Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri’s column

The Unforgivable Crime of the Homeless in Nonadanga

April 12, 2012

The unforgivable crime of the homeless in Nonadanga is that they formed an organization without links to the CPI(M) or the TMC. The Indian state will listen to the grievances of the dispossessed only if they approach the government via one of the standard voteshops. Otherwise, the temerity of the poor in organizing themselves independently will be punished adequately. The west Bengal government is following this trodden path.

What is alarming is the power granted to the police. The images which emerge from the police action against the homeless of Nonadanga : a little girl behind bars for nine hours, a pregnant women beaten up, arrest of demonstrators even before they started a meeting at College Square, false cases concocted against bhadralok supporters of the movement, including a case against a bright, young scientist, Partho Sarathi Ray, regarding acts purportedly perpetrated by him at a time when he was at his workplace, as evidenced by written submissions of his colleagues.

A milieu is settling in the state with flashes of uncanny resemblance to the authoritarian smothering of democracy in the seventies. The police brought pressure to bear on the intelligentsia and the judiciary, at that time, to support their lawlessness on the ground of suppression of Naxalite violence. The judiciary turned a Nelson eye towards palpably false cases and custodial torture. Today, the excuse is apprehension of Maoist violence. The right to free speech and assembly is being rudely curtailed. While prominent intellectual workers like Sankho Ghosh, Ashok Mitra and Sunanda Sanyal have protested against such curtailment, the spoils of office seem to have paralysed the vocal chords of the horde of pro-‘paribartan’ glitterati who protested against the authoritarianism of the CPI(M) but are silent now.

Nonadanga marks a water-shed in the increasingly impatient, partisan and highhanded style of governance which has started to characterize our unfortunate state.

1. The movement facing this angry suppression was open and peaceful. Indifference of the government and a highhanded police forced the aggrieved towards civil disobedience, they sat down on the road. This is the most that happened. The reaction of the police was disproportionate.

2. The disproportionate reaction of the police can only be explained by political motivation. Nonadanga has been apportioned among big commercial enterprises and is entering a construction boom. The materials supply and ‘protection’ rackets are controlled by a syndicate which forcibly takes ‘vounteers’ from destitute households and trains them into mafiosi. The overlord, named Megha, was a CPI(M) man till a little time before the assembly elections and then switched over to the TMC. Any independent movement jeopardizes the stranglehold of such a syndicate – party nexus on the inhabitants and the police are obliging the nexus by putting down the irritant growth.

3. The police have invented a Maoist conspiracy, having presumably found some such ‘information’ about one or two of the bhadralok supporters. The standard fare to satisfy (and intimidate) intellectual dissent will, from now on, be suspected Maoist connections.

The government is about to take a course veering to authoritarian suppression of all people’s movements (and publications) not approved by the political authority as allowable.

Two thoughts for bhadralok supporters.

One, oppose all curtailment of democracy without discriminating among political labels handed out by the police.

Two, solidarity is admirable but should not be exercised in any way which facilitates branding of people’s movements by the administration.

*************

December 17, 2011

Authoritarianism and Incompetence – The Times in Bengal – Journal entry

************

One Hundred Days of Mamata Banerjee

October 4, 2011

The skeletons recovered from mass graves in an outlier of the jangal mahal slowly yield up their secrets as DNA matches with long-missing political opponents of the CPI(M) (TMC people, too, and not only Maoists) are thrown up, and approvers-to-be trace the grisly chain of command right to Sushanta Ghosh , a former CPI(M) minister in Buddha Bhattacharya’s ministry. Arms, mainly homemade, are recovered from CPI(M) offices, residences of party functionaries and gardens or rubbish dumps near such establishments. The modern automatics used by the Harmad are better hidden, no doubt. The emerging picture is that of a psychopathic leadership presiding over a power-hungry, murderous body of regional chieftains, with control over detachments of armed goons, preparing to go the length of genocide to keep power.

A majority of the electorate threw them out , at least from the seat of government, but they retained the following of thousands of people who benefited from the sectarian distribution of largesse stolen from central grants for the poor and under privileged and many other sources. The distributors (and chief beneficiaries), the cadre, too, were largely faithful, prowling outside the perimeters of power or clinging tenaciously to little enclaves within it, baring teeth, whenever cornered, to communicate the threat of revenge ‘once the party makes a comeback.’

Recent bye-elections show that the rejection of the CPI(M) is still to find a bottom. In the rural market town of Basirhat the CPI(M) lost a seat which had been wrested from the TMC in this year’s Assembly elections. In the Kolkata metropolitan seat of Bhawanipore, again, the CPI(M) suffered losses both in the absolute number and the proportion of votes cast in its favour. The entrenched party mafiosi in the middle echelons of government, too numerous to be dislodged, are fighting a rearguard battle to retain their privileges in the spheres of corruption and inactivity, and thwart the efforts of the new government to restore an administration which does some work even according to old rules.

***

Nobody can call the new state government non-performing and the first ninety days have seen much activity, but analysis will show that at the core of all this administrative action there is a continuance of the same basic policies followed by the CPI(M), or the INC for that matter :

calling for jobless, capital-intensive big investment, in general, and, in particular, appointing a IT investment expert committee under Sam Pitroda, a well-known vendor of foreign capital,

encouraging small industry and agriculture by an eclectic mix of measures (the Kisan Credit Card scheme, some of the modifications of the Land Acquisition Bill, the Singur Land Bill ). But there is no master plan, based on alternatives to the development mode dominated by the corporates, for example, employment and mass consumption-led growth, and the building of a home market; rather, employment is sought to be created by fiat (2 lakhs are claimed in the private sector, but no particulars are given, and 79,286 posts are claimed to have been created in government service, but not filled, of which 10,000 have been advertised as temporary national volunteers, presumably a core group for the special police sought for the jangal mahal, and 50,000 are trainee nurses., though it is not clear whether these training posts are part of the 79,286).

Regularising the payment of salaries and pensions to school teachers, revitalising the system of government inspection of schools, made moribund by the CPI(M), but, a la CPI(M), injecting supporters of the TMC into the education establishment, without envisaging any overhaul of the colonial system centred on and overburdened with examinations,

disciplining the health service without working out a policy whereby the people, especially the rural poor, can avail of healthcare.

This selection brings out two facets of the new government.

1) There is an emphasis on governance instead of governmental policy, as if all that was wrong with the CPI(M)-led government was bad governance, bad implementation of policy, and partisanship, authoritarianism, graft, and drift at the higher echelons of the administration including ministers and top police officials and bureaucrats, …as if there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the policy followed by the CPI(M),

2) The attitude towards the people is paternalistic, a dangerous approach which led to the degeneration of the CPI(M) into a crypto-fascist party…

Commenting on the low turn-out in the Bhawanipore bye-election in which she figured, Mamata Banerjee is reported to have said, ‘If you live in a democracy…and you utilize services you are obliged to vote.’ Has she forgotten that the citizen pays taxes for the services enjoyed and is beholden to nobody for democracy which is a sovereign right..

There is no encouragement for popular supervision over schools, health centres, small irrigation, and the local administration, including Panchayets.

***

She is enraged with the people of the jangal mahal, who, in spite of her economic package, did not roll over into the TMC, and continue to protest against atrocities perpetrated by the joint occupation forces, demand the withdrawal of these forces and black laws like the UAPA, and call for the unconditional release of political prisoners. However, up to the commencement of the festive season, not a single new fair price public distribution shop had been opened in Paschim Medinipur, the main jangal mahal district. Union home minister Chidambaram’s position is that first the territory must be controlled by the forces of the government. He bypasses the fact that the sovereign people are a priori in control of the land where they live and it is the government whose forces are trying to wrest away this control and vest it in an army of occupation. The state government is currently interested in using the joint forces to help the Bhairob Bahini of the TMC in its quest for territorial control against the Maoist forces.

It is difficult to unravel the ground reality clearly, but political assassination of individuals continues as a tactical line, in the jangal mahal, in spite of its proven failure to act as a substitute for political struggle between classes, based on the mass line. The line of political assassination is actually assisted by the government as it arrests every leader of the mass movement and tries to suppress the mass movement in every way. This is always the result of military operations like Operation Green Hunt, because constitutional rights of free speech, movement, and assembly are de facto suspended, so that the people are prevented from making an informed discrimination between mass activities, which consolidate their strength and unleash their initiative, and actions by a few activists, with little political efficacy except intimidation.. The end result is that just as the occupation forces look upon all protest as enemy action, the people start supporting all acts by forces against the government as justified.

The administration refuses permission to hold meetings by any mass organization which is not linked to any party of the Right. A recent ban prevented the noted Left writer Varavara Rao of Andhra from addressing a meeting. Right of free speech and assembly has been all but suspended in the district of Paschim Medinipur and parts of Bankura and Purulia. Right of free movement is also a casualty and visitors who do not belong to the Right are turned away or arrested. In a recent incident a visiting team was handed over to the police of the neighbouring state of Jharkhand The erosion of constitutional rights in West Bengal requires immediate attention at an all-India level.

***

Many local dons, who served the CPI(M), have been accommodated in the TMC. One of the worst CPI(M) puppet Vice-chancellors, the incumbent at Jadavpur, has been given another term of six-months. The students’ wing, Chhatra Parishad(TM), has taken over the task of ruling over educational institutions by intimidation, from the students’ wing of the CPI(M).

The people note everything. Rhetoric and inaction are a dangerous combination. It leads quickly to cynicism. Price rise is quite likely to be a flash point. It may be remembered that the Janata Dal experiment led to a downfall not only over the bickerings of its leaders who proved to be small men, but also, and mainly over price rise, and Mrs Gandhi, so thoroughly hated four years back, was returned by popular vote as prime minister.

It was raining badly that day when Mamata Banerjee tested her own popularity in a bye-election, and there was a threat of Kolkata streets flooding over. 100 days back all this would not have mattered. This time, however, it led to an absolute fall in TMC votes, though its party chief’s margin improved because the people were even more reluctant to come out to vote for the CPI(M).

***********************

Mamata, CPI(M) and the Left : Post-election West Bengal

Aug 1, 2011

Release of political prisoners: a test case

How far will the government of Mamata Banerjee go to retain popularity? The release of political prisoners is a test case, with the CPI(M), the BJP, and the central home ministry opposing a general amnesty of political prisoners. On July 20, Mamata Banerjee announced the release of 52 prisoners, after revision of a list of 78 submitted by the government’s much-advertised Bandi Mukti review committee. The revision was the work of the chief minister’s office. The review committee has thus been shown to have no power of final recommendation. Also, Mamata Banerjee’s latest statement doesn’t tell us the principle being followed by the government in the so-called case by case scrutiny. Mamata Banerjee has referred to the different legal ramifications of different cases. This is true but it can explain only why some prisoners can actually be released before others, even though the decision to release them was taken at the same time . But we still do not know the principle determining the choice of who is to be released at all. In a press statement, Mahasweta Debi, Sukumari Bhattacharya, Sankha Ghosh, Ashok Mitra, Bibhas Chakraborty and other intellectual workers have requested the government to release all political prisoners incarcerated by the previous government. Does the government accept in principle the unconditional release of all political prisoners? The government has not answered this question in a straight forward manner to date. It is alleged that the state government is going to the High Court against a lower court judgment allowing the application of some prisoners to be considered as political prisoners.

Concerned citizens squarely oppose criteria for release related to the nature of the charge against the prisoner, the behaviour of the prisoner, assessment of his/her probable activity on release, including recruitment of other activists. It is a matter of hope that Mamata Banerjee did not refer to these criteria on July 20.

For those who think that unconditional release is not acceptable as a principle, some facts : 102 out of 294 MLAs elected in 2011 have criminal charges against them*. 75 of the 102 have serious criminal charges like murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, and even waging war against the state against them. Why have their bail petitions not been opposed by the government? O, but, sez you, these charges are all related to political activity? Exactly. So, they should all be kept in prison as political prisoners and their release reviewed case by case. Why not? If MLAs with murder and waging war against the state charged against them enjoy unconditional freedom, why must the political prisoners now inside jail suffer individual scrutiny?

Mamata’s drive and shifts within the Left

The Left in W Bengal has never had to compete with a charismatic, populist leader who has risen from the masses. The only such candidate was Subhaschandra, but he was an aristocrat, and, in any case, the Left was of little account, numerically, at the time. Faced with such a leader now, a part of the Left, which played a leading part in civil society for long, have taken up a line of “no criticism of the government just now” . They are writing pamphlets and advising the government on how best to improve education, health, and, in fact, following government initiatives in all sorts of problems in fields as varied as talks with the “stakeholders” in the jangal mahal, transport, municipal services and art and culture..

The government, or, to be accurate, Mamata Banerjee, enjoys, at present, widespread popular support. The 21st July crowd on the brigade parade ground under a pouring sky was a reminder of the daunting power concentrated in this one individual. Rarely has a politician enjoyed such love and confidence. Let us hope she will not be ruing lost opportunities 34 years hence.

She is trying hard to tone up the administration. Electoral promises, if not fulfilled, are being addressed (the continued presence of the armed occupation force in the Jangal Mahal is a bad exception). The government has risked a confrontation with the Tatas to keep promises to Singur landowners, and, has stopped short of issuing blank cheques to corporate investors, especially in the matter of land. Even many who are not TMC supporters are, at least, willing to give her government time. If Mamata makes a pro-people move, there is no reason for the Left not to acknowledge this.

But policy statements and views about the economy, aired from time to time make it clear that economic policy will be centred around corporate investment. For example, the government wants the land of absentee landlords to be taken over, and the land occupied for industrial purposes where no factories have been built. This is not for land redistribution in favour of the landless poor, but for storage in a land-bank for corporate use. The liberal, pro-corporate milieu will continue. The only difference with the CPI(M) till date is an insistence on government making what it considers to be pro-corporate rules suo motu, instead of allowing the corporates to make their own rules for the government to follow.

However, if there is any question of popularity(votes) versus favours to corporates, with Mamata Banerjee votes will always win. This is a micro-level home-work which she never neglects. And this, a trade union activist thought, might temper blanket government support for the factory owners in their assault on the struggling workers of W Bengal, whose economic condition (wages structure, minimum wages, productivity norms, bargaining rules) has, for long, been sacrificed in return for favours from the owners by the CITU and the INTUC ( being made up mainly of break-aways from these formations, the INTTUC has not shown a different face till date).

How far can the TMC take the people? To understand what objectively underlies the behaviour and potentialities of a political party, one must examine its class basis. Once one gives up the idea of class, social and political problems go out of one’s reach.

Get to know your friendly neighbourhood MLA

Examining class basis is not easy.

What one can easily establish is that the local leaders of all political parties are rich. While this does not indicate immediately the class bias of the party, it is clear that its attitude to the working poor would at best be paternalistic, and, at worst, authoritarian. Such a party is not going to identify its interests as those of the working poor.

One can start with the affidavits submitted by contestants before the election commission*. 47 MLAs out of the 294 studied by ADR have assets above ten million rupees, TMC has 37 of these (out of 184), the INC has 7 (out of 42), the CPI(M) has none (out of 40). The number, of course, increases when more cases are available – in 2006, 174 winning CPI(M) MLAs could be studied and 2 ten times millionaires were unearthed, the TMC had 1 (out of 27), and the INC 3 (out of 20). In general, the MLAs are quite an affluent lot, with average assets of Rs 68 lakhs per MLA.

A better index in rural areas would be immovable assets, which would mainly be in land and houses. Among the top 100 MLAs (according to assets), ~75 were from the TMC, ~50 of these TMC MLAs were from non-metropolitan areas, and ~20 of them had immovable assets above 50 lakhs of rupees. An interesting revelation is that the CPI(M) enfant terrible Abdur Rezzak Mollah (from Canning, a rural junction) was worth 60 lakhs, of which 53 lakhs were in immovable assets.’

The ruling TMC is a party whose local leaders, especially in the countryside, are remarkably well-off. The clout of the propertied rich is not going to lessen, although the poor, voting for Didi, in their lakhs, unseated the CPI(M). The poor want employment, rather, livelihood.. If Mamata Banerjee falls into the corporate trap of tall promises for the future, flaunting spectacular investment in thousands of crores and hiding a dribble of employment in hundreds, she will see her boys and girls becoming disgruntled. If a still faltering economy sharpens the contradiction between her rich courtiers and the working poor and the unemployed who voted her in, will she take recourse to dictatorial rule, then? Or will her populism guide her towards a critique of the big corporates? Never a favourite with them, they will try to destroy her. As things stand, the TMC is a party of the dominant classes which wants to keep their avarice on a leash and create a space for some relief to the poor – a 2011 avatar of the 1977 CPI(M), almost, sans the cadre (which Mamata Banerjee wants to build , witness her worry over booth-level committees).

This brings in the CPI(M). The inevitable punishment of its rural tyrants is being fantasized into a class struggle where TMC landlords are re-occupying the land distributed to the poor peasants or registered under barga rules. No doubt, this is occurring in places. But many of the original beneficiaries have long been forced by lack of government support to surrender their rights to big farmers de facto, and it is more of a fight between landlords supported by the TMC and the CPI(M).

The local and central leaders of the.CPI(M) are also rich people. To have a look at the CPI(M) local leaders of 2011, it is better to look at the recontestants at the 2011 hustings(140 MLAs studied by ADR*), as the number of CPI(M) MLAs in the 2011 assembly is too small. First, we note that these aspirant MLAs(sitting MLAs in 2006) of all parties were rich, Rs 38 lakhs of assets on an average. The 82 CPI(M) hopefuls had on an average assets of Rs32 lakhs/per hopeful(40 CPI(M) MLAs in 2011 had an average of 16 lakhs, 184 TMC MLAs in 2011 showed an average of 85 lakhs, 18 TMC recontestants toted an average of 50 lakhs each).

Being an MLA for 5 years is a profitable enterprise. 82 CPI(M) MLAs of 2006, increased their assets by 9 lakhs/person on an average. For the 18 TMC MLAs of 2006, the average increase was 32 lakhs/person. Let us have a look at some central leaders. Gautam Deb’s assets increased more than 2 and a half times to 53 lakhs, an increase of 38 lakhs in 5 years. Tamalika Panda Seth increased her assets more than 4 and a half times to 42 lakhs, a 33 lakhs increase in 5 years. Sailen Sarkar increased his assets from 50 lakhs to 82 lakhs. Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya’s assets tripled to 46 lakhs , an increase of 30 lakhs in 5 years. Of course, a MLA’s assets include those of the spouse and other members of the. immediate family . Nirupam Sen’s assets show an increase of 21 lakhs in 5 years, reaching 36 lakhs, an increase of 2 times and a half. Even Sudarsan Roychoudury’s assets surpassed 46 lakhs, a 10 lakh increase in 5 years. It is not the case that the CPI(M) leaders have amassed riches faster than their opponents or are richer than them. TMC leader Partha Chatterjee’s assets increased by 60 lakhs to 69 lakhs,, more than seven times increase in 5 years, while INC leader Manas Bhunia’s assets touched almost 2 crores, an increase of 75 lakhs in 5 years. (Pretty impressive business this – being an MLA, isn’t it?). The point is that the CPI(M) leaders have also grown really rich, and were growing richer fast. Their rural leaders were the village rich. Their once “risen from the poor” showpieces are bursting with assets as their indigent constituents stare with consternation and increasing sullenness as the home-grown leaders become more and more distant. Dhiren Bagdi (CPI(M)) was worth 37,000 in 2006. By 2011 his assets had passed the 10 lakhs mark! Of course this CPI(M) man was following the track of older showpieces. The old INC/Jharkhandi leader in the Jangal Mahal, Chunibala Hansda of Binpur already had assets worth11 lakhs in 2006. By 2011 the worth rose to 39 lakhs.

CPI(M): Down but not out

After the euphoria, one would do well to understand that there was a definite swing away from the CPI(M), no doubt, but its vote-banks, though under siege, cannot be said to have collapsed.

