July-August 2011

 

Table of Contents

  1. Intensify the Struggle Against Corruption and Corporate Plunder
  2. In Solidarity with Anti-POSCO Movement

  3. Privatisation Spawns Corruption

  4. Young India Against Corruption, Young India For Democracy
  5. Condemn Physical Assault by Congress Goons on Student Activist

  6. Maruti Workers’ Strike

  7. Debacle of the Left Front in West Bengal

  8. Badal Sircar: A Legacy of Bringing Theatre to the People

 

Struggles in India

Intensify the Struggle Against Corruption and Corporate Plunder:

Resist the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government’s Undeclared Emergency

– Liberation, July, 2011.

The UPA Government, as part of its ‘Green Hunt’ policy, has long been in the habit of branding people’s movements and activists challenging corporate plunder and state repression as ‘left wing extremists’. Binayak Sens all over the country were branded as ‘seditious’ and jailed. Now, the same Government is levelling the charge of ‘fascism’ on the anti-corruption movement as a pretext for unleashing repression and muzzling protest.

First, the Congress tried to justify the violent eviction of Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Ramlila Maidan by invoking the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh- Bharatiya Janata Party (RSS-BJP) backing for his agitation. The RSS nexus with Ramdev and his own ideological closeness to the Sangh were self-evident, as were the BJP’s attempts to ride piggyback on Ramdev. But by any stretch of imagination, the sleeping protestors at Ramlila Maidan participating in a peaceful hunger fast, were hardly comparable to the mobs that demolished the Babri Masjid or conducted the Gujarat genocide. Moreover, till a few days before the crackdown, Congress was busy cultivating the same Ramdev as a useful counterweight to the Lokpal campaign, even signing secret deals with him! The forcible and violent eviction of a peaceful protest was nothing short of a shameful assault on people’s right to protest. Subsequently, Section 144 was even imposed for some days on Parliament Street (Jantar Mantar) – the national capital’s main venue of protest. The Government was clearly indicating its intention to stifle protest. Soon after, the Congress party and the Government began to brand Anna Hazare too as an ‘RSS’ front.

In an article titled ‘A cure far worse than the disease’ (7 June, Indian Express), Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari holds forth against “street power and contrived rage.” Ironically, at a time when the Government is indulging in witch-hunts reminiscent of McCarthy (branding dissenters as either ‘left wing’ seditionists or ‘communal fascists’), Tiwari sees in the anti-corruption street protests the spectre of “McCarthyism” and even “Nazism”! Street power, he suggests, is equivalent to “street coercion”, and has “very dangerous implications.” Street protests, according to him, are a threat to democracy, and if the government ‘capitulates’ to such protest, it would threaten our freedom! ‘Democracy’ here is defined (and confined) to what he calls “the high temple of democracy – Parliament”. The people (who elect Parliament) are themselves painted as a threat to democracy if they dare to protest when elected Parliamentarians form a corrupt nexus with private profiteers and rob the people. What a strange inversion of the real relation between Parliament and people! The Congress’ stand is reminiscent of Brecht’s ‘Solution,’ in which “The People/Had forfeited the confidence of the government/And could win it back only/By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier/In that case for the government/To dissolve the People/And elect another?”

The UPA’s brazen attempts to deny any corruption in the 2G and Common Wealth Games (CWG) scams have failed miserably; two UPA MPs and one Minister are already behind bars. One scam-tainted former Chief Minister has been inducted into the central cabinet and as the 2G probe progresses, some more heads are likely to roll. The latest revelation of the oil-and-gas scam has made it clear that the Congress cannot hope to put the scams behind it, blame the corruption on “allies” and move on. In desperation, the Congress and UPA Government are trying to discredit and slander all shades of anti-corruption struggle and clamp down on all avenues of democratic expression. All over the country, state governments faced with growing people’s anger are also resorting to the same repressive tactics. Such all-out repression calls for all-out resistance – let us challenge the undeclared Emergency, and intensify the struggle against corruption and corporate plunder!

Struggles in India

In Solidarity with Anti-POSCO Movement

– Liberation, July, 2011.

As the Odisha Government went ahead with its plan of forced land grab for the POSCO project, women, children, elders, youth and men of the Dhinkia, Govindpur and other villages of Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha state, in an exemplary display of resistance, lay day after day in the scorching sun face to face with nearly 30 police platoons. Protesting women were beaten up when they tried to prevent police platoons from destroying betel vines. Jagatsinghpur was on the brink of being turned into another Kalinganagar. The movement has now gained a small respite with the Odisha Government putting the land acquisition plans on hold for some days.

Below is an excerpt from a statement issued by environmental groups and activists, along with representatives of CPI and CPI(ML), on on 7 June in New Delhi.

POSCO: A scandal far bigger than 2G scam

It is high time the nation’s conscience is affected by what the project affected communities are suffering under the hands of the Navin Patnaik regime in Odisha. It is time to appreciate the fact that the POSCO project is perhaps the most shocking example of corrupt practices legitimised by State support. This is because the project is nothing short of a legalised loot of our natural resources – iron ore in this case. In an unprecedented deal, Indian and Odisha Governments have supported POSCO’s demands to mine 600 million tonnes of the finest iron in India on a 30-year lease. Of this, 30% can be exported for processing in POSCO’s Korean plants and thus endorsing profiteering abroad! With current fine iron ore rates crossing Rs. 8,000/tonne, it is simple arithmetic to note that POSCO can recover its capital investment of Rs. 52,000 crores in less than eight years, an unthinkable proposition in any industrial venture! Truly, the POSCO venture is a scandal far worse than those involving 2G and CWG.

