On September 11, 2011, Lok Raj Sangathan organized a meeting in Delhi to discuss the issue of “Sovereignty – in whose hands?”. The hall was packed and a majority of them were youth who had come from different corners of Delhi.
Resolutions taken during the meeting (click to view)
The meeting was flagged off with introductory remarks by Sucharita after which she invited the President of LRS, S. Raghavan to address the audience. Shri Raghavan after welcoming all the members present stressed on several important points. He said that this question of sovereignty has become very important today. A huge mass movement has developed against corruption. All sections and strata of people have joined this movement as we saw in the agitation over many months and most recently. We have reports, he said, from several major cities such as Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, etc. The mass movement against corruption did not limit the definition of corruption to only include petty corruption but gave a much broader meaning to what can be considered as corruption and what kind of punishment should be given to those who are corrupt. People demanded that no one, irrespective of their position, should be outside the purview of the anti-corruption legislation. They demanded that all ministers including the PM should come under the purview of legislation. They demanded that all bureaucrats at all levels, all levels of judiciary should be included. They also demanded severe punishment for corporate houses which indulged in corruption including cancellation of licenses, confiscation of property, hefty fines and imprisonment.
The rulers have been discussing about enacting a Lokpal Bill for more than 40 years! But it will be surprising to know that even two thousand years back, we Indians, had clear-cut and very far-sighted rules against corruption. Tiruvalluvar, Manu, Kautilya – all those who lived around 2000 years back have written about how to deal with corruption. I don’t want to go into details, but Kautilya who was also known as Chanakya, for example, enumerated several types of corruption and recommended that punishment should be according to seriousness of crime. For small corruption, he advised a fine 4 times the amount of corruption involved. For those who caused huge loss to the state treasury, he recommended death sentence. So, if we apply Chankya’s rule to the 2G scam, then you can guess how many heads will be cut off! The heads may belong to ministers, bureaucrats, industrialists, may be even judges! Today’s government has arrested some culprits and put them in Tihar jail so that they can rest and not create more problems for rulers. If anyone demands stringent punishment to these criminals, they also are bundled into Tihar jail!
The president gave some very interesting insights through examples drawn from Indian thought, including the wonderful example of justice pronounced by Manuneedhi Chozhan from the pages of history.
Concluding, he said, many political parties and individuals opposed the people’s movement saying that we are creating a big monster called Lokpal. They asked, "Who will control this monster?" Our answer is, of course the people will control this monster! Not only this monster, but the people will control other monsters also such as the Parliament, Executive, Judiciary and other institutions such as Election Commission, CAG, CBI etc. The people need Parliament, judiciary, government machinery etc, but they don’t want them sitting over their head. They want them to serve their interests and be accountable to them. The nation-wide agitation against corruption, the opposition to the Land Bill, agitation against nuclear plants which are being built on forcibly acquired land and with no assurances of safety, the movement against state-organised communal violence and terrorism, the movement against war, all these are raising this question: “Sovereignty – in whose hands?”. People have to reclaim the sovereignty they lost.
Prakash Rao was the next speaker who explained very lucidly the issues concerning sovereignty, which has been posed starkly both by developments in our country and developments worldwide. Starting from the global situation he explained today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York in which thousands of innocent people lost their lives. Using these terrorist attacks as pretext, the Bush regime launched the "war against terrorism". It invaded Afghanistan, a country already devastated by Soviet occupation, and by the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops. US imperialism has led a coalition of imperialist powers to launch persecution of Muslims throughout the world. It has carried out the invasion and occupation of Iraq under the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now it has led imperialist powers to bomb and occupy Libya. It is threatening Syria, Iran and North Korea. It has carried out bombings of Pakistan, Somalia and so many nations.
US imperialism and its allies — Britain and France, have declared they do not respect the sovereignty of countries and peoples. They declare that might is right. In the name of "war against terror", "humanitarian assistance" and such like, they have given themselves the right to invade any country. Whichever country follows a course that blocks the imperialists to the slightest degree, they try to carry out regime change through force. Lakhs of people have been killed in the wars unleashed after 9/11 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya. Today, an opinion poll in US says 43% Americans believe American policy is responsible for 9/11. Imagine, despite the huge propaganda of US ruling circles, American people are coming to some correct conclusions.
Prakash ji requested all present to stand up in silence (for a minute) for the victims of terror, for the victims of these wars.
