People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 27, 2007
Three Years Of UPA Govt: Promises To Keep…!
ON the occasion of the third anniversary of this UPA government, a ‘Report to the People’ was presented on May 22, 2007. This 72-page document details the various steps the government has taken during the course of this period. This merits a deeper comprehensive analysis which will be undertaken subsequently. However, on this occasion, it is necessary to reiterate that the benchmark for evaluating this government’s performance is the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) adopted by the UPA and broadly endorsed by the Left parties.
Has the UPA government lived up to its CMP promises and popular expectations? There are, of course, certain positive measures that have been initiated, under pressure from the Left parties. Some of these are the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Tribal Rights Bill, the Right to Information Act etc. To some extent, the reckless privatisation drive undertaken by the previous Vajpayee government is under check offering limited protection of the public sector through the revival of some sick units. However, despite the CMP assurance that profit-making public sector units will not be privatised or disinvested, efforts to negate this continue.
In vital areas, the promises made in the CMP are yet to see the light of the day. Though this year’s budget has increased allocations for education and health, these are far from meeting the CMP targets of 6 per cent and 3 per cent of the GDP respectively. Most serious is the continued neglect of the agricultural sector. The agrarian distress reflected in farmers’ suicides, declining foodgrain production and the consequent declining per capita availability seriously imperilling India’s food security, continues to deepen. The CMP had promised substantial hikes in public investment in agriculture particularly in rural infrastructure and irrigation. This has not happened to the required levels. Though institutional credit to the farmers has grown, still nearly two-thirds of our farmers are at the mercy of private moneylenders and their usurious interest rates. It is now universally acknowledged that the main cause for continuing farmers’ suicides is their inability to repay their debt. The CMP spoke of fair and remunerative prices for farmers, special attention for procurement, and adequate protection to farmers from agricultural imports particularly when international prices fall.
On all these counts, nothing substantial has happened. The government is willing to import wheat at prices anywhere above Rs 1200 per quintal while paying Rs 850 as remunerative price in Punjab! Procurement is in shambles further undermining the growingly defunct Public Distribution System (PDS). The CMP had explicitly promised to strengthen the PDS particularly in the poorest and backward blocs in the country. It had promised to establish grain banks in chronically food scarce areas. Three years down the line, the PDS has weakened substantially. On the whole, the grave agrarian crisis far from being resolved is being compounded.
As stated earlier, we are not attempting a sector by sector evaluation using the benchmark of the CMP. We are only highlighting the major areas where a shift in policies as promised and expected by the people did not materialise. In this context, many promised new laws are yet to see the light of the day. Some of these are the legislation to protect unorganised labour; a central legislation for agricultural labourers; women’s reservation; Lokpal Bill; the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill etc etc.
Even after crossing the halfway mark, the non-implementation of crucial CMP promises is, in itself, most disappointing. More disconcerting, however, is the relentless pursuit of the neo-liberal agenda of economic reforms. These three years have seen efforts to induct foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector; hike FDI in insurance; privatise pension funds; facilitate the takeover of domestic private banks by foreign banks etc. Under pressure from the Left parties, these could not be brought into effect as the government wished. Relentless efforts, however, continue to push through such reforms which are inimical to the people’s interests and to the country’s economic sovereignty.
While the government ostensibly swears by the CMP, its other arms like the Planning Commission, pursue the liberalisation agenda. The Planning Commission is vigorously pushing the public-private partnership (PPP) model for the crucial infrastructure sector development. Instead of “attracting private money for public sector projects”, which the Planning Commission claims it does, it is actually promoting private profit-making with public money.
During this period, therefore, the Left parties while pressurising the UPA to implement its CMP promises and opposing the anti-people measures, has also been engaged in combating this insidious pushing of the World Bank-dictated liberalisation agenda.
It is owing to such a predisposition towards neo-liberal economic reforms that the UPA government is unable to contain the present run-away inflation. Its analysis that inflation is taking place due to high growth and consequent increases in demand which is not matched by increases in supply is substantially erroneous. In a situation of rural distress and continued suicides, to argue that prices are rising because people have more money with them is not merely ridiculous. It smacks of the infamous statement of the Queen during the French revolution that people should eat cakes if they have no bread! Inflation is primarily being led by the rising prices of essential commodities. These, in turn, are rising due to speculation in the futures trading in essential commodities. Unless this is curbed, inflation cannot be combated in right earnest.
The inability to do so can only lead to a further growth of disappointment and disillusionment amongst the people. This is already reflected in the string of electoral defeats of the UPA constituents in the some of the recent state assembly elections. This has permitted the BJP and other NDA constituents to stage a comeback not through a positive mandate for their agenda but through exploiting the discontent against UPA policies.
On its third anniversary, the UPA needs to squarely face this contradictory situation. The UPA, in the first instance, was formed primarily to keep the communal forces away from State power. However, if the UPA policies are benefiting that very communal combine, then it is tantamount to felling the tree on which one is sitting! Unless this situation is immediately corrected, the very raison d’etre of the UPA comes under a serious question mark.
The UPA will have to seriously introspect on this occasion. Apart from the above, this must also include the manner in which the communal forces are being combated as are the threats to internal security and the failures in facing pressures on the CMP-stated independent foreign policy.
Popular pressure on the UPA government to implement the promises will have to be strengthened in the days to come if the growing hiatus between the `shining’ and the `suffering’ India is to be bridged and as the prime minister’s foreword to the UPA report says: “to build a new India, a caring India”.