In fact, A. Raja, principal accused in the 2G scam, may have facilitated POSCO’s entry when as Indian Environment Minister in 2007 he accorded the first major statutory clearance by approving the captive port component, one day before he transited to the Telecom Ministry. This was done without any review and also in response to severe pressure from then Union Finance Minister Chidambaram. Various key environmental and forest clearances quickly followed, all by subverting laws and breaking down the massive industrial/mining venture into little parts to hide their true environmental, social and economic consequences.

Three years later when Jairam Ramesh, the sitting Environment Minister, ordered a comprehensive review of these clearances by setting up two independent investigations, both committees confirmed that the clearances had been secured by fraud and subterfuge, and strongly recommended withdrawal of these illegal approvals. The appropriate action that the Minister should have taken was to cancel these fraudulent clearances and initiate criminal action against all involved in the POSCO decisions.

Instead, Jairam Ramesh claimed he was working towards “cooperative federalism” and on the basis of his “faith and trust” in the Odisha Government approved the project’s environment and coastal zone regulations (CRZ) clearances on 31 January 2011 and subsequently the forest clearance on 2nd May. This was despite absolute evidence that the Forest Rights Act had been fundamentally violated by deliberately overlooking Gram Sabha resolutions (convened by the constitutionally empowered Panchayats in the project affected villages) that clearly rejected the project. Ramesh, thus, became a party to the fraud in environmental decision-making and also directly responsible for the dangerous situation that is developing in the POSCO-affected villages today.

We demand the following:

1. The Odisha Government must immediately withdraw its police operations and forcible acquisition of land for POSCO.

2. The Central Bureau of Investigation must immediately expand the scope of its ongoing investigations against A Raja by reviewing his role in the POSCO clearances, and that of all those who have been involved in illegally promoting this scandalous project, possibly including then Finance Minister and presently Home Minister, Chidambaram.

3. The scandalous POSCO project must be scrapped as its benefits will be accrued mainly by major American financiers (including Warren Buffet) who are major stockholders of this South Korean company.

Politics in India

Latest Scam Update: Privatisation Spawns Corruption

– Liberation, July, 2011.

After the scams in mining and spectrum, now we have the fresh revelations of a huge scam in oil-and-gas and evidence of massive corruption in the public private partnership (PPP) model of constructing Delhi’s new airport. The POSCO project is increasingly being exposed, not just as an unconscionable act of environmental destruction and forced eviction of the poor, but as yet another instance of corruption and corporate plunder of minerals. Almost every fresh instance of corruption that is being exposed strengthens our contention that the hallmarks of neoliberal policies – privatisation of natural resources and monopoly services, and the crony capitalist nexus between government and big corporations – are the biggest source of corruption today. Any struggle that genuinely seeks to rid our economy and polity of corruption will have to challenge these policies that spawn corruption on an unprecedented scale.

UPA’s Oil Slick : Another Mega Scam

A draft report of the Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG) has exposed yet another “nexus” between the Government and private corporations, in which the UPA Government’s Oil Ministry and Director-General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) manipulated rules to favour private oil companies like Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), British Gas (BG) and Cairn India.

The CAG has revealed how the Oil Ministry and DGH allowed RIL to gain “undue benefit” by claiming capital expenditure costs inflated to the tune of 117% in the Krishna Godavari Basin. A joint venture of Reliance, BG and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in the Panna-Mukta-Tapti oil fields, has also been accused for similarly inflating development costs at the cost of the Government exchequer. The production sharing contract between the government and private operators is such that the latter is allowed to recover all its costs before revenues are shared; therefore the higher a company’s costs, the lower the revenue available for sharing and the lower the government’s share. The Oil Ministry and DGH therefore facilitated these private companies in robbing the public exchequer to the tune of crores of rupees.

The CAG reveals how RIL bought diesel for its oil-field development activities at a higher price from from its own affiliate Reliance Petro Marketing (RPML), by falsely showing RPML to be the lowest bidder instead of the state-run Indian Oil Corporation. The CAG report also shows how companies like Cairns India were allowed to violate rules by exploring additional areas beyond the block stipulated in its contract in Barmer, Rajasthan. The CAG report also found that the government used a “backdoor method” to allow private operators to conduct oil exploration beyond the period stipulated in the contract.

The CAG corroborates what had already been alleged in a preliminary enquiry (PE) filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against former DGH V K Sibal two years back in 2009. The CBI’s PE, filed by its Anti-Corruption Unit, had observed, “It is alleged that Sibal favoured RIL and approved a phenomenal increase in the capital expenditure from $2.4 billion to $8.8 billion for KG D6 field between September and December 2006 in lieu of personal favours/ services from RIL Group of Industries.” According to the PE, Sibal, in exchange for undue favours to RIL, enjoyed various return favours, including accommodation for his two daughters for more than four months at RIL’s guest house in Dalal House in Mumbai. The PE had been registered “against VK Sibal, unknown officials of the Petroleum Ministry and unknown others for gross misconduct committed by them.” But since then, the CBI enquiry had gone cold.

A former Revenue Secretary, (Mr. E.A.S. Sarma) has, in the wake of the CAG revelations, written to Manmohan Singh reminding that he repeatedly alerted the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) to the irregularities in auditing capital costs, pricing and so on in the case of the RIL in the KG Basin and Cairn in Barmer. He has said that the PM turned a “blind eye” to these warnings, giving him the impression that that “the various government agencies including the PMO are apparently trying to hide the facts from the people of this country to benefit the oil companies.”

