People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 25

June 21, 2009

 


YECHURY’S SPEECH IN RAJYA SABHA ON PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS - II

 

‘Provide Real Relief To People

In These Times Of Crisis’

 

I COME to the major thrust of the president’s address, and that is paras 15 and 16 where she deals with the global crisis and the impact that is there on our country and how we are trying to resolve it. I think the government continues to remain in a state of denial on the impact of the global crisis, and this I am saying because of our own governmental statistics that have been recently put out. In the first quarter of 2009, India’s industrial output dropped to an alarming minus 2.3 per cent. Growth rate of your manufacturing sector dropped. Manufacturing sector by the way is 80 per cent of your index of industrial production. Manufacturing sector grew at a minus 3.3 per cent growth rate. What I am saying is that the industrial output grew at minus 2.3 per cent; your manufacturing sector grew at minus 3.3 per cent; your exports have fallen by 33 per cent in the last seven months; your imports have also fallen. This, may be for an economist, he will say that my trade deficit will improve because imports have also fallen. But these are capital imports which essentially is an index for measuring the infrastructural development. These have declined and the net impact of all this is that your economic fundamentals are being adversely affected. But, at the same time, the net impact of all this is directly falling on peoples’ livelihood with the loss of jobs. Again, I am quoting from the UNDP report. It says: “Given the fragmentary nature of information, the best that one can do is to depend on figures like 20,000 construction workers who have lost their jobs in the Gulf are returning to India.” The minister for Overseas Affairs hands’ will be full particularly since he comes from that state. “Twenty thousand construction workers have lost their jobs in the Gulf. In the engineering sector, the job losses were 40,000; one lakh people working in the gems and jewellery sector have lost their jobs; 5,00,000 people have lost jobs in the textiles and garments sector,” and these are figures given to us by the UNDP. What has happened as a result of this crisis is real. In fact, crores of people are getting homeless and jobless, and unless these problems are addressed, we cannot really provide relief to the people. But at the same time, the president says, and I quote: “It is a matter of satisfaction that the Indian economy has not suffered the kind of slow down that has been witnessed in almost every other country in the world.”

 

It is a matter of satisfaction. But why? There are, at least, four measures that we prevented this government from taking. If they had taken those measures, the impact would have been more devastating. First, on the question of privatisation of the pension funds, if that money had gone into the stock markets, crores of our employees would have been ruined.

 

Second is on the question of your banking reform. If that had happened, the foreign banks’ equity in Indian banks would have been allowed to go up to 71 per cent or 75 per cent; with the collapse of foreign banks, our banks would have also collapsed; crores of people would have lost their lifelong savings. If, in the insurance sector, we had allowed you to raise the ceiling of foreign investment, along with the collapse of insurance giants in the world – AIG, the biggest insurance giant in the world, has also collapsed—we would have also suffered. And if the previous government had gone ahead with the full convertibility of the Indian rupee, which was laid out as a roadmap by the prime minister himself in 2006, there would have been a greater exodus in the capital flights from our country as a result of this crisis. These were the four measures.

 

I had, on one occasion said ‘give the devil its due’ because we stopped it, the impact has been less. But now, what is stated in para 16 is very amazing. Immediately after this thing, in para 16, the president talks in terms of banking sector reforms and also brings in a legislation to establish a regulator for the pension sector. Regulator for the pension sector is exactly the privatisation of pension funds. And that bill, which was pending and which could not be passed last time, is still there. So, the solutions that the president of India is offering are exactly the opposite of what needs to be done to protect ourselves. If it is a matter of satisfaction that we did not suffer as much as some other countries did, that matter of satisfaction should be understood, why it so happened, and not repeat those mistakes. But unfortunately, I am afraid, that is exactly what the president has outlined for this government to take up. Now, I think, there must be a serious rethink on this and this sort of a policy needs to be reversed by the government; otherwise, there could be a greater misery that will be imposed on the Indian people.

 

There is, in fact, another thing which the leader of the opposition also pointed out and which, I think, is a very valid one. That is the issue of non-comprehensive nature in which the foreign policy of our country and the relations with the world have been discussed here. During the tenure of the last government, we have had this entire discussion on the Indo-US nuclear deal, at least, five times in this House. Many of the issues have been discussed. I do not wish to repeat most of them.  But, I think, there are certain glaring omissions in the foreign policy section, and one of that omissions is that this is, probably, for the first time in many, many years that there is no mention of the word ‘nonaligned’. And I would only want to recall the attention of this august House to the remarks made by the late prime minister Indira Gandhi when she took over the mantle of the NAM presidency from Fidel Castro and you remember that bear hug; all of us remember that photograph. She said: Nonalignment’s relevance is not because the cold war is on and there are two camps in the world. Non-alignment’s relevance is the solidarity of the developing world on all matters and, prophetically, at that point of time, within a few years, came the entire issue of the North-South divide on the economic issues. So, the relevance of nonalignment is not only in terms of foreign policy alone; the relevance of nonalignment is also in terms of mobilising the solidarity between the developing world in order to take on the challenges that will mount now in the wake of a global recession, and these challenges will come in the form of increased protectionism by the North affecting the South, by increased pressures by the North to prise open our markets so that they can continue to make their profits at the expense of our farmers and our people. And if these matters have to be resisted, then that element of building that solidarity, which is crucial now because the Doha-round will, again, restart, and how we are going to take up the question of protecting our farmers will, again, become important and the approach that the government will take on these matters has, unfortunately, not been outlined or defined.

