Karnataka Assembly Elections - 2008
If criminalisation of politics was the hallmark of polls in many states in north India, rampant corruption and subdued political campaign marred the recently concluded Assembly elections in Karnataka. Much was made of EC restrictions in these elections. The fact is that the EC did not seek beyond legal declarations by parties, and the scale and magnitude of attempts to corrupt the public was unprecedented. Even for the voters, it was so indigestible that many villagers registered indigenous, self-styled forms of protest. Some of them barred the distribution of money to individual voters and, instead, found some public projects, like temples, schools, etc., to be funded.
While the EC maintained silence on the free flow of crores of rupees and liquor, the political campaign and the battle of ideas that used to be a general phenomenon in the earlier elections were a casualty of EC restrictions. May Day celebrations were virtually banned in the name of being ‘misused’ in favour of elections. Whatever campaign was on was only through print and electronic media where many candidates were denied chances while bourgeois parties either owned or bought some newspapers and television channels themselves. With such restrictions, parties that circumvent the essence of democratic process flourish while parties that go by democratic norms are not provided a level playing field. The Left, small parties and independents, bore the brunt of EC restrictions.
BJP was desperate for victory, fearing that failure might impact badly on the party’s electoral prospects nationally. In fact, BJP may never again get a more favourable turf in Karnataka than it has enjoyed in the 2008 elections. BJP was advocating the ‘Gujarat’ model in Karnataka. More than Advani and other national leaders of their party, ‘fascist poster-boy’ Modi was the chief campaigner for the party. BJP got a boost through some exit poll survey in the first phase of elections and made a mid-way correction in their poll plank of terrorism and price rise. Hoping to come to power, the party assured ‘stability’ to the electorate in the third phase. The party that claimed once to be a ‘puritan’ and ‘value based’ has fielded many candidates with criminal background and also many ‘crorepatis’. The accusation of BJP being under the grip of mining mafia in the state was further corroborated by the fact that many mafias themselves were their candidates, particularly in Bellary – Davanagere region. Of course, Congress was no less pro-mafia. In one seat in Bellary, candidates of both BJP and Congress were from the mining mafia.
Almost all heavyweights of all major parties were campaigning in Karnataka as the stakes were too high. The Congress wanted to win elections somehow in order to offset the adverse impact of recent assembly elections in the North. It also considered this election to be a trial-run for the Lok Sabha elections. Karnataka was also a testing ground for Rahul Gandhi’s popularity, with Rahul Gandhi, the ‘would-be PM’ of the Congress, beginning his Yatra from Karnataka. Apart from boasting on their ‘achievements’ of NREGA and 60000 crore loan waiver, Congress also focused on five points that are supposed to be ‘embodied’ in the five fingers of their party symbol, i.e., 25 kg rice at Rs.2/ a kg and free television sets to all BPL population, 35 lakh houses, 3% interest for farm loans, Rs.1500 for skill development for youth. Stability and development was their main poll plank.
The Deve Gowda-led JD(S), in spite of its frantic efforts to convince voters of its winnability, has resigned itself to an ‘honourable’ position of a ‘king maker’. In fact, BSP also claimed the same position and Mayawati said that the BSP’s aim was not merely to play the role of a ‘spoil-sport’ to this or that party but to achieve its ambition of coming to power.
Unfortunately, the official Left displayed its characteristic ‘tailism’ and ‘opportunism’ in elections in spite of its claim of an ‘independent’ contest. The so-called Left and democratic platform that included CPI, some farmers’ groups and dalit organizations unilaterally extended support to Congress in the name of defeating BJP, while the CPI(M) extended selective, district-level support to both the JD(S) and the Congress in various places. One of the ‘Maoist’ splinter groups too joined the bandwagon by releasing a manifesto targeting only the communal BJP while not uttering a single political comment against the Congress or the JD(S). While we welcomed their attempt at political intervention, that was a definite break from their ‘Maoist’ past, it was clear that this group too was following the tailist line.
CPI(ML) identified BJP as the No.1 danger to the people of the state. We exposed BJP’s strategy of creating religious and linguistic strife to gain votes. BJP’s attempt to make Baba Budanagere another Ayodhya in order to rip apart the secular fabric of Karnataka society, intolerance towards differing opinions, using state machinery and Sangh Parivar cadres to attack minorities, brutal violations of human rights in the name of repressing Naxalites, etc., were the hallmarks of the BJP in the recent period. BJP harped on ‘development’ - but in reality it was least interested in development for the people: rather, it was willing to plunge the State in strife and bloodshed in order to further its own ‘development’ as a party! For BJP, Karnataka may be a laboratory to enter the South but the cruel reality is that the people are their guinea pigs.
