July-August 2008

Table of Contents

1) Soaring Prices and Manmohan’s Nuclear Chess

2) Nationwide Outrage Against Oil Price Hike

3) Murder of NREG Activists in Jharkhand

4) Sri Lanka and Nepal : A Tale of Two Conflicts

5) South Asian Taxi Drivers Demand Better Safety Measures

6) Letter from Jaipur

7) Women’s Assertion Rally by AIPWA in Patna

8) Karnataka Assembly Elections 2008

9) Message from West Bengal Panchayat Polls

10) Homage to Vijay Tendulkar

Politics in India

Soaring Prices and Manmohan’s Nuclear Chess

– Liberation, July, 2008.

They had been talking about double-digit economic growth. Instead, it is inflation which has crossed the double-digit barrier and the upward climb of the price spiral shows no sign of slowing down. As we go to press, officially measured inflation has reached a thirteen-year high, equalling the 1995 level when Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister in Narsimha Rao’s cabinet. The official measurement of inflation is based on the wholesale price index which is obviously quite removed from the actual prices that consumers have to pay at the retail market. But a quick look at the major segments accounting for the rise in wholesale prices – food and food products: 24%, petro products: 17%, iron and steel: 10% – gives us a clear idea of how badly the poor and fixed-income consumers are being hurt.

Even as prices of all essential commodities soar sky-high, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government keeps telling us that this inflation is a global phenomenon and we have to bear with it. Instead of taking urgent measures to douse the flame, the government has instead chosen to fan the fire by dutifully passing on the ‘global’ burden to the people at home. How does it help to know that the fire raging in the Indian market is ‘imported’ from abroad when prices of every local produce are going through the roof! Having broken down every potential protective barrier and opened up the entire economy to all kinds of external assaults, the UPA government can now hardly excuse itself by attributing the inflationary surge to global economic factors.

History tells us that when Rome was burning, Emperor Nero was busy playing his violin. In today’s India , when the market is aflame, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is busy playing nuclear chess. Media reports have it that Singh has offered to resign if he cannot push through his favourite nuclear deal with the US . The mainstream media is also more perturbed over the future of the deal than the crushing blow inflicted by soaring prices. Indeed, inflation is being seen as a spoilsport of sorts by the pro-deal lobby. The deal enthusiasts are wary that clinching the deal at this stage might lead to somewhat early elections and many in the ruling coalition do not seem to be ready to risk an election in conditions of double-digit inflation and face the ire of the electorate.

It is this utterly callous and anti-people attitude that best indicates the current degree of disconnect between the powers that be and the people and their plight. This disconnect has today become the hallmark of the UPA model of ‘secular governance’ and ‘aam aadmi’ (common person) rhetoric. Soaked neck-deep in the ideology of ‘corporate industrialisation and development’, the CPI (M) in West Bengal has also begun to revel in this disconnect. The panchayat results have merely provided some early electoral confirmation of the emerging popular mood in West Bengal . In a way the situation seems tailor-made for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). True to the ideology and historical tradition of fascism, the BJP is evidently capable of exploiting any and every popular resentment for its own sectarian and retrograde agenda. Karnataka has once again confirmed this basic truth regarding the BJP.

What should be the Left and democratic response to this political challenge thrown up by the unfolding situation? More doses of ‘secular partnership’ with the Congress? Bihar and Karnataka have clearly revealed the basic fallacy in this approach. A decade ago elections had produced a ruling arrangement in the shape of a United Front (UF) backed from outside both by the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)]. On the face of it the UF had managed to keep the BJP out of power, but only for a few months. If today the UPA experiment seems headed in the same direction, it must compel Left and democratic forces to look beyond such suicidal tactical shortcuts. The way forward lies only through a bold, consistent and vigorous espousal of the cause of the people against the growing economic and national crisis home-delivered by the comprador Indian votaries of imperialist globalization.

Struggles in India

Nationwide Outrage Against Oil Price Hike

– Liberation, July, 2008.

There has been nationwide protest against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s decision to hike the prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI (ML)] had given a call for an all-India protest on 6th June, and on that day and since, the party has organised independent protests and joined other Left parties in resisting the oil price hike.

In Delhi on 5 June, immediately after the announcement of the hike in prices, the CPI (ML) held a protest demonstration at Parliament Street and burnt the effigy of the UPA Government.

In Bihar , the CPI (ML) along with other Left parties including CPI and CPI (M) called a bandh on 10 June. The bandh was a great success, and was vigorously implemented with demonstrations at almost all district headquarters. In Patna alone, 6 separate, massive contingents comprising more than 2000 people marched on the streets to implement the bandh. Over 1000 CPI (ML) activists were arrested in Patna including the State Secretary Nand Kishore Prasad, central committee members (CCMs) Ram Jatan Sharma, K D Yadav and Meena Tiwari and All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA) leader Shashi Yadav, while around 85 activists from CPI and CPI (M) were arrested. All the National Highways were blockaded by people, and train routes blockaded at Buxar, Muzaffarpur, Siwan, Ara, Leheriasarai, Narkatiaganj, Hilsa, Bihar Sharif, and Masaurhi. At Jehanabad, CPI (ML) activists clashed with the police during the bandh.

