People's Democracy

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


No. 48

December 01, 2013






Massive Rally Sounds Bugle for Protest Actions

Tikender Singh Panwar


ON November 12, Shimla, the state capital of Himachal Pradesh, witnessed a massive rally, perhaps the largest by mass organisations in the state. The rally was organised by six main organisations of the people; these were the All India Kisan Sabha, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Students Federation of India, Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Seb Utpadak Sangh (Apple Growers Association).


Here it needs to be mentioned that more than half the participants were women.


The main speaker at the rally was A Vijayraghwan, general secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union. While speaking about the relevance of the rally, he congratulated the sponsoring organisations for taking such an initiative and bringing the problems of several cross sections of people to the fore. He castigated the present UPA government at the centre for incessantly adding to the woes of the people. He gave a comparative assessment of the difference today, compared to the time the Left was supporting the UPA-1 government, and stated that whatever little gains were made during that period because of strenuous efforts of the Left parties have been robbed off by the present regime. Warning the people of the dangers of communalism, he said the BJP is trying to become an illegitimate successor of the UPA and is coming up with a mask of alternative development path, projecting Gujarat as a model state. However, he remarked, many of the social development indices in Gujarat are among the worst and the BJP model is no different from the Congress model; both are for giving priority to the corporate houses’ interest over that of the people. He asked the rallyists to enhance the consciousness of the people who are fed up with the incumbent regimes, and to participate in their struggles in order to mobilise them for alternative policies.




The processions and the rally were one of the most colourful ones in the recent past. The ice skating rink, where the public meeting was held, fell short of space as the people came in large numbers. Because of the strength of the processionists, two processions instead of one were organised, starting off from two different venues. The first one started from the bus stand cum railway shed complex and the other from the Auckland Tunnel. People came with their traditional bands and in traditional attires.


The most remarkable and attractive part of the processions were the Kinnauri women wearing large green caps and heavy woollen outfits. They had come from Kaurik, a far off village bordering China. Equally impressive were the women coming from another extreme corner --- from Tissa in Chamba district that borders Jammu & Kashmir. When this reporter inquired about their travel and their wishes about the outcome of the rally, they said they had travelled over the last 24 hours to join the rally and had brought their own food item called moori, a kind of baked wheat grains, along with walnut. As to what they thought about the rally, they said they were mid-day meal workers in schools. Though this is considered part time work, they are subjected to full time duty from the first bell that rings in the morning to the last one that rings in late afternoon. Still the amount they are paid is extremely paltry --- Rs 700 only. They therefore wanted a change in the situation and a proper wage for decent living.


The students, as usual, were the ones who were renting the air the loudest. Though this was the examination period, their participation was high. These students too were from almost every nook of the state. Young, jubilant and determined, SFI cadres with their white flags could be seen in all parts of the processions. The main demand they were raising was about scrapping the RUSA system of higher education which is not only against the norms of a democratic education system but would also throw a large section of students out of the domain of higher education.


Peasants and especially apple growers thronged the venue with their traditional bands and instruments, ranging from the slow and highly enduring and rhythmic Kinnauri and Pahari bands to the fast drums, beaten during Bhangra dance and songs, from Una district.


Another distinctive feature of the action was the determination of the people to sit for three long hours in freezing temperatures. Interestingly, the venue is called the Ice Skating Rink where water is frozen to form ice for the ice skaters to play. The people bore all that cold and patiently listened to their leaders and the call of the rally.




Speakers at the rally referred to various issues the mass of the people are facing. The welcome address was made by Sanjay Chauhan, the mayor of Shimla, while Kuldeep Singh Tanwar presided over the meeting. From the Kisan Sabha, Onkar Shad and Kushal Bhardwaj took the government to task for shirking its responsibility to protect the people and allowing the corporate houses to virtually take over the market and the post-harvest situation. It is they who play with the prices of agricultural and horticultural produce, keep them down and then, once the harvest is over, jack the prices up with the help of their highly subsidised CA stores. The speakers also lambasted the government for providing subsidies to the corporate houses and simultaneously snatching away subsidies from the peasants.


