People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 30, 2004
of the Situation Today
NOW that a new government is in place at the centre, one will do well to keep in mind that this cannot be an end in itself. The formation of the Manmohan Singh government has realised only one key slogan of recent elections, and the communal BJP led combine has been shown the door. But far bigger tasks still await the government, and no less the parties that are included in the government or are supporting it from outside.
Insofar as the Left parties are concerned, they cannot harbour a delusion that the threats to our nation’s unity and secular fabric or to our people’s life and livelihood have been laid to rest. The fact that over 50 peasants have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh even after the Naidu government’s ouster, shows the gravity of the situation. If these peasants took their own lives, it was because they had lost all staying power during Naidu’s misrule and could not wait till any relief from the new state government could reach them.
It was in accordance with this line of thinking that the CPI(M) and the Left decided not to join the government but extend it support from outside. We feel the anti-people forces will still try to create untoward situations and will have to be fought inside parliament and outside. Vis-à-vis such forces, the Left is committed to ensure the government’s stability. Yet any failure to take care of the people’s genuine interests and aspirations will only enable the communal forces to take advantage of the situation. It is here that the watch-guard role of the Left parties may be understood.
TAKE the case of secularism that is no abstract concept but the sine qua non of India’s survival. It is known that unity in diversity is the basic feature of Indian nation and also the source of its strength, and that was why it was incorporated in our constitution. But it was this very element of our collective life that suffered the maximum onslaught in the last 6 years. What to assure a fair treatment to minorities, the Vajpayee regime directly or indirectly protected and encouraged the fascistic hordes who were launching physical attacks on minorities. The barbaric burning alive of a Christian missionary and his minor sons and the horrendous massacre of Muslims in Gujarat are still alive in our people’s memory.
Not only that, to make such inhumanity a permanent feature of our collective life, the Sangh Parivar embarked on a vigorous drive of saffronisation. In the last 6 years, the Parivar infiltrated all the important sectors of governance, installed its loyalists in key posts, and set out to change the very character of our education so as to produce a generation of fanatic cannon fodders. This threatened not only our present but our future too.
But, illiterate and hungry as they are, our common masses deserve full credit for defeating the saffron game. At a time many of our intellectuals were selling themselves off to the Sangh Parivar, and these included many Muslim faces, our masses grasped the threats to our unity and rose to give them a big rebuff. The big jolt the BJP got in Gujarat, its strongest bastion, could not have been possible if the secular masses had not realised their responsibility at this crucial juncture.
BUT with this the masses have put the ball in the central government’s court and it will have to take urgent steps to undo the wrongs of the last 6 years. Now the new regime has to make institutional arrangements so that communal forces are not able to play with our life the way they were able to do earlier. This requires the following at the least.
(1) The new regime has to ensure that the faulty concept of secularism, as a license to all religions to interfere in public life, is given up. In its stead, it has to follow the genuine concept of secularism, as complete separation of religion from public life --- the definition the Supreme Court also upheld. We may recall that this very faulty concept of secularism enabled the Sangh Parivar to infiltrate a large number of its loyalists into the key positions in government and also influence the thinking of a large number of others. The way defections from the Congress to BJP took place particularly after 1990, is a telling commentary on the pathetic state to which the Congress had reduced itself by its faulty practice of secularism.
In sum, religion is a person’s personal affair and she/he must have full and unrestricted freedom to follow and propagate it. But the freedom to follow one’s religion cannot be allowed to become the freedom to vitiate public life in the name of religion.
(2) As a corollary, the centre has to act steadfastly if any threat to our secular fabric arises from any quarter. To call a spade a spade, the Congress suffered in the past a lot of erosion in mass base and credibility, by compromising with or capitulating before communal forces at crucial moments. But now that minorities and secular minded people have voted for it in the hope that it would be able to take the communal forces head on, it has to justify their trust. Such steadfast adherence to secularism is needed to combat any threats arising in regard to Baba Budangiri shrine (Karnataka) and other places.
