March-April 2009

Table of Contents

1) Forward to a Vigorous Election Campaign on People’s Issues!

2) Budget: No Relief for Indian Poor Ravaged by Economic Crisis

3) CPI (ML) Protests against the War in Sri Lanka

4) Sri Lanka: A Matter of Judgment

5) Crackdown on Health Employees, Students

6) Defending Workers During Meltdown or Countdown for Elections?

7) Participation of AICCTU in the Indian Labour Conference (ILC)

8) Red Flag Hoisted on Satyam’s Lands

9) Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire


Indian Elections

Forward to a Vigorous Election Campaign on People’s Issues!

– Liberation, March, 2009.

India is bracing up for Lok Sabha polls under the dark shadows of a deepening economic crisis that our ruling elite has managed to import from the United States of America. The UPA government’s response to the crisis/recession has been essentially two-pronged. First, they are shifting the burden onto the shoulders of the common people while pampering the corporate biggies. Soon after the financial tsunami struck India, the government announced tax cuts to the tune of some 50,000 crore (1 crore = 10 million) rupees and in the recently held Indian Labour Conference Pranab Mukherjee suggested wage cuts as a pretext for avoiding job cuts — this at a time when corporate honchos are taking astronomical sums — anywhere between rupees 20 to 50 crore — as what is now called compensation! In the name of stimulus spending the interim budget has left a gap of 5.5 percent of gross domestic product in the coming fiscal year, way above the three per cent estimate made earlier. This will further worsen stagflation: the deadly double curse of price rise combined with economic stagnation and slowdown. The government says spending to revive the economy is more important now than worrying about the deficit. This would really make sense if the funds were utilised for facilitating employment in badly affected segments like textiles, gems and jewellery, leather, construction, retail trade etc.; for helping farmers of crops like cotton, rubber and coffee who are facing sharp price falls; and for expanding the scope of NREGA as well as introducing similar schemes for the urban poor. But the focus of the interim budget is not on expanding the home market by augmenting people’s purchasing power; it is on corporate welfare and unproductive sectors. Thus defence expenditure has been raised by a whopping 35 per cent on top of a 10 per cent increase last year, the major chunk of which will flow out to arms exporters like the US and Israel rather than creating effective demand within the country.

The second plank of the government’s policy orientation continues to be dependence on and concessions to footloose foreign capital. To cite one recent example, it is actively considering a proposal to lift restrictions on foreign investors to buy up stakes in its domestic airlines. True to tradition dating back to the early 1990s, the Congress-led government is utilising the crisis for selling out the country’s residual economic sovereignty to imperialist powers. Naturally this is accompanied by further erosion of our political independence, the direct FBI involvement in Mumbai investigations after the terrorist attacks being a case in point. The real meaning of “strategic partnership” between India and the US is thus getting clearer.

Economic woes and imperialist intervention apart, the pre-poll scene is marked by the growing menace of communalism. LK Advani in his inaugural election rally at Gorakhpur responded to the loud chants of “Jai Sri Ram” by saying that this will be realised only after the Ram temple is built in Ayodhya. Advani’s promises of Mandir and hanging of Afzal Guru indicate the BJP’s overtly communal plank in the coming election. Advani was audacious enough even to claim that Muslims were very happy in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where they reportedly enjoyed the highest per capita income in the country.

It is against these and other enemies like draconian laws and the repressive state that popular resistance must be intensified. A vigorous election campaign of genuine left and democratic forces focusing on people’s issues can serve as a very good instrument for this.

Resist the ravaging expedition of unbridled capital!

Uphold the banner of self-reliance and people’s welfare against the present reign of elitist and pro-US policies!

Champion the cause of people’s unity and democracy against the twin threats of communalism and terrorism!

March forward to raise the people’s voice inside Parliament!

Indian Budget

No Relief for Indian Poor Ravaged by Economic Crisis, Bailout for Global Arms Industry

– Liberation, March, 2009.

The interim budget presented by the Finance Minister – the last in the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government – displays a total unconcern for those ravaged by the global economic crisis. There is no indication of any measures to bring relief to those lakhs (100, 000s) of people who have lost and are fast losing their jobs in various sectors – like textiles, garments, gemstones, jewellery etc. No announcement of an effective and adequate stimulus package was made. No concrete promise was made of increased public spending in various crisis-ridden sectors of the Indian economy and society. However, keeping impending elections in mind, further concessions and bail-out packages for the India Inc. has been kept off for the post election general budget; there are therefore no changes in tax rates, exemption limits and the fiscal policy for the time being.