UPA Government: In Ambani’s Pockets

It is worth recalling here that the Radia tapes had already indicated the extent to which the RIL and its agent Niira Radia could get the UPA Government and even the main opposition, BJP, to do its bidding. In the Radia tapes, Janata Dal (United) MP and former revenue secretary N.K. Singh was heard saying that Murli Deora had probably been appointed Petroleum Minister because Mukesh Ambani “swung it for him.” N K Singh is also heard helping Radia ensure that during a debate in Parliament on Pranab Mukherjee’s move to introduce huge retrospective tax exemptions that would benefit RIL alone, the speaker from the opposition BJP would be handpicked, to rule out any possibility of the BJP opposing the move! In another conversation Atal Behari Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law is heard quoting Mukesh as saying, ‘Congress to ab apni dukan hai.” (Congress is now our shop.)

Privatisation Paves the Way for Loot

The CAG has highlighted the aspect of inflated capital costs and bending of contract rules to favour the private corporations. But the aspect of petroleum pricing is no less scandalous a case of undue largesse for private operators in this sector. And it is privatisation that has paved the way for literal loot of India’s oil-and-gas resources at huge cost to the public exchequer.

The private sector was first invited into the oil and gas exploration sector in 1997, and RIL was allocated blocks in the rich Krishna Godavari basin for throwaway prices, where it struck gas. In 2007, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) (including Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and then Finance Minister P Chidambaram as well as Deputy Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia), which was set up to recommend the price of gas, recommended that RIL be allowed to sell gas at a highly inflated price: $4.20 instead of $2.34, while the ONGC was being paid only $1.8 at the time. During the court battle between the Ambani brothers, RIL had stated that its cost price of gas was just 1.43 dollars. Why was the domestic price of gas fixed so much higher than its cost price, and what was the logic of pegging it to the price of crude (in dollars) in the international market?

Next, in 2009, the UPA Government doubled the price of natural gas produced by public sector units (PSUs) from $1.8 per unit to $4.2 per unit to bring it in line with the price approved by the government for the gas produced by Reliance. This was obviously done to secure the market for RIL: without this decision, lower-priced gas produced by PSUs would have been preferred by power and fertilizer producers to gas produced by RIL. By hiking the prices all around, the Government increased the burden on farmers who buy power and fertilisers – all to boost the profits of a single private corporation. Since fertiliser and power are subsidy products, the steep cost of gas would also result in much higher subsidy costs – i.e another needless drain on the public exchequer! So, the gas pricing by the government amounts to another scam.

This latest scam has once again underlined that government complicity in corporate loot of natural resources lies at the heart of corruption in today’s liberalized economy. The UPA Government seems all set to deny the evidence of the oil scam – as they once tried to deny the 2G spectrum scam. The Congress has been raising questions about “leakage” of the CAG report to the public. But an awakened public will not allow this scam to be swept under the carpet, and will certainly insist on the concerned government and DGH officials as well as private players being brought to book. 

POSCO Plunder

(The following is a summary of a report by the Environment Support Group, Bangalore, titled Tearing through the Water Landscape: Evaluating the environmental and social consequences of POSCO project in Odisha, India, co-authored by Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao).

On 2 May 2011, Indian Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh finally approved the diversion of over 3,000 acres of forest land, of the 4,000 acres demanded, for a steel-power-port complex of the POSCO India project.

Earlier, on 31 January 2011, Ramesh had approved the environmental and coastal regulation zone clearances that the project had secured in 2007, even though all these clearances were obtained by fraud, and thus illegal, as proved by an independent investigative committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) last year as well as by another expert committee.

Forest Rights Denied

The diversion of forests for non-industrial use by POSCO was based on “categorical assurances” that Jairam Ramesh sought from the Odisha Government, that the Forest Rights Act did not apply to communities affected directly and indirectly by POSCO. The Odisha Government gave him this assurance on the basis of fraudulent claims that there were no non-traditional forest dwellers and tribes in the POSCO project affected villages of Jagatsinghpur, thus making this massive land transfer merely an administrative arrangement. The Odisha Government accused Shishir Mahpatra, the sarpanch of Dhinkia Panchayat, of fraud in providing resolutions of Palli Sabhas that demonstrated that not only were tribals in the project affected area, but that they had been dependent on the region’s natural resources, particularly forests, for centuries. Ramesh did not hesitate for a moment and question this claim by the Odisha Government. On the basis of this uncertainty in fact, he proceeded to support the POSCO clearance claiming it was of “strategic importance” to India.

Authorising Loot

As the single largest industrial foreign direct investment ever in India (with a capital cost of Rs. 51,000 crores at 2005 prices), POSCO’s ambitions in India are not merely that of establishing a steel-power-port complex in the ecologically sensitive Jagatsinghpur district. In fact, company officials have submitted before the investigative committees that they will not invest in the steel-port complex if permission to mine for iron ore in over 6,100 acres of dense jungle in the Kandahar Hills in Sundergarh district is not granted.

Most of this iron ore mined is for export without any local value addition, and thus will serve the economic interest of South Korea and POSCO stockholders – mainly American banks and Warren Buffet – one of the world’s richest individuals. POSCO has also demanded a dedicated railway line to the port – that means additional land demands. Further the project requires at least 2,000 acres for a township for its employees, and diversion of drinking water from the Jobra barrage for industrial use. All this has been agreed to by the Odisha Government when the project MOU was signed in 2005, but the people have been kept in the dark of the real consequences of such loot of India’s non-renewable natural resources.