In Jharkhand, the CPI (ML) gave a call for bandh on 7 June, which was highly effective. As many as 1,000 party activists and leaders were arrested by the police in different parts of the state, who were later released. In Ranchi , party activists blockaded the Main Road and brought traffic to a standstill. The bandh got a very good response in Bokaro, Ramgarh and Dhanbad districts. In Giridih district, the bandh was led by CPI (ML) member of legislative assembly (MLA) Vinod Singh with over 2,000 activists. CCM and former MLA Bahadur Oraon led the workers in the bandh in Chakradharpur. The bandh had an effect in Lohardaga, Garhwa, Barwadih, Nirsa and many other places. The traffic on the Ranchi-Tata Road came to a halt for over an hour as over 100 workers blocked the road at Bundu.

In Uttar Pradesh, a demonstration was held and an effigy of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government burnt outside the assembly building at Lucknow on 6 June. CPI (ML) State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav condemned the lathicharge against CPI (ML) demonstrators protesting at the Mirzapur district headquarters and the arrest of several activists including the party’s district secretary Nandlal and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) National President Mohd. Salim. In spite of these arrests, protest demonstrations were held at the block headquarters at Ahiraura and Narayanpur in Mirzapur. Demonstrations were held and effigies of the central government burnt at the Sonebhadra District headquarters at Robertsganj, as well as at the block headquarters at Anpara, Duddhi, Babhani, Gherawal and at Mughalsarai and Chakia block headquarters in Chandauli district. At Varanasi , CPI (ML) activists burnt the effigy of the UPA Government near the Cantt. Railway Station. In Lakhimpuri Kheri town, as well as in Gorakhpur, Devaria, Maharajganj, Gazipur, Mau, Jalaun, Moradabad, Bijnaur, Sitapur and other districts, protest marches were held. Earlier on 4 June, immediately after the hikes in prices were announced, effigies of the UPA Government were burnt at Jamalpur in Mirzapur, as well as at Faizabad and Mau.

In Tamilnadu, demonstrations were held against petrol price hike in Chennai, Tiruvallore, Kanchipuram, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Nagappattinam, Coimbatore , Salem , Namakkal, Tirnelveli, Krishnagiri, Kanyakumari and Madurai districts. In Krishnagiri, on 5 June, 30 comrades were arrested for burning an effigy, and were released later. In Kanyakumari, comrades pulled an auto by ropes. In Chennai more than 100 workers mobilised by CPI (ML) participated in the protest. Demonstrations were also held in Pudukottai district in two points on 6 June against petrol price hike. The CPI (ML) supported the CPI – CPI (M)’s call for statewide bandh on 7 June, and our comrades were active in implementing the bandh at Vridhachalam (Cuddalore), Kotakuppam (Vilupuram), and Tirupanandal (Thanjavur). In Pondicherry too the bandh was a success and our comrades actively participated in it.

In Orissa, a road blockade was held at Rayagada on 6 June in which 100 people participated. A dharna was held at Laxmipur Block, Korapur district, in which 300 people protested against price rise, corruption and irregularities in issuing of below poverty line (BPL) cards and National Rural Employee Guarantee Act (NREG) implementation.

In Andhra Pradesh, the CPI (ML) Liberation along with CPI (ML) New Democracy, and MCPI held a rasta roko (road blockade) in Vijaywada on 6 June. In Prathipadu district of East Godavari, in Jaggampeta, in Gollaprolu, in Kakinada Rural, CPI (ML) held rasta roko programmes. In Vissampeta (Krishna District), a dharna was held at the Tehsildar’s office. In Jangareddygudem (West Godavari District), and in Visakhapatnam also, CPI (ML) Liberation, CPI(ML) ND, and MCPI held a rasta roko.

In Rajasthan, demonstrations were held and memoranda submitted on 6 June at district headquarters of Pratapgarh, Udaipur , Jaipur, Ajmer , and Bhuhana (Jhunjhuna). In Ajmer , the demonstration comprised a large number of women activists.

At Rewari in Haryana, CPI (ML) activists held a demonstration and burnt the effigy of the UPA Government on 6 June. In Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), a street corner meeting was held and an effigy of the central government burnt. In the Andamans, CPI (ML) conducted a protest demonstration at the Secretariat gate in Port Blair on 5 June. At Gangavati in Karnataka on 6 June, a demonstration was held and an effigy of the Prime Minister burnt.

Struggles in India

Murder of NREG Activists in Jharkhand

– Liberation, July, 2008.

On 14 May, a young activist Lalit Mehta, who had been active in the right to food campaign and had the previous day initiated a social audit to expose corruption in implementation of National Rural Employement Guarantee (NREG) in Palamu District, was killed on 14 May while on his way from Daltonganj to Chatarpur. The social audit threatened to expose corruption in high places. His murder was met with outraged protests all over the country, and eventually, after much delay, the demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry into the murder was accepted by the State Government.

Lalit Mehta’s killing was no exception. On 7 June, Kameshwar Yadav, of Khatauri village of Deori Block (Giridih District Jharkhand); a Block Committee member of CPI (ML) in Giridih; also an activist on NREG-related issues, was shot dead as he was returning home from Kisgo on a motorcycle in the evening. He is survived by his wife Babita Devi, two sons and a daughter.