Even the much-touted increase in allocation for “flagship” schemes like NREGA is also an eyewash. Actually, the Plan allocation for the current fiscal is Rs. 30,000 crore (1 crore = 10 million) – revised from the previously declared allocation of Rs. 16,000 crore. This reflects only what the Government has already spent on NREGA: which is far below the actual needs of the scheme. The Plan allocation for the next fiscal year 2009-10 is just Rs. 30,100 crore, a tiny and far from adequate increase indeed. Further, while the total revised allocation for the Rural Development Ministry for the current fiscal is Rs. 64,854 crore, for the year 2009-10 the allocation has actually been slashed by 14.93%.

Pranab Mukherjee’s excuse is that the Government has “no mandate,” in its fag end, to introduce any far-reaching measures. This fact, however, did not stop the UPA Government just prior to the Budget session from bypassing Parliament to introduce new investment norms that virtually throw open the entire economy to foreign direct investment (FDI). According to these changed norms, FDI caps stand nullified, since investments by companies “owned or controlled” by Indians having substantial foreign capital are excluded. Even as legislation is pending in Parliament to raise the FDI cap in insurance, and working-class protests have prevented caps from being raised further in various other sectors, this piece of subterfuge allows FDI and foreign players to take control of sensitive sectors of the Indian economy via the backdoor. The very same forces responsible for the global economic crisis are being allowed to rampage into India unchecked.

The stipulations of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act have been thrown to the winds. As against the original FRBM target of achieving zero Revenue Deficits (RD) by 31st March, 2009, the RD for 2008-09 has zoomed to 4.4% of GDP-1% higher than the budgeted figure. Similarly, Fiscal Deficit for 2008-09 also escalates to 6% of GDP as against 2.5% target. The projected corresponding figures for 2009-10 are 4% and 5.5% of GDP respectively. The government has already printed 1 lakh crore of paper money to make good the deficit.

The government is presently tinkering with the monetary policy to manage the economic slowdown and liquidity crunch. Government borrowing has jumped to two and a half times the budget estimates from 1.3 lakh crore to 3.3 lakh crore.

Unmatched with the fund crunched exchequer defence outlay has suddenly been increased by 34%. The pretext of “no mandate” has not caused the UPA Government to have any hesitation in introducing this massive hike in defence allocations – a whopping Rs 1,41,703 crore. This, when the Government was unable to utilise Rs. 7000 crore from last year’s allocation. Last year itself, the country’s defence budget shot past Rs 1 lakh crore for the first time, three times more than the expenditure on health and education. This time, the Mumbai terror attacks have provided the pretext for yet another steep hike in defence spending.

The Defence Ministry has “assured” the arms industry at the recently held arms expo near Bangalore that defence spending is “recession proof.” At the expo, it was Israeli and US arms manufacturers who dominated the show. In the past decade, India has emerged as Israel’s largest client and also the largest arms importer among the developing countries. In effect, at a time of recession, the UPA Government with its hiked defence budget has chosen to bailout the global arms industry rather than the Indian poor.

The slowdown in manufacturing and capital goods sector is not likely to be arrested by this budget. The Service sector is also to follow suit. The manufacturing may slip down to recession in the next year. The attrition in white-collar employment in finance, IT and information technology enabled services (ITES) is sure to go up in view of the global recession and blue-collar employment in sectors like gems and jewellery, garments, textiles, construction etc. is already gripped with huge attrition. The country is already in a state of stagflation and may slip into a deflationary situation due to acute slump in demand. The US, UK, Euro Zone and Japan, which account for more than 50% of India’s exports, are in the grip of nagging recession and hence the exports scenario appears very gloomy. As a result, both balance of trade and balance of payment position of the country is likely to deteriorate badly.

The Interim Rail Budget too is nothing but populist eyewash. The Rail Minister claims to have reduced fares – but was silent on the pre-budget hike in freight charges on agricultural commodities, iron ore and steel. This measure will inevitably further hike the price of essential commodities and is yet another burden on the shoulders of the recession-hit aam aadmi (common person). Also, the very day the Interim Rail Budget was presented; there was a major accident on the Coromandel Express in Orissa, followed by another in Bihar the very next day. These accidents point to the total neglect of public spending on rail safety, something the Rail Minister’s boasts cannot explain away.

In a budget speech that shamelessly doubled as election propaganda for the Congress party, Pranab Mukherjee ended with the claim that “our people will surely recognise the hand… that alone can help our nation on the road to peace and prosperity”. We can well say that the people of India in the impending elections will surely recognise the hand that gave succour to the imperialist US when its credibility was lowest and dragged the Indian people deeper into the abyss of the global recession.

South Asia

CPI (ML) Protests against the War in Sri Lanka

–  ML Update, 17-23 February, 2009.

