July-August 2009

Table of Contents

1) Lalgarh’s Battle for Dignity and Justice

2) Verdict 2009 and the Left

3) Manmohan Government’s Second Term

4) Sri Lanka: the Nationalist Quagmire

5) Crackdown on Struggles of the Rural Poor in Punjab

6) Realities of Recession and Racism

7) People’s Health’ Seminar in Kolkata

8) Habib Tanveer


Struggles in India

Lalgarh’s Battle for Dignity and Justice

– ML Update, 23-29 June, 2009.

A concerted paramilitary campaign is now underway in Lalgarh and surrounding areas in the tribal-dominated western region of West Bengal bordering Jharkhand and Orissa, ostensibly to flush out Maoists and restore the authority of the state. The campaign though being carried out by the state government is being actively guided and sponsored by the Union Home Ministry. The Union Home Minister has warned that the operation may take longer than expected and has appealed to political leaders and civil society organizations not to visit Lalgarh while the operation is on. Mamata Banerjee has called for declaring the three districts of West Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia a disturbed area. The Union Home Ministry has meanwhile included the CPI (Maoist) in the list of unlawful associations under the recently amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Chidambaram’s appeal against civilian visits to Lalgarh, coming apparently after a group of Left Front MPs wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his personal intervention to this effect, clearly shows that the government wants to keep the operation beyond the purview of public scrutiny. This is as good as an indirect admission about the real nature and purpose of Operation Lalgarh – a brutal war on the adivasis who had been offering such a determined resistance to state repression. In the absence of independent investigations, the actual extent of casualties and injuries inflicted by the ongoing operation is not really known. But hundreds of people have already been forced to flee and there are disturbing reports that the paramilitary forces are forcing local adivasi youth under duress to locate mines and explosives – under threat that they will be arrested as ‘Maoists’ if they refuse.

Lalgarh had first shot into national prominence in November last year when the local adivasis in their thousands revolted against police atrocities following an unsuccessful Maoist mine attack targeting the Chief Minister’s cavalcade. The resistance has since continued unabated and during the recent elections the state had to negotiate with the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) which is spearheading the resistance, for setting up polling booths outside the resistance area. The state was obviously waiting for an opportune moment and pretext to go for a crackdown. The opportunity came when Lalgarh recently erupted again against provocations by local CPI (M) leaders and Maoists made tall claims regarding their leading role in the Lalgarh resistance and dared the state to intervene.

At the heart of it, Lalgarh is a typical adivasi revolt against repression and injustice. The entire history of our anti-colonial struggle is replete with many such instances and the Indian state today has no problem recognizing the leaders of those revolts as popular heroes. In the eyes of the oppressed and deprived tribal people the Indian state in all these years has not really changed much and retains many of the colonial era trappings of utter insensitivity and unbridled brutality. But when the inheritors of Birsa Munda, Sidho-Kanu and Tilka Manjhi revolt against this contemporary reality, our post-colonial democratic system knows no other way but to declare a virtual war on these seekers of justice. It should be noted that the allegations of police atrocities made by the PCAPA have been found to be true by a senior official of the West Bengal government (Backward Classes Welfare Secretary RD Meena) but instead of taking adequate corrective measures as demanded by the PCAPA the state government has only announced meagre compensation of only a few thousand rupees to the eleven women victims of police repression!

For the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its belligerent Home Minister who managed to win the recent election by administratively converting defeat into victory, Lalgarh is a test case to unleash a new pattern of governance in which paramilitary forces will become the custodian of constitutional niceties. There is also the larger political gameplan to trap the ruling Left of West Bengal in an increasingly repressive role while the Congress plays the benefactor and monopolises the mask of welfare measures!

For the people of West Bengal, Operation Lalgarh is a political eye-opener. During the recent elections, Mamata Banerjee claimed to champion the cause of the struggles in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh and the Trinamul Congress (TMC)-Congress combined reaped a bumper electoral harvest. Elections over, it is now time to thank the people and what could be a more suitable gift than Operation Lalgarh! Mamata Banerjee now says that the TMC expelled the PCAPA chief Chhatradhar Mahato two years ago when it came to know about his Maoist link! Chhatradhar says he was never expelled but quit the TMC when he found it incapable of meeting the tribals’ needs. He then recalls how following the killing of three PCAPA members in police firing in February, Mamata Banerjee had visited Jangalmahal, shed tears and said, ‘If these people are Maoists, then I too am a Maoist.’ “We never doubted her sincerity then”, says Chhatradhar. But he realizes that the circumstances have now changed: “after the elections, the same Mamata Banerjee got a Cabinet post, joined the government at the Centre, which in turn sent paramilitary forces to Lalgarh. Therefore, it is quite natural for Banerjee now to link me with the Maoists.”

It is also important to look at the doublespeak of the CPI (M) leadership. Prakash Karat says the Maoists need to be politically isolated from the people they are mobilizing even as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee demands more central forces and Sitaram Yechury asks the Prime Minister to demonstrate his seriousness in tackling what his government claims to be the biggest threat to internal security! On the one hand, the government spearheads a paramilitary operation, and the MPs seek personal intervention of the Prime Minister to prevent political leaders from visiting the operation area, and on the other hand the party talks of fighting a political battle against Maoists! If the CPI (M) thinks that all this can be justified by invoking the party-government distinction and that the Centre-state or Congress-CPI (M) cooperation in ‘restoring the authority of the state’ in Lalgarh could help check the TMC’s advance, it is only deceiving itself.

As for the Maoists, they have only once again demonstrated the incompatibility of their ideas and actions with the needs of any radical people’s movement. With their penchant for exclusive and sensational military actions and aversion to the mass political process, they ultimately only produce a dampening and disruptive effect on any powerful people’s movement while letting the Mamata Banerjees reap the political benefit of people’s struggles and sacrifices.

We join the democratic opinion of the country and the justice-loving people of Lalgarh to demand an immediate end to the paramilitary offensive, withdrawal of paramilitary forces and a negotiated resolution of the conflict through fulfillment of the just demands of the Lalgarh people and quick redressal of all their long-standing grievances. We also do not support the idea of banning the CPI(Maoist) as a terrorist organization. The Maoists are anyway an underground organization and the experience of states like Chhattisgarh and Orissa where they have been banned for years clearly shows that the ban has been ineffective from the point of view of checking Maoist military actions. The ban is actually a weapon to terrorise the common people and stifle the democratic voice of protest. The case of Dr. Binayak Sen is a clear instance and for every Binayak Sen case that comes to the limelight, there are always hundreds of lesser known activists and ordinary men and women whose human rights continue to be brutally trampled upon.

Victory to Lalgarh’s glorious battle for dignity and justice!

Indian Elections

Verdict 2009 and the Left: Key Issues and the Road Ahead

Liberation, July, 2009.

Five years ago, the 14th Lok Sabha had witnessed the largest ever presence of Left parliamentarians. Along with the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the arrival of the Left as a major player in national politics was a key message of the 2004 elections. Five years later, the 15th Lok Sabha now presents a drastically different picture. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] and the CPI, the two biggest constituents of the Left bloc in Parliament, have secured their lowest ever tallies, reducing the overall Left presence to a meagre 24.

On the face of it, this outcome appears quite baffling and out of sync with contemporary global reality. Global capitalism is passing through one of its roughest patches and in many parts of the world we can see a renewed assertion of the working people and a consequent tilt towards the Left. For quite some time India too has been in the grip of a protracted agrarian crisis aggravated by the onslaught of neoliberal policies, and now, thanks to increasing globalisation, more and more sectors of the Indian economy are feeling the heat of the global capitalist meltdown. Millions of toiling Indians are faced with the threat of outright pauperisation and ever shrinking means of livelihood.

On top of it, there has been this pronounced pro-US policy shift pushing India into a strategic alliance with the US and consequently rendering India much more vulnerable to both terror threats as well as greater American intervention in domestic affairs.

Such a context should have proved conducive to further growth of the Left, especially when the CPI (M) and its partners had already acquired a firm foothold in the 14th Lok Sabha. But the results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections tell a totally different story. Where and how did the CPI (M) lose the plot? There is a growing debate in Left circles on this question, and as the crisis of the CPI (M) deepens, the debate should also get deeper and sharper.

How does the CPI (M) look at its electoral debacle? The communiqué issued after the CPI (M) central committee (CC) meeting in Delhi on June 20-21 describes the outcome as “serious reverses” amounting to an “electoral setback”. It acknowledged “political, governmental and organisational reasons for the setbacks suffered” in West Bengal including “shortcomings in the functioning of government, panchayats and municipalities based on a proper class outlook”, “failure of the government to implement properly various measures directly concerning the lives of the people” and “alienation amongst some sections of the peasantry”. According to the communiqué, the CPI (M) CC also felt it was a mistake to extend the call for building a third alternative to the formation of an alternative government. The CC admitted that “In the absence of a countrywide alliance and no common policy platform being presented, the call for an alternative government was unrealistic.”

This CC review of course comes in the wake of a whole range of public statements already made by several CPI (M) leaders pointing accusing fingers in different directions. Kerala Chief Minister and veteran politburo (PB) member VS Achuthanandan has ruled out any ‘anti-incumbency’ factor against his government, thus indicating that the problems lie at the doorsteps of the party. Several West Bengal leaders hold the “third front” experiment responsible while some have started blaming the decision to withdraw support to the Congress. Two days before the last leg of the Lok Sabha (LS) election, a Bengali TV channel broadcast an exclusive interview with veteran West Bengal minister Subhas Chakraborty where he openly questioned the party’s choice of third front allies and described the Congress as an indispensable partner not only for the defence of secularism but also in any fight against imperialism! Only a handful of West Bengal leaders, most notably Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, have dared mention the Left Front government’s forcible land acquisition drive as the main factor.

Addressing the press after the CC meeting Prakash Karat talked of “near unanimity” in the CC over the party’s act of withdrawal of support to UPA government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, thereby indirectly acknowledging differences within the CC over the subject. The review which expresses the majority opinion does mention some of the key problems associated with the party and governments in West Bengal and Kerala as well as with the implementation of the party’s all-India tactical line. But these problems and mistakes are symptomatic of a deeper malady rooted in the party’s understanding and practice of dealing with governments whether in the state or at the Centre. The obsession with somehow retaining or acquiring power has been pushing the party deeper into the quagmire of right opportunism and in the same proportion the party has been moving away from the basic masses and their interests and struggles. The erosion in the CPI (M)’s votes is only a belated electoral reflection of this growing disjunction between the party and the people, between governance and struggle. The CC review of course scrupulously shies away from any inquiry into the root causes.

As far as West Bengal is concerned, the results indicate nothing short of a massive anti-CPI (M) electoral explosion and this can no longer be attributed to any one single factor. Singur and Nandigram have definitely been big issues but we need to understand why Singur and Nadigram happened in the first place. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion of governance and industrialisation that believes that a modest Tata plant could be showcased as a Left-ruled state’s biggest achievement in ‘industrialisation’, and then pulls out all stops to appease the ‘investor’ and crush every protest of the land-losing peasants and livelihood-losing sharecroppers and labourers. After Singur, many had expected the CPI (M) to learn its lessons, but Nandigram showed that the Left rulers had lost the very will or ability to learn any positive lesson. One really had to see the CPI (M)’s election campaign in West Bengal to have a sense of its world of political make-believe. While Mamata Banerjee’s campaign endlessly invoked the now famous trinity of “Ma-Mati-Manush”, giving a highly emotive human form to the agenda of land, livelihood and liberty, the CPI (M) campaign revolved primarily around Nano, the promised lakhtakia (Rs. one lakh) Tata car! The CPI (M) believed it could win the elections by holding Mamata Banerjee responsible for the Tata’s decision to relocate the Nano plant in Gujarat and projecting her as a demon who killed Bengal’s dream of industrialisation and employment generation!

The spectacular past electoral successes of the CPI (M) in West Bengal were rooted primarily in a broad class alliance that carried the rural poor along with the middle classes, erstwhile landed gentry and the neo-rich sections. Having consolidated the rural poor base through a combination of much touted rural reforms (Operation Barga, land redistribution and panchayati raj, to name the three most well-known measures), the CPI (M) thought it could switch over to the usual trajectory of the ‘trickle-down pattern of development’. The class contradictions and popular grievances that are handled in other states largely within the matrix of competitive bourgeois politics were sought to be contained with measured doses of coercion and patronage as the party retained its overall grip over the broad social coalition. But with the rise and consolidation of a narrow nexus of corrupt officials, leaders and middlemen and steady reversal of much of the earlier gains won by the rural poor, the coalition had already started cracking and Singur and Nandigram widened the cracks and opened the floodgates for popular resentment and resistance.

The CPI (M) has suffered an equally severe setback in Kerala too. Unlike in West Bengal, the CPI (M)’s domination in Kerala has never been unchallenged and the party here has always had to operate within a highly competitive environment. Yet the intensity of the rout suffered by the CPI (M) in the 2009 elections indicates a deeper structural erosion in the party’s support beyond the alternating cyclical swings one expects in Kerala. The CPI (M) in Kerala remains mired in factionalism, the spirit of commerce dominates the official culture of the party and now we have this shocking case of major corruption allegations and CBI enquiry against the party’s state secretary. Alienation of landless dalit labourers has also assumed serious proportions in Kerala.

