People's Democracy

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


No. 14

April 04, 2004

Unseen India On The Eve Of Elections

  Suneet Chopra


IT is two decades since the Narasimha Rao government pushed through its agenda of joining the WTO in the face of lakhs of demonstrators protesting against this betrayal of the Indian people by government elected by them. The demonstration was memorable. Mounted police were used to charge the people again and again. Among the wounded was the CPI(M) leader of Madhya Pradesh, Yamuna Prasad Shastri, who had lost his eyesight in the struggle to liberate Goa from Portuguese rule. The resistance was inspiring. A few hundred people reached the gates of parliament, rubbishing Rao’s arrogant statement that no one would be allowed to come anywhere near it. The Narashimha Rao government did not survive the anger of the people. It was replaced by the Third Front governments of Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, to be followed by that led by the BJP which went beyond the worst expectations of how the vested interests of the Indian state could surpass anything prescribed by global multinationals to destroy the Indian small producer in their own class interest.


While the WTO had given us till 2003 to open up our agrarian market, the BJP led government began to open it in 1999-2000 under US pressure. Again, while the government could have protected various crops by applying duties of up to 300 per cent the BJP led government has refused to do so, driving thousands of farmers to committing suicide. The refusal of the BJP led government to adequately respond to the bid of the US multinational Monsanto to patent the HYV wheat we have developed despite directions from the Supreme Court to do so, is the latest in the chain of betrayals the BJP-led government has resorted to as part of policy to destroy the small farmer and replace him with corporates and multinationals.


Today for the first time in the history of independent India, jobs in rural areas have declined from 60 per cent of the total to 57 per cent. This is a direct result of government cut backs in investment in agriculture from over 14 per cent of the GDP to a little less than 5 per cent. Also the introduction of machines like combine harvesters has reduced the days of work of agricultural labour from 123 days a year in the eighties to less than 70 today. To add to it, the possibility of dalits getting government jobs or those in the public sector has become almost impossible with the prime minister declaring that jobs in government offices will be cut back by 10 per cent. Already by 2001-2002, some 4 lakh jobs were reduced and for every three people who retired only one person was appointed. Some 16 lakh jobs were reduced in the irrigation department, rural development, electricity and related activities. Some 7 lakh jobs have been reduced in the railways. This is a major attack on the employment possibilities of the rural poor, the majority of whom are dalits.




Today after years of facing ruin, no less than 3.3 crore marginal farmers have lost their land in the last decade alone. Agricultural labour is getting only 20 to 35 days of work in areas like Punjab and Haryana that were known for providing employment to lakhs of agricultural labourers from far afield. The annual per capita availability of foodgrains has come down from 162.8 kg of cereals and 14.2 kg of pulses in 1991-92 to 140.54 kg of cereals and 9.55 kg of pulses in 2002-03. To make matters worse, the price of grain has been almost doubled in the ration shops. The government claims to be subsidising the PDS, but the subsidy goes largely to pay for fertilisers, storage and transport costs. Both the farmer and the consumer are hardly given anything. Grain for which the farmer is paid only Rs 5.80 per kg is sold to the consumer at Rs 6.90 per kg. Even US cattle and pig farmers get subsidised Indian wheat for as little as Rs 4.30 per kg. This policy has led to thousands of people dying of hunger all over the country with the deaths being blamed on heat and cold.


In the name of mechanisation, since the budget of 2000-2002, combine harvesters bought with loans from banks are entering the country duty free, taking away the jobs of lakhs of agricultural labourers. They can only swell the ranks of crores of the rural unemployed who have no other way of surviving except by becoming migrant or slave labour, or taking to a life of crime under the protection of the corrupt administration and police.


The worst example of mechanisation I saw was in Tamil Nadu tea estate where not only were multinationals lowering the auction prices of tea below the cost of production, but were encouraging the planters to cut the wages of labour and mechanise plucking. This was done by means of strapping an unsafe machine onto the stomachs of women labourers. Not only does this form of plucking lower the quality of the tea, it leads to bleeding of the uterus. When the women workers complained, they were told to get the uterus removed!