A ‘Right-less People’?

Over 13,000 acres is merely the demand of land for realising POSCO’s dream venture in India. Thousands of families will be dislocated, and suffer irreparable damage to their lives and livelihoods. It is time we appreciated that this steel-power-port-township-mining project is the single largest industrial venture conceived in recent memory, and that such scale of investment will be done only because we are gifting highly expensive and excellent iron ore for POSCO to make stupendous profits. There is absolutely no benefit for India in this deal, and what POSCO will leave behind, if they succeed at all, is a lot of fly ash, destroyed ecologically sensitive coastal and forest environments and thousands of people in misery.

Our extensive review of historical, ecological, social and economic evidence shows that Jairam Ramesh’s support for POSCO is nothing but a highly condemnable act that legitimises fraud and corruption in environmental decision making. Ramesh has today become the architect of one of India’s greatest planned disasters that begins its ominous initiative by turning the affected communities into a ‘right-less people’, as their fundamental rights have been snatched on the basis of “faith and trust” in Odisha Government’s lies.

Student/Youth Struggles

Young India Against Corruption, Young India For Democracy

– Radhika Krishnan, Liberation, July, 2011.

For the past one month, All India Students Association- Revolutionary Youth Association (AISA-RYA)’s nation-wide Student-youth Campaign Against Corruption has been reaching out to people across the country. In this sweltering heat, when campuses are closed for the summer holidays, teams of students are busy campaigning in market places, in buses and railway stations, in coaching centres, hostels and rented accommodations. At a time when fresh scams are being unearthed almost every day, volunteers of AISA-RYA’s campaign are exposing the links between corruption and corporate loot in different parts of the country.

During the campaign, volunteers are collecting signatures from people, and are appealing to them to join the ongoing struggle against privatization and neo-liberal policies, against corporate loot of our resources, and against governments which seek to shield the corrupt. They are emphasizing the need to demand an end to draconian laws and to confront the repressive policies of governments.

Campaign folders and booklets are being distributed and through songs and speeches, volunteers are calling upon people to gather in Delhi on 9th August against corruption and corporate loot.

Throughout the country, the campaign is receiving enthusiastic response from people. Not just students and youth, but shopkeepers, small vendors and people from all walks of life are listening to our campaign and joining as volunteers. In Kalu Sarai in Delhi, children in the area sang with the volunteer team and local people gave speeches in support of the campaign. Our volunteers often receive phone calls from people who have come across our campaign material and want to know more details.

Volunteer teams are regularly surrounded by large crowds – people ask questions, and express happiness and hope at the fact that students and youth of the country are running this campaign.

In Lucknow, the volunteer team was stopped by the UP Police, who claimed that the students did not have ‘permission’ to campaign, and that they were ‘disturbing the peace’ of the area. The volunteer team addressed the large crowd that soon gathered, and explained the intentions of the ongoing campaign – while also asserting that they had every right to take their campaign to every part of the country. Common people responded positively to the volunteer team’s arguments against the police.

Throughout Tamil Nadu, where the people have recently punished the corrupt DMK government, volunteer teams are receiving generous donations from common people to carry forward the campaign.

This campaign has reached far beyond the boundaries of colleges and universities. Campaigns in messes and rooms of hostels is not possible because of the ongoing summer holidays, but volunteers are conducting their campaign every day at bazaars, tea-stalls, dhabas and parks, in buses and railway stations, and are also conducting door-to-door campaigns in areas where students live in rented accommodation.

In the national capital, campaigns have taken place in Narela, Mandavali, Jamia Nagar, Patel Chest, Vijay Nagar, Mukherjee Nagar, Christian colony as well as in Munirka, Ber Sarai, Kalu Sarai and Katwaria Sarai in South Delhi. As admissions begin in Delhi University for the 2011-12 academic session, volunteers have set up booths and are distributing campaign material every day. Volunteers from Delhi also went to Khairpur in Ghaziabad, where a massive land acquisition drive for the Yamuna expressway is going on. The people in Khairpur, fighting a spirited struggle against corporate land grab, responded positively to the campaign. AISA activists from Delhi University also went to Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. After a convention in Bhind town, volunteers campaigned near the district court in Bhind, as well as in Bhup village.

In Bhubaneswar, a convention was held and AISA National President Sandeep also accompanied a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)]-led team to the anti-POSCO resistance site, where a brave struggle against one of the worst instances of corruption is ongoing. In Maharashtra, workshops and conventions against corruption and corporate loot have been held in Ahmednagar and Shrirampur, and the campaign has taken off in these places. In Uttar Pradesh, volunteer teams have campaigned in Lucknow, Allahabad and Benaras. The campaign teams also held press conferences in Allahabad and Benares, and in these cities, the campaign has also received good coverage by local media.

In West Bengal, AISA as well as RYA has organized meetings, conventions and workshops in Kolkata, Hoogly Siliguri and Dhaniakhali. Campaign has begun in these areas, and as the admission for the new session begins, campaign booths have been set up in front of the Kolkata University gate. In Tamil Nadu, campaign has begun in ten districts: Chennai, Tiruvallur, Coimbatore, Kanyakumari, Pudukottoi, Namakkal, Kadalur, Madurai, Kancheepuram and Thanjavur. There are plans to campaign in more districts in July. And in Uttarakhand, campaign has started in Srinagar, Garhwal and Rudrapur districts. In Bihar, conventions have been conducted in Bhojpur and Patna, and the campaign will soon begin in Darbhanga, Jehenabad, Bhagalpur, Purnia and Newada.