The poll debacle of the CPI (M) must also be analysed in the context of the party’s all-India tactical line. With a sixty-plus-strong contingent of parliamentarians at its command, in 2004 the CPI (M) had come to acquire a greatly increased visibility and say in national politics. Even after cobbling a post-poll alliance, in 2004 the Congress had to rely on the CPI (M)’s support to form government. While not joining the UPA government, the CPI (M) utilised this juncture to enter into a programmatic alliance with the Congress, limiting dissent against Congress policies to talks within the framework of UPA-Left coordination committee. Even on the one issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, the opposition came too late and encumbered in lot of technicalities and devoid of any attempt to build any significant mass resistance.

The CPI (M) now claims credit for ‘pressurising’ the Congress to legislate National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and waive farm loans. These claims would have sounded somewhat convincing had the CPI (M) ever unleashed any major mass political initiative on the issues of rural unemployment or farmers’ suicides, or for that matter, if West Bengal could top the list of states in terms of implementation of NREGA. Ironically, while the Congress derived considerable political mileage from measures like NREGA and farm loan waiver, the CPI (M) exposed itself as the most brutal defender of corporate landgrab. Indeed, the failure of the Left to oppose the SEZ Act 2005 in Parliament and the wholesale adoption and implementation of neoliberal economic policies by the West Bengal government seriously dented the CPI (M)’s oppositional claims on the economic policy front.

After the eventual withdrawal of support, instead of going to the masses the CPI (M) leadership got busy with desperate attempts to seek dubious allies. On the eve of the elections, the CPI (M) formed a programme-free “third front” with motley regional forces ranging from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and projected it as the core of the next government. The CPI (M) now admits that the “third front” did not fit the bill of a credible and viable national alternative, yet Prakash Karat would like us to believe that it served two important purposes.

His first claim is that the third front denied the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) the luxury of finding any ally in the southern states and thus prevented the NDA from emerging as a national alternative. Well, if the AIADMK or TDP did not choose to ally with the BJP, it was because they did not expect to gain anything by entering into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP which has little presence in the southern states except Karnataka. Likewise, the BJD’s decision to dump the BJP just on the eve of the elections was also prompted by the BJD’s own electoral calculations and had nothing to do with the CPI(M)’s “third front” initiative. In the event of a hung parliament if the BJP-led NDA had any realistic chance of forming government, these parties would have had no problem in jumping on to the NDA bandwagon. Did not we all see how the TRS switched sides in anticipation of an NDA victory?

Karat’s second argument deals with the combined vote share of the “third front” parties and the BSP, a respectable 21 per cent. According to him, “this shows the potential for building up a third alternative … which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.” If the combined vote share of the BJD and the BSP, and the AIADMK and the TDP shows the potential for a movement-based third front committed to “alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP”, what prevented the CPI (M) from actualising that alliance? Karat’s answer is simple and smart: since electoral combinations were forged statewise, it “precluded any national policy platform from being projected.” But if all these parties are committed to alternative policies why could not they agree to a common policy platform? And if it was indeed so difficult on the national level what stopped the alternative policies from being projected in the respective states?

While Karat valorises the whole range of non-Congress non-BJP parties as prospective anti-corporate anti-imperialist partners, many of his comrades would love to return to the safety of a strategic understanding with the good old Congress. Both Karat and his detractors who find him ‘dogmatic’ and ‘adventurist’ actually reduce the question of revival and independence of the Left to the choice of allies and forging of convenient electoral combinations. Instead of sticking to a set pattern of alliance, Karat would prefer to swap allies and we have already seen this line in action in Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Orissa and Assam. Dumping the DMK the CPI(M) has now chosen the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu; in Andhra electoral understanding with the Congress has given way to mahakutumi (grand alliance) with TDP and even TRS (the TDP has all along been opposed to the idea of a separate Telangana and so has been the CPI (M), yet they had no problem in forging a grand alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) whose sole agenda is the formation of a separate Telangana state); in Orissa the CPI (M) has tied up with the ruling BJD and in Assam it wanted to have a seat sharing pact with the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF).

On paper, the combinations looked pretty formidable, but on the ground the results have been quite dismal. The alliance arithmetic has yielded only two seats to the CPI (M) – one LS seat in Tamil Nadu and one Assembly seat in Andhra. In Orissa and Assam, the CPI (M) has not only failed to win any seat but it has also suffered a major erosion in terms of votes. The loss must not of course be assessed only in terms of seats and votes, the credibility of the party and the morale of the party’s support base are far more important parameters. What did the CPI (M) expect to gain by glorifying and allying with Naveen Patnaik in Orissa? While Kandhamal happened, Naveen Patnaik’s government did nothing to stop the anti-Christian violence. On the eve of the elections, Naveen Patnaik dumped the BJP and the CPI and the CPI (M) rushed to glorify him as a new-found secular hero, enabling him to reduce the Orissa elections to a contrived showdown between the two estranged partners – the BJD and the BJP. The issues of displacement and deprivation of the tribal and other toiling masses were conveniently brushed aside. Will the CPI (M) ever be able to stand up in Orissa by glorifying Naveen Patnaik? (The story of the CPI’s victory from the Jagatsinghpur LS constituency that includes the site of the ongoing popular struggle against the land acquisition plans of the South Korean steel major Posco is no less shocking – while the local CPI leaders spearheading the anti-Posco movement languish in jail, a Congress leader opposed to the movement joined the CPI and won on the party’s ticket with the blessings of Posco and Naveen Patnaik!)

Basing on its stable bases in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI (M) has over the years evolved a political line and praxis in which the oppositional role of the party is thoroughly subordinated to the agenda of power-sharing at the central level. The party programme too has been suitably ‘updated’ to provide for this scheme of things. In 1977 when the CPI (M) first came to power, it projected the Left Front government as a weapon of struggle. But now in the party’s perception state governments have been delinked from any idea of struggle and are seen exclusively as instruments of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ and, in the national context, as stepping stones towards power-sharing at the Centre. The CPI (M) now fights elections only with the slogan of government formation no matter whether the party is in a position to form one or not. The concept of a committed and vigorous Left opposition has virtually become alien to the CPI (M)’s entire tactical framework and political praxis.

While the CPI (M) has theoretically and practically ‘upgraded’ itself as a party of power, ironically the 2009 elections have pushed it closer to the oppositional slot. Nationally it has no other choice but to sit in the opposition and if the present trend continues, the CPI(M) will soon also have to reinvent itself as an opposition party in West Bengal too.

The other big question that confronts the CPI (M) is the issue of its attitude to people’s struggle and the democratic intelligentsia. While the CPI (M) has developed considerable expertise and experience in forging fronts with disparate forces and brokering peace among sparring bourgeois parties, it exhibits a near-pathological inability to deal with popular movements and people’s outbursts. To take a few examples, we can recall the CPI (M)’s response to the Naxalbari movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in West Bengal, the 1974 youth movement in Bihar, the Assam movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s which resurfaced again in the recent past and most recently the Singur-Nandigram movement in West Bengal. It has been a habit of the CPI (M) to dismiss every such popular movement as a conspiracy and side with the state in crushing these movements. And now in Lalgarh, the Congress has once again trapped the CPI (M) into discharging its repressive ‘responsibility’.

In the 1970s the Congress had usurped powers in West Bengal through highly dubious means and gone on to unleash systematic state terror on all sections of the Left. Even though the CPI (M) could not put up any significant resistance to the Congress-led reign of terror, and the CPI (ML) had already suffered a massive setback, the overwhelming public mood in West Bengal remained very much against the Congress. The semi-fascist terror in West Bengal soon gave way to a countrywide reign of Emergency that was overthrown by the people through the historic mandate of 1977. The CPI (M)’s ascent to power in West Bengal was an integral part of that larger democratic upsurge. But today, West Bengal is witnessing a reverse phenomenon when the CPI (M) is being rejected not only by large sections of the democratic opinion but also a significant section of its own base.

Prakash Karat is right when he says that the CPI(M) has in the past overcome many difficult periods, but the present juncture poses a different kind of challenge when the party is fast losing ground in what used to be its most stable and powerful stronghold. Karat is again right when he says that “anti-Communist quarters who have been rejoicing at the setbacks suffered by the Left … will be proved wrong.” But the point is not just to counter anti-Communist canards and wild dreams, but more importantly to address the questions that have emerged from within the CPI (M)’s own base and the larger Left and democratic circles that once provided such tremendous support to the party.

It is quite clear that the ruling classes see the poll outcome as a handle to malign and marginalise the Left. As mentioned in the CPI (ML) CC communiqué of 27 May, “Armed with a security doctrine that identifies Maoism/Naxalism/Left extremism as the biggest threat to internal security and an electoral outcome which has handed out the worst ever electoral drubbing to the parliamentary left, the ruling classes are now all set to launch a comprehensive assault on the Left as a whole.” The Left can thwart this design only by mounting a powerful counter-offensive. Reclaiming the Left role as a consistently secular, democratic and anti-imperialist opposition and reasserting the Left identity as the most committed and trusted champion of people’s interests and struggles is the need of the hour.

Indian Elections

Manmohan Government’s Second Term: Early Signals and New Rhetoric

– Dipankar Bhattacharya.

President Pratibha Patil’s address to the joint session of the two houses of Parliament has outlined the priorities and direction of the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While the government has listed ten points as priority areas, the basic thrust is essentially three-pronged: an unfettered pursuit of the agenda of privatisation, commercialisation and globalisation; intensification and legitimisation of repressive measures in the name of national security; and strengthening of Indo-US partnership as the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy.

The President’s speech underlined the UPA government’s commitment to attracting “large foreign investment flows … through an appropriate policy regime,” ensuring systematic removal of “bottlenecks and delays in implementation of infrastructure projects” taking public-private partnership as the key, and granting “fellow citizens … every right to own part of the shares of public sector companies.” It is not difficult to figure out the “fellow citizens” the government has in mind! Combating monopolisation and concentration of wealth in private hands was one major declared objective of public sector units; today the UPA government is advocating wholesale disinvestment of PSUs precisely to promote corporate consolidation.

The ‘bottlenecks and delays in implementation of infrastructure projects’ mentioned in the President’s address can hardly be a reference to bureaucratic or procedural issues – because on the level of policies and procedures, the framework has already been sufficiently liberalised. The bottlenecks must refer primarily to either popular opposition to land acquisition plans or environmental objections raised by the people and concerned experts. Clearly, the Congress now believes that it has got the strength to bulldoze all such objections and impose all these mega projects in the name of infrastructural development.

It is instructive to note in this context the poll results from West Bengal and Maharashtra. The electoral upheaval against the ruling Left Front in West Bengal can only been described as a popular backlash against the government’s arrogant move to treat popular objections as ‘bottlenecks’ and remove them by force. In Maharashtra too, the Congress lost the Raigad seat, the site of the Reliance’s proposed massive Mahamumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) – the Congress lost its seat in the Lok Sabha polls. In fact, the Congress-led State Government had held a referendum on the issue of land acquisition for SEZ in some villages of Raigad in 2008. But, flouting the promise of declaring the outcome within a week, the Government never declared the result even as reportedly 92% local people voted against the proposed SEZ.

By refusing to allow any further extension to the deadline for land acquisition for this SEZ, the Supreme Court has now set the stage for possible scrapping of the Mahamumbai SEZ project. While the government talks of bulldozing all objections, democratic forces must exert pressure on the government to scrap the SEZ Act and put a complete halt to corporate landgrab.

In most parts of the country, a massive fraud is being perpetrated on the rural poor in the name of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the jobless in rural areas have massive complaints regarding the extremely tardy implementation of this so-called employment ‘guarantee’ Act. This has however not stopped the President from lauding the NREGA as the world’s largest ongoing rural reconstruction programme. The government has also gone on to promise a slum-free India within the next five years by introducing a Rajiv Awas Yojana on the lines of the corruption-ridden Indira Awas Yojana. Going by past experience the Congress can only try to achieve a slum-free India by organising massive evictions of slum-dwellers. While the Congress beats its drum, the people’s movement will have to boldly confront the government on issues of jobs, housing, health and education for all.

The question of national security and a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism figure on top of the ten priority areas underlined in the President’s address. The phrase ‘zero-tolerance approach’ is borrowed from the American lexicon of “war on terror”, and it essentially seeks legitimacy for all sorts of infringement and assault on democracy and human rights, whether directly by the state or through some Salwa Judum kind of public-private partnership. Draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Chhattisgarh’s Public Security Act, or the recent amendments to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and affronts to peace and democracy like the Salwa Judum have all been justified by the UPA Government in the name of countering terrorism and Maoism.

Such draconian laws have not only been opposed tooth and nail by the democratic opinion in the country, the judiciary too has occasionally questioned the validity of such moves. The Supreme Court which had earlier made adverse remarks regarding Salwa Judum, recently granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, indicating in the tone of its brief order that the last two years of his incarceration in jail was a serious travesty of justice. This order is a reprimand, not just for the BJP Government of Chhattisgarh but also for the UPA Government which also actively backed the Salwa Judum and the jailing of Dr. Sen under Chhattisgarh’s draconian anti-terror law. In the name of countering terrorism, the Congress cannot be allowed to ride roughshod on basic democratic rights and norms.