Our campaign also emphasized that the Congress was also no less anti-people. The Congress was responsible for the Bangalore-centric, distorted and retarded development in the state. Despite being in power in centre and in the state for so long, Congress has resorted to the same anti-people development strategy that is pro-corporate houses, pro-multinationals and kulaks. The working class, unorganized and organized, small and marginal farmers, poor and the downtrodden are the lot who are left out of the whole development process. In fact, in the era of globalization, these are the people who are the worst affected. In spite of facing defeat in last elections, the Congress was articulating same policies, merely adding some gimmicks of cheaper rice, free television, loan waiver, etc.
Our campaign exposed the JD(S) that was responsible for all anti-farmer initiatives of the government. It was trying to steal the show projecting itself as the champion of farmers and rural masses. But, they have done nothing for the rural poor when they were in power except for the drama of visiting villages and staying overnight. Free cycles and few other freebies of their period did not cut much ice among common people.
It is in this backdrop that the CPI(ML) fought the battle with its own manifesto of Peoples’ Agenda. We called upon the people to defeat both the communal BJP and the anti-people Congress. We exposed the anti-farmer and opportunist JD(S).
Karnataka State unit of the party fielded candidates in six assembly seats. This is the first time, the party fielded candidates in six seats, four seats in Davangere district and two seats in Koppal district, compared to two seats in the entire state in last elections in 2004. In Harapanahalli, campaign was on in full swing since the allotment of our party symbol. The main event of the whole campaign was organized on 12 May when we went on a Padayatra and procession with more than 150 people, two bullock carts, a propaganda auto and a car, with campaigners playing traditional and modern drums. The procession travelled through nook and corners of Harapanahalli town covering around 15 KMs, including the main road of the town. A bullock cart, carrying the candidate E Ramappa, was completely covered with red cloth and the party’s election ‘Three Star Flags’. Activists wearing red shawls and bearing flags added colour and vigour to the whole campaign while drums drew out the people who were sitting indoors to avoid the scorching sun. The appearance of the procession was consciously planned in order to distinguish our party from candidates and campaigners from other parties who were always circling the air with helicopters. In Gangavati, the party organized a padayatra on 13 May covering the main roads of the town that adjoin the heritage centre, Hampi. This followed door-to-door canvassing that went on for more than 10 days in adjoining rural areas of the constituency. In spite of a busy election schedule, our party and the candidate did not stay away from struggles. Comrade Bharadwaj, member of Karnataka SLT and Surya Prakash, Taluk Secretary of the party were arrested on 7 May for protesting against the Bhoomi Puja by a company called MSPL in one of the SEZs in Koppal in Karnataka district. The company has launched an SEZ in 1140 acres that includes a lake spread around 40 acres. Comrade Vittappa and Sandhya of Koppal Zilla Bachao Andolan, Poojary of CPI(ML) (Kanu Sanyal) were also arrested along with affected protesting farmers.
Names of constituencies and candidates of CPI(ML) in Karnataka:
Harapanahalli (Davanagere) - E Ramappa, State Secretary
Mayakonda (Davanagere) - Hanumanthappa
In Kanakagiri, the local administration and the police were creating maximum possible disturbance against our smooth campaign. First, some false cases were filed against the candidate and then, the Chief Election Agent, who was cleared of many other cases when he was active in some dalit organization, was issued summons on some false grounds, etc. Still, comrades continued the campaign against all odds.
In Jagalur and Harihar, our comrades were on a continuous padayatra covering all rural areas, propagating the party policies while seeking votes.
Mayakonda was a new constituency where we fielded a candidate from the angle of expansion, and an enthusiastic campaign was carried out. In Kudligi constituency that falls under Bellary district, the Returning Officer was so biased against our party that he acted unilaterally to refuse to allot our party symbol and to make the party candidate an independent in spite of submitting A-B forms. The party complained to observers and the DC but in vain.