The suicide of adivasi Turia Munda, due to failure to get his due wages under NREG act, exposed the sorry state of implementation of NREG scheme in Jharkhand. The murders of Lalit and Kameshwar are part of a spate of such killings and harassment of activists exposing rural corruption. There have been several recent murders of rural activists in Giridih itself. Last month, Rajinder Das, a dalit activist of CPI (ML) at Rajdhanwar, Giridih, who had been at the forefront of the struggle against grabbing of land allocated to dalits by local land mafia, was killed. Two months back, another dalit CPI (ML) activist Munshi Tori had been killed. In these two cases, the perpetrators of the murder – leaders of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Babulal Marandi’s party) – have been named in the first information report (FIR), yet they are yet to be arrested. Deuri Block is the same area where CPI (ML) waged a powerful struggle against public distribution system (PDS) black-marketeering, and a key leader of this movement, Comrade Osman Ansari is in jail since May 2007.

The CPI (ML) conducted a campaign for justice for Kameshwar from 16-25 June culminating in a Giridih March on 25 June. In Delhi , party mass organisations participated in a protest at the Jharkhand Bhawan along with other groups. Following this, a delegation comprising Central Employment Guarantee Council member Annie Raja, Kiran Shaheen and CPI (ML) CCM Kavita Krishnan met with Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh to apprise him of the situation in Jharkhand. The Minister claimed that Jharkhand was one of the few states where corruption was least because all wage payments were being done through bank or post office ( PO ) accounts. This rosy picture was challenged by the delegation, and a comptroller and auditor general (CAG) enquiry, especially for NREG in Jharkhand was demanded.

Letter to PM from Activists and Intellectuals

Activists and intellectuals submitted a letter to the Prime Minister, Rural Development Minister and Jharkhand Governor, excerpts of which are below:

We the undersigned would like to bring to your notice the serious problems in the functioning of NREG act in Jharkhand. These also include the murders of prominent activists like Lalit Mehta and a general atmosphere of terror against those who expose corruption in NREGA.

The announcement of a request for a CBI enquiry into Lalit Mehta’s murder by the Jharkhand government is a welcome development but insufficient. However the extent of terror and corruption in Palamu and adjoining districts is very high. A CBI enquiry into Lalit Mehta’s murder is not sufficient. There should be a high level enquiry by the CAG’s office into the corruption in the NREGA scheme in Palamu and elsewhere. A special CBI task force should also investigate the murders of other social activists in Jharkhand like Kameshwar Yadav [CPI (ML)] and Jawahar Singh (People’s Union of Civil Liberties) and the general atmosphere of terror unleashed against activists and labourers who expose corruption and stand up for their rights.

Regarding NREG Act (NREGA) and the safety of activists we have the following demands:

1] The safety of activists and others monitoring NREGA should be ensured, especially in districts like Palamu, Koderma and Singhbhum.

2] A political intervention be made to remove all hindrances to establish the panchayati raj institutions in Jharkhand at the earliest.

3] The Central Employment Guarantee Council should meet in Palamu and suggest measures to the Central Government regarding the eradication of corruption and the security of activists. It should also do an overview of the functioning of NREGA in Jharkhand and the weakness thereof. In particular it should ensure that social audits are conducted regularly and reports be made public.

4] Within 30 days necessary action be taken against NREGA irregularities, brought out during the investigations and on the registered complaints.

Signed by

Aruna Roy, Arundhati Roy, Nikhil Dey, Swami Agnivesh, Subhashini Ali, Kuldip Nayar, Annie Raja, Medha Patkar, Prof. Kamal Chenoy, Dunu Roy, Babu Mathew, Kavita Krishnan, and others.

South Asia

Sri Lanka and Nepal : A Tale of Two Conflicts

– S. Sivasegaram.

Both Sri Lanka and Nepal have faced long periods of insurgency, but the armed conflicts concerned different issues and the degree of success in resolving them differs vastly. They, nevertheless, have lessons for each other. Important social and political differences between the two tower over obvious geographical factors, despite the importance of the geographic location of each to its course of social and political development. Sri Lanka ’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean caused it to be subject to one of the longest, (if not the longest) uninterrupted colonial rules, by three successive colonial masters, lasting over four centuries. Landlocked Nepal , although subject to British Colonial domination from the 19th Century, was only a protectorate, declared independent in 1923 by treaty with Britain .

Modernisation of the Sri Lankan polity started in the late 19th Century under colonial rule, much after the Kandyan Kingdom , the last feudal monarchy, ended early that century. But vestiges of feudalism like the caste system and modes of agricultural production remained untouched by colonialism, which also created an elite class of landed gentry with feudal links. Nepal was slower to modernise; and the Indian successors to the British Raj, helped to restore the Shah dynasty in 1951 and dominated Nepal, whose geography made its trade and hence economy dependent on India.

Sri Lanka had universal suffrage in 1931, three years after Britain , an influential left party soon after, and a mature political party system when the British left in 1948. But, failure to address the national question made chauvinism and narrow nationalism emerge as major forces, and only the left was truly national in approach. Nepal had its first general elections in 1959, but royal interference ensured that, despite popular protests leading to restoration of democratic elections to parliament, the monarch prevailed and elected governments were dismissed at will. Thus democracy itself became a central political issue.