The CPI(M) axis ended up with 41% of the votes polled, while the TMC and its allies pushed up their share to 49%. The BJP managed to tote up 4% of the votes polled, even in this polarized situation, an occurrence to be noted.

The systematic fall in the popularity of the CPI(M) and its axis is shown below.

Year 2006 2009 2011
Total votes 1,98,00,148 1,84,76,369 1,95,52,816
Vote share 50.2% 43.5% 41.2%
Seats won 235 99 62

Of course, lies and deception have become the staple propaganda of the CPI(M), and it is seeking to comfort its supporters by putting forward the overall increase of 11 lakhs in the votes cast in favour of their axis between the 2009 lok sabha elections and the present exercise. Actually, there was an overall increase of 48 lakhs in votes cast between 2009 and 2011, partly due to the enrolment of 37 lakhs of new voters, and partly due to increased turn-out of voters. The pitiful fact is that of this additional number of votes cast in 2011, only one-fourth (~23%) went to the CPI(M) axis and three-fourths (~72%) went to the TMC and its allies. If anything, this shows the further erosion in the popularity and credibility of the CPI(M) in 2011. The problem with systematic lying is that one tends to be hoodwinked by one’s own lies.

The CPI(M) has taken a mauling, no doubt, admitted by every one excepting the CPI(M), but it still retains a significant hold over a large section of the people of West Bengal. Let us see the situation in one of its staunchest vote banks, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Let us start with the scheduled castes of Rarh Bengal, from the districts of Bankura, Purulia, Bardhaman, Birbhum, and west Medinipur, the heartland of the militant Bauri and the Dom-Chamar people. The bastion has been breached and the TMC combine has captured ~15 lakh votes and 10 seats. But, the CPI(M) axis retains the loyalty of more than another 15 lakhs, perhaps a lakh more than its enemies, and 11 seats. Not ousted, no sir.

Next we come to the fecund mud lands of Howrah, Hooghly, and south 24 Parganas, the abode of the hot-headed Bagdi and other scheduled caste fisherpeople, shared with the Dulay and the Namasudra. Here, the CPI(M) axis has fallen behind the TMC combine, the latter securing more than 18 lakh votes and 17 seats. The CPI(M) axis chalked up only 6 seats here, but wait, popular support to the extent of 16 lakhs was retained.

Nadia and north 24 Parganas have become the homeland of the scheduled caste of Namasudras, many being refugees from Bangladesh. The Matua cult holds sway here, and the wife of a cult figure, the greatly respected Boro-maa, gave her blessings to Mamata Banerjee. There seems to have been a splinter support for the CPI(M) in the next generation, but the younger son of Boro-maa won on a TMC ticket. Here the TMC combine took 11 seats to the 2 seats , wrenched by the CPI(M), and more than 9 lakhs votes. But the CPI(M) was not abandoned, its axis retained more than 7 lakh votes.

In the northern districts of Malda, north and south Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, and CoochBehar, there is the Rajbanshi. Here, too, there was polarization, and the candidates sponsored by the Kamtapuri and Greater CoochBehar movement did badly, Atul Roy of the KPP polling a meagre 11,906 votes. Again, the two fronts were neck to neck at ~12 lakhs, the CPI(M) axis, in fact, gathering a little more than the other. But, its axis had to be satisfied with 6 seats, while the TMC and its allies bagged 11.

Leaving aside the Santal and the Munda, the main tribe in the north is the Oraon. The other well-known tribe is the Bhutia. The CPI(M) axis led with 4 lakhs to the 3 lakhs of the TMC combine, yet each of the rival fronts won 3 seats. Among the Santal, the Mahato, the Munda and Bhumij people of the western districts (and two northern constituencies), the TMC and the CPI(M) fronts won ~6 lakhs each, but this time the former won 3 seats, while the latter ran away with 6. The Sandeshkhali seat, with a mixed tribal population, was won by the CPI(M) with 66,000 votes against the 62,000 of the TMC.

The upshot is that the TMC has taken the fight for votes right into the core of the dalit peasant support of the CPI(M), and has won away a little more than half the voting public. The hardest and most surprising wins have occurred in the Rarh districts. But, the CPI(M), even in this the nadir of its existence, has retained the other half. This hard core of support of the poor which still remains is a force to reckon with. Led by an intertwining of self-interest with the fortunes of the party not only of bad gentry and uppity rich farmers but also of people with less than average means and more than average cleverness fed by years of graft – the cadre–, the hard core of support is still organized, unlike the TMC support base (formed also of the poor) which came on a wave generated by an almost child-like belief in the integrity of that very Bengali (and Indian, too, for that matter icon of the elder sister, against the rich exploiter — politician—sarkari babu nexus). It was a fight of the CPI(M) against Mamata Banerjee, with the corporates looking on (Interchange Manish Gupta and Amit Mitra. Do you think that the results would change significantly? In both cases it was Mamata who won.)

The lesson is that the maneater is licking its wounds. And remember, the corporates are waiting only for their spoilt child to learn a little manners. A Mamata who directly communes with the people is certainly not the favourite dream of Tatababu and his brethren.

The Left should not take a nap

One can safely say that there will be great disturbance in the east. It is a time to dress and not to lull.
It is a situation in which the Left should independently address people’s grievances and encourage people’s initiative and the formation of people’s organizations, starting from the local level.. In fact, it is people’ initiative which differentiates a move by the people from one by the bureaucracy.

The Left fought the CPI(M) to squeeze out a little democratic space. Well, why doesn’t it now use the space ? Or, does it want to gift the space to the CPI(M) who can then pose as the champions of the people. Insofar as the government tries to take popular measures and people continue to have expectations from it, antagonistic rhetoric and measures are uncalled for, but its class bias being what it is, a ‘criticism holiday’ or a ‘movement holiday’ is neither feasible nor desirable. The CPI(M) has started ‘protest’ movements, and is already talking of ‘resistance’. The exposure of the CPI(M) remains important. What this does not mean is that the Left must forget class basis and beautify the government . If you build expectations from a political formation beyond what it can deliver from within the restrictions of its class compulsions, don’t cry when the illusions are shattered.

* The data for the MLAs have been collected by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch from the affidavits submitted by the contestants to the Election Commission.

****************************

Release of Prisoners: To Talk or Not to Talk to Mamata Banerjee

June 6, 2011

A united front with a section of the dominant classes always presents trouble not only as regards when to engage and how, but also at the time of disengagement, when to do it, over what time span, and how. However may one deceive oneself, in the hustings just concluded, apart from a small minority, most of those in the democratic movement participated in one way or another in the grass roots united front of the people with the TMC to overthrow the fascist rule of the CPI(M). Now that the people have won, at least just at present, a victory against the immediate further penetration of the fascist hegemony of the CPI(M), democratic forces are debating disengagement.

The debate has begun on the question of the release of political prisoners, but it will spread all over all aspects of the democratic movement.

Let us look at the two extreme positions first :

1. Co-operate with the government in its efforts to keep electoral promises. Mobilisation of the people is secondary at this moment.

2. The government is there to serve the ruling classes. Its “efforts” are a sham, and only a people’s movement can free the prisoners. There is no question of co-operating with the government.

The task of the day is to rebuild the people’s movement, with special emphasis on the people’s movement in the jangal mahal. Chhatradhar received 20,000 votes, and this momentum must not be lost. There is still some momentum in civil society and this must be enhanced to build a Watch-dog (or Whip-lash as Sumanta Banerjee called it) movement, starting from a watch on corruption and the redemption of electoral promises. The release of political prisoners certainly merits first call as the movement rolls.

The size of the mandate has overwhelmed the TMC. It has prevented the party from becoming contemptuous of the masses as yet, and the government has started taking steps to keep electoral promises. Having said this, one stutters while looking for other words of appreciation. How are the promises being sorted? In every case, the policy dovetails with corporate aims, and the task of implementation devolve on ministers, officialdom, the police, and celebrities. There is no attempt to involve people in policymaking or implementation of policy. Advisory committees with wise celebrities are certainly not bad, but the path of Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh is the path of people’s committees.

The people of the areas of movement from which the prisoners have come, and the public at large who voted against the CPI(M) want the release of every one imprisoned by the CPI(M) for political reasons. The question of the release of the Harmad is a smokescreen, and this question, in fact, shows that the role of the people is cardinal. The real question is, Do the people of the region want the release of the Harmad? Old-timers will remember this was how the police were forced to arrest goondas under the “Goondas Act” in Kolkata, by public signature.

There must not be discrimination on the basis of charges of violence, judicial completion of conviction, and type of politics. Violence arises as the inevitable outcome of a suppression of democracy. If today’s government is pro-people it should not fear past violence. The CPI(M) released all prisoners with political tags. The TMC should not do less. The police, the IAS and the centre will oppose tooth and nail unconditional release. If the people are not mobilized (and not in Kolkata alone), how will this pressure be withstood ? Mobilisation is not secondary. Without people’s pressure how will the UAPA prisoners be freed? And those with life sentences?

But, the electoral promises, the large mandate, in which the working people provided the numbers, and the sensitivity of Mamata Banerjee to her popular base and popular opinion provide an interesting foil to corporate pressure. There is certainly something to be done in the committees to block the arguments of the police and the IAS and present counter-arguments to the government, and publicise the whole as a debate before the people. That the committee is not a mere eye wash is shown by the inclusion of the two previous general secretaries of the APDR most well equipped legally to face the police officials.

The government wants to free some prisoners to redeem the electoral promise, at least nominally. The people want to free all. So, there is both a space for talks and the need for struggle, that is, the struggle will have to be conducted both inside the committee and on the road.

A response to this intervention by Ranjit Sur is available here: Whose committee is it anyway? – [Ed.]

********************

West Bengal Polls: A Thought or Two for the Future

May 6, 2011

As this article is typed, the fourth phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections draws to a close. Singur and Nandigram were included in the programme for this phase. One feels impatient to know what the people did.

This election and the run-up to it have been marked by an almost complete polarization even among that section of the electorate, composed mainly of working people, who were far from the power structures of the two or three big ‘mainstream’ parties. Those sections of the electorate, including the Bibhisana leaders hailing from different subaltern formations (the Santal and the Mahato, the Matua and the Dule/Bagdi, the Gorkha and the Rajbanshi), which are close to the power structures, are polarized by their self-seeking. Why are the working people, usually cynical about political parties and voting for community interests, very definitely polarized this time between the CPI(M) and the TMC?

The CPI(M) in 1977 started off with changes in relations of production in agriculture on a troika of Operation Barga, seizure of khas lands, and Panchayet elections, together with a positive bias towards small industries and state enterprise, but on the way there was a take-over in West Bengal by the protagonists of a neo-liberal economic policy of practically ‘job-less’ growth led by corporate investment, privatisation of state enterprises, and indifference to small industry coupled with hostility to urban small business in favour of desi-phoren corporate retail giants. The rural initiative was not followed up with thorough-going land reform, employment guarantee schemes, direct boost to the productive forces by subsiding and supplying mini kits, locally suitable and eco-friendly fertilizer and pesticide, water and cheap credit. The parcelling of land continued but there was no campaign for co-operative farming. And, glittering showpieces like malls, fly-overs, a petrochemical complex, a chemical hub, a nuclear unit, and the one whose loss still breaks the hearts of the CM-Industry minister duo, a car factory. Alas, all that glitters is not friendly to the unemployed/chronically under-employed.

The political aim of the CPI(M) in West Bengal.has been to win elections by dangling showpieces, giving away some carrots and wielding the big stick as and when necessary. The strategy has been to

(1) allow the effective leaders in the field to siphon off funds sent from Delhi and extort ‘taxes’ for all local economic activity (ask any person who has lately built a house or bought a flat, or maintains a small business in Kolkata or its suburbs),
(2) distribute the fruits of corruption and extortion among a sizeable section of its followers, and so build a mosaic of corrupt political practitioners, the cadre,
(3) charge the cadre with the task of maintaining disciplined vote banks by selective grant of loans, central grants, BPL cards, salary guarantee for teachers, prizes and patronage for the arts; grant of transport, trade and other licenses, and, last, but certainly not the least, access to government purchases,
(4) use goons to make everyone toe the party line in clearly bounded ‘local’ territories, hiring Harmad mercenaries if necessary.

The party was always guided by personal records of loyalty, generally to the party and particularly to individual leaders, and the polarization started as this ‘them’/’us’ divide solidified. ‘They’, the party saw, were always intimidated and remained silent. As the neo-liberal programme proceeded, therefore, the party took the side of the corporates against the state sector, against small business and, finally, against the general public, confident that there would be mutterings but no clear-cut protest. However, the arrogant interference and coercion, practised by the cadre, had, for some years, surpassed the limit of tolerance, and ‘they’ had begun to complain frequently, the more so as they found a champion in Mamata Bandyopadhyay, isolated and pushed out from the faction-consumed Congress party, with strident anti-CPI(M) activity as the only possible platform which could one-up the Congress, that party having given up the fight against the CPI(M) in West Bengal, the more so as both were now pro-corporate electoral parties. For a few years, this remained essentially an urban and suburban phenomenon. The peasantry remained with the CPI(M).

Finally, from Singur and Nandigram spread the message all over rural West Bengal that the corporates were greater friends for whose benefit the party was ready to take away land from the farmer. The ‘them’/’us’ barrier crashed and, the Panchayet elections, the Lok Sabha elections, and the municipal elections all showed a shrinking ‘us’.

The crash shows that the traditional support base of the CPI(M), the peasantry, the factory workers, salaried employees, professional people, and celebrities from the arts and sciences, had disintegrated, and a large section had lined up behind Mamata Bandyopadhay. Her second rank is made up of discredited old faction leaders from the Congress, and a few new people, who, however, have been trained to follow loyally without thinking independently. Then, there are the local menaces, more crossing over from the CPI(M) every day, and welcomed, more or less. The big guns of the corporates have blessed the TMC, and one of their loyal hangers-on is Mamata’s shadow Finance Minister. So, the future promises the same economic policy of surrender to corporate ‘job-less’ investment. But, the leaders, old and new, the (diminishing) number of celebrity supporters, the economically secure sections who follow the cheer leaders of the corporates, and the hoodlums– numberwise, all of them don’t add up to many. Make no mistake, working people, especially the poorer among them, give her the numbers. When the frothing settles, the focus will fall on the question of their livelihood and employment. It will be interesting to see how Mamata Bandyopadhyay reconciles the cry for jobs among her supporters with the neo-liberal panacea of corporate ‘job-less’ investment. In the mean-time her camp is joined almost religiously by all people who fervently want the CPI(M) rule to end, some even harbouring serious misgivings about the TMC.

However, there remains a section of the people, and even the working people, with the CPI(M). Partly, this is due to the fierce defence of territory seen in this election. If you are in the wrong territory you have to sing-along. Partly it is due to the mafia-esque ‘family’ cultivated by the cadre, which is still mainly intact – serious personal benefits preserving a loyalty, which, further, believes in a future where the TMC indulges in misrule and corruption and the people bring the CPI(M) back.

These are perhaps the reason for the deep polarization of the people between two camps. It is a political polarization of a quality seen only in the elections in which the Congress party was first defeated in the state, or the elections during the Emergency which threw Mrs Gandhi out. Participation in elections does not always imply political backwardness among the people. Sometimes it is indicative of a real appreciation of the political issues involved. An election is nothing more than a barometer of the consciousness of the working people, but at least a barometer it is.

Jangal Mahal sees an interesting drama. Chhatradhar Mahato is a candidate, while the Maoist party has called for election boycott. Even from the media it is clear that Chhatradhar’s candidature has broken the inertia of the people in this area which has seen
severe repression by the centre-state armed forces and the Harmad mercenaries of the CPI(M). People are attending meetings if not in thousands, at least in hundreds. There will be exchanges, parleys and plans. A second rank will emerge to take the place of Lalmohan, Sidhu and the other front rankers killed brutally. This gain, if it materializes, will have been made possible by Chhatradhar’s candidature, and will be independent of win or loss, though, naturally a victory would spur the people to further mobility. In fact, the gain is independent of what Chhatradhar himself goes on to do in future. One expects, of course, that he will resist the Circe of the pigsty, and help in rebuilding the mass movement which had raised so many hopes among the people of West Bengal.

****************

Jangal Mahal: The people will rise again

April 14 2011

A chapter in the struggle of the people of Jangal Mahal closes with the murder of Sasadhar Mahato and the efforts of Chhatradhar Mahato to stand for election to a Vidhan Sabha seat. The struggle of the people of Jangal Mahal for democracy has suffered a setback and quite a few of the brave leaders have been killed by the paramilitary forces of the government and the Harmad mercenaries of the CPI(M).

But the people will rise again. Tens of thousands attended the early meetings of the PCPA. How can the participants forget the hopes and dreams of those heady days? Out of these multitudes there will develop a new set of leaders, who will embody the lessons of the setback. Even now, no doubt, there is going on, among the people, review, criticism and self-criticism, planning for the future.

What were the cardinal errors and what are the chief lessons? It would be presumptuous for distant well-wishers like us to issue solutions. However, the lessons of older struggles should be resurrected.

One is reminded of a small meeting with Charu Mazumdar, just after activists from the student movement of the sixties had started work in the interior villages of Gopiballavpur. This was before Charu Mazumdar publicly announced the line of ‘class enemy annihilation’.

He said your task is not to propose economic movements. You must tell the toiling peasantry of the toilers’ raj and the political struggle for state power. Perhaps, after a time, they will come and say, yes, you are right, but now let us take a deputation to the BDO for our immediate demands. You will say, Nothing will come of it, but you will assist them in taking out the deputation. At that time, Charu Mazumdar was trying to teach us the mass line, and was not against mass movements. But, he was terribly worried about the way to keep mass movements on the path of political struggle and prevent the drift of the political activists into economism.

The experience of the Gopiballavpur peasants’ struggle also showed that it was in the areas of mass movement that the political struggle flourished. Even ‘class enemy annihilation’ had a greater impact (which, of course, was temporary and with deleterious influence on the initiative of the people) in an area of mass struggle.

Mazumdar was a veteran of the Tebhaga movement in north Bengal, he had the experience of being concealed by the peasants in their huts with pots supplied to urinate in during the daytime. At times, he had to bind himself to the branch of a tree to avoid falling off while asleep, He talked about the rules of work for political workers in rural white areas, based on the class line:

Go to the village without any belongings or money.
Stay only with landless and poor peasants, eat with them, starve when they starve, take part in their labour.
Talk, at first, only to poor and landless peasants. Tell them your political line right from the start. They will do the rest.
Never show yourself to a class enemy, Never go to a market or a fair.

Later, in the period of white terror, he advised all mass leaders, known to the class enemy, to leave the area under combing by enemy forces, and start work outside the periphery of such an area.

In his later writings, we find an emphasis on unleashing the initiative of the landless and poor peasants, and much worry about this initiative being stifled by party workers, especially those with middle class origins (but, the annihilation line actually destroyed this initiative and prevented the emergence of a mass line.)

One must regard reactionaries as paper tigers in the long run, but in every step of actual struggle they must be regarded as real tigers. Laxity on the part of the political worker arises from an underestimation of the protracted nature of the struggle and from a sense of easy victory. The Indian workers lost one of their most important and charismatic leaders, Sankar Guha Neogy, due to lack of vigilance and watchfulness.

Sankar Guha Neogy’s thesis of Sangharsh and Nirmaan, has been misunderstood as reformism . Reconstruction (Nirmaan) by the people when struggle (Sangharsh) drives the whites away, even temporarily, gives the people tangible assets to fight for when the whites return. They identify easily, at that time, with the call “Defend the fruits of the revolution”.

Yet Neogy’s murder left a vacuum. There was disorder and disunity. It took a long time for the people to regroup. The reason was that Neogy had been made into a Masiha, and, the people felt headless in his absence. There is no substitute for the initiative of the masses.