The Delhi State Committee of CPI (ML) held a demonstration outside the Parliament in New Delhi on 16 February in protest against the ongoing war on the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The protest meeting was addressed by CPI (ML) Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma, All India Students Association (AISA) State Secretary Rajan Pande, Delhi State Committee member Santosh Rai, All India Progressive Women’s Organization (AIPWA) National Secretary Kavita Krishnan and others. Coinciding with the Delhi demonstration, all over Tamil Nadu and Puducherry CPI (ML) activists came out on streets demanding the Manmohan-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to stop all military aid to Sri Lanka and pressurize the Rajapakse government to stop the war massacring the Tamil minorities in Srilanka immediately and start a political process for a democratic resolution. Starting from Kanyakumari to Chennai, Sirkazhi (Nagappattinam dist.) to Coimbatore, Party and mass organization leaders and activists assembled on the streets. Politburo member S. Kumarasamy participated in Pudukottai demonstration. Balasundaram, State Secretary of the party took part in Ulundurpet (Villupuram district). Apart from these, demonstrations were held in Salem, Kumarapalayam, Kattu Mannar Koil (Cuddalore district) and Tirunelveli. In Puducherry, Balasubramanian, State Secretary and Balasundaram, State secretary of Tamil Nadu, led the demonstration. Also on February 4th, CPI (ML) State units of Tamil Nadu and Puduchery observed a state-wide general strike on the same issue. Party cadres were arrested in Villupuram district for enforcing the strike call.

South Asia

Sri Lanka: A Matter of Judgment

– S Sivasegaram.

In bourgeois democracy, the legislature and the judiciary avoid treading on each other’s toes. Yet there is the occasion of questioning the legality of an act of parliament or a controversial verdict of a court of law. Sadly for Sri Lanka’s fragile democracy the number of occasions have been a few too many. The most recent one followed the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on a fundamental rights petition on a controversial oil hedging deal entered into by the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) that made it liable for around US$ 750 million to five commercial banks; and flared up after a subsequent ruling on the pricing of petrol.

On 28th November 2008 the SC issued an interim order to the CPC to suspend payments to the banks, to which it had already paid US$ 32 million. The SC also ordered the suspension of the Chairman and the Deputy General Manager of the CPC and asked for the removal of the minister in charge. The officials were removed after some hesitation; but not the minister. A succession of pointing fingers led to much discomfort for the government. A ruling on 17th December by the SC on the pricing of petrol called for a price reduction from Rs. 122 per litre to Rs. 100 or less. The CPC, on government instruction, refused to comply while its only rival, the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC), reduced on the price to 100 rupees on 19th December but reverted to its earlier price under pressure. The SC rulings infuriated the President as they undermined the government’s credibility and meant a drop in CPC profits earmarked for purposes including the bulging defence budget. Open threats were made about impeaching the Chief Justice (CJ), which, under the constitution, needs only a simple majority in an impeachment motion in parliament. It was also unnecessary as the CJ is due for retirement in a few months and until then would only be a temporary discomfort. The CJ, meantime, in view of non-compliance by the CPC, cancelled all earlier rulings regarding the CPC making it once again liable to pay the banks.

Earlier Issues

The Supreme Court has intervened earlier in issues of greater consequence. Its power was not an issue when the rulings suited the government, like the one in mid-2005 (under the previous President) against the setting up of a provisional body for tsunami relief in the North-East, the de-merging of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 2007, and rulings against strikes. The SC has embarrassed the government by ruling against proposed changes to school admission procedure, and against the expulsion of Tamils from Colombo by the police in 2008, which were resented but complied with. However, judges have continued to be intimidated from time to time.

The roots of the present contradiction go back to February 2006, hardly three months since the President took office, when two senior judges of the three-member Judicial Service Commission suddenly resigned based on ‘matters of conscience’, and no other reason. It was an expression of the simmering state of discontent within the Commission, but the President, as the head of state, did not ask the judges for details of the ‘matters of conscience’ mentioned in their resignation letters addressed to him.

In May 2006, the President bypassed the Constitutional Council (CC), whose term had lapsed in May 2005, to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, without following the constitutional provisions. The government, despite protests from the opposition parties, the legal profession, other professional bodies, and public interest organisations, has delayed the nomination of six new members to the CC from among members of parliament.

Roots of the Crisis

The plight of the judiciary begins with the Constitution of 1978 granting sweeping powers to the executive president. The legal fraternity hailed its provisions to protect the independence of the judiciary, in the context of irritating aspects of the earlier Constitution of 1972 which declared Sri Lanka a republic. Practice proved to be otherwise. The President and the parliament where his party, the United National Party (UNP) had a massive majority since election in 1977 systematically undermined the judicial system; and by a ‘referendum’ held in 1983 improperly extended the term of the parliament to 1989.