The Sri Lankan national question was deliberately aggravated by Sinhala chauvinists to degenerate into war by 1983. Despite heavy blows to the economy by a quarter century of war and untold suffering of the people, especially in war-affected regions, the dominant players lack the will to resolve the national question. Nepal , besides its complex national question, faced oppression by class, ethnicity, religion, caste and gender, certainly more severe than in Sri Lanka at any stage. Attempts to resolve some of the grievances were frustrated by the monarchy aided by the ruling elite and reactionary political parties. The withdrawal of the Maoists from parliament in 1995 to launch its People’s War in 1996 transformed Nepal ’s political landscape in one decade.

Sri Lankan parliamentary democracy though severely eroded is still formally intact. The weakening of the Sri Lankan left started in 1964 with its bulk losing its way in parliamentary politics. The left failed the working class and the minorities, since electoral alliances with bourgeois parties meant compromise and accommodation of policies pandering to base communal sentiments. Its decimation at the 1977 elections demoralised the working class; and the reactionary government that came to power in 1977 escalated the ethnic conflict, and used it as a smokescreen to negate the achievements of progressive and popular struggles led by the left, including democratic and fundamental rights, and to introduce a disastrous open economic policy. The Nepali left was, in electoral terms, stronger than that in Sri Lanka , but it too indulged in parliamentary folly. The parliamentary left failed to learn from the royal subversion of its short-lived government in 1992, and the country paid the price.

The first and only successful armed struggle in Sri Lanka was the Marxist-Leninist mass campaign (1966-1970) against caste oppression in the North. Care for the safety of the masses ensured that the number of deaths was small. Since then, the adventurist insurgencies led by the chauvinistic Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1971 and 1987-89 claimed nearly 100,000 lives, anti-Tamil violence several thousands, and the war of national oppression and internecine killings since 1983 well over 100,000. The war also displaced around a million internationally, besides up to 500,000 displaced internally. But there is little to show by way of progress on the national question, despite various political deals up to 1983, and efforts since 1983 to resolve the armed conflict, including the Indian intervention in 1987 and the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002, ritually abandoned early this year. In contrast, ten years of armed conflict in Nepal cost 13,000 lives, with the state’s armed forces answerable for over 10,000; and a peace process, born of a crisis created for the parliamentary political parties by the monarch who assumed absolute power, made way for the securing and consolidation of important victories for the people and an end to the monarchy.

Escalation of national oppression, war and armed struggle in Sri Lanka , along with the weakness of the Sinhala left, let the initiative be with the Sinhala chauvinists, irrespective of party label, and the Tamil militants. With the genuine left in disarray and chauvinism dominating politics in the South, and democracy denied on the pretext of the armed conflict in the North-East, the national question remained over-simplified as a Sinhala-Tamil conflict to the neglect of all else. The war, now portrayed as war against terrorism, takes precedence over mounting economic problems and the denial of democratic, human and fundamental rights. All peace initiatives including the failed ceasefire came about under external pressure; and subject to interference by hegemonic powers. Negotiations did not progress beyond formal cessation of hostilities and a vague demarcation of domains of authority that allowed the two sides to conserve and rebuild. Where even humanitarian relief to the victims of war and tsunami has faced stiff chauvinist resistance, efforts to resolve the national question will certainly be sabotaged by disruptive forces within the country and without. As long as the present group of players dominate the scene, there is scant hope for any peace and even less for a solution to the national question; and foreign intervention will use pretexts of human rights and democracy to control the country rather than resolve the national question.

In Nepal, a mass struggle aimed at ending a dictatorial monarchy under a leadership with a working class perspective also dealt constructively with several contradictions, some hostile like that between landlords and agricultural labour, and others ‘friendly’ like those based on identity. But there can be no complaisance since vested interests will kindle ethnic, caste and religious conflict, as seen in the Terai region a year ago, and the opportunist ‘left’ joining hands with the right to undermine the people’s democratic structures secured through mass struggle. Besides subversion in the form of foreign investment, ‘development projects’ and ‘aid’, the corrupting influence of the bourgeois parliamentary system on individuals is a potential danger from within. Yet, even if the new democratic structure anticipated by the Maoists fails to materialise, the politicisation and empowerment of the masses through struggle will act as an immune system to combat attempts to subvert democratic rights and restore oppression by class, gender, ethnicity, caste and religion.

Sri Lanka’s hope could be embedded in its impending tragedy. The deterioration of the political situation will sooner than later make it necessary for the entire people to struggle for democratic and fundamental rights against a reactionary repressive regime backed by one hegemonic power or another. Given the record of narrow nationalism on all sides thus far, only a genuine left leadership can show the way out of the morass.

The lessons for Nepal can be from the experiences of the Sri Lankan left and the dangers of allowing issues of identity dominate over issues of class and class struggle. Such a risk can be averted only through the Maoists holding on to their revolutionary initiative.

South Asian Diaspora

South Asian Taxi Drivers Demand Better Safety Measures

– Lionel Bopage.

Adelaide and Melbourne witnessed thousands of South Asian students, predominantly Indians holding direct action to demand better safety conditions in the pursuit of their role as taxi drivers. In Adelaide they held up traffic at the airport after a colleague was bashed and robbed. In Melbourne they staged a sit down protest at peak hour in the middle of the central business district (CBD) after a colleague was stabbed. In Melbourne their action was spontaneous, vocal, passionate and peaceful. Their action took the state government and the police by surprise. Even though government concessions did not go far enough and was limited to boosting driver safety and security it served as an example for our pensioners, who staged a similar protest in the CBD to get their concerns across. They followed the taxi drivers’ example in taking off their clothing in protest to prove they were ‘fair dinkum’. The reason for the taxi drivers protests are not hard to discern.