 

I would also like to point out that I find it very strange that while all other achievements of the previous government have been listed, there is no reference to Indo-Brazil-South Africa Initiative that we had taken, that the prime minister had taken.

 

He went to the first Summit.  That initiative of India-Brazil-South Africa, that linkage has given us, I believe, a lot of positive dividends in terms of the entire discussions that are taking place in the WTO. We, in fact, are wanting and arguing that IBSA should be expanded to include China and Russia and IBSA should be converted into BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.  It is this sort of a combination that India will have to work for if, today, we really have to resist the increasing pressures that will come and they will mount on the economic front; because one way of seeing the end of the tunnel by them is by resorting to and going back to greater protectionism. You have already seen the decision of the US president that any US company that outsources or sets up BPOs in India, for example, will not receive any tax concessions that are available to them there. Your IT sector which has been a place of pride for us, for the younger generation, that is going to be very seriously effected by this. So if these have to be resisted, India requires larger number of friends in the developing world and that somehow is missing in this entire section.

 

I am only being generous by saying ‘missing’, maybe, there is a reason why that is missing and the reason is contained in Para 43, that is, the transformation of our partnership with the United States of America will be taken forward. Now what is this transformation of our relationship?  At the time of the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal we had pointed very serious implications that it has for our sovereignty, for our future and the baggage of the externalities from nuclear commerce that accompanied the deal were the basic concerns that we had expressed.  Now if that is the direction in which you want to strengthen, and if that is the meaning of what the president said that this government will take this forward, it has very serious implications because already the US administration is now talking of reviving the CTBT. The new US president has already said that he will go back to the Congress and the Senate. Remember, in the United States of America, the Democrats today control both the Senate and the Congress as well. If they go back there with the CTBT and it is endorsed now, then automatically the pressure on us to sign that treaty will mount. Similarly, the pressure on us to sign the NPT will mount. Both these treaties, we have said, are discriminatory; they are loaded against us and in favour of the P-5 and, therefore, India will not sign these treaties. That has been our traditional position. We would like to know: Is there any change from that? If there is no change then how can you take the partnership with America forward? It can go forward only when you accept the conditions that they are putting. If these are the conditions they are putting, then we are in for a serious trouble.

 

Again the question comes up about Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. We understand the situation in Pakistan. We understand the insecurities that are connected with it. But is that the only reason why that is not happening?  Tactically, is it in the interest of India if Iran-Pakistan-China come up with this gas pipeline? Is that going to be advantageous for us? No, it will be very disadvantageous for India. These are matters that require serious consideration by the government. I was rather pleasantly surprised while the leader of the opposition mentioned his concerns on these points. I am very glad that these concerns were raised by him both on the issue of WTO and climate change. We hope that this approach will continue to be there because much of this strategic partnership that the president of India says that this government will take forward was a strategic relationship which they began (the BJP) when they were in government. But in the interest of the country—again, as I said, that is not for scoring a point – I think, these are the issues that will have to be very seriously addressed by the government. I hope they will take these issues into consideration with all seriousness that they merit.

 

Finally, I would like to say, the president of India, has borrowed certain expressions, -- she hasn’t stated so; I don’t blame her, as this is common knowledge that she has taken certain passages from the Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize winning piece of work—‘The dreary desert of dead habit’, and then goes on to say, “Our young people are tearing down the narrow domestic walls”. Both these expressions are there in that poem.  But there are two other expressions which she does not refer to. What she does not refer to is, ‘where the mind is without fear’ and ‘where the head is held high’. We want India to be that, where the head is held high and the mind is without fear. That is the country which Tagore wanted and that is the country which we want. I am not saying that, by a deliberate exclusion, the president had not chosen those two key terms. I wish that to be amended to contain that spirit. Let us build a country where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. That can only happen if all these suggestions are taken seriously, and we hope that the government will seriously take these suggestions into account. Some of these, we have moved in an amendment form, which we will take up subsequently. We hope, in the interest of India and for the future of our younger generation, as the president correctly notes that 54 per cent of India is below the age of 25 years, -- we have earlier been arguing on this demographic divide, and we are happy to note that it has been referred to by the president—let us invest in our youth. Please provide this youth with education, health and employment. Then, there is no need for any one of us here; the youth will change India into a better India. Our job is to provide them with these facilities and empower them. And that empowerment is what I am seeking from this government.

 

Since they are beginning a new term, we wish them all success. But we wish them success by also taking into account the suggestions that we have made. Before I conclude, I once again reiterate that we wish to play the role of a responsible opposition, a constructive opposition, where the issues of the working people will continue to be championed by us both inside the House and outside. And I hope that in the interest of India and its people, the government will take these suggestions seriously.