People's Democracy

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


No. 18

May 02, 2010



Hartal Scores Resounding Success


AS reports appearing in accompanying pages clearly show, the nationwide hartal called by 13 Left and non-NDA secular opposition parties was a resounding success.  It was widely expected that this hartal would result in a twelve-hour dawn to dusk bandh in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, states where the Left is influential. However, many other parts of the country also saw a similar situation.   The combination of the Left and regional parties saw the action being very effective in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra etc. 

The spontaneous and the large-scale involvement of the people reflects the mounting anger against the relentless rise in the prices of essential commodities (which have been continuously growing at the rate of nearly 20 per cent for over a year). This has seriously eroded the living standards of the vast masses of the people.  This has resulted in lakhs of people being pushed below the poverty line from being above. 

On the same day, April 27, these 13 parties ensured that the parliament also participated in the hartal with the Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day and the Lok Sabha beginning its proceedings at 6 pm, at the culmination of the 12-hour hartal. The Lok Sabha took up the agenda of adopting the Union Budget for 2010-11. With the further discussion on the demands for grants being guillotined, this was the time for moving the cut motions asking for the reversal of specific budgetary proposals that had led to the hike in the prices of petrol, diesel and fertilisers. 

Though the discussion on the demand for grants of the petroleum ministry could not take place due to the guillotine, in an unprecedented step, the speaker of the Lok Sabha permitted the moving of the cut motion on this score, reversing the earlier tradition of not allowing cut motions for ministries whose demands for grants are not discussed.  This came through the ruling on a matter submitted by the Left MPs who pointed out that Article 113(2) of the constitution gave the right to the Lok Sabha to exercise its power �to assent, or to refuse to assent, to any demand, or to assent to any demand subject to a reduction of the amount specified therein�. This is the first time since independence that this constitutional provision was invoked. 

As is known, this cut motion was defeated in the Lok Sabha with 201 votes for and 288 against. These figures must be seen in the context of 22 Samajwadi Party and 4 Rashtriya Janata Dal MPs who walked out before the voting.  This happened despite the fact that both the parties were party to the 13-party call for a national hartal as well as to move cut motions in the parliament.  Both the parties actively led and participated in the hartal in the states where they have influence, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively. They now have to answer the various speculations that are currently doing the rounds in the media attributing various reasons for their walk-out. 

Further, the BSP (21 MPs) that strongly spoke against the UPA government�s economic policies, particularly price rise, mysteriously chose  to support the government on the vote  advancing the plea that they do not wish to vote with the communal forces. This is, indeed, a strange argument from a party that thrice shared power with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh!  In addition, the Congress party shamelessly succeeded in mobilising the BJP-supported Jharkhand chief minister, Shibu Soren, to vote with it on this occasion. 

If the Congress party could not manage these maneouvres, then the final voting would have been 249 in favour of the cut motion and 266 with the government. This latter figure is six short of the majority mark in the Lok Sabha.  The Congress party has, once again, displayed its infamous expertise in winning the vote in the parliament like it did on several occasions in the past, particularly on the Indo-US nuclear deal in the recent past. 

The Congress party is seeking to unsuccessfully justify its unscrupulous and immoral maneouvres by charging the opposition with wishing to destabilise the government in its eleventh month. Cut motions, under parliamentary practice, are not designed to destabilise the government.  If that was the objective, then the opposition would have moved a no confidence motion. Cut motions are designed to pressurise the government to rescind specific budgetary proposals.  True, if a government looses a cut motion, then it has to resign. This, precisely, is the pressure that the opposition mounted on this occasion in the interests of the welfare of the vast majority of Indian people. If the government had rolled back the backbreaking hikes in the prices of petrol, diesel and fertilisers, then the reason for moving the cut motion would simply not exist. 

The UPA-2 government has to ask itself the question as to why it reduced itself to this state of counting its numbers in its first year itself. This is, indeed, unprecedented.  Particularly in a situation where during the last two decades, no coalition government at the centre was led by a party which, itself, had more than 200 seats. The answer to this question lies in the spate of anti-people policies that this government is adopting which is alienating many sections that had initially extended support to it.

At the initiative of the Left, pressure was mounted on the government both inside and outside the parliament on April 27 against rising prices. The parliamentary cut motion was confined to only one measure that is required to contain this price rise � the rollback of budgetary hikes.  The Left parties, additionally continue to demand that the central government must immediately ban all speculatively futures/forward trading in all essential commodities; universalise and strengthen the public distribution system (PDS); and release the excess stock of foodgrains in the central government godowns through the PDS. 

The central government has not acceded to any of these so far. Clearly, therefore, the struggle continues. In fact, it has to be intensified in the interests of protecting and improving the livelihood of the vast mass of the Indian people.