History shows that tactics must be flexible and the strategic line grasped firmly. Both are necessary especially when retreating and regrouping. After the dictatorial regime of Mrs Gandhi was overthrown by the people in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, Santosh Rana was elected MLA from Gopiballavpur, and the mass organizations and political structures began to be set up again. But, the political line of competing with the CPI(M) for economic benefits dominated, and the CPI(M) obviously won this competition by the propaganda line : if you come with us, you will get all the economic benefits painlessly, as the government is ours. If you go with the extremists you will have to face repression, jail and lathi, to gain the same benefits. Now, choose.

So, participation in elections had a positive influence in reviving the networks and enthusing the people – the movement restarted, but the post-elections political line (what is to be done after the elections?) was not adequate for winning over the masses and restoring their mobility.

If you fight, there will be setbacks. Only he never makes a mistake who never does anything. The real point is to be good at learning. So many of the best sons and daughters of the country have lost their lives. Learning from their deaths is a duty owed to them.

***************

Workers’ struggle at Calcutta Leather Complex: 3-day sit-in in Dec 2010

Feb 8, 2011. This article first appeared in Frontier Magazine, Vol. 43, No. 28

Workers at the Calcutta Leather Complex went on a three-day sit-in from December 13, 2010, to protest against terms of service and working conditions. One remembers their fight in 2002-03 for the survival of the industry. The tannery owners had for long violated all norms of pollution prevention, evil-smelling effluents were in evidence all over Tangra, Tiljala and Topsia in East Kolkata. Finally, the Supreme Court instructed all tanneries to be shifted to the complex being set up near Bantala, further eastward, by Dalmia of cricket management notoriety, under the aegis of the state government. The court’s instructions were flouted, the owners alleging incompleteness of the complex. While recriminations between Dalmia and the state government quite rent the air, the Supreme Court closed down the tanneries, rendering 45,000 workers jobless.

Now, most tanneries have shifted to the complex, which houses 200 of these with a total strength exceeding 10,000 workers. 90% of the workers are casual, temporary or on thika contract. A 10-12 hours working day without overtime is common. There is no job security and no provision after retirement, no provident fund, pension or gratuity. There is no employees’ state insurance, and no compensation is offered for injury or disablement while working. Minimum wage norms are ignored. Movement of workers inside the complex is restricted. Their cycles or bikes are not allowed at the main gate (gate no2).

Although it is not a SEZ, the tannery-owners flout all labour laws and it is tough setting up a union. There has been an attempt to put together a complex-wide union instead of factorywise unions. Dalmia has abandoned the complex even before minimum amenities have been provided for. There are no lights inside the tannery module at night and practically no sewerage. One is often ankle-deep in slush and waste water. There is no facility for drinking water. Despite a clear directive by the Supreme Court, no hospital has been built for the workers of the complex.

The demands of the agitating workers include job security and work all the year round, a 8-hour working day, need-based minimum wages, provident fund and retirement benefits, ESI and other social security benefits.

On 8th November, a number of workers brought out a procession to protest against Obama’s visit to India and an effigy of the US President was burnt at gate no 2. On 12th November, the workers met at George Bhaban to discuss the impending movement with friends and sympathizers.

It may be added that West Bengal is an important state in the all India reckoning of the leather industry. The state has a large turn-over of livestock and produced 8% of India’s cowhides and 11% of its goatskins. Also, Bihar and UP send hides to tanneries in West Bengal. Bata (India) Ltd has India’s largest tannery. Then, there are around 500 small, family business concerns in East Kolkata. The largest of these is, however, quite large – Taj Leather Works, worth 70 lakh US dollars.

Kolkata is the origin of 65% of all Indian leather goods exports and 90% of leather gloves exports. Being so heavily dependent on exports, Kolkata’s leather industry was hard hit by the world slump. Especially affected were the 250 odd leather factories still operating illegally along the south suburban railway lines. Many employees were thrown out of these sweatshops in 2009. These are small factories with a maximum of 50 workers in good times. A large section of employees are boys and girls, taken out of school to cater to the demand for soft hands in the glove factories. However, periodic slumps in exports and loss of employment are the rule, witness the leather complex workers’ demand for work all the year round.

*********

The “De-politicisation” of the CPI(M)

July 12 2010

Did you think the CPI(M) would try to rectify its mistakes? The political content of the rectification would have to consist of a switch from neo-liberal policies to social-democratic ones, in harmony, in West Bengal, with its class support which has taken a battering, but is still very much there (they themselves claim an increase of 4% over their Lok Sabha share, but it is doubtful if this means more support in absolute numbers*). To an extent this support survives because the salaried middle classes do not know where the balance will finally stand between the populist rhetoric of the opposition leader and her ideological inheritance of ‘hard-headed’ Congresi neo-liberalism. (It must be remembered that her espousal of the cause of the peasants’ right to their land and its disposal was a finely calculated move to win the rural votes which were eluding her so far, and was realpolitik and realpolitik without ideological underpinnings.)

There are voices but there does not seem to be a body of opinion within the CPI(M) in favour of the political content of a switch. Even Rezzak sa’ab of West Bengal who again defies a party ban to say that the party is alienated from the people, and who will certainly oppose land grabbing from farmers for an almost free gift to some corporate (and may be the opposition leader, too, will go this distance ), has not made it clear where he stands on the question of industrialization through big investments and minimal employment, that is, the jobless growth of Buddha-Nirupam . It is understandably difficult for anyone who has been deeply immersed in the CPI(M) environment to think of an alternative to jobless growth because the very air there breathes in TINA and breathes it out (There Is No Alternative).

So, how will the CPI(M) rectify its mistakes?

Perhaps it has lain too many moons among the hungry stones of power sans purpose. Has the sweet touch of power in Delhi numbed its usually acute sense of self-preservation so much that it does not understand it is undergoing (just like another highly politicized, regimented, ‘incorruptible’ party after a period in Delhi) a rapid process of “de-politicisation” from the middle down and, make no mistake, even up from the middle.

It might have been thought that now, at least, the middle ranks, who actually run the party, would shed some arrogance and seek the indulgence of its previous supporters. But no change of attitude is visible.

The Karats might talk of the Bengal leadership’s style of work isolating the party from the people, the Bengal leaders may criticize Karat’s non-starting third front and break with the Congress, and the Patnaiks may indulge in their own version of “to be or not to be, that is the question”, the middle ranker is contemptuous of even so minimal a political debate. He thinks the party is about vote management by judicious dispensing of favours and maintenance of a light terror, a veiled menace in urban areas and open oppression in rural areas. He requires three magic weapons :

1.Left-sounding slogans and hard-hitting speeches from the upper level,

2. Self-financing moderate and invisible-inaudible extortion and corruption (don’t be caught, you may be disowned) at the lower levels and,

3. Money to buy arms and maintain gangs in the towns and the city and Harmad armies in the countryside.

His post-poll analysis is succinct : this is what comes from allowing stupid people, who don’t know their own good to vote without guidance.

Can he be rectified? No, because in this time and place he cannot be sent to tend pigs in a pig farm.

Of course, this “de-politicisation” has the strongly political effect of stopping all possible discussion of the Manmohan-Montek-Buddha-Nirupam status quo, the corporate guided, investment-led jobless growth of globalization economics.

The party is being transformed into the typical political machine of Western capitalism which never questions the underlying economic and political set-up, and which, in fact, has no political purpose except capture of electoral majorities.

Is rectification possible?

*The CPI(M) share of the 2010 civic poll votes in Kolkata, according to that party itself was 33.55%, while, for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the corresponding figure was 33.2%, supposedly a slight increase. Complacency is lost on recall that in the 2010 polls the voter turn-out was 10% smaller than for 2009.


POSCO and the Habitual Use of Force by the Indian State

May 22 2010

The Indian state once again used brute force against the people of India in the interest of foreign capital. The people, who are to be dispossessed by the proposed POSCO steel complex of the South Korean giant corporation, were sitting in peaceful protest, and were attacked by the Orissa police force with batons and rubber bullets after agent provocateurs from the so-called pro-POSCO hoods burst a few country-made crackers. The police story of being attacked first loses all credence when one considers the police superintendant’s phlegmatic reply to concerned phone calls, much before any incidents, that the police had come to use force because the people were obstructing the government.

Whose government? Obviously not of the people being sent to hospital with alarming injuries. Of course, the argument is seldom this simple. Everywhere the state used force against the people to clear the way for big capital, foreign and domestic, be it in Singur or Nandigram, Dantewada or Kalinganagar, the argument used in justification was that the people of a certain region were obstructing the elected government’s programmes in that region. The fallacy of this argument is that once a government is elected in a mandate, which may be the country or a particular state, for five years it can claim the power to do things against the will of even the vast majority of the people in every region, taken one or a few at a time, or even within the whole mandate. The unashamed use of this argument is seen in the repression carried out in the jangal mahal of West Bengal by the government led by the CPI(M), which has clearly lost majority support, as seen in the Lok Sabha elections. The hope is that before the five years are out, people will either forget or be cowed into submission. Even many thinking people fail to see the fallacy of the argument. The true democratic principle would declare that it cannot be legitimate for a government to proceed with any programme in any region if the will of a sizeable section of the people of the region is so clearly against the programme that force has to be used. A government ostensibly of the people can never be justified in the use of force against the people. The government reacts with anger if Indian democracy is criticised. But, in no advanced capitalist country has there been a comparable use of force to stifle the protests of its own citizens in the post-war world as in India..

The union government cannot simply point to Naveen Patnaik in the case of POSCO. The union home minister must have known all about it, as he referred both to Chhattisgarh and Orissa as flash points in his tv appearance after the vehicle carrying Salwa Judum personnel and would be recruits was blown up in Dantewada. As has become quite usual, the minister blamed critics of his policy for its failure and called for escalation including use of the air force. Most critics have repeatedly made their position clear, they mourn the deaths of jawans, the victims of the Salwa Judum and Green Hunt, and all innocent people, but consider the violence and the deaths to be the result of a wrong policy of waging war against the people. Talks are the only way out.

The union home ministry has repeatedly said that Maoist violence is the obstacle to talks. Where are the Maoists in POSCO? It is a CPI-led peaceful movement of the affected people. But there is the same response of the Indian state – violence against the people. The POSCO tragedy shows that it is not a question of the response of the state against the Maoist theory and practice of violence. The Indian state believes it is justified in using force against its people. This political principle must be challenged. Force must never be used against the sovereign people.

How to deal with `obstruction’, as for example in the Narmada movement? Not by force, but through talks, and, if the people are unconvinced, their point of view must be accepted. At the cost of `development’? Whose `development’? The people whose homes and lands are submerged? They cannot welcome this `development’, or do they?

Life, of course, is seldom simple. The Gujarat farmers want this `development’. The way out envelopes talks and not force. Let the Narmada people and the Gujarat farmers strike a deal which the state must honour, remembering that the dispossessed have primary rights over the rivers and lands, sanctioned by history and natural justice. If there is no deal, let there be arbitration, based, for example, on Amartya Sen’s calculus of comparative gain and loss in realizing `basic capabilities’ (a calculus ignored by him, though, in his first remarks on Singur). What should not have been used and must not be used is force, to implement the claim of `eminent domain’, a principle under challenge all over the world, a principle basically inimical to the sovereignty of the people applied concretely to every particular case.

**********


A New India is being born in the central forests

May 4 2010

Arundhati Roy and Gautam Navlakha have done signal service by bravely publishing their reports from the forests of central India. Thanks to them the people of today’s India see glimpses of tomorrow’s India and the half-fed, half-clothed people who have risen to make real a dream, fighting against the ruthless military machine of the rulers (Government and Opposition) who treated them as chattels yesterday and treat them as the enemy today. It was the dream dreamt by patriots who gave their blood and their lives for a free and independent India ruled by the people for the people.

The people who talked to Arundhati and Gautam, whether carrying a gun or not, are learning to think for themselves. To them politics is clear — the looti sarkar wants to loot the rivers, forests and mountains, and what lies underneath, and sell them all to the desi and phoren money bags, and because the people have risen against this, the Salwa Judum (now SPOs) and the Green Hunt forces have been let loose on them. But the people will fight on because they have learnt what it is not to be a chattel any longer, and the point of the whole war unleashed on them is to reduce them once more to the status of unthinking, obedient chattels of the Indian state, objects of loot by the officials of the looti sarkar.

But isn’t all this diatribe maligning the greatest democracy in the world (apart from the US, but then our rulers wouldn’t like you to compare heaven with mere earth)? Aren’t these people escorted to polling booths by armed personnel, so that they can exercise their sovereignty? Aren’t the panchayet meetings, where they acquiesce in being kicked out of their own land, protected by bayonets?

There are two types of people who mouth eulogies of the Indian democracy: those who manage this business of democracy and know all about the sham and the scams, the overt and covert use of guns and butter, and those who naively believe the rhetorical outpourings over the media of the 480 millionaires and 180 members, with criminal charges against them, who sit in a 543-strong parliament. For the second type, I can suggest a course of self-learning. Spend a month in any chawl in India with Rs 600 (79% of workers in the informal sector spend not more than Rs 20 daily). You will soon know that for you there is no democracy, you do what you are told by your superiors, or else…. ( and everyone is superior to you except your wife and children, the only possible objects for venting your accumulated ire). You will know how terrible it is to be poor in India, without any practicable rights, a humiliating and demeaning experience.

But the poorest of the poor have risen in the central forests and have reclaimed 3 lakh acres of land, usurped by the forest department of the looti sarkar, and the landlords (who are, naturally, the backbone of the Salwa Judum). More than a hundred buffaloes were bought for use as draught cattle and starting dairy produce. As only 2% of this land is irrigated, small irrigation was organized by digging tanks and ponds – the plan is to have a tank in every village ( the looti sarkar’s plan is to dam the Indravati river and submerge thousands of acres land and forest, displacing tens of thousands of villagers). Besides family plots (despite some resistance, pattas for land are sought to be issued in the names of both husband and wife ), there are co-operative farms, involving 3-5 families per farm. There are work teams of 11 for house-building and other work. There is a peasant organization, 1 lakh strong. Mobile schools, each with 25-30 pupils and three teachers, have been set up (the looti sarkar has converted most schools into barracks and sends police to overrun the people’s own schools), four textbooks written for use up to the fifth standard on maths, Hindi, politics and social sciences and four more textbooks planned on general sciences, biology, culture and history of the area. Doctors have been appointed and lay health workers trained.

Who does all this? The janatana sarkar of the people, comprising elected gram level committees covering 3-5 villages, area committees covering 14-15 gram level committees and the divisional committee covering 3-5 area committees. The core area of Dandakaranya has 8 divisions.

In this way, an alternative path of development for India, the subject of so many learned and lay seminars, is actually being shaped in the heart of the land whose periphery is being ravaged by Operation Green Hunt. If and when the Hunt reaches the centre, the people will know what they have lost and must fight for, a precious model for the poor all over the country. Green Hunt might occupy territory but it cannot occupy minds or touch the newborn idea of the alternative. On the other hand, the development which the former lawyer of Vedanta & Co. promises, once Green Hunt is well- established, is the sale of the mountains, rivers, forests and minerals to big capital and a dedication of the entire area to mining. There will be widespread displacement and loss of livelihood, exactly the development the people don’t want. And, the looti sarkar will replace the janatana sarkars.

The model, being set up by the people of central forests, exhibits true participatory democracy from the grass roots, a vibrant new democracy as opposed to the old, moribund democracy of choosing which millionaire-criminal will broker the sale of this part of the country to Tata, Essar and their ilk.

Insofar as the Maoists have contributed to the creation of the alternative and its defence, the people are grateful to them. But, really and truly, who will run the janatana sarkar, the people or the party? This is what the Maoists must decide. And on the answer depends the ultimate fate of new democracy (and socialism) in India. In a war situation, it is easy and even convenient to lump together party, army and sarkar. This is exactly what must not happen.

******


The Indian State versus the Indian People: On some recent proposals by Sumanta Banerjee

March 23 2010.

The Indian state has gone to war to establish the interests of big capital in the central forests of India and the original inhabitants are fighting back. Writers and talkers who sincerely believe in what they write and talk about are experiencing great anguish at

the collapse of the political space in which there is discourse and debate and

the development of civil war in the country, a direct confrontation between two armies.

Sumanta Banerjee (EPW, March 13-19, 2010 [PDF, English]) explores the possibility of a third initiative aimed at limiting and resolving the conflict by methods which he calls `non-violent’, though his definitions of `violence’ and `non-violence’ are so extended that it is perhaps better to categorise his methods as `movements/dialogues short of war.’

Of the three `actions’ he proposes, the first requires the Indian state “to curb the authoritarian and arbitrary powers of its law-enforcing agencies” and to put “an end to the state’s disreputable practice of using the law enforcing agencies to suffocate voices of peaceful dissent, ” and the second “requires collaboration between the state, political parties and social action groups of civil society” to rebuild the old and build up new “democratic structures” and turn the “state’s coercive apparatus” “against the powerful nexus consisting of corrupt politicians, unscrupulous business houses and the criminal underworld.”

One is puzzled by what he requires the Indian state to do, when his basic understanding of the Indian state is the following:” the state and its institutions (the bureaucracy, the police and even the judiciary) are inclined to take decisions heavily loaded in favour of the powerful forces…When such conflicts take militant forms,….the state intervenes by acts of both commission and omission. In both these acts, the state plays the role of a patron of violence.”

The State has Two Faces: the US State

The apparent inconsistency is resolved if we understand that when the hegemony of the ruling classes is accepted by society, that is, their legitimacy to exercise power is not questioned and their rule is not challenged , the state allows democratic choice and dissent, it allows the bureaucracy to appear impartial, the judiciary independent, the police and military subservient to the rule of law.

The illusion grows that, in essence, this is what the state is like, an instrument above classes and mediating between them.

But the moment the legitimacy of the state to exert power on behalf of the ruling classes is questioned and its rule is challenged the velvet glove is cast off and the iron claws come out. It is useless appealing then to democratic norms or the rule of law. In fact, laws are changed to strip the legal code of protection to dissent, witness the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. This is true not only for a state like India where individual freedom is not so big a deal, but also for that bastion of freedom, the USA, witness the USA Patriot Act.

So long as the US state thought itself beyond the reach of all who were being forcefully pacified under Pax Americana in different corners of the globe, it boasted of a relaxed democracy at home and nailed other countries featuring in the US State Department Human Rights Record files for arrest without charge and torture among other atrocities. September 11 destroyed the US state’s sense of immunity and with it its famous commitment to democracy.

The atrocities carried on by the US in the military prison at Guantamano Bay can no longer be hidden. A US court awarded two and a quarter crores of dollars worth of damages to five victims of atrocities perpetrated by one Charles Taylor Jr and the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) forces he commanded. The order on damages outlines the multiple forms of torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment; arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention to which the plaintiffs were subjected and recognizes the past, present and future physical and mental suffering those abuses inflicted. As the order states, “Mr. Taylor’s horrific and repeated actions, as detailed in the complaint and testified to by the plaintiffs, are a chilling example of man’s inhumanity to man, to borrow a phrase from Robert Burns. Such actions, because they were designed to strip the plaintiffs of their humanity and dignity, deserve the strongest judicial condemnation […].” Barrack Obama had promised to shut down this den of iniquity by January, 2010, but he seems to be quite comfortable with Bush and Cheney’s dungeons for torture , just as he is proving to be so with other such of their ideas.

According to the US Human Rights Report (Xinhua, 12.3.2010),

prisoner abuse is one of the biggest human rights scandals of the United States

An investigation by US Justice Department itself showed 2,000 Taliban combatants were suffocated to death by the US army-controlled Afghan armed forces, after their surrender.

The United States maintains 900 bases worldwide, with more than 190,000 military personnel and 115,000 accessory staff .

