People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 19, 2003

                                   The Political Scenario In Maharashtra – (2)


                                                                                                                     Ashok Dhawale


ONE 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 problem.


As 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.



A 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.


The 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!


To 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.



The 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.


Sugar 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.


Last 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.


The 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.


The 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.


In 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.


The 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 Union (NRMU).


The 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.




The 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.


Sheer 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.


The 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.


Several 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.




The 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.


With 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.


In 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.




Following 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.


These 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.


It 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.


Thus, 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.



The 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 Bhattacharya.


The 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.


Over 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 widespread.


After 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.




Earlier, 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.


On 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.


On 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 several decades.


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.