(We are reproducing this article published in the November 28th issue of Statesman)
The Constitution tells us that the people are predominantly poor. It is an unequal and iniquitous society and the caste system signifies a grotesque system of inequality.
THE expert group, set up by the Planning Commission in May 2006, to examine the development process and identify the factors behind the increasing social discontent and extremism, submitted its report on 28 April 2009. It makes the crucial point that governance has been generally indifferent. The Constitution tells us that the people are predominantly poor. It is an unequal and iniquitous society and the caste system signifies a grotesque system of inequality.
The Constitution has provided for two sets of rights ~ justiciable and non-justiciable. The former is called the fundamental rights and the latter the Directive Principles of State Policy. The first is enforceable by the courts and the second is politically enforceable. There are express provisions in the politically enforceable part. There are inter alia provisions against concentration of wealth and inequitable distribution of resources to the detriment of the common man. The government should constantly monitor the welfare of the people, notably social, economic and political justice. Failure to fulfil these obligations has resulted in protests, dharnas and other forms of agitation. The emergence of the Maoist movement is embedded in the failure of the governments to execute the mandate of the Constitution.
Land & livelihood
According to the expert committee, 58 per cent of the country’s population depends on agriculture and allied occupations. The importance of land and its co-relation with livelihood was realised even during our struggle for independence. Land to the tiller was one of the early slogans of the Indian National Congress. In due course of time, the commitment to land reform was dropped. The poor, who was entitled to land for his livelihood, was deprived of his rights.
The Planning Commission’s expert committee observed: “The poor have depended upon common property resources such as forests, pastures and water sources for the satisfaction of their basic survival needs. With the increasing tendency to see all resources as sources of profit the poor are being deprived of whatever access they had to such resources.”
The Government of India’s rope-trick points to an ascending growth rate. It is now 9 per cent ~ yet another optical illusion. The committee stated: “But it is a matter of common observation that the inequalities between classes, town and country and between upper castes and the underprivileged communities are increasing. The Constitution’s mandate (Article 39) to prevent concentration of wealth in a few hands is ignored in policy-making.”
The committee has referred to the failure of successive governments to look into the Constitutional provision of distributive justice. It has pointed out that the ruling parties, in the Centre and the states, have consistently avoided the Constitution’s guidelines.
Far from enforcing the recommendations, the establishment has been blaming the Maoist movement as the obstacle to the country’s progress. Misrule or indifferent governance always gives the deprived the right to revolt. And this revolt is now being led by the Maoists. In 2004, they were virtually wiped out in Andhra Pradesh, but they have regrouped and extended their operations to several states. Indeed, the CPI (Maoist) is now a potent revolutionary force in West Bengal. It is a state with a Marxist government and generally Left tradition. It also has a strong presence of Maoists who are convinced that distortions have come to plague the administration. The trend is pronounced in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh. According to Comrade Ganapathi, the Maoists are now entrenched in 15 states.
Confronted with the possibility of Maoist insurgency and the equally possible large- scale social disorder, violence and instability, the home minister has announced his willingness for talks with the Maoists. It is important to realise that the talks can’t be in the nature of employer-employee negotiations. Nor for that matter will the negotiations be geared towards an agreement between antagonistic forces. This is an attempt to prevent social disorder which can have prolonged and disastrous consequences. At stake is not the federal principle. It is the people and their well-being that are at stake principally in the affected states. This has to be kept in mind by the national government, the Maoist party and citizens’ organisations. The Government of India will have to abide by the Constitution and implement the report of its own committee.
THE talks ought to be conducted within the broad parameters laid down by the Constitution, its Preamble and the Directive Principles. The government cannot go beyond the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Nor can it refuse to enforce these provisions. The Maoists must be prepared to accept these political realities and negotiate over what is contained in the Preamble and the Directives Principles. Socialism must be interpreted in terms of the Preamble and not in the Marxist, Leninist or Maoist sense. It must be interpreted in the context of what Einstein wrote in Why Socialism.
A belief in the principles of distributive justice, as envisaged by Western jurists after the socialist revolutions, would be adequate to judge whether a country’s governance is in accord with the well-accepted principles of rights and justice involving the lives of millions of the poor. It is not a game between political parties to gain political advantage. It should be an effort to bring about a better world.
Human beings have reached a stage where they are no longer afraid of death and violence. They have been facing a variety of natural disasters, the latest being tsunami. We have been warned of the consequences of global warming. Malthus and his theory of population have been disproved. Has population diminished on account of disasters, pestilence and epidemics?
Peace talks can pre-empt violent social disorder. The idea is innovative. We must be aware of the complexities of the process of bringing the Maoists and the Government of India to negotiate. The Maoists should tell the government to enforce the report of the Planning Commission’s expert committee and thus fulfil the fundamental obligations of the State.
(The writer is the all-India president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties)