The defeat of the NDA government was caused by a number of factors. The raging agrarian crisis illustrated most glaringly by the phenomena of farmers’ suicides and starvation deaths evoked tremendous mass anger against the BJP’s pompous rhetoric of “India Shining”. At the same time, the genocide in Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar’s growing communal fascist campaigns and the NDA’s pro-US policies alarmed the secular, democratic and anti-imperialist opinion across the country and generated a popular resolve to end the NDA’s disastrous run.
The Congress projected Sonia Gandhi as an epitome of sacrifice following her perfectly understandable refusal to become the Prime Minister. At the same time by making Manmohan Singh – the man who is internationally identified as the pioneer of neo-liberal policies in India – the Prime Minister of the UPA government and getting the Left to support this government on the basis of a common minimum programme, the Congress has from the outset of the UPA experiment tried to secure ideological-political upper hand over the CPI(M) and its allies. Meanwhile, it is grooming the next generation of leadership with Rahul Gandhi as the latest heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
In his first test as leader of the Congress election campaign in UP, Rahul Gandhi has of course been a big flop and revealed his full propensity to play opportunist political cards. He made the frivolous claim that had someone from the Nehru-Gandhi family been at the helm the Babri Masjid would have remained safe. Such an audacious statement only reminded the people of the complicity of Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress party in the entire episode leading to the demolition of the Masjid. The young prince of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty then followed up this statement with a jingoistic piece of anti-Pakistan rhetoric telling the people how his grandmother had taught Pakistan a lesson by getting it bifurcated. After the UP debacle, the Congress is now busy repairing his political image and the latest attempt has been to project him as a responsible leader by appointing him as a General Secretary of the Congress, extending the geographical coverage of NREGA at his request and making him an important part of Sonia Gandhi’s team during her speech at the UN on Gandhi’s birthday and her trip to China just after the CPC’s latest Congress.
In other words, the Congress seeks to counter the BJP’s “India Shining” model only rhetorically with its thoroughly deceptive “aam aadmi” slogan and the discourse of “inclusive growth”. The measures adopted in the name of the aam aadmi are very limited and largely cosmetic like the much trumpeted NREGA, aam aadmi bima yojana (insurance scheme), etc., whereas the concessions granted to the domestic and foreign corporate sector are unprecedentedly high and sweeping like the tax exemptions granted under the SEZ Act that are estimated by the Finance Ministry itself to be over Rs. 100,000 crore over the next few years.
At the other end of the spectrum we have this study about India’s unorganised sector workers by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. The NCEUS puts the size of the unorganised sector workers at 394.9 million (roughly 40 crore), which is 86 per cent of India’s working population. Of these 395 million, as many as 316 million workers live on less than Rs. 20 a day. In fact in 2004-05, a total of 836 million people (77% of India’s total population) had an income below Rs. 20 a day. But as of 2002-03, the unorganised sector’s contribution to overall GDP was 56.7 per cent. These are the real people behind much of the productive sectors of the Indian economy, yet the gains of economic growth are pocketed almost exclusively by the top 15 or 20 per cent of the population, the top stratum of which comprises nearly one lakh dollar millionaires, while the pains are borne by the working people, especially those labouring in agriculture and the informal and unorganised sector economy.
Ironically, foreign direct investment still comprises a small proportion of the foreign exchange coming in. In fact, according to the figures of 2006, remittances sent by Indian workers abroad amounted to more than three times the foreign direct investment flowing in. In 2006 India was the biggest recipient of remittances from abroad – with $25.7 billion sent in by Indian workers, India overtook Mexico and China in terms of foreign remittances sent by workers working abroad. The Indian Government's policy on NRIs and PIOs is mostly geared towards wooing investment by affluent NRIs; issues of democratic rights and discrimination faced by the overwhelming majority of working-class NRIs and PIOs is neglected. Despite such loud applause for foreign capital, actual contribution of foreign capital to the productive sectors of our economy is very limited, yet policies are all being formulated keeping the interests and demands of foreign capital and its Indian corporate partners on top.
