(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 08 , 2008
THE POLITICAL SCENE TODAY
LAST week, in the Thane Lok Sabha by-poll caused by the death of the Shiv Sena MP Prakash Paranjape, his son and Shiv Sena candidate Anand Paranjape, trounced NCP candidate Sanjeev Naik - the son of senior state NCP minister Ganesh Naik who had many years ago defected from the Shiv Sena - by a margin of over 90,000 votes. This was in spite of the fact that the polling was only 26 per cent. This seat currently has one of the largest number of voters in the country and comprises almost the entire rapidly growing urban part of Thane district, adjoining Mumbai city. It has traditionally been a stronghold of the Shiv Sena -BJP communal combine.
The NCP suffered defeat here despite hectic campaigning by the chief minister, deputy chief minister and several other Congress-NCP ministers of the state government. However, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar did not take part in the election campaign. Some of the main reasons for the Thane outcome were the growing disillusionment of the people with the Congress led central and state government, the current wave of price hikes, the traditional hold of the communal forces and the disunity amongst and within both the Congress and the NCP.
However, all is not well in the BJP camp either. Last month saw a revolt by BJP national general secretary and former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde, who charged that there was no democracy left in the BJP since he was being sidelined after the death of his brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan by a coterie led by state BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Munde quit all his party posts and threatened to resign as MLA as well. Several other BJP MLAs and corporators followed suit. The BJP central leadership finally intervened, placated Munde, vested final authority for Maharashtra affairs in him and changed the Mumbai BJP president whom Munde disapproved of. Although the storm blew over, the whole episode has dented the image of the BJP and has created bad blood in the party.
Regional Chauvinist Hate Campaign
Over the last four months, the political scene in Maharashtra has been vitiated by the regional chauvinist hate campaign against North Indians in general, and those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in particular, being led by Raj Thackeray, the president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a breakaway outfit of the Shiv Sena. It may be recalled that the Shiv Sena led by Bal Thackeray was launched in 1966 with a similar regional chauvinist hate campaign against South Indians.
Now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Shiv Sena have entered into competition to outdo each other in this campaign. Just as the then Congress regime opportunistically encouraged Bal Thackeray, the Congress-NCP state government now is encouraging Raj Thackeray, hoping that he will cut into the Shiv Sena vote bank. But the Thane poll result shows the limitations of this strategy.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena goons began their campaign at the end of January by beating up poor working class North Indians in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik cities. This led to an exodus of thousands. SP leader Abu Asim Azmi further fanned the flames of discord with his own brand of provocative statements. The state government, instead of cracking down on the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena immediately, took 13 days to arrest both Raj Thackeray and Abu Asim Azmi. But by this time much damage had already been done.
Not to be left behind, an editorial in the Shiv Sena daily Saamnaa poured venom on North Indians. Recently, Shiv Sena goons led a campaign of blackening all signboards that read 'Bombay' instead of 'Mumbai'. Both the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Shiv Sena held demonstrations outside government establishments demanding an end to discrimination in giving jobs to Marathi-speaking youth. On May 3, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena held a big rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai where Raj Thackeray again vociferously attacked North Indians. The state government is still in the process of 'examining' his speech for the last one month!
The Communists, Socialists and other Left forces were in the forefront of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement for linguistic states in the fifties. Communists were also in the lead in the Vishal Andhra and Aikya Kerala movements for linguistic states. Essentially, these movements rightly took into account the nationalities question. But precisely because Communists were in the lead, none of these democratic movements degenerated into regional chauvinism.
The CPI(M) intervened against Raj Thackeray's divisive movement with demonstrations demanding his arrest in Mumbai and Pune and a campaign in Nashik. It was the only political party in the state to come out openly against the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena from the standpoint of calling for the unity of all working people. The state committee later discussed the issue and decided that a comprehensive campaign be carried out against this regional chauvinism.
Disillusionment with the Congress-NCP Regime
The Congress-NCP state government has been giving sops to the people in its state budget and through various other pronouncements. But this does not seem to be cutting much ice with the people, who are plagued by price rise, the debacle of the public distribution system, the unavailability of ration grain and kerosene, the shameful implementation of the NREGA, neglect of the problems of unorganised workers and agricultural labourers and, of course, by the worsening agrarian crisis as a result of which suicides by debt-ridden peasants in Vidarbha, Marathwada and elsewhere are continuing unabated despite all the so-called government packages and the loan waiver schemes announced by the central government. The recent Comptroller and Auditor General's Report that studied the implementation of the chief minister's and prime minister's packages for the Vidarbha farmers in distress, and which was recently placed in the state assembly, has clearly shown how these packages were an eyewash. According to the data of the National Crime Records Bureau, farmers' suicides in Maharashtra nearly quadrupled from 1083 in 1997 to 3926 in 2005.