The government disposed of judges it did not like, appointed others, and gave preferential treatment to some, as part of a process of “reconstitution” of the courts under the provisions of the Constitution. Even the favoured ones, including a former Chief Justice who fell foul of the President, were humiliated. The government went a long way to ensure that the law of the land did not obstruct its vindictive agenda. On 20th November 1978 a law was passed with retrospective effect to declare as “null and void and of no force and effect whatsoever” the judgement and order of the Court of Appeal in a writ application by former prime minister Sirima Bandaranaike against a ruling by the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry (SPCI), set up for the express purpose of depriving her of civic rights. Hand-picked members of the judiciary in the SPCI loyally delivered the goods without further legal hindrance.

There were attacks and threats against the members of the judiciary for giving verdicts hostile to the interests of the government. Verdicts had been spurned. On 8th February 1983 a bench of the SC ruled unanimously that the seizure by the Superintendent of Police, Gampaha, of pamphlets carrying an appeal by Pavidi Handa (Voice of C1ergy) to hold the genera1 election due in 1983, was an illegal infringement of the right of expression and publication, and awarded Rs.10 000 costs and Rs. 2 000 damages to the petitioner. On 2nd March the Cabinet decided to promote the offending police officer, and to pay the damages and costs out of state funds. In another instance, the Supreme Court delivered judgment, again unanimously, on a fundamental rights case relating to the unlawful arrest of former MP Mrs Vivienne Goonewardene at an International Women’s Day demonstration on 8th June 1983, by a sub-inspector of police, awarding Rs. 2 000 as damages, and recommending police investigation of further allegations by her. The next day, an official communiqué from the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence announced that the work done by the sub-inspector in dispersing the procession has been gone into and that it has been decided that he should be given a special promotion. Accordingly the he was promoted to the rank of Inspector Class II.

Attempts at Salvation

It was as a result of such blatant abuse of power by the government that in 2001, well after the defeat of the UNP government in 1994, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was unanimously passed by parliament to stipulate independent supervision over important appointments in public service and key commissions. Hailed domestically and regionally as a creditable effort towards remedying a highly-politicised police and public service in particular, the Amendment made it necessary for appointments to the commissions and offices concerned to be approved by an apolitical, 10-member Constitutional Council (CC). The intervening authority of the CC was to be an external check over the unrestrained presidential fiat in appointments. Its composition envisaged a process of consensual decision-making by the constituent political parties in parliament. It is that very CC that has been prevented from functioning for the past three and a half years.

It is not my case that the judiciary has been whiter than white. The present CJ was himself subject of an impeachment motion for personal misconduct, proposed by members of the opposition UNP in 2005, which was abandoned as a part of a shady deal to resurrect the political career of a UNP leader who was behind bars for contempt of court. The latter part of the deal was not honoured.

The prospects for the independence of judiciary seem no better than those for democracy and human rights in the country, let alone its economy and the national question. But the situation is not hopeless. The country has had a tradition of sustained struggles for democratic and human rights which need to be revived and restructured to encompass a larger number of issues based on an anti-imperialist, anti-chauvinist democratic agenda.

Working Class Struggles

Crackdown on Health Employees, Students:

Paving the Way for Privatisation of Health and Education

– Liberation, March, 2009.

Behind the imposition of Essential Service Maintenance Act (ESMA) and arrest of leading union activists among health workers in Delhi and the rustication of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students’ Union leadership and student activists in JNU lies the covert agenda of privatisation of health and education.

2.5 lakh (1 lakh = 100, 000) health employee workers across the country, under the banner of the All India Health Employees and Workers Confederation, have been struggling for the past several months against the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission of contractualisation and outsourcing of health services. When repeated appeals to the Prime Minister and Health Minister, as well as a massive demonstration at Parliament and nation-wide protests, failed to result in any dialogue with the Central Government, health employees and workers were forced to go on strike on February 23. The Government responded with threats and imposition of ESMA in Delhi. Five leaders including Comrade Ramkishan, Convenor of the Confederation were arrested, homes of at least 30 leaders of the Confederation were raided and individual letters were issued to all employees threatening termination and eviction from their homes. Comrade Ramkishan was taken into police custody on the night of 27 February; charges of violation of ESMA were imposed on him on 28 February and he was sent to Tihar jail (he has now been released on bail). Following the arrest of the leaders, the agitation intensified in Delhi, and the Delhi Government eventually conceded some of the major demands of the employees and workers of hospitals and health services administered by the Delhi Government. Those of centrally-administered health services like the central government health services (CGHS) are yet to get any relief, since the Central Government has done little except issue threats. However, the strike has been called off, keeping in mind the partial victory achieved vis a vis the Delhi Government, and also keeping in mind the inconvenience caused to the public by continuance of the strike – something for which the Central Government showed no concern.