The extension of the policies to the agricultural arena has produced a severe agrarian crisis that now engulfs the entire rural economy and casts a dark shadow all around. To add insult to injury, the crisis-ridden agricultural population is now threatened with outright eviction at gunpoint as the state-corporate nexus goes on a massive land acquisition spree. Indeed, displacement of the poor – both urban and rural – has become synonymous with the corporate-driven ‘development’ favoured by India’s rulers. While the toiling masses are increasingly displaced and pauperised, the corporate are being pampered in every sector and given a free hand to plunder our natural and human resources. Land and minerals have emerged as two key hunting targets for the corporate giants. The invasion of the retail sector by the Wal-Marts and Reliances has also endangered the future of millions of small shopkeepers and their employees. And as the rupee gains in strength in relation to dollar, exporters find it that much more difficult to penetrate an already overcrowded export market. In an increasingly integrated Indian economy while exporters are hit hard by an appreciating rupee, small industries suffer from cheap imports, making conditions increasingly critical for most small-scale units. Thus, but for big corporates and a small section of upwardly mobile middle class who have benefited immensely from the NDA-UPA policy regime, for most other sections of society the policies are proving to be a one-way ticket to disaster and all these sections of society are now rising in resistance against the killer economic and resource-grabbing policies of the governments.
Despite a few notable verdicts against policemen found involved in fake encounters and custodial killings, the culture continues to spread and police and paramilitary forces continue to violate human rights with impunity. Recommendations of Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee have fallen on deaf years and the UPA government continues to refuse to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives a licence to the armed forces to rape and kill at will. State Governments of all hues seek to arm themselves with draconian legislations on the lines of Maharashtra’s MCOCA – Mayawati’s proposed UPCOCA and Nitish Kumar’s Bihar Police Act are cases in point. Instead of checking the executive and defending individual human rights and institutional democracy, the role of the judiciary has also been highly questionable, justifying state repression and favouring big corporates while disregarding the claims and interests of workers, peasants and other affected people and the voice of citizens who have concern for democracy, people’s welfare and environmental sustainability. The question of judicial accountability has therefore rightly come up as an important concern for the democratic opinion in the country.
The UPA’s betrayal also includes the very question of checking communalism which was the raison d’être of the UPA experiment. Not a single step has been raised by the government to bring the perpetrators of Gujarat to justice. Even after several perpetrators have been caught on camera boasting of their genocidal ‘achievements’ and the patronage they got from the chief minister, state government and the Sangh Parivar, the UPA government has done absolutely nothing. The Srikrishna Commission report indicting the perpetrators of the 1992 communal violence in Mumbai has been wilfully neglected by Maharashtra’s Congress Government and the UPA Government at the Centre; and of course the Congress leaders accused of leading the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 also go scot-free. Muslim minorities are more vulnerable than ever, with the entire community facing a communal witch-hunt and targeted as ‘terrorists’ in fake encounters not just in Modi’s Gujarat but even in Congress-ruled Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The much promised women’s reservation bill continues to remain frozen in conspiratorial silence while the government also seems to be developing cold feet on the issue of tribal land rights.
India’s growing identification with the US has reached such ridiculous height that Manmohan Singh describes George Bush – the most hated US President ever – as India’s best friend. The Congress leadership also project the Indo-US nuclear deal as a big gain for India even as the informed scientific and patriotic-democratic opinion in the country rejects the deal as a charter of modern-day slavery. The deal obviously has its tremendous commercial and strategic advantage for the US; but as far as India is concerned it will push India’s energy economy into alarming depths of dependency on the US while seriously eroding India’s strategic autonomy in international relations. Only those who have intellectually and ideologically mortgaged themselves to the American imperialists can sign such a deal behind the back of the people without bothering about the national opinion or even a discussion in Parliament, the supposedly highest and sovereign democratic forum to discuss and decide on questions of vital national interest! In the eyes of every freedom-loving anti-imperialist Indian, pro-Americanism has become a common decisive denominator of the UPA making it look more like United Partners of America!
This US-India-Pakistan triangle is making South Asia one of the most volatile and vulnerable regions of the world. Instead of India sorting out all her outstanding issues with Pakistan and China through bilateral negotiations, increasing US intervention in the region is only driving a deeper wedge between India and China and India and Pakistan. This also makes India more suspect in the eyes of her other smaller neighbours in the region. The whole idea of being a US-backed regional power and policing South Asia on behalf of the number one enemy of the world people is not only an insult to the legacy of our historic fight against British colonialism but is also fraught with grave risks of regional instability and arms race and hence completely detrimental to our interest of socio-economic development.
