March-April 2011

Table of Contents

  1. Onward to the March 14 “People’s March to Parliament”
  2. In Solidarity with the Anti-Posco Resistance Struggle in Odisha

  3. Confessions of a CEO Prime Minister

  4. Indian Skies up for Sale
  5. Food Security for All

  6. Privatisation Has Paved the Way for Corruption

  7. Violence Against Women: Grim Picture

  8. Workers’ March to Parliament

  9. Arab Uprising: When Decades Happen in Weeks

Struggles in India

Onward to the March 14 “People’s March to Parliament”

– Central Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Rise against Soaring Prices and Rampant Corruption!

Rise against the

Corrupt, Repressive and Treacherous UPA Regime!!

Onward to Delhi,

Onward to the March 14 “People’s March to Parliament”!!!

Can you imagine a country where 77% people live on a daily budget of less than Rs. 20 while food grains rot in state custody and rising food prices subject more and more people to hunger and malnutrition?

Can you imagine a country where national wealth is routinely drained out of the country and amassed in foreign banks and the government refuses to take any action against the culprits in the name of ‘international diplomacy’?

Can you imagine a country where ministers and bureaucrats work in tandem with corporate houses to rob the national exchequer of enormous funds that could have been used for public welfare and the Prime Minister likens this loot to whatever little money the government spends in the name of food, fuel and fertiliser subsidy for the poor?

Can you imagine a country where every year tens of thousands of farmers are compelled to commit suicides and the government conspires with corporate houses to dispossess peasants of their land and livelihood?

Can you imagine a country where the government throws all laws of the land to the winds – from environmental laws and land legislations to panchayat acts – to allow desi (national) and foreign companies to plunder the country’s mineral and other natural resources with impunity?

Can you imagine a country where the government is so mortally afraid of the truth that it always seeks to silence people’s struggles with batons, bullets and black laws and imprison upright intellectuals under sedition charges?

We do not have to imagine such a country. This is the country we are living in. This is India after two decades of liberalization, privatization and globalization. This is India under United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule where governance has become a licence for unbridled corruption, where democracy is overshadowed by dark clouds of state repression and the common people have to wage a grim battle for sheer survival.

This state of affairs cannot be tolerated any longer. The UPA government has betrayed all its promises and hence lost its mandate to rule. It has proved to be a government of runaway inflation and unbridled scams. And the Prime Minister and Congress leaders would like to explain everything away as a ‘coalition compulsion’! Whatever ‘compulsion’ the Congress or the UPA may have, the country certainly has no compulsion to tolerate such a regime. Come, let us all join the People’s March to Parliament on March 14 and ask the UPA government to stop giving lame excuses and quit office.

What is the alternative? The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would like us to believe that it can bring down prices and stop corruption. But NDA-ruled states – whether Gujarat or Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Bihar – are as badly mired in corruption as states ruled by the UPA. Worse still, while the country is seeking an end to corruption and repression, the BJP and the RSS are busy whipping up tension over Kashmir and Ayodhya, and some of them are involved in downright terrorist activities. The NDA is clearly not an acceptable alternative.

Indeed, no government which enforces the policies of liberalisation, privatization and globalization can control prices or curb corruption. No government which represents the corporate agenda can guarantee basic welfare for the people. What the country needs is alternative policies, policies that keep the people’s needs and aspirations, and not the profit and power of capital, at the centre. And to this end, the country needs a powerful awakening of the people and a united assertion of all fighting Left forces.

The CPI (ML) and its allies in the All India Left Coordination are fighting on every front for such a pro-people alternative. Make the March 14 “People’s March to Parliament” a big success to carry this battle forward.

Struggles in India

In Solidarity with the Anti-Posco Resistance Struggle in Odisha

– Liberation, March, 2011.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has chosen to clear the notorious Posco project in Odisha in spite of the fact that three separate committees, the Saxena Committee, the Posco Enquiry Committee and the Forest Advisory Committee set up at the behest of the Ministry itself have testified to rampant and deliberate violations of the Forest Rights Act by the project. The various ‘conditionalities’ which accompany the Ministry’s clearance of the Posco project are nothing but a flimsy piece of fiction to hide the fact that in India today, corporations are a law unto themselves, with a licence to loot in brazen violation of laws to protect the environment and people’s rights. Posco and Odisha Government are being given a green signal by the UPA Government on their ‘assurances’ to comply with environment and forest rights laws that they have already violated and lied about.

Following the Communist Party of India ( Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)] Central Committee meeting held at Balugan in Odisha from 3 to 5 February, a CPI(ML) team visited Dhinkia panchayat in Erasama block of Jagatsinghpur district, the main centre of the people’s resistance to the proposed Posco project on 7 February, 2011. The delegation met several leaders of the Posco resistance struggle including Akshay Das, Prakash Jena (member of Erasama block panchayat samiti) and woman activist Monorama Khatua and several others and addressed an impromptu meeting of villagers at Dhinkia.

The villagers of Dhinkia were visibly angry with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for giving the go-ahead signal to the Posco project in spite of adverse recommendations by several expert committees and the continuing struggle of the local people for the last five years. But they also expressed their determination to resist the Posco project in one straightforward slogan: “Maribo kintu daribo na, bhita-maati chhadibo na” (we are not afraid to die, but we will not abandon our hearth and home). The Posco project entails acquisition of 4,000 acres of coastal/forest land that has been home for several hundred years to as many as 8 villages in three panchayats. At least 20,000 people face eviction and loss of livelihood – the area is known for its good crop of paddy, cashew, coconut and high quality betel leaves that are much in demand outside of Odisha. The project also involves the construction of a new captive port for Posco (with devastating consequences for the coastal ecosystem) in spite of the availability of the nearby Paradip port.

Activists of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) also described how the state administration was trying to break the morale of the fighting people. An undeclared embargo has been imposed on the area with some 2000 people facing arrest on leaving the village. Routine panchayat work has come to almost a standstill and people are being denied basic benefits like ration or old age pension. Elected panchayat representatives are being harassed by the block administration for supporting the resistance struggle. Even the post master of Dhinkia post office has been suspended for his alleged sympathy for the movement. In the face of this economic blockade and repressive threats, the morale of the people of Dhinkia and other adjoining villages like Gobindapur, Nuagaon etc. still runs high and the PPSS is determined to fight till the end.