These bases are causing environmental contamination. Toxic products of bomb explosions are affecting the health of the local children.

According to the report, toward the end of the US presence in Subic and Clark military bases, as many as 3,000 cases of raping the local women had been filed against US servicemen, but all were dismissed.

The Advocacy Director of Amnesty International had to say the following:

“The minute [the] U.S. is comfortable doing it to non-us citizens, water-boarding or other types of torture, or keeping them in detention without trial for a long, long time, it is almost seven, eight years now, and trials also [are] not fair, it will not take long before they apply it to their own citizens.”
His grim foreboding has come true. Now, the US state stands accused of human rights violations of its own citizens, at home. The indicter is China. The US State Department Human Rights Record regularly condemns China (latest 11.3.2010), and China, too, now issues a US Human Rights Record . The appendix highlights some points of the Record registering violations of human rights of US citizens.

The Whiplash Proposal for People’s Action

September 11 was a threat to the US state. In the case of India the state, controlled by big capital, the landlords and US business interests feel threatened by the peoples’ movements and the Maoists who are unifying these movements. In fact, this answers also the question raised by Sumanta Banerjee (and others), why the Indian state will talk to Muivah of the Nagas, but not with the leaders of the.people’s movements in the central forests . The Nagas want a small piece of India’s eastern periphery, threaten a small secession. But the movements now going on in the central forests have the potentiality of engulfing the whole country, a secession of the whole people from the oppressor state. So, we should not have the expectation that the Indian state will enter into any meaningful dialogue with the people of India on any topic ranging from “ decentralization of power and equitable reallocation of resources” to the civil war in the forests..

We are left with only the third action plan proposed by Sumanta Banerjee, what he calls a Whiplash movement of the masses (on the lines of Gandhi’s Non-co-operation, Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements or Jayaprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti movement) “to lash the Indian state and whip it to change its policies”. This plan has immense possibilities if the movement comprises a self-less national leadership, committed to development as seen from the view-point of the working people and resistance to US and other foreign business interests, and untainted by electoral politicking,, and local action all over the country against corruption, rights violation and mal-development, and for local, pro-working people development initiatives a la Shankar Guha Niyogi’s Sangharsh and Nirman..

The danger is that the fruits of the struggle will be hijacked by some electoral party or another (Congress and Gandhi, Janata Dal, BJP and Jayaprakash) unless there is from the start a debate within the movement regarding people’s development and people’s power. Finally, it is difficult to share Sumanta Banerjee’s hope that “in the ultimate analysis, however, it is the Indian state that will have to take positive steps to put an end to poverty and social injustice.” The people will have to do it, acting, not through the present state but in spite of it.

APPENDIX.

US HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD ( From China, with love)
We quote from Xinhua (12.3.2010)

1. Spying on citizens

While advocating “freedom of speech,” “freedom of the press” and “Internet freedom,” the US government unscrupulously monitors and restricts the citizens’ rights to freedom when it comes to its own interests and needs, the report said.

The US citizens’ freedom to access and distribute information is under strict supervision, it said.

According to media reports, the US National Security Agency (NSA) started installing specialized eavesdropping equipment around the country to wiretap calls, faxes, and emails and collect domestic communications as early as 2001.

The wiretapping programs was originally targeted at Arab-Americans, but soon grew to include other Americans.

After the September 11 attack, the US government, in the name of anti-terrorism, authorized its intelligence authorities to hack into its citizens’ mail communications, and to monitor and erase any information that might threaten the US national interests on the Internet through technical means, the report said.

Statistic showed that from 2002 to 2006, the FBI collected thousands of phones records of US citizens through mails, notes and phone calls.

In September 2009, the country set up an Internet security supervision body, further worrying US citizens that the US government might use Internet security as an excuse to monitor and interfere with personal systems.

The so-called “freedom of the press” of the United States was in fact completely subordinate to its national interests, and was manipulated by the US government, the report said.

At yearend 2009, the US Congress passed a bill which imposed sanctions on several Arab satellite channels for broadcasting contents hostile to the US and instigating violence.

2. Abuse of power

The country’s police frequently impose violence on the people and abuse of power is common among US law enforcers, the report said,

Over the past two years, the number of New York police officers under review for garnering too many complaints was up 50 percent.

In major US cities, police stop, question and frisk more than a million people each year, a sharply higher number than just a few years ago.
Prisons in the United State are packed with inmates.

The basic rights of prisoners in the United States are not well-protected. Raping cases of inmates by prison staff members are widely reported, the report said.

According to the US Justice Department, reports of sexual misconduct by prison staff members with inmates in the country’s 93 federal prison sites doubled over the past eight years.

According to a federal survey of more than 63,000 federal and state inmates, 4.5 percent reported being sexually abused at least once during the previous 12 months.

3. Women, children frequent victims of violence

Women are frequent victims of violence and sexual assault in the United States, while children are exposed to violence and living in fear, the report said.

It is reported that the United States has the highest rape rate among countries which report such statistics. It is 13 times higher than that of England and 20 times higher than that of Japan.

Reuters reported that based on in-depth interviews on 40 servicewomen, 10 said they had been raped, five said they were sexually assaulted including attempted rape, and 13 reported sexual harassment.

It is reported that 1,494 children younger than 18 nationwide were murdered in 2008, the USA Today reported.

A survey conducted by the US Justice Department on 4,549 kids and adolescents aged 17 and younger between January and May of 2008 showed, more than 60 percent of children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly.

***********


2nd Part: Neo-liberals to the defence of growth sans employment

February 26 2010. This article is a continuation of the first part, published on January 11 2010

Operation Green Hunt, Chidambaram’s war against the people of four/five states, has as its ostensible excuse `development’, supposedly blocked by Maoist insurgency. From Manmohan Singh to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the whole administration seemingly strains at the leash, dying to resume `development’!

The Maoists are a recent phenomenon. Pray what was the result of your developmental activities since 1947?

To our alarm, the major opposition party in West Bengal also has started talking of a similar kind of `development’, to be implemented (if all goes well in 2011) presumably with the `consent’ of the people.

Development of whom, for whom?

The working people know well this is development of and for the moneybags, not of or for them. Amit Bhaduri has been foremost among those exposing this pro-corporate and anti-people development and working towards an alternative.

Amit Bhaduri’s new book ` The face you were afraid to see’ has called forth the usual neo-liberal reaction, grudging acknowledgement of his logic and attempts to bypass his arguments by wonderment at his naivete – `Shall we return to the age of pallet and palanquin instead of the Metro Rail?’ (Abhirup Sarkar, Anandabazar Patrika, Dec 15, 2009). In a previous instalment (Sanhati Journal, 11.1.2010) , we saw how corporate investment fails to generate even one-hundredth of the employment required to cope with the yearly addition to the 15-59 age group.

The only solution is employment for these empty hands in situ, and only agriculture and agriculture-linked local, small industry can provide this sort of employment. Amit Bhaduri wants a cast iron guarantee of employment in the form of a statutory guarantee of 320 days productive employment — an iron rice bowl type of bedrock supporting employment-oriented small industry in place of corporate investment, thereby ensuring both rural demand and rural investment and promoting a home market for the economy instead of export-led growth.

Sarkar reproduces this logic more or less faithfully and refers to `swarms of questions assailing the mind.’ However, apart from apologies like `compensation for loss in employment’, and a reference to growth of informal employment, matters dealt with in the previous instalment, there seems to be only one real objection Sarkar can finally frame out of the `swarm’, namely low productivity in Bhaduri’s model.

If export is not an imperative, increase in productivity by cutting labour cost through separation of labour (previously called retrenchment!) is not a life and death question. Even without an unbalanced chase after higher productivity at the cost of employment, there will be growth in Bhaduri’s model, and at quite high a rate to start with. This is because of the surge in productive employment in a huge sector, part which was giving practically no contribution to employment and production. For a 100% change in an index number marked 5 today you require an increase of 5 points. To increase by 100% an index number with base value 1 today you require an increase of only 1 point. If the base value is zero you have a change in quality which maths cannot capture.

The neo-liberal will take refuge in the future again, There will be progressive deceleration, he will declare. He overlooks the fact that Bhaduri is talking of a moving target.. Full employment will cast the labourer as an independent subject in the social and political arena and she will herself decide on productivity and growth, their quantity and quality and balance with employment.

This social and political empowerment is what all neo-liberal development experts from Sen to Sarkar leave out of their reckoning. Empowerment leads the people to ask, Development for whom? The neo-liberal knows it is for the corporate rate of profit, but because this sounds bad, he talks of trickle-down in the same breath – what is good for the American corporates is good for the entire world. But, now look through the other end of the telescope. How does the poorest of the poor view development, the sale of the Niyamgiri mountain for bauxite mining to Vedanta, Chidambaram’s former employer, the construction of school buildings, the highways as good and fast as runways, the Narmada-Sagar dams for that matter? Before Lalgarh became a prohibited zone, some friends reported an interesting exchange with a local activist of the Janasadharaner Committee. The Committee was at that time felling trees to create barricades. On being asked whether this would not hamper development, he replied, `This development you are talking about can take place only by displacing us from our homes. Why should we be interested in it?’ The people see the schools are used almost the whole year for housing the armymen. Military traffic only can be seen on the new roads . All depends on which end of the telescope you are looking through.

Development by whom?

The moral is development must be directed by the people themselves, starting from planning right to implementation. Once that happens, people will not allow things like the Narmada-Sagar dams, the Chemical hub at Nayachar, or the nuclear plant at Haripur, and will clamour for land reform and full benefit of the NREGA.

Development by whom? This should be the point of departure . Immediately, the whole perspective of development will change. And this is the answer to Sarkar’s last trump, ` How do we achieve this alternative?’– by empowering the people. Sarkar will still go on to ask ,’through democratic struggle or though revolution? Why should the corporates allow it? Or is it an utopia?’ With Medha Patkar, Bhaduri has given an answer in part: to achieve it there must be people’s movements (EPW, 3.1.2009). For the rest of the answer the neo-liberal should approach P Chidambaram and not Amit Bhaduri. Will the Indian state allow a real (as opposed to a corporate financed got-up electoral game in which all the major participants are supporters of the corporates) democratic struggle against the corporates?

Metro rail or palanquin?

Taking out the high-nosed, neo-liberal sting from the conundrum we started with, it may be replaced by a more legitimate question, `Metro rail or the bicycle ?’ To the inhabitant of the jangal mahal, Metro rail is a vaguely heard fairy tale, but Indian Railways are definitely relevant. Bhaduri’s view is that he is concerned with development with dignity of the rural, at most of both the rural and the urban, workforce, and this entails concern with full employment and the formation of a viable home market. So, he is concerned with the demand for and the production and sale of bicycles. The Metro rail, the Indian railways and the rest of the economy can look after themselves. Irresponsible? Incomplete? Dear neo-liberal, it parallels your concern for corporate investment and magnificent indifference to what actually happens in the rest of the economy, a reverse trickle down with a vengeance, a trickle-up if you like. So don’t complain.

We have argued elsewhere (EPW, 21.3.2009) that even in these large scale sectors (previously described as the `commanding heights of the economy’), a public sector, stream-lined by exposure to competition, and not the corporates should be the engine of choice.

Washing hands off the poor

Indifference to the problems of the poor is hidden behind a pious admonition to the government to look after education, health care, and communication facilities. You have applauded the governments’ cutting of subsidies, disinvestment and other measures stemming from globalization, you can now hardly complain if the governments go the whole hog of neo-liberalism and treat education and healthcare packages as commodities `manufactured’ through public-private partnership, at public cost and for private profit, and sold at as high a price as the market can take. So Sarkar’s final prescription of changing conditions of life for the poor through education-healthcare-communication is just Pilate washing his hands — what can be done if the government doesn’t listen to us!

***********


Intensification of State Terror in West Bengal and the Crisis in Civil Society

February 2, 2010

In West Bengal, state terror is rampant in the jangal mahal and probing tentatively into the rest of the state including the `progressive bastion’ of Kolkata.

Every day the combined forces fire on the people in the jangal mahal. Today’s news (Feb 2, 2010) of the shooting down of two women during a mass demonstration at Barikul, Dt Bankura, will not cause perhaps even a ripple in the swell of book-`lovers’ around the Book Fair. The conscience of civil society seems to have been immunized to the day by day intensification of the suppression of the people’s movement in jangal mahal. Even the criminal neglect of the terminal illness of Swapan Dasgupta, editor of the People’s March in Bangla, leading to what amounts to custodial death, in Kolkata itself, fails to stir the intellectuals to any concerted protest.

That like all other so-called social institutions, civil society is class-divided is clearly demonstrated. A section, aligned to the main opposition party (which still has a role to play in dislodging the present government), instead of fighting the pro-corporate trends and the opposition to independent people’s movements in that party, are falling into the trap of trying to justify these policies, which are suspiciously like the fascist trends of the present rulers. Apart from this section, a large proportion of the rest of the democrats, who supported the struggles in Singur and Nandigram, oppose the Maoists in their ideology/politics and/or strategy/tactics/forms of movement, and look at the movement in the jangal mahal through the lens of this opposition. This is the genesis of the paralysis of the opinion-makers in civil society. In this situation, the opinion of the masses of people constituting civil society at large is largely influenced by the media alone.

A movement of the toiling people may not coincide in its aims/methods with the perception of a large section of civil society, especially when the vocal leadership of the movement spells out methods and aims unacceptable to the class interests of this section. Democratic opinion should still

(1) separate out what can be supported in such a movement and, of course,

(2)oppose steadfastly state terror, even when it is used against a movement which it cannot support at all.

And, any informed reader of the newspapers can make out that what is happening in the jangal mahal is not typical of the Maoist tactics of individual killing, armed propaganda, and suppression of dissent by force. The Maoists may not like it or may be they are changing their tactics, but the fact is that the people are still demonstrating in thousands, unsupported by civil society which is ready to talk of people’s rights and their deprivation, of economic plight and political subjugation, in general, but refuses to apply these general principles to the particular situation of the jangal mahal. As if it is not possible to oppose specific policies (or even all the policies) of the Maoists, and yet uphold the rightful demands of the people of the jangal mahal and their right to assemble and demonstrate. And ask for the withdrawal of the occupation armed forces and the black acts.

Having thus paralysed itself, civil society fails to see how state terror is approaching all dissidents, and doesn’t know how to react when a suspected Maoist, whose only crime seems to be editing a lawful journal, is killed in custody by default.

Having said which, one cannot but talk of the unrealistic attitude of the Maoists re civil society. The Maoists demand that civil society must not criticize the policies being executed by them in the jangal mahal. This demand further widens the gulf between the movement in the jangal mahal and civil society.

(1) Given the disparate class bases of the movement in the jangal mahal and even democratic opinion in civil society, there are bound to be differences. On the other hand, the class relations are such that in spite of differences a large section of civil society can be retained on the anti-fascist platform. But the onus of mobilizing civil society support lies with the jangal mahal, and not the other way round.

(2) The history of the Russian and Chinese revolutions teach the lesson that heed must be given to non-party criticism if bureaucracy and bourgeois distortions are to be avoided.

Whatever the attitude of the Maoists, civil society will no doubt realize that it has no option, in the interest of its own, independent functioning in future, other than upholding the democratic issues of the movement in the jangal mahal. Any other course will be suicidal for democracy, or what is left of it.

***********

Neo-liberals to the defence of growth sans employment

(I) The question of employment revisited

January 11 2010

Amit Bhaduri’s ideas have again disturbed the neo-liberals. His “The face you were afraid to see” has called forth serious criticism (Abhirup Sarkar, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Dec 15, 2009).

It is conceded by the critics that globalization may lead to a curtailment of employment now, but it is proposed that this instant loss and consequent hardship be accepted in the interest of a bright future. Neo-liberal friends usually assail the Marxists for their belief in a rosy future. Now, the future seems to be their own refuge. Marxists would be less than human if they now refrained from pointing out that Keynes, while assailing the idea that inflation would control itself without government intervention, said : The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.

In Singur, for example, the neo-liberal story was that the loss of livelihood of 10,000 share-croppers, labourers, vendors and others of their ilk was the “collateral damage” which should be accepted as a social price for the burst of industrialization which was to transform the Singur region in future. Whatever else happens in the future, we have to concur with Keynes in the matter of these 10,000 people. They will certainly be dead.

The same hoary “trickle-down” theory invoked by the big guns of economics in the case of Singur is again uncorked to justify this touching faith in the future. Two points are put forward this time.

1. Even if mechanisation leads to a fall in employment and the demand for labour in the short run, the surplus profits arising from technological advance, and investment and re-investment will, in the long run, lead to growth and employment. A parallel is drawn with what happened in the Industrial Revolution.

2. The fall in employment is illusory and there is actually a shift from the organized to the unorganized sector, new jobs being created there with increase in wages, too.

The present critics concede Amit Bhaduri’s observations on the general trend of corporate policy towards labour and employment, – to keep prices competitive, productivity is increased by the induction of more efficient technology and labour shedding — labour cost is thereby reduced. As a result of globalization, there is the opportunity before the Tatas of today, and the imperative, to sell competitively on the world market, and this consequently entails a labour shedding technology which allows a Rs 1500 cr automobile factory to be run with 700-800 workers. But, because neo-classical economics is insensitive to history, the critics fail to see that as the production process becomes more and more capital-intensive over time the whole process of absorption of labour in industry from agriculture and artisan-based manufacture undergoes a sea-change between the Industrial Revolution and today’s era of old capitalism.

What about new investment? There was a lot of talk about new investment in ancillaries. The automobile industry itself estimated (2008) the number of jobs in ancillaries generated per job in a passenger car factory to vary between 5 and 6 – another 4000 jobs.

So, the Singur car factory could have generated a total of 5000 jobs, all told, and that’s it. On the other hand, the number of people, who lost their livelihood because 5 fertile mouzas of agricultural land were given away to the Tatas, would come to 10,000. In any case, employment for 5000 is practically irrelevant, 12 lakhs are added every year in West Bengal to the number of people capable of doing productive work. What is required is a whole new ball-game. Come, tell the 12 lakhs a year about `’trickle-down’.’

What about re-investment? Sarkar himself has to quote Amit Bhaduri’s example of compulsive labour shedding in the same factory as time goes on. Tata Steel increased its production in 2005 to 5 times that in 1991, and, in the same period, almost halved its workforce from 85 to 46 thousand, achieving a 10-fold rise in productivity. So, there will be growth sans employment in the corporate sector, not growth and employment.

And what about the bright future, in general, to be conjured from the beloved “trickle-down”? For example, we were told stories of some future time when the land around Singur would be resplendent with business and industry, townships alight and bustling with economic activity. Of course, these were lies. Big, corporate industry in the era of old capitalism generates few new jobs and squeezes existing jobs in the quest for productivity and profit. The Tatas have been in Jamshedpur for 100 years, and for many years in Orissa. Yet, Bihar (and Jharkhand) and Orissa remain persistently within the last three ranks of the poorest states of the country.

Nearer home is Hindusthan Motors’ Uttarpara factory, where the Birlas have been making cars for 60 years. Here, even in 1998 there were 9954 jobs. In 2007, within ten years, the number of jobs more than halved to stand at 4500. The surrounding localities of Uttarpara and Makhla stagnate. After 60 years there are no signs of flourishing townships. The future is no less dark. The Birlas had been allowed by the government of West Bengal to occupy 744 acres for the factory at throwaway rates. Of this, 314 acres remained unutilized for long. Finally, the Birlas have sold this chunk to a big promoting company for building a residential complex (Campaign material of Gana Udyog, Uttarpara). The future of Singur would have been no different. In fact, this is a world-wide phenomenon – there is no recovery for employment in the long run : between 1960 and 2000 the OECD countries showed fluctuating figures for employment in industry with a well-defined secular trend of decrease. The critics’ promise of suffering today and jobs tomorrow doesn’t work out in practice.