The state government has not addressed the broader issues of the overseas students that underpin these protests. Globalisation allows capital to freely move but does not allow labour to do so. In India the process has exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor but also has created a bourgeoning entrepreneurial middle class caught up in trappings of consumerism. Traditional jobs do not provide sufficient opportunities to maintain such life styles. Hence, those who miss out try moving overseas to countries like Australia .

Overseas students are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week to repay their loans and to pay their exorbitant tertiary fees! Of course, they cannot survive by working 20 hours. If they get caught working more hours they are taken to a detention centre and are instantly deported with no chance of appeal. Melbourne alone has over three thousand such students who mostly work night shifts. Driving taxis is not considered a safe or well paid job by the majority community.

If overseas students are considered Australian for tax purposes, they should be given the same opportunity and security provided to the majority of taxpayers. However, taxi drivers in the majority of cases are considered independent contractors. As such, they do not enjoy the employment rights most other workers are entitled to. The federal minimum wage and work conditions do not apply to them. Hence most drivers are paid less and work longer shifts. After deregulation taxi licences were bought by speculating investors causing licence plates to be sold at extremely high prices, the current costs running up to about $500,000 per plate. In their desire for profit maximisation, the licence-owners not only take advantage of drivers in terms of their pay and conditions, but also passengers in terms of the service provided, to pay for the over-priced licenses.

Many of these protestors have not played an active role in any of the previous protest actions held by the organised trade union movement against the employers and the state implementing their neo-liberal industrial relations agenda which is to sack workers as and when necessary. Nevertheless, the trade union movement needs not only to learn from these exploited students on how to stage direct action but should organise and harness their enthusiasm and guts to raise the consciousness of their own workers.

The trade union movement should immediately start a campaign to ensure taxi drivers are entitled to the normal wage and working conditions enjoyed by the rest of the Australian drivers such as working eight hour shifts enjoying minimum wage and working conditions with entitlements for superannuation. An industrial union for the whole transport industry covering all types of drivers is in the order of the day.

Struggles in India

Letter from Jaipur

– Srilata Swaminathan, Liberation, July, 2008.

Tuesday, 13 May, 1900 hours saw the first of a series of bomb blasts in the crowded Pink City of Jaipur. In all, seven powerful blasts shook the old city, one after the other, and all within thirteen minutes and within a one kilometre area. An eighth bomb was found and diffused by the police.

From the point of view of the bombers the timing was perfect to cause the most damage and havoc. All the places targeted were in the over-crowded, shopping and commercial areas, tourist-oriented spots, mainly residential areas, and the temple areas of Chandpol, Johri Bazaar and Tripolia where, being a Tuesday, there was a good crowd of devotees plus lines of beggars and destitute who get fed by the temples. To make matters worse, it was also the rush hour, and roads were packed with a profusion of pedestrians and vehicles. The colourful confusion of Jaipur’s congested markets which is a great attraction to both foreign and Indian tourists was at its height. At the end of the day, there were 65 dead and 280 wounded. Many of the residents, survivors still complain of hearing defects from the deafening explosions.

Both the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) [CPI (ML)] and All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) were active and helped collect one lakh (100, 000) rupees which was donated to the poor victims of the blasts that were hospitalised. One was struck by the reaction of people in Jaipur who, from the humble rickshawala, vendor and flower-seller to the rich trading communities, intellectuals, teachers, lawyers as, one and all, they have come forward, without being asked, to help in whatever way they could. Immediately after the blasts, people rushed into action. The wounded were immediately taken to the hospital by rickshaw pullers, on cycles, scooters and whatever was handy. Many groups of citizens immediately started collecting fruit, food and drinking water so that the patients and their families did not go thirsty or hungry. Hundreds of blood donors rushed forward. The first to donate blood were the Muslims who donated so much that they met almost the full demand. The lawyers also came forward in hundreds to donate blood as did the employees of the state roadways department, a motorcycle club and hundreds of individuals.

We are also heartened by the mood in the old city. While many are mourning the loss of loved ones, there is no communal tension. Many Hindutva forces tried to raise anti-Muslim slogans both in some residential areas in the affected city and in the hospital where the victims were being treated. They were swiftly dealt with by the local residents, both Hindu and Muslim, and speedily sent on their way.

All this is even more amazing when seen in the light of how the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Hindutva forces have been working overtime for several years to spread anti-Muslim sentiments throughout Rajasthan, saffronising textbooks to paint Muslims as traitors, encouraging ghettoisation of Muslims and taking lessons from Modi’s Gujarat . Although it is early days yet, it is remarkable that Rajasthan has not burst into a communal conflagration. Forces in Jodhpur , Ajmer , Kota and elsewhere tried to light the communal fire but failed.