Two Years of DMK Rule in Tamilnadu
DMK claims that it has succeeded in fulfilling the expectations of the common man. Its own alliance partner PMK says that the DMK rule has failed on all fronts. Congress, CPI, and CPI(M) more or less accept the claims of DMK on its 2 year rule.
Development and growth are the major planks that the Karunanidhi regime shares with his counterparts Nitish and Buddhadeb. Tamilnadu Industrial Development Corporation’s advertisement sums up the 2 years rule of DMK Government as: ‘People’s power. Technology. And the vision of a leader to shape it. Grow with Tamilnadu’. Thus the call is ‘Grow with Tamilnadu’. Technology based growth empowers people: this is the basic argument.
Tamilnadu government claims that in the year 2008 alone 14 MoUs were signed for investment to the tune of Rs. 18,348 crores. Before the end of this year Rs.30, 000 crores investment would come in. The government claims that Tamilnadu has become a centre of attraction not only for Indian business houses but also for MNCs. They treat Sriperumbudur as a second base after America. The government claims that their version can be verified by a comparative study of investments made in the last two years in different states.
M K Stalin, Local Administration Minister says that Tamilnadu’s share in the total IT production in the country now stands at 11% and that it will go up to 25% by 2011. AIADMK government, in the last 5 years was able to generate only 1, 45,590 jobs in this sector, whereas the DMK government has generated 1, 26,810 jobs in this sector within two years. In this sector, the central government has approved 37 SEZs on Tamilnadu. Through a new IT policy, in this sector alone, 8 lakhs direct employment and 22 lakhs indirect employment will be generated.
Karunanidhi claims that in the manufacturing sector, in these two years, Motorola provided 600 direct and 1000 indirect employment; Dell computers provided 200 direct and 600 indirect employment; Samsung provided 300 direct and 150 indirect employment; Caparo India Limited provided 350 direct and 350 indirect employment, Sanmina SCI Corporation of USA provided 475 direct and 150 indirect employment. Thus, 1925 direct and 2250 indirect employment totaling 4175 employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector were provided.
In addition to this, Karunanidhi claims that, Hyundai has created 11324 direct and 22,000 indirect employment opportunities, totaling 33324 employment opportunities. Even before Karunanidhi assumed power, Hyundai had its production running with more than 15,000 employees and after starting of second plant in February 2008 there was not much new employment.
There is a skewed and distorted development not only in geographical terms but also in the industry profile, with IT, automobile, auto components and bio industries coming up in and around Chennai, cornering the major share.
This capital intensive development with more investment and higher technology has only created lesser number of jobs.
Employment opportunities have grown disproportionately only in IT sector and only the upward mobile sections of society can have access to it.
In the manufacturing sector employment growth is very limited and even this is more of indirect employment with more apprentices, contract and casual workers than permanent workers.
According to Karunanidhi, in the corporate world, they are vying with each other to invest in Tamilnadu.
Capital flows to places where it can earn higher profits.
In Tamilnadu, capital has the following advantages:
• Land, water, electricity are offered at subsidized rates.
• Sriperumbudur area is practically a “no trade union zone”. On 30 April this year, more that 1293 Hyundai workers were arrested and 31 of them spent this May Day in prison for attempting to hoist their union flag.
• Wages are less. Wages of 10750 workers in Plant 1 of Hyundai is only 0.5% of the company’s annual turnover.
No Land to the Tillers
Land only to the Corporate Houses
When Karunanidhi’s alliance partner Ramadoss called for a discussion in the assembly before giving land to the corporate houses, Karunanidhi refused on the ground that no discussion takes place in the assembly before giving house site pattas to the poor and land to the landless, and that investment will stay away from Tamilnadu if unnecessary hurdles are put in the way.
Karunanidhi equates the landless, the urban and rural poor with the super rich corporate sector.
Karunanidhi came to power promising 55 lakhs acres of land to the landless poor of Tamilnadu, - 2 acres of land to every landless family. But till date, 1, 16,508 rural poor landless families have been assigned only 1, 33,688 acres of land. This is the biggest betrayal. Adding insult to injury is the story of lands given away to the corporate sector in addition to whatever land is in illegal occupation of the rural and urban rich.
TIDEL Park and Ascendas IT Park have been given 2.8 million square meter prime land in Chennai. Mahindra World City 1300 acres, Nanguneri SEZ 2520 acres, Ennore SEZ 3185 acres, Perumbalore SEZ 3000 acres. More SEZs and corporate houses are likely to get more land in Tamilnadu in the very near future.