The critics have some cheek comparing this stagnation with the Industrial Revolution which was an eruption, no less, changing and, indeed, transforming society rapidly; Looking only at the employment aspect in the UK (Peter Evans and Sarah Stavetieg, The Changing Structure of Employment in Contemporary China, February 10, 2009), one sees that employment in agriculture was overtaken by that in manufacturing and the change in quality from agriculture to industry was almost complete by the first half of the 19th century.

Year Agriculture Manufacturing Services
1800 40% 20% 30%
1820 30% 30% 30%
1860 20% 30% 40%

(It may be noted that manufacturing after giving employment at ~ 35% level for almost 100 years started to fall again, since 1960. Agriculture continued to dwindle, and the losses in both these great sectors were mopped up by services which showed a sharp rise.)

The total work-force is increasing but there is considerable fluctuation. The annual rate of increase fell from 2.1% between 1983-94 to 1.9% between the post-liberalisation years of 1994-2005 (Arjun Sengupta commission, August 2007). It was 2.7% between 2000-05 (K Sundaram, EPW, July 28, 2007).

In post-1947 India, in almost 50 years , from 1960 to 2006, the share of agriculture in the total workforce fell from 73% to 56% (Sankar Acharya, Business Standard, December 25, 2009). But, manufacturing has not absorbed the people blocked out. The proportion of the work-force employed in manufacturing reached barely 12% in 2008, services accounting for 28% (Index Mundi, Dec 18, 2008). While industrial employment increased between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 at the rate of 6% per annum, formally organized industrial employment fell at the rate of 1% per annum, decreasing from 18% of the total industrial employment in 1998 to 10% in 2004. (Sankar Acharya, ibid)

86% of the total employment generated in industry between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 was in the unorganised non-formal sector while almost the whole of the remaining 14% was generated in the informalised section of the organized sector (Kalyan Sanyal and Rajesh Bhattacharya, EPW, May 30, 2009) . This is the content of point number 2 of critics like Sarkar. It is a product of globalization, the forcing of workers into jobs without social security benefits like provident fund and the other benefits won by generations of struggling workers. As a product of the magic word `globalisation’ informalisation may be dear to the heart of the neo-liberal, but one fails to see how it advances the case of the critics. Indeed, if employmentwise the organized corporates are a negative factor and their only contribution is a meagre 16% of the informal sector, Amit Bhaduri has already won his case on employment when he wants to ignore the corporates and concentrate directly on expansion of the home market via local industry, feeding and fed by local markets, demand being powered by schemes like the NREGA, a demand and a market based on the working people and not on executives, professionals, and the top salaried bracket, a market essentially of the bicycle and not the private automobile.

Sarkar says that wages have even increased in sections of the informal sector. Does Sarkar really think this is the principal aspect of work in the informal sector? The overall picture is one of low wage rates, lack of job and social security, no amenities and no leave. Arjun Sengupta found that 79% of workers in the informal sector had a daily consumption expenditure of Rs 20 or less. Also, there is a definite decline in the growth rate of wages for both urban and rural casual workers (K Sundaram, ibid) . The real wages of adult male rural casual labourers increased between 1983 to 1993-94 at the rate of 2.5% per year, which rose to 3.6% between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, and declined to 1.8% between 1999-2000 and 2004-05. For the case of adult male urban casual workers, these values change to 1.5%.,3.1% and -0.4%, that is there is actually a decrease in wage rates between 2000 and 2004.Finally, only 0.4% of the workers in the unorganized sector enjoyed PF or some such social security benefit.

Employment is not all, do I hear the critics murmur? More on that later.

*************

What will the state and its mortal enemies talk about?

Nov 26, 2009

“The time has come the Walrus said to talk of many things”

Chidambaram has come down from his high horse to concede that there may be talks if the Maoists “abjure violence ” without actually laying down arms. The usual shemozzle about what “abjure” really means has begun. But if the possibility of talks is not a mere talking point then the entire credit goes to the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace, Sanhati and other organizations which exposed in the international arena the brutality, obstinacy and high-handedness of the Indian governments at the centre and the states with respect to people’s struggles. The working class in the West, especially Europe, is stirring after a long retreat and its intellectuals as well as social-democratic politicians are sensitive to authoritarianism. The Indian state is deaf to internal criticism, by the cream of its own intellectuals, of its suppression of people’s movements but is wary of international criticism as the latter has a nasty way of reacting on trade, aid and arms flows, and, hence, on the economy and the polity. If the civil war can, at least, be postponed, even if not averted, the Indian people must express thanks to all Friends of the Indian People around the world, like Noam Chomsky.

Now what will the state and its sworn and mortal enemies talk about? Of course, the talks will give the Maoists some time to consolidate their positions and the governments will try to use the armistice and the talks to penetrate into Maoist territory and track safe corridors and camps for a post-talks decimation bid a la the late Y. Rajsekhara Reddy of Andhra. Apart from these tactical concerns, and the public posturing for peace on both sides to win over the unconverted, can there be any real substance to the talks?

One wonders.

Chidambaram told Shoma Chaudhury that he would “facilitate talks on forest rights, industrialization, land acquisition and development”, but enters many caveats : “There are other institutions which are required by the Constitution to see that the structures of governance work (he mentions the courts, the human rights commissions, the commissions for minorities, the SC and the ST, the RTI and information commissioners, the EC, the CAG and the AG)…. The frustrating thing is many of these institutions are either faltering or paralysed.” In response to charges of human rights violations by the agencies of the state, he said, “Law and order is a state subject.” In response to the proposition that bad laws were only modified when the people resisted them as in Nandigram, he interjected, “Elect better legislators,” and agreed that “Graft is driving a lot”, while maintaining that everybody was not corrupt. He makes the confession “ …the organs of government in this country are not functioning. There’s too much stasis, too much incompetence. The theoretical construct is not wrong but the practice is.

By Chidambaram’s own admissions, then, a package may be agreed upon at the hypothetical talks, but it is doubtful whether it will be implemented. The Indian state is such that the Home Minister of the Union freely admits, “the organs of government are not functioning.” The Home minister, no doubt, knows the reason, too. Our laws are hypocritical, as are our constitutional rights. The state is run on the ground not by the rule of law but by the fiat of the corporates and the brute force of the bureaucrat-rural bad gentry. If the people protest, the police are there, and now the armed forces, to establish whose writ runs. A view of India from below the poverty line shows intimidation of the rural and urban poor, the poor and landless peasants, as well as middle peasants, procrastination, inadequate allocation of funds, embezzlement, and plain theft.

Enough, ladies and gentlemen, you who preside over these organs of government which are not functioning. The people must be allowed to organise their own development directly. This is what the talks must be about.

  • Compulsory jan-sunani, public hearing must be called for to decide on all measures affecting the people to start with.
  • And, finally, all economic decisions which affect the people must be taken in the gram sansad, the unit of participatory democracy with an average strength of 700. If both Houses of parliament can sit together on occasion so can the gram sansad on every occasion. The sansad must be given statutory powers to plan development and direct the financial and administrative work of the gram panchayets.
  • Everything will be meaningless if the District magistrate and the Superintendent of police are allowed de facto political power, enforceable by the police. Policing, like schooling and public health, must be devolved to the community i.e. the sansad which must be given the power to disburse salaries and grants. Essentially, one must work towards a totally federal system within a Union controlling.
  • Defence against foreign aggression,
  • Finance, that is management of currency, banking and capital, and accounting of taxes, administrative expenditure and development grants, and
  • External Affairs.

The Nagas, the Kashmiris, the Manipuris, the Gorkhas, the Kamtapuris, the Greater Cooch-bihar people, the peoples of the so-called extremist-infested districts do not trust the state and are quite fed up with organs of government which do not function, or, rather, function only to repress and extort, something which the Home minister could not say but implied in his caveats. The Union has two alternatives.

  • It can make war against these peoples of India, and this war will spread as repression spreads, till entity after entity will want an out like the Nagas and the Kashmiris.Chidambaram knows this. He is too professional a politician to be the victim of his own propaganda. That is why he talks about suppressing a few thousand Maoists and prepares an invasion to suppress lakhs of people with air strikes from helicopter gunships. The fact is that many of these lakhs have accepted the leadership of the Maoists, immaterial whether from love or from fear, and Chidambaram’s war will have to be fought with them. So, lakhs of people are ready to fight the state, people who find it difficult to provide two square meals a day to their dependents. Normally they wouldn’t dream of taking up arms and jeopardizing the future of themselves and their dependents. In Lalgarh they had only asked for restrictions on police action and some punishments. It is the refusal of the state to listen to reasonable demands and armed suppression of innocent people which led to the present war situation there, as elsewhere.
  • Or, the Union can devolve maximal powers to the people organized in sansads within a federal structure.
    What about the States in such a structure? Voluntary groups of sansads? Their powers?

It is time to stop building castles in the air!

We were day-dreaming. What is the realpolitik scenario, yaar? The Union government is certain to demand that arms be laid down, laws of the land obeyed, and the Maoists join the “mainstream”, that is the chunao parties. We don’t know what the Maoists will ask for apart from the predictable demands for the withdrawal of the armed forces of the state, release of political prisoners, restrictions on police action as demanded, for example, by the Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee, and freedom to propagate their political views. It is very probable that they will ask for rescindment of agreements with mining companies to loot the mineral wealth underneath the forests and in the hills, an unwinding of SEZ’s, and safeguarding of the claims of the indigenous people on the wealth of the country.

Such talks might fail or there may result a package which the government will not be able to implement as it does not function below the BPL unless to extort and repress, and we will be back to square one.

If the people have collected sufficient power to bring the Union to the conference table, this must be acknowledged by agreeing on a new devolution of powers so that the people can themselves implement the package. This is the crux of the matter.

***********

The possibilities of civil society reaction to Chidambaram’s war and Lalgarh

Nov 7 2009

The Government of India is declaring a war, under the generalship of Chidambaram, on the population of what it describes as Maoist-infested areas, a population comprising the poorest of the poor of this unfortunate country. The stated target of Chidambaram’s adventure is the Maoists, but apart from sporadic exchange of fire with these elusive guerrillas, the main thrust of the state will be oppression, torture, mass arrests, rape and murder let loose on the general population most of whom cannot tell butt from muzzle of an AK 47.

The crime of the people is their protest against (a) systematic embezzlement of funds, originating from the taxpayer’s money and earmarked for the poor, (b) complete disregard of the state’s responsibility for ensuring a livelihood for all, (c) perennial oppression by a politician-official-trader nexus, and, above all, (d) police atrocities and harassment. The crime of the people is that they live on lands coveted by foreign and domestic big capital for their water, minerals, forests and crops. Predatory development was to have displaced them from these lands, but they had the temerity to protest. Finally, the greatest crime of the people is that they look on the Maoists as a friendly political party and not terrorists.

The mini-Chidambarams in West Bengal have also declared a synchronous escalation in the joint occupation forces’ activity, which means protecting the CPI(M) armed Harmad gangs and systematic torture of villagers living deeper into the forest, tales of which are creeping out, in spite of closing the whole area to the rest of India by clamping Sec 144.

In this situation, civil society in West Bengal continues to be disunited and confused.

The now violent conflict between the armed forces of the state and the CPI(M) Harmad gangs, on the one hand, and the Maoist guerrillas and the armed people’s militia, on the other, has put a question mark on the support of civil society to the people’s movement.

However, questioners must not forget that the immediate origin of the conflict lies in police atrocities and the dispatch of the joint armed forces into the jangal mahal. That the people have taken up arms in self-defence against the forces of the state and the Harmad is the result of the response of the state. Had the state listened to the complaints of the people such a situation would not have arisen. Because of the obstinacy of the state in the face of the demands raised by the people of the jangal mahal, the situation is going from bad to worse.

How many of the people involved in the movement are ideologically Maoists? That they, too, bear arms today is the direct responsibility of Chidambaram and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. All that the people wanted were apologies for police atrocities and guarantees that they wouldn’t recur. Up to this stage, the movement was peaceful. The response of the state after starting talks was to withdraw from them unilaterally and send armed forces into the area, into houses, in fact, torturing, molesting and foisting false cases, to raise a bevy of protest and now an armed militia. The opposition to such state terror on a people’s movement must be unconditional, irrespective of the nature of the movement.

Democratic opinion cannot take the stand that the state is justified in unleashing terror unless the movement is avowedly non-violent.

Having said this, one must indicate that this opposition to state terror does not imply acceptance of any other kind of terror. The oppressed have the right to fight back but civil society cannot accept methods involving terrorizing adversaries and their supporters, for example, killing people just because they belong to the adversary’s political organization, and forbidding other political formations from carrying on political work.

In particular, if a party declares that they will administer justice in regions where their writ runs, that is if they want people to believe that they are taking up some powers of the state, and if we accept this contention for the sake of argument, they must be prepared to have the acts of this state power of theirs to be judged by civil society as stringently as civil society judges the acts of the Indian state.

Civil society cannot accept the cruel and, occasionally, deliberately terror-inspiring way people are being killed in the jangal mahal on the charge of spying for the police. The way the courts are set up, charges framed, and often quite poor people meted out sentences of death, cannot be said to be a great improvement on the judicial practice of the Indian state. The deliberate taking of a life is a serious thing and it should not be easy to do this in any sort of a power structure. Also, if there are so many police spies and enemy agents, one wonders if there is something in the politics which drives so many people away to do something quite perilous.

The state and the media have pilloried the Maoists exclusively for what they call acts of terror, disregarding such acts of other political players. In fact, there is little doubt that the most violent party and one which has carried out intimidation, murder and arson quite deliberately to create terror for the last 32 years is the CPI(M). The regions served by the police stations of Keshpur and Garhbeta are run like penal settlements by Sushanta Ghosh, a CPI(M) minister, no dissident voices being tolerated. To achieve this enviable status the CPI(M) created terror through wanton killings, the most notorious of the massacres bearing the name of the village of Chhoto Angaria. Here, the CPI(M) has raised the Ghoshkar Harmad army in addition to the vigilante assassination squads of the Gana Pratirodh Bahini in Lalgarh and Belpahari. Armed camps with bunkers and ordnance stores were set up on the three sides of Lalgarh, exposed when the Maoists attacked the camps at Enayetpur,Teshkona, Hanrimara, and Porbandh,

All over West Bengal, in fact, all opposition parties including the TMC are facing the terror tactics of the CPI(M). People of segments which voted against the CPI(M) in the recent Lok Sabha polls are being attacked, after immobilizing the police either physically or politically. Leading elements of opposition parties have been singled out for murder.

The moral high ground taken by Chidambaram crumbles when we see him unwilling to declare the CPI(M) to be a terrorist party, or send an expeditionary force to Garhbeta and Keshpur. (Civil society does not, of course, believe in sending expeditions against the people anywhere, or declaring any political party to be terrorist and thereby banning it under the UAPA and preventing it from functioning normally, normal functioning being defined to include propagation of its political views.)

So, the basic position of civil society should be unchanged: withdraw the joint armed forces and start talks.

A word on talks. Chidambaram raises the question of the Maoists abjuring violence. It seems that both sides are rigid on the right to use violence. The state will not apologise for its use of violence on the tribal women of Chhotopelia in Lalgarh (Chitamoni Murmu lost an eye and Panmoni Hansda’s ribs were broken) and will not guarantee that force will not be used on ordinary villagers, and the Maoists are unlikely to announce that they will abjure violence because this will entail surrender of arms, which even the Nepali Maoists have not done. With these present positions, all that is possible is an armistice. But civil society should fight even for that limited objective to prevent the bloody civil war which faces the country due to Chidambaram’s adventure.

*************

Lalgarh : Talks, not Civil War

September 21 2009

As the monsoon season draws to a close, the state prepares for an onslaught on the people of Lalgarh (actually this will be part of a general onslaught on people’s movements in areas like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, where, according to the state, the Maoists are active). Already, the joint security forces are attacking villages in Lalgarh. According to newspaper reports, men have been crippled for life, women raped, houses torched, movable property looted and destroyed.

The CPI(M) has fitted up an armed gang, the Ghoshkar army, and is busy buying arms and ammunition. The party’s organizations are extorting money from their members. For example, every member of the all-Bengal primary teachers’ association has been asked to deposit two thousand rupees, failing which the party will move the government to have the defaulter transferred to Lalgarh! The Harmad gangs are gathering in party offices on three sides of Lalgarh, within the Garhbeta, Salboni and Sadar police stations. Garhbeta boasts of a training camp for five hundred Harmads at a time.

On the eve of the impending assault by the combined strength of the state and the fascist party, one is reminded of the visit of the many secretaries of the state government ostensibly to draw up a plan for development for the jangal mahal. Months have passed, but practically nothing has been done, just as in the past 32 years of Left Front rule.

Chhatradhar Mahato has called for autonomy though it is not clear what the call exactly means. It raises, however, a pertinent point. If the state fails to supply food at affordable prices, fails in water management in a region dependent on rain-fed agriculture, fails to provide education and healthcare for the people, fails to promote the special culture and languages of a large indigenous population; if the governmental machinery and the major partner of the government siphon off the grants for the region through a system of institutionalised corruption, leaders amassing private wealth in the process, if the police systematically torture and harass whole communities related to suspected supporters of opposition parties, the state loses its ‘legitimacy’. If, in such a situation, the people set up elected institutions for dealing with these exigencies of life, how is it legitimate for the state to prevent the people from helping themselves?

It is to be remembered that the Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee were engaged in talks with the government about their demands regarding cessation of police torture, and there had developed quite an area of agreement, the main point of dispute being public apology for the torture, and its mode. The Committee had, by then, set up health centres and started small irrigation. At this point of time the government stopped the talks and sent in the joint security forces. The message was clear. You must first submit to my superior force.

The question arises, can the people exercise sovereignty directly as the Janasadharaner Committee wants to? But, observe, the question arises only if the people are working people. What happens in a SEZ? The SEZ is practically owned by the Investor, and administered by a Commissioner on his behalf. The Investor, even if he is not a citizen of this country, exercises sovereignty, and not all laws of the land apply to a SEZ. No one raises any question because he is an investor, not a toiler. But if the constitution is not violated by investing sovereignty in an investor, neither will it be if the working people of a given area are allowed to run their own lives.

This is the real question once one removes the red herring of the Maoists, inserted by the state in the propaganda war. The Maoists and the CPI(M) are fighting a turf war, and, naturally, the Centre and the state government want to help the CPI(M). Let the state fight the Maoists. What is not acceptable is venting vengeance on the common people. Of course, the more the state does this the more it plays into the hands of the Maoists, because the people become more convinced that the Maoist way is the only way out. A post-monsoon state military offensive will be a playing out of this unfortunate scenario to the climax of civil war. There is barely time to desist from this signal disservice to the peoples of India and return to the talks with the Janasadharaner Committee. Let wiser counsels than the Bonapartism of the Central and state Home ministers prevail.

*************

The current price rise : a view from West Bengal

September 7, 2009

The marketplaces wear a grim look. Prices are on fire. They have been rising for almost a year now, or even more – you cannot pin it down since the official wholesale price index has been falling and has turned negative since June 2009., signifying a decrease in prices! It is fortunate for Manmohan Singh that aam aadmi does not try to link the declared inflation rate with the bazaars frequented by him, because Singh will face a couple of state-level elections shortly. The state of the wholesale price index wpi is characteristic of an inefficient and corrupt copy of Western neo-liberalism like the Indian version. The base year for the wpi is 1993-94 when Manmohan’s reforms were still to make a dent in the economy. The index is calculated from the prices of 435 commodities But, in the intervening years new products have appeared, the weightages of different commodities have changed, as have market leader brands, and prices of commodities are no longer calculable from single city data because factories manufacturing a given product are dispersed over the country. But Manmohan Singh’s government goes on quoting this useless wpi.The consumers’ price index cpi is more realistic. It has been hovering around values like 10-14%.