But the blame game between the BJP government in the state and the Congress at the Centre has begun with each holding the other responsible for lack of warning, information etc. The BJP is also desperate to find the culprits especially after their bungling the Ajmer bomb blast investigation last year where they are still to trace or arrest the culprits. They are busy harassing innocent ‘Bangladeshis’, who are very poor and work as rag pickers or unskilled labour but happen to be Muslim, in their frantic attempt to make arrests. They are also threatening them with deportation even though these ‘Bangladeshis’ have ration and voter identity cards and swear they are from West Bengal and are also wooed for their votes by every party! Democratic forces in Jaipur are vigilant, refusing to allow the blasts to provide a pretext for the Sangh Parivar’s and BJP Government’s communal agenda.

Struggles in India

Women’s Assertion Rally by AIPWA in Patna

– Liberation, July, 2008.

The Bihar unit of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) organised an impressive rally on 30th May consisting of large number of women demanding to rein in the growing incidents of victimisation and rapes of women in the State. Despite the scorching sun, women came in thousands from various corners of Bihar to participate in the rally. Stopped by police barricades, and told that the chief minister (CM) would not meet them, the rallyists held a spirited protest meeting. The march was led by AIPWA National Secretary Meena Tiwary, State President and Secretary Saroj Chaube and Shashi Yadav and others.

Addressing the mass meeting the speakers said that the projects for women’s empowerment in Bihar have proved to be a damp squib. They expressed deep resentment and anger at the rising graph of assaults on women’s life and cases of rape, saying that even women’s dignity is not guaranteed in the State. Among the main demands addressed to the CM in a memorandum are: holding the administration and police accountable for the incidents of victimisation and rape of women, increasing the number of primary schools for girls’ education, stopping distribution of licenses to liquor shops in the name of excise tax collection, declaring Asha and Aanganbadi workers as govt. employees and fixing a minimum of Rs.5000/- for the Asha workers. On the occasion AIPWA also released a booklet titled “Women’s victimisation in Nitish rule – an open letter to Chief Minister: Governmental claims vs. ground realities”

Elections in India

Karnataka Assembly Elections 2008:

Congress- JD (S) -Opportunism Paves the Way for BJP’s Rise to Power

– N. Divakar, Liberation, July, 2008.

Within a week after assuming power in Karnataka, the communal fascist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has come out in its true colours by killing four and injuring many innocent farmers who protested by demanding seeds and fertilizers at Haveri. Instead of coming down heavily on corporate and multinational houses that refused to supply the much needed inputs inspite of pocketing heavy subsidies, the killer BJP government has fired bullets on innocent farmers. With this incident, the BJP has made its class position obvious against small and marginal farmers who are the worst sufferers wanting inputs for the already crisis-ridden cultivation. Perhaps, the BJP did mean ‘development’ – at the graveyards of small and marginal farmers and the rural poor. The incident of police firing at Haveri is a mere taste of the repressive BJP tenure to come.

BJP’s victory in Karnataka assembly elections – 2008 is not a surge of saffron but a failure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) model of soft Hindutva to halt the communal and neo-liberal BJP. It is also a rejection of the opportunist Janata Dal (Secular) [JD (S)] variety of ‘secularism’. The UPA model of governance and alliance has failed to halt the progress of Hindutva forces all over the country and Karnataka has also witnessed the same pattern.

Like most other poll outcomes in recent period, the Karnataka result too reveals the people’s anger against the raging agrarian crisis and spiralling prices, both of which are direct offshoots of the neo-liberal policies being implemented by the UPA and in this regard the UPA has proved to be perfect successor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In the absence of any credible democratic alternative, people voted for BJP which was not in power in the state independently so far. BJP won not because of its assertion of communal brand of politics, not because of any one national issue but because of a combination of both ‘national’ and ‘local’ factors.

The BJP’s rise in Karnataka has been a steady process spread over the last two decades. In 1983, the BJP had 18 members in the Karnataka state assembly; went down to 2 in 1985; again rose to 4 in 1989 and saw a phenomenal increase to 40 in 1994. Since then, it has steadily increased its tally – 44 in 1999, 79 in last elections in 2004 and 110 in 2008. Karnataka has witnessed various avatars of Sangh Parivar outfits from the days of Jan Sangh right up to the BJP. On the face of it, the BJP victory has been won on the plank of development, anti-price rise and stability, but the BJP’s politics of communal propaganda and communal violence has obviously played a catalytic role. The party has systematically exploited the Idgah Maidan issue in Hubli and Baba Budangiri issue in Chikmagalur, and has engineered anti-Muslim riots in Mangalore and Bangalore on various occasions. Having struck roots in the state, the BJP now seeks to conceal its communal colours behind the garb of ‘social engineering’, pro-farmer postures and advocacy of ‘development’.

The Assembly elections have also indicated a certain realignment of social and political forces in the state. The moot point is the shift in a section of hitherto vote banks of established parties, viz., Dalits and Vokkaligas, and the BJP’s victory in Malnad region which is claimed to have been the region of Left influence, and also in most backward districts like Bellary . BJP has secured more seats in Malnad region because of its communal politics, whipping up communal frenzy centering on the Baba Budangiri issue. Its victory in coastal districts too can well be attributed to communal clashes and the extremely active Sangh Parivar outfits. But, its victory in Bangalore is mainly because of its success in convincing middle classes and the elite about its ‘commitment to development’. The BJP has secured 17 seats out of 28 in Bangalore urban areas. This is an indication that the elitist section of middle class that benefited out of liberalisation policies has lent a much needed helping hand to the BJP in the metro city. Likewise, aggressive sections of real estate and mining mafia have also played a decisive role in the victory of the BJP, even though the backing of the mining mafia is equally enjoyed by other bourgeois parties like the Congress and JD (S). It is an assertion of mafia, the lumpen variety of bourgeoisie, and an offshoot of the process of liberalisation. The entire industry sector has faced a decline in recent months with the exception of the mining sector, which has, contrary to the general pattern, witnessed tremendous growth.

