(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 24, 2012
Challenge to Consolidate the People’s Victory -- II
THE most important aspect of the SMC election is the reasons attributed to the defeat of both the BJP and Congress, who had injected their maximum resources, of money, muscle and manpower, and the political space the election results have created for the growth of progressive and Left politics not only within the jurisdiction of the corporation but that in the state of Himachal Pradesh. However, before making an analysis of this, something needs to be recorded about the Congress party. Though it is a product of the freedom movement, its "corporatisation" under the aegis of neo-liberalism has diminished its glow which it was born with.
TUG OF WAR
A tug of war had taken place among the Congress stalwarts over the selection of their nominees for the mayor and deputy mayor posts. Factions of the Congress party had only one common factor among themselves --- surety of their party’s victory which they had arrogantly declared even before the announcement of the election schedule. They did not anticipate that the people had something else in store for them. They were under deep illusion that the anti-incumbency feeling against the four and a half years of Dhumal government would insure automatic victory for them. They were unable to sense the anti-incumbency that existed against their own 26 years in running the corporation.
High drama preceded the finalisation of Madhu Sood’s name for the mayor's post. Her husband, a high profile construction contractor who also has to his credit the construction of Congress Bhawan in Shimla, had made an open announcement through the columns of the vernacular press that he would offer Rs one crore in return for his wife’s nomination for the mayor's post. He was even prepared for her being nominated by the BJP. In fact, prior to the date of nomination filing, there were news from the RSS office that Madhu Sood, who had been mayor for the last two and a half years, would be the BJP’s nominee for the post. What the people would say as to why the SMC mayor who belonged to the Congress party has overnight switched her loyalty to the BJP, made no difference to her.
The next important question that needs to be answered is: why the electorate of Shimla reduced the Congress nominees of the Congress party to poor thirds. The core reason of course was the alienation of the people from the Congress due to its greater love for neo-liberal policies than for the “aam adami.” But there have been local factors too, which need to be analysed.
Firstly, no battle can be won under the command of a weak general. Not only is Anand Sharma a weak general of the Congress party, he does not have experience of a battle either despite being an important minister in the central cabinet and a darling of 10 Janpath. While the general, in an electoral battle, must be given the task of a star campaigner in order to generate confidence among the people, this general has been accustomed to corporate environment where meetings are held in air conditioned drawing rooms and links with the masses are not through street corner meetings or in galis and mohullas but through press conferences, SMC messages or twittings. Building direct contacts with the people invites the danger of getting infected by diseases of the poor and downtrodden. Hence the corporate culture ‘innovates’ new methods to reach out to the people without building direct contacts.
Secondly, if the people are compelled to choose between two bourgeois landlord parties, a better choice is to choose those who are in state power. This gave the BJP an advantage over the Congress.
Thirdly, the people of Shimla have already tested Madhu Sood and the policies she had pursued in the last two and a half years of her mayorality. Each and every citizen of Shimla knew that the BJP state government had, in connivance with her, given permission to the DLF company to construct a colony for those who represent the ‘Shinning India,’ for the representatives of the corporate houses. In this case, the Municipal Corporation violated all the rules and regulations in a record time --- permission for the colony’s construction was granted in one single day after it was sought. This was in sharp contrast to the bitter reality that dalit people’s colonies have not been regularised over the decades together and that the residential houses of some 40,000 people in the merged areas were designated as illegal constructions for no fault of theirs. For this reason electricity and water connections are being charged at commercial rates and, also, there is the perennial threat of their homes being demolished in case they did not behave themselves.
Lastly, the neo-liberal policies not only make the rich richer and the poor poorer; traditional bases of the bourgeois landlord parties is also undergoing a change. This adds to a weakening of the political structure and in order to keep a grip over the people, these parties rely upon the backward consciousness of caste, creed, religion, region etc. The neo-liberal era and the growth of identity politics go side by side. Madhu Sood belonged to the most powerful caste in the business community which not only controls the business in Shimla town; its numerical strength too is decisive in electoral contests. Apart from belonging to a crorepati family, the other consideration of the Congress party to field her for the top post was her identity of belonging to the Sood community. Also, it was for the same reason that the BJP was trying to lure her. But the Congress failed to realise that the identity politics would gets eclipsed with the growth of the Left and democratic politics.