Before probing the deeper causes of the price rise one must separate out the superficial effect of fishing in the troubled waters of inflationary expectations by lumpen-bourgeoisie in the looting mode. Much of the rise in prices of foodgrains, sugar, vegetables and other items on the daily list is due to hoarding and artificial shortages, associated with speculation and futures trading.

Potato is a case in point in West Bengal. According to the government, 15 lakh metric tones are in stock and there is no justification for a price rise. Futures trading with the prospect of a higher price in future lured cold storage owners into hoarding. Prices are racing on and all that the government can do is to open a feeble chain of fair price outlets of an inferior brand.

All over the country foodgrain is another object of hoarding and speculation although the claim is that there are stocks amounting to 32.3 million tones of rice and 25.3 m.t. of wheat,13 months requirements for the country. However, last year, some foodgrain was exported, and this year the monsoon is down ( crop production is expected to go down by 15-20%; rice, oilseeds and sugar cane being worst affected). These factors tempt speculation that the prices will rise, hoarding begins and leads actually to higher prices.

Another superficial cause is governmental inertia and callousness. The stocks of foodgrain are not much above the July 1 buffer norms of 19.3 m t for rice and 17.1 m t of wheat, figures which themselves refer to 2005, and are about to be upgraded —in such a situation export, however small in amount, was a bad option. Then, again, government does not sell in the open market fast enough as prices rise and, of course, there is no action against hoarders, apart from some eyewash. Consider now sugar. Last year, the sugar cane crop was 5 m t more than the demand in the country. The government failed to ensure adequate support prices and farmers had to take whatever price was offered by middle-men and the open market sugar price crashed from Rs 18 to Rs 13. The government allowed export and the mill owners started hoarding. 30% of the farmers moved away from sugar cane this year. Prices soared.

Now, the government is thinking of importing foodgrains, sugar (no buffer stock, import started from January) and other commodities, which show substantial price rises. While import will ease supply, it will make the country vulnerable to fluctuations in the international markets. In the case of wheat the global stock level is the lowest in 25 years, prices have risen by 75% on both sides of the Atlantic, mainly due to financial turmoil and speculation, and not primarily due to spontaneous supply-demand mismatch.

In any case, oil and edible oils have always had to be imported in recent years. India imports 70% of the oil it consumes. It is the single largest item of imports, 32.4% of all imports in 2008-09 (31.7% in 2007-08). Oil forms 28% of India’s energy mix and so ups and downs in international oil prices will affect all prices because dearer oil signifies that energy will become dearer and so will manufactures and transport.. In June, 2008, petrol prices were raised by 11% and diesel prices by 8%. Immediately, the rate of increase in the wpi, for what it is worth, jumped from 8.75% to 11.05%. However, international oil prices, after a steady rise for 17 months, started falling from May, 2008.. The falling international prices led to a cut in Indian prices in December, 08, and January, 09. Then, international oil prices embarked on a 8-month rise (55% rise up to June 30, 2009), and, on July 1, 2009, India raised petrol prices by Rs 4 (10%) and diesel prices by Rs 2(10%) a litre. There is cause for suspicion that the oil price rise, administered by the Indian government, is more than is necessary, because its result is that an Indian pays for petrol at $4.45 a gallon, while a US consumer has only to pay $3.79. .

The 2008 experience tells us, further, that prices of all commodities will rise in response to an increase in the price of oil. This is one of the deeper causes of the price rise – India’s dependence on the international oil market.

The US position on the rise is that oil supplies are tight and world demand is increasing. These are steady factors and can hardly explain sudden changes. So, the role of speculation in the form of futures trading has to be invoked. Also, oil is priced in dollars, a currency whose value is falling.

International prices of commodities like edible oil, oilseeds, and metals are showing frequent ups and downs, due to speculation and financial instability. Some time back the banks pumped money into the international system to fight the recessionary fall of demand, as a result world prices rose. India’s import of commodities immediately transmits these oscillations in prices to the domestic market, to a significant degree in the cases where the import of the commodity is significant, for example, for edible oils and oilseeds (no buffer stocks) where imports supply 40% of India’s consumption.

The price rise being faced by the people of West Bengal is partly due to the tolerance of the state government, as well as the union government, for hoarders and speculators (are some of the proceeds finding their way into party funds?), and partly due to the dependence on imports of key commodities like foodgrains, petroleum and edible oils, and consequent import of price rise from international markets, which, again, owes its origin only in part to real shortages, and mostly to speculation, hoarding, and futures trading.

Acknowledgements to Prabhakar Sinha(TNN), Mahendra Kumar Singh (TNN), Bloomberg in International Energy En.In-En.com, Zhou Jiangong in Chinastakes.com, Economist.com. Various issues of The Times of India, the Dainik Statesman, and Akdin have been useful.

*************


Political struggle within the CPIM

August 15, 2009

The take-over of the CPI(M) party by the neo-liberals was so bloodless, with seasoned social-democrats rooted in the trade unions (like Pandhe saab) and the peasant masses (like Rezzak saab) and voluble intellectuals capitulating with only a whimper or two *, that commentators like the present columnist concluded that the party had become a party of big capital. While this remains the principal aspect, it seems that there is still life in the creature, and the debacle in the W Bengal Loksabha elections has emboldened the large number of social democratic representatives of the traditional class basis of the CPI(M)** to raise their voices against the surrender to big capital.

Asim Dasgupta, W Bengal’s Finance Minister suddenly set the ball rolling by declaring in the Vidhansabha on July 12 that the W Bengal government would no longer acquire land for industry. This raised a furore in the circles of big capital and inside the party. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had to say that this was not the Cabinet decision. Now the new Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, after the second meeting of the Land Use Board since he took charge, announced that he would not clear proposals for setting up industries and townships on multi-crop, irrigated land, to ensure food security. Almost repeating the opposition’s arguments at Singur, labelled as physiocratic by Amartya Sen, he said that the population is increasing but the total amount of agricultural land has declined. Out of 1.38 crs of cultivable land there has been a decrease of 1 lakh acres. “Extremely essential” rail and road projects only would be spared, provided an equal amount of single crop land is converted to multi-crop schedules and adequate compensation is made to the land losers. It is to be noted that Salim’s proposed Barasat-Raichak expressway runs through much land which is multi-cropped, some of it in Rezzak saab’s own constituency of Bhangar.

Rezzak saab is quite in tune with the current temper of the general people, and has remarked that unless prices are controlled, the people “might inflict Dum Dum dawai on us.” This remark has also brought forth shrill protests from inside the party.

Prabhat Patnaik has now taken up a position squarely opposed to that of the neo-liberal lobby led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Nirupam Sen. In Reflections on the Left, he writes : “…it (the Left) did not have an alternative policy on development from what the neo-liberal paradigm dictated. In West Bengal, the government led by it pursued policies of “development” similar to what other states were following and in competition with them, which, being part of the neo-liberal paradigm, necessarily brought with them the threat of “primitive accumulation of capital” (in the form specifically of expropriation of peasants’ land.”). Patnaik has called opposition writers many names in the recent past, the most bizarre one being ‘messianic moralists.’ All we now say is, Better Late than Never.

On behalf of the neo-liberal lobby we find an apologist from Durham, U.K., who, in his Some Left Critiques of the Left (EPW, July 2009), repeats the same old untruth of 70,000 jobs in and downstream of Haldia Petrochemicals (it has been established that the figure is certainly less than 25,000). He declares “that new industries have not created additional jobs in the country as a whole over the last 15 years or so is by no means an empirically incontestable proposition,” but fails to provide a single statistic to contest the proposition. He refers to a media calculation on the basis of which he tries to show that the Singur compensation package was satisfactory, and finally winds up lamely conceding : “ It is certainly possible that compensation packages can be improved, or supplementary policies formulated to ease the transition”. But his argument that migration of rural folk to urban centres proves the existence of job creation in industry must take the cake: the migrant enters the city with his bundle and walks into a job in a factory : it is almost wish fulfilment Bollywood material. We seem to recall hearing of the reserve army of the unemployed and the swelling ranks of the lumpen-proletariat or has neo-liberalism banned the use of these terms?

What is ominous is that the neo-liberals have concluded that what had been missing in the past was the use of more force (not less) : “the answer would lie in sustained, determined and intelligent politico-administrative measures to mobilize the beneficiaries and neutralise the losers.” Let us hope “neutralise” does not mean what the Americans use it to mean on the battlefield.

The struggle is on with a vengeance. However, the problem with political struggle inside any large party with parliamentary ambitions is that principle is always subservient to the need for winning elections and to carry the party the social-democrats will have to convince the thoroughly self-seeking post-1977 rank and file that not only will the neo-liberals fail in steering them to electoral victory but they, the social-democrats, will succeed in doing this – a tall order, hardly believable. There will be a fight to determine which line is electorally better, and principles will hardly come in, and this is not wholly bad for the social democrats because the neo-liberal line has lost the party three elections, and, after all, the social democrats, too, do not really have an alternative policy of “development.”

So, it is very unlikely that the political struggle within the CPI(M) in West Bengal will be fought to a finish with final victory for one side or a split. What is much more likely is that there will be a truce with muting down of the more anti-people measures like land acquisition and the introduction of some populist sops, especially for the minorities. Organisationally, the neo-liberals will have to concede more power to the social democrats. As we saw, both processes have started.

NOTES

* We remind Prabhat Patnaik of his apology for the W Bengal government’s atrocities in Nandigram in The Left and its Intellectual Detractors: supporting Buddhadeb’s caveat to start with, “There is no gainsaying that the Left Front government made serious mistakes. in handling the Nandigram issue; and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has said so in as many words”, going on to justify the carnage, “… it is not enough to point out that the so-called “re-occupation” of Nandigram in November was an act of desperation which followed the failure of every other effort at restoring normalcy and bringing the refugees back to their homes”, and, finally, reiterating the eternal CPI(M) position that violence perpetrated by it is justified and violence directed against it is an outrage, “ An attitude that does not distinguish between types of violence, between the different episodes of violence, that condemns all violence with equal abhorrence, that places on a footing of equality all presumed perpetrators of violence, amounts in fact to a condemnation of nothing.”

** the white collar employees and the upper strata of the workers, the landed peasants and tenants, small to medium business people and professionals

************


Union Budget, 2009: What about Industry?

The Union budget has tried its best to look after the interests of corporate capital, not by direct sops – a disappointment for short-sighted businessmen, but by an attempt to boost domestic demand through expenditure on infrastructure and measures like wages hike to Rs100 in the NREGS and easing of crop loan repayment. This is a shrewd move because the world recession continues and export markets remain sluggish. Industrial production growth had been negative from December, 2008, to March, 2009, month to month, and generally, too, from May, 2008, to March, 2009, signalling lack of domestic demand.

Foreign capital inflow fell by 57.6 billion dollars between 2007 and 2008. Government expenditure was a must in such a situation to push demand. Defence expenditure has been increased by 34% to 12% of the budget, and the budget of the home ministry has been increased by 33% for modernization of the police force and implementation of the citizen’s identity card scheme. Where will all this money come from? The rich are not to be taxed. Market borrowing is the answer of the present Finance Minister. The budget deficit is 6.8% of the GDP, large by the standards of the Fiscal and Budgetary Management Act, foisted on India by international finance capital, but less than the final deficit of 8% last year.

A Rs 25000 crores divestment had been expected. Instead there was a paltry Rs 1129 crores from the sale of public property. The reason adduced was that share prices would rise after the world recession clears and divestment would then net more revenue. So, the winding up of the public sector continues.

What about investment in industry? The Union Finance Minister expects the private sector to come in. It is for them that he is taking demand boosting policies and easing credit. Alas, private investment is not picking up. Even in the early period of reforms private investment actually decreased (1995-2000). Using the easily understandable terminology of Kalyan Sanyal, Rajesh Bhattacharya, we would like to refer to their finding that the number of direct wage workers in private enterprises of the formal sector actually decreased by 3 lakhs between 1999-2000 and 2004-05. But the number of rural non-farm workers, urban workers in informal enterprises, sub-contracting to the big capitalists of the formal sector, and agricultural labour under contract farming (unprotected regular, casual and contract workers) increased by 85 lakhs in the same period. (an average. increase of 8% per annum) . This is the practical working out of globalization. Of course, employment is dominated by the informal sector itself, which employed more than 6 times the people employed in the formal sector in 2004-05, and increased at an average rate of 3% per annum in the period under discussion So, much cannot be expected from the big private capitalists of the formal sector.

So, the present budget cannot be hoped to rectify the structural imbalance of the country’s GDP vis a vis the weakness of industry. In the 4th quarter of 2008-09, the contribution of industry to the GDP was only 1.5(1.35) times that of agriculture, while that of services was more than 3(2.5) times the contribution from industry The figures in brackets are for the 2005-06. Clearly, services are pulling growth along, and the Union Finance Minister has no plans to change this. After all, a weak domestic industry is exactly what international finance capital wants..


Lalgarh: an interim balance sheet

July 3, 2009

Now that the first phase of the Indian state’s operation to reclaim political power in Lalgarh is over, let us look at the interim balance sheet.

When the people’s movement first erupted in Lalgarh two scenarios were discussed (here, and here). In one, the state was to understand and respect the space the people were asking for in the structure of power – a control over police atrocity and harassment. In the other, the state would forcibly reclaim lost power at any cost.

These two scenarios present the larger issue highlighted by the movement. But before we talk about this, several smaller items on the balance sheet need to be disposed of.

The CPI(M) was, of course, always in favour of the second scenario because it was the CPI(M) which had actually been dispensing the power of the Indian state in the region, the local bureaucracy and the police had all been under its control. The people’s movement had demoralized the local cadre who deserted the party offices, declared severance from the party, and even fled the area. The local stake of the CPI(M) was dramatically exposed in the course of the people’s movement when the people demolished the Rs 34 lakh palace of local CPI(M) party leader Anuj Pandey and unearthed other houses and property amassed by the Pandey Bros by systematically siphoning off volumes of central grants for the toilers of Lalgarh.

The timing of the operation was decided by

(1) an overriding need to turn public attention away from the miserable failure of the state government to repair and maintain the bunds (dykes} in the Sunderbans over the years, and provide relief to the people surrounded by the black salty water, brought in by storm Aila through the breached dykes, and now stinking with decaying carcasses,

(2) pressure from the local leaders after the fall of Anuj Pandey’s stronghold in Dharampur, and

(3) a need to present the Buddha administration as firm and efficient, not afraid of bloodshed, to the middle-class suburban voters in the municipal elections which coincided with the entry of armed forces in Lalgarh.

The victims of the state government’s corrupt functioning , neglect and callousness in the Sunderbans were duly forgotten by the media, but sabre-rattling does not seem to have mellowed the people’s will to throw off the yoke of dadagiri and corruption. The municipal elections continued the rout of the CPI(M).

However, the armed Harmads of the CPI(M) are on a victory roll in Lalgarh and, entering the area with the armed forces of the state, have started punishing the people for daring to challenge the CPI(M). In so far as the immediate objective of the armed operation is to restore forcibly the tilt of power towards the CPI(M), the CPI(M) has certainly gained from the operation in the short term.

The CPI(Maoist) has also gained — in a longer term. They are on the way to converting the area into a guerrilla zone. This is what they wanted, whatever you and I may think of it. That right now it seems that they have lost is a fall-out of their previous arrogant press statements. It is also true that a large section of the people who participated in the uprising are genuinely disappointed at the way the movement suddenly dissolved as the armed troops advanced, and the general people seem weary of the menace of terror induced by the politics of individual killing followed by the CPI(M) and the Maoists.

While the Janasadharaner committee was no doubt wise in avoiding futile bloodshed, the pronouncements of the leaders right to the end promised a magic resistance which, of course, could not materialize. In fact, the work of the Janasadharaner committee appears to have had two distinct phases. The second phase started after the Maoists claimed leadership of the movement. The work of consolidating the results of the uprising seems to have been shelved and the committee attempted a quick expansion of the area under its control accompanied by collection of large sums of money. But, whatever the setbacks now visible, the Maoists know that ‘pacification’ will be accompanied and definitely followed by a police-cadre onslaught on the people, something which has already begun.. In any case the CPI(M) will be back in the saddle, learning nothing and forgetting nothing In such a situation, the Maoists, no doubt, calculate that, in the absence of any other alternative, the people will finally support Maoist guerilla activity. It will be clear to any discerning observer that a large majority of the people of the jangal mahal consider, in the long run, the CPI(M) to be definitely against them and the ‘Bon-party (the Maoists)’ to be definitely for them, whatever specific criticism they may have against the latter at the moment.

The TMC did not support the Lalgarh people’s movement, and did not oppose the armed operations at first, with the unenviable implication that they supported an expedition aimed at restoration to power of the arch-enemy. They now support a ‘purely’ central force.

The larger issue

The larger issue involves the contradiction between the Indian state and various groups of people in search of political space. The search arises from a growing failure of the ‘legitimacy’ of the state. Let us trace in some detail how this happened in the specific case of the jangal mahal.

Take the janajatis of the jangal mahal. They suffer from the economic inadequacies of the state : in this case, failure to organize surface irrigation in the longer term and an utter lack of proper targeting and distribution of poverty amelioration measures in the shorter term. But such has always been their lot. Hard-working and resilient, they have always coaxed something from the stony land and supplemented it with forest produce. What is new is overt resentment of the political dispensation.

As elsewhere in India, here there is an intricate system of corruption whereby all development and relief measures are appropriated by a rural elite in addition to their mopping up of the meagre economic surplus. In the jangal mahal this agent is the CPI(M) cadre, the top leaders in the region amassing quite conspicuous riches. The writ of the cadre runs in the bureaucracy and the police. The Maoists, over a long period, were trying to chase the CPI(M) cadre out of their pockets of influence, and every time the Maoists hit and ran, the police would torture villagers and implicate people in false cases to harass them. It is the ruthlessly partisan rule of the CPI(M) cadre with their enjoyment of the fruits of corruption in collusion with the local bureaucracy. and their use of the police for repression and intimidation which was perceived as ‘unjust’ practice on the part of the state, and this sense of injustice questioned the ‘legitimacy’ of the state, in particular, the rule of the state through the intermediation of the CPI(M) cadre, and demanded political space to deal with the immediately pressing trouble posed by the police on a rampage after the Maoists exploded a device in front of the chief minister’s. convoy.

Consequently the janajati drew upon their strongly democratic traditions to set up an organization which contested the unbridled powers of the police and thereby laid claim to a small space in the structure of political power.

In addition to such a detailed internal mechanism of the working of particular agencies perceived, quite correctly, by the people as the state in that area, the general assault of the state, on behalf of big capital, against the people for usurping their land, water, forest, and minerals, has naturally been classified by the affected communities as ‘unjust’ and ‘predatory’, leading to a significant loss of ‘legitimacy’. This shadow, too, was present in Lalgarh, because in neighboring Salboni, the Jindals were assigned land for a SEZ. When in the early days of the Lalgarh movement, the participants were asked, ‘You are blocking the roads, don’t you want development?,’ the answer was, ‘Development means our displacement.’

The Indian state will not allow direct political space to the people. The people must become clients of a party approved by the state, the parties will forward and lobby for those of the people’s demands of which they themselves approve. No political party, not even the Maoists, seem to be able to allow direct political space to the people. In Nandigram, when the movement started, hundreds of village committees were set up by the people. The BUPC bypassed these committees and formed an umbrella of different political parties to direct the movement. Finally, of course, there emerged the domination of a single party, the TMC. In Lalgarh thousands of village committees were formed (5 men + 5 women in each), under the umbrella of the Janasadharaner committee, PSBJC, which refused to give importance to political parties. The political space demanded by the PSBJCY expanded as the movement unfolded, and it proposed to take up issues of health, education and small irrigation by itself. The CPI(Maoist) found it necessary to declare at a Press meet that they had built this movement and were directing it, a back-handed way of denying direct political space to the people.