This is only the broad surface reality. Listening to what people had to say at the Chattishgarh state conference of DYFI at Rajhara, the Punjab state conference of AIAWU at Sangrur, the rally organised at Jalandhar by three agricultural labour organisations, a visit to villages in Rohtak district in Haryana during the February 24 strike, and to villages in Wardha in Maharashtra, to a number of villages in Jaunpur, Varanasi, Chandauli, etc, I was able to observe how people really felt about the last four years of NDA rule in the country.


The villages, as a whole are clouded in despair that is turning to anger as the dates for the elections draw closer. There is a sharp divide developing between the richer and poorer section in the villages. In Sisar village in Haryana we heard the complaints of agricultural labourers who were being given only the leafy tops of sugar cane plants for cane cutting, which some farmers appropriated if they carried them from the fields in their carts. Any complaints led to physical violence.


Today, even the cattle one sees tethered in the homes of the rural poor belong to the rural rich for whom they raise them for a pittance, often losing on the deal after a three year period. In other areas of the Green Revolution, faced with the rising costs of inputs, the Punjab farmer with one hectare of land earns as little Rs 124 a month, according to a report of a survey of the Punjabi University at Patiala. Worse, labourers from Sangrur who never earned below Rs 100 a day are leaving home to work in Panipat in neighbouring Haryana for Rs 90 a day as the policies of the BJP in agriculture have created a serious lack of employment for them at home.



This has driven the peasantry to a state of desperation in which they have begun to exploit the rural poor and agricultural labour with impunity especially in states where bourgeois-landlord parties are in power. In border villages of Amritsar I discovered the practice of luring individual migrant labourers from railway stations and chaining them from 7 p m at night to 5 a m in the morning and forcing them to work all day, giving them only food in return. When I questioned some peasants on this practice and was told that these migrants from UP and Bihar would commit dacoities at night if they were not chained!


The practice of chaining migrant labour is also prevalent in Fatehabad district of Haryana, where the AIAWU liberated one such  farm labourer and got him compensation recently. This desperation has forced the burdens the peasantry faces as a result of government policies on to the poorest sections in the villages, especially the dalits and tribal people. What is worse is how the BJP-led government at the centre has invited the farmers to oppress the poor and landless agricultural labourers by declaring that comprehensive central legislation to protect their rights would create “agrarian unrest.” They must be organised to ensure that the peasantry takes the government to task for its anti-peasant policies and not make scapegoats of the rural poor.


In Varanasi area, where road-links are being developed, almost all the settlements of Musahars (literally rat-eaters), Banvasis, Kols and other tribals are being taken over by the powerful, who drive away the tribals and occupy their lands. The AIAWU and CPI(M) have taken up their cause at a number of places. At the moment, a struggle is being led jointly with the CPI at Madhumakhiya village, where landlord elements owing allegiance to a BJP MLA-led mafia in the area killed a number of people in an attempt to drive them out, using the local press to depict it as a caste riot. The timely intervention of the CPI(M) candidate from Varanasi, Dr Hira Lal Yadav, prevented such a situation developing.


The anti-tribal character of the BJP-BDSP government of UP is evident from the vast mobilisations of Kols, Musahars and other tribals in tribal peoples conventions at Dhanawal in Mirzapur, Koraon in Allahabad, Bairat in Chandauli and in Son Bhadra. The convention in Bairat was followed up by a jeep jatha from Bairat to Karvi, which I flagged off on March 13 and accompanied for a day. The main demand is scheduled tribe status for these tribals, but the landlords of Uttar Pradesh, both under Congress and BJP rule refused to grant this as it would involve the return of thousands of acres of land seized from them or bought by fraud for a fraction of their value.


Under BJP rule, the deregulation of the leather, weaving and other trades has led to lakhs of independent small-scale producers either losing their jobs or becoming contract labourers of powerful contractors. At a convention of women weavers in Varanasi on March 10, I heard a weaver’s description of his loom as a “living grave.” Under BJP rule, while the price of Banarasi saris and the raw material has increased the labourer loses up to Rs 100 per sari, as the wages are still the same. Worse, while women do at least six hours regular work a day for sari production they are not paid for it as the weaver is paid only for his labour and not of his family under the piecework system.