As the nexus between governments and mega corporations increasingly stands exposed as the main source of corruption today, and as a desperate government’s attacks on democracy become even more naked, the student-youth campaign gains in determination and energy. The campaign is all set to broaden and intensify as we approach 9th August – the anniversary of the Quit India Movement – when thousands of young Indians will demand that the policies that promote corruption and corporate plunder and unleash repression must Quit India!

Struggles in India

Condemn Physical Assault by Congress Goons on Student Activist

– Prabhat Kumar for CPI(ML) Central Committee, New Delhi, June 26.

The physical assault by Congress goons on a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student and former JNU student union President, and National President of All India Students’ Association (AISA), Sandeep Singh at Union human resource development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal’s press conference at Ranchi on 24 June is symptomatic of the growing crackdown on democratic voices which challenge the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s patronage of corruption and policy regime of privatization. This attack by Congress goons is reminiscent of the terror of the ‘Sanjay brigade’ of the Emergency days, and strengthens the feeling that an undeclared Emergency is in place.

At the press conference, Kapil Sibal reiterated his government’s and Ministry’s commitment to privatization of higher education, pleading ‘fund crunch’ for expanding publicly-funded colleges and universities. Sandeep Singh, a student activist and a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), had responded to this by raising questions about the huge drain on public funds in the shape of mega scams and black money; funds which could otherwise be used for ensuring quality education for each young Indian. He pointed out that the HRD Minister had defended the 2G scam publicly, denying that any malpractice had taken place. Press photographs which appeared in Jharkhand papers, show how Sandeep, on asking his question, was immediately forced out by Congress goons, and then brutally kicked and beaten by them.

Kapil Sibal had described the Ramlila Maidan crackdown as a ‘lesson to everybody.’ His meaning becomes clear from the Ranchi incident. The HRD Minister is accompanied by muscle-men who physically suppress and assault any student who dares to question the HRD Minister!

The CPI(ML) condemns such attacks on the freedom of India’s youth to demand answers of the Government on burning issues such as corruption and the right to education. Such attacks will only intensify the determination of India’s students and youth to resist corruption and defy repression.

Workers’ Struggles

Maruti Workers’ Strike

– Liberation, July, 2011.

The 13-day strike of workers at the Maruti Suzuki factory at Manesar (Gurgaon) finally concluded with a significant victory of the workers this June. The management was forced to reinstate the 11 workers who had been sacked for agitating for the right to form a union of their choice.

The existing union in Maruti was the management-approved Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU). Workers had asserted that this union was not protecting their interests, and had formed a new union – the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU). The management had refused to recognise or negotiate with this union, insisting that only the MUKU would be allowed to function.

The Maruti workers’ demand for their legally mandated right to a union of their choice struck a chord with the working class all over the country. The fact that workers were sacked for raising this basic demand highlights the fact that in factories in India, the bare minimum of industrial democracy is suppressed in order to maintain exploitative conditions. After the agreement and the end of strike, the struggle for a union separate from the management-approved one will continue.

The Haryana CM in a meeting with the Director General and CEO of Maruti declared that he would disallow the formation of any union except the one approved by the management. Such a declaration is in itself an open violation of the statutory and legally mandated right of workers to form unions of their own choice. That an elected CM should thus openly endorse the violation of the law of the land and the rights of workers by corporations is a comment on the prevailing ruling class hostility towards workers’ rights.

Workers in automobile units like Maruti Suzuki earn significantly higher wages than other sections of workers. Their sustained strike for nearly two weeks (withstanding threats, intimidation, cutting off of electricity and water) sends a strong message that the question of workers’ dignity, rights to unionise, and industrial democracy are central to workers’ lives and aspirations.

This is not the first time workers at automobile units in Gurgaon have waged struggles for the right to form a union. Maruti workers themselves have had to wage a similar struggle a decade ago, Honda workers faced severe police brutality in the course of a similar struggle, and in 2009, the entire Gurgaon-Manesar belt witnessed a historic strike raising basic issues of industrial democracy. The denial of such basic democracy in spite of protracted struggles of workers has taken its toll in incidents at the Graziano factory in Greater Noida and the Pricol factory in Coimbatore. After a protracted struggle and severe crackdown, Pricol workers did indeed succeed in securing their right to form a union. But this fundamental right of workers is routinely denied in all factories and industrial clusters all over the country.

Denial of workers’ right to form unions and conduct protest actions is a symptom of a serious erosion of democracy and assault on rights. And this assault is being conducted by governments in order to appease corporate power and give corporations a free hand to violate laws and exploit workers.

Gurgaon in Congress-ruled Haryana has long been the Mecca of corporate capital, thanks to the free hand to corporations to flout laws and suppress all industrial democracy with fleets of private ‘security guards’ aided by a pliable police force in their service. While malls and factories flourish, the poor of Gurgaon live in abject denial of basic amenities like drinking water, public transport and electricity. The strike of workers at the Maruti factory in Manesar (Gurgaon) has struck at the roots of this ‘corporatocracy.’

Elections in India

The Debacle of the Left Front in West Bengal and

Challenges before the Indian Left

– Liberation, July, 2011.

[Statement issued by the All India Left Coordination after its meeting in Delhi on 28-29 May 2011]

The severe defeat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)]-led Left Front in the recent Assembly elections of West Bengal holds major lessons for the Left movement in India. It not only raises several important questions, but more importantly it brings to the fore new challenges and urgent tasks for all sincere forces of the Left.