At the Jawarhalal Nehru University (JNU), students for the past month have been engaged in a protracted struggle against a whole package of commercialization measures unleashed by the Administration. Making calculated use of the Supreme Court stay (based on the Lyngdoh Committee’s recommendations) on the JNUSU elections, the JNU Administration has bypassed the JNU Students’ Union [JNUSU] (now led by the AISA) to push through measures like hiking of the Prospectus fee by 67%, razing down trees and flattening out the ecologically-sensitive area of Parthasarathy Rock area in order to make it available for shooting of films and advertisements on a commercial basis, installing individual meters in hostel rooms with plans to levy ‘user charges’ on students for electricity, and violations of modalities for implementation of OBC reservations. Literally thousands of students turned out in massive protests – forcing the administration to withdraw some of the measures like the renting out of PSR rocks and user charges for electricity.

But on the issue of hike in the prospectus price, the Administration remained adamant. However, to maintain the pretence of being ‘pro-poor’, the JNU Administration proposed a clause that applicants from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families could avail the prospectus free of cost – a piece of tokenism that amounts to 100% subsidy for 0% applicants, when it is well known that availing a BPL certificate is a process fraught with many problems, and there is no adequate data on the extent to which such families are able to avail education, let alone enter the realm of higher education and apply for a JNU prospectus. As a symbolic response to the closing down of dialogue by the Administration, the JNU students’ union closed down one of the admission counters. Within a few hours of this symbolic protest, the Administration responded by rusticating the JNUSU President Sandeep Singh for two years, and Vice President Shephalika Shekhar and Joint Secretary Mobeen Alam, as well as two other senior activists for a year each. 9 students have been on hunger strike for the past five days, accompanied by many others on relay hunger strike, in protest against this draconian measure.

The AISA had conducted a national campaign in February against the ‘virtual emergency’ in campuses, arguing that the crackdown on student union elections in many campuses including JNU is necessary for governments that intend to privatise and commercialise education. The events in JNU, happening in the wake of the stay on the JNUSU elections by the Supreme Court, are proving the point of the campaign.

Privatising and commercializing health and education are policies dictated by the imperialist funding agencies and imposed by India’s ruling class. Unions and struggles of workers and students are the biggest hurdle in the path of such policies – and this is why the promoters of such policies seize every opportunity to victimize activists leading the movements. But crackdowns have never deterred movements – and the UPA Government can be sure that in the impending elections, it will pay for the crackdown on central government health employees and students of a leading central university.

Working Class Struggles

Indian Labour Conference: Defending Workers During Meltdown or Countdown for Elections?

– Liberation, March, 2009.

The 42nd Session of Indian Labour Conference (ILC) was held recently in Delhi. While at the inaugural session Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes took the opportunity to extol a range of Congress leaders down the generations, and to showcase the ‘achievements’ of the UPA Government, such as NREGA. As workers face a crisis of survival due to the meltdown, the ILC was being used as a platform for a countdown to elections! Instead of any review of the sorry record of implementation of schemes like NREGA, the ILC was instead being used to project these schemes. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee prescribed austerity and ‘wage cuts’ as an alternative to job cuts. Obviously such ‘austerity’ was not meant by the finance minister (FM) to apply to rich CEOs who, as recent reports show, continue to earn obscenely high salaries and indulge in unabated conspicuous consumption and lavish lifestyles. These latter continue to get huge sops and subsidies unabated – while the FM preaches ‘wage cuts’ for workers! This, while the Government’s own Arjun Sengupta Committee revealed that 77% of India’s people survive on Rs. 20 a day.

As a result of the made-in-USA crisis being imported by the Indian ruling class onto Indian shores, at least 20 lakh workers have been rendered jobless in just a few months. Several industries face ruin – particularly export-oriented ones like textiles, diamond etc., as well as automobile, steel, construction; and workers all around face severe wage cuts and increased workload. For the past several years, lakhs of farmers have been committing suicide – a haemorrhaging wound refusing to heal in spite of some band-aids applied by governments time and again. Now, there are ominous signs of this trend shifting to workers too – seventy-one laid-off diamond workers have committed suicide in Gujarat:; the state admiringly hailed as a ‘development model’ by the corporate class.