The condition of dalits who skin cattle and sell the hides is not better. From being independent skinners and traders in raw hides, they are being reduced to contract labour of private cattle pound owners who have entered the raw hide trade in a big way. And if any dalits dare to carry on with it, they are accused of killing cows and even murdered at the instance of cattle pound owners, most of them belonging to the Sangh Parivar. Indeed, it was exactly such a dispute that led to the murder of five dalits in Duleena village near Jhajjar in Haryana. The recent disappearance of a dalit sarpanch near Rohtak underlines the climate of fear being engineered by the BJP and its allies all over the country.


In Hinauta village in Son Bhadra, I came across an old widow whose son was one of the many who had disappeared. He is one of the thousands who have disappeared without a trace under the BJP rule. The most important person to have disappeared was the Head of the Fine Arts department of BHU, Balbir Singh Katt, a leading sculptor of the country, who disappeared four years ago because he refused to sign on documents that would have saved elements of the Sangh Parivar from a scam. Also, a tantrik was lying in wait to succeed Katt, which he did just two weeks or so after the disappearance in contravention to the rules regarding vacant posts at the university.


I recently met his wife, Latika at her residence in BHU. She is under siege. But spirited as ever, she has applied for his professional post. She also went to the Allahabad high court and got a CBI enquiry instituted. But the enquiry is being conducted in such a manner that no evidence has surfaced and the BHU lives in a climate of fear.


The attack of the Sangh Parivar on creative and independent thinking people is not limited to the BHU. In Surat, an exhibition of paintings of M F Husain, N S Bendre, Bhupen Khakhar and others was vandalised because the Shiv Sena objected to a work by Chitrovanu Mazumdar. In Udaipur, noted artist Shail Choyal, whose excellent posters for a charity were confiscated, is being harassed by the BJP government of Rajasthan by having a case of inciting communal violence under section 295A slapped on him.


If anyone is mistaken enough to take the BJP at their word and seek their help to fight corruption, he will suffer the fate of the young IIT trained engineer, Satyendra Dubey, who lost his life by writing a letter to the prime minister about widespread corruption in the execution of Golden Quadrilateral road construction plan. He asked his name to be kept secret, but his letter reached those indulging in corruption, after being leaked ostensibly from the PMO. And they killed him. It is evident that the NDA forces are determined to create a climate of fear all over the country before the Lok Sabha elections. The attack on the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune by Shiv Sainiks and the destruction of its priceless collection of manuscripts and records is part of this process of terror.



A string of broken promises of the BJP is visible wherever one goes. In Chattisgarh, in Pakhanjur, I found that the BJP’s promise during the Assembly elections to regularise all Adivasi holdings since 1980 was yet another falsehood. On the contrary, evictions are continuing under an NDA government order of May 2002. Worse, corrupt officials are harassing poor peasants by changing land records. Any protest draws savage repression as I saw at a meeting of Sukhranjan Usendi, the CPI(M) candidate for the Kanker constituency in Chattisgarh. A speaker who exposed the corruption of the local administrators promptly had a case slapped on him.


It is evident that even before the election, every attempt is being made to suppress the poorest sections, drive them away from home and exclude them from exercising their rights as citizens. In Andhra Pradesh, the home state of the main pillar of the NDA, Chandrababu Naidu, as well as of the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, the EC has found out that no less than 54 lakh fraudulent votes have been enrolled. In Punganur area, in Chittoor, the home district of Chandrababu Naidu, over 94 per cent of the population were registered as voters, when on average the figure works out to around 66 per cent. Only the powerful joint movement of the opposition in the state ensured that the fraudulent votes were cancelled. It is evident that the attempt to defraud the voters will be made in other states as well, so people must be vigilant and prepare to resist.


It is obvious that the vast majority of India’s voters are angry with the BJP for the ruin it has brought to them. That is why the BJP and NDA allies are doing every thing to divide, defraud and terrorise the people into letting the NDA get another term in office by hook or by crook. It is the duty of the Left and democratic forces to ensure that the anger of the people does not get diverted in attacking each other but is channelled into a massive force to defeat the NDA in the coming Lok Sabha elections. It is the Left and democratic forces alone which are capable of organising the people to fight in their own interest and in the interest of society as a whole. They must come forward fearlessly and ensure the defeat of the BJP in the country as a whole.