(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 22, 2009
If India has to be strengthened, you require an alternative policy trajectory – an alternative to communalism, an alternative to the economic policies which need to be changed to be pro-people, an alternative which will keep the independence of our foreign policy and our dignity in the international community. The political alternative with these three policy alternatives is the only basis for the future and better India.
YECHURY’S SPEECH IN DEBATE ON PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS
‘A Real Political Alternative Is The Only Basis For A Better India’
Below we give excerpts of the speech delivered by CPI(M) leader in Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury while participating in the discussion on ‘motion of thanks on the president’s address’ in the Rajya Sabha on February 17, 2009.
I RISE here, today, for the first time participating in the ‘motion of thanks on the president’s address’ in the life of this government, when not offering critical support, after having withdrawn our support to this government which was based on the National Common Minimum Programme. I use the word 'critical' in all its senses. Our support was critical in terms of numerical strength for the survival of this government. How it continued to survive even after we withdrew our support is a saga in the moral degeneration of our parliamentary institution which, unfortunately, has not found a mention in the president's address. But I also use the word 'critical' from the point of view of the critical support that we gave to this government for the last four years. Many of the flagship programmes – whether it is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or, whether it is a question of tribals' right to forest land, or, whether it is a question of Right to Information, or, whether it is a question of urging the government to invest more in agriculture, or, whether it is a question of the credit waiver to farmers – that have been listed by the president in her address and on all other crucial issues which today are the pride of this government in the president's address, there has been a critical role played by the Left while we were supporting this government to ensure that these were undertaken and fulfilled.
PLAYED BY THE LEFT
Similarly, there was also a critical role played by the Left in stopping the government from going ahead on many things which we thought were not in the country's interest. Those, unfortunately, again, did not find mention in the president's address. And, there are, at least, four areas which are important for us to note, because these relate directly to the impact of global economic recession which would have fallen on our country if we had allowed these four measures to be undertaken.
The first was the full convertibility of the Indian Rupee. The second was allowing foreign banks to takeover or get higher equity in Indian banks. The third was the privatisation of the Pension Funds. If that was done, along with the collapse of the world market, the life long savings of crores of Indians would have vanished. The fourth one was the increase of FDI cap in the insurance sector. If that had happened, with the collapse of the international insurance giants, you would have had a similar collapse here wiping off the lifelong savings of millions of our countrymen. On these four issues we had stopped this government from going ahead. The president refers in her address to the fact that we have been able to withstand the global recession with much greater tenacity than many other countries. I repeat what I said earlier.
I think even if you call us devil, the devil must be given its due, both for the positive things that have happened and the negative things that did not happen because of us. And, that is absolutely necessary to be noted which, unfortunately, does not figure in the president's address. But, when we did withdraw our support, we withdrew it because there was a breach of the CMP on which we extended our support. And the breach occurred when the government decided to go ahead with something which was not there in the CMP and that is the strategic relationship or understanding with the USA on the basis of India-US nuclear deal. Now, that is not an issue on which we need to debate more, because our point of view is already known to the entire country. But, at that stage, we gave a warning and that is missing in the president's address. It is concerning the independence of our foreign policy. The manner in which India ought to take its foreign policy positions on the basis of its own internal interests – which was also highlighted now by the leader of the opposition – is somehow being compromised. And this is because of the strategic relationship with the USA. The CMP explicitly stated that we will have good relations with all the countries, including the USA, but will pursue an independent foreign policy. We will pursue a policy against unilateralism in world politics and we will encourage multilateralism.
When that was breached, we had to withdraw support to the government. But, unfortunately, as I said, how the numbers were made up, we have seen that on the electronic media and there is no need to repeat it. That moral degeneration in our august house of the parliament is something which all of us will have to cleanse collectively from our system. And, the absence of that in the president's address is a matter of concern. In any case, we had warned then, we warn now, we had warned even earlier that all those who befriended the past US president have lost their jobs as the prime minister of various countries, from England to Australia and other countries. But when our prime minister went and said that the whole of India loved president Bush, there was a great sense of relief in the world when he was replaced and the new president took over in the United States of America. That relief was a collective relief of the world. And, that relief is also shared by the majority of Indians. Therefore, that sort of statement that Indians loved George Bush was something not palatable and does not go well.