While the Trinamool Congress (TMC) now hogs the limelight in West Bengal, the Congress and the BJP, the two key all-India parties of the Indian ruling classes, as well as the whole spectrum of bourgeois ideologues and media analysts are gloating at this electoral debacle and political crisis of the CPI(M). Many of them are proclaiming this debacle as the end of the Left in India. Communist views are being increasingly attacked as an outdated dogma, as an irrelevant relic of the past and everybody is being asked to accept and celebrate the domination of capitalism and the current reign of neo-liberal and pro-US policies that have already pushed the country deep into an all-round crisis.

The All India Left Coordination (AILC), which was formed through a National Convention in Delhi on August 11, 2010, sponsored jointly by the CPI(ML) (Liberation), CPM Punjab, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) of Maharashtra and Left Coordination Committee, Kerala, rejects these shrill cries of bourgeois triumphalism and appeals to the people to see through this political and ideological game plan of the ruling classes, that have already launched a war on the people, on their resources and rights, livelihood and liberty.

While rejecting the politically motivated bourgeois claims that the Left has become outdated and can only revive itself on an expressly social-democratic plank, all genuine activists and well-wishers of the Left must also deeply analyse the factors that have triggered the downfall of the CPI(M)-led Left Front and draw appropriate lessons for a revival of the Left movement on a countrywide scale. A rejuvenated Left movement can be the most befitting rebuff to the renewed anti-Left ideological-political offensive of the Indian ruling classes.

Contrary to the claims being made by the CPI(M) leadership, the defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal cannot be bracketed with the type of defeats the CPI(M)-led LDF experiences in every alternate election in Kerala. The contrast becomes all too obvious when one compares the West Bengal outcome to the Kerala one – in Kerala the Congress-led UDF has just barely scraped through with a margin of just four seats, in West Bengal the CPI(M)’s tally has fallen short of even its 1967 strength and the difference in votes between the two coalitions is more than three millions.

To be sure, the CPI(M) tried its best to galvanise its entire network in a do-or-die battle and did manage to increase its votes by a million compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. But the fact that it still suffered such a humiliating defeat clearly signifies an overwhelming mass outburst, a veritable electoral revolt against the CPI(M) rule in West Bengal. The inability and refusal of the CPI(M) to read the writing on the wall and respect the voice of the people in the wake of Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh and countless other expressions of popular protest only made it further isolated from the people and discredited in their eyes. Far from making any genuine attempt at seeking apology and rectification, the CPI(M) leadership resorted to arrogant browbeating and expressions of contempt for the people and even sexist slanders which only showed their growing disconnect with the glorious legacy of the Left movement in the country.

It seems even after this massive debacle the CPI(M) central and state leadership do not have the political inclination or courage to identify the deep-rooted real causes, busy as they are with various conspiracy theories and vague talks about organisational lapses and shortcomings on the governmental plane. Voices of dissent indicating the real malady and its symptoms are being censured in the name of inner-party discipline.

The AILC is of the considered opinion that the debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal by no means amounts to a mass rejection of Left politics and ideology; the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal had abandoned that years ago and begun to implement the same neo-liberal agenda it claimed to be opposing elsewhere, an agenda marked by a whole gamut of pro-corporate policies and priorities, at the cost of people’s basic rights and minimum benefits. Ironically, it is the growing rightward shift of the ruling Left in West Bengal which has brought the Right back in power in a populist garb. We must not lose sight of the fact that the phenomenal rise of the TMC in West Bengal over the last five years was propelled by the people’s anger against the CPI(M) on the basic issues of land, livelihood and democracy.

In 1977, the Left Front had begun with the promise that the government would serve as a weapon of people’s struggle and embarked on the agenda of Operation Barga, land redistribution, and democracy at the grassroots through panchayati raj, while calling for a restructuring of federal ties giving more powers to the states. But after this initial impetus petered out, the government failed to come up with the next level of pro-people reforms and by the mid 1990s the government virtually embraced the neo-liberal trajectory of ‘development’ through the free market agenda of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The CPI(M) in fact discovered one big merit in these policies in that the state government was no longer encumbered with the burden of getting clearance from the centre and was free to woo private investment in the state! In 1994, the West Bengal government adopted its new industrial policy on the lines of the centre’s new economic and industrial policies launched in 1991 and, by 2003, it was already toying with the idea of having its own SEZ Act and relaxing and reversing land ceiling legislation to facilitate large-scale diversion and acquisition of agricultural land.

These were by no means stray administrative changes in West Bengal, the CPI(M) also followed the same direction in Kerala. More importantly, the CPI(M) also changed its party programme in this direction and embraced the new discourse of ‘development as class struggle’. By 2006 when Singur happened, we saw not only the Left Front government forcibly acquire land for the Tatas but also the CPI(M) central leadership accuse supporters of Singur agitation of pursuing a Narodnik (a petty-bourgeois socialist trend in Russia that romanticised petty production and did not appreciate the need for large-scale production as a basis for socialism) or Luddite (early worker fighters who viewed machines as the enemy and revolted against machines by breaking them up) course! When Nandigram happened and the entire democratic opinion in West Bengal and elsewhere condemned the series of massacres, the CPI(M) central leadership treated it as an anti-Left conspiracy hatched jointly by the far-right and the ultra-left. And when the adivasi masses revolted in Lalgarh against police atrocities, the CPI(M) actively collaborated with the Centre to suppress the tribal agitation, unleashing a joint paramilitary campaign and working in tandem with Chidambaram to promote the theory and practice of Operation Greenhunt.

