(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 04, 2012
Third Force Set to Roar in Assembly
From Rajendra Sharma in Shimla
FED up with the corruption and anti-people policies of the Congress as well as the BJP, the people of Himachal Pradesh are in search of an alternative which is now before them for the first time in history. CPI(M) has good chances of winning in five seats – Shimla, Theog, Kusumpti, Joginder Nagar and Arki – of which, in the last two seats, it is putting up a good fight. While the CPI(M) is contesting 15 seats in the state, the Himachal Lok Morcha (HLM, Himachal People’s Front), which also includes the CPI and the Himachal Lokhit Party besides the CPI(M) is contesting all 68 seats of state assembly.
This was how Sitaram Yechury, member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, sought to underline the importance and necessity of a third alternative in this hilly state. He said so while addressing election meetings of the party in three assembly constituencies --- Shimla city, Kusumpati and Theog. He also made it clear that only the strong presence of the CPI(M) would make this front fight for alternative, pro-people policies.
Yechury and other speakers at these meetings also made it clear that the CPI(M)’s strong presence in the front is what makes it different from the earlier experiments. The fact is that this has made the contest triangular in several areas, and many a poll scene observer has commented that not only would the CPI(M) and HLM have a strong presence in the new assembly but also have a balancing role to perform.
Both the major parties, the Congress and the BJP, are in these polls facing the people’s deep resentment for the policies and misdeeds of the central and the state government respectively. The recent steps of the Manmohan government, particularly on the diesel price, LPG cylinders, FDI in retail etc, have taken the people’s resentment to explosion points. It is another matter that in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP, traditional rival of the Congress, is in no position to benefit from the anti-centre resentment. The reason is simple: the resentment created by the Dhumal government of the BJP against itself has far surpassed the resentment created by any previous government in the history of this hilly state which has been known for rejecting an incumbent government as a rule. No wonder, then, that the development claims being made by the traditional rivals are unable to cut any ice with the people. So much so that all the exposures of Congress brand corruption are not likely to help the BJP because of the exposure of its all-India president Nitin Gadkari’s involvement in shady deals. If the BJP withdrew Gadkari from its poll campaign after he addressed a meeting or two in remote tribal areas, and inducted Narendra Modi, known as Gadkari’s rival in the party, it only showed the party’s sense of desperation and despondency following its inability to take advantage of the anti-Congress resentment.
However, the effective intervention of a third force in these polls has now created an impression that the HP people are not condemned to elect either the Congress or the BJP. This force is thus striving to channelise the people’s discontent in a democratic direction, by underlining that both the major parties are one in regard to policies and deeds. Starting from his first election meeting in Chhoti Shimla on October 30 evening, Yechury constantly stressed that both these parties follow the same neo-liberal policies and also that all the scams that were perpetrated during the UPA-2 regime and were exposed --- from that in the sale of telecom spectrums to the allotment of coal blocks to private companies --- had had their genesis during the erstwhile BJP led NDA regime. That is why the CPI(M) and HLM are striving to provide a real alternative vis-ŕ-vis this Congress-BJP’s “unity in loot.”
The policies pursued by the two parties during their tenures in government have given rise to harrowing situations for the people of this hilly state. First, state support for cultivation and horticulture has constantly and increasingly declined. The bitter consequence is clearly visible in places like Theog that are known for cultivation of vegetables and apples. Here the problem is not simply of the area’s development but also that the cultivation of vegetables and apples is turning increasingly unremunerative. The incumbent BJP government has further worsened the situation by backing up some private companies in purchase and storage of these produce.
Secondly, while the state has rich potentials for hydroelectric generation, the growing privatisation of power generation has meant increasing loot of peasants’ lands in name of development.
Thirdly, while the state had had a better record of education and health services, these have increasingly deteriorated and also become more costly because of their increasing privatisation and commercialisation. The state government has been increasingly withdrawing itself from these services as a matter of policy. The incumbent Dhumal government alone has allowed as many as 20 private universities to come up. While the people now have to pay far more for these services, these have become areas of lucrative investment for big companies.
Fourthly, as CPI(M) state secretary Rakesh Singha has been stressing in his poll meetings, while many of the HP people earlier got government jobs and thus were better-off despite the shortage of agricultural land in the state, unemployment and poverty are now becoming increasingly excruciating because of the increasing withdrawal of the state from productive sectors as well as many of the services.
It is in such a situation that the CPI(M) has been playing the role of a real and fighting alternative to these policy measures, even though it did not have representation in the state assembly for the last one decade and a half.
Only a couple of months ago, the CPI(M) scored a historic victory in the Shimla municipal corporation, which has added to the party’s prestige and influence in the district and the state. This has led to a perceived lead for Tikender Panwar, the deputy mayor of Shimla, who is the CPI(M)’s candidate for the Shimla city assembly constituency. Similarly, the prospects for Kuldip Tanwar, the party’s candidate in the semi-urban, semi-rural constituency of Kusumpti, have also brightened. This constituency includes about 23,000 voters living in some five and a half wards of the Shimla municipal corporation. CPI(M) candidates for the mayor and deputy mayor posts in the recent municipal polls had got big leads in five out of these wards while they narrowly trailed in the sixth. Moreover, the pro-people measures taken by the municipal corporation in the last few months have also added to the CPI(M)’s prestige. For example, while the corporation has taken effective steps to solve the water shortage problem, it has also blocked the privatisation of water distribution though the state assembly has okayed this scheme. The corporation has similarly blocked the hefty hikes in property taxes on the houses and shops belonging to the common people. Such steps have given rise to the feeling that electing the CPI(M)’s nominees to the state assembly is imperative if the anti-people laws and policies are to be scrapped.
In the last week of the poll campaign, the CPI(M) concentrated its strength and resources in particular on three of the seats of Shimla district. While Sitaram Yechury addressed mass meetings here from October 30 to November 2 evening when the campaign came to an end, Brinda Karat, another Polit Bureau member, addressed an impressive election meeting at Darlaghat in the Arki constituency, in favour of CPI(M) candidate Ramkrishna Sharma, on October 29 evening, and ended her tour of the state with a huge public meeting at Theog on October 31, in support of CPI(M) state secretary Rakesh Singha. In between, she addressed a meeting at Koti in Kusumpti constituency on October 30, and also contacted the voters at Junaga, in support of Kuldip Tanwar.
CPI(M) Central Committee members like Mohd Yousuf Tarigami, Subhashini Ali and A Vijayaraghavan also addressed election meetings in Shimla and elsewhere in support of the CPI(M) candidates.