BULK OF INDIANS ARE SUFFERING
The bulk of the president's address was connected with the economic situation, the achievements of the government in the economic sphere and the special emphasis that was made was on the question of inclusive growth. I think, there has been a very serious omission in the president's address –– of the grim reality in our country of widening economic disparity. I have stated this in this House earlier also, and I would like to repeat that we have two Indias in the making. You have a 'Shining India' and, as opposed to that, you have a 'Suffering India', which is the majority of India. Our own colleague, Arjun Sengupta, had submitted a report to the prime minister where he had said that 78 per cent of the Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day. Now, if you calculate for a month that comes to about Rs 600 a month. The Planning Commission, today, I believe is revising its poverty estimates, which comes to about Rs 400 in rural India and Rs 600 in urban India. What does the Arjun Sengupta Committee Report tell us? It tells us that 78 per cent of the Indians are below the poverty line, as per Planning Commission's own new definition. But, yet, what do we announce to the world? We announce that we have a poverty line of 35.97 per cent, or, nearly 36 per cent. That is not the poverty line. That is the destitution line. And, on the basis of the destitution line, the government decides allocation of foodgrains for people below the poverty line. Crores of Indians are deprived of food today; crores of Indians suffer today because of these definitional problems and because of the illusion that the government wants to create that poverty is actually reducing. For the bulk of Indians, today, the poverty level has, unfortunately, been rising. And, because of the global recession, now, that will become much worse in the days to come.
Look at the real health of our country. Every day, 1000 children die because of completely preventable diseases, particularly, water-borne diseases. Thousand children a day! You have a situation where 56 per cent of our children do not get any vaccination or any protection; you have a situation where 40 per cent of our children are underweight; 70 per cent of our children are anaemic. I am quoting all this from the National Family Health Survey-3. The survey very clearly says that anaemia in our country is directly related to malnutrition. Nearly two-thirds of our pregnant mothers are anaemic. They are producing the future of India! And, this is the state of the future of India! This is the state of our mothers and our children! And, if this is not a cause of concern, what else should be? Are we today happy tom-toming our economic achievements, while the bulk of India is actually suffering? It is actually suffering before the impact of global crisis has come. And, you have a situation, again, where 700 million people do not have access to ordinary toilets in our country.
Two-thirds of our countrymen don't have access to potable drinking water near their habitation. This is the real India. It is this India that we have to address our attention to, and not really be satisfied with all the glitter that you see in the Shinning India campaign. Fifty-four per cent of India consists of people who are below 25 years of age. The shoulders of that youth will build a new India. If those shoulders continue to be weakened by these sort of policies, then, what will be the future of this country? And, it is this important concern that doesn't reflect in president's address. On the contrary, what is the stark contrast we see? We see the glitzy scams of your Shinning India. You have had the Satyam scam. You have the scams connected with various SEZs. You have the Spectrum telecom scam. Regarding SEZs, this government has said – and it is on record – that in four areas reforms will be brought about. On the question of land acquisition, I want to say that you are acquiring land on the basis of an antiquated 1894 Land Acquisition Act of British India. On the question of modern acquisition of land and how you have to give rehabilitation to land owners, four years have passed and nothing has come. On the question of facilities and tax concessions being given to SEZs, you said amendments will come, but, nothing has come. On the question of product mix within the SEZ –– how much will be for production, how much will be for development or real estate development, changes had to be made, nothing has come. But, on the other hand, what is happening is, actually, facilitating what the prime minister himself once called, 'crony capitalism.' On the one hand, you have crony capitalism being facilitated and, on the other hand, you have the bulk of India suffering. It is this which is the actual Indian reality.
IN A STATE
On top of this comes the global economic recession. The president of India, in para 55, actually, anticipates what was said in the interim budget that was presented yesterday. It says, "We will be in a position to face this global recession." I said this yesterday and I repeat it today that not only the address of the president, but also the interim budget that was presented by this government, both of them reflect a state of denial. This is a state of denial by the government on the gravity of the impact of this global recession on us. According to even official estimates, in the organised labour force, more than five lakh employees have lost their jobs. It will run into crores in the unorganised sector, where they are dependent on various small jobs. Severity is to this extent that 71 gem cutters and polishers in Surat in Gujarat have already committed suicide. The handloom weavers in Namakkal in Tamilnadu are now selling their kidneys in order to survive. This is the misery which this global recession is bringing about on our country. The impact of it is so deep and so agonising that we are refusing to recognise this reality, and, therefore, act accordingly. What is the way that we should act? The way we should have acted and we need to act is, immediately create a situation where you can generate massive levels of employment through big leaps in your public investment. We had hoped that that would come. We all understand the constitutional limitations of an interim budget. But the budget could have easily earmarked or suggested massive increases in investment and leave it to the next government to decide how these expenditures would be handled. One way of handling could be monetising these expenditures, that is, by increasing the deficit. The other way would be to collect revenues through additional taxation. But that could be the decision of the next government. We can't absolve our responsibility for the next four months, we meaning, the Indian parliament, to our people.
OVER SOCIAL JUSTICE
Another area which the president has referred to and which is of a very serious concern is the whole area of social justice. The president mentioned in para 21 that scholarships have been granted for minority children, some various lakhs etc – some figures were quoted – but what is the fact? Not a single scholarship has been sanctioned till date. And what is the reality, again? You had the Sachar Committee Report. You had with great fanfare, 15-point prime minister's programme for minority welfare. What was the budget allocation last year for minority welfare? It was Rs 838 crore.
