People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 02, 2006
Forward to the August Campaign
THE CPI(M) Central Committee at its recent meeting in Hyderabad had decided to conduct a national political campaign in the month of August 2006. This decision comes in the backdrop of the significant victories achieved by the CPI(M)-led Left forces in both West Bengal and Kerala. During the course of these election campaigns, the CPI(M)’s role in seeking to reshape some of the crucial policies that determine the country’s and the people’s future were highlighted. The pressure being put on the UPA government at the Centre to implement many of the pro-people policies committed in the National Common Minimum Programme and building popular resistance to anti-people policies came into sharp focus. While such pressures will continue in the parliamentary fora, the CPI(M) had always felt that these should be buttressed by a powerful people’s movement. The pressures from above and pressures through people’s movements and struggles from below must compliment each other in achieving this objective. The main thrust of economic reforms under the neo-liberal dispensation has been to offer more avenues for capital, both domestic and foreign, to enlarge their profits. The efforts of such people’s movements and pressures must be to make the UPA government shift this thrust in favour of improving people’s livelihood. It is this shift, which is in the interests of both our country’s economic sovereignty and for improving people’s livelihood, that this national campaign aims to achieve.
The record breaking achievement of the CPI(M) in West Bengal of having won the elections for the seventh successive term has also brought into focus the sharp contrast between the national experience under neo-liberal dispensation and that of West Bengal. At the all India level, the aggregate growth of the economy at 8 per cent is accompanied by a grave agrarian crisis. Clearly, this particular growth trajectory is leading to the widening of income inequalities and widening the mismatch between “shining India” and the real India. Distress suicides by farmers are on the rise. For the first time in many decades there has been a shortfall in foodgrain availability. Wheat is being imported today. The Public Distribution System is in virtual shambles putting the issue of food security itself in peril. What we see thus is a scenario where few amass wealth at the expense of the vast millions whose living conditions deteriorate.
On the other hand, the West Bengal experience shows that the double-digit growth of the state domestic product is based on its rural economic empowerment. The consequences of land reforms and Operation Burga have led to significant increases in the purchasing power of the people in rural Bengal. This in turn set in motion a multiplier effect through the growth in demand for manufactured good and consequent industrial economic activity. Through these columns in the past we have buttressed this conclusion with figures and statistics. These need not be repeated here.
The moot point to consider however is that if it is possible in West Bengal to achieve impressive growth while improving the livelihood of rural Bengal, why is it not possible in India as a whole to do the same? It is definitely possible if the correct policies are implemented. If land reforms and policies like Operation Barga can be replicated in non-Left ruled states, then it is perfectly possible to replicate the Bengal experience all over India. The August campaign must force the UPA government to implement such policy measures many of which are already contained in the Common Minimum Programme.
Tackling the growing agrarian distress assumes the topmost priority. This requires immediately a massive increase in public investment in agriculture. This has been promised in the CMP, but no significant increases have been seen in the last two years. There is a universal acknowledgement that the bulk of distress suicides are taking place because of the inability of the farmers to repay the loans that they have taken from usurious moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates. The CMP talks of increasing the amount of institutional credit to the farming sector through nationalized banks in order to prevent the farmers from falling victim to the usurious moneylenders. Some effort has been made but still only a third of the Indian farmers are able to access institutional credit. This has to vastly improve. Further, the interest charged to the farmer must be in accordance to the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of not being more than four per cent. If suicides are to be prevented then it is also necessary to protect the farmers and their produce from the vagaries of international price fluctuations. The minimum support price for agricultural products must be enlarged and government procurement must be vastly improved. It is this failure, which in the first place is leading today to the import of wheat and other edible commodities. A price stabilization fund must be created to offer support to the farmers.
If the true health of the real India is to be improved then it is absolutely necessary to universalize the existing public distribution system (PDS). Instead what we see in the last two years has been a further disintegration of the system. This has to be immediately reversed. The food subsidy must be maintained in the present level and the PDS prices must not be increased. All essential commodities must be supplied through the PDS. The identified below poverty line (BPL) sections must be provided with the ration cards and the network of ration shops must be enlarged.
The Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been brought about with the explicit design to provide both employment and relief in rural India. The 200 most backward districts identified for the implementation of this scheme will have to do so efficiently. Already more than two years have passed since this promise was made to the people. Our Party committees in all these districts must monitor the implementation process and intervene to ensure that this scheme provides the benefits that it is designed to provide.
While the CMP assures that profit-making public sector units will not be privatized the UPA government has taken the decision to begin disinvestment in profit-making non-navaratna PSUs. The decision to divest shares in NALCO and Nyveli Lignite is naturally being opposed since it runs contrary to the spirit of the CMP. This August campaign must highlight the need for the people to be vigilant against the attempt to change the labour laws in the country that put the working people in greater insecurity while bolstering the profits of Capital.
The issue of reservation for the OBCs in institutions of higher education has brought into sharp focus the urgent need to expand educational facilities in the country. The CMP promises to spend 6 percent of the country’s GDP on education. We have not even reached the halfway mark in the last two and half years. Similarly, in the sphere of public health, the promise was to increase expenditures from the present measly 0.9 per cent of the GDP to atleast 3 per cent. Popular pressure must be built on the UPA government to implement such policies which will allow the country to meet these targets.
While the issues of our opposition to the shift in the country’s foreign policy orientation under pressure from US imperialism will be highlighted through this campaign, special focus must be placed on our solidarity with the Palestinian people in the current situation.
The charter released by the Central Committee while announcing this programme contains these pressing issues faced by both the country and the people. This August campaign must aim to rouse people’s consciousness on these issues as well as rally the vast majority of our people to force the UPA government to implement these policies. Such pressures through people’s movements alone will be able to ensure that the promises made to them will be implemented. At the same time, such pressure must also aim to stop and repeal the anti-people measures that this government is undertaking.