The CPI (ML) Odisha unit has been in close touch with the anti-Posco resistance movement since its inception and this was the second visit to the struggle site by a central team of Party leaders. Reiterating the party’s full support to the struggle and saluting the courage and determination of the local people, Comrade Dipankar, General Secretary of CPI (ML), described the resistance struggle as not merely a struggle against forcible land acquisition but as a battle for freedom from corporate rule. He said the fighting people of Dhinkia had set an inspiring example and enjoyed the support of democratic forces from all over the country. Comrades Khitish Biswal, Rajaram Singh and Mahendra Parida also addressed the meeting along with leaders of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS).

Politics in India

Confessions of a CEO Prime Minister

– ML Update, 22-28 February, 2011.

Ahead of the budget session of Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a televised meeting with some select editors of television channels. The Prime Minister (PM) had a simple explanation for all the problems facing the country: ‘compulsions of coalition politics’. And he had a simple suggestion: the media should not pay too much attention to the scams and other problems for it affects the ‘self-confidence of the people’ and the ‘international image of the country’! The economist PM brushed aside the whole issue of the 2G scam by likening the spectrum loot to the subsidy on food, fuel and fertilizer! And he also did not forget to remind his listeners that his government would complete its term for it still had a lot of unfinished business.

In May 2009 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had returned to power promising food security for the hungry and ‘inclusive growth’ for all those who have never been invited to the celebrations of economic growth. But while food security and inclusive growth still remain cruel jokes, under UPA-II, the country has had no respite from soaring prices and mega scams. The government knows it has forfeited whatever confidence the electorate may have reposed in it and it therefore asks the media not to weaken the ‘self-confidence’ of the people by focusing too much on the scams! And if the PM’s press meet was any indication, the media is only too willing to play ball. There was hardly anything asked on the issue of illicit outflow of Indian wealth abroad, estimated at Rs 240 crore every single day. Nor was any clarification sought from the PM on the issue of appointing a tainted official as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)!

The PM had the audacity to compare the loss to the national exchequer caused by the spectrum loot to the subsidies meant for the poor. Even if one ignores the crucial distinction between the beneficiaries in the two cases – the 2G spectrum loot only bolstered corporate coffers while the subsidies are meant to help the poor survive the onslaught of the market – how can the PM compare a budgeted subsidy to a loss caused by the non-auction of a key resource? If it is the government’s policy to allot spectrum on ‘first come, first serve’ basis and not through auction why did not the government declare that? Why did the government then go in for auction in the case of 3G spectrum, claiming credit for the revenue it yielded? Why did Manmohan Singh write to the Telecom Minister Raja in November 2007 suggesting auction of 2G spectrum if he thought it should be made available to telecom companies at subsidized rates?

The Al Jazeera correspondent of course drew the PM’s attention to the ongoing developments in the Arab world and asked if he thought such mass upsurges could also happen in India. True to his politics, Manmohan Singh expressed concern over what was happening in the Arab world before reluctantly extending his good wishes to the people of Egypt if they wanted to move towards democratization! He was however sure that there was no ‘danger’ of Egypt being replicated in India, for India is a ‘functional democracy’ where the people “already have a right to change governments”. And he seemed to be sure that the Indian people would not exercise that right against his government! “Of all the decisions that I take, 7 out of 10 turn out to be correct. The shareholders of a normal corporation will say a job well done”, said Singh.

So here we have Singh’s essential vision of democracy and his role as Prime Minister: he is the CEO of a ‘normal corporation’! Manmohan Singh and his ilk can only see politics through the corporate prism – where the government is just a service provider to those who can afford to buy that service. Not even a ‘sleeping shareholder’, the notion of a citizen has actually been reduced to that of a fee-paying customer and those who cannot afford to pay simply do not count! But India is not a ‘normal corporation’ – it is a country of more than a billion people 77% of whom live on a daily income of less than Rs. 20 while Rs. 240 crore daily migrate illegally to the safer shores of foreign banks. Manmohan Singh is a crisis manager whose way of crisis management only deepens the crisis. In 1991 he initiated the new economic policies in the name of solving the country’s balance of payments crisis. Twenty years later, there is crisis on every front, but Manmohan Singh and his ilk are doing brisk business.

The people will have to accept the challenge thrown up by Manmohan Singh. Beyond a mere change of government, the Indian people will have to rise for a change in the disastrous policies. The entire policy establishment of liberalization, privatization and globalization and its trademark products – economic crisis, megabuck scams and state-corporate assault on democracy – will have to be dismantled. In Manmohan Singh’s vocabulary, his normal corporation will have to be sent out of business. And if it needs a replication of Egypt in India, the people of India will have to rise to the occasion and foot the bill for a real change.

Politics in India

Indian Skies up for Sale

P Gopal, Liberation, March, 2011.

This is an era of liberalized scams involving politician-bureaucrat-big business nexus in looting the national assets. The heat generated by 2G spectrum has not subsided. Now, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit findings have revealed the corruption cloud over the Indian skies. The Union government on 17 February scrapped the controversial 2005 S-band allotment deal between Antrix, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and Devas Multimedia, a private firm. Explaining the rationale behind the annulment of the deal Law minister Veerapa Moily said there has been an increased demand for spectrum for national needs, particularly in the fields of defence, para-military forces, railways and other public utility services as well as for societal needs. “In view of the country’s strategic requirements and societal services like education, healthcare, communication and disaster management, the government will not be able to provide slot in S-band to Antrix for commercial activities, including for those which are the subject matter of existing contractual obligations for S-band,” Moily added.

