(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 10, 2009
Congress As Well As BJP Ignored People’s Issues
THE people of Chhattisgarh exercised their franchise for the second time in five months when, on April 16, 2009, they came out to elect their representatives for the 11 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Earlier, they had come out to vote for the state assembly elections in November 2008, when the BJP returned to power.
It is, however, obvious that the people had had no love lost for the BJP when they voted it to power in November. The reason, simply, was that they did not think that the Congress could provide any credible alternative to the BJP. Moreover, from the very beginning, the Congress was beset with internal factional dissensions and bickerings, which prevented it from putting up a united and determined fight against the BJP.
In November, moreover, as many as 20 per cent of the voters voted neither for the BJP nor for the Congress, which fact underlined the possibility that a third alternative could well be evolved in Chhattisgarh. It is clear that the politics of Chhattisgarh would keep revolving between these two parties unless steps are taken to evolve a third alternative in the state.
Since November, while the BJP was over-enthusiastic following its victory in the state assembly polls, the Congress too made all-out efforts to make it up in the Lok Sabha polls. Yet these two major parties lagged behind in raising the issues directly affecting the people, and this avoidance was deliberate and preplanned.
What, then, are the major issues facing the people?
Chhattisgarh ranks fourth among the most backward states in the country and agriculture is the main support of as many as 75 per cent people of the state. The agricultural growth rate in the state is only 2 to 3 per cent, with the sector contributing only 15 per cent to the state domestic product (SDP). Not more than 25 per cent of the cultivated area in the state is under irrigation. Yet, for the last seven years, the allocation for agriculture is only 3 per cent per annum. In case of paddy, productivity is as low as only 15-16 quintals per hectare.
This brings out the pathetic plight of agriculture in Chhattisgarh and, with it, explains the miserable life of the people in the state.
Below are given some crucial facts about the state.
Agriculture: The area of cultivation in Chhattisgarh has decreased by 5,000 hectares since the formation of the state. Agricultural production, too, has declined. The number of the landless has grown, and agricultural workers now number 15.52 lakhs. Some 51 per cent of the holdings (totalling 15.22 lakhs) are marginal with an average area of 0.22 hectare and average paddy production of 4 quintals.
This explains why about 1,600 peasants are committing suicide every year in the state. This comes to 50 per one lakh peasant families in the state, and the rate is the highest in the country.
Economic Inequality: There were 14 millionaires in the state in 2006-07, and the number went up to 30 in 2007-08. But, in the same period, the number of families living below the poverty line in Chhattisgarh has also gone up to 37 lakhs. According to the BJP government of the state, per capita income has gone up from Rs 12,000 to Rs 16,000, but the reality is that the income of the poor people has gone down as the best part of the increase has accrued to the richer sections.
Forestland: According to a survey, 10 lakh families are in occupation of the forestland in the state and are entitled for pattas as per the Forest Rights Act. But applications have been received only from 3 lakh families, and pattas granted to only 35,000. The BJP government is totally callous about granting such pattas to the tribal people; it is trying to obstruct this process as far as possible and trying not to get applications from the tribals.
Education: In 2006-07, Chhattisgarh (with a coefficient of 0.517) ranked 22nd in the country on the index of educational development and 26th in regard to upper primary education. According to the data, only 58.6 per cent of the schools have pucca buildings, there are separate toilet facilities for girls in only 13.5 per cent of the schools, computers are available in a measly 5.7 per cent, and 10.7 per cent of the primary schools are single-teacher schools.
The state has more than 5,600 schoolteacher posts vacant while vacancies number about 1,000 in government colleges; the latter number includes 90 principal posts.
Corrupt officials devour more than 25 per cent of the scholarship amount meant for 14 lakh students from the weaker sections.
Unemployment: The state has more than 13 lakh registered unemployed.
Employment Guarantee: According to a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, the families registered for the employment guarantee scheme in the state received on an average 41 days of work in 2007-08, and it came down to 35 days, while the stipulation is that 100 days of work would be provided to each registered family per year.
Chhattisgarh also had the biggest corruption scandal in the employment guarantee scheme, but nothing has so far been done against those involved in it. This CAG report clearly brought out how hollow has been the BJP promise of providing a corruption free administration. The fact is that not a single department has been free from corruption under the BJP rule.
Naxalite Violence: As many as 1,483 persons were killed in 2,654 incidents of naxalite violence in 2004-08. Those killed included 828 innocent citizens.
Law and Order: During 2006-08, 1,952 cases of murder, 1,780 of rape, 209 of dacoity, 822 of loot and 9,835 cases of theft were recorded in the state. The law and order situation has deteriorated to pathetic levels in the state.
The state tops the list n the country in the matter of crimes against women. Here, 11 women suffer from crimes every day, 4 are molested and 2 suffer rape. Three women are murdered in every 5 days.
Healthcare: As many as 432 out of 493 gynaecologist posts are vacant in the 113 community health centres in the state. Similarly, 572 posts of health officers, 351 of lab technicians, 364 of pharmacists, 384 of eye treatment assistants and 222 of dressers lie vacant.
The state has 216 TB patients in every one lakh population.
Public Distribution System: Though the state government claims that 37 lakh people have ration cards meant for the BPL (below poverty line) category, this is a humbug claim and lakhs of the poor are still hopelessly wandering for getting such cards. This brings out the hollowness f the BJP’s heavily tomtomed scheme of providing rice to the poor at Rs 3 per kg. As many as 12 lakh APL (above poverty line) cardholders do not get ration from the PDS shops.