This is the larger issue, a fight for real political democracy, and judged from this perspective, the people lost, their demands for direct political space were overruled by a joint centre-state military expedition. But, as the genesis of the recent struggles against predatory ‘development’ all over the country will show, everywhere the people are demanding this direct political space. It is an issue which will not allow shelving.

Meanwhile, Lalgarh remains occupied by external forces and will return to the clutches of the state approved local overlords, officially permitted to steal and loot. But, the people of Lalgarh, a little dazed just now by the rush of events, will regroup and resist. This is the lesson of history. What form the resistance will take remains to be seen. The final balance sheet is yet to be drawn up.

************

Half-naked inhabitants against elite forces: Being reminded of Vietnam

June 30, 2009

Click here to read article [Bengali, PDF] »

************

Lalgarh: Conflicting Aims, Difficult Days

June 13, 2009

The people’s uprising in Lalgarh has entered difficult days. The exclusion of the state police from an area where previously they used to beat up people and arrest them on false cases, and the setting up of gram level committees with equal representation for men and women leading up to the Pulishi Atyacharer biruddhe Janasadharaner committee marked a level of popular initiative never seen in post-colonial times. The volume of people’s participation, too, in tens of thousands, was unprecedented. The decision of the Janasadharaner committee to start health services and small irrigation projects squarely confronted the corrupt and, in this area, virtually non-existent state-sponsored development work with development by the people for the people.. The debacle of the CPI(M) in the panchayet and Lok sabha elections created a space for the partial political power demanded by the people.

The CPI(M) in this region, including Keshpur and Garhbeta, is now formed of armed gangs, generically called the ‘Ghoshkar Bahini’, which, together with the police, has been killing members of the Janasadharaner committee, and trying hard to bring back the disobedient people of Lalgarh under their thumb.

Parallel to the work of the committee, the Maoists, who enjoy great prestige and support in the jangal mahal, have been carrying on their usual programme of killing bad gentry and police spies (mostly CPI(M) leaders), and neutralising the CPI(M) cadre. The use of murder as a part of politics, some particularly unfortunate killings of quite innocent people, and a de facto bar on all other political organisations have made civil society uneasy. The Maoists have defended their actions as essential to the unfolding of a people’s war against the state, and have indicated their indifference to the feelings of civil society.

More-over they have claimed leadership of the Lalgarh movement and have called for the formation of a people’s militia. After this declaration the Janasadharaner committee seemed to embark on a spree of expanding their area of operation with predictable clashes, as they moved outside their sphere of influence, with the police and the CPI(M)’s armed gangs. The police seem to have regained their enthusiasm for arrest and torture. The Janasadharaner committee made, perhaps an inadvertent, sortie into Chakulia in Jharkhand. Jharkhand police promptly arrested some demonstrators, detained a few, alleging Maoist connections, and there was a case of custodial rape. The Janasadharaner committee has made some other moves carryng doubtful benefits. They wished to demonstrate their following to the people of Kolkata and brought people in busloads, ending up in a face-off with the police, who refused permission the next time to bring traditional weapons. Then, again, in Lalgarh, they asked government employees in BDO’s offices and other such places to give donations adding up to lakhs of rupees..

What had started as a people’s movement of great potentiality, bringing questions of self-determination and the right to resist state terror and maldevelopment through people’s organisations, is now on the defensive. The state which was paralysed in the changing political scene by the sheer numbers of demonstrators has again gained the initiative, in its present task of restoring hegemony to the armed gangs of the CPI(M). The Maoists are at home in a turf war of this kind . Development of a guerrilla zone is part of their programme. It is for the Janasadharaner committee to decide whether it will come back to its original programme, whose basic aim of resisting police atrocity found a resonant chord in the minds of the entire people of West Bengal. Lalgarh needs a shield of such people without delay, for a Nandigram-like invasion seems imminent. To set up the shield a dialogue with civil society is of immediate importance.

***********

The Travails of Malati

May 31, 2009. A true story sent by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri. (Only the name Malati is an assigned one)

When the storm swept Kolkata during the afternoon and evening of Sunday, May 24, Malati was alarmed about what was happening back home. Late next morning came the dreaded phone-call from a relative: her mother had been down with blood dysentery for a week when the storm broke in their obscure village of self sufficient farmers near Kantamari High School under Kultali P.S. of the Sunderbans, and she and Malati’s younger brother had just been able to save their lives. Malati worked as a nanny and had just returned from a three week quarantine at home on account of chicken-pox and doubted whether she would be allowed leave again so soon. But her tears did not stop and permission came. She rushed to the railway station after picking up antidiarrheals, ORS powder and chira-gur. The Sealdah South section train was crowded with people returning home with anxious faces like hers. Everyone talked of the possible damages and Malati’s tears almost started to flow again.

Leaving the train at Joynagar, she boarded a bus which normally touched her destination of Manikpir but declared that today it would ply only up to Jamtala, a halfway road station. People were sitting on the top of the bus and somehow she squeezed inside. As the bus sped on, the ricefields showed flood waters, higher on the side on which lay one of the many distributaries cris-crossing the Sunderbans. From Jamtala she boarded a machine van-rickshaw which broke down after only a little progress. She shifted to an open-top lorry, passengers standing pressed to each other like sardines in a tin. Soon, the fields were almost full and.water was running through culverts.

From Manikpir, she stepped onto a brick road, having brushed away the suggestion of a relative she met that she should, for the sake of safety, spend the night here. The main danger came from dead tangra fish which had sought shallower water and died on the road making it a veritable minefield of fish bone. Walking on, she found that the waters had broken up the brick road and carried away chunks. When she reached her village, darkness was falling fast and on all sides there was black water, ‘nona jal’ which had come from the sea via the river. Those who saw it spoke of a wall of water, two-storeys high, rushing from the river. The salty water would spoil the land for cultivation for two to three years if the water could not quickly be drained away. The water had uprooted thorn bushes, bograkanta, and was now crowded with it.

She was met by relatives and neighbours who told her that most of her house had collapsed and her mother and brother were staying with a cousin of her father, whose house was higher up and had escaped flood waters inside the house. She found her mother better, the motions had stopped, but still she fed her some ORS solution and an antidiarrheal. Disobeying everybody she took a 3-battery flashlight and went to her house. Of the two rooms, the brick one was standing though roof tiles had been whisked off, but the clay one had been swept off. Walls showed cracks. The flowing waters had entered the kitchen and washed away the immense round-bottomed handis for boiling paddy and all pots and pans except a plate or two.

Water had, of course, entered the brick room and attacked two ‘tthek’s containing gunnybags full of rice and one containing mung dal. Part of last year’s harvest of paddy had sent up shoots with regular leaves and was gone as a cereal and a commodity. This year’s paddy and dal. though wet, could be dried in part. The kitchen was on a bit of high ground and as Malati surveyed the rotting, smelly rice, home produced by boiling paddy, a poisonous shiorchanda snake came out of a hole and a brood of freshly-hatched gosap progeny flitted about dangerously. Gunnybags filled with seedlings had been washed away. Much labour and much savings had vanished in a few hours The cows had been kindly untied by a neighbour and they swam out to a schoolhouse on high ground, pulling the neighbour to safety along with themselves . Malati, her brother and her mother spent two nights in her uncle’s place. But they were billeted near poultry and the strong smell rendered sleep difficult.

There were tales of families being swiftly separated by the flood waters, days elapsing before the children could be located at fairly distant points and the family re-united. People living nearer the river lost clay houses utterly. This was a village where everyone had some grain, and, not food, but potable water was the main problem, the only source of ‘mithun’ water being distant tube-wells, which were breaking down from over-use. Not only was the water all around ‘nona’ but was filled with the rotting carcasses of fish killed by the salty water.

If potable water could not be rushed here, this countryside would become a mess of dysentery.

If arrangements were not made for draining away the ‘nona’ waters from the fields, agriculture would be set back years. Malati found the waters rising as she turned towards the metropolis.

This was the fourth day from the storm and Malati had not seen any signs of any relief operations. She did not spot a single helicopter in the sky.

Item 1. The budgets of the Disaster Management department, West Bengal, showed an expenditure of Rs 670,000 last year and an allotment of Rs 555,000 this year for the Centre for Training and Disaster Preparedness. The Minister for Disaster Management admitted (Dainik Statesman, 31.5.09) there is actually no such Centre in existence.

Item 2. 30% of the 3600 km long bund system ringing the islands of the Sunderbans has been breached by Aila. On 7th June, Full Moon day, the flood waters will rise even higher if there are no repairs, spoiling more land for three years.. No arrangements can be seen, no announcements heard about repairing the bunds.

*****************

If Nano had not left Singur? A look at Hind Motors

May 8, 2009

On Mayday, 2009, Uttarpara, site of the Hind Motors automobile factory, saw a well-attended rally and procession in defence of a water body.

The programme has an ironic side. Hind Motors, established in 1948, is, after 60 years, disposing of land occupied by it in expectation of an industrial expansion which never happened. And, at present, the factory is caught in a downturn. About the Nano car project, the official propaganda was of a flourishing township in the future. When it was pointed out to the state government that the Singur factory could employ seven hundred or so workers only, the reply was that the ancillaries and downstream products would swell up employment. But an automotive industry spokesman stated that for every job in the car factory there would at most be 5-6 jobs downstream. So, the car factory at Singur would provide at most 5 thousand jobs, while conservative estimates put the number of residents displaced to be at least 10 thousand. We were then told stories of some future time when the land around Singur would be resplendent with business and industry, townships alight and bustling with economic activity.

Of course, these were lies. Big, corporate industry in the era of old capitalism generates few new jobs and squeezes existing jobs in the quest for productivity and profit. Look at Hind Motors. Even in 1998 there were 9954 jobs. In 2007, within ten years, the number of jobs more than halved to stand at 4500. The surrounding localities of Uttarpara and Makhla stagnate. After 60 years there are no signs of flourishing townships. The future of Singur would have been no different.

The Birlas had been allowed by the government of West Bengal to occupy 744 acres for the factory at throwaway rates. Of this, 314 acres remained unutilized, 100 acres being a water body. Recently, the state government decided to give a gift to the Birlas at the tax-payers’ expense. The Land and Land Revenue department sold the 314 acres of public land to the Birlas at a nominal price of Rs10.5 crs. The Birlas sold the land to one Bengal Sriram Hitech City Pvt Ltd at Rs 295.5 crs, a neat profit of Rs 285 crs. The Birlas had declared that Rs 70 crs would be used for modernizing the factory and Rs 25 crs for payment of workers’ dues, though it seems that the windfall is actually being used to cut down the workforce by operating a Voluntary Retirement Scheme.

Bengal Sriram started to fill up the land with fly ash from thermal power plants, with a residential complex in its sights. The local people now stepped in. A platform called ‘Gana Udyog’ was formed and a movement started to save the water body and resist SEZ-type maldevelopment. Sensing the local resentment, the government formed a high level committee with the local MP, MLA, municipality chairman, panchayaet pradhan and others, and the Fisheries department recorded a FIR against the company for filling up 3.5 acres of the water body.

But the committee became defunct and Bengal Sriram flouted the order of the Fishery department to restore the 3.5 acres of filled up wetland, though fresh filling up was stalled. The Fisheries department also initiated a case at the Uttarpara police station (No 149, July 17, 2008), but the PS has shown no interest in the case so far.
The KMDA, a state government undertaking, next permitted the company to build a ‘protected city’ on this land set away for industry, using 7 lakh sq ft for a housing estate and 60 acres for an IT Township and Auto Ancillary Park.

The state government seems quite happy with the programme of building residential complexes on industrial land. Invisible pressure is there on the organizers to call off the movement. Time and again, it becomes visible – on 30th April the shopowner supplying the public address system at the fast site was cautioned by the police against doing business with Gana Udyog. This was part of the police attempt to spoil the Mayday rally.

But the movement continues. 5 thousand mass signatures against the proposed maldevelopment have been submitted to the Chief Minister. A fasting programme was organized from April 25 to May 1, and Mayday saw the rousing rally referred to already.

************************

Employment Guarantee, NREG : the World Bank bares its Fangs

April 15, 2009

The World Bank has trained its big guns of neo-liberal theory on the NREG. Since the time when Amit Bhaduri proposed the use of the NREG by the rural poor as a source of productive employment by right, according to the law of the land, there have been two kinds of attack on the use of the NREG.

The dominant rural vested interests were opposed to the provision of an employment and minimum wage guarantee for agricultural labourers, independent of the economic power of the kulaks and landlords, and, in fact, in competition for the supply of labour with the possibility of a consequent rise in the actual daily wage and erosion of social and political dependence of the rural poor on the dominant interests. This last includes state government and panchayat officials who have effectively hobbled the scheme in most states, including West Bengal (for details see Note1). In May 2008, Lalit Mehta was brutally killed in the Palamau district of Jharkhand as he was organising a social audit of NREGS. Kameswar Yadav, a political activist working on the NREGS and other issues in Giridih district of Jharkhand was murdered in June, 2008. In July 2008, Tapas Soren set himself on fire to protest against corruption in the implementation of the NREGS in Hazaribagh. The implementation of the NREGS requires a struggle of the rural poor against the dominant power centres. This, in turn, entails organisation of the rural poor in people’s committees. A case in point is the success story of Pati block in Madhya Pradesh where the organisation was done by the Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, JADS (see Note 2).

Many friends on the Left, too, misread the emphasis of the DWD (‘Development with Dignity’) school on the use of the NREGS and its control by the people through the gram sansad/gram sabha. The misgivings were many. Friends said,
1.The idea of using panchayati raj institutions arose from parliamentary illusions.
2.The NREGS envisages construction work only. It does not address the need for balanced productive employment.
3.The domestic market which is expected to prosper if the NREGS is properly implemented is a ghetto market whose idea and existence are actually promoted by the corporates.
4. The whole programme is one of begging from the government.
Some of the misgivings have been addressed in a recent note (EPW, March 21, 2009) on the Patkar-Bhaduri theses (EPW, January 3, 2009). More discussion is certainly necessary.

In the mean-time, the World Bank has made it clear that international finance capital and corporate power do not like the NREGS.

In the World Development Report, 2009, the World Bank outlines features of Bank-supported development like agglomeration of economic activity and population in mega cities, migration of labour and capital to centres of agglomeration, and promotion of trade on the basis of specialised productive activity. Then, by an amazing feat of jugglery, these features of Bank-supported development are declared to be the general conditions of any development, thereby cleverly bypassing the need for evaluating the desirability of these features. This ensures that blind propensity, that is the market, will rule. People will want to gravitate towards the agglomeration centres and they must be encouraged to do so. Wait. The neo-liberal feels no qualms in bypassing the market via administrative fiat when it is required for the good of the corporates. So, in the next breath, we are told that those who have acquired some education and skills are to be encouraged to move to the centres, but not the unskilled hordes merely in search of better amenities of life. So, the centres of economic, read corporate, activity are to suck the lifeblood of human capital from the hinterland, and the neo-liberal will take no responsibility for the masses of rejects, apart from improving amenities to an extent that they won’t want to move on easily. They are not an essential part of neo-liberal growth, more and more of which is to well out of the agglomerates with time.

The NREGS, on the other hand, encourages development with dignity in situ. It is essentially the first step towards a view of development as the overlap of numerous local developmental enterprises. More-over, the local nature of employment-generation and production allows people to understand and envisage the processes and seek control over them, while the agglomerates, loved by the World Bank, reduce the working person to a chained Janus, a fusion of unknowing producer and manipulated consumer, with no control over the forces shaping life and livelihood. So, when the World Bank opposes NREGS on the grounds of impeding labour mobility, it is actually attacking a whole world view fundamentally antagonistic to its entire economic and political programme for corporate domination of the human and her world. It may be noted that the World Development Report, 2009, opposes watershed development for increasing agricultural productivity and the development of small and medium towns also, any measure, in fact, which generates employment (of different kinds, not necessarily manual labour) locally and lowers the differential with the megapolis.

Note 1

Dreze and Oldiges (Frontline, 14.2.09) found the number of person-days per rural household generated in West Bengal to be 6 and 8 in 2006-07 and 2007-08, respectively, a far cry from 100 days! The all-India averages are higher, but still poor, 17 and 16, while Rajasthan shows the highest values of 77 and 68. However, the wage rate was low in Rajasthan and other states with high person-days. The average daily wage was Rs 51 and Rs 59, respectively, in Rajasthan, while West Bengal clocked Rs 70 and Rs 79.

Confusing is the use of two other indices : the number of person-days per job-seeking household (those from which people have applied for work), and the number of person-days per household employed in NREGS. For the latter index, in 2006-07 and 2007-08, the all-India averages were 43 and 42, respectively, and the official West Bengal values were 14 and 15. The NREG web-site showed, on 6.4.09, a value of 26 for West Bengal for this latter index. Again, the all-India average for 2008-09, up to 23.1.09, according to the former index, was 40. So, when the current West Bengal index is variously quoted as 15, 22 and 25 one must ask which of the three indices is being referred to.

Note 2

In contrast, 50% of the applicants for work under the NREG in Pati block were assigned 100 days’ employment in 2008 and the average person-days per sample household was 85, reports Reetika Khera (Frontline, 3.1.2009). This was the result of a long struggle, the high point of which was the June-October, 2006, 5-month struggle for unemployment allowance, payable, as per NREGA, if work on demand was not provided within 15 days. The people were helped in organising themselves by the Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sangathana, whose members faced threats of violence and false cases. The struggle was successful and the gram panchayat capitulated. The JADS had equipped the people well. Reetika found that 90% of jobs had come through written application by sample job-seekers.

*******************

Both the US imperialists and its stooges and the Taliban are enemies of the peoples of Pakistan

March 21, 2009

Once again high drama ended with a whimper in Pakistan, our alter ego and bete noire. The Zardari-Nawaz Sharif duel camouflages yet another sordid deal between the US and Pakistan’s military top brass. The latter are on the way to brokering a deal between the new US regime and the Taliban, the “moderate” Taliban as Obama calls them to save his face.

None of this will change the condition of the people of Pakistan, the stagnation, unemployment, poverty, disease, and perennial oppression by religious orthodoxy.

Considering the decade from 1997 to 2007, the percentage of the labour force in agriculture remained stagnant at 41%, that in manufacture changed from 101/2 to 13%, and that in “others” from 42% to 401/2. The official rate of unemployment was 6% in 1997 and 2006, and registered 51/2 in 2007. (see Note 1)

Some pig iron is produced but practically no steel. The Pakistan Steel Mills was completed only in 1985, in the public sector. Its performance became a subject for political bickering and Gen Musharaf privatised it in 2006, but the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry struck down the privatisation decree on August 8, 2008. (see Note 2) Mining is mainly for limestone, salt and gypsum. A little coal is mined and some crude oil and natural gas. Urea is the only signifcant chemical produced. There is no machine building industry to speak of. The main exports are cotton (raw), cotton(yarn and thread) and cotton(cloth), with some rice and leather.

All government and opposition parties and politicians are of and for the landlords. When Gen Musharaf came to power, his prime minister was a landlord, the chief ministers of Sind, Punjab and Baluchistan were landlords. According to an estimate presented by “Awami Manshoor” of Karachi in August, 2003, 7% of the landowners held 40% of the land. These landlords, zamindars and jagirdars in the Punjab, the wadera in Sind, sardars in Baluchistan and the khawaneen in the NWFP, had originally obtained the lands from the colonial masters, for services rendered.

The religious orthodoxy is squarely allied with the landlords. The so-called “reforms” of Gen Ayub Khan and Premier Z A Bhutto had the comical upper limits of 500 (later 100) acres for irrigated and 1000 acres for unirrigated land, easily circumvented, too. People used the exemption clause for gardens and hunting grounds or just joined the ruling party. Even such ineffectual “reforms” were stopped by a religious sharia court from March 23, 1990.