Forget the fact that it was very low; but how much did they spend out of that? They spent only Rs 523 crore. The amount of Rs 315 crore allocated for minority welfare was not spent. What kind of concern is this? Similarly, if we look at what they had promised to the dalits, the CAG report for 2007-08 that came out recently on special components and sub-plans for the SCs. What does it show? A whopping Rs 3,87,000 crore was denied to the SCs over the period of the last four years. This amount of Rs 3,87,000 crore was sanctioned for them but it is not being spent for their welfare. And then, government had promised in the Common Minimum Programme that they would actively engage the private sector to ensure that reservations are extended to the private sector. Nothing has happened on that.
Now, there is a bill. Unfortunately, I feel a little perturbed that none in this august House paid attention and in the din of the last day of the last session, this House passed a bill without anyone knowing what was happening in the House. By that bill, SCs are today denied the opportunity to enter any job in about 47 national institutions of higher education. They cannot even enter the post of, what is called today in a favourable way, assistant professor, that is, lecturer. They are debarred even at that level. I hope the other House will have the wisdom to not allow this bill to be passed. What are we doing? On the one hand they are shedding tears for welfare, social justice, etc. while in reality this has been the track record of the government.
Then, we heard a lot about terrorism. All of us are extremely concerned. I think there has been complete unanimity on this issue that we should fight terrorism which is our enemy as one India. We also, whether we practise it in reality or not, have at least formally accepted that terrorism knows no religion, region or caste; we will have to fight it together. We passed two bills, which we felt, at that time, encroached upon the rights of the states and the federal structure, and at that point of time the home minister had assured both the Houses that, in February, we will revisit these Bills. But nothing has happened and nothing has been brought before us. But the more important point is that all these are concerned with after the event. What about pre-event protection? Our intelligence gathering, Police modernisation, all that we talked of at the time of the Mumbai attacks! There is not even one word of that which is reflected in the president's address. So, if your fight against terrorism is to be taken forward, I think these essential concerns which are very important for us must find mention.
Finally, the last point that I want to make is this. The president mentioned the fact that we are entering the 60th year of our Republic. The sixtieth year, for an ancient civilisation, is a very auspicious year. I mean all ancient civilisations in the world have and we call it shashthi. And after this year is over, we call it shashthipoorthi, starting of another life, and another life means a new life. So, we are in that year, whether we follow policies which create a new life or whether we go back into the morass of the past lives. And that is why, when we want to talk about the creation of a new life, we need to understand what we are, because these acts of moral policing, these vigilante attacks, these acts of expression of a Hindutva-Taliban, this is something we cannot afford when we are going towards shashtipoorthi. That is why, when the question comes up that we will protect our culture, what is our culture? In my opinion, there cannot be any other country where we have such a rich mosaic, a rich diversified mixture of various cultures, religions and traditions, as we have in India. Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of India's independence, in the Discovery of India, evokes the example of a palimpsest – the palimpsest is an ancient tablet on which history is recorded and when the new victor comes, he erases the old history, and writes a new history. But when he erases, he does not completely erase it because it cannot be completely erased. Talking about Indian culture, he described India as "an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie have been inscribed and yet, no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously".
It is this richness that we have, and if anybody claims to be the sole custodian of this culture, it is something that cannot be permissible. You please go back to our Constitution in the 60th year of the Republic. What does Article 1 say? Article 1 says, "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States." You remove 'that is Bharat'. The Constitution still retains the same contents but not the spirit. Why did we say 'that is Bharat'? See the Constituent Assembly debates. There were a lot of debates whether it should be Hindustan, whether it should be Hind, Bharat, etc., etc. Finally the Constituent Assembly, after the partition, after the communal riots that took place, by its wisdom chose Bharat because of its secular connotation. I want to urge you, what is the meaning of Bharat? Some say, it is the name of the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala who unified this land; some say, it has a vedic interpretation, the vedic origin of Bharat Rishi. But there is another very important interpretation. Bharat is the confluence of three themes -- Bha is for Bhavam, Ra is for Ragam and Tha is for Thalam. It is only when you have a Raga that uses the seven musical notes in various combinations, you create a melody. When that melody is accompanied by a rhythm Talam, you create a harmony and it is the expression of that harmony which is the character, that is the Bhavam, and that is India. India is the confluence of all these cultures; it is the confluence of all these notes; it is the confluence of all these rhythms and that is expressed in our character, which is Bharat. So, it is that character that we need to preserve. If that has to be strengthened, if that needs to be done, you require an alternative policy trajectory – an alternative to communalism, an alternative to the economic policies which need to be changed to be pro-people, an alternative which will keep the independence of our foreign policy and our dignity in the international community.
The political alternative with these three policy alternatives is the only basis for the future and better India. It is that alternative which we will have to strive for; it is that alternative that is missing in the president's address. But we have an opportunity in our year of the Shashti. We are going in for our fifteenth general elections. Whether we will be able to create a new life for a new India will depend on whether we will install such an alternative, and that political alternative with that policy alternative is something that we require, and in that direction we will move some amendments to the president's address which we will take up later. Thank you.