(3) A crucial issue hanging fire for years is that of Ayodhya. It is true that the court is seized with the question of ownership of the plot where the Babri Masjid once stood; cases pertaining to the crime of Babri demolition are also pending in lower courts. Yet, not only can the centre do something to expedite these cases but can also rectify the lacunae (wherever existing) and the fraud perpetrated upon the law by the previous government.
example, it is believed that the CBI was unduly influenced about the cases
pending in Rae Barelli special court to get the chargesheet against L K Advani
withdrawn. It also appears that the verdict given by the Rae Barelli judge in
favour of Advani’s exoneration was based on a faulty reading of the evidence.
While the witnesses saying Advani was trying to pacify the crowds on the fateful
day of December 6, 1992, were given credence, those saying otherwise were simply
ignored. It is clear that the centre cannot afford to ignore its responsibility
regarding Ayodhya and sit tight. Bringing the culprits of Babri demolition to
book is necessary to ensure that no outfit dares to indulge in such heinous
crimes in future.
(4) Bringing to book the culprits of Gujarat and rushing effective relief to victims is yet another important task. This is not to demand that the centre take any undemocratic step vis-à-vis Gujarat. Yet, the centre too has a duty to protect the minorities and safeguard the secular fabric of our body politic, and there are several ways for the centre to do it without interfering in the state government’s functioning.
The recent Supreme Court order in Best Bakery case and earlier orders in the Bilqis case and some other cases bring into sharp focus one crucial fact: that the state administration has been communalised to the core and is unable to provide justice to carnage victims or protect the minorities. Ordering a retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat, the apex court bluntly said: “The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and hapless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime could be protected.” Justice Pasayat of the same bench pulled up the Gujarat High Court for its “irresponsible” remarks against the NHRC and activists like Teesta Seetalwad, and said it “appears to have miserably failed to maintain the required judicial balance and sobriety.” At the same time, we may also recall that the lower level judiciary in the state has become so corrupt that warrants may be obtained even against India’s president and chief justice by spending money. Certainly this is not the judiciary victims may look to, to get justice. The centre has to naturally take steps to restore the rule of law in Gujarat.
It was also learnt that the former central government had, after the court’s intervention, sanctioned Rs 150 crore for relief to victims, but later a Gujarat minister was reported saying that Rs 33 crore had been spent and there was no need to spend any more. The court has asked the state government to give a full and correct account of this money, but the centre can also do something in this regard, as it was the money the centre had sanctioned. What amounts of public money went into the RSS coffers in the name of earthquake relief in the state, also needs to be investigated.
(5) The centre has to take necessary steps to purge the communal elements from our education system and from various organs of governance.
BUT while the Left will support the Congress led government on the issue of secularism and national unity, it is known that it has differences with the Congress on economic policies. Rather, that was why our Central Committee decided not to join the government but to extend it outside support. Now we have given our suggestions to the Congress party and hope that, as these are all pro-people steps, there should be no problem in their incorporation in the common minimum programme (CMP).
As is widely believed, one of the key issues the Left will press for is of disinvestment. While we have made it clear that there is no need of a separate ministry for disinvestment, we are also not in favour of continuing with the perpetually loss making units. What we say is that the profit making units must not be disinvested and that all possible attempts are to be made to revive the sick and closed public sector units. As for disinvestment of loss making units, we are of the opinion that the process must be fully transparent and valuable assets must not be sold for a song, as the BJP led regime was doing to benefit the party’s benefactors. Secondly, the proceeds of disinvestment have to go to provide social services to the people and not to bridge the fiscal deficits of the central government. It is known that various social services were being curtailed in the name of resource crunch and so-called user charges were imposed upon the people, which only reduced the latter’s real incomes. This has to stop in the country’s interest, as social services are not consumption but investment in human resource development.