The Army is itself a great economic power, with an empire worth ₤ 10 billion. It occupies 12 million acres of public land, including 12% of all agricultural land, and owns 7% of all private assets, controlling through 5 secret conglomerates ⅓ of all heavy manufacturing. It is present everywhere, from fertiliser and cement factories to construction work, dairy farms, cornflakes companies and street corner petrol pumps, and even banks, insurance and universities (see Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Military Incorporated : Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy). The Army is a bad landlord, its oppression of the tenant-cultivators in the Okara military farms has been condemned.

The most reactionary factions of the feudal-orthodox power and the Army, two great enemies of the peoples of Pakistan, in collusion with the CIA, set up the Taliban to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The Taliban developed into a power by itself and its interests in controlling Afghanistan and the Pashtun lands at the Pak-Afghan border clashed with those of the US. Now, the Taliban are well set to make a bid for Pakistan, still standing squarely on the two pillars of the feudal-orthodox combine and the Army, and Mr Barak Obama has no option apart from continuous blood-letting and the return of body bags to the US on the one hand and buying peace with the Taliban on the other. The Taliban, too, has little choice. In fact, no power which aspires to rule Pakistan can ignore the reality of an abject economic and military dependence on the US and its allies.

The US is the main export market while China is first among the sources of imports. External Debt has the economy by the throat. In 1997 it was 49% of the GNI. When Nawaz Sharif left, it was 50%. In 1999, it reached 54%. A $ 10 billion aid package from the US, $1 billion write-off of loans by foreign governments and $ 6 billion privatisation proceeds have brought external debt down to 28% of the GNI in 2007. But new loans are just repaying older ones — between 1990 and 1999, 77% of gross loan receipts were used for debt service. This figure rose to 83% in 2005-06.

Even when the Taliban take up a shrill anti US stance, they remain the most reactionary defenders of feudalism and a naked anti female patriarchy and a determined enemy of the peoples of Pakistan. While one must unequivocally oppose and condemn the US violation of Pakistani sovereignty and air space by its military units and now unmanned drones, whosoever be the target, Taliban or Al Qaida, and must criticise the capitulation of successive Pakistani governments to these violations, one cannot but oppose the Taliban who have their own agenda of subjugating the peoples of Pakistan. The situation has similarities with Iran where consistent opposition to US bullying must not carry over to support for the feudal-orthodox enslavers of the Irani people. The Ayatollahs at least win elections. The extreme fundamentalist lobbies in Pakistan are always rejected at the polls except for the NWFP border region.

Some trade union work is again being undertaken, and there are movements against authoritarian decisions (like the lawyers’ movements). There is the Baloch people’s struggle for self-determination. But, overall, the plight of the peoples of Pakistan continues. This arises from their lack of an organised and united struggle against imperialism and feudalism. The Communists have been riven by ideological confusion and splits because of dependence on the political centres in Moscow and Beijing. In 1995, the CMKP, the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party was formed by the unification of the old CPP, the Communist Party of Pakistan, dating from 1948 and the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, and the MKP, formed in 1970 as a Maoist party, which carried out a guerrilla war against feudalism in the valley of Hashtnagar in 1970, led by Major Ishaq Muhammed, but at present, there is again a CPP, a MKP and a CMKP. There is also a Fourth International style LPP, Labour Party Pakistan. Needless to say, all these parties (and others not mentioned here) are fighting to organise the people against heavy odds and often under severe repression.
The peoples of India are waiting anxiously for the unfolding of an effective struggle of the peoples of Pakistan to throw out feudalism and the US imperialists and its stooges in Islamabad.

Note 1:

Between 1997 and 2007, the percentage from agriculture in the Gross National Income, GNI, fell from 27% to 20%, that from manufacture rose from 231/2 to 27%, and that from services rose from 50% to 54%. A little change, but no evidence for dynamism in the economy. Data on the sectoral break-up of employment (see text) underlines the stagnation. (These and the other economic data given above are from the ADB website.}

Note 2:

The CJ had been suspended by Gen Musharaf on March 9, 2007 (and other judges), but the Supreme Court had reinstated him on July 20, 2007, an act which was ignored by the General and by President Zardari till the recent turmoil forced the latter to re-instate the CJ. It may be noted that anticipation of a declaration by the CJ and the Court that Gen Musharaf’s re-election as President was unconstitutional led to the General’s suspension of the constitution and declaration of an emergency (and the beginning of his end). In the present turmoil the Army supported the re-instatement of the CJ.

****************

Reflections on Language Martyrs’ Day/Black Day

March 3, 2009

The Ghoshkar armed goons of the CPI(M)(some in police uniform) are on the war-path in the jangal mahal, attacking villages like Madhuboni with the connivance of the police. This has extended the area of people’s resistance and the demand for the removal of police camps has received new impetus. As the area of struggle spreads from the Santal-dominated core of Lalgarh to new areas with a different population-mix, unity among different communities assumes more and more importance than before.

21st February was declared a black day by the Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee in Lalgarh. The demand was that there should be provision for education up to the Madhyamik level in Santali, using the Ol-chiki script. This has been a long-standing demand of the Santali-speaking people, and its feasibility has been proved — this year a group of boys and girls are writing the Madhyamik examination in Santali, using Ol-chiki. People whose mother tongues are not Santali, the Bangla speakers in particular, ought to lend full support to the just demand of the Santali speakers.

The Lalgarh movement has been supported by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha. The implementation of Nepali/Gorkhali as the medium of instruction in the hill areas of Darjeeling district of West Bengal has been an important component of the Gorkha people’s fight for self-determination.

Nobody should make it difficult for others to participate whole-heartedly in this struggle for establishing the mother-tongue as the first language and the medium of instruction in school. 21st February originally commemorated the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle for establishing the Bangla language, the mother tongue of a big majority of the people of Bangladesh, as the first language in that country and marks a deeply emotive occasion for conscious Bangla speakers on both sides of the border. Designation of such a day as a Black day, and a statement by a stalwart of the Lalgarh Janasadharaner Committee against refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh, show a lack of historical perspective and do not help the cause of a united movement. As emphasised earlier in this column, roughly half the population of Lalgarh-Belpahari are not Santali speakers. Similarly, the Nepali speakers constitute 49% of the population of Darjeeling district (National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, 1991 census data), though the GJM alleges that the settlement of East Pakistan refugees and the influx of immigrants from Bangladesh without valid papers has caused a swelling of the number of Bangla speakers. We should be very careful not to fall into the fratricidal trap set by the ruling classes for pitting Bangla speakers against Santali speakers in the Jangal Mahal and Nepali speakers against Bangla speakers and the janajatis in the Dooars.

Having said all this, one must go deeper. Use of the mother tongue is a necessary condition for a good (primary) schooling, but it is not sufficient by any means. If you go to the slums of Kolkata you will find Bangla (and now English) being learnt in a weird fashion. The exercises in the text are answered in a Note-book (called The Student’s Friend) every-one possesses. The private tutor (yes, in the slums, too, and especially in the slums) coaches the student to memorise each answer, without understanding the meaning of most of the words or the general sense of the answer. In the case of English, there is an additional step right at the beginning. The prose piece or poem is first written out in Bangla script in the Note-book. When the student reads the English text book in class, (s)he is actually reciting a meaningless string of sounds in Bangla. The weakness in language carries over to all other subjects. Even the simplest problem in arithmetic has to be worked out by the tutor for the student to memorise, because by the time the end of the problem is reached, spelling out the many unfamiliar words on the way, the words at the beginning are forgotten.

Such is the state of affairs regarding language learning among the children toiling poor. First comes the question of the unfamiliarity of the words in the textbook. Language learning must start from the child’s universe of words. This universe is dominated by the mother tongue, and there is no question that first language learning must start with the mother tongue. But this will not automatically ensure proper learning, as we saw, even for Bangla speakers learning Bangla. Apart from differences in dialect, the words used in everyday life depend on what that everyday life is, whether it is life in a fisherpersons’ village or a miners’ shanty-town. The child’s universe of words is different in the different cases. An erudite Santali piece may be more obscure than a down to earth Bangla one. So, the teacher must first probe and assess the universe of words of the children in the class. The role of a universal text book like Kishalay becomes counter-productive (leading to weird memory work) at this level.

The second point is the mode of interaction with the class. To understand this point one must take a quick look at how a baby learns to talk. Nobody teaches the baby to talk. (S)He communicates with the care-giver/s and out of this arises knowledge of words and their use. In the class-room, too, children and the teacher must interact in a two-way dialogue, with question-answer sessions, reporting by students, ex tempore speeches, debates, plays, instead of the teacher delivering instructions to silent children (a good child is seen and not heard!). In the beginning most of the words will come from the universe of words of the students as compiled by the teachers. Unfamiliar words will be introduced according to plan.

So, the demand for teaching in the medium of the mother tongue has no alternative, be it Kasba basti in Kolkata, Darjeeling hills or Lalgarh jangal.. But this is just the beginning. The teacher must learn how best to teach by conducting a dialogue with the students.

*****************************************

Probing the recession in India: foreign trade and neo-liberal policies from 1990 to 2007

February 16, 2009

In the first week of February, 2009, newspapers reported the sacking of 5 lakh workers between October and December, 2008. The rupee fell by 25% from Rs 39 (January 1, 2008) to the dollar to Rs 50 (October, 2008). In October, 2008, industrial production fell compared to October, 2007, the first time this happened in 5 years. In December, 2008, industrial production fell by 2% compared to December, 2007 (The Times of India, February 13, 2009).

The recession had caught up with India.

Let us navigate the channel through which the international malaise has seeped into this country.

Foreign trade

In the 1990′s tariff walls were taken down in the sphere of foreign trade and restrictions on foreign direct and portfolio investment removed. Entry of foreign investment was permitted in share markets. India’s foreign trade in merchandise had been in deficit for long, imports regularly outstripping exports. Between April and September, 2008, the import bill increased by 43% in dollar value compared to the same period the year before (the increase had been 21.5 % between 2006 and 2007 for the same months ). This can be attributed to the falling rupee.

Exports increased by 33% in dollar value for the April-September period from 2007 to 2008 (the increase was 16.5 % for this period from 2006 to 2007). This happened in spite of falling demand in the export markets in the USA and Europe because of a cheapening of exports in dollar value arising from the fall in the rupee’s value [1]. But, then, the fall in external demand caught up with Indian exports and between October and December 2008 exports fell by 12% (against a 26% increase the previous year in the same period).

The trade in invisibles (receipts from transfers to individuals, sale of computer software codes and services, inward remittances, business and professional services, transportation, and expenditure on account of professional and business payments, interest and dividend outgoes) has brought a surplus in the last few years. The net surplus has increased from $32 billions to $47 billions in one year, bringing the net deficit on current account to $22 billions from $11 billions in one year [2]. This deficit is going to increase. The software and (related) services business is fearing a deficit of 16-17% in the year ending March, 2009. More than half the export earnings in this sector used to originate in the USA.

Foreign trade is, therefore, a potent channel for infection from the crisis. As exports take a beating, export-oriented businesses like IT squeeze employment and increase working hours and intensity of work. Imports become costlier and this retards the growth of import-dependent industries.

No-one is advocating a policy of zero foreign trade but there must be a healthy mix of import and import substitution, and an extensive home market supplemented by export earnings, not export-led growth. The infection proneness of the Indian economy shows that the present mixes are unhealthy.

The present mixes arise from a surrender to globalisation with its insistence on increasing the importance of foreign trade in the economy, for it is then that foreign corporates will find it easy to grab raw materials at low cost and sell their expensive manufactured goods, services and technical knowhow.

South Korea has an export-led economy. It was held up as an Asian Tiger by the neo-liberals. In 1996, the annual real growth rate was almost 7%. For a decade before this, this rate had an average above 8%. However, underlying the euphoria was a basic instability. Its currency was pegged to the dollar which was then in its overvalued phase. This made its exports dear. Garments and footwear exports faced competition from poorer Asian countries with lower wages. Also, in 1996, world demand for semiconductors and electronic goods dipped. The export driven economies of Korea and the Asian Tigers, in general, were poised precariously on the brink of crisis As a result, a speculative assault on the Thai currency, which led to its devaluation and cheaper exports, threw all the Asian Tigers’ economies out of gear. The Korean currency had to float and Korea had to be bailed out by a $57 billion loan from the IMF [3].

Globalisation is forcing the Indian economy to depend more and more on exports; its progression in this direction is proceeding faster than Korea, in fact, as the table below [2] shows. Exports in Korea were nine-tenths of its GDP in 2007. In India, foreign trade was a little more than one part in seven in 1990, but has increased to half in 17 years. This is the reason why the adversities in foreign trade as a result of the global crisis are having so big an effect on the Indian economy.

Table 1: Indian Export/Import as percent of GDP – 1990 and 2007
1990 2007 Increase (no. of times)
Exports 7 21.25 3 (India), 1.75 (Korea)
Imports 8.5 24.25 2.75 (India), 1.5 (Korea)
Foreign Trade 15.5 45.5 3 (India), 1.5 (Korea)

Source: Asian Development Bank website, Economic Data.

Foreign investment

We have seen that the fall in the value of the rupee was a contributory factor for the present recessionary malaise in India. This arises from over-exposure to foreign investment which was streaming in, under the open door policy.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) equity inflow rose from $7 billion in April-September, 2007, to $17 billion in the same period of 2008. It was seeking:

· Control over cheap sources of raw materials
· High profits using cheap labour and raw materials
· Trimming and consequent intimidation of the ‘home’ workforce.

Short-term portfolio investment was seeking quick bucks in India’s small but permissive post-liberalisation share markets. Between April and September, 2007, more than 50 billion dollars of net foreign investment was clocked up. The global crisis led to the requirement of funds in financial markets in the ‘home’ countries, and there was extensive sale of shares and a drying-up of foreign finance.

April to September, 2008, had seen a net inflow of less than $ 20 billion on capital account, a decrease of three parts in five in one year. In recent years, the surplus on capital account was compensating for the deficit on current account to give a net addition to foreign exchange reserves. In 2007, this addition was more than $40 billion, while there has been a drawdown of $55 billion between April and October, 2008. This is why the rupee fell against the dollar — uncontrolled influx and flight of foreign portfolio investment [4].

The sale of shares by foreign FII was one of the causes of a near-collapse of share markets, the Sensex index sliding from almost 21 thousand (on 2nd January, 2008) to less than 10 thousand (on 17th October, 2008.).

The Manmohan Singh government at first took the stand that the crisis has not overwhelmed the country because they had kept the brakes on during the process of globalisation and liberalisation. Just how brazen can these people be?

Now that the recession has engulfed the country they have shed this rhetoric, and, unrepentant, are angling for higher FDI. The government declared on February 11, 2009, that firms with Indian majority ownership and control would be deemed as having fully domestic equity and zero FDI, thereby facilitating FDI inflow into the retail, insurance and telecom sectors.

References:

Apart from current newspapers, the following sources have been used.

1 Reserve Bank of India, 31.12.2008.
2. Asian Development Bank website, Economic Data.
3. The Global Economic System since 1945, Larry Allen
4. Department of Economic Affairs, 31.12.2008.

*****************************************

Lalgarh and a basic problematic of people’s movements

January 29, 2009

Nirmal Sardar, a leader of the Chakadoba people’s committee against police atrocities was killed on the morning of 25.1.09 at Charakpahari. A meeting of the Lalgarh-based people’s committee against police terror was due to be held at Chakadoba the same day.

Chunibala Hansda, a leader of the Jharkhand party (Naren), and the SUCI have claimed that the killers belonged to the “anti-terror” committee set up by the CPI(M) in conjunction with some other political outfits. The people’s committee against police atrocities sees the police as the main patron of the “anti-terror” committee. This killing, as well as the kidnap, beating up and release of another activist of the committee against police terror, was aimed at disruption of the 25th January meeting, revenge for the killing of Sudhir Mandi, a leader of the “anti-terror” committee, and demoralising supporters of the people’s committee against police terror.

None of the objectives seems to have succeeded. The 25th meeting was held, a little late, at 4.00 pm, attended by thousands of people who came in busloads. The people’s committee against police terror called a bandh in the three districts of Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia on the 28th, which was very successful.

The police having reneged on their agreement over tendering apology for atrocities committed by them, the people’s committee against police terror have called for a boycott of the police and the administration, non-payment of taxes, revenue and electricity tariffs, social boycott, including withdrawal of ‘dhopa-napit’ (that is, washerperson and barber), and marketing facilities.

The police, administration and the CPI(M) and its stooge outfits seem to have decided, as the events chronicled above reveal, to take the path of organising ‘salwa judum’ type terror gangs.

The resulting confrontation (the ‘scenario II’ discussed in an earlier contribution on Lalgarh at this site) brings out starkly a basic problematic of the current flood of people’s movements in India.

The Lalgarh movement has, till now, steadfastly persevered on a path of peaceful show of unity of purpose. Thousands still flock to its meetings, in spite of the gathering clouds of fascist terror. Even after the killing of Nirmal Sardar the programme adopted is one of boycott.

The killing of Sudhir Mandi was not any part of the programme of the people’s committee and was an act owned up to by the Maoists. Now, because the Maoists are active in this jangal mahal region, there is an attempt by the state to brand the people’s committee as a Maoist outfit. While it is true that the Maoists are respected by the poor people in the region for consistently upholding their rights, it would be wrong to decide that the tens of thousands rallying under the banner of the people’s committee against police terror are all Maoists with their full agenda. Again, the Maoists may have some influence in and around the people’s committee, but this may not extend to an influence over the people’s committee, a nuance not to be missed.

In a real democracy, thousand strong demonstrations would cause concern to the rulers who would hasten to address the basic grievances of the people. The Indian state offers a choice of parties with the same broad understanding on pro-corporate ‘development’ and agricultural stagnation to the electorate every five years and pretends that this non-choice makes it a democracy. The basically undemocratic nature of the state and the major electoral parties is revealed whenever there is a mass upheaval. The response is indifference to the basic issues being raised and treatment of the upheaval as a ‘law and order’ problem. The latest ploy is to organise, arm, and unleash on the people, besides the police and the para-military forces, gangs of goons: ‘salwa judum’ in Chhattisgarh, the CPI(M) cadre itself in Nandigram and Singur, various ‘anti-terror ‘ outfits in Jharkhand, the pro-Posco gangs set up by Posco in Jagatsinghpur, the goonda gangs set up by Tata in Kalinganagar, and now the ‘anti-terror’ committee in Belpahari.

The armed attack of these gangs and the police erodes the space of peaceful agitation. What is then left is the ever-present Maoist agenda. This is the problematic before people’s movements in the undemocratic state.

In Nandigram the atrocities perpetrated on unarmed demonstrators on June 14 and November 14 led to a boycott of the government by intellectuals and brought more than 50,000 onto the streets of Kolkata. The unswerving resolve of the people of Nandigram, helped by this eruption of civil society, forced the state to retreat. The Maoist agenda which loomed on the horizon at one stage of the state’s offensive also retreated to the background. The price was the blood of martyrs.

In Kalinganagar,14 janajati demonstrators were killed, on January 2, 2006, while demonstrating against displacement by Tata Steel, and their bodies desecrated by policemen. The third anniversary saw the erection of a martyrs’ column,. Thousands attended the meeting, including delegates from all over the country (and, interestingly, as reported, from the CPI(M)!), in spite of a massive presence of 15 platoons of armed police. The people continue in their struggle and the Tatas are still stalled in their land grab here. The price has been the same.

The people of Nandigram and Kalinganagar were defending their land. The people of Lalgarh have asserted the existence of local power : the police must take permission from the headman before entering a village. The state refuses to part with an iota of its power, and has, with the murder of Nirmal Sardar, introduced violence into the confrontation. The basic problematic now faces the Lalgarh movement.