The Indian diaspora and India’s “restless” young population find prominent mention towards the end of the President’s speech. The speech talks of the strength and power of the Indian diaspora, but remains blissfully oblivious of the growing uncertainty and racist assaults that Indian students, workers and professionals abroad are experiencing in today’s recession-marred milieu. There is a glowing mention of how our “young people are tearing down the narrow domestic walls of religion, region, language, caste, and gender that confine them,” but not a word about the new walls that are daily being erected, whether by a paranoid US desperate not to lose jobs to India and Indians, or a sectarian Raj Thackeray and his men who would like to drive away North Indian students and workers from President Patil’s own home state of Maharashtra.

Promises for the poor and performance for the rich; rhetorical commitment to secularism and political concessions to communalism; lip-service to empowerment and democracy, and doles, batons and bullets in practice – such has been the characteristic track record of the Congress. For all the new phrases and ambitious pronouncements, it is not difficult to discern the familiar trappings in the initial steps and declarations of the new Congress-led regime.

South Asia

Sri Lanka: the Nationalist Quagmire

– S Sivasegaram.

The Sri Lankan government is hotly challenging all charges of bombing and shelling of residences, public buildings and hospitals in its ‘Safety Zone’ by its armed forces and the casualty figures reported by foreign media and human rights groups. The number killed has been estimated at 20,000 by the Times (London), with most of them in the last few weeks of the fighting. The UN Secretary General, who made no effort to prevent the imminent war crimes and vigorously denied charges that the UN deliberately underestimated the deaths, is now all excited about investigating war crimes. But he is only a dutiful UN Secretary General who carries out the instructions of the real masters of the UN.

It is doubtful that the US and the West could have averted the human tragedy in Sri Lanka, but the fact is that they did not try. The rivalry between the US and India over hegemony in South Asia is now in the open. India, having failed to win Sri Lanka’s unflinching loyalty by backing the war in devious ways, is more disappointed with the fruits of its shameful duplicity than embarrassed by its exposure.

The US, frustrated by the failure of its bid to manage both war and peace in Sri Lanka and about Sri Lanka wriggling its way out of the human rights trap that it set in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Commission, is seeking other ways to discipline wayward Sri Lanka. It may wield its ‘human rights’ and ‘war crimes’ weapons to intimidate Sri Lanka and block or delay the massive loan to the tune of two billion dollars that the country is seeking from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or alternatively the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to face the immediate financial crisis brought about by the heavy military spending among other things. The IMF or ADB loan will probably be granted eventually, but at a heavy price for the ordinary people and the rebuilding of a national economy. Other countries could come to the rescue in the immediate short term. But, without a credible programme for restoring law and order and the economy, the country is bound to slide into deeper crisis. Thus, it will be the people who will eventually be punished for the follies of successive governments.

The success of the armed forces has placed President Rajapaksa in an extremely strong position in a country where the majority is still intoxicated with the success of the military. The government has already outmanoeuvred rival political parties by inducing splits in every one of them. The opposition parties, thrown into disarray by the popularity of the war and haggling over strategy for electoral recovery, are not prepared to confront the chauvinism that reduced the country to its present plight. Thus the possibility of any major political party or alliance coming forward with a just and lasting solution to the national question is remote.

The government is also seeking to wipe out politics explicitly based on Tamil national identity; and there is pressure on its Tamil political allies to contest the forthcoming elections to local authorities in the North under the symbol of the ruling alliance. Amid the strong presence of the armed forces and the lack of a viable political alternative there since the fall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil allies of the government may yield. Meantime, attempts are afoot to cobble up under Indian patronage an electoral alliance of Tamil nationalist parties that have distanced themselves from the government. This opportunist alliance cannot provide the kind of principled leadership that is badly needed by the Tamils. Thus, against a background of politics of patronage and intimidation that has matured over the decades, a political vacuum is imminent among the Tamils.

The government is unlikely to devolve power meaningfully through autonomous structures in defiance of Sinhala chauvinism, which has grown stronger in the past few years. Tamil nationalists have nothing to offer to the people and will out of sheer desperation lean heavily on foreign forces, mainly the US and India, the Tamil Diaspora and opportunist Tamil nationalist political parties in Tamilnadu. Among the Tamil Diaspora as well as the people in Tamilnadu who are sensitive to the suffering of Sri Lankan Tamils, the immediate prospects are that the secessionist agenda will gain a greater following than before, at least in the immediate future, as a result of the anger caused by the events of the past several months.

While sympathy for the LTTE remains strong abroad, its failure to protect the lives of the people under its control by letting them go, at least when it was abundantly clear that the prospects of a military recovery was bleak, and the use of force to prevent people from leaving have led to resentment among the relatives of the victims and thousands of survivors who suffered unnecessary hardship as well as the many who were disabled. This resentment will in due course have its impact on the Diaspora.

‘Leaders’ and spokespersons of the LTTE still cannot agree the fate of Pirapakaran, the leader of the LTTE, while a diminishing but still significant number including the leaders of the MDMK, PMK and a few others in Tamilnadu are actively propagating the myth of survival and the impending return of Pirapakaran. In any event, Pirapakaran will remain a cult figure to be unscrupulously exploited by politically bankrupt pro-LTTE factions who will invariably align themselves with various foreign powers. Meantime, many ardent critics of the LTTE have shown themselves to be insensitive to the feelings of the people by using the situation to taunt LTTE supporters to settle old scores, while showing little concern for the plight of the victims, including the hundreds of thousands living in misery behind barbed wire fences. Sadly, the acrimony of vociferous supporters and opponents of the LTTE outdoes any serious concern for the plight of the people.

The task facing those genuinely seeking the resolution of the national question is daunting. The government in its present frame of mind is not interested in a fair solution to the national question. Chauvinist harassment, continued military presence and threatened Sinhala colonisation in the North-East will add to the pain and suffering of the hundreds of thousand displaced, who may not all be resettled in their villages, will harden attitudes among the supporters of the Tamil nationalist cause. This could make the island even more vulnerable to foreign meddling either in the name of the rights of the minorities or in the name of defending the sovereignty of the country.

There are nevertheless other developments that could lead to the evolution of an anti-imperialist and democratic mass movement. Politically active sections of the Tamil Diaspora are bound to critically review the past, not only of the LTTE but the Tamil nationalist movement as a whole. Questions are already being raised and debates initiated among the less affluent but politically alert groups. Mobilisation of such democratic forces is essential to the restoration of faith in the struggle for justice in Sri Lanka and to prevent the reactionary elite from hijacking the just cause of the Tamil people to serve hegemonic interests.

The end of the war is not the end of violation of democratic, human and fundamental rights. The economic crisis and the short-sighted solutions sought by the government will lead to popular dissatisfaction, and chauvinism will be inadequate to deflect attention from problems of living and livelihood. The armed forces that were beefed up to counter ‘terrorism’ can once again turn on Sinhala voices of protest. The left movement in Sri Lanka needs to critically review its past. The parliamentary left leadership is a spent force of deserters and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has shed its last pretences of left ideology. It is for the genuine left and democratic forces, including those who have been long deluded by the ‘old left’ to take the initiative in restoring to the country its unity, independence and prosperity by addressing the questions of democratic and human rights and the rights of the nationalities and national minorities.

Struggles In India

Crackdown on Struggles of the Rural Poor in Punjab

– Liberation, July, 2009.

Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, the Akali-BJP Government of Punjab has unleashed an all-out offensive on the rural poor in Punjab, and on the Communist Party of India- Marxist Leninist [CPI(ML)], which was leading their struggles. Since 21 May, over 1300 agricultural labourers and labour leaders, of Mansa, Moga, Sangrur and Bathinda districts, including 511 women and 42 children, were confined in Punjab’s jails. As we go to press, virtually all activists and leaders of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and the CPI (ML) in the state – nearly 40 – remain in jail. In spite of the fact that many of them got bail, the government contrived to keep them in jail by naming them in ‘open First Information Reports (FIRs)’ which they had earlier filed against unnamed persons. Jasbir Kaur Nat, a National Council Member of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), was among those jailed.

The arrests have happened in the course of a struggle for homestead plots and NREGA job cards which the SAD-BJP State Government had promised but failed to deliver. The Shiromani Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Parishad (SAD-BJP) Government launched this offensive immediately following the Lok Sabha elections, where the results reflected the disenchantment of the rural poor with the government.

A state of undeclared and selective ‘emergency’ continues to be imposed on the CPI (ML) and its mass organisations. Even the most peaceful protests and ordinary political activities are facing a crackdown.

In Punjab, where agriculture is highly mechanised, rural poor often get very few days of employment a month. As a result, the rural poor had pinned their hopes for survival on the extension of NREGA to all rural districts in the country. Consequently, the failure of the administration to provide NREGA job cards to many who had applied became a major issue.

The Akali-BJP Government had moreover reneged on its promise to provide homestead plots (5 marla plots for every rural poor family was initially promised, but Akali leaders had also declared to give 10 marla plots). It was in protest against this denial of basic rights of livelihood and housing, that agricultural labourers of Mansa district, led by the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI (ML), occupied a portion of panchayat/commons land allotted to be leased to workers. Under the Land Consolidation and Fragmentation Act 1961, one-third of panchayat land is meant for agricultural workers on lease for cultivation – and it was this land that the agricultural workers used to build their hutments, until such a time that the Government would keep its promise to allot house plots.

This movement for land and work began prior to the elections and continued even during the elections. Akali leaders, during elections, came campaigning with promises that post-poll, the land occupied by the labourers would be allotted to them. The Akali-BJP Government waited till the elections were over, to begin an all-out crackdown. The agricultural workers had begun a peaceful dharna (sit down protest) on 17 May and held a massive Rally on 19 May, which put enough pressure on local officials to effect an agreement to ensure job cards within one month and house plots to all within three months. The very next day, local upper caste land owners began a road-roko (block) protest demanding eviction of the poor from the panchayat land, and, one cue, on 21 May, labour leaders, including even the General Secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, were all arrested. On 22 May, police indulged in indiscriminate lathicharge, and over 1000 workers including a very large number of women and children were arrested and jailed – from the dharna site, from their homes, and from the office of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI (ML).

The ostensible excuse for the arrests was the need to vacate the so-called “illegal occupation” of the panchayat land – but the arrests have continued even after the forcible eviction of the poor from that land, and the demolition of their makeshift homes.

In Punjab, when rich farmers habitually occupy common land, land allotted for waste disposal, etc. the government never lifts a finger against them. It is a shame that the same government, having blatantly broken its promises of housing and livelihood, has unleashed severe repression when poor rural workers are demanding fulfillment of the government’s own promise.

The struggle took place in 26 villages of Mansa district and 9 villages of Bhatinda and Sangrur districts of Punjab. The bulk of the agricultural workers are Dalits. Also of note, a protracted struggle has also been on in many of the villages against social boycott and other kinds of humiliation and intimidation of Dalit poor labourers by the upper caste landlords in connivance with the administration.

Diaspora

Rosy Hype of Globalisation vs. Realities of Recession and Racism

– Tapas Ranjan Saha.

The continuing spate of attacks and violence against Indians and Indian students in particular in Australia has once again exploded the much touted myth that globalisation promotes and respects pluralism and multiculturalism.

The Australian government initially tried to cover up and even deny the racist dimensions of the attack, terming them as just routine robberies and muggings. If that were so, why do Indians constitute a disproportionate share of the victims – 30% in Melbourne? One of the important demands of the protesting Indian students is to make the records of the assaults public – which would bring out the actual extent and dimension of these racist crimes. It is revealing that while the Australian police swooped down on the Indian students to thwart their protests against racist violence, the same police hardly displayed any urgency or sensitivity to stop the spate of crimes and violence.

The Australian authorities deny racism – but their own pronouncements and assumptions are racist. Take for example the “advice” of one Inspector Scott Mahony of the Melbourne police force, who asked Indians “not to talk loudly in their native language in public or travel around with expensive items such as mp3 players on display.” Is it not racist to blame the victims for the “display” of their “native language” and their electronic equipment?! Even more shocking is the fact that such racist “advice” has been echoed by the Indian authorities too! The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in guidelines issued by it in the wake of the attack, advised Indian students in Australia not to venture out alone at night, to avoid flaunting gizmos and, curiously, to keep their homes clean. The implication – that Indians provoke attacks by being unclean, and that the attacks would stop of Indians would only keep their heads down and avoid flaunting their identity or presence – could not be more offensive.

Attacks on Indians, though not a new phenomenon in Australia, have been especially violent during the last few weeks. There have been at least 60 to 70 incidents of serious nature. According to police records at least three cases of crime against Indian students are registered on a daily basis. Partly, of course, Indian students are being targeted for shining academically and because they are perceived as getting better jobs than local Australian unemployed youth. But that is not all the story.

Remember that not long ago, taxi drivers of Indian and Pakistani origin had protested against the Australian police’s indifference to a series of attacks on them. That story had not been highlighted much by the corporate Indian media because it made less interesting copy for elite India than the attacks on “people like us.”

The truth is that racism is deeply entrenched in Australia’s state policy: the worst of its racism is directed at its Aborigine population, from whom the country itself was stolen by colonial Europeans. Today, a disproportionate percentage of Aborigines are jailed, or killed in ‘encounters’ on the streets, and there is no Aborigine representation in Australian parliament. Australian Ministers have time and again got away with racist remarks against immigrants – the “boat people” who come seeking refuge to Australia. Australian policy treats such immigrant refugees as criminals – penning them into jail-like detention centres for months. And of course, that is not to mention the rampant and rising racism against Muslims in Australia, in the wake of the “war on terror.” The episode of Dr. Hanif was only the tip of the iceberg – the Australian Government’s racism today is reinforced by its role in the occupation of Iraq, and its partnership with the US in sponsoring Islamophobia. The attacks on Indian students are no aberration – they are part and parcel of the deep-seated racism in Australian society and politics finding renewed expression in the wake of the globalisation, war and recession.

Commentators have dubbed the recent developments as the “present day Pauline Hanson phenomenon.” Pauline Hanson was the conservative politician who got elected to the Australian Parliament in 1996, who spoke openly of the “swamping” of Australia by people from Asia and the consequent unemployment of “Aussie battlers”.

Racism is a simmering phenomenon not just in Australia, but also in other countries like the US and the UK which are championing globalisation. For them, globalization means the free mobility of capital to usurp the land and livelihood of people of developing countries; it has never meant the free movement of labour to their countries. It is important to note that within the framework of globalisation, immigration laws act not to prevent migration but to control it to meet the needs of capital. This is achieved particularly by creating the phenomenon of ‘undocumented’, and ‘illegal’ workers who can be denied all rights – and it is these workers who are doing the crucial but undervalued, lowest paid jobs; jobs like care work of various kinds which cannot be outsourced. Predictably, in the wake of the current economic recession spawned by their disastrous policies, we are seeing a renewed offensive of racism against migrant workers from the third world in these countries – from attacks on Sikh cab drivers and retrenchment of Asian teachers in the US, to Gordon Brown’s call for “British jobs for British people”, the drum of racism is clearly being beaten by the ruling class to divert and mislead the anxiety of the working class in the face of recession.

Some quarters in Australia have raised the demand for a multi-racial police force. It must be emphasized that such measures cannot change the institutionalized racism of the police in the West (emanating from the political economy) – against which there has been a long history of struggles. 2009 marks 30 years the Southall Uprisings in Britain where Asian (mainly Indian Punjabi) working class youth took to the streets to protest against violence by the neo-Nazi National Front, and specifically to stop the National Front marching through Southall. The police brutally attacked the protestors, killing Blair Peach, a teacher and left activist from New Zealand.

While the Indian media has extensively covered the racist assaults on Indian students, it has failed even to mention racial harassment of Pakistani students in Britain in the name of “anti-terror” actions (see accompanying story). The British police has, shockingly, evolved a phrase – ‘clean skin,’ to connote those who have “blameless backgrounds” and show no sign of terrorist involvement, but who are nevertheless “highly trained professional killers.” This definition allows the police to brand any and every Muslim as a “terrorist” without having to furnish any evidence. When we speak of racism against those of ‘brown skin,’ we cannot ignore the linkages with the racism levelled against ‘clean skin’ – innocent Muslims targeted not by racist individuals or groups but by the might of the state.

As we protest against the attacks on Indians in Australia, we must also, however, remind ourselves of India’s own homespun variant of ‘anti-migrant’ chauvinism – such as the violence unleashed by MNS and Shiv Sena against North Indian migrants in Mumbai, or the ethnic targeting of students from the North East India in India’s capital city of Delhi.

It is high time that the people of the third world and the working class all over the world speak out against the present spate of racist assaults and the politics of hate and chauvinism in which the promoters of recession-hit globalisation are seeking a convenient refuge.

Struggles in India

People’s Health’ Seminar in Kolkata

– Liberation, July, 2009.

Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen recently visited Kolkata responding to an initiative taken by People’s Health. They addressed the Calcutta press at Calcutta Press Club on 29th May. Dr. Binayak Sen’s two year long unlawful detention in a Chattisgarh jail ended on 25th May. “I want to resume my unfinished work as early as possible,” he said. “I could finally come out of jail but many colleagues and comrades of mine are still in Chattisgarh jails on fictitious charges – we have a long fight due for their unconditional release.”

Dr. Debasish Dutta, President, People’s Health, initiated the press conference by introducing Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen as pioneering figures in the people’s health movement who have been working for the last three decades in different corners of India where the Indian State has been absent completely in providing even the basic medical care. Dr. Sen was arrested on 14 May 2007 by Chattisgarh government on the charges of sedition, accused of being a Maoist conspirator.

People’s Health organised a seminar on 30 May on ‘Whither People’s Health’ and dedicated the seminar to the efforts of Dr. Binayak Sen. Speakers from different parts of India spoke at the seminar. Dr. Kaustav Roy presented an audio-visual documentation to expose the underdevelopment in primary health care services. He shows that some diseases which we assumed nearly extinct from the world are coming back, often in the form of epidemic. The last UPA government, Dr. Roy says, closed down three public sector factories which were there to produce a few crucial vaccines. The govt offered the tender to private companies and they supply low quality medicine at unusually high prices.

Swati Bhattacharya, researcher and journalist, focused on the poor scenario of primary health care services for women in West Bengal. According to the statistics, 57% of the pregnant women in WB are deprived of primary health care during child-birth. Dr. Sudip Chakrabarty of Medical Service Centre, Mr. Ramkishen of All India Central Health Care Services and Com. Suresh from Jharkhand addressed the audience.

Dr. Ilina Sen remarked that issue of people’s health must be seen from the point of view of equality and social justice. In India, Dr. Sen explains, primary health care progammes are more bureaucratic than participatory. She said that the demand for the primary health care must be framed in the perspective of the people’s rights movement. Dr. Binayak Sen said that anyone having body-mass index less than 18.5 is said to be suffering from malnutrition. And when most of the members of a population have body-mass ratio less than 18.5, the population is said to be affected by famine. He says that most of the tribal villages in Chattisgarh by this parameter are affected by famine.

Dr. Sen also spoke on the human rights conditions in Chattisgarh and said that as Chattisgarh is full of valuable minerals lying under land occupied by adivasis, Salwa Judum is often found deputed by mine barons to snatch the land from the poor villagers. In the name of encounters, police kill innocent poor people in villages. The villagers in Chattisgarh are living in a state of terror. The industrialists, with the direct help of the govt. are robbing the land, water resources and forests from the villagers. The poor people are becoming poorer every day. The issues regarding health, nutrition, education and occupation are entirely neglected.

Culture

Habib Tanveer

– Pranay Krishna, Liberation, July, 2009.

Habib Tanveer, the doyen of Indian theatre breathed his last on June 8, 2009. He was not only a theatre personality, but an organic cultural personality; one of the greatest products of the Marxist cultural movement in India. His lifelong association with Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) and Progressive Writers Association (PWA) shaped his ideological orientation and unflinching commitment to the development of a cultural movement dedicated to social change.

Probably no one else relied upon and learnt so much from the common masses in the arena of Indian theatre as Habib saheb did. Common Chhatisgarhi villagers and their art traditions were the biggest source of his theatrical arsenal – from costumes, music, dances, conversational styles, themes to actors and languages. He believed that every individual was an actor in her day-today life. Every space was a theatre where the unending drama of life unfolded itself continuously. These simple, yet profound insights made him develop a theatrical praxis which is unique. He found versatile actors from amongst the artisans, peasants, labourers and students. Actors of his troupe such as Madan Nishaad, Bhulva Ram, Madan Das, Thakur Ram, Lalu Ram, Jagmohan, Shiv Dayal and Govind Ram had no formal education. He discovered excellent themes and characters in traditional folktales, dances, songs and theatrical devices amenable to infusion of new consciousness critiquing contemporary realities. More than anybody else he displayed that theatre was not a ‘close-up’ art. He could turn a street, a marketplace, a village, practically any space into a stage.

Well- versed in the ancient Sanskrit drama tradition as well as modern European theatrical traditions, he was able to rope in both to the service of a distinct kind of Indian People’s theatre developed from the base of Chhatisgarhi folk theatre, firmly grounded in traditions, memories, and dreams of the struggling common masses. Chhatisgarhi dialect, Chhatisgarhi dance-drama ‘Nacha’, musical story-telling from Mahabharata in folk style – Pandavani got recognized globally through Habib’s theatre.

Habib successfully blasted the bourgeois myth that art forms committed to social change lacked in craft, technique and entertainment. Habib Saheb himself was a poet. He has been credited with introducing music and poetry as essential components of realist theatre in the country. He acted in almost all his plays and many films too.

Among his many inspirations, the greatest probably was that of Brecht. He internalized the spirit of Brechtian epic theatre, while developing his own variety of People’s Theatre. His continuous experimentations, improvisations and innovations with classical as well as folk forms, myths and legends made him evolve a distinct form suitably adapted to the Indian ethos. Habib always had a message in his plays totally comprehensible to the common people, yet his style was never didactic. The progressive consciousness echoed in all the dimensions of his plays.

The first play which brought the Habibian style into prominence was ‘Agra Bazaar’ (1954) based upon the songs and poems of 19th century Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi, not even considered a serious poet in his own time. Nazir was a poet of common people. A contemporary of Mir and Ghalib, Nazir was, in a way, re-discovered and represented to the people through ‘Agra Bazaar’. In this play, Nazir’s simple verses depicting the lives of artisans, small shopkeepers, vendors and common folks written in a spoken form of Urdu mingled with other dialects of area around Delhi and Agra, interspersed with the colloquial usages and idioms, was turned into commentary and chorus by Habib Saheb. The play had hardly any plot. Scenes were created on the basis of poetry itself. When the play was staged at Jamia in an open ground, the villagers passing by with their cattle would stop for a moment out of curiosity. Habib Tanveer announced to them that they could come to the stage and sit there along with the cattle. Many of them did so and ‘Agra Bazaar’ came alive with real characters of a marketplace on the stage. Habib’s rediscovery of Nazir through drama can only be compared to Kabir’s rediscovery by Kumar Gandharva through music.

‘Mitti ki Gadi’ (1958) based on Shudrak’s Sanskrit play ‘Mrichchakatikam’ was a marvelous display of how ancient Sanskrit drama could be adapted to modern sensibilities, that too through folk devices. ‘Charandas Chor’ (1975) based on a Chhatisgarhi folktale is an epic, yet hilarious commentary on state of social, political and religious affairs from the vantage point of a thief, which ends on a tragic note. Habib’s ‘Jin Lahore Nahi Dekhyan, Wo Janmyan Hi Nai’ based on Asghar Wajahat’s play is a masterpiece which posits the best of sub-continental composite culture against communal consciousness. ‘Jamadarin’, later renamed as ‘Ponga Pandit’ is a play based upon a folktale which attacks religious bigotry and caste atrocities. In the post-Babri Masjid demolition era, this particular play was attacked many times by Bajrang Dal and Sangh outfits during live shows at Gwalior and elsewhere. Each time Habib Tanveer refused to go backstage amidst stone pelting and hooliganism. ‘Zahreeli Hava’, an adaptation of an English play based on Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 by Rahul Verma, is a thorough critique of the multinational corporate onslaught on the people of this country. ‘Hirma ki amar Kahani’ questions the official paradigm of ‘development’ and assimilation of tribals in the so-called ‘mainstream’ of the nation from an authentic tribal worldview and successfully problematises the hegemonic discourse of ‘development’. Habib Saheb’s plays were never short of viewers, even after the arrival of Television in India. He made many small T.V. documentaries for UNESCO.

Habib Saheb won numerous international and national awards. He was nominated Rajya Sabha member, awarded Padmabhushan, and provided 5-6 acres of land near Bhopal for his ‘Naya Theatre’ complex by governments. Yet, his stature as an artist is far above such official recognitions.

Brief Life sketch

Habib Tanveer – Born on September 1, 1923 at Raipur, Chhatisgarh. Died 8th June, 2009 at Bhopal. Bachelor’s degree from Nagpur University. Learnt theatre at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London; Theatre School, Bristol and British Drama League, London.

Started career in film journalism as Assistant Editor of ‘Film India’ magazine, Mumbai in 1946. Was involved in acting, writing dialogues and songs and making documentaries at the Bombay film industry from 1946 to 1953. Active in IPTA, Bombay along with Shambhu Mitra, Dina Pathak, Balraj Sahni, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and others during 1948 to 1953. Founded ‘Hindustani Theater’ at Delhi in 1954. Founded ‘Naya Theatre’ at Delhi in 1959. Married theatre artist and director Moneeka Misra in 1961. Member of Rajya Sabha during 1972-1978. Awarded Padmabhushan in 2002.

Major Theatrical Productions

Agra Bazaar (1954), Mitti ki Gadi (1958), Lala Shohratrai (1960), Gaon ke naon sasural, mor naon damaad’ (1973) , Charan Das Chor (1974), Bahadur Kalarin (1978), Hirma ki Amar Kahani (1985), Ek aur Dronacharya (1988), Jin Lahore nai vekhyan, wo janmya hi nai (1990), Dekh rahe hain Nain (1992), Kamdev kaa apna, vasant ritu ka sapna (1994), Mudrarakshas (1996), Ek Aurat Hepatia kee thee (1999), Zahreeli Hawa (2002), Veni sanhaar (2002), Visarjan (2006)

ML International Newsletter

July-August 2009

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An update on news and ideas from the revolutionary left in India.

