(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 04, 2010
Unleash Struggles, Combat Erroneous Policies
IN order to safeguard the people’s interest, the communist movement in our country used to make two forms of interventions. The primary kind of intervention is to build up people’s movements and rally them in struggles. The second kind of intervention is to take up the people’s issues in parliament, use the latter parliament as a means for advancing the popular struggles. While doing so, wherever they exist, the Left led state governments have been using their limited powers to implement alternative policies and ensure some relief to the people. The CPI(M) organises people’s agitations against globalisation in this very perspective. The CPI(M) in Kerala too endeavours to put into effect the same conception.
As a result, numerous agitations were unleashed in Kerala to combat the neo-liberal policies being pursued by the central government. Simultaneously, the LDF government in the state is using its limited powers to implement alternative policies. It is notable that such interventions have been termed as a model of people’s alternative during the period of globalisation.
The Indo-ASEAN free trade agreement will sabotage agriculture and the allied sectors in Kerala. The CPI(M) maintained that the free trade agreement would result in a steep fall in the prices of agricultural crops, mainly the cash crops being produced in the state. That correct approach and caution of the party is widely appreciated, especially by the fishing workers and agricultural workers. Hence people in large numbers rallied in the vibrant struggle against this dubious free trade agreement. One notes that even some of the UDF constituents could not justify the pact.
The CPI(M) subsequently urged the people to rally in a “Human Chain” to register stringent protest against the agreement that is causings unprecedented blow to the Kerala economy. On October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, despite the adverse weather conditions, more than 25 lakh people from all walks of life rallied in the historic human chain. It commenced from Kasaragod and ended in Thiruvananthapuram, thus covering the whole of Kerala. The momentous human chain has in effect has become an icon of unbending resistance of the progressive sections of Kerala. It warned the central government against any moves to destroy our agriculture, our allied sectors, our overall economy.
The unprecedented price rise of essential commodities including food grains is causing deep misery to the common people in the country. Without doubt, this miserable situation is the direct outcome of neo-liberal policies. Implementing these policies in agriculture, the central government has cut down the subsidies in a phased manner. In the last central budget itself, the government slashed fertiliser subsidy by Rs 3000 crore compared to the last year. The government had withdrawn from its responsibility of grain procurement and allied assistance in agriculture, resulting in acute miseries to the farmers. Agriculture is becoming unviable and thus farmers’ suicides are becoming very common. The growth rate in agriculture has seen a steady fall, posing threat to the food security of our country. Since 1965, the FCI’s food grain procurement didn't allow the private sector to play havoc with the people’s life. But the neo-liberal policies are allowing the corporate sector a free hand in storing grains. Corporate intrusion in food sector has aggravated the price situation; futures trading and speculative trade have deteriorated it further. Corporate houses now have a golden opportunity to accumulate food grains extensively and create bogus food shortages to make super profits. Thus the corporate sector has gained, farmers remain in misery and common people have to groan due to the severe hike in prices.
It is widely acknowledged that a rise in petro prices intensifies inflation and worsens the common man’s life. Yet the UPA 2 did not hesitate to increase the excise duty on petroleum products, thus adding to their prices. Increased freight charges, particularly for food deficit states like Kerala, results in a deeper crisis so far as price rise is concerned.
PLAN ON PDS
In addition to other pro-corporate measures, the central government has been increasingly weakening the public distribution system (PDS). The government and the FCI steadily pulled out of food procurement and market intervention being made through the PDS. The central government refused to intervene in the market to curb the price rise even when large volumes of food grains perished in FCI godowns. It is highly objectionable as the same government has, while reducing the food subsidy, generously conferred a huge tax exemption of Rs 80,000 crore upon the corporate houses. The pro-capitalist inclination of the central government could never be clearer.
As part of its game plan to weaken the PDS, the central government initiated measures during the 1990s to feeble the statutory rationing system in Kerala. Food grains allocated through the ration shops were cut down frequently and ultimately ration facility was restricted only for a very few BPL card holders. In Kerala cash crops account for 82 per cent of the total agricultural production. So the state depends on other states for food requirements. It was a result of stringent struggles that during the 1960s the centre had to make statutory provisions for grain rations. The FCI had accordingly been providing Kerala 1,13,000 tonnes of rice every month. But it has now been drastically cut down to 13,000 tonnes. As a result, people have to depend on the open market and get fleeced due to bogus rice shortages and steep price rises.
By organising struggles, the CPI(M) successfully intervenes to protect the Kerala people’s interests while also using the limited powers of the state government. This vividly shows the contrast between the policies of the state and central governments. To take an example, while the centre is dismantling the public sector units, the state government intervenes to make them profitable and allocates funds to set up new PSUs in the state. While growth rate in agriculture shows a steady decline in the country, Kerala presents a different picture with a 2.8 per cent growth. While the UPA consciously weaken the PDS, the state government is ardently strengthening it. The central government dubiously restricted the BPL list to below 11 lakh families; the state government expanded it to 25 lakh families and distributed rice through ration shops at 2 rupees a kilo. In its latest budget, the number has been increased to 35 lakh to ensure that all unorganised sector workers and NREG workers get its advantage. Government intervention through numerous stores of the civil supplies Corporation and Consumer Fed, Maveli hotels and cooperative stores has in fact helped us bring down the inflation rate. Thus the prices for numerous food grains, vegetables etc are lesser in Kerala than in the producing states. While the UPA 2 cut down food subsidy, the LDF government spent Rs 400 crore through the PDS, which is the ever highest amount in this regard.
However, the central policies threaten to further reduce the already very limited scope of such alternatives. Kerala’s share in the Finance Commission allocations is getting declined year after year. Other central bodies like the National Commission on Higher Education are also doing the same thing. If we do not resist such an approach that sabotages the federal structure, we cannot ensure limited even relief to the people. There is thus no other way out but struggle.
Combating such anti-people policies, the CPI(M) has organised countrywide massive protests; accordingly, Kerala also reverberated with huge protest actions. The party picketed selected central government offices continuously for five days --- from March 8 to 12 --- from 6 am to 5 pm. The picketing took place on certain specific demands including the rollback of petro prices, restoration of statutory rationing for Kerala, rice for the APL card holders at the older rate of Rs 8.90, withdrawal of the so-called Food Security Bill that denies ration to the APL card holders, ban on futures trading on food grains, a package to save the cash crops that face severe cost collapse due to the Indo-ASEAN pact, distribution of grains and other essentials at reasonable rates through ration shops, etc. A month long massive campaign and organisational preparations were made to make the struggle successful. Numerous district level jathas were organised and in their course the demands of the agitation and the UPA government’s notorious policies were widely debated.
On March 8, despite the severe hot weather, people massively surged in front of selected central government offices; nine lakhs of people participated through the day. People in large numbers including women and children gathered at various centres; hence all such central government offices remained closed during the struggle. Minorities and backward sections rallied in big numbers with the conviction that agitation is the only way to save themselves from the miseries imposed by anti-people policies.
Annoyed by the massive participation in and wide acceptance of the agitation, the anti-Left forces and the rightwing media unleashed a scathing campaign to malign the movement. Instead of bringing the real issues to the people, they resorted to malicious and humbug propaganda saying petty things. For instance, they said people suffered as protesters had blocked the roads, postal deliveries got delayed, etc, etc! but, unfortunately for them, the masses did not get swayed by this motivated propaganda. The people rejected such bogus fictions with the ridicule that it deserved. The five day massive picketing marked yet another chapter in the history of the people’s movement in Kerala.
In the same period, the whole
similar agitations, culminating in a huge rally organised by the Left