Meanwhile there is an all-pervading contractualisation of jobs in the name of promoting competitiveness – even in public sector units like steel, coal, oil and government departments like Railways, and core and perennial jobs too. The Central government, which used to be termed the ‘model employer’ has emerged as the greatest violator of contract labour laws. Through the ILC, the Government should have at the very least promised to implement their own laws regulating contract labour with the utmost strictness. Instead, for the last five years the Government has been pushing for amending the labour laws – thereby sending a clear signal to the employers that it condones their violations of the law of the land, and wants to turn those violations into policy!

Even the Government’s showpieces like the Unorganized Workers’ Act is far from adequate (with no provision of permanent fund and empowered boards) to address the needs and aspirations of the unorganized workers: the largest component of workforce. The crying need of the situation is that the Government must come out with a declaration to halt retrenchment/lay offs, wage cuts and closure on the pretext of financial crisis; and take measures to increase the purchasing power of common people.

Nothing less than reversing the disastrous economic policies – that favour corporates at the cost of the labouring poor – and delinking from the disastrously sinking ship of US imperialism – can correct the course and benefit the working people of India. No amount of window-dressing or manipulation of platforms like the ILC can change this fact.

Working Class Struggles

Participation of AICCTU in the 42nd Session of Indian Labour Conference (ILC)

– Liberation, March, 2009.

The 42nd Session of Indian Labour Conference (ILC) was held on 20-21 February 2009 in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by the Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee and the Presidential address was delivered by the Minister of State (IC) for Labour & Employment, Mr. Oscar Fernandes. The representatives of workers, employers and the central & various state govts./UTs and central ministries/departments participated in the conference. The agenda of the conference was: 1 (a) All Issues connected with contractualisation of Labour (b) Issues related to Migrant Workers. 2. Role of Social Partners in appropriate skill development for employability. 3. Issues relating to Sales Promotion Employees in India. 4. Global Financial Crisis – its effects viz., large scale downsizing, layoffs, wage cut and job losses, etc. On behalf of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), General Secretary Com. Swapan Mukherjee addressed the inaugural session. Led by him three more representatives participated in the different agenda items of the conference, namely Com. R. N. Thakur on agenda regarding issues related to contractualization and migrant labour; Com. S. Balasubramanian on global financial crisis, and Com. Santosh Rai on issues of sales promotion workers in India.

This is the first time AICCTU officially participated (as delegates) in the ILC after getting national recognition (in the last session it participated in observer category). The participation was organized and effective. Com. Swapan addressing the inaugural session lambasted the Congress Party for using the ILC as election propaganda platform while prescribing wage cuts for workers. The delegation submitted its concrete suggestion on various items with effective participation on discussion on item nos. 1, 3 and 4.

Struggles in India

Red Flag Hoisted on Satyam’s Lands

– Liberation, March, 2009.

The Satyam scam has exposed corporate corruption and greed, protected by governments and even ‘watchdog’ institutions. Among the many aspects of the scam was the aspect of massive benami land transfers effected by Satyam. It became apparent that thousands of acres of land were acquired by Satyam – literally by hook or crook.

Land is a burning issue – in Andhra Pradesh (AP) as well as all over India. Land ceiling laws and laws against land grab have been openly violated, and the state has an abysmal track record of implementing land reforms. Governments, mouthing virtuous slogans of ‘development,’ have justified massive land grab to feed corporate greed. In AP, too, there have been fierce struggle against SEZs and other kinds of corporate land grab. Also, AP has seen militant struggles confronting the YSR Reddy Government on why it failed to keep its promise of house sites for the poor.

Now, the question arises, why rural poor are met with bullets (as at Mudigonda, Khammam) when they raise a legitimate demand for land; why anti-SEZ activists (as at Kakinada) are jailed; why, when the rural poor wage struggles to occupy ceiling-surplus and other kinds of land illegally grabbed from the poor, they are branded as ‘terrorists’; yet Ramalinga Raju and Satyam-Maytas were freely allowed to grab thousands of acres of land illegally – and both the previous NDA Government of Chandrababu Naidu as well as the present Congress Government of YSR Reddy turned a blind eye for so many years?

The CPI (ML), which has been at the forefront of land struggles in AP, acted promptly to corner the Government on this question as soon as the Satyam scam came to light. In Krishna district, the CPI (ML) Liberation and All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association (AIALA) unit of Andhra Pradesh conducted an investigation which revealed that the Prapurna Estate, an agricultural firm, is a benami company of Satyam computers located in Kondaparva village of Vissannapeta mandal in Krishna district. The Prapurna Estate holds about 375 acres of land out of which 232 acres were purchased from small peasants. 44 acres was purchased illegally from poor Dalits allotted land by the State government. Moreover hundred acres of revenue bungar lands have been illegally captured by this firm. An application to the government to lease this land to develop a medicinal plants farm was rejected by the District Collector a year back.