Produced by: Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation international team

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Websites: [mlint.wordpress.com] and [www.cpiml.org]

Table of Contents

1) Lalgarh’s Battle for Dignity and Justice

2) Verdict 2009 and the Left

3) Manmohan Government’s Second Term

4) Sri Lanka: the Nationalist Quagmire

5) Crackdown on Struggles of the Rural Poor in Punjab

6) Realities of Recession and Racism

7) People’s Health’ Seminar in Kolkata

8) Habib Tanveer

Struggles in India

Lalgarh’s Battle for Dignity and Justice

– ML Update, 23-29 June, 2009.

A concerted paramilitary campaign is now underway in Lalgarh and surrounding areas in the tribal-dominated western region of West Bengal bordering Jharkhand and Orissa, ostensibly to flush out Maoists and restore the authority of the state. The campaign though being carried out by the state government is being actively guided and sponsored by the Union Home Ministry. The Union Home Minister has warned that the operation may take longer than expected and has appealed to political leaders and civil society organizations not to visit Lalgarh while the operation is on. Mamata Banerjee has called for declaring the three districts of West Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia a disturbed area. The Union Home Ministry has meanwhile included the CPI (Maoist) in the list of unlawful associations under the recently amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Chidambaram’s appeal against civilian visits to Lalgarh, coming apparently after a group of Left Front MPs wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his personal intervention to this effect, clearly shows that the government wants to keep the operation beyond the purview of public scrutiny. This is as good as an indirect admission about the real nature and purpose of Operation Lalgarh – a brutal war on the adivasis who had been offering such a determined resistance to state repression. In the absence of independent investigations, the actual extent of casualties and injuries inflicted by the ongoing operation is not really known. But hundreds of people have already been forced to flee and there are disturbing reports that the paramilitary forces are forcing local adivasi youth under duress to locate mines and explosives – under threat that they will be arrested as ‘Maoists’ if they refuse.

Lalgarh had first shot into national prominence in November last year when the local adivasis in their thousands revolted against police atrocities following an unsuccessful Maoist mine attack targeting the Chief Minister’s cavalcade. The resistance has since continued unabated and during the recent elections the state had to negotiate with the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) which is spearheading the resistance, for setting up polling booths outside the resistance area. The state was obviously waiting for an opportune moment and pretext to go for a crackdown. The opportunity came when Lalgarh recently erupted again against provocations by local CPI (M) leaders and Maoists made tall claims regarding their leading role in the Lalgarh resistance and dared the state to intervene.

At the heart of it, Lalgarh is a typical adivasi revolt against repression and injustice. The entire history of our anti-colonial struggle is replete with many such instances and the Indian state today has no problem recognizing the leaders of those revolts as popular heroes. In the eyes of the oppressed and deprived tribal people the Indian state in all these years has not really changed much and retains many of the colonial era trappings of utter insensitivity and unbridled brutality. But when the inheritors of Birsa Munda, Sidho-Kanu and Tilka Manjhi revolt against this contemporary reality, our post-colonial democratic system knows no other way but to declare a virtual war on these seekers of justice. It should be noted that the allegations of police atrocities made by the PCAPA have been found to be true by a senior official of the West Bengal government (Backward Classes Welfare Secretary RD Meena) but instead of taking adequate corrective measures as demanded by the PCAPA the state government has only announced meagre compensation of only a few thousand rupees to the eleven women victims of police repression!

For the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its belligerent Home Minister who managed to win the recent election by administratively converting defeat into victory, Lalgarh is a test case to unleash a new pattern of governance in which paramilitary forces will become the custodian of constitutional niceties. There is also the larger political gameplan to trap the ruling Left of West Bengal in an increasingly repressive role while the Congress plays the benefactor and monopolises the mask of welfare measures!

For the people of West Bengal, Operation Lalgarh is a political eye-opener. During the recent elections, Mamata Banerjee claimed to champion the cause of the struggles in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh and the Trinamul Congress (TMC)-Congress combined reaped a bumper electoral harvest. Elections over, it is now time to thank the people and what could be a more suitable gift than Operation Lalgarh! Mamata Banerjee now says that the TMC expelled the PCAPA chief Chhatradhar Mahato two years ago when it came to know about his Maoist link! Chhatradhar says he was never expelled but quit the TMC when he found it incapable of meeting the tribals’ needs. He then recalls how following the killing of three PCAPA members in police firing in February, Mamata Banerjee had visited Jangalmahal, shed tears and said, ‘If these people are Maoists, then I too am a Maoist.’ “We never doubted her sincerity then”, says Chhatradhar. But he realizes that the circumstances have now changed: “after the elections, the same Mamata Banerjee got a Cabinet post, joined the government at the Centre, which in turn sent paramilitary forces to Lalgarh. Therefore, it is quite natural for Banerjee now to link me with the Maoists.”

It is also important to look at the doublespeak of the CPI (M) leadership. Prakash Karat says the Maoists need to be politically isolated from the people they are mobilizing even as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee demands more central forces and Sitaram Yechury asks the Prime Minister to demonstrate his seriousness in tackling what his government claims to be the biggest threat to internal security! On the one hand, the government spearheads a paramilitary operation, and the MPs seek personal intervention of the Prime Minister to prevent political leaders from visiting the operation area, and on the other hand the party talks of fighting a political battle against Maoists! If the CPI (M) thinks that all this can be justified by invoking the party-government distinction and that the Centre-state or Congress-CPI (M) cooperation in ‘restoring the authority of the state’ in Lalgarh could help check the TMC’s advance, it is only deceiving itself.

As for the Maoists, they have only once again demonstrated the incompatibility of their ideas and actions with the needs of any radical people’s movement. With their penchant for exclusive and sensational military actions and aversion to the mass political process, they ultimately only produce a dampening and disruptive effect on any powerful people’s movement while letting the Mamata Banerjees reap the political benefit of people’s struggles and sacrifices.

We join the democratic opinion of the country and the justice-loving people of Lalgarh to demand an immediate end to the paramilitary offensive, withdrawal of paramilitary forces and a negotiated resolution of the conflict through fulfillment of the just demands of the Lalgarh people and quick redressal of all their long-standing grievances. We also do not support the idea of banning the CPI(Maoist) as a terrorist organization. The Maoists are anyway an underground organization and the experience of states like Chhattisgarh and Orissa where they have been banned for years clearly shows that the ban has been ineffective from the point of view of checking Maoist military actions. The ban is actually a weapon to terrorise the common people and stifle the democratic voice of protest. The case of Dr. Binayak Sen is a clear instance and for every Binayak Sen case that comes to the limelight, there are always hundreds of lesser known activists and ordinary men and women whose human rights continue to be brutally trampled upon.

Victory to Lalgarh’s glorious battle for dignity and justice!

Indian Elections

Verdict 2009 and the Left: Key Issues and the Road Ahead

Liberation, July, 2009.

Five years ago, the 14th Lok Sabha had witnessed the largest ever presence of Left parliamentarians. Along with the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the arrival of the Left as a major player in national politics was a key message of the 2004 elections. Five years later, the 15th Lok Sabha now presents a drastically different picture. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] and the CPI, the two biggest constituents of the Left bloc in Parliament, have secured their lowest ever tallies, reducing the overall Left presence to a meagre 24.

On the face of it, this outcome appears quite baffling and out of sync with contemporary global reality. Global capitalism is passing through one of its roughest patches and in many parts of the world we can see a renewed assertion of the working people and a consequent tilt towards the Left. For quite some time India too has been in the grip of a protracted agrarian crisis aggravated by the onslaught of neoliberal policies, and now, thanks to increasing globalisation, more and more sectors of the Indian economy are feeling the heat of the global capitalist meltdown. Millions of toiling Indians are faced with the threat of outright pauperisation and ever shrinking means of livelihood.

On top of it, there has been this pronounced pro-US policy shift pushing India into a strategic alliance with the US and consequently rendering India much more vulnerable to both terror threats as well as greater American intervention in domestic affairs.

Such a context should have proved conducive to further growth of the Left, especially when the CPI (M) and its partners had already acquired a firm foothold in the 14th Lok Sabha. But the results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections tell a totally different story. Where and how did the CPI (M) lose the plot? There is a growing debate in Left circles on this question, and as the crisis of the CPI (M) deepens, the debate should also get deeper and sharper.

How does the CPI (M) look at its electoral debacle? The communiqué issued after the CPI (M) central committee (CC) meeting in Delhi on June 20-21 describes the outcome as “serious reverses” amounting to an “electoral setback”. It acknowledged “political, governmental and organisational reasons for the setbacks suffered” in West Bengal including “shortcomings in the functioning of government, panchayats and municipalities based on a proper class outlook”, “failure of the government to implement properly various measures directly concerning the lives of the people” and “alienation amongst some sections of the peasantry”. According to the communiqué, the CPI (M) CC also felt it was a mistake to extend the call for building a third alternative to the formation of an alternative government. The CC admitted that “In the absence of a countrywide alliance and no common policy platform being presented, the call for an alternative government was unrealistic.”

This CC review of course comes in the wake of a whole range of public statements already made by several CPI (M) leaders pointing accusing fingers in different directions. Kerala Chief Minister and veteran politburo (PB) member VS Achuthanandan has ruled out any ‘anti-incumbency’ factor against his government, thus indicating that the problems lie at the doorsteps of the party. Several West Bengal leaders hold the “third front” experiment responsible while some have started blaming the decision to withdraw support to the Congress. Two days before the last leg of the Lok Sabha (LS) election, a Bengali TV channel broadcast an exclusive interview with veteran West Bengal minister Subhas Chakraborty where he openly questioned the party’s choice of third front allies and described the Congress as an indispensable partner not only for the defence of secularism but also in any fight against imperialism! Only a handful of West Bengal leaders, most notably Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, have dared mention the Left Front government’s forcible land acquisition drive as the main factor.

Addressing the press after the CC meeting Prakash Karat talked of “near unanimity” in the CC over the party’s act of withdrawal of support to UPA government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, thereby indirectly acknowledging differences within the CC over the subject. The review which expresses the majority opinion does mention some of the key problems associated with the party and governments in West Bengal and Kerala as well as with the implementation of the party’s all-India tactical line. But these problems and mistakes are symptomatic of a deeper malady rooted in the party’s understanding and practice of dealing with governments whether in the state or at the Centre. The obsession with somehow retaining or acquiring power has been pushing the party deeper into the quagmire of right opportunism and in the same proportion the party has been moving away from the basic masses and their interests and struggles. The erosion in the CPI (M)’s votes is only a belated electoral reflection of this growing disjunction between the party and the people, between governance and struggle. The CC review of course scrupulously shies away from any inquiry into the root causes.

As far as West Bengal is concerned, the results indicate nothing short of a massive anti-CPI (M) electoral explosion and this can no longer be attributed to any one single factor. Singur and Nandigram have definitely been big issues but we need to understand why Singur and Nadigram happened in the first place. There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion of governance and industrialisation that believes that a modest Tata plant could be showcased as a Left-ruled state’s biggest achievement in ‘industrialisation’, and then pulls out all stops to appease the ‘investor’ and crush every protest of the land-losing peasants and livelihood-losing sharecroppers and labourers. After Singur, many had expected the CPI (M) to learn its lessons, but Nandigram showed that the Left rulers had lost the very will or ability to learn any positive lesson. One really had to see the CPI (M)’s election campaign in West Bengal to have a sense of its world of political make-believe. While Mamata Banerjee’s campaign endlessly invoked the now famous trinity of “Ma-Mati-Manush”, giving a highly emotive human form to the agenda of land, livelihood and liberty, the CPI (M) campaign revolved primarily around Nano, the promised lakhtakia (Rs. one lakh) Tata car! The CPI (M) believed it could win the elections by holding Mamata Banerjee responsible for the Tata’s decision to relocate the Nano plant in Gujarat and projecting her as a demon who killed Bengal’s dream of industrialisation and employment generation!

The spectacular past electoral successes of the CPI (M) in West Bengal were rooted primarily in a broad class alliance that carried the rural poor along with the middle classes, erstwhile landed gentry and the neo-rich sections. Having consolidated the rural poor base through a combination of much touted rural reforms (Operation Barga, land redistribution and panchayati raj, to name the three most well-known measures), the CPI (M) thought it could switch over to the usual trajectory of the ‘trickle-down pattern of development’. The class contradictions and popular grievances that are handled in other states largely within the matrix of competitive bourgeois politics were sought to be contained with measured doses of coercion and patronage as the party retained its overall grip over the broad social coalition. But with the rise and consolidation of a narrow nexus of corrupt officials, leaders and middlemen and steady reversal of much of the earlier gains won by the rural poor, the coalition had already started cracking and Singur and Nandigram widened the cracks and opened the floodgates for popular resentment and resistance.

The CPI (M) has suffered an equally severe setback in Kerala too. Unlike in West Bengal, the CPI (M)’s domination in Kerala has never been unchallenged and the party here has always had to operate within a highly competitive environment. Yet the intensity of the rout suffered by the CPI (M) in the 2009 elections indicates a deeper structural erosion in the party’s support beyond the alternating cyclical swings one expects in Kerala. The CPI (M) in Kerala remains mired in factionalism, the spirit of commerce dominates the official culture of the party and now we have this shocking case of major corruption allegations and CBI enquiry against the party’s state secretary. Alienation of landless dalit labourers has also assumed serious proportions in Kerala.