A key component of the US-Israel war campaign is the tagging of terrorism to Islam to make almost every Muslim appear as a potential terrorist, a point which is explicitly shared by the Hindutva brigade in India and tacitly endorsed by the Congress. Another related point on which the Sangh discourse matches entirely with the US-Israel nexus is the clamour for a strong state with stringent anti-terrorist laws. The imperialism-terrorism spiral thus poses a serious threat to democracy and in the concrete conditions of India such an environment will always provide fertile ground for rabidly rightwing and communal fascist forces. While rejecting terrorism we must vigorously resist every assault on democracy and vilification and persecution of any community in the name of combating terrorism.
In recent times while the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused have received death sentences at the hands of Courts, it is a glaring irony that those responsible for the 1993 riots that paved the way for the blasts, have gone scot free. In the 1998 Coimbatore blasts case too, even the Court in giving its verdict has had to comment on the fact that the state-sponsored communal anti-Muslim riots that went unpunished pushed Muslims to despair and was a factor that led up to the blasts. The battle for secularism and justice in cases of communal violence and the struggle against the witch-hunt of Muslims in the name of terrorism must be fought hand in hand.
The hill districts of Assam and West Bengal have witnessed long-standing movements for autonomy or separate statehood. In Karbi Anglong and NC Hills, we continue to lead the movement demanding implementation of Article 244-A of the Constitution to grant the autonomous region the status of an autonomous state. In the wake of the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s, Darjeeling region too had acquired an autonomous hill council which was however extremely weak, and the GNLF’s political hobnobbing with the CPI(M) and the Congress has once again ignited the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. The belated move by the UPA-LF combine to accord Sixth Schedule status to Gorkhaland has only angered the people of the hill region. The situation has been further vitiated by the opportunist divide-and-rule politics of the CPI(M) and various chauvinist forces. A meaningful political solution can only emerge by fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the hill people and while upholding the tradition of class and popular unity of Nepali- and Bengali-speaking people, we will continue to stand by the hill people of Darjeeling in the fight for the fulfilment of their democratic aspirations.
Demands for separate statehood have gained ground in Telengana, Vidarbha, and Bundelkhand. The Congress played with pro-Telengana sentiment, and tied up with TRS in the 2004 Parliamentary elections, only to ignore the issue later. This political opportunism has further fuelled the aspirations for a separate Telengana. Our long-standing demand for speedy constitution of a second State Reorganisation Commission is more relevant than ever.
The tea garden workers of West Bengal and Assam inherit a legacy of colonial exploitation, and the globalised policies of corporate takeover, retrenchment of workers, cuts in wages and welfare measures and closure of sick plantations have caused widespread starvation deaths among them. The demand of the tea tribes of Assam for ST status has met with brutal assaults. We demand reviving of the sick and closed tea gardens, meeting of the comprehensive economic demands of the workers, and granting of ST status to the tea tribes of Assam.
Unemployment and uneven development, heightened in times of globalisation, force workers to migrate, and migrant workers face harassment at the hands of authorities and are also increasingly at the receiving end of chauvinistic attacks - as witnessed in Assam, Maharashtra and Punjab. Refugees - both political and economic - from neighbouring South Asian countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka as well as those rendered refugees due to ethnic or social conflict within the country, live a precarious existence, denied livelihood and basic rights and subjected to severe police harassment. We must demand dignity, security and right to livelihood, as well as issue of voter identity cards for all migrant labourers as well as refugees who have been officially resettled in different parts of India and are still denied basic political rights.
Moreover, the pro-imperialist economic policies, the pronounced foreign policy thrust against China and Pakistan, the continuing rightwing shift of the entire polity, the constant vilification campaign against Muslims in the name of terrorism and the clamour for a strong state all combine to reinforce an ideological-political climate that is quite tailor-made for the BJP. In the absence of a powerful third front, the BJP can therefore always count its chances to stage a comeback at the central level much the same way as it has been alternately coming back to power in several states where there is no powerful third force.(1)
The Congress however never left anybody in confusion as to who was the dominant partner in this relationship. Beginning with the loaded symbolism of having Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister and Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia as the Finance Minister and Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, the Congress went ahead full-steam with its economic and foreign policies. The SEZ Act was passed unanimously in Parliament – which will go down in the annals of the Indian communist history as a shocking blunder on the part of the sixty-odd Left brigade, and in the realm of foreign policy the Congress pushed India into a comprehensive strategic partnership with the US, going in for periodic joint military exercises with the US and its allies, voting against Iran twice at the IAEA and even going in for the highly controversial nuclear deal. Meanwhile, the credit for the much publicised ‘landmark’ legislations like NREGA and RTI was also entirely appropriated by the Congress which projected these legislations as a special ‘brainchild’ of Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council.