Here we see the biggest and the most basic deviation from the key task of communists while in power. While acknowledging the possibility of communists acquiring local power through elections, Marxist-Leninist teachings call upon communists to integrate such communist-led local governments with the overall communist perspective and practice of revolutionary opposition to the central authority. The CPI(M)-led West Bengal experiment in its later phase turned out to be a classic case of overturning this basic directive that had emerged from the revolutionary experience of the international communist movement in the early decades of the 20th century. Far from being a weapon of class struggle, it degenerated into a class collaborationist dispensation and an instrument for crushing people’s resistance to pro-corporate policies. While it became increasingly indifferent to its initial promise of providing the masses with urgent relief, in the era of imperialist globalisation it went overboard in granting competitive favours to corporate investors in the name of attracting more investment to the state. The experience of the Left Front government in West Bengal will serve as a warning to all future Left-led governments in the country about the danger of this crucial and fatal deviation.

For the CPI(M), the impact of the West Bengal model has been all-pervasive. Even as this ‘transitional’ government lasted for three decades and the CPI(M) ran out of initiative and vision regarding the future course of the government, the ‘stability’ of the government was projected as the highest achievement of class struggle and Left-ruled West Bengal as the advance post of Indian revolution. With governmental stability becoming the biggest decisive influence on party policies, the CPI(M)’s whole political world started revolving around its longest-lasting government and the possibility of coming to power in other states and at the Centre through collaboration with various non-Congress non-BJP bourgeois parties. The period 2004-2008 also saw the CPI(M) indirectly share power with the Congress at the Centre in the name of keeping the BJP out of power. The CPI(M)’s model of ‘Left unity’ and ‘united front’ functioned on this narrow basis of opportunistic electoral calculations and all Left and democratic forces and people’s struggles that did not fit into this scheme were even sought to be branded as being ‘anti-Left’.

The collapse of the Left Front government must also signal an end to this CPI(M)-dictated government-centric model of Left unity. The All India Left Coordination appeals to all sincere forces of the Left, organisations as well as individuals, to come closer at this juncture through common and sustained struggles and shared ideological-political views. India is passing through a deep and all-round crisis marked by runaway inflation, acute poverty and unemployment, rampant corruption and concerted assault on democracy, and to be sure there is no dearth of protest struggles and alternative ideas in the country for mobilising the people and building steadfast mass resistance.

The ‘Left Front’ model of the CPI(M) collapsed because it abandoned the basic path of class struggle, adopted class collaborationist and capitulationist line in practice and got increasingly delinked from the people and the struggles reflecting their democratic concerns and aspirations. Let all fighting Left forces regroup and bring about a resurgence of the Left movement and Left politics on the basis of people’s struggles. As the most consistent and committed defender of secular democracy and self-reliant development, the genuine Left must surge ahead in close cooperation with all democratic, anti-imperialist and secular forces and struggles of the Indian people.

Signatories:

Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML)(Liberation),

Mangat Ram Pasla, Secretary, CPM Punjab,

Bhimrao Bansode, General Secretary, LNP(L), Maharashtra,

TP Chandrashekhar, Secretary, LCC, Kerala.

Culture

Badal Sircar: A Legacy of Bringing Theatre to the People

– Liberation, June, 2011.

[Badal Sarkar, a revolutionary, pro-people theatre personality and a unique and towering figure in the cultural movement, passed away on 13th May. Badal Sudhindranath (Badal) Sircar was born in 1925. He had an engineering degree from the Shibpur Engineering college and he worked in England in the 1960s.

In the turbulent period of Bengal in the late 1960s and 1970s, marked by the impact of the Naxalbari uprising and severe repression, Sircar arrived at a new theatrical idiom, taking theatre to the common people. He established the theatre group Shatabdi in 1967, and with its repertoire of anti-establishment plays, Shatabdi toured the Bengal countryside, braving state terror and armed brigades of state-sponsored goons.

Theatre activists and groups like Yuvaneeti of the Marxist-Leninist (ML) movement in the Hindi-speaking states drew great inspiration and support from Badal Sircar. He often visited Allahabad and other places, holding workshops, meeting young activists and offering advice and support. His plays Ebong Indrajit, Spartacus, Michhil, Bhoma, Pagla Ghoda, Basi Khabar and many others were translated into many Indian languages. Breaching the barriers of region and language, they spoke and continue to speak to ordinary Indians – of struggles and suffering, of exploitation and resistance, of common concerns and questions that continue to resonate even today.

Badal Sircar was not among those who enjoyed a cosy or pampered relationship with power. He neither sought nor received support or recognition either from the West Bengal Government or the Centre. He twice rejected the Padma Bhushan – the last time in 2010. Theatre activists and struggling people, striving for cultural expression that is part of social change will be inspired by Sircar’s legacy.]

Below are excerpts of Badal Sircar’s letter to Richard Schechner, dated November 23, 1981, (published in The Drama Review: Vol. 26, No. 2, 1982) that give us a glimpse, in his own words, of his vision of theatre, society and social change.

Calcutta. The city I was born in and raised in. An artificial city created in the colonial interests of a foreign nation. A monster city that grew by sucking the blood of a vast rural hinterland which perhaps is the true India. A city of alien culture based on English education, repressing, distorting, buying, promoting for sale the real culture of the country. A city I hate intensely. A city I love intensely.