Its victory in the Hyderabad Karnataka region is mainly because of the people’s anger against the extreme backwardness in the region, and the generous supply of money and muscle to BJP by the mining mafias. The pattern is amply evident in the BJP’s victory of 7 out of 9 seats, most of which are reserved (ST) seats, in Bellary region. Its victory in Harapanahalli is a case in point, where Karunakar Reddy, a powerful mining mafia leader, was the candidate. Notes of the denomination of Rs. 500 and Rs.1000 were not only delivered at the doorsteps of voters but were literally flying in the air in this drought-ridden, most backward constituency. The fact that neither the Dalit parties (including the Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP]) nor the Left forces were effective in channelising the discontent brewing among Dalits and other downtrodden is a warning signal for progressive forces in the state. The BJP has won 22 out of 36 seats reserved for scheduled castes (SCs) against 10 by the Congress and 7 out of 16 seats reserved for scheduled tribes (STs). Prof. Assadi says that most of the reserved seats that BJP won are from Lingayat dominated areas, which means that the dominant community of Lingayats has supported Dalit candidates for the victory of the BJP. Dalits have by and large backed the BJP in this election with the Bahajun Samaj Party (BSP) hardly succeeding in making an inroad. It managed to finish second only in two constituencies, that too mainly because of locally popular candidates.

At the same time, it’s also a lesson for the progressive forces in the state that are not yet successful in mobilising and asserting the agenda of the poor and the downtrodden. This is evident from the performance of Left forces, including the new platform of Sarvodaya Party. Perhaps, the Sarvodaya platform of Dalit and farmers organisations paid a heavy price for adopting a soft approach towards the Congress. In fact, they declared open support to the Congress in constituencies where they were not in the fray.

Performance of all Left parties are almost similar barring the Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI (M)]’s performance in one seat where though they lost their MLA they secured more than 30000 votes and became the runner-up. In all other constituencies, maximum number of votes that the Left could secure was only around 10,000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist [CPI (ML)] polled nearly 7,000 votes in the SC reserved seat of Kanakagiri and polled nearly 2000 and 1000 in two ST reserved seats.

Overall, the BJP has tasted victory by emerging as a party of dominant castes, Lingayats and Brahmins while winning the support of elitist sections of the middle class and the aggressive backing of the money- and muscle-power of the lumpen bourgeoisie represented by real estate and mining mafia. Its main success lies in tilting the balance in its favour by engineering a divide among certain sections – Vokkaligas and Dalits that were hitherto interchangeable social base of the Congress and Dalit parties. With the BJP coming to power, the degeneration of Lohiaite, socialist influence and also the influence of the much acclaimed Dalit movement in the state has come a full circle. With communal fascism in state power, the polity has offered an excellent opportunity for the Left, democratic and progressive forces to wage a direct battle against the forces of obscurantism and of the status quo. It is for the progressive forces to grab the opportunity without displaying any vacillation towards the so-called ‘secular’ potential of the Congress and the JD(S).

Elections in India

Message from West Bengal Panchayat Polls

– Liberation, July, 2008.

The arrogant Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI (M)] leadership in West Bengal had predicted that the panchayat election in the state would serve as a referendum on the state government’s ‘industrialisation’ programme. The word ‘industrialisation’ for them is, of course, only a euphemism for everything they have done to suppress the people’s voice in, and over, Singur and Nandigram. The poll results are now here for everyone to see.

The CPI (M) has faced a veritable rout in East Midnapore , the district Nandigram is in. The party has also lost as badly in Singur in Hooghly district. For the first time in thirty years the party has lost control over four district councils and its control over two more district councils is clearly tenuous. More significantly, the grip of the party has become considerably weaker in the two lower rungs of the panchayat hierarchy almost all over the state. Far from endorsing the ‘Brand Buddha strategy of industrialisation’, the poll results have once again echoed the slogan “amaar gram, tomaar gram – Nandigram, Nandigram” (My village is Nandigram, your village is Nandigram), and that in the face of relentless violence, intimidation and manipulation.

The media spotlight is understandably on Nandigram and the issue of land acquisition. But the real story is indeed much bigger and deeper. The agrarian and livelihood crisis that pervades much of rural India is quite acute in rural Bengal as well. Here too, the below poverty line (BPL) list has become an opportunity for excluding the poor and rewarding the supporters of the ruling party. Implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is riddled with holes that deny the deserving people the promised ‘employment guarantee’ and minimum wages, but fill the coffers for the nexus of the rich and powerful that lords over the countryside. The public distribution system is known no longer for supply of subsidised foodgrains to the poor but for pilferage and profiteering by a corrupt dealer-leader-babu(bureaucracy) chain. And with the government pushing for reverse reforms, every sixth person who had once benefited from Operation Barga and land redistribution has already been deprived of his/her gains and rights.

