People's Democracy

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


No. 34

August 23, 2009




Move Beyond Rhetoric



AS India leaves behind 62 years of its `awakening into freedom', the prime minister delivered the customary address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on our 63rd Independence Day.  The speech was precisely that. Customary.  All the right rhetoric was voiced. However, it inspired little confidence that these platitudes would be translated into action. 


The prime minister spent a great deal of time in describing the current drought situation that is stalking the country. However, what needs to be done to provide relief to the suffering people was not adequately articulated. In these columns last week, on both issues which are imposing miserable hardships on the people – drought and price rise – we had suggested a series of measures that are imperative to provide relief to the people from their mounting agonies. Needless to add, there was little reference to these suggestions in the prime minister's address. 


The prime minister said: “It will be our effort to ensure that every citizen of India is prosperous and secure and is able to lead a life of dignity and self-respect”. Further, he goes on to say, in the context of the current drought situation, “It is our ardent desire that not even a single citizen of India should ever go hungry”. Ironically, few hours before the prime minister began to address the nation, media reported that three people in the Jehanabad district of Bihar had died due to starvation. In the 40 days preceding the Independence Day, 20 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh alone. Highlighting the tragic state of affairs, two farmers committed suicide, according to media reports, while the prime minister was, thus, addressing the nation.  Starvation deaths and farmer's suicides continue to haunt rural India. This situation can be reversed only if concerted efforts are made to ensure that food reaches the needy through a universal public distribution system. These and other essential measures to alleviate the plight of the vast masses of Indian people have been articulated in this column last week. 


Not surprisingly, the major thrust of the prime minister's address was to restore the country's growth rate to 9 per cent which, he described as “the greatest challenge we face”.  The current fall in the growth rate to 6.7 per cent has been ascribed solely to the global economic crisis. He goes on to say, “It is only as a result of our policies that the global crisis has affected us to a lesser extent than many other countries”.  However, characteristically he refrained from admitting that most, if not all, such `policies’ were due to the Left's pressure during the UPA-I government. 


The prime minister says that, “good education is not only desirable in itself but is also essential for our people”. True. But what is the current reality? Of the 100 students that enter class I, only 31 reach class X. Of these, only around 16 pass class XII. Of this, a mere around 9 enter the portals of higher education. Mere enactment of the Right to Education Act does not guarantee to reverse or improve this situation.   Huge leaps in expenditures are required. If the current budget is any indication, this is not forthcoming. 


The prime minister says, “good health is one of our basic needs”.  True again.  But then, what is the current reality? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shockingly revealed recently that in 2007-08, India ranked 171 in a list of 175 countries in the world in terms of public health spending.  For a country of over a 100 crore people, India spends 5.2 per cent of its GDP on health care. Of this, the government continues to spend a mere 0.9 per cent of the GDP. The rest is spent by the private sector, which, as is well-known caters almost exclusively to `shining' India.  In contrast to India's 5.2 per cent, USA spends 16 per cent of its GDP, over many times larger than ours on public health. The OECD countries as a whole spend over 11 per cent of their GDP.  Apart from the current anxieties over the spread of `swine flue', routinely, over 1000 children die every day in India, due to malnutrition  or diseases that can be completely preventable. Routinely, 900 people die every day due to TB.  In 2004, when the UPA-1 government was formed, under Left's pressure, the Common Minimum Programme promised to raise the levels of public health spending from 0.9 to at least 3 per cent of the GDP.  Five years later, this continues to remain at the miserable level of 0.9 per cent. 


Apart from reiterating the continuation of all the flagship programmes of the UPA government, the prime minister expressed great concern at growing Maoist violence.  He said: “The central government will redouble its efforts to deal with Naxalite activities.  We will extend all help to the state governments to make their police forces more effective. Central forces will be provided wherever they are needed.  We will also do more to ensure better coordination among states.” Sounds good. But then the prime minister must explain how he continues to tolerate members of his own cabinet aiding and abetting Maoist violence in Lalgarh and other parts of West Bengal.  The prime minister’s concerns, therefore, sound hollow apart from misleading. 


The prime minister concludes his address by exhorting the youth of our country, “We have full confidence in our youth. They are our future.”  Indeed, they are. We have been repeatedly pointing out in these columns that with 54 per cent of India being below the age of 25 years, this demographic advantage must be fully utilised to strengthen our human resources. This youth can turn into India's biggest asset only when they are provided good health, education and gainful employment. In order to achieve this, and, thus, realise our country's full potential, we need to go substantially above rhetoric and expressions of platitudes and substantially invest in our youth. 


Strengthening popular struggles to force the government to move in this direction, thus, constitutes the biggest challenge before the Indian people in the 63rd year of our freedom.