The poll debacle of the CPI (M) must also be analysed in the context of the party’s all-India tactical line. With a sixty-plus-strong contingent of parliamentarians at its command, in 2004 the CPI (M) had come to acquire a greatly increased visibility and say in national politics. Even after cobbling a post-poll alliance, in 2004 the Congress had to rely on the CPI (M)’s support to form government. While not joining the UPA government, the CPI (M) utilised this juncture to enter into a programmatic alliance with the Congress, limiting dissent against Congress policies to talks within the framework of UPA-Left coordination committee. Even on the one issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, the opposition came too late and encumbered in lot of technicalities and devoid of any attempt to build any significant mass resistance.

The CPI (M) now claims credit for ‘pressurising’ the Congress to legislate National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and waive farm loans. These claims would have sounded somewhat convincing had the CPI (M) ever unleashed any major mass political initiative on the issues of rural unemployment or farmers’ suicides, or for that matter, if West Bengal could top the list of states in terms of implementation of NREGA. Ironically, while the Congress derived considerable political mileage from measures like NREGA and farm loan waiver, the CPI (M) exposed itself as the most brutal defender of corporate landgrab. Indeed, the failure of the Left to oppose the SEZ Act 2005 in Parliament and the wholesale adoption and implementation of neoliberal economic policies by the West Bengal government seriously dented the CPI (M)’s oppositional claims on the economic policy front.

After the eventual withdrawal of support, instead of going to the masses the CPI (M) leadership got busy with desperate attempts to seek dubious allies. On the eve of the elections, the CPI (M) formed a programme-free “third front” with motley regional forces ranging from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and projected it as the core of the next government. The CPI (M) now admits that the “third front” did not fit the bill of a credible and viable national alternative, yet Prakash Karat would like us to believe that it served two important purposes.

His first claim is that the third front denied the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) the luxury of finding any ally in the southern states and thus prevented the NDA from emerging as a national alternative. Well, if the AIADMK or TDP did not choose to ally with the BJP, it was because they did not expect to gain anything by entering into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP which has little presence in the southern states except Karnataka. Likewise, the BJD’s decision to dump the BJP just on the eve of the elections was also prompted by the BJD’s own electoral calculations and had nothing to do with the CPI(M)’s “third front” initiative. In the event of a hung parliament if the BJP-led NDA had any realistic chance of forming government, these parties would have had no problem in jumping on to the NDA bandwagon. Did not we all see how the TRS switched sides in anticipation of an NDA victory?

Karat’s second argument deals with the combined vote share of the “third front” parties and the BSP, a respectable 21 per cent. According to him, “this shows the potential for building up a third alternative … which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.” If the combined vote share of the BJD and the BSP, and the AIADMK and the TDP shows the potential for a movement-based third front committed to “alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP”, what prevented the CPI (M) from actualising that alliance? Karat’s answer is simple and smart: since electoral combinations were forged statewise, it “precluded any national policy platform from being projected.” But if all these parties are committed to alternative policies why could not they agree to a common policy platform? And if it was indeed so difficult on the national level what stopped the alternative policies from being projected in the respective states?

While Karat valorises the whole range of non-Congress non-BJP parties as prospective anti-corporate anti-imperialist partners, many of his comrades would love to return to the safety of a strategic understanding with the good old Congress. Both Karat and his detractors who find him ‘dogmatic’ and ‘adventurist’ actually reduce the question of revival and independence of the Left to the choice of allies and forging of convenient electoral combinations. Instead of sticking to a set pattern of alliance, Karat would prefer to swap allies and we have already seen this line in action in Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Orissa and Assam. Dumping the DMK the CPI(M) has now chosen the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu; in Andhra electoral understanding with the Congress has given way to mahakutumi (grand alliance) with TDP and even TRS (the TDP has all along been opposed to the idea of a separate Telangana and so has been the CPI (M), yet they had no problem in forging a grand alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) whose sole agenda is the formation of a separate Telangana state); in Orissa the CPI (M) has tied up with the ruling BJD and in Assam it wanted to have a seat sharing pact with the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF).

On paper, the combinations looked pretty formidable, but on the ground the results have been quite dismal. The alliance arithmetic has yielded only two seats to the CPI (M) – one LS seat in Tamil Nadu and one Assembly seat in Andhra. In Orissa and Assam, the CPI (M) has not only failed to win any seat but it has also suffered a major erosion in terms of votes. The loss must not of course be assessed only in terms of seats and votes, the credibility of the party and the morale of the party’s support base are far more important parameters. What did the CPI (M) expect to gain by glorifying and allying with Naveen Patnaik in Orissa? While Kandhamal happened, Naveen Patnaik’s government did nothing to stop the anti-Christian violence. On the eve of the elections, Naveen Patnaik dumped the BJP and the CPI and the CPI (M) rushed to glorify him as a new-found secular hero, enabling him to reduce the Orissa elections to a contrived showdown between the two estranged partners – the BJD and the BJP. The issues of displacement and deprivation of the tribal and other toiling masses were conveniently brushed aside. Will the CPI (M) ever be able to stand up in Orissa by glorifying Naveen Patnaik? (The story of the CPI’s victory from the Jagatsinghpur LS constituency that includes the site of the ongoing popular struggle against the land acquisition plans of the South Korean steel major Posco is no less shocking – while the local CPI leaders spearheading the anti-Posco movement languish in jail, a Congress leader opposed to the movement joined the CPI and won on the party’s ticket with the blessings of Posco and Naveen Patnaik!)

Basing on its stable bases in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI (M) has over the years evolved a political line and praxis in which the oppositional role of the party is thoroughly subordinated to the agenda of power-sharing at the central level. The party programme too has been suitably ‘updated’ to provide for this scheme of things. In 1977 when the CPI (M) first came to power, it projected the Left Front government as a weapon of struggle. But now in the party’s perception state governments have been delinked from any idea of struggle and are seen exclusively as instruments of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ and, in the national context, as stepping stones towards power-sharing at the Centre. The CPI (M) now fights elections only with the slogan of government formation no matter whether the party is in a position to form one or not. The concept of a committed and vigorous Left opposition has virtually become alien to the CPI (M)’s entire tactical framework and political praxis.

While the CPI (M) has theoretically and practically ‘upgraded’ itself as a party of power, ironically the 2009 elections have pushed it closer to the oppositional slot. Nationally it has no other choice but to sit in the opposition and if the present trend continues, the CPI(M) will soon also have to reinvent itself as an opposition party in West Bengal too.

The other big question that confronts the CPI (M) is the issue of its attitude to people’s struggle and the democratic intelligentsia. While the CPI (M) has developed considerable expertise and experience in forging fronts with disparate forces and brokering peace among sparring bourgeois parties, it exhibits a near-pathological inability to deal with popular movements and people’s outbursts. To take a few examples, we can recall the CPI (M)’s response to the Naxalbari movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in West Bengal, the 1974 youth movement in Bihar, the Assam movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s which resurfaced again in the recent past and most recently the Singur-Nandigram movement in West Bengal. It has been a habit of the CPI (M) to dismiss every such popular movement as a conspiracy and side with the state in crushing these movements. And now in Lalgarh, the Congress has once again trapped the CPI (M) into discharging its repressive ‘responsibility’.

In the 1970s the Congress had usurped powers in West Bengal through highly dubious means and gone on to unleash systematic state terror on all sections of the Left. Even though the CPI (M) could not put up any significant resistance to the Congress-led reign of terror, and the CPI (ML) had already suffered a massive setback, the overwhelming public mood in West Bengal remained very much against the Congress. The semi-fascist terror in West Bengal soon gave way to a countrywide reign of Emergency that was overthrown by the people through the historic mandate of 1977. The CPI (M)’s ascent to power in West Bengal was an integral part of that larger democratic upsurge. But today, West Bengal is witnessing a reverse phenomenon when the CPI (M) is being rejected not only by large sections of the democratic opinion but also a significant section of its own base.

Prakash Karat is right when he says that the CPI(M) has in the past overcome many difficult periods, but the present juncture poses a different kind of challenge when the party is fast losing ground in what used to be its most stable and powerful stronghold. Karat is again right when he says that “anti-Communist quarters who have been rejoicing at the setbacks suffered by the Left … will be proved wrong.” But the point is not just to counter anti-Communist canards and wild dreams, but more importantly to address the questions that have emerged from within the CPI (M)’s own base and the larger Left and democratic circles that once provided such tremendous support to the party.

It is quite clear that the ruling classes see the poll outcome as a handle to malign and marginalise the Left. As mentioned in the CPI (ML) CC communiqué of 27 May, “Armed with a security doctrine that identifies Maoism/Naxalism/Left extremism as the biggest threat to internal security and an electoral outcome which has handed out the worst ever electoral drubbing to the parliamentary left, the ruling classes are now all set to launch a comprehensive assault on the Left as a whole.” The Left can thwart this design only by mounting a powerful counter-offensive. Reclaiming the Left role as a consistently secular, democratic and anti-imperialist opposition and reasserting the Left identity as the most committed and trusted champion of people’s interests and struggles is the need of the hour.

Indian Elections

Manmohan Government’s Second Term: Early Signals and New Rhetoric

– Dipankar Bhattacharya.

President Pratibha Patil’s address to the joint session of the two houses of Parliament has outlined the priorities and direction of the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While the government has listed ten points as priority areas, the basic thrust is essentially three-pronged: an unfettered pursuit of the agenda of privatisation, commercialisation and globalisation; intensification and legitimisation of repressive measures in the name of national security; and strengthening of Indo-US partnership as the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy.

The President’s speech underlined the UPA government’s commitment to attracting “large foreign investment flows … through an appropriate policy regime,” ensuring systematic removal of “bottlenecks and delays in implementation of infrastructure projects” taking public-private partnership as the key, and granting “fellow citizens … every right to own part of the shares of public sector companies.” It is not difficult to figure out the “fellow citizens” the government has in mind! Combating monopolisation and concentration of wealth in private hands was one major declared objective of public sector units; today the UPA government is advocating wholesale disinvestment of PSUs precisely to promote corporate consolidation.

The ‘bottlenecks and delays in implementation of infrastructure projects’ mentioned in the President’s address can hardly be a reference to bureaucratic or procedural issues – because on the level of policies and procedures, the framework has already been sufficiently liberalised. The bottlenecks must refer primarily to either popular opposition to land acquisition plans or environmental objections raised by the people and concerned experts. Clearly, the Congress now believes that it has got the strength to bulldoze all such objections and impose all these mega projects in the name of infrastructural development.

It is instructive to note in this context the poll results from West Bengal and Maharashtra. The electoral upheaval against the ruling Left Front in West Bengal can only been described as a popular backlash against the government’s arrogant move to treat popular objections as ‘bottlenecks’ and remove them by force. In Maharashtra too, the Congress lost the Raigad seat, the site of the Reliance’s proposed massive Mahamumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) – the Congress lost its seat in the Lok Sabha polls. In fact, the Congress-led State Government had held a referendum on the issue of land acquisition for SEZ in some villages of Raigad in 2008. But, flouting the promise of declaring the outcome within a week, the Government never declared the result even as reportedly 92% local people voted against the proposed SEZ.

By refusing to allow any further extension to the deadline for land acquisition for this SEZ, the Supreme Court has now set the stage for possible scrapping of the Mahamumbai SEZ project. While the government talks of bulldozing all objections, democratic forces must exert pressure on the government to scrap the SEZ Act and put a complete halt to corporate landgrab.

In most parts of the country, a massive fraud is being perpetrated on the rural poor in the name of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the jobless in rural areas have massive complaints regarding the extremely tardy implementation of this so-called employment ‘guarantee’ Act. This has however not stopped the President from lauding the NREGA as the world’s largest ongoing rural reconstruction programme. The government has also gone on to promise a slum-free India within the next five years by introducing a Rajiv Awas Yojana on the lines of the corruption-ridden Indira Awas Yojana. Going by past experience the Congress can only try to achieve a slum-free India by organising massive evictions of slum-dwellers. While the Congress beats its drum, the people’s movement will have to boldly confront the government on issues of jobs, housing, health and education for all.

The question of national security and a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism figure on top of the ten priority areas underlined in the President’s address. The phrase ‘zero-tolerance approach’ is borrowed from the American lexicon of “war on terror”, and it essentially seeks legitimacy for all sorts of infringement and assault on democracy and human rights, whether directly by the state or through some Salwa Judum kind of public-private partnership. Draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Chhattisgarh’s Public Security Act, or the recent amendments to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and affronts to peace and democracy like the Salwa Judum have all been justified by the UPA Government in the name of countering terrorism and Maoism.

Such draconian laws have not only been opposed tooth and nail by the democratic opinion in the country, the judiciary too has occasionally questioned the validity of such moves. The Supreme Court which had earlier made adverse remarks regarding Salwa Judum, recently granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, indicating in the tone of its brief order that the last two years of his incarceration in jail was a serious travesty of justice. This order is a reprimand, not just for the BJP Government of Chhattisgarh but also for the UPA Government which also actively backed the Salwa Judum and the jailing of Dr. Sen under Chhattisgarh’s draconian anti-terror law. In the name of countering terrorism, the Congress cannot be allowed to ride roughshod on basic democratic rights and norms.