The CPI(M)-led Left’s periodic ‘barks’ were on the contrary overshadowed by the pro-corporate policies and pronouncements of the West Bengal government; and with Singur and Nandigram the party got a bad name across the country. Even on the issue of the nuclear deal, the CPI(M)’s belated opposition remained heavily constrained by all sorts of pragmatic considerations and arguments. Instead of treating the nuclear deal debate as an issue for powerful mass mobilisation with a clear ideological-political thrust against imperialism and the comprador Indian ruling elite, the CPI(M) has treated it more as an in-house problem of the UPA-Left family, moderating the opposition to the deal with periodic statements certifying the personal integrity of Manmohan Singh and guaranteeing the survival of the UPA government. And with the latest Congress-CPI(M) agreement over IAEA negotiations regarding India-specific safeguards, the CPI(M) has virtually beaten a total retreat even on the issue of nuke deal. For all its rhetorical references to barking and biting, in real life the CPI(M)’s ‘compulsion’ to save the UPA government at the Centre and its preoccupation with the stability and survival of its own governments has left its opposition largely toothless.
There have been fresh attempts to cobble up a Third Front in the form of 'UNPA', comprising Samajwadi Party, TDP, INLD, National Conference and AGP (AIADMK flirted with the Front initially but soon distanced itself). Most of these parties have a history of swinging between NDA and UPA camps, and for them the UNPA seems to be primarily a bargaining counter from which to negotiate with the BJP and Congress. The UNPA is a far cry from a principled and consistent 'third alternative' and while working for a resurgence of the Left movement we will always explore the possibilities of a broader democratic unity against the NDA and UPA.
Both Mayawati and her late mentor thoroughly purged Ambedkarism of its radical democratic leanings and re-engineered it as a pragmatic brand suited to the economics and politics of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. Of all the major parties in India, it is the BSP which has no declared economic policy, and which keeps completely mum on major subjects like imperialist globalisation and war that are playing havoc with the lives and livelihoods of the people in developing countries. Packaging itself as a ‘de-ideologised’ party of governance (its founder Kanshi Ram had in fact even declared opportunism to be BSP’s ideology), the BSP has become perfectly acceptable to the ruling classes and efforts are on to project the BSP as a national party with a pan-India following so that the rural proletariat can be diverted from the path of revolutionary struggles to a thoroughly conformist variety of identity politics.
The BSP however stands considerably exposed in UP where Mayawati has already had several stints as chief minister and where atrocities on dalits by the BSP’s new ‘sarvajan’ forces have actually increased in the wake of the BSP’s latest victory. The party has also lost ground in Punjab where it proved rather irrelevant in the context of the raging agrarian crisis. While exposing and opposing the BSP in Uttar Pradesh on the basis of the concrete situation of the state, boldly articulating our class viewpoint and opposing the anti-people anti-democratic steps of the BSP government with the democratic agenda of social transformation and people’s welfare. We must also educate the people in other parts of the country about the real class nature of the BSP and show how its bahujan-sarvajan framework actually subjects the overwhelming majority of the ‘bahujan samaj’ to the aggressive hegemony of a highly exploitative and brutal neo-Brahminical order of corporate and imperialist loot and plunder and systematic assault on human rights and dignity.
The ruling classes are trying to face the present juncture by intensifying repression on the one hand and deceiving the people with the rhetoric of development and governance on the other. Ideologues of the ruling classes seek to legitimise this approach by sowing illusions of empowerment of the people within a system that rests upon mass disempowerment and expropriation while invoking the TINA (there is no alternative) theory to demoralise and confuse the intelligentsia and the working people.
