(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 08, 2009
Vote For A People’s Alternative
THE announcement of the schedule for the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha have set in motion the process for the Indian people to elect a new government that can serve them and the country better.
Following the last general elections of 2004, the CPI(M) and the Left parties had decided to extend support to a Congress-led secular coalition – the UPA – in order to safeguard the unity and integrity of our country and the security of our religious minorities from the onslaught of the communal forces. The CPI(M) had gone into the 2004 elections with three slogans : “To defeat the BJP and its allies; for the formation of a secular government at the centre; and to strengthen the CPI(M) and Left in parliament”. It is a matter of gratification that all these objectives were met. The CPI(M) increased its Lok Sabha tally from 33 to 43 and the Left from 43 to 61.
The support of these 61 Left MPs was crucial for the Congress-led UPA (formed post-elections) with a strength of 216 MPs to acquire a majority and form the government. The Left had offered support from the outside on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme which contained many a programme designed to benefit the Indian people. It was at the Left’s insistence that a reluctant Congress was forced to implement some of these promises. Recollect that it took more than two years for the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme to come into force, that too in a limited, halting sense. It took over four years for the tribal rights over forest produce to be put into effect. It was only in the final year of the UPA government that the loan waiver for farmers facing acute agrarian distress was finally announced. The right to information likewise still continues to be riddled with many complicated procedures.
The Congress, of course, in order to seek credit for itself, falls back upon the fact that it was only the Congress manifesto that spoke of rural employment guarantee. While this may be true, there was no guarantee that this guarantee would be implemented, if left to the Congress alone. Remember, it was the Congress which first raised the issue of land reforms in an election manifesto in the early years of our parliamentary democracy. Yet, none of its state governments have implemented it. It was only the Left-led state governments of Kerala and West Bengal that have implemented land reforms. Clearly, but for the CPI(M) and the Left’s pressure, many of the promises made in the CMP would have remained on paper.
On the one hand, the Left had forced the UPA government to implement some of its promises (while many others like spending 6 per cent of the GDP on education, 3 per cent on health etc etc have remained unfulfilled). On the other hand, many of the neo-liberal economic reforms that the Congress sought to pursue by bringing legislations in the Parliament were stopped by the Left. In the light of the current global economic recession, this has helped, to some extent, to protect India from greater devastation. In particular, the following four – full convertibility of the Indian rupee; the right for foreign banks to acquire Indian private banks; privatization of the pension funds; and increasing the cap for foreign investment in the insurance sector – if implemented, would have ruined crores of Indian people and devastated our economy alongwith the global financial meltdown.
The UPA government’s insistence on pursuing its neo-liberal economic agenda was matched by its reluctance to take on the communal forces frontally. Despite the Supreme Court’s direction for a CBI enquiry into some of the more heinous of attacks in the Gujarat carnage, nothing substantial was done. This resulted in the state government that had sponsored the communal genocide in Gujarat being re-elected. The steadfast commitment required to cleanse our society and administration from the communal forces was lacking. This has largely provided the BJP the opportunity to stage a comeback by winning the elections to the state assembly. This, in turn, has now emboldened the BJP and the communal combine to, once again, mount a vicious communal offensive and resurrect the hardcore communal agenda as its mascot for the coming general elections.
In complete violation of the CMP, as explained in these columns repeatedly earlier, the UPA government proceeded ahead with sealing a strategic alliance with US imperialism under George Bush. The India-US nuclear deal was only the cover to cement such an alliance which is neither in the interests of the country nor the people. The Left was, thus, forced to withdraw support bringing the UPA government into a minority.
How the UPA survived the trust vote in the Lok Sabha is now a part of our shameful record of moral degeneration and horse-trading.
Clearly, therefore, what the country needs is a decisive shift in the policy direction from that which was pursued by the UPA government. A direction that will, at the same time, combat the communal forces and the dangers they pose to the secular democratic character of the modern Indian republic, more effectively.
The UPA, however, seems to be in a state of euphoria following its successes in the recent round of assembly elections of returning to power at the centre. This is reminiscent of the BJP-led NDA’s euphoria on the eve of the last general elections. On the back of its slogan; “Shining India”, NDA was hoping to return to power. A gleeful media, then, had endorsed such an illusion as they seem to be doing now with the Congress-led UPA. Obviously, State patronage through hugely expensive advertisements is too lucrative for the media, particularly the electronic media, to resist. For this, if objectivity needs to be sacrificed, so be it!
A careful examination of the results in the last round of assembly elections shows that the “others” – non-Congress non-BJP parties – polled a significant percentage of votes. In Madhya Pradesh, while the BJP forms the government with 37.8 per cent votes, the others polled 21.6 per cent of the vote. In Rajasthan, while the Congress forms the government with 36.8 per cent of the votes, the others have polled 29 per cent of the votes. In Delhi, while the Congress forms the government with 40.5 per cent, the others polled 23 per cent. In Chattisgarh, while the BJP forms the government with 40.6 per cent, the others polled 20.6 per cent. In Mizoram as well, the share of the others is 30.1 per cent while the Congress forms the government with 38.9 per cent votes.
The political message is, thus, clear. The people see very little difference between the policies pursued by the BJP and the Congress in redressing the issues of their livelihood. It is clear that if a political alternative based on sound alternative policies is forged, then people’s acceptance can be mustered at the hustings.
The forging of such an alternative becomes all the more important to save the livelihood of crores of Indians who are becoming victims of the impact of the global recession day by day. The UPA government is more pre-occupied with offering bailout packages for the corporates rather than offering bailout programmes of massive public investments required to strengthen the purchasing power among the people. This, in turn, would stimulate the economy. The announcements made so far for a fiscal stimulus are too small to make any decisive impact on improving our economy or the conditions of the people.
Often the question arises: where is such an electoral alternative? Recollect that since the V P Singh government of 1989, non-Congress non-BJP governments were formed post elections on the basis of alliances formed after the elections. This was true again in 1996 when the United Front was forged post elections. In fact, this is true for 2004 as well when the UPA was formed post elections. The challenges facing our country today demands that a similar situation must be created post 2009 elections.
The CSDS studies on coalitional governments since 1996 show that a third of the electorate rejected such governments then. This came down to 17 per cent in 2004. In the 2004 elections, both Congress and BJP lost exactly 1.6 per cent of vote share, former being 26.7 per cent and later 22.2 per cent. Yet, BJP’s tally of seats dropped to 138 in 2004 from 182 in 1999 while Congress’s increased from 114 to 145. The secret leading to such a disproportion lies in the logic of alliances. In 1999, BJP’s allies in NDA brought 118 seats while they brought only 51 seats in 2004. On the contrary, Congress allies in the UPA brought 74 seats apart from the outside support of 61 Left MPs. It is perfectly possible, this time around, for a non-Congress, anti-communal forces combine to garner enough support for an alternative.
The need is for an alternative policy trajectory that contains and weakens the communal forces; that follows economic policies where people come before profits and that follows policies which protect and strengthen our economic and political sovereignty while pursuing an independent foreign policy defining a place of pride for India in the world.
The Indian people must brace themselves to meet this challenge. The 2009 general elections must give the mandate for a decisive shift in the policy trajectory of our country. This can only be brought about by a political alternative – a people’s alternative – that is capable of bringing about such a shift.
Let us together work for the creation of a better India for the vast majority of our people.