Speaking about the plight of workmen in the state, Jagat Ram and Kashmir Singh Thakur said there was unprecedented interference in the affairs of trade unions at the behest of the state government. This is being done to further the interests of the big business. Revealingly, mere registration of trade unions in the JP Cements is pending for the last one year. Also, both shared the horrible experience of merciless beating of some CITU leaders in Shimla during a local struggle. The foremost demand they raised was for an increase in the minimum wage to Rs 10,000 for unskilled workers.


SFI leaders like Kapil Bhardwaj and Khushi Verma shared their experience of the new system being adopted in colleges. The Rashtriya Uchchtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), about which even the teachers remain confused to date, has been thrust upon the students. They said an overwhelming majority of students has voted against this system. In a referendum conducted by the SFI within the state, they said, over 90 thousand students participated in the voting, with over 75 thousand voting against the RUSA system. They cautioned that the gains made in the field of public education would dissipate with this new system. The space being vacated for the private universities to occupy is a sure recipe for disaster in the field of education. Instead of being a protector to safeguard the interests of the students, especially with respect to admissions, teaching faculty and fee structure, the government has in fact become a facilitator of the loot of poor students. They remarked that parents are paying heavily for the education of their wards, and that a majority have gone in for education loans where the rate of interest happens to be the highest. The governments, especially the previous BJP one, allowed the mushrooming of private universities in the state and, surprisingly, three have come up in only one village panchayat area.


On the issues of women, Santosh Kapoor spoke about the urgent need of changing the attitude towards women whereby they are considered either as commodities or helpless creatures that are always in need of help. She said the issue of gender budgeting has not even caught the imagination of our policy makers. More budgetary allocation is required to help the poor women, she stated, with a focus on housing for widows and single or divorced women. While revealing the statistics, she warned the people of an increase in the number of left-out women in the state, with no proprietary rights from either side.


Balbir Prashar, state leader of the DYFI, narrated the severe challenge the state and the youth are facing. There is over 16 percent unemployment in the state and the present policies are further worsening the situation. He further stated that the government had scrapped the vacancies in government offices and that no new employment is being generated. To make a fill-in-the-blank arrangement, the government is outsourcing employment to various NGOs and parasitic organisations who are recruiting people on contract basis, mainly as data operators.




The focus of the campaign was on mobilising the people against the neo-liberal attack which they are facing in varied forms. Hence the demands too were quite wide. In all, there were 18 demands that were raised during the campaign for mass mobilisation. The foremost demand of the trade unions was an enhancement of the minimum wage to Rs 10,000 for unskilled workers.


Similarly, for the peasantry the main demands were regularisation of encroachments of the peasantry, curb on the menace of monkeys and wild animals, .remunerative prices for agricultural and horticultural commodities like apples, tomatoes etc.


Students and other sections of the society also raised their specific issues and demands.


The campaign was launched two months ago at a state level convention held in Shimla. Street corner meetings, door to door campaigning and public meetings at the regional level were organised. Students held general body meetings in their respective institutions. 


Rakesh Singha, president of the Seb Utpadak Sangh, placed the resolution, asking the people to participate in mass picketing of health centres and ration shops in Himachal Pradesh on December 3. The state government recently took a decision that the laboratories of over 103 hospitals and health centres would be handed over to Ranbaxy, one of the prominent private players. Thereafter all the tests would be conducted by this company while the government would provide it space in the health centres to instal a laboratory. Wherever the space is less and the number of the people is not remunerative to run a laboratory, the aforesaid company will have just collection centres. While narrating the perils of such a policy change, Singha urged upon the people to rebuff this move and ensure that every section of the society is mobilised for actions.


Similarly, referring to the complete collapse of the ration system, Singha explained the reason for the shops not having ration over the last three months. The state has a unique system of distributing the ration to all the categories of people, but over the last three months the stores are empty. The government is now making a move to have some multinational corporations to supply the ration which, Singha stated, would be all the more detrimental to the interests of the common people. The participants vigorously accepted, by raising of hands, the call for protest to any such move.