This particular issue should be seen beyond the frontiers of corruption. Just as thousands of kilometers of national highways are virtually owned by private sector, through Antrix-Devas deal Indian Space Organization was attempting to handover the national space assets to the private sector for a song. Antrix Corporation Limited was incorporated as a private limited company owned by Government of India, in September 1992 as a Marketing arm of ISRO for promotion and commercial exploitation of space products, technical consultancy services and transfer of technologies developed by ISRO. Antrix signed an MOU in March 2003 with M/S Forge Advisors, USA to explore opportunities in digital multimedia services. Later, Forge Advisors established an Indian company called Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd.

The Bangalore-based start-up, founded in 2004, is headed by Dr. M.G. Chandrasekhar, former Scientific Secretary at ISRO. In 2008, Deutsche Telekom picked up 17 per cent stake in Devas for about $75 million. Columbia Capital and Telcom Ventures are the other international investors. Devas was able to get Rs.1.14 lakh premium on its share worth Rs.10 when it divested stake to Deutsche Telekom. The board of directors includes Kiran Karnik, a former President of Nasscom; Larry Babio, a former vice-chairman of Verizon, and Gary Parsons, a former Chairman of XM Sirius Satellite. It may be noted that former ISRO Chairman Prof. U.R .Rao’s daughter works for Devas.

According to the contract, Devas Multimedia is entitled to get a total of 70 Mhz of the S-band spectrum on lease for 20 years. The contract requires ISRO to build and launch two communications satellites — GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A — at a further cost of Rs 2,000 crore. To operationalize this agreement, Antrix committed to development and launch of two satellites by ISRO referred to as Primary Satellite-1 (PS-1) and Primary Satellite-2 (PS-2) in the agreement. Devas got all this for a measly Rs. 1000 crores. S-band spectrum was once used by Doordarshan to deliver programmes by satellite to all parts of the country but is now considered to be of enormous commercial value for high-speed, terrestrial mobile communications. In 2010, the Union government got nearly Rs. 67,719 crore from the auction of just 15 Mhz of similar airwaves for 3G mobile services.

Mass education, weather forecasting, disaster management, communication and navigation were the original intent of the Space industry. Increasingly, though, commercialisation is taking a toll of ISRO’s priorities. The Antrix Board of Directors, significantly, includes Ratan Tata and Adi Godrej. MNCs have been availing of the remote sensing capability of ISRO for a song while commercial DTH/multimedia operators like Tata Sky, Bharti, Sun, Reliance ADAG etc have been scrambling for Ku-band spectrum.

So, what are the issues in the Antrix-Devas deal? S-band spectrum was allocated without inviting competitive bids. Organizational control systems were not followed. ISRO’s costs were underestimated. Public resources were diverted to build two customer-specific satellites. Devas Multimedia’s terms deviate from those in past commercial contracts of ISRO/Antrix. According to preliminary CAG estimates, this spectrum largesse to a private customer could have caused the exchequer a loss in excess of Rs. 2 lakh crore. And the Prime Minister’s office, to which the ISRO is directly accountable, turned a blind eye for the past six years, and would probably have continued to do so had it not been for fear that the taint of accumulating scams in 2G, CWG etc would reach the PM’s chair through the S-band scam.

The S-Band spectrum scam is very much a fallout of the commercialisation of ISRO, whereby the ISRO bureaucracy hankering after lucrative but shady deals, has compromised the credibility of the institution and undermined the work of the scientists. If this is what happens when corporate layers get on the boards of scientific institutions, it is a pointer to how the UPA-II’s agenda of commercialisation of education and research will also open the floodgates of corruption in those areas too. The crash of image thanks to these scams will take a greater toll on the credibility of scientific research institutions than the crash of launch vehicles and rockets.

Politics in India

Food Security for All:

Too Much for United Progressive Alliance-II (UPA-II) to Digest?

– Kavita Krishnan, Liberation, March, 2011.

The tussle between the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the Expert Committee headed by the PM’s Economic Advisor C Rangarajan over the National Food Security Bill is being projected as a contest between the ‘pro-people concerns’ of the NAC headed by Sonia Gandhi, and the neoliberal commitments of Manmohan Singh on the other. Indications are, however, that it’s all a case of calculated shadow-boxing, with food security being a casualty at a time when food prices are hitting an all-time high and India has among the worst rates of hunger and malnutrition in the world, especially among children and women.

Under pressures from the Government, the NAC had already watered down its initial proposals of universal Public Distribution System (PDS) coverage along with child and maternity nutrition programmes.

According to the NAC’s proposals, the Below Poverty Line/Above Poverty Line (BPL/APL) divide was to continue, with the ‘priority segment’ (46 % of the rural population and 28 % of the urban population) being eligible for 35 kg of food grain at the rate of Rs.1 a kg for millets, Rs.2 a kg for wheat and Rs.3 a kg for rice; and the ‘general segment’ (44 % of rural and 22 % of urban populations) being eligible for 20 kg per household at half the minimum support price for the grains. The 46% of ‘priority’ rural population is based on the rural poverty ratio for 2004-05, with a margin of 10% for “exclusion errors.”

The NAC’s calculation of ‘priority’ population is only marginally higher than the Tendulkar Committee’s estimate (rural poverty at 41.8%), and much lower than the N C Saxena committee’s estimate that between 50-80% of rural households were poor. And it is a far cry from the Arjun Sengupta report’s estimate, which had found that 77% of India’s population lived on less than Rs 20 a day. At a time when food prices are soaring, how much can Rs 20 stretch? Yet even the NAC proposal left out a large section of such people from the ‘priority’ list of the poor.

As Jean Dreze, a member of the NAC, put it in a scathing dissent note, the NAC’s was “a minimalist proposal”: far from being a radical food guarantee, or even a substantial expansion of the existing PDS coverage, it was even a curtailment of the existing PDS model under which APL households too are eligible for 35 kgs of grain. But even this ‘minimalist’ proposal has been too much for the UPA-II to digest. It appointed the Rangarajan panel to review the NFSB proposal, which, on cue, declared that the NAC proposal was infeasible, since there was a shortage of food stocks to meet the requirement. When food grain stocks rot in godowns, prompting even the Supreme Court to take notice, can it really be that India lacks food stocks to feed all her people?