The response of the CPI(M)-led parliamentary Left to this ruling class offensive has been characteristically opportunist and devoid of any ideological-political courage or dynamism in spite of their strong presence in parliament, powerful network of mass organisations and considerable influence on the media and the progressive intelligentsia. In fact, following Singur and Nandigram, the CPI(M) is now known increasingly as a zealous defender of neo-liberal policies. The serial massacres perpetrated in Nandigram by the collusive nexus between the state and armed CPI(M) goons and the brazen arrogance with which the Chief Minister and the CPI(M)’s state and central leadership have sought to justify the Nandigram massacres have left the party considerably discredited and isolated. We must step up our role and initiative to boldly intervene in this juncture with the banner of the revolutionary Left. Greater assertion and initiative of the CPI(ML) holds the key to combating the possible rise of right reactionary and other anti-communist forces who are trying to utilise the present situation to regain their lost ground in West Bengal.
In this context we can cite the cases of Acts like NREGA and RTI, various pro-poor pretensions and pronouncements of the state, and reports of various committees and commissions appointed by different governments like the Sachar Committee report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India or the Land Reforms commission appointed by the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. The Sachar report for example provides extensive documentation of the systematic marginalization of the Muslim community thereby exploding the RSS-inspired myth of minority appeasement and also exposing the true faces of various professedly secular parties and governments. It has also placed on record some of the political prejudices and pressures experienced by the community in the era of neo-liberal economic policies, heightened Hindutva offensive and the US-led anti-Islam demonisation and persecution campaign. Similarly, the interim report of the Land Reforms Commission in Bihar has exposed the great Bhudan scam. We must use these reports to intensify the campaign for securing equal rights for the Muslim community and for urgent implementation of land reforms.
An encouraging feature of the present situation is that emotive issues raised by the Sangh have lost much of their appeal. In spite of the BJP’s desperate concerted attempts, Ram setu could not really sway the masses at a time when the original Ram mandir issue itself has become rather jaded.
The fresh attempt to stir up a frenzy against OBC reservations in higher education too could not really gain ground this time, with Mandal-recommended reservations for OBCs in jobs and its logical extension to higher education being a long-settled issue. However, the UPA Government’s half-heartedness over this issue has allowed the matter to get entangled in judicial interference. Our student and youth organisations in particular, must continue to expose the elitism inherent in the anti-reservationist slogan of ‘equality’ and must oppose attempts by Courts to scuttle the Constitutionally guaranteed right to reservation. At the same time we must also make sure that the resentment and insecurity of students and youth in the face of rapidly shrinking avenues of education and employment is channelled in struggles against the government’s policies of liberalisation rather than exploited by any elitist anti-reservation agenda.
In recent times we have also seen the phenomenon of police firing and brutal mob attacks on communities mobilised to demand ST status – in the case of Gujjars in Rajasthan and tea-tribes in Assam. In both cases, ST status was promised to them in election manifestos but betrayed when the concerned parties (BJP in Rajasthan and Congress in Assam) came to power. In both Rajasthan and Assam we took initiatives to resist the repression and mass frenzy unleashed against the aspirations of these marginalised sections and to expose the cynical moves of ruling parties to manipulate and betray these aspirations.
The time has also come to boldly expose the limits and true essence of the deceptive official rhetoric of social justice, secularism and empowerment which only plays with the politics of reservation and caste-community equations while atrocities on dalits and other socially oppressed masses continue unabated and women face violence and discrimination in every sphere. While advancing the battle of every oppressed and marginalised section, we must boldly champion the new signs and spirit of class and mass unity that are being seen across the country against the onslaught of imperialist globalisation, especially against the SEZ policy and deprivation of the poor from their rightful claim to NREGA and BPL benefits. This is a sign of changing times and we must promote this developing trend to forge powerful class-based unity of the oppressed and toiling masses and unleash militant popular struggles around the comprehensive agenda of democracy, people’s welfare and social transformation.
It should be firmly understood that we are not attempting to find any artificial golden mean or middle path between the so-called “Marxists” and “Maoists”, we are only trying to advance the communist movement in India in its true revolutionary tradition and character. It is with this end that we have been waging and will continue to wage a consistent struggle against the two major opportunist deviations in the communist movement from the right and the left. But in spite of our consistent ideological-political demarcation with other Left forces we have absolutely no hesitation in joining hands with them in issue-based joint activities and with conditions maturing, for a united front based on a common programme.
Similarly, our emphasis on strengthening the Party must be viewed as a keylink to expanding our political role and initiatives and our ties with other progressive, democratic, patriotic forces, organisations as well as individuals. A stronger Communist Party will stand as a rock solid pillar and comprehensive guiding centre for a truly broad-based militant democratic movement of the Indian people.