Compounding the economic miseries of the people and the gaping holes and leaks of the delivery system is the atmosphere of institutionalised terror, domination and corruption that has now become the most hated hallmark of the three-decade-old CPI (M) rule in West Bengal . Nandigram is only the most horrifying symbol of this rot. The serial massacres and rapes did not happen just on the issue of land acquisition – they were the CPI (M)’s way of stopping a people from having their legitimate say. Viewed from the angle of the protesting people of Nandigram, the killings and rapes were the price they had to pay for having their say.

A mere statistical summary of the panchayat results does not convey the real political import of the developments in West Bengal . Statistically, the CPI (M) still controls all but mere four districts of the state. A little erosion here and a little dent there after thirty years of uninterrupted rule may appear quite ‘normal’. But those who have been closely observing the social and political dynamics of West Bengal have no difficulty in recognising the great change that has taken place. The rural poor have revolted in a big way. Nandigram was one expression of that revolt, the ration ‘riots’ were another link in that chain and now the panchayat polls have provided a third major glimpse of the same simmering revolt.

The CPI (M) may well see the result as further ‘confirmation’ of a grand ‘conspiracy’ against its rule – a grand coalition of the ‘Ultra Left’ and the ‘Ultra Right ‘with the civil society jumping in, as ‘analysed’ by the party’s recent Coimbatore Congress. Their ideologues will doubtless treat us with profound bits of ‘analysis’ on the coming together of the old enemies of land reform and the new enemies of industrialisation. And the fact that the Congress – whether of the Trinamool variety or the good old non-Trinamool variety – has emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the anti-CPI (M) revolt will surely prompt it to sharpen its anti-‘reactionary’ rhetoric. Ironically, however, while the panchayat votes were being counted in Bengal, top CPI (M) leaders in Delhi were busy celebrating the fourth anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the company of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

Reactionary rightwing forces in Bengal as well as elsewhere will definitely try to utilise the emerging political situation in the state as best as they can. But any serious analysis of the Bengal developments should begin with a critical look at the strategy and tactics of the CPI (M) itself. At one point of time the CPI (M) was known as the party which had established ‘panchayat raj’ in West Bengal ; today it is accused of imposing a ‘cadre raj’ on the people. The rural poor, for long the main support base of the party, are giving vent to their pent-up sense of betrayal and alienation. And if Muslims in West Bengal are also seen turning away from the CPI(M), it is not as though they have suddenly developed some new fondness for the Congress or the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is till date a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), or because the Sachhar Committee Report has revealed their miserable socio-economic plight. It is primarily because the CPI (M) too has begun treating the community and its concerns much the same way as other ruling parties do.

We must understand that the panchayat vote in Bengal has not been for the TMC or the Congress, it has been against the CPI (M)’s wrong policies and priorities and the increasingly corrupt and undemocratic nature of its governance. And the motive force behind this change is not the traditional social base of the Congress, but the aggrieved and alienated social base of the communists. It is only through a sincere, firm and close integration with the rural poor that the Left can be rejuvenated and rebuilt in West Bengal and the CPI (ML) is determined to do all it can to realise this challenge.

Culture

Homage to Vijay Tendulkar

– Liberation, July, 2008.

Noted progressive playwright Vijay Tendulkar passed away on May 19 2008 at the age of 80 following a protracted illness.

Tendulkar revolutionised Marathi theatre with his ruthless exploration of social and political issues. His plays were a weapon to change society and challenge all hidebound ideas and injustices. They exploded the hypocrisies of polite society, broke new ground in their treatment of gender issues, and evolved a fresh genre of political satire full of vitality and contemporary meaning.

‘Shrimant’ (1956) jolted the conservative audience of the times with its portrayal of an unmarried young woman who decides to keep her unborn child while her rich father tries to “buy” her a husband in an attempt to save his social prestige. ‘Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe’ (“Silence! The Court Is In Session”, which went on stage in 1967) was a remarkable comment on the double standards of society towards women. ‘Sakharam Binder’ (1972) explored the different implications of unconventional lifestyles for men and women, and faced accusations of ‘obscenity’.

‘Ghasiram Kotwal’ (1972), based on the life of Nana Phadnavis (1741-1800), the prime minister in the court of the Peshwas, was a fearless satire on the rise of the Shiv Sena, and was met with violent attacks by political opponents. Tendulkar never lost that fearless voice against communal fascism: after the Gujarat genocide he raised the same bold voice against Narendra Modi.

Tendulkar’s writing always retained its sharp and unsparing eye for the exploitative and hypocritical attitudes in society towards women and sexuality. In Kamala, he took the real-life story of a journalist who bought a woman in the rural sex trade to expose the police and political powers involved; only to abandon her once his purpose was served. His ‘Mitrachi Goshta’ took up a theme inspired by the real-life story of an actress whose career was ruined after her same-sex affair became public knowledge.

Tendulkar also turned his pen to writing scripts for cinema and left his mark there too – with stark social commentaries like Manthan, Nishant, Aakrosh and Ardh Satya in Hindi and Samana, Simhasan and Umbartha in Marathi.

Tendulkar’s plays never maintained an artificial separation between society and the stage: his theatre spilled on to the streets while the streets resonated in his plays. The curtain has fallen on his life: but his work lives in the hearts of all those who seek the vital link between literature and lived life.

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