About 52 per cent of the Chhattisgarh population is suffering from malnutrition; most of these are women and children.
Paddy Procurement Scandal: Officially, 33 tehsils in the state are drought affected, but most of the remaining tehsils are not in a good condition either. Yet, the state government procured only 37 lakh tonnes of cereals, which is insufficient for any worthwhile relief work. A large amount of paddy was smuggled in from the neighbouring states but officials recorded it as procured from the peasants. This scandal amounts to about 15 billion rupees.
It is evident that the common people of Chhattisgarh are suffering multiple problems concerning food, potable water, health, education, employment, public distribution system, sad plight of agriculture, etc, but the Congress as well as the BJP ignored these problems throughout the poll process in the state. The reason is that the central and state governments of these very parties created these problems, in the first place. If ever these parties mentioned these issues in their poll campaigns, it was only in a very casual manner.
CONGRESS- BJP GAMES
The Congress left no stone unturned in playing the casteist card with the purpose of defeating the BJP, pitting a Sahu candidate against a Sahu candidate for example. This was the major hope for the Congress party.
In the absence of any issue to raise, the Congress and the BJP asked for the people’s votes in the name of Dr Manmohan Singh and L K Advani respectively. They also kept calling each other by names. But the Congress party displayed utter inefficiency in resisting some of the serious BJP moves. For example, the BJP raised the issue of “Ram temple” and the Sangh Parivar launched physical attacks upon Christian nuns and dubbed them as anti-national in order to incite the basest passions against them, but the Congress kept mum on both these issues. The Congress dubbed Judeo of the BJP as “outsider” in Bilaspur and the BJP did the same about Baghel of the Congress party in Raipur.
However, both these parties did have a serious political issue at hand and did not spare its use --- both these parties venomously attacked the third front in their poll campaigns. Be it Mrs Sonia Gandhi or L K Advani, Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi, all of them ferociously attacked the third alternative even though the politics in Chhattisgarh is polarised between the Congress and the BJP, with no scope for a third formation for the time being at least. This tactic was necessitated by the fact that the state has about 20 per cent voters who did not vote for either of these two parties in the assembly polls. The desperation of these parties was further compounded by the fact that the third front has been calling for alternative policies as against the anti-people, pro-rich and pro-imperialist policies of the two major parties. This was nothing surprising as the aim of both these parties is to make the Indian politics bipolar, so that there remains no challenge to the ruling class policies.
The common mass was, however, not very enthusiastic about the name-callings, which both the Congress and the BJP were engaging in. Top leaders of both these parties held the so-called ‘road shows’ in the whole of Chhattisgarh, and their activists joined them under compulsion, but the common mass was not to be seen in anyone of them. As a result, these two parties had had to perforce spend all their energy and resources in moulding the caste equations as much in their favour as possible. Their leaders also went to visit some of the places of worship and canvassed for votes from there, even though it was in violation of the model code of conduct that is now in force.
Both the Congress and the BJP sought to use money power to the hilt, as this was the alternative left with them in absence of mass support. Wine and cloths were distributed on a large scale; media too was obliged in the form of paid advertisements. Big media organisations extracted much from these parties for their so-called surveys as well. One newspaper, for example, told its readers that 15 and 57 per cent of the people of Gujarat thought that the Congress programme was “better” and “satisfactory” respectively, or that 43 per cent people wanted an NDA government and 44 per cent wanted a Congress government at the centre. It was but natural that the third alternative had had no place in this type of survey-mongering. If, still, 8 per cent of the people a government of the third alternative at the centre, one could say “so far, so good.”
This time the CPI(M) contested one Lok Sabha seat, Sarguja, in the state, with Bal Singh being its candidate. The CPI extended support to the CPI(M) candidate in this seat, just as the CPI(M) extended support to the CPI’s Manish Kunjam in Bastar. The CPI(M) had decided to support the BSP in the remaining 9 seats.
The CPI(M)’s campaign in Sarguja, where the Left has a modicum of mass base, was essentially political and ideological. The state unit of the party distributed 30,000 copies of its election appeal here, in addition to 5,000 copies of the party’s election manifesto. The Kisan Sabha’s appeal to the peasantry was propagated through 10,000 copies, while the DYFI distributed 4,000 copies of its special election bulletin titled Sach ka Darpan (Mirror of Truth). These ad the posters, leaflets and other publicity material gave an edge to the CPI(M) campaign in which the state committee members untiringly participated. The party organised a large number of bazaar meetings and street corner meetings.
Apart from the national issues, the party forcefully raised state level and local issues as well. These included construction of the Ambikapur-Barwadeeh rail line, establishment of more and good-quality higher education institutions, large-scale extension of healthcare facilities, and removal of the anomalies that are there in the programmes and schemes meant for the SC and ST groups. In this way, the CPI(M) was successful in bringing the people’s issues to the centre of its campaign.
It was because of the major parties giving short shrift to the people’s issues that the state registered only 60 per cent polling on the day. While the BJP was enthusiastic following its victory in the assembly polls five months ago, and was hoping to gain from the failures of the central government, the Congress was under the impression that the anger against the communal and anti-people policies of the state government would benefit it. However, both have also been sceptic about their chances, and their state level leaders have been accusing one another of sabotage. It would therefore not be surprising if the results, to be out on May 16, give severe jolts to both these parties.