The Rangarajan panel has sought to mask its hostility to the very idea of expanded PDS coverage behind a facade of concern for the burden placed on the poor, arguing that if the Government goes for larger procurement to stock the PDS, it will run the ‘danger of distorting food prices in the open markets,’ thereby increasing the burden of food prices on the poor. This is not only rank hypocrisy, it makes no sense economically. After all, increased procurement if accompanied by increased distribution cannot result in increased food prices. On the contrary, it has the potential to ease the agrarian crisis by guaranteeing an assured minimum income for the crisis-ridden peasantry.

The Rangarajan panel recommends an even further dilution of the NAC proposal – suggesting that guaranteed PDS coverage be restricted to the ‘priority’ households (defined as official BPL estimates + a margin of 10% of BPL population, amounting to 46% rural and 28% urban population) which will receive 35 kgs at Rs 2 per kg wheat and Rs 3 per kg rice. State-wise BPL population cut-off will be fixed from above by the centre. According to the Rangarajan panel, PDS foodgrain can be sold to the non-BPL population at the Minimum Support Price. Further, the Rangarajan panel, in the name of reforming the PDS mechanism, essentially suggests dismantling it in favour of a system of ‘smart cards’ whereby beneficiaries can “go to any store of their choice and use their smart cards or food coupons to buy food.” The Rangarajan panel’s suggestion disturbingly indicates the UPA-II’s motive to privatise the PDS, relieving the Government of accountability for its functioning.

Jean Dreze’s dissent note had observed that “the NAC proposals are a great victory for the government – they allow it to appear to be doing something radical for food security, but it is actually ‘more of the same’”. To confuse the issue, the UPA-II is seeking to restrict the entire question of food security to a debate between the minimalist proposal of the NAC and the even more minimalist proposal of the Rangarajan panel – both of which are a mockery of any genuine programme of ‘food for all.’ The Rangarajan recommendations will serve as a pretext for further retreat on part of the NAC, and behind the NAC-Rangarajan smokescreen, the UPA-II plans to stall, delay and dilute its promise of guaranteed food security for all.

Politics in India

Privatisation Has Paved the Way for Corruption

– Prashant Bhushan, Liberation, March, 2011.

[Text of speech delivered by Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan at the Deshbhakt Yadgar Hall, Jalandhar, on ‘The Indian State and the Cancer of Corruption’ on 14 February.]

Corruption is corroding Indian democracy, and massive scams are being discovered all around. Corruption is commonly understood as bribe-taking, but that is not really the case. Rather, corruption in any instance in which a person in public office takes a decision, due to any factors, against impartial public interest.

The worst and most serious form of corruption is the loot of natural resources which are being handed over to huge corporations. These super rich corporations, for instance, have lakhs of acres of land which have been forcibly snatched from the poorest adivasis and handed over to them in the name of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), mining, or steel plants and other industries. After land, the other major loot of resources is taking place in the country’s mineral wealth. Oil, gas, iron, copper – every kind of minerals are being gifted to these companies to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees. You all have heard of the spectrum scam being worth around Rs 1.76 lakh crores and the Indian space Research Organization (ISRO) S-Band spectrum scam worth Rs. 2 lakh crore. But the loot of other natural resources like land and minerals – for instance the natural oil and gas fields given to companies like Reliance – is to the tune of many lakh crores every year.

Every year, a single company, Reliance, earns around Rs 1 lakh crore from the oil and gas fields, which is a precious natural resource of the country, but which the Government has sold to Reliance for peanuts. The Government then proceeded to double the price of natural gas produced by Public Sector Units (PSUs) from USD 1.8 per unit to USD 4.2 per unit to bring it in line with the price approved by the government for the gas produced by Reliance and swell the latter’s profits. [If the Govt. had not done so, lower-priced gas produced by PSUs would have been preferred by power and fertilizer producers to gas produced by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). By hiking the prices, the Govt. not only protected RIL’s market, it also increased the burden on consumers of power and fertilisers. –Ed.] Not only that, Pranab Mukherjee got a Bill passed in Parliament introducing tax concessions on gas production that would be applicable retrospectively- something that would benefit Reliance hugely! On the Radia tapes we can hear how, when this Bill was to be debated in Parliament, former Revenue Secretary and now Member of Parliament (MP )N K Singh tells Mukesh Ambani’s lobbyist Niira Radia that Pranab Mukherjee is planning a Bill to ensure thousands of crores of tax concessions for Reliance (which Singh refers to as “our company”). But Singh warns that if Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were to speak strongly against the Bill in Parliament then it might not be easy to pass. Apprehending that BJP MP Arun Shourie who was to be the lead Opposition speaker in Parliament might be “very critical” of the Bill, Singh suggests that he can persuade BJP to replace Shourie with Venkaiah Naidu who is close to Mukesh Ambani. And that is exactly what happened in Parliament – Shourie was scheduled to speak but was replaced by Naidu, who supported the Bill which was passed. A Reliance representative was flown down by chartered flight to brief Naidu before this debate.

So in every way, not only are natural resources being looted, the entire government – and not just the government but the entire system of the country – is working overtime to ensure the highest profits for these private corporations. The Radia tapes have given the citizens of this country a glimpse for the first time of how the government’s decisions, policies, laws passed by Parliament, decisions of regulatory authorities as well as media stories are being decided by corporations through their lobbyists. Privatisation has now gone to the extent that monopolies – such as electricity supply (there is never any competitive market for electricity supply; you have no choice but to buy electricity from a single company) – have been privatized. Similar is the case with monopolies like airports and roads, and natural resources – all are being handed over to private companies.

Corporations even control the regulatory mechanisms. You remember that there was a debate recently over whether or Bt Brinjal should be introduced. That decision was to be based on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) set up by the Government. When we looked at who were the members of this Committee we found that the Co-Chairman was a bio-scientist called C D Mayee who is on the Board of Directors of an international organization International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) which is funded by Monsanto, the very same company that has the patent for Bt Brinjal and had applied for approval! [Mayee was the Co-Chair of the GEAC that approved Bt Cotton in 2001 and four years later he was appointed to the Board of the ISAAA.- Ed] How can such a committee take an impartial decision on approval, when its Co-Chairman himself is a part of an institution with a commercial interest in pushing genetically modified crops in the third world and countries like India? In our country such conflicts of interest have been created in every regulatory body. Take the instance of our case in the Supreme Court against poisons in Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks. Pesticides are present in water and therefore make their way into soft drinks – but apart from these, various poisonous substances like phosphoric acid, ethylene, chemical colours and flavours and other poisonous chemical substances are deliberately introduced by the companies into these drinks. The Government says there is a Food Safety Authority which has various panels to look into these matters. When we investigated we found that on these panels were people of Pepsi, Coca Cola, Nestle – the very same companies which the Committee is supposed to regulate! When we brought these to the attention of the Supreme Court, the Bench finally passed an order that the regulatory panels be reconstituted and all names associated with soft drink companies removed. [The SC Bench observed, “the panel does not consist of independent persons; it is contrary to the (Food Security) Act. What kind of recommendations do you expect from the panel?” – ed.]

Our economic policies are formulated by the Planning Commission. Montek Singh Ahluwalia is Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission – where has he come from? He worked for 15 years at the World Bank (WB), after which he was brought to India, first as economic adviser, then revenue secretary, then finance secretary, and then he became Director of the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) for three years where his salary was Rs 2 crore a year. Then he became Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, and it is said that from here he will become IMF Chairman! What, after all, is IMF)? It is an institution which is controlled by USA and some Western European countries. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz held that WB and IMF are totally in the grip of the MNCs, especially financial MNCs, of USA and Western Europe. Former West Bengal Finance Minister Ashok Mitra has written in his autobiography about how Manmohan Singh became Finance Minister. In 1991, when Narasimha Rao became PM, India’s foreign exchange reserves were over and India badly needed a loan from IMF or WB. IMF-WB placed two conditions for the loan – first, India must adopt the ‘structural adjustment’ policies of liberalization-privatisation-globalisation (LPG); and second, they made the explicit condition that the Finance Minister must be of their choosing. Rao agreed. IMF first nominated IG Patel as the Finance Minister; Patel turned it down due to prior engagements. IMF then nominated Manmohan Singh – and that is how our Prime Minister (PM) today became India’s Finance Minister in 1991!

Today Manmohan Singh blows his trumpet that these policies have increased the GDP growth rate from 4% to 9%. Well, if you sell off all the country’s natural resources, you can easily increase GDP to even 2O%! And this is what is happening – natural resources have been distributed at a great rate amongst private companies for peanuts. These companies are exporting minerals to other countries like China to earn massive profits – and India is not getting anything in return, though it all goes to swell the GDP figures of the country. The Lokayukta of Karnataka Santosh Hegde has prepared a big report on the economics of Karnataka’s mines. The Reddy brothers – Bellary’s mining mafia and also Ministers who command great clout in the BJP Government – are exporting iron ore at Rs 5000 a ton, mainly to China. 2/3rds of the iron ore mined in India is being exported, in which the private companies earn Rs 5000 a ton. The cost of extracting the ore is Rs 250 a ton; transporting it to the ports costs another Rs 250 per ton! The company earns a 90% profit of Rs 4500 a ton and the Government gets a royalty of half per cent – Rs 27 a ton (now it has been raised to Rs 60 a ton). Moreover the land for mining is snatched from poor adivasis and handed over to the private companies. This is the root of the Maoist problem which the PM claims is the biggest security threat to the country. Most adivasis are dying of hunger as a result of their means of survival being snatched – some are taking up guns in desperation. India’s natural wealth is being extracted at a huge rate (30 years later these resources will be depleted), water and jungles ruined, and adivasis robbed of their survival – all for a puny royalty earned by the government and enormous profits for private players! Yet the PM claims daily that he is ‘increasing GDP rate’ as though it were a great achievement.

Those who made him Finance Minister and PM are directing him to privatise all natural resources and monopolies – and yet he claims he is an honest man who takes no bribes. Not taking a bribe – is this the only criterion of honesty?! Virtually each Minister in your Cabinet is corrupt and taking thousands of crores in bribes; you knew Raja was corrupt and yet you did not remove him from the Cabinet and in fact made him Minister a second term under pressure from private companies as revealed on the Radia tapes – and yet you say you are very honest! The Vigilance Commission (VC) is the country’s topmost anti-corruption agency – the PM hand-picked a man – Thomas – who is himself being prosecuted in a corruption case. I have heard that Thomas too takes no bribes – but he is being prosecuted for having, as Food Secretary of Kerala, facilitated Kerala Chief Minister Karunakaran in taking a bribe in the palmolein export matter, preparing fake letters and so on so as to remain in his seat and get plum posts in future. And sure enough he has landed a plum post of VC now. As Raja’s Telecom Secretary, Thomas did Raja’s bidding in every way. Raja asked him to get a suitable opinion from the Law Ministry to the effect that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has no authority to interfere in the 2G scam matter; and he procured such an opinion. If someone, even if he does not take a bribe himself but allows others to do so, allows corrupt policies to be made and corrupt decisions to be taken and does nothing to stop these, in order to hold on to his post or to secure a promotion, then will we call him honest? The PM says he is helpless because if a coalition partner like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) calls the shots he can do nothing; in other words he is tolerating corruption in order to remain in power – can we call him honest?

None of the Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in India – in any sector be it oil or mining or stock market – is paying taxes. And why not? Because the government has left a loophole open for them. They have only to show that their company is based in Mauritius. Since India’s tax treaty with Mauritius is different from that with other countries, companies based in Mauritius will not have to pay any tax in India. It is international practice that at least capital gains tax is paid to the host country; all these companies are making huge capital gains in India and would, by any treaty, have had to pay capital gains tax to India. But thanks to the Mauritius loophole, these companies are getting total exemption. Mauritius has passed a law called the Mauritius Offshore Business Activities Act; any company from any country can come and register itself as an offshore company there, but by law it can do no business activity or employ any person in Mauritius. All MNCs in India are registered as offshore businesses in Mauritius and many Indian companies like Essar too have done likewise to evade taxes! Some 1.5 trillion dollars of Indian money is stashed in Swiss banks – the Government is talking of bringing it back to the country. Far from bringing it back, today they have left this ‘Mauritius’ route wide open for money be siphoned off every day, because the Government is in the pockets of the corporations.