Our party does not have much experience in Himachal Pradesh, but based upon the understanding of repeated party congresses, it has attempted to build struggles on local issues in order to advance. A Communist Party cannot attract the people by raising revolutionary slogans alone; people mobilise on issues which affect their day to day life. However, in areas where the Communist Party is weak, it is difficult to attract people by raising their demands from the platform of the party. It needs to be the platform of a mass organisation which may attract even the persons with the most backward consciousness. The purpose is not just to achieve the demands which can be achieved only by organising the people and bringing them into struggle. But the struggle must continue till the demands are wholly or partially achieved, no matter how long it takes. This explains the importance of identifying the issues of immediate and achievable nature, which may be taken up first. But this too is not sufficient; after the first successes the main struggle is of strengthening and consolidating the mass organisation of the people and identifying people who could be brought closer to the party and finally made its members. If this is not done in continuity or treated as a part of the whole, any will only temporarily take the people away from the fold of the bourgeois landlord parties and, once the influence of the struggle gets weakened, they will go back to the party under whose influence they had been earlier.
What kind of mass organisation needs to be formed in urban areas would vary from place to place. In Shimla, we have had the Shimla Nagrik Sabha that has been raising the day to day problems of the people since the last one and a half years. However, it is the class and other mass organisations that have been serving as the core of the Sabha.
The readers will be surprised to learn that the focal demand in three different local struggles were just of removing the barriers put to the local pathways by influential people. In one case the pathway of daily use had been blocked by a high police officer; in another by a land mafia and in the third by the CPWD management. The impact of our struggles helped in removing the blockades and left a very deep impact on the people. It was beyond their imagination that the people’s struggle has the greatest force. No goon, no mafia or no police officer, however high he may be, is able to face the collective will of the people.
For example, in the case of the barricade put up by the CPWD, the people had exhausted all kinds of methods to settle the dispute but failed. The dispute was pending since 2002. On one occasion, the local people affected by the barricade threw a lavish lunch party to the DGW of the CPWD but that too was of no avail. The common man outside the fold of an organised movement is often bullied by the powerful --- a land mafia, a police officer or a contractor. It is only the people’s common will which is able to liberate them from harassment and exploitation. It is this process which changes his consciousness.
In the past two years the Shimla Nagrik Sabha has been able to carry out innumerable struggles, though some were even limited to a mohulla. One of the struggles pertained to reducing the bus fare of JNNURM buses from a minimum of Rs ten to five; another related to the problems arising from the shifting of a bus stand. All these struggles brought their own experiences and helped us to reach out to new sections who are outside the party fold.
Apart from the struggles of the Shimla Nagrik Sabha, other sections of the population too fought their struggles from the platform of the SFI, JMS, DYFI and CITU etc. All these helped to augment the fighting image of the party and, in the ultimate analysis, increased its electoral strength in the corporation.
In the last Municipal Corporation elections held in 2007, the CPI(M) was able to poll only 6,592 votes, in comparison to 28,904 polled by the INC and 25,786 by the BJP. However, in the recent elections, the party has increased its strength. It contested elections in 20 wards on the party symbol and supported four independent candidates. It was able to win three councillor seats and came second in seven other wards, polling a total of 12,755 votes, or 24.60 per cent of the votes polled, while the BJP has 12 councillors polling 18, 848 votes (36.35 per cent) and the Congress has won 10 councillors polling 17,624 votes (33.99 per cent). But for the mayor's post the people gave a decisive verdict in favour of the CPI(M) and we polled 22,169 votes (43.37 per cent) against the BJP’s 14,035 (27.45 per cent) and the Congress’s 13,278 (25.37 per cent). For the post of deputy mayor, the party polled 21,176 votes (40.88 per cent of the votes polled) against the BJP’ 16,418 (31.69 per cent) and the Congress’s 13,205 votes (25.49 per cent).
Now the party is preparing for the next electoral battle --- for the assembly elections to be held in October-November 2012. As a part of the preliminary preparations the party has identified 21 assembly seats which it proposes to contest. However, the final decision would be taken by the state committee meeting to be held in Shimla on June 26-27, 2012.