The Left also wants to see the universal public distribution system (PDS) restored and food security being provided to the people. We know that earlier too, the rich did not really care for the PDS; it is the poor who needed it most. So the steps taken to make it ‘targeted’ only filtered a large number of the poor out of its purview. It was thus that the poor were starving to death while our godowns were overflowing and grains were being thrown into the sea or exported cheap to other countries. The need today is not to ‘target’ the PDS but to revamp it, streamline it and rid it of corruption.
These days the bourgeois media are much concerned that the pace of so-called reforms, including labour law ‘reforms,’ will be slowed because of the Left. What they are saying smacks of their naked class bias; they mean to say that now the bourgeoisie and multinationals may not get the unhindered right to hire and fire, which the BJP government had promised them. But, to their information, let it be plainly put that the Left is not against democratic reforms in labour laws, e g the workers’ participation in management. But we are certainly not for the ‘reforms’ our bourgeoisie want.
The Left viewpoint on agrarian issues, on the need of a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural workers (whose draft has been pending with the centre for 22 long years), on steps for employment generation, and many other issues facing the nation are well known. We have already conveyed our viewpoint on these issues to the government and are expecting a favourable response. Here we can only say that if the Rao government at the centre and several Congress governments in states lost elections on various occasions, it was no less because of the wrong economic policies they were pursuing in the beautiful but deceptive name of ‘reforms.’ It is thus certain that if the discredited IMF-dictated policies are pursued again, it will only go to favour the communal combine.
APART from secularism and economic policies, certain other issues also concern the Left. One such issue is corruption that is eating into the vitals of our economy and socio-political life. Late Rajiv Gandhi once said that if the government gave one rupee for a development project, only 15 paise used to reach the real beneficiaries. It is clear that corruption transfers a large chunk of resources to unauthorised hands and thus hampers development and welfare works.
However, the BJP regime took this bane of our public life to unprecedented heights. While corruption was involved in the disinvestment of public sector units (e g the sale of Centaur Hotel), cases like Tehelka and coffin scam revealed that it did not spare even the country’s defence; even the then BJP president and defence minister were found involved in it. Then, a gigantic scam in the UTI swallowed the lifetime savings of over two crore people. It is therefore natural that the Left wants a thorough probe into all such cases and punishment to whoever is found guilty, so that the cleaning process starts from the top and the menace of corruption is curbed to the utmost.
The Left parties are also in favour of far-reaching electoral reforms, including the implementation of Dinesh Goswami recommendations, and effective curb on the use of money and muscle power that often distort the people’s mandate.
We are also expecting that the government will take steps to ensure 33 per cent reservations for women in parliament and state legislatures. We are also in favour of democratisation of centre-state relations and strengthening of local bodies without any attempt to bypass the states.
Last but not the least, Left parties are also interested in foreign policy. We know that in the last 6 years the BJP regime dismantled our earlier policy that had earned for India a lot of prestige in world community. That policy, based on non-alignment, anti-imperialism, support to national liberation movements and struggle for world peace and nuclear disarmament, always stood us in good stead and was the policy of the whole nation except the pro-imperialists. In fact, it was rabid pro-imperialism that made the BJP cause grievous harms to our time-tested foreign policy. But now that a Congress led government is installed at the centre, we do hope that it will follow the earlier policy.
The first thing in this regard is that the government must make vigorous efforts to revitalise the NAM in the interest of all the third world countries and to better face the travails of the present unipolar world. For the same reason, India has also to forge closer cooperation with Russia and China as well as developing countries like Brazil and South Africa. Recognition to the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was withdrawn by the BJP government, must be immediately restored. As Yasser Arafat’s letter to us (published elsewhere in this issue) shows, the Palestinians deeply cherish the memory of India’s principled support to their struggle for homeland. That tradition has to be restored. The government has also to make public if there was any secret understanding between the US and Vajpayee government on Iraq and any other issue. All such steps brook no delay, as the issue at stake is the country’s prestige in international community.