People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 10, 2005
Forward To A New Era Of Politics,
A People-centric Politics
Opening Speech By Harkishan Singh Surjeet
DEAR Comrade Jyoti Basu, delegates, observers, Comrade Bardhan, representatives of fraternal parties from abroad and friends, I am very happy to welcome you all to the inaugural session of the 18th congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is being held in the capital, in the historic city of Delhi.
Today, April 6, happens to be the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of the Dandi march by Gandhiji and his breaking the salt law – an event which galvanised the country to participate in the mass civil disobedience movement, an important chapter in the freedom struggle.
The Communist Party, since its inception in 1920, became a consistent and determined fighter for national liberation. It sent an appeal to the 1921 Ahmedabad session of the AICC, calling upon the Congress to adopt the slogan of complete independence. From then on, braving the fierce repression of the British rulers, communists organised the workers and peasants to join the struggle for freedom and for emancipation from class exploitation.
Today, the CPI(M) is the proud inheritor of this glorious legacy. Anti- imperialism is part of this heritage. In the world today, when US imperialism seeks to impose a unipolar hegemony, that does not hesitate to trample on the national sovereignty of independent nations to fulfill its global designs, it is all the more important to declare that Indian communists will be in the forefront in the struggle against such an unjust and iniquitous order.
In the immediate context, our Party is deeply concerned at the havoc wrought upon the proud and secular state of Iraq by two years of American occupation. We join with the rest of the progressive and democratic forces in the world, to demand an immediate end to the military occupation and to let the Iraqi people decide their future as a sovereign country.
The communists and the progressive forces in India will act as a bulwark against any plans to yoke India into the global strategy of the United States. We will work to see that the US plans to utilise the India-Pakistan differences to entrench themselves in the sub-continent do not fructify. The ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan is important so that both countries establish ties of friendship and cooperation for peace and development of South Asia, free from imperialist interference.
India as the second largest populous country in the world, is destined to play a major role in the twenty-first century, provided it can firmly defend national sovereignty, develop its economy by prioritising its national and people’s needs and democratise its highly iniquitous social system. India should pursue an independent foreign policy and forge close ties with China, Russia and all the major countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America so that a multi-polar and international environment exists for us to engage in our momentous domestic tasks.
The 2004 Lok Sabha elections brought about a major change in the political situation in the country. The rightward shift in Indian politics that began at the turn of the nineties was marked by the disturbing legitimacy accorded to the politics of hate and communalism. The BJP-RSS combine arrogantly thought that 1998 had ushered in a period of dominance for the Hindutva forces. They set about systematically to refashion the Indian State to make it a Hindu rashtra. They did not reckon with the secular and democratic consciousness of the vast mass of our people, the ordinary working people. They met with a setback in May 2004.
It is necessary to build on this success. It would be short-sightedness to lose sight of the fact that five decades of bourgeois landlord rule, has led to the erosion of not only secular values but injected a degree of unprincipled opportunism in many of the non-Left political parties. The fight against the reactionary forces, the upholders of a sectarian political ideology which targets the minorities for political aggrandisement, must be carried out without any let-up. Even when some of the secular parties opportunistically combined with the BJP, the CPI(M) did not waver. Our Party can legitimately claim to have contributed to this struggle with all the resources at our command.
The UPA government has been in office now for ten months. Our Party’s attitude to the Congress is well known. We have basic differences because of our respective class characters and because of the path chosen to develop the country. The struggle between the two approaches will continue.
Nonetheless, we recognise the Congress as a secular party. As the biggest political party in the country, its role has a relevance in determining the secular character of the State at this juncture. It is this concern which led us to extend support to the Congress-led UPA government. A government which has to fulfill the people’s mandate. A mandate which rejected the communal alliance and called for the restoration of the secular principle in the institutions of the State.
As against the RSS vision which the BJP purveys of a religious identity for nationhood, for a conservative and reactionary view of Indian society which places the dalit, women and the oppressed in the lower orders, the CPI(M), the biggest Left party in India, seeks to ensure social justice and economic emancipation through a radical vision which attacks feudal and caste privileges, uproots the basis for social and economic inequalities and goes towards building a modern nation which recognises secularism and federalism as its foundational principles.
While we extend support to the UPA government to meet the exigencies of the current situation, let me make it clear that there will no giving up on our basic agenda. We shall act as sentinels of the people. We shall make independent assessments and decide our course of action.
The people of India rejected the BJP-led alliance not only for its communal policies, but also because it failed to protect the peasantry from the agrarian crisis, it promoted policies which led to closure of a large number of industries and caused unemployment, went on a privatisation spree of the public sector and cut back on expenditure on education, health and virtually dismantled the public distribution system.
The UPA government has to fulfill its commitments in the Common Minimum Programme to undo these harmful policies. Increasing public investment in agriculture, employment generation on a large scale and revitalising the public distribution system is a must. The bleak record of low expenditures on health and education must be reversed. The public sector must not be treated as if it is a burden on the country, but as the basis for building a self-reliant economy meeting our national priorities.
The CPI(M) will continue to press for the implementation of the pro-people measures in the CMP while opposing any attempt to pursue the wrong policies of the past. The Party will mobilise all sections of the working people to launch bigger and sustained movements for defence of their interests.
Only a strong CPI(M) can help create a viable third alternative. Such an alternative has to be based on a common policy platform and a willingness to conduct joint activities and struggles to achieve those aims. A third alternative is desirable but it cannot be reduced to the concept of an electoral alliance.
The CPI(M) has to grow to become a strong force nationally. We must be able to strengthen Left unity and its intervention. For this the Party Congress will work out concrete plans to build the Party and to develop the movement outside the areas where the Party is strong.
The 18th congress should become a landmark in the history of our Party. Let it provide the direction which can rally all the Left and democratic forces so that we can go forward to a new era of politics in our country. A politics which keeps at the centre the people’s aspirations for a better life and which opens the way for a secular, democratic India, which is free from class and social oppression.