The Present Situation
In its two years in office, the UPA government has sought zealously to transform India into a world-class imperialist power, sitting at the high table with other major imperialist powers. It is pursuing an economic orientation, a political course, and a foreign policy suited to these aims. Its basic aims and internal and foreign policy orientation are a continuation of that pursued by the erstwhile NDA government.
The economy is being oriented to fulfill the goal of finance capital and the multinationals of becoming a global power. All stops are being removed to make this possible. The state and all its agencies, including the judiciary, are assisting in legitimizing and implementing the aims of the financial oligarchy. This financial oligarchy is also using the state to rob the entire people to subsidise its goals. As the Indian multinationals greedily eye world markets, they are also collaborating with foreign multinationals to exploit the labor and resources of India. With the full collaboration and assistance of the Indian state, foreign capital is increasing its presence and control over various vital sectors of the economy.
The UPA government’s economic orientation includes:
- Handing over of public assets like PSUs, minerals, natural resources, rivers, forests and land to private monopolies, both Indian and foreign
- Privatization of electricity distribution and production, highway construction and transport.
- Liberalization (opening up) of internal wholesale trade, especially in agriculture, and of international trade to Indian and foreign trading monopolies
- Corporatisation of agriculture, setting up of special economic zones where labour’s rights will be severely curtailed; handing over the traditional lands of the tribal peoples, especially where there is rich mineral wealth, to multinationals
- Transformation of the metropolitan cities in particular and bigger cities in general into world class cities, including the modernization of airports and the building of mass rapid transit systems
- Building the “golden quadrilateral” network of highways
- State withdrawal from education, health care, water supply and sanitation, and the handing over of these sectors step by step to private monopolies
These policies have been implemented under the generic slogan of "reforms with a human face". Through Bharat Nirman in the countryside, and the Jawaharlal Urban Renewal program in the cities, the UPA government, following footsteps of NDA government, is working to transform India into the most attractive destination for finance capital. It is trying to make agricultural production, marketing and trading, and food processing lucrative spheres for finance capital and trading monopolies to invest in.
1. “The human face” of reforms
The NDA government had lost all credibility and was facing opposition from all sections of the people, including the middle strata, when it pursued the course of liberalization, privatization and globalization. The UPA government along with its allies, the parties of the Left Front, put forth a Common Minimum Program, the highlight of which was the declaration that the same economic policy would continue, but allegedly with a "human face". The National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme was the star piece of this "human face". Other packages include the debt relief announced to farmers in AP immediately after the general elections, and the package announced by the PM to farmers in Vidarbha a few weeks ago.
2. “Good governance”
Side by side with “the human face”, the UPA government has taken various measures to ensure "good governance" according to the norms set by the World Bank, IMF and other imperialist institutions. The primary aim of this “good governance” is to ensure that the state efficiently serves the interests of the monopolies without bureaucratic hurdles. At the same time, the credibility of the state is sought to be enhanced by seeming to target petty corruption and open mafia domination of politics. This is in line with the American method of governance where it is considered legitimate for the biggest monopolies to dictate the internal and external policy of the government, bribe legislators in the name of lobbying, and so on. As part of this program, the government has passed the Right to Information Act, which the monopoly media is praising to the skies. The increasingly activist role of the Election Commission is also part of this platform.
3 Militarization and State terrorism, including communal pogroms
The UPA government has continued on the course of militarization, building a modern fighting force armed with nuclear weapons and delivery systems, as well as top class air and naval forces. It is striking deals with all imperialist powers, notably Israel and US, apart from Russia, Britain, France and others. It is training Israeli forces in counter insurgency in Mizoram. Two thousand Indian soldiers are being trained by Israel in anti terrorist operations for J&K and other places. Israel has become the second largest supplier of military hardware to India over the last two years, next only to Russia. Nuclear cooperation with the US is being worked out, and sophisticated US planes have been acquired for the Air Force. The US and Israel have established offices of their intelligence agencies in India and are closely coordinating with the Indian agencies like RAW and IB in operations as well as intelligence sharing.
POTA has been removed from the statute books, but there is no end to state terrorism, in J&K and North East, or in the rest of India. Neither have those arrested under POTA and TADA been given any reprieve.
Despite the massive protest in Manipur and the other parts of India demanding the repeal of AFSPA, the act remains in place, despite the recommendations of the review commission set up by the government.
The people of India continue to be victims of state terrorism, terrorist bomb blasts, and state organised communal violence. Every day in Kashmir witnesses killings of people in shoot outs, crossfire, fake encounters, as well as grenade attacks. The bomb blasts in Delhi market places during Diwali last year, the blasts in temples and railways stations in Varanasi, encounter killings in Nagpur and Ahmedabad, and the recent blasts in Mumbai suburban trains, are a grim reminder that state terrorism, and stepped up persecution of people of the Muslim faith, are as much a policy of the UPA govt as of the previous NDA govt.
The UPA government is strengthening its strategic alliance with the US imperialists, an alliance that has been initiated by the US.