…None of the Satabdi members are paid anything. They work in banks, schools, offices, factories; they assemble in evenings exhausted by loveless work and sardine-packed public transport; they have to disperse early for long journeys, many by scandalously irregulars suburban trains. On Sundays we can work for five hours, provided we are not invited to perform somewhere – a village, a “bustee” (slum), a suburban town, a college lawn, an office canteen. …

July, 1978. First performance of Gondi—an adaptation I made of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. … We all felt that the play is Indian and contemporary and can be understood equally by the educated of the city and the illiterate of the village, and our later experience proved this belief to be correct. After Gondi, …we were having workshops, relating sometimes to the cruel absurdities we live in. Enormous wealth and immeasurable poverty. A devastating flood ruining hundreds of thousands in the villages and a huge crowd of fans gathering to see the film stars raising donations in Calcutta for flood-relief. Construction of the underground railway in Calcutta and 90 percent of the underground water remaining untapped, rendering most of the arable land mono-crop. Satellites in space and 70 percent of the population under the poverty line. Democracy and police brutality. The stupidity of man, the cruelty of man, the achievements of man, the callousness of man-not just in this country, but in the whole world.

But what about the courage of man? Somebody asked. What about Spartacus, on whose struggles we made a play in 1972? What about all those who dream of and die for the emergence of a new and better society? We decided that we would try to make a play collectively on these issues built around the theme of a revolt. …the Santhal revolt of 1855-56 that shook the British imperial hold on Eastern India for nine long months. The aboriginals. Always subjected to the worst kind of exploitation and injustice. Pushed beyond limits, they have often burst out in spontaneous revolts. But the accounts of such revolts do not find any place in the history textbooks. We had to depend on the work of some rare researchers and some obscure accounts.

… Through our research we became more and more confirmed in the belief we already had – that conditions have not changed fundamentally even today. To us the subject was contemporary…

We decided to show it from the point of view of a contemporary young man just like any of us. The man is born, is educated, is constantly bombarded by lots of information from text books, newspapers, radio, literature – false, half-true, irrelevant – and sometimes he comes across a report of mass killing or gang rape in an aboriginal village by paid hoodlums of the local (high caste) landlord. Or maybe a survey report giving figures and facts regarding “bonded labour”…

All that happened to us, is happening to us. Each of us was that young man, trying our best to deny the existence of the “killed man” in our midst, and yet not wholly succeeding. The “killed man” in our play wandered silently from time to time amongst the chorus of performers, sometimes breaking through, holding his bandaged right palm in front of the eyes of a performer to make him read something about the Santhals of the last century, another time using his left palm for something happening today. That was Basi Khabar (stale news)—a theatre created by the whole group in pain and love. It is not a theatre one can perform by “enacting.” It can only be performed by “state of being.” The performer acts out his own feelings, his own concerns and questions and contradictions and guilt. Through the play, our protagonist changed a little, we changed a little, and we hoped that our spectators, some of them, would change a little. …

Yes, our theatre has become a theatre of change. A long voyage – Spartacus, Michhil, Bhoma, Bhanga Manush, many other plays. We came out of the proscenium stage in 1972, five years after the inception of Satabdi, twenty years after the beginning of my involvement in theatre. The immediate reason was that of communication – we wanted to break down the barriers and come closer to the spectators, to take full advantage of direct communication that theatre as a live-show offers. We wanted to share with our audience the experience of joint human action. But in taking that course we also found our theatre outside the clutches of money. We could establish a free theatre, performing in public parks, slums, factories, villages, wherever the people are, depending on voluntary donations from the people for the little expenses we needed. We stopped using sets, spotlights, costly costumes, make-up – not as a matter of principle, but because we realized that they are not essentials, even if sometimes necessary. We concentrated on the essentials – the human body and the human mind. Our theatre became a flexible, portable and inexpensive-almost free-theatre.

The indigenous folk theatre of India, strong, live, immensely loved by the working people of the country, propagates themes that are at best irrelevant to the life of the toiling masses, and at worst back-dated and downright reactionary. The proscenium theatre that the city-bred intelligentsia imported from the West constitutes the second theatre of our country, as it runs parallel to the folk theatre – the first theatre – practically without meeting. This theatre can be and has been used by a section of educated and socially conscious people for propagating socially relevant subjects and progressive values, but it gets money-bound and city-bound, more and more so as costs go on rising, unable to reach the real people. Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country – a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. …

Obviously, such a theatre takes the character of a movement, and cannot be taken as a profession. … Only those who feel the urge to change, and want to use theatre to contribute to the forces of change, can be in this theatre. … The only way is to have many such groups to join the movement at different places. This is beginning to happen, not so much in Calcutta proper, but in suburbs and provincial towns….not only in this State, but in other parts of India as well, sometimes independently, sometimes as a follow-up of workshops I (and now others too) conduct from time to time at different places.

The ultimate answer however is not for a city group to prepare plays for and about the working people. The working people – the factory workers, the peasants, the landless labourers—will have to make and perform their own plays. We have deprived them not only of food, clothing, shelter, and education, but also of self-confidence. Here we can also help by demystification, by assuring them that theatre is not the monopoly of the educated. One of my greatest experiences of self-fulfilment occurred when a group of illiterate and semi-literate peasants and landless agricultural workers of a remote village bordering the jungles of Sundarbans began making and performing plays about their own life and problems, following Satabdi performances in that village and the workshops I did with them. …

This process, of course, can become widespread only when the socio-economic movement for the emancipation of the working class has also spread widely. When that happens, the third theatre (in the context I have used) will no longer have a separate function, but will merge with a transformed first theatre.

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