People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 17

April 25, 2010

Editorial

 

ROLLBACK BUDGETARY PRICE HIKES

 

Forward to April 27 Nationwide Hartal

 

THE call for a nationwide hartal on April 27 given by four Left parties and nine other non-Congress secular opposition parties is gaining momentum with regional parties in various states coming forward to join this countrywide protest against the relentless rise in the prices of all essential commodities. 

Simultaneously, it is very likely that on that very same day, April 27, a cut motion will be moved in the Lok Sabha on the budgetary demands for grants seeking the rollback  in the hike in the prices of petrol, diesel and fertilisers.  The anxiety in the ruling coalition is growing because if such a cut motion is adopted by the Lok Sabha, then the government has to go, according to our constitution.  This has become a possibility because some parties that extended outside support to this UPA-2 coalition like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (Secular) have joined this protest action and are party to the joint hartal call. 

Such an anxiety amongst the ruling coalition in its very first year in government is, indeed, unprecedented.  In the last two decades of coalition governments at the centre, the party leading the coalition never had more than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha.  This time around, the Congress party leading the present UPA coalition government has more than 200 seats. Yet, it is counting its numbers in the Lok Sabha today!  It has nobody else to blame except itself.  The audacious manner in which it has imposed extra economic burdens on the people and the continued shameless justification of it has led many a supporting party to join the ranks of the Left opposition. 

The objective of this nationwide hartal is not the destabilisation of the central government. Its objective is very simple: force the government through public pressure mounted both  outside and inside parliament  to rollback the backbreaking hikes in the prices of petrol, diesel and fertilisers.  If the UPA-2 government accedes to this very justifiable demand, then, of course, the question of its instability will never arise.  However, if it chooses to do otherwise, then it alone shall have to bear the responsibility for any consequences. 

People’s mounting anger at the economic hardships being imposed on them can be understood by the fact that the overall inflation rate based on the wholesale price index (WPI) was 9.89 per cent as of April 3, 2010.  This is way ahead of the RBI’s revised target of 8.5 per cent. Worse is the fact that food inflation stood at 17.22 per cent implying that for months on end, the vast majority of the Indian people are seeing the continuous decline in their livelihood standards. 

There is a new found euphoria regarding the so-called recovery of the Indian economy overcoming global recession.  This is based on the fact that the index of industrial production (IIP) grew at 17.6 per cent in December 2009, 16.7 per cent in January 2010 and 15.1 per cent in February.  Notwithstanding the low base of last year due to global recession, these may appear to be healthy rates of growth.  There is, however, a very important fact hidden behind these aggregate figures.  Within this high IIP growth rate is the fact that  consumer durables (automobiles, fridges, TVs etc) grew by 29.9 per cent while consumer non-durables (mainly food and other articles of daily consumption) grew by a mere 2.3 per cent.  This is for the month of February 2010.  For the year 2009-10, the average growth of consumer non-durables was just 1.6 per cent compared to 25.75 per cent for consumer durables. 

It is universally accepted that the consumption of non-durable items is driven by low and middle income consumers who spend a bulk of their money on food and not so much on consumer durables.  There is a near unanimous view amongst all economists and experts that “inflation has affected the purchasing power of the lower income group especially food inflation and that is reflecting in the deceleration of growth in the consumer non-durables sector”.  This clearly shows that the vast majority of Indian people continue to groan under mounting economic miseries due to this relentless rise in the prices of essential commodities. 

Clearly, as argued in these columns in the past, the class nature of the stimulus packages and the tax concessions to the rich ostensibly to combat global recession have only made the rich richer and the poor poorer.  The hiatus between the `shining’ and `suffering’ India continues to widen. 

The Left parties had demanded, apart from the rollback of the price hikes announced in the budget, a complete ban on all forward/futures trading in all essential commodities and the release of surplus foodgrains held in central godowns through a universal public distribution system to control this relentless price rise.  These have so far fallen on deaf ears. 

The April 27 nationwide hartal and the moving of cut motions in the parliament are aimed at making this UPA-2 government hear the agonies of the people and rollback the budgetary hikes in the prices of petrol, diesel and fertilisers. It is only the strength of a powerful people’s mobilisation that will force this government to act in the interests of the people as against its current pre-occupation with bolstering super profits for the rich.