People's Democracy

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


No. 41

October 19, 2008


V S Achutanandan's Intervention

The following is the full text of the intervention made by Kerala chief minister and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member V S Achutanandan at the National Integration Council meeting held in New Delhi on October 13, 2008

I AM glad that a meeting of the National Integration Council is taking place at this moment. The challenge to the unity and integrity of our nascent nation has never been as severe as it is now, and the National Integration Council is the appropriate forum to discuss our collective response to this challenge.

The most obvious manifestation of this challenge is the spate of terrorist attacks that is occurring all over the country, taking a heavy toll of the lives of innocent citizens. Terrorism has to be dealt with, with absolute firmness, and the Union government can count on the complete support of the government of Kerala in eliminating this horrendous cancer that now afflicts our national life. But at the same time we have to be careful that our measures against terrorism do not undermine the basic structures upon which modern India has been founded, i.e. the structures of democracy, secularism, and a rights-based approach to freedom that protects not only individuals against possible excesses of the State but also small groups and minorities against majoritarian encroachment and against vilification by mischievous elements trying to appeal to majoritarian sentiments for narrow ends. If these structures get weakened or undermined in our fight against terrorism, then the terrorists paradoxically would have succeeded precisely in their effort to defame, delegitimize and destabilize our nation-State.

The fight against terrorism in short requires a strengthening of our democratic and secular fabric, and not a compromise vis a vis these cherished values. The surest weapon against terrorism is to make every Indian feel that he or she belongs here and is proud of being a part of this nation. This is why we have been deeply disturbed by the recent developments in Karnataka, Orissa and elsewhere, where persons belonging to a minority community have been targets of vicious attacks. These attacks, apart from being inhuman and a flagrant violation of the law of the land, constitute grist to the mill of the terrorists. They defame and delegitimize our nation, divide our people, and give implicit support to terrorist propaganda about the hollowness of our cherished secular values.

This terrorisation of the minorities, this communal game dividing and polarising people along religious lines must stop. We demand the most stringent measures against the Bajrang Dal which has been spearheading this vicious hate campaign. The concerned state governments must live up to their constitutional responsibility of providing security to the minorities. And the central government must live up to its constitutional responsibility of ensuring that the concerned state governments actually do so.

Of course, the communal elements find a fertile soil for their nefarious activities in the fact that the process of economic development of the country has been deeply inequalising: while it has brought unprecedented wealth to a small segment at the top, it has brought acute misery to vast masses of the people whose desperate struggle for survival is bringing them into acute conflicts with one another. This is not a question of some being “excluded” from the benefits of growth as a happenstance, and, hence merely needing more “inclusive” measures within the same neo-liberal growth strategy for their upliftment, as the Eleventh Plan suggests. This so-called “exclusion” is intrinsic to the strategy itself. The type of growth strategy we are currently pursuing necessarily produces such “exclusion”, since the withdrawal of the State support, without which vast masses of peasants, petty producers and workers cannot survive the onslaught of domestic corporates, multinational corporations and globalised finance, dooms them to absolute deprivation.

World capitalism is obviously moving into a prolonged and serious crisis which will inevitably cast its shadow on our economy as well, and add further to the woes of the common people. They have to be protected against this crisis, through a reactivation of the protective and interventionist role of the State. We may have had differences in the past about the effects of neo-liberalism, but these differences should disappear now, since the outcome of the functioning of unbridled capitalism is obvious for all to see. Indeed, now is the opportune moment to formulate a new development strategy that escapes the thralldom of neo-liberalism.

But even as we put through a paradigm shift in economic policy, we cannot afford to ignore short-term, specific measures. One such is the extension of the policy of reservations based on social deprivation to the private sector. There can be no excuse whatsoever for leaving the private sector out of its ambit; indeed even in the U.S. legislation on affirmative action is not confined to the government sector alone but includes the private sector as well.

While doing so, we also have to ensure that the dalits, the scheduled tribes and the minorities, get appropriate educational opportunities. The Sachar Committee has made us acutely aware of the lacunae in this sphere with regard to the minorities, but the problem afflicts other deprived segments as well. We shall in this context support whatever measures the Union government takes to implement in earnest the right to education; but we are deeply dismayed by the unilateral curtailment that has been decreed by the Union government in the central share in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, ignoring the pleas of almost all the Chief Ministers at the NDC meeting.

The central government is giving much emphasis to higher education in the eleventh plan. While this is welcome, it must make sure that the policy of reservations is duly implemented in all the new institutions that are planned to be set up. And the nature of education in these institutions must be such that it imparts democratic, egalitarian, anti-patriarchal and secular values to all the students. These supposedly “world-class” institutions cannot be cradles for communal, casteist and patriarchal prejudices.

The challenges to our survival as a modern democratic nation are at present severe. Steps have to be taken in a whole range of spheres to stave off this challenge.