Jayalalitha’s 5 year rule created a mere 33,000 employment opportunities and she told Wall Street journal that Tamilnadu will become a gateway not only for South East Asia but for the entire world, as far as IT sector is concerned. Jayalalitha’s regime told the corporate houses: “Ask and thou shalt be given. Knock, all doors will open”. Now Karunanidhi’s regime, says: ‘Without asking we will give, without knocking, all doors will be opened.’
Tamilnadu leads the country with 47% urbanization. A very huge section of informal and unorganized sector workers have come up. The DMK government, in a shrewd move, cancelled all registration and renewal fees for more than 31 lakhs of workers enrolled in various welfare boards. But these workers constituted the biggest chunk in the huge movements for house site patta for the urban and rural poor. After realizing the underlying class mobilization potential of the welfare boards, DMK government had now handed over all the activities of the welfare boards to the revenue department. The message is “Never assert as a class. Be grateful to be beneficiaries”.
DMK government refuses to give house site pattas to the urban and rural poor while pampering the corporate sector with more land and concessions and exemptions. Urbanization and accompanying industrialization in Tamilnadu has got its bitter side in rural agrarian crisis, with rural employment and income shrinking to unprecedented levels. Whether rural or urban, this huge section is mostly below poverty line.
The basic issues of the toiling masses, like land to the landless, house site pattas, strict and proper compliance with NREGA, price rise, trade union recognition Act have not been addressed by the DMK government.
Keeping the Coalition Intact
There are cracks in the ruling coalition. (It is a DMK government with minority DMK getting outside support of its allies). Karunanidhi is often more irritated by his coalition partners than by the opposition, the AIADMK. Karunanidhi invokes the bogey of naxalism to invoke unity. When CPI staged a walk-out in the assembly on the issue of price rise, Karunanidhi questioned their wisdom in opposing the state government, when they should in fact oppose the central government. He also said that communal forces waiting in the wings will be happy if there are cracks in the secular coalition. This is enough to silence the opportunist left.
This is another universal mantra used by governments of all hues. In this regime, the graph of encounter deaths is rising up. M K Azhagiri, the eldest son of Karunanidhi, stands accused of launching a murderous attack on the office of the daily Dinakaran in Madurai, in which three people were killed. T R Baalu is accused of influencing ONGC for getting favorable contracts for his sons. Social Welfare Minister of Tamilnadu, Poongothai was caught influencing the police to go slow in a criminal case against her relative. Baalu is still a minister in the central cabinet. Poongothai had tendered her resignation which was accepted by the Chief Minister only a few days later. This is the state of transparency and good governance in Tamilnadu.
Popular perception is growing that DMK government only fosters the development of corporate sector and the kulak lobby. There is anger and resentment simmering among the people of Tamilnadu. Time and again various sections of the society are rising up in struggles, more particularly the workers in organized and unorganized sector.
The opportunist left, instead of putting the DMK government in the dock, is busy singing its praises and asking the DMK to lead the secular front in the coming parliamentary elections. The revolutionary left forces will have to take up the challenge of political initiatives with timely intervention, and go for planned and organized expansion.
AIPWA Statement on Harassment of IPL Cheerleaders
The news that two IPL cheerleaders were kept off the field at Mohali on grounds that they are black (TOI, May 21), is truly disturbing. The issue about cheerleaders has been misplacedly reduced to whether or not they offend the sensibilities of ‘our’ (Indian) society. The real issue ought to be: to what humiliations are ‘our’ society and ‘our’ values subjecting these women? Corporates use women’s sexuality to sell each and every product; and the entry of cheerleaders in cricket is a fallout of the establishment of corporate control over sport. Many Indian politicians have claimed that the cheerleaders’ skimpy clothing is an affront to Indian morality. But there is silence from these moralists on the evidence that these women face severe sexual harassment from the crowds and racial discrimination at the hands of IPL organisers and their own corporate employers. Racial discrimination against black people and obsession with ‘fairness’ unfortunately runs more than skin-deep in Indian society: its roots lie not just in a colonial hangover but also in the values of the caste system. Sexual harassment and racism against cheerleaders is a comment on the morality of our society and of corporate culture: it is the responsibility of Indian Government authorities to make sure that those responsible are identified and punished, and the women in question provided with avenues for redress against the discrimination they face.