Not only the government but even the judiciary today is mired in corruption. The Radia tapes conversation with Prabhu Chawla reveal that the Reliance case in the Supreme Court (SC) was managed. You may have heard of a recent contempt case against me in the Supreme Court, because I said in an interview that at least half of the last 16-17 Supreme Court Chief Justices were corrupt. I said what I did after having given it much thought; of the last 17 Chief Justices, in my assessment at least 9 were corrupt. (applause) I said this quite deliberately because there is an illusion that is fostered that there is corruption in the lower rungs of the judiciary but not at the top, not in the High Court (HC) and SC. Now there are many revelations of corruption against SC Chief Justices including the last one, Justice Balakrishnan.

The Radia tapes also revealed that the media will not only write what is dictated to it by corporate lobbyists but media persons too will act as willing agents and couriers for these corporate houses.

Who benefits most from the corruption that has spread throughout the entire system? It is said that politicians, Ministers etc are responsible. Yes, they are responsible because they head this system. But in corruption there is always a demand and supply. Today the all-pervasive privatization had created an unprecedented demand for corruption. Because for the private companies, the easiest way to multiply their profits a hundred-fold is to bribe a Minister and get the rights over an oil field or a mine for a throwaway price – and thereby loot lakhs of crores worth of natural wealth. You can get assets worth one lakh crore for a 1000 crore, pay the Minister a 10% bribe of Rs 10,000 crore and still enjoy a fat profit. The policy regime of privatization has created a system where it is possible to earn lakhs of crores by bribing the policy makers.

In earlier times, natural resources were not privatized and available for loot. There was corruption in the public sector mining corporations, no doubt, but it was not possible to acquire lakhs of crores worth of assets for peanuts and then sell them for a profit. The argument in favour of privatization was that government agencies are corrupt, and if the mining etc is taken out of the government’s hands and given to private players, it would reduce corruption. But the opposite happened. And that is what one distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote eight years back in his book Globalisation and Its Discontents, in a chapter titled ‘Who Lost Russia’ said that neo-liberal reform and the transition from communism to capitalism in the 1990s, involving the privatization of public sector assets and natural resources, had resulted in corruption of such proportions that Russia had become a failed state, a banana republic. In an article in the Hindu in January 2011 titled ‘Chilling picture of crime and corruption’, Vladimir Radyuhin observes that Russia has become a mafia state. The same corporate mafias and the “crime syndicates born out of the corruption-ridden privatisation of the 1990s have not only survived but also developed close ties with the law-enforcement agencies.” If anyone in the police tries to stop them these mafia powers promptly kill them, and even Russia’s PM or President are helpless before these mafias. If unbridled privatisation continues in India, then India too will meet the same fate.

In keeping with the demand for corruption, the supply has grown because there is no check over the Ministers etc who are the suppliers and over the system as a whole. The anti-corruption agencies – VC, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and judiciary – are all so corrupt and weak themselves that they are able to act effectively only on very rare occasions. In the present 2G Scam case, the SC Bench has forced CBI to go after at least some Ministers and CEOs; but the CBI is yet to pursue several industrialists. Heads of Essar, Tata and Ruia – all are involved in this and by rights they should all be pursued and booked but that is yet to happen and it remains to be seen if it will happen in the future.

The question now is – how to fight this all-pervasive corruption? To begin with, we must struggle to change these policies, and reverse the rampant privatization and prevent the future plans to privatise even the remaining avenues like water supply.

Anti corruption agencies need to be reformed – the judiciary, CVC and CBI – and a new anti-corruption agency needs to be created, call it Lokpal or what you will, that should be completely free from Government control and in whose selection the Government should have no hand. We have proposed a Bill with a transparent method of selection of the Lokpals, in stark contrast to the complete lack of transparent criteria in the selection of the CVC. The Lokpal should have full freedom to investigate any complaint of corruption and CBI should be under the Lokpal, not the Government, as should vigilance departments. The Lokpal should also have the power to prosecute. The Government’s Lokpal Bill is toothless and an eyewash. We also need judicial reforms and an independent commission to which the judiciary should be accountable – but Governments and judiciary alike have an interest in resisting this.

We also need political reforms. Elections as of now are an extremely unfair laying ground for genuine pro-people activists and forces. Democracy should not mean only voting to elect a Government. We need to move from representative democracy towards participatory democracy or direct democracy. People, be it at the village level or on national policy questions, should be enabled to vote directly on the decisions to be made, through a referendum of sorts, using technology such as the internet. Take the question of the Nuke Deal – such an enormous decision was taken by the Government, not even by Parliament! Why could such an important issue not be decided by the people themselves through a referendum?

To sum up, we need to put an end to the policies of privatization which is the root of the worst corruption; we need to reform the anti-corruption agencies and create an effective Lokpal institution; we need judicial reforms; and we need to move towards direct democracy. But who will do this? The Government, which is a puppet in the hands of corporations, will not do so. The only way is for the people of the country to come out on the streets to demand these changes through a mass movement – and in the mood of the people today, there is certainly the potential for such a movement. Rangarajan recommendations will serve as a pretext for further retreat on part of the National Advisory Committee (NAC), and behind the NAC-Rangarajan smokescreen, the UPA-II plans to stall, delay and dilute its promise of guaranteed food security for all.

International Womens’ Day

Violence Against Women: Grim Picture

– Kavita Krishnan, Liberation, March, 2011.

On 8 March last year, the UPA-II had passed the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with much fanfare. As the International Women’s Day Centenary culminating on 8 March 2011 nears, it is apparent that the Bill has been shelved. It may periodically be taken off the shelf and dusted off, but there is no sign that it will in fact be passed without significant dilutions. Other key legislations like the one on sexual harassment are still pending.