The Indian diaspora and India’s “restless” young population find prominent mention towards the end of the President’s speech. The speech talks of the strength and power of the Indian diaspora, but remains blissfully oblivious of the growing uncertainty and racist assaults that Indian students, workers and professionals abroad are experiencing in today’s recession-marred milieu. There is a glowing mention of how our “young people are tearing down the narrow domestic walls of religion, region, language, caste, and gender that confine them,” but not a word about the new walls that are daily being erected, whether by a paranoid US desperate not to lose jobs to India and Indians, or a sectarian Raj Thackeray and his men who would like to drive away North Indian students and workers from President Patil’s own home state of Maharashtra.

Promises for the poor and performance for the rich; rhetorical commitment to secularism and political concessions to communalism; lip-service to empowerment and democracy, and doles, batons and bullets in practice – such has been the characteristic track record of the Congress. For all the new phrases and ambitious pronouncements, it is not difficult to discern the familiar trappings in the initial steps and declarations of the new Congress-led regime.

South Asia

Sri Lanka: the Nationalist Quagmire

– S Sivasegaram.

The Sri Lankan government is hotly challenging all charges of bombing and shelling of residences, public buildings and hospitals in its ‘Safety Zone’ by its armed forces and the casualty figures reported by foreign media and human rights groups. The number killed has been estimated at 20,000 by the Times (London), with most of them in the last few weeks of the fighting. The UN Secretary General, who made no effort to prevent the imminent war crimes and vigorously denied charges that the UN deliberately underestimated the deaths, is now all excited about investigating war crimes. But he is only a dutiful UN Secretary General who carries out the instructions of the real masters of the UN.

It is doubtful that the US and the West could have averted the human tragedy in Sri Lanka, but the fact is that they did not try. The rivalry between the US and India over hegemony in South Asia is now in the open. India, having failed to win Sri Lanka’s unflinching loyalty by backing the war in devious ways, is more disappointed with the fruits of its shameful duplicity than embarrassed by its exposure.

The US, frustrated by the failure of its bid to manage both war and peace in Sri Lanka and about Sri Lanka wriggling its way out of the human rights trap that it set in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Commission, is seeking other ways to discipline wayward Sri Lanka. It may wield its ‘human rights’ and ‘war crimes’ weapons to intimidate Sri Lanka and block or delay the massive loan to the tune of two billion dollars that the country is seeking from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or alternatively the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to face the immediate financial crisis brought about by the heavy military spending among other things. The IMF or ADB loan will probably be granted eventually, but at a heavy price for the ordinary people and the rebuilding of a national economy. Other countries could come to the rescue in the immediate short term. But, without a credible programme for restoring law and order and the economy, the country is bound to slide into deeper crisis. Thus, it will be the people who will eventually be punished for the follies of successive governments.

The success of the armed forces has placed President Rajapaksa in an extremely strong position in a country where the majority is still intoxicated with the success of the military. The government has already outmanoeuvred rival political parties by inducing splits in every one of them. The opposition parties, thrown into disarray by the popularity of the war and haggling over strategy for electoral recovery, are not prepared to confront the chauvinism that reduced the country to its present plight. Thus the possibility of any major political party or alliance coming forward with a just and lasting solution to the national question is remote.

The government is also seeking to wipe out politics explicitly based on Tamil national identity; and there is pressure on its Tamil political allies to contest the forthcoming elections to local authorities in the North under the symbol of the ruling alliance. Amid the strong presence of the armed forces and the lack of a viable political alternative there since the fall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil allies of the government may yield. Meantime, attempts are afoot to cobble up under Indian patronage an electoral alliance of Tamil nationalist parties that have distanced themselves from the government. This opportunist alliance cannot provide the kind of principled leadership that is badly needed by the Tamils. Thus, against a background of politics of patronage and intimidation that has matured over the decades, a political vacuum is imminent among the Tamils.

The government is unlikely to devolve power meaningfully through autonomous structures in defiance of Sinhala chauvinism, which has grown stronger in the past few years. Tamil nationalists have nothing to offer to the people and will out of sheer desperation lean heavily on foreign forces, mainly the US and India, the Tamil Diaspora and opportunist Tamil nationalist political parties in Tamilnadu. Among the Tamil Diaspora as well as the people in Tamilnadu who are sensitive to the suffering of Sri Lankan Tamils, the immediate prospects are that the secessionist agenda will gain a greater following than before, at least in the immediate future, as a result of the anger caused by the events of the past several months.

While sympathy for the LTTE remains strong abroad, its failure to protect the lives of the people under its control by letting them go, at least when it was abundantly clear that the prospects of a military recovery was bleak, and the use of force to prevent people from leaving have led to resentment among the relatives of the victims and thousands of survivors who suffered unnecessary hardship as well as the many who were disabled. This resentment will in due course have its impact on the Diaspora.

‘Leaders’ and spokespersons of the LTTE still cannot agree the fate of Pirapakaran, the leader of the LTTE, while a diminishing but still significant number including the leaders of the MDMK, PMK and a few others in Tamilnadu are actively propagating the myth of survival and the impending return of Pirapakaran. In any event, Pirapakaran will remain a cult figure to be unscrupulously exploited by politically bankrupt pro-LTTE factions who will invariably align themselves with various foreign powers. Meantime, many ardent critics of the LTTE have shown themselves to be insensitive to the feelings of the people by using the situation to taunt LTTE supporters to settle old scores, while showing little concern for the plight of the victims, including the hundreds of thousands living in misery behind barbed wire fences. Sadly, the acrimony of vociferous supporters and opponents of the LTTE outdoes any serious concern for the plight of the people.

The task facing those genuinely seeking the resolution of the national question is daunting. The government in its present frame of mind is not interested in a fair solution to the national question. Chauvinist harassment, continued military presence and threatened Sinhala colonisation in the North-East will add to the pain and suffering of the hundreds of thousand displaced, who may not all be resettled in their villages, will harden attitudes among the supporters of the Tamil nationalist cause. This could make the island even more vulnerable to foreign meddling either in the name of the rights of the minorities or in the name of defending the sovereignty of the country.

There are nevertheless other developments that could lead to the evolution of an anti-imperialist and democratic mass movement. Politically active sections of the Tamil Diaspora are bound to critically review the past, not only of the LTTE but the Tamil nationalist movement as a whole. Questions are already being raised and debates initiated among the less affluent but politically alert groups. Mobilisation of such democratic forces is essential to the restoration of faith in the struggle for justice in Sri Lanka and to prevent the reactionary elite from hijacking the just cause of the Tamil people to serve hegemonic interests.

The end of the war is not the end of violation of democratic, human and fundamental rights. The economic crisis and the short-sighted solutions sought by the government will lead to popular dissatisfaction, and chauvinism will be inadequate to deflect attention from problems of living and livelihood. The armed forces that were beefed up to counter ‘terrorism’ can once again turn on Sinhala voices of protest. The left movement in Sri Lanka needs to critically review its past. The parliamentary left leadership is a spent force of deserters and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has shed its last pretences of left ideology. It is for the genuine left and democratic forces, including those who have been long deluded by the ‘old left’ to take the initiative in restoring to the country its unity, independence and prosperity by addressing the questions of democratic and human rights and the rights of the nationalities and national minorities.

Struggles In India

Crackdown on Struggles of the Rural Poor in Punjab

– Liberation, July, 2009.

Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, the Akali-BJP Government of Punjab has unleashed an all-out offensive on the rural poor in Punjab, and on the Communist Party of India- Marxist Leninist [CPI(ML)], which was leading their struggles. Since 21 May, over 1300 agricultural labourers and labour leaders, of Mansa, Moga, Sangrur and Bathinda districts, including 511 women and 42 children, were confined in Punjab’s jails. As we go to press, virtually all activists and leaders of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and the CPI (ML) in the state – nearly 40 – remain in jail. In spite of the fact that many of them got bail, the government contrived to keep them in jail by naming them in ‘open First Information Reports (FIRs)’ which they had earlier filed against unnamed persons. Jasbir Kaur Nat, a National Council Member of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), was among those jailed.

The arrests have happened in the course of a struggle for homestead plots and NREGA job cards which the SAD-BJP State Government had promised but failed to deliver. The Shiromani Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Parishad (SAD-BJP) Government launched this offensive immediately following the Lok Sabha elections, where the results reflected the disenchantment of the rural poor with the government.

A state of undeclared and selective ‘emergency’ continues to be imposed on the CPI (ML) and its mass organisations. Even the most peaceful protests and ordinary political activities are facing a crackdown.

In Punjab, where agriculture is highly mechanised, rural poor often get very few days of employment a month. As a result, the rural poor had pinned their hopes for survival on the extension of NREGA to all rural districts in the country. Consequently, the failure of the administration to provide NREGA job cards to many who had applied became a major issue.

The Akali-BJP Government had moreover reneged on its promise to provide homestead plots (5 marla plots for every rural poor family was initially promised, but Akali leaders had also declared to give 10 marla plots). It was in protest against this denial of basic rights of livelihood and housing, that agricultural labourers of Mansa district, led by the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI (ML), occupied a portion of panchayat/commons land allotted to be leased to workers. Under the Land Consolidation and Fragmentation Act 1961, one-third of panchayat land is meant for agricultural workers on lease for cultivation – and it was this land that the agricultural workers used to build their hutments, until such a time that the Government would keep its promise to allot house plots.

This movement for land and work began prior to the elections and continued even during the elections. Akali leaders, during elections, came campaigning with promises that post-poll, the land occupied by the labourers would be allotted to them. The Akali-BJP Government waited till the elections were over, to begin an all-out crackdown. The agricultural workers had begun a peaceful dharna (sit down protest) on 17 May and held a massive Rally on 19 May, which put enough pressure on local officials to effect an agreement to ensure job cards within one month and house plots to all within three months. The very next day, local upper caste land owners began a road-roko (block) protest demanding eviction of the poor from the panchayat land, and, one cue, on 21 May, labour leaders, including even the General Secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, were all arrested. On 22 May, police indulged in indiscriminate lathicharge, and over 1000 workers including a very large number of women and children were arrested and jailed – from the dharna site, from their homes, and from the office of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI (ML).

The ostensible excuse for the arrests was the need to vacate the so-called “illegal occupation” of the panchayat land – but the arrests have continued even after the forcible eviction of the poor from that land, and the demolition of their makeshift homes.

In Punjab, when rich farmers habitually occupy common land, land allotted for waste disposal, etc. the government never lifts a finger against them. It is a shame that the same government, having blatantly broken its promises of housing and livelihood, has unleashed severe repression when poor rural workers are demanding fulfillment of the government’s own promise.

The struggle took place in 26 villages of Mansa district and 9 villages of Bhatinda and Sangrur districts of Punjab. The bulk of the agricultural workers are Dalits. Also of note, a protracted struggle has also been on in many of the villages against social boycott and other kinds of humiliation and intimidation of Dalit poor labourers by the upper caste landlords in connivance with the administration.

Diaspora

Rosy Hype of Globalisation vs. Realities of Recession and Racism

– Tapas Ranjan Saha.

The continuing spate of attacks and violence against Indians and Indian students in particular in Australia has once again exploded the much touted myth that globalisation promotes and respects pluralism and multiculturalism.

The Australian government initially tried to cover up and even deny the racist dimensions of the attack, terming them as just routine robberies and muggings. If that were so, why do Indians constitute a disproportionate share of the victims – 30% in Melbourne? One of the important demands of the protesting Indian students is to make the records of the assaults public – which would bring out the actual extent and dimension of these racist crimes. It is revealing that while the Australian police swooped down on the Indian students to thwart their protests against racist violence, the same police hardly displayed any urgency or sensitivity to stop the spate of crimes and violence.

The Australian authorities deny racism – but their own pronouncements and assumptions are racist. Take for example the “advice” of one Inspector Scott Mahony of the Melbourne police force, who asked Indians “not to talk loudly in their native language in public or travel around with expensive items such as mp3 players on display.” Is it not racist to blame the victims for the “display” of their “native language” and their electronic equipment?! Even more shocking is the fact that such racist “advice” has been echoed by the Indian authorities too! The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in guidelines issued by it in the wake of the attack, advised Indian students in Australia not to venture out alone at night, to avoid flaunting gizmos and, curiously, to keep their homes clean. The implication – that Indians provoke attacks by being unclean, and that the attacks would stop of Indians would only keep their heads down and avoid flaunting their identity or presence – could not be more offensive.

Attacks on Indians, though not a new phenomenon in Australia, have been especially violent during the last few weeks. There have been at least 60 to 70 incidents of serious nature. According to police records at least three cases of crime against Indian students are registered on a daily basis. Partly, of course, Indian students are being targeted for shining academically and because they are perceived as getting better jobs than local Australian unemployed youth. But that is not all the story.

Remember that not long ago, taxi drivers of Indian and Pakistani origin had protested against the Australian police’s indifference to a series of attacks on them. That story had not been highlighted much by the corporate Indian media because it made less interesting copy for elite India than the attacks on “people like us.”