The aims of India’s rulers are
- to turn India into a world class imperialist power
- to aggressively pursue its “Look East” policy with the support and backing of the US
- to coordinate its West Asia and Central Asia policy with the US and back the US war against terror, in return for nuclear fuel, and a promise from the US to reign in Pakistan on the North West.
The aims of the US are
- to break its present isolation in the world, to have India as its major ally to ensure its clout in Asia and to block China’s advance, to block Russia’s aspirations to expand its influence southwards, and to get assistance in policing West Asia and the Central Asian oil resources.
- To establish India as its major market for weapons, and nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, as well as a major market for other commodities.
Simultaneously, India is keeping its options open on energy security and defence collaboration with Russia, China and the European powers.
The UPA government is part of the US led initiative to actively export a particular model of party-dominated government to other countries in the name of encouraging democracy in those countries. At this time, it is trying to push this kind of system in Nepal where the people are engaged in working out a political system of their own choosing following their successful popular movement earlier this year.
Consequences of UPA rule
The course pursued by the UPA government has resulted in all sided attacks on the masses of people. Devastation and destruction of homes and the livelihood of workers, peasants and tribal peoples, is taking place on a massive scale.
The handing over of assets to private parties is being met with massive resistance from the affected people. Big clashes have taken place between state forces and the people in Orissa and Jharkhand over handing over land and natural resources to Indian and foreign multinationals. The privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports was carried out only in the face of mass protests. In Delhi and other places, privatisation of electricity and water supply has faced resistance from different sections of the population. The privatisation of NALCO and NLC had to be put on hold following powerful struggle of workers.
In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, there have been major struggles against the demolition programs that are being carried out in the name of urban renewal. In Delhi, the demolition drive which also targeted residential areas and shops of traders, apart from the homes of the workers, resistance to these attacks has been widespread.
The crisis of agriculture continues to deepen, as reflected in mounting suicides among peasants in different parts of the country. There is great anger amongst the peasantry over the government policies as well as disgust at the packages that the government offers as sops. The handing over of agricultural land to the monopolies to develop special economic zones has met with powerful protests amongst peasantry in UP, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and so on. The peasants have also been up in arms against the government’s abandonment of the policy of state procurement, its raising the cost of electricity and water for irrigation, against the supply of spurious seeds, and so on.
Major protests have been launched by various sections of the people against the UPA government’s policies and their consequences:
The education and health policies of the government have met with powerful protests. These include the struggles against privatisation of higher education, the struggle of Maharashtra Resident Doctors over working and living conditions, and so on.
State terrorism in the North East, Kashmir, Orissa and other parts of India is being fiercely opposed.
There has been powerful opposition from people to the growing alliance with the US, and to participation in the US-led war against terror. There has also been opposition to the growing Indo-Israeli military ties.
There has been active support to the Nepali people in their struggle against the monarchy, as well as opposition to the Indian government’s attempts to subvert that struggle.
The challenges ahead
As the UPA government gets increasingly discredited amongst the people, the rulers are resorting to tried and tested policies to paralyse the struggles of the people, destroy their growing political unity, and prevent the people from challenging the present political system and process, the direction of the economy, and the present foreign policy.
Terrorist massacres like those in Mumbai and Varanasi, Delhi and Srinagar, have been followed by massive propaganda against people of Muslim faith. Pressure is put on Muslim organisations not to be political, not to take stands. At the same time, pressure is put on communists and others not to forge the political unity of all forces, including Muslim organisations. People are continuously being made to accept increased surveillance and security measures, search operations, detentions and arrests, as well as encounter killings, as a way of life.
While pursuing privatisation of higher education, the government has pushed through reservation of seats in institutions of higher education for OBC students. The rulers have deliberately fanned divisions amongst the students on a caste basis. At the same time, the government refuses to take measures to ensure that equal opportunities exist for students of backward castes at the primary and secondary schooling stage and that the disadvantages they face are addressed.
One of the main methods by which the ruling class effectively divides the people is through the practice of privilege distribution. People have no rights which are enforceable. There is no right to livelihood, right to education and health care, right to a secure home, even right to life. Instead what exists is an elaborate system of privilege distribution, through which those in power shower "favours" on some sections for a time, and then withdraw these "favours" at another time according to political expediency.
The party-dominated political system of representative democracy effectively works to matginalise people completely, irrespective of whether it takes the form of single party rule or coalition rule. Rule by decree is the norm and there is no need in this system to consult the people or address their concerns on any question. For instance, the whole of Manipur demanded in one voice that AFSPA be removed. But the government did not feel any need to heed their wishes, nor was it obliged to even explain to the people why it did not. The same holds true on all questions. The monopolies and financial oligarchy that are the real power wielders in this country are very clear they would like to continue on the present course. If the UPA government gets too discredited, they may bring about a change of government, bringing either a BJP led coalition, or some other coalition to power. The pressure on the people and their movements is that they should not go for power themselves. Instead they should support one or the other coalitions of the rulers according to what each one thinks is the "lesser evil". If proactive measures are not taken to address the situation, the people will continue to remain politically marginalised.