Meanwhile, a series of rape cases involving elected leaders of ruling parties has brought the issue of violence against women to centre-stage, and highlighting the tolerant attitude of the ruling political establishment towards such violence. In the Rupam Pathak case in Bihar, the Deputy Chief Minister (CM) himself led a campaign to vilify a woman who, faced with the impossibility of securing justice in her complaint of sexual exploitation by a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), had resorted to the desperate measure of stabbing the MLA.

The situation in Uttar Pradesh is especially shocking. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Government led by Mayawati had come to power on the promise of social justice and a leash on crime. In particular, women from oppressed castes had expected that the Government led by a ‘dalit ki beti’ (as Mayawati styles herself) would ensure some freedom from the feudal violence of which they bear the worst brunt. Instead, NCRB data shows an increase in crimes against women, especially dalit women, in UP. But that is not all. Since Mayawati came to power, no less than seven MLAs from her own party have been implicated in crimes against women. In Mayawati’s previous tenure, she could try and shrug off the case of BSP Minister Amarmani Tripathi (later Samajwadi Party [SP] MLA) convicted of murder of his lover Madhumita Shukla, as a one-off case. But seven such cases in her current tenure suggest that the rot runs deep. It seems there is something about Mayawati’s sarvajan regime that allows these MLAs to entertain the feudal belief that rape (especially of women from oppressed castes) is part of the perks of power.

First, in 2007, there was the Uttar Pradesh minister of state for Food Processing Anand Sen Yadav, allegedly involved in the kidnapping of a 24-year old dalit college student of Faizabad. Then, in 2008, there was another BSP MLA Guddu Pandit who was accused of raping a schoolteacher. Then came the case of kidnapping and rape against Bilsi MLA Yogendra Sagar. The police avoided arresting Sagar and he was declared to be “absconding”, forcing the victim to move court. Another BSP MLA, Haji Alim, was charged with the abduction and rape of Nepali girls who were forced to work in his circus. In January 2009, Ram Mohan Garg, former Chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Fisheries Development Corporation, a post which enjoyed ministerial rank, was arrested on charges of raping a woman and making an obscene video of her. More recently, the Banda MLA Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi stands charged with raping a oppressed caste girl and then getting her arrested in a fabricated theft case. Since then, another BSP MLA Shiv Pratap Yadav has been charged by a court in Etawah of conspiring to protect a school principal accused of raping a teacher in his school and driving the victim’s husband to commit suicide.

When MLAs from the ruling BSP behave as though they have a license to rape, it is a symptom of a more widespread disease, whereby police and authorities routinely protect socially and politically powerful perpetrators of crimes against women. A rash of horrific cases of violence against women is being witnessed in UP, especially against dalit women. Near Kanpur, one dalit girl had her body parts chopped off for resisting rape. Some months ago, a dalit teenage girl immolated herself after police refused to register her rape complaint. Recently, another dalit girl in Azamgarh hanged herself when her father got threats after she complained of gang rape. A schoolteacher at Jaunpur immolated herself recently, despairing of being able to get justice in her rape charge against the director of the school board. At Chinhat, not far from the state capital, the police tried its best to suppress and destroy evidence of rape and murder of a dalit girl.

Previous governments and rival parties in UP have been no better. In 2006, three ministers of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government were accused of being involved in the murder of a woman lecturer in Meerut University. Last year, a Samajwadi Party MLA was charged with rape by a woman in Sultanpur. But this is no excuse for the Mayawati Government, because after all the sole USP of this Government is supposedly its commitment to justice for those who have long suffered feudal and patriarchal oppression. For MLAs in this Government as well as police in the state to be involved in and encouraging such oppression exposes the BSP’s social justice facade as hollow and deceptive.

The Congress has been quick to embarrass the Mayawati Government over the series of incidents of violence on women in UP. But who will answer for the relentless increase in incidents of rape and violence in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh, Assam and even Delhi? According to NCRB data, Hyderabad and Delhi are among the worst cities as far as women’s safety is concerned. Likewise, Haryana has the worst record as far as ‘honour’ killings are concerned, and the Congress government there continues to offer excuses for this barbaric phenomenon.

The recent case in Barasat where a young boy was killed by goons when he resisted them for harassing his sister, at a place quite close to the DM’s bungalow, reminds us that even West Bengal is showing a dismal record these days when it comes to violence against women.

In regions where the Indian state is at war with people, women have been a deliberate target. In the rape and murder of two young women at Shopian, Kashmir, the country’s highest investigative agency colluded to bury the truth and claim that they drowned in a shallow stream. If the systematic state repression were not enough, women also become targets for militant groups: recently, two sisters in the Valley were picked up from their homes by unidentified gunmen and brutally killed.

In Odisha, within a period of weeks beginning in the last week of December 2010, 10 women, many of them adivasis, have been killed in what the police claims were ‘encounters’ with Maoists. These include four women and one 12-year-old girl near the site of people’s resistance to the proposed Tata steel plant at Kalinganagar, and five women adivasis, all around 20 years old, killed in a single night in Rayagada district.

If women and even children in these areas of resistance to corporate land grab and mining loot are being massacred in fake encounters, the case of a young tribal woman of Odisha, Kandri Lohar, illustrates how the situation of ‘surrendered Maoist’ women is no less vulnerable. Kandri, who is said to have run away from home to join the Maoists, was arrested in 2005. Press stories said she was arrested with her fiancé Shankar, and the police, holding Kandri to be “innocent,” got her to surrender and arranger her marriage to a local youth. However, reports are that she was tortured by her husband and in-laws, and therefore returned to her parents’ house with her small son. Meanwhile the police had promised her the job of homeguard at the time of her surrender, but the job was offered to her only in 2009 when media highlighted her case. On the night of 11 February 2011, she and her son were found brutally murdered. Police claimed that Maoists killed her because she was suspected of helping the police, but Maoist leaders have accused the police of the killing. Human rights groups, pointing out that police had killed three alleged Maoists in an encounter in the afternoon of 11 February, have suspected that perhaps Kandri was in touch with suspected Maoists and being used by police to track their movements. Whatever the truth about who killed her, Kandri’s story does raise serious questions about the conduct of the police. If the media stories are true, it seems the police separated Kandri from the partner of her choice and, doing nothing for years to provide her with employment and independence, instead satisfied themselves with “arranging” another marriage for her, in which she was subjected to violence. Official explanations of how she was killed leave many questions unanswered.

The Ruchika case had underlined how difficult it is to pursue a case of sexual harassment against a police official. The same is being repeated in a notorious case of 2005 in which P S Natarajan, an IG of police in Jharkhand, was accused of sexually exploiting an adivasi woman. This month, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has squashed the suspension order of Natarajan, and the Jharkhand police is busy putting out stories accusing the woman of being a leader of a Maoist outfit.

With this grim situation all over the country, the IWD Centenary will not be only an occasion to celebrate a 100 years of hard-won gains. Rather, on IWD in India this year, women all over the country will cut through the bland and hollow assurances of governments and will demand why these same governments are protecting perpetrators of crimes against women.

Workers’ Struggles

Workers’ March to Parliament

– Liberation, March, 2011.

Thousands of workers under the banner of various central trade unions marched to Parliament on February 23rd against price rise and demanding upholding of labour laws.

The following is a link to an article from International Metalworkers’ Federation:

(http://www.imfmetal.org/index.cfm?c=25776&l=2)

International

Arab Uprising: When Decades Happen in Weeks

– Dipankar Bhattacharya, Liberation, March, 2011.

There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen. Lenin said this nearly a hundred years ago during the turbulent days of Russian revolution. The last few weeks have once again vindicated this Leninist insight when the people of Tunisia and Egypt succeeded in ending decades of autocratic rule through weeks of massive street protests. It took the brave people of Tunisia just four weeks to not only end the 23-year-old autocratic rule of their notorious US-backed ruler, Ben Ali, but also inspire upsurges across the Arab world to put several other Ben Alis on notice. One of them, Hosni Mubarak, the octogenarian strongman of Egypt, the biggest political and military partner of the US in the region, has already had to step down in the face of sustained mass pressure. Protests are also on in countries like Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Sudan, and the rulers have already announced some measures to pacify the protesters and meet some of their demands.

The return of mass upsurges on the Arab street has revealed tremendous potential and struck a chord of global resonance. True, the upsurges had the local rulers as the immediate target and the US-Israel axis was hardly even mentioned. But the fact remains that Egypt has been the lynchpin of the US-Israel strategic axis in the Arab world. Even when Obama tried to ‘reach out’ to the Muslim world, he chose Cairo as the stage for delivering his address. Any mass upsurge for democracy in Egypt therefore has the unmistakable potential to destabilize the US-Israel strategy and pose new challenges for the US policymakers. Washington’s response to the Egyptian developments has been carefully calibrated – it was only when it became crystal clear that Mubarak had no other option but to step down immediately that the US went for a military-monitored transition. It now remains to be seen how the awakened people of Egypt respond to the challenges of transition in the coming days.

It is well known that while the US loves to topple regimes in the name of democracy, it is always afraid of democracy straying beyond the dotted lines of the Empire. Will the Egyptian urge for democracy be satisfied with the mere ouster of Mubarak, the hated and tired dictatorial face, or will it insist on more changes in the set-up that Mubarak had built over the years and in the policy trajectory he followed both internally and externally? With the opening up of the democratic space in Egypt and the larger Arab world, diverse trends in Egyptian society, history and culture will now have a chance to reassert themselves and we will have to wait and see if the once dominant trend of secular Arab nationalism can again emerge as the leading current.

While keeping a close watch on the unfolding developments, one must wholeheartedly welcome what has already been achieved by these popular uprisings. Together with popular victories in Latin America, militant student protests and workers’ struggles in Europe and the continuing people’s resistance in many parts of Asia, the Arab uprising marks a major rejection of neoliberal policies of privatization and corporate plunder. “Bread, freedom and dignity” was the central slogan of Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” (Jasmine is Tunisia’s national flower) and in Egypt too the upsurge is clearly rooted in popular anger against rising prices, growing unemployment and the spectacular accumulation of private wealth at the expense of public resources and rights. The thoroughly modern, secular and popular character of the uprising has also demolished the mischievous imperialist propaganda that demonises Islam and depicts life and politics in almost all Muslim-majority countries as being dogmatic and medieval.

Tunisia and Egypt have not only furnished inspiring examples of popular upsurges in the present phase of global financial and economic crisis, in many ways they have also shown us what people’s upsurges can be like in the twenty-first century. The electronic speed with which the protests spread and the people assembled using every new technological medium – from television and mobile phones to the internet – gave us a glimpse of how revolutionary advances in information and communication technology can be made to serve the cause of a fighting people. The uprising also showed how a modern state with all its repressive apparatus can be effectively immobilized by a united and aroused people. It was truly a people’s uprising when the people reigned supreme and seemingly all-powerful rulers had to give in.

Given the historical reality and objective conditions in the Arab street where years of dictatorial rule had pushed back the organized political parties and the trade union movement, the uprising could only have a party-less and leaderless character. It will be wrong to universalize this as the emerging era of civil society and idolize it as the politics of the multitude. Indeed, now that the pro-US Egyptian Army, bureaucracy and elitist leaders are back at calling the shots, the people of Egypt will increasingly realize the need for sustained and organized political intervention to realize their dream of a meaningful democratic transition.

In many ways Egypt’s evolution in the latter half of twentieth century has been similar to that of India. A close ally of India during the heady days of Non-Aligned Movement, and a big votary of state-led industrialization and public welfare in early Nasser years, since 1980s Egypt has fallen headlong into the trap of neoliberal economics and pro-American geopolitics much the same way as India has. Will the rising tides of the Nile today be followed by a similar upsurge in the land of Ganga and Kaveri, Brahmaputra and Narmada?

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