The truth is that racism is deeply entrenched in Australia’s state policy: the worst of its racism is directed at its Aborigine population, from whom the country itself was stolen by colonial Europeans. Today, a disproportionate percentage of Aborigines are jailed, or killed in ‘encounters’ on the streets, and there is no Aborigine representation in Australian parliament. Australian Ministers have time and again got away with racist remarks against immigrants – the “boat people” who come seeking refuge to Australia. Australian policy treats such immigrant refugees as criminals – penning them into jail-like detention centres for months. And of course, that is not to mention the rampant and rising racism against Muslims in Australia, in the wake of the “war on terror.” The episode of Dr. Hanif was only the tip of the iceberg – the Australian Government’s racism today is reinforced by its role in the occupation of Iraq, and its partnership with the US in sponsoring Islamophobia. The attacks on Indian students are no aberration – they are part and parcel of the deep-seated racism in Australian society and politics finding renewed expression in the wake of the globalisation, war and recession.

Commentators have dubbed the recent developments as the “present day Pauline Hanson phenomenon.” Pauline Hanson was the conservative politician who got elected to the Australian Parliament in 1996, who spoke openly of the “swamping” of Australia by people from Asia and the consequent unemployment of “Aussie battlers”.

Racism is a simmering phenomenon not just in Australia, but also in other countries like the US and the UK which are championing globalisation. For them, globalization means the free mobility of capital to usurp the land and livelihood of people of developing countries; it has never meant the free movement of labour to their countries. It is important to note that within the framework of globalisation, immigration laws act not to prevent migration but to control it to meet the needs of capital. This is achieved particularly by creating the phenomenon of ‘undocumented’, and ‘illegal’ workers who can be denied all rights – and it is these workers who are doing the crucial but undervalued, lowest paid jobs; jobs like care work of various kinds which cannot be outsourced. Predictably, in the wake of the current economic recession spawned by their disastrous policies, we are seeing a renewed offensive of racism against migrant workers from the third world in these countries – from attacks on Sikh cab drivers and retrenchment of Asian teachers in the US, to Gordon Brown’s call for “British jobs for British people”, the drum of racism is clearly being beaten by the ruling class to divert and mislead the anxiety of the working class in the face of recession.

Some quarters in Australia have raised the demand for a multi-racial police force. It must be emphasized that such measures cannot change the institutionalized racism of the police in the West (emanating from the political economy) – against which there has been a long history of struggles. 2009 marks 30 years the Southall Uprisings in Britain where Asian (mainly Indian Punjabi) working class youth took to the streets to protest against violence by the neo-Nazi National Front, and specifically to stop the National Front marching through Southall. The police brutally attacked the protestors, killing Blair Peach, a teacher and left activist from New Zealand.

While the Indian media has extensively covered the racist assaults on Indian students, it has failed even to mention racial harassment of Pakistani students in Britain in the name of “anti-terror” actions (see accompanying story). The British police has, shockingly, evolved a phrase – ‘clean skin,’ to connote those who have “blameless backgrounds” and show no sign of terrorist involvement, but who are nevertheless “highly trained professional killers.” This definition allows the police to brand any and every Muslim as a “terrorist” without having to furnish any evidence. When we speak of racism against those of ‘brown skin,’ we cannot ignore the linkages with the racism levelled against ‘clean skin’ – innocent Muslims targeted not by racist individuals or groups but by the might of the state.

As we protest against the attacks on Indians in Australia, we must also, however, remind ourselves of India’s own homespun variant of ‘anti-migrant’ chauvinism – such as the violence unleashed by MNS and Shiv Sena against North Indian migrants in Mumbai, or the ethnic targeting of students from the North East India in India’s capital city of Delhi.

It is high time that the people of the third world and the working class all over the world speak out against the present spate of racist assaults and the politics of hate and chauvinism in which the promoters of recession-hit globalisation are seeking a convenient refuge.

Struggles in India

People’s Health’ Seminar in Kolkata

– Liberation, July, 2009.

Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen recently visited Kolkata responding to an initiative taken by People’s Health. They addressed the Calcutta press at Calcutta Press Club on 29th May. Dr. Binayak Sen’s two year long unlawful detention in a Chattisgarh jail ended on 25th May. “I want to resume my unfinished work as early as possible,” he said. “I could finally come out of jail but many colleagues and comrades of mine are still in Chattisgarh jails on fictitious charges – we have a long fight due for their unconditional release.”

Dr. Debasish Dutta, President, People’s Health, initiated the press conference by introducing Dr. Binayak Sen and Dr. Ilina Sen as pioneering figures in the people’s health movement who have been working for the last three decades in different corners of India where the Indian State has been absent completely in providing even the basic medical care. Dr. Sen was arrested on 14 May 2007 by Chattisgarh government on the charges of sedition, accused of being a Maoist conspirator.

People’s Health organised a seminar on 30 May on ‘Whither People’s Health’ and dedicated the seminar to the efforts of Dr. Binayak Sen. Speakers from different parts of India spoke at the seminar. Dr. Kaustav Roy presented an audio-visual documentation to expose the underdevelopment in primary health care services. He shows that some diseases which we assumed nearly extinct from the world are coming back, often in the form of epidemic. The last UPA government, Dr. Roy says, closed down three public sector factories which were there to produce a few crucial vaccines. The govt offered the tender to private companies and they supply low quality medicine at unusually high prices.

Swati Bhattacharya, researcher and journalist, focused on the poor scenario of primary health care services for women in West Bengal. According to the statistics, 57% of the pregnant women in WB are deprived of primary health care during child-birth. Dr. Sudip Chakrabarty of Medical Service Centre, Mr. Ramkishen of All India Central Health Care Services and Com. Suresh from Jharkhand addressed the audience.

Dr. Ilina Sen remarked that issue of people’s health must be seen from the point of view of equality and social justice. In India, Dr. Sen explains, primary health care progammes are more bureaucratic than participatory. She said that the demand for the primary health care must be framed in the perspective of the people’s rights movement. Dr. Binayak Sen said that anyone having body-mass index less than 18.5 is said to be suffering from malnutrition. And when most of the members of a population have body-mass ratio less than 18.5, the population is said to be affected by famine. He says that most of the tribal villages in Chattisgarh by this parameter are affected by famine.

Dr. Sen also spoke on the human rights conditions in Chattisgarh and said that as Chattisgarh is full of valuable minerals lying under land occupied by adivasis, Salwa Judum is often found deputed by mine barons to snatch the land from the poor villagers. In the name of encounters, police kill innocent poor people in villages. The villagers in Chattisgarh are living in a state of terror. The industrialists, with the direct help of the govt. are robbing the land, water resources and forests from the villagers. The poor people are becoming poorer every day. The issues regarding health, nutrition, education and occupation are entirely neglected.

Culture

Habib Tanveer

– Pranay Krishna, Liberation, July, 2009.

Habib Tanveer, the doyen of Indian theatre breathed his last on June 8, 2009. He was not only a theatre personality, but an organic cultural personality; one of the greatest products of the Marxist cultural movement in India. His lifelong association with Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) and Progressive Writers Association (PWA) shaped his ideological orientation and unflinching commitment to the development of a cultural movement dedicated to social change.

Probably no one else relied upon and learnt so much from the common masses in the arena of Indian theatre as Habib saheb did. Common Chhatisgarhi villagers and their art traditions were the biggest source of his theatrical arsenal – from costumes, music, dances, conversational styles, themes to actors and languages. He believed that every individual was an actor in her day-today life. Every space was a theatre where the unending drama of life unfolded itself continuously. These simple, yet profound insights made him develop a theatrical praxis which is unique. He found versatile actors from amongst the artisans, peasants, labourers and students. Actors of his troupe such as Madan Nishaad, Bhulva Ram, Madan Das, Thakur Ram, Lalu Ram, Jagmohan, Shiv Dayal and Govind Ram had no formal education. He discovered excellent themes and characters in traditional folktales, dances, songs and theatrical devices amenable to infusion of new consciousness critiquing contemporary realities. More than anybody else he displayed that theatre was not a ‘close-up’ art. He could turn a street, a marketplace, a village, practically any space into a stage.

Well- versed in the ancient Sanskrit drama tradition as well as modern European theatrical traditions, he was able to rope in both to the service of a distinct kind of Indian People’s theatre developed from the base of Chhatisgarhi folk theatre, firmly grounded in traditions, memories, and dreams of the struggling common masses. Chhatisgarhi dialect, Chhatisgarhi dance-drama ‘Nacha’, musical story-telling from Mahabharata in folk style – Pandavani got recognized globally through Habib’s theatre.

Habib successfully blasted the bourgeois myth that art forms committed to social change lacked in craft, technique and entertainment. Habib Saheb himself was a poet. He has been credited with introducing music and poetry as essential components of realist theatre in the country. He acted in almost all his plays and many films too.

Among his many inspirations, the greatest probably was that of Brecht. He internalized the spirit of Brechtian epic theatre, while developing his own variety of People’s Theatre. His continuous experimentations, improvisations and innovations with classical as well as folk forms, myths and legends made him evolve a distinct form suitably adapted to the Indian ethos. Habib always had a message in his plays totally comprehensible to the common people, yet his style was never didactic. The progressive consciousness echoed in all the dimensions of his plays.

The first play which brought the Habibian style into prominence was ‘Agra Bazaar’ (1954) based upon the songs and poems of 19th century Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi, not even considered a serious poet in his own time. Nazir was a poet of common people. A contemporary of Mir and Ghalib, Nazir was, in a way, re-discovered and represented to the people through ‘Agra Bazaar’. In this play, Nazir’s simple verses depicting the lives of artisans, small shopkeepers, vendors and common folks written in a spoken form of Urdu mingled with other dialects of area around Delhi and Agra, interspersed with the colloquial usages and idioms, was turned into commentary and chorus by Habib Saheb. The play had hardly any plot. Scenes were created on the basis of poetry itself. When the play was staged at Jamia in an open ground, the villagers passing by with their cattle would stop for a moment out of curiosity. Habib Tanveer announced to them that they could come to the stage and sit there along with the cattle. Many of them did so and ‘Agra Bazaar’ came alive with real characters of a marketplace on the stage. Habib’s rediscovery of Nazir through drama can only be compared to Kabir’s rediscovery by Kumar Gandharva through music.

‘Mitti ki Gadi’ (1958) based on Shudrak’s Sanskrit play ‘Mrichchakatikam’ was a marvelous display of how ancient Sanskrit drama could be adapted to modern sensibilities, that too through folk devices. ‘Charandas Chor’ (1975) based on a Chhatisgarhi folktale is an epic, yet hilarious commentary on state of social, political and religious affairs from the vantage point of a thief, which ends on a tragic note. Habib’s ‘Jin Lahore Nahi Dekhyan, Wo Janmyan Hi Nai’ based on Asghar Wajahat’s play is a masterpiece which posits the best of sub-continental composite culture against communal consciousness. ‘Jamadarin’, later renamed as ‘Ponga Pandit’ is a play based upon a folktale which attacks religious bigotry and caste atrocities. In the post-Babri Masjid demolition era, this particular play was attacked many times by Bajrang Dal and Sangh outfits during live shows at Gwalior and elsewhere. Each time Habib Tanveer refused to go backstage amidst stone pelting and hooliganism. ‘Zahreeli Hava’, an adaptation of an English play based on Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 by Rahul Verma, is a thorough critique of the multinational corporate onslaught on the people of this country. ‘Hirma ki amar Kahani’ questions the official paradigm of ‘development’ and assimilation of tribals in the so-called ‘mainstream’ of the nation from an authentic tribal worldview and successfully problematises the hegemonic discourse of ‘development’. Habib Saheb’s plays were never short of viewers, even after the arrival of Television in India. He made many small T.V. documentaries for UNESCO.

Habib Saheb won numerous international and national awards. He was nominated Rajya Sabha member, awarded Padmabhushan, and provided 5-6 acres of land near Bhopal for his ‘Naya Theatre’ complex by governments. Yet, his stature as an artist is far above such official recognitions.

Brief Life sketch

Habib Tanveer – Born on September 1, 1923 at Raipur, Chhatisgarh. Died 8th June, 2009 at Bhopal. Bachelor’s degree from Nagpur University. Learnt theatre at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London; Theatre School, Bristol and British Drama League, London.

Started career in film journalism as Assistant Editor of ‘Film India’ magazine, Mumbai in 1946. Was involved in acting, writing dialogues and songs and making documentaries at the Bombay film industry from 1946 to 1953. Active in IPTA, Bombay along with Shambhu Mitra, Dina Pathak, Balraj Sahni, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and others during 1948 to 1953. Founded ‘Hindustani Theater’ at Delhi in 1954. Founded ‘Naya Theatre’ at Delhi in 1959. Married theatre artist and director Moneeka Misra in 1961. Member of Rajya Sabha during 1972-1978. Awarded Padmabhushan in 2002.

Major Theatrical Productions

Agra Bazaar (1954), Mitti ki Gadi (1958), Lala Shohratrai (1960), Gaon ke naon sasural, mor naon damaad’ (1973) , Charan Das Chor (1974), Bahadur Kalarin (1978), Hirma ki Amar Kahani (1985), Ek aur Dronacharya (1988), Jin Lahore nai vekhyan, wo janmya hi nai (1990), Dekh rahe hain Nain (1992), Kamdev kaa apna, vasant ritu ka sapna (1994), Mudrarakshas (1996), Ek Aurat Hepatia kee thee (1999), Zahreeli Hawa (2002), Veni sanhaar (2002), Visarjan (2006)

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