In general it can be said that the Congress-NCP, which have been in power in Maharashtra for nine years since 1999, have been losing ground due to the anti-people policies and non-performance of the central and state governments and this is being taken advantage of by the main opposition - the Shiv Sena-BJP communal combine.
The rivalry between the Congress and NCP and the factionalism in each of them also continues unabated. This is much more evident in the Congress, where there is a running battle between Vilasrao Deshmukh to retain, and Narayan Rane to gain, the chief minister's post. Constant representations have been made by delegations of both sides to the Congress high command during the last few months. In the recent Vidhan Parishad elections, the Congress lost one of its sure seats due to this factionalism.
The NCP last month held its national conference at Delhi, where the main issue that was raised by most delegates was that Sharad Pawar should become the prime minister after the next elections. Factionalism in the NCP is more cleverly concealed. However, it came out in the open in the Thane Lok Sabha by-election, when one faction openly proposed that the NCP should not fight the seat and should let the Shiv Sena candidate win unopposed.
The non-implementation by the Congress-NCP state government of the Srikrishna Commission Report that inquired into the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 has been an issue in Maharashtra since long. When the matter was again strongly raised last year by the left and secular forces, the state government had assured that it would act on the criminal cases lodged against the rioters. In one such major long-standing case that came up for judgment last month, all the Shiv Sena leaders were acquitted for lack of evidence. This once again showed the complicity of the police and the lack of political will on the part of the state government.
Activities of the Party
The CPI(M) has been leading a series of agitations and campaigns on people's burning issues for the last three months. On April 22, as reported in these columns, around 25 to 30 thousand people from 25 districts of Maharashtra rallied before the state assembly in Mumbai under the joint leadership of the CITU, AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI. Party demonstrations against price rise took place in several districts on May 15. The Party has decided to launch a big signature campaign on specific demands related to price rise and PDS and to organise hunger strikes all over the state from June 2, in which the Party leadership will participate. On May 27, the AIKS organised statewide demonstrations demanding the removal of the glaring shortcomings in the loan waiver scheme for farmers announced by the central government.
The CPI(M), AIKS and AIAWU have begun an intensive campaign for ensuring implementation of the Forest Rights Act in their three main tribal bases in Nashik, Thane and Nandurbar districts and also in other new districts like Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Amravati, Nanded and Pune. The CPI(M) state committee published 5,000 copies of a small booklet on the issue and also 5,000 posters explaining the main features of the Act. Thousands of forms in the prescribed format have been filled by those cultivating forest plots in the above districts. The efforts to ensure that Red Flag activists are elected in large numbers to the village-level forest rights committees by the gram sabhas have met with considerable success in Nashik, Thane, Nandurbar and other districts. On April 30, over 35,000 adivasi peasants in Nashik district led by the AIKS held large rallies at 11 tehsil offices to press the issue.
The CPI(M) wrested a panchayat samiti seat from the BJP in Surgana in Nashik district in a recent by-election. The Party now has five of the six seats in the Surgana panchayat samiti. The CPI(M) also convincingly won over a dozen gram panchayats in the Talasari and Dahanu tehsils of Thane district. In Nandurbar district, two leading comrades were elected to the Taloda APMC unopposed.
The Party state committee for the first time had given a call for the collection of a Rs 50 lakh wholetimer fund, of which half would come to the state committee and half would remain with the districts. Of this over Rs 25 lakh has been collected so far, of which more than Rs 15 lakh has come to the state committee, with more expected to come in June.
The next meeting of the state secretariat and the state committee will be held from June 9-11, where Party Congress reporting will be done and the statewide programme of Party Congress reporting will be decided, Party renewal will be finalised, division of responsibilities amongst state secretariat and state committee members will be decided, a plan for the implementation of the tasks set out by the Party Congress and by the last Party state conference will be prepared, and a serious discussion will be held on the preparations for the coming Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in the light of the current political situation in Maharashtra.