast and Suresh Jain’s counter-fast
followed. Eventually, the state government had to agree to some of Hazare’s
demands like the right to information, rules about transfers and so on, and a
judicial inquiry was instituted to go into the corruption charges. Meanwhile, as
mentioned above, the Aurangabad bench of the Mumbai High Court has found Suresh
Jain guilty in the district bank scam and has ordered the attachments of the
assets of Jain and his fellow bank directors. It must be stressed here that,
serious as the scams uncovered in the INC-NCP regime undoubtedly are,
Maharashtra has seen even bigger corruption scandals during the years in power
of the SS-BJP regime.
another major scandal to hit the headlines was indirectly connected to the
SS-BJP. Anil Gote, formerly a Shetkari Sanghatana leader and lieutenant of
Sharad Joshi, and now an independent MLA elected with SS-BJP support, was
arrested in connection with a huge stamp paper scandal worth 32,000 crore
rupees! He was in league with an extremely shady character called Abdul Karim
Lala Telgi, who is the ringleader of the widespread scam, which also involves
TDP leaders in Andhra, and others in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The
moment Gote was arrested, both SS leader Narayan Rane and BJP leader Gopinath
Munde rushed to his defence, accusing the state government of political
vendetta. But the facts proved otherwise. Telgi and Gote are still in jail and a
hunt is on for their other accomplices.
biggest agitational action in Maharashtra in recent months was the massive
statewide Jail Bharo stir led by the Left Front comprising the CPI(M), CPI and
PWP on August 9. The call for this struggle had been given in the state camp of
the Left Front held at Alibag, Dist Raigad on May 31 and June 1, which was
attended by CPI(M) Politbureau member and West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb
agitation focussed on the burning issues of the people, such as the right to
forest and fallow land, alarming unemployment, severe drought, crisis in
education, closed mills and factories, peasant and agricultural workers demands,
the mess in the public distribution system, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and
women and the balanced development of Maharashtra.
75,000 people at 77 district and tehsil centres of 29 of the 35 districts of
Maharashtra courted arrest in this struggle. The regionwise figures were as
follows: 51,000 at 37 centres of 13 districts in Western Maharashtra and Konkan;
19,000 at 24 centres of 8 districts in Marathwada; and 5,000 at 16 centres of 8
districts in Vidarbha. The Left Front agitation had a good impact all over the
state. The CPI(M) share in the above mobilisation was the largest and most
the Jail Bharo stir, 19 district conventions of the Left Front were held from
August 16 to 30, and they mobilised more than 5,000 cadres. Ten thousand copies
of the Policy Statement of the Left Front that was unanimously adopted at the
Alibag camp were published in an attractive form and were sold in these
conventions. The remaining 10 conventions will be held in October.
the Left and secular forces also conducted some important anti-imperialist
actions in Maharashtra. On July 1, the Anti-Globalisation Action Committee gave
a call for statewide demonstrations to condemn the BJP-led central
government’s proposal to send Indian troops to Iraq, under American dictates.
The call was widely observed in over 20 districts of the state, with the CPI(M)
taking the lead in all these actions. The demonstrations on this issue of vital
national interest received good publicity in the media.
August 2, the Left Front in Mumbai accorded a warm public reception to the Vice
Ambassador of socialist Cuba, to commemorate the golden jubilee of the storming
of the Moncada garrison, which began the Cuban Revolution. Various speakers at
the function attacked the fresh American conspiracies against Cuba. The
reception was enthusiastically attended.
September 10, Left and secular parties held a demonstration in Mumbai to protest
the visit of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to India and to condemn the
BJP-led central government’s US-dictated servile stance on the Palestinian
issue, which has negated the time-tested foreign policy of India of the last
Overall, it can be concluded that, with the growing discontent of all sections of the working people with the onslaught of the LPG policies, and with the growing realisation that both the SS-BJP and the INC-NCP are merely two sides of the same coin so far as economic policies are concerned (albeit with an important political difference between the two with regard to communalism), there is emerging a fertile ground for the Left forces. If the Left takes the lead in spearheading consistent agitations and concerted political campaigns, and also streamlines its organisation, there is a definite possibility of advance in the days ahead.