We need to address the role of the parliamentary left in the UPA coalition. Looking at it objectively, the role being played by the parliamentary left in today’s politics is:
- to assist in providing a "human face" and thereby in strengthening the anti-people course of the rulers
- to keep the working class and peasantry and the fighting peoples tied to the coattails of parliamentary politics,
- to capture the leading positions in the people’s resistance struggles, and ten use this leadership position to prevent these resistance struggles from going over to the offensive
- to block any effort of the people to renew democracy and replace the existing system of representative democracy that politically disempowers them withan alternative form of direct democracy suitable to the conditions of India and emerging from the Indian conditions.
How can these partial, limited successes be taken forward to victory? How can the people defeat the bourgeoisie’s course? How can an economic orientation be set for India which puts affirmation of the rights and well being of people, of workers and peasants, women and youth, at the centre? This is the crucial question confronting LRS today.
The key road block before the people is that the present political system and process effectively disempowers them.
If the movement for people’s empowerment, for Lok Raj, marks time, then the bourgeoisie will have a free rein to decide over the next few months and years, what formation will rule to continue the same anti worker, anti-peasant, anti-national imperialist course. Giving the growing discontent with the Manmohan Singh government, they may conceivably bring back a BJP-led alliance to power. On the other hand, they may push for a temporary third front of the Communists and assorted regional parties, to give them breathing space, while they refurbish the image of the Congress and BJP. Alternatively, they may go in for a snap mid-term election after creating a crisis, to bring the Congress back to power under a different leader. Whichever way it goes, it will be a setback for the people’s struggles. Hence, it is crucial to utilize the present situation to bring the disempowered people from the margins to the centre stage of Indian politics.
How does the present political system and process work? At the centre is the notion of rule by political parties "on behalf of the people". While the people cast their votes, it is the financial oligarchy and powerful vested interests who determine who wins through money and muscle power, through propaganda carried by the monopoly media, and through a process that effectively marginalizes candidates of smaller parties and independent candidates. Once elections are over, this same dominant group plays a key role in government formation, in determining who get to be the heads of government and who get the important lucrative ministries. They influence the policies of the government both openly as well as covertly.
The workers, peasants, women, youth, the oppressed castes, the tribal peoples and others are left with no option except to form pressure groups within this system, or to protest when they are attacked. The political system and process effectively converts the working people, who constitute the vast majority, into fractured groups who compete separately for some benefits for themselves. Sometimes, the struggle of the people becomes a threat to the bourgeoisie and its program, in which case it uses fascist violence against the people; at other times, the struggle of the people forces into the open the divisions amongst the bourgeoisie and this gives some respite to the people. But the jagannath rath carries on steamrolling all in its way.
How should people convert themselves from being mere voting cattle and pressure groups within the system into a powerful united force that is capable of replacing the present system and process with a new one in which they wield power themselves? What is the instrument through which people can establish and exercise their power?
The Lok Raj Sangathan has clearly put forward the struggle for affirmation of human, national and democratic rights as central to uniting the workers and peasants, women and youth, the oppressed nations and peoples, the victims of caste oppression, the disabled, the old and the children, and all sections of society. It is a fact that in the India of today no one has any rights, and that the only "right" that is affirmed, with the power of the state, is the capitalists’ "right" to private property, their "right" to exploit the land and labour and resources of our people. And when any concession or handout is given to any section of the toiling and oppressed people, it is given not as a right, but only as a favour, as a "privilege" which can be withdrawn at a later date. It is the privilege distribution system which is used to maximum effect to divide the people on the basis of caste, creed, region, etc. When we fight against privatisation, or displacement, or the attacks on peasantry, and so on, inevitably the question is posed like this: should the struggle be restricted to partial, sectoral demands, or should the struggle be waged with the perspective of rights for all? This is where we can see the sharp division between the path of lining up behind the ruling parties and their system, and the path of uniting all the exploited, oppressed and marginalized.
The perspective with which Lok Raj Sangathan intervenes in all struggles is therefore one of putting the question of rights in the first place, and of rejecting the system of privilege distribution on the other hand. LRS wages struggle with perspective of establishing a society where rights can and will be affirmed.
If people need to emerge as a political force that fights for political power, they have to organise themselves with that perspective from day one. This is the work that the Lok Raj Sangathan has begun, by building Lok Raj samitis in different areas amongst the fighting people. Such samitis must, from the base, seize the initiative, marginalise the political parties of the rich and their influence over the masses of people, and take up the question of rights and of political power in a live way, linking this with the daily struggles of the people. There will inevitably be a clash with the old forces linked by many threads including force of habit with the bourgeois political parties, with the sectarian divisive politics that the party system of rule inevitably breeds among all sections of the people. But we have confidence that the people are increasingly fed up with the present system that denies them their rights, and are eagerly looking for an alternative. We are creating that alternative, LRS is that alternative. Through our patient work, we must work to convince all sections of people, all activists in the movement who are not in the LRS today, to build and strengthen LRS as that fighting instrument for people’s power.
We firmly oppose the pressure on us not to be active combatants in the fight for political power in the name that political parties should not be in power. We cannot be bystanders in the struggle for political power.