CPI (ML) and AIALA activists decided to mobilise masses of six villages to seize the Prapurna Estate lands illegally in control of Satyam-Maytas. On February 13, hundreds of people from Vissannapeta, Kondaparva, Jannardhanavaram and Chatrai village, (led by CPI(ML) District Secretary Comrade D Harinath and AIALA State President Comrade Pulla Rao), marched to the lands held by Satyam carrying red flags and entered the Prapurna Estates. They successfully managed to occupy some 250 acres of lands illegally acquired by Satyam. Initially the employees of Prapurna Estate tried to put up a resistance but were soon overwhelmed by the militant mood of the masses. Attempts by the police to chase away the people were in vain. Prapurna Estate employees and the police claimed that these lands were legally purchased by some person of West Godavari district to develop as an agricultural farm. Revenue officials also said to the media that these lands are legally purchased but not owned in any way by Satyam. The police, though hesitant to arrest the activists, has been open in its defence of the Prapurna Estate.

The CPI (ML) has demanded that the State should confiscate the lands from Satyam and redistribute them among the poor. The struggle brought to the fore the question of Government double standards over the question of land: its complicity with the bid by the rich and the corrupt to grab (and literally steal) land over which they have no right, and its repressive attitude towards the struggles of the poor for land which legitimately belong to them.

Film Review

Slum-lord Aesthetics and the Question of Indian Poverty

– Nandini Chandra, Liberation, March, 2009.

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (based on Indian diplomat Vikas Swaroop’s novel Q&A) is about a Bombay slum boy with his ample street knowledge who wins a twenty million dollar reality quiz show and then turns this into a universal tale of love and human destiny. In the quiz, Jamal is unable to answer questions that test his nationalist knowledge but is surprisingly comfortable with those that mark his familiarity with international trivia. For instance, while he knows that Benjamin Franklin adorns a 100 dollar bill, he has no clue about who adorns the 1000 rupee note. This is obviously meant to suggest the irrelevance of the nation to its most marginalized member but less obviously also indicates its supposed redundancy in a globalized neo-liberal setup.

The film is on an awards-winning roll, having won four Golden globes, it has won 8 Oscars this year, something that surely adds rather than subtracts from its imperial charm. The centrality of the neo-gothic structure of the Victoria Terminus as the transformative point in the film thus heralds a Dickensian aura as much as an imperial vision.

In contrast, Indians cannot quite see it in nationalist terms.

For one, Amitabh Bachchan’s blog has officially announced and sanctioned the hurt pride of nationalist Indians occasioned by the film’s exposure of its dirty underbelly. While one is unsympathetic to the chauvinist argument that outsiders have no right to depict the seamier side of native life; the way this hyper-nationalist sentiment has been refracted in the international press says something about the film’s motivations. For instance, most reports translate Bachchan’s statement as the Indian peoples’ inability to take a brutal look at themselves, assuming both that the so called west has a hotline with the underclass, and that Bachchan represents ‘the Indian people’.

Given this intermeshing of an Indian and global context surrounding the film’s production and reception, it becomes pertinent to frame the question of the specific nature of Indian poverty raised in the film. The film is hardly unique in addressing the spectacle of the Bombay poor, their dismal conditions of living and defecating. But what it does crystallize in very concrete terms is a general consensus achieved in recent years on the disengagement of labour from questions of poverty and wealth. Partha Chatterjee’s much talked about essay, Democracy and Economic Transformation (EPW, 19 April 2008), mobilizes the concept of a “political society” to merge the realm of peasant detritus and urban poor with petty-entrepreneurs as well as the more shadowy criminal class. His argument reads something like this: since this informal and irregular community has not been and cannot be integrated into the corporate-style capitalist structures, they not only lose out on the benefits of civil society, their only salvation lies in being appropriated by governmental structures and schemes. The idea therefore is to translate the poor’s lack of proletarian consciousness as an automatic admission into political-governmental terms without adequately addressing either the question of capital accumulation by forcible dispossession, through the judicious use of that very government’s repressive instruments in the first place or how to usefully channel this dispossessed labour surplus in a direction that will precipitate class struggle.

While the film in its neo-liberal optimism contradicts this understanding of the poor, seeing them as immediately appropriable within the interstices of corporatized service industries, it participates in the denial of the potential usefulness of the work they do and its lack of reward. However, like Chatterjee, it also insists on placing them outside the purview of the juridical civil state, where law and order do not prevail in the same familiar way, thus surrounding their lives with a mystique that films like Boyle’s can successfully unravel for a neo-liberal audience. Having been endowed with humanity and dignity, the poor cannot be seen through what is perceived as instrumental categories of labour or class anymore. They are instead seen as denizens of a shadowy, illicit realm which can be made comprehensible only by integrating it within certain humanist tropes like love and freedom. It is remarkable that the topography of the places in which the poor live is seen largely through aerial shots  mountains of garbage, huge green forests of wasteland, rivers of feces  and the little boys jumping back and forth through this panoramic natural landscape acquire the characteristic of blooming lotuses in mud. The goo scene in the beginning and the scene where a massive bogeyman-type figure gouges out the eyes of little children with a spoon are of course tightly framed to render the horror of the other world, which may be packaged for a poverty tour (like the one where Shantaram took Angelina Jolie by the hand and led her through the giddy lanes of Dharavi). The slum, the common tank where the mother was felled by one swoop of the Hindu fundamentalist sword, the brothel, the child labourer, the exploitative policemen, the curious school master in a dhoti and the mafia bosses are all stops on this guided tour which is only superficially different from the commodification of poverty one finds on the sets of more popular Bollywood fare. In fact, the new Bollywood aesthetics find an echo here in its severe eschewal of the institutions of state and civil society. But while Bollywood is equally welcoming of foreign capital, a non-Bollywood production like Slumdog takes on more immediately imperialist overtones. This is because the impetus of its rhetoric of good will and benevolence strives to conceal the conditions of its production, encapsulated by a patchy realism which seems to suggest that its real commitment is to the true heart of India, rather than a Bollywood imaginary which it uses merely as the scaffolding for its conventional plot’s unfolding.

The direct connectivity with an international public via tourism, call centres, media and other service industry networks makes the proximity to foreign capital extremely clear. The absence of an organized labour force or any political platform makes it possible to render the terms offered by this capital free of any vested interest.  For instance, the film is produced by Celador Films, the very company which originally created the “Who wants to be a Millionaire” contest, an idea never once mocked throughout the film. In fact, reality television with big money in rewards encourages the contestants to alternatively think of themselves as obligated to the jury and managers and entitled to earn or deserve the disproportionately large sums of money. At the same time, the ruthlessness with which the contestants are evicted draws brief attention to the bosses’ less than benign status as business entrepreneurs, only to deflect it to a professional ethic, which seeks to dignify its lottery or gambling mode. The dynamics of reality television get enacted when little Jamal is being propped up to be a singer by the beggar kingpin Mamman, and the little fellow really thinks his time has come. In true reality television fashion, he demands a fifty rupee note from him before he sings his piece, announcing that he is after all a professional.

The hotel kitchen seems like a refuge of freedom for the child waiter, who gets plenty of time off even as Salim complains of the utopian life they have left behind thieving tyres in the by-lanes of Agra. The tourist industry seems like a utopia of cast-offs and gullible ‘whities’ waiting to be ripped off by these wily self-appointed guides. In short, the film tries to show that for those who can think on their feet, access to wealth is not a problem. Child labour is not really seen as exploitative, but as enabling the education of these young adults. In fact, hardly do we perceive their contribution in terms of real labour. They are seen as gaining rather than giving to the system, sabotaging, picking up the leftovers, staying in empty hotel rooms, stealing from it. Their labour is forever in the background. What is in the foreground is the readymade wealth they are continually grabbing. Wealth is seen not as something created by labour but as already always there to be accessed like the 20 million to be won for the answering of 10 odd questions, a clear repudiation of the true dynamics of labour and class. Moreover, by making the state and civil society evaporate, the film is interested in showing that real harmony is ultimately produced by a direct interaction between capital and labour, in a context where capital will always be benefiting labour and not the other way round. This is probably an acknowledgement of the fact that under the present phase of free market enterprise, the state has proven itself such a good accomplice of capital that it need not even be reckoned with. The police, initially evil, are eventually reconciled to the market’s impartial dynamics when the Inspector comes round to Jamal’s story and escorts him to the media room.

The upper class body language of its avowedly slum-dwelling protagonists is a serious lapse in realism, as is the characterization of Anil Kapoor treating the slumdweller in an exaggeratedly condescending fashion. The use of English could have been justified by a simple suggestion that the boys picked it up from the streets of Agra or even the call centre. But what irritates the most is the fact that while they make an attempt to imbue the film with a self-consciously heroic Muslim profile, they overwrite it with a totally Hindu concept of destiny. Ironically, even the credit song jai-ho seems to suggest an orchestrated mass- pilgrimage to Vaishno-devi rather than the triumph of the Muslim underdog.

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