Shri Prakash continued with the second question, where must sovereignty vest in our country. The answer to this question is clear and simple – sovereignty must vest in the people, and in their collectives. However every struggle of our people reveals that sovereignty does not vest with them. On a daily basis the people of Kashmir and the North-east are reminded that sovereignty is not vested with them when armed forces kill and rape people with impunity. The ongoing movement against corruption for a strong Lok Pal Bill has brought this out in public view. So also the struggle against land acquisition, right to food, right to work, etc. What is revealed is that sovereignty vests in parliament and in the executive – that is the government of the day. It is the govt. of the day which proposes legislations. People can at best give suggestions. It is the prerogative of the govt. to accept or reject them. The fact that it accepts suggestions from the capitalist class and the foreign imperialists, while in the main rejecting suggestions from the people reveals whom the system works for.
Talking of the need for clear cut reforms in the political process, he explained in detail the steps that would be necessary for vesting the people with sovereignty. Definite reforms are needed in the present political system and process to ensure that sovereignty vests with the people and their collectives. What kind of reforms? The representatives elected in present process are representatives of their parties, not of the people. It is the parties that select them. Moreover, the whip and anti defection law is used to ensure that these representatives cannot exercise the right to conscience while voting, or represent the views of the people of their constituency.
Peoples’ samitis must be formed on non partisan basis in bastis and chawls, residential areas, work places, villages must select candidates. Any one who wants to stand for elections must get the support of these samitis. These samitis must have the right to reject candidates. Only the selected candidates – say three or 5 or 7 should contest the elections. Those elected would be representatives of the people, not of this or that political party. No party whip will apply to those elected. Only the whip of the people will apply.
What do we mean by the whip of the electorate?
Electoral laws must be changed to ensure the right to recall. This right must vest in the people, and can be initiated by the samitis. Those elected must render periodic accounts to the people of their constituency and consult them on important legislations. If they fail to do so, and act with impunity to further the interests of their capitalist bosses, their party bosses and to serve their own narrow selfish private interests, as they do nowadays, the dagger of recall will hang over their heads. They cannot carry on freely for 5 years as is the case today.
Today, legislation is basically the right of the Cabinet. This effectively means that only those legislations and policies that favour the big capitalists and imperialists get passed, (since the ruling party has a majority) and no legislations that will benefit the people see the light of day. Or if some such legislation is brought forward, it is anti people in essence or toothless. See the Govt. Lok Pal Bill, the Govt. Land Acquisition Bill, the Govt. Right to food bill. The so called "consultations" organised by the govt. with society are an eyewash. We gave our suggestions to the land acquisition bill twice. There is no response from the govt. The govt. decides whom to "consult" and what to present.
The people, organised in their samitis, must also have the right to initiate legislation. For instance, mechanisms must be put into place so that legislations proposed by people could be voted in parliament, without the govt. doctoring it. This will tell the people where the MPs and MLAs stand. In cases where it is clear that vast masses of people differ from the govt. proposals, there should be mechanism for a referendum.
This is what was raised on the Jan Lok pal Bill. Such a referendum could also be carried out on the alternative proposals put forth by peoples’ organisations on the right to food, and the Land Acquisition bill.
On the role of political parties in this party system of governance, he said: Political parties are ruling in name of people, under the thesis that people cannot rule themselves.
This has to be challenged and ended. Role of political parties redefined. They have to be instruments of empowerment of people. Not gatekeepers keeping people away from decision making. There has to be an end to the party system of rule. We need to redefine the role of political parties.
Who will carry out these and other reforms? How will people ensure they are carried out? At the present time, there are two problems in carrying out reforms in political system and process. The first is that the Constitution vests the powers in the hands of the parliament. How can we expect a parliament that is elected on the present basis to cut its own feet and carry out reforms that will empower the people?
The second problem is that the ruling politicians will raise the bogey that the Constitution will be undermined. The Constitution of India says that "We the people of India" have given to us this constitution. However there is a limitation in this constitution in that it does not explicitly require the constitution to be ratified by the people. The 1950 constitution was never ratified by the people. Amendments to the constitution have been carried out by parliament which has the powers to do so as defined in the Constitution.
If "we the people" have given to us this constitution, we must have the right to amend this constitution, to rewrite it. This is the issue.
We must rewrite it in such a way that
(1) Explicit mechanisms are put in place to ensure sovereignty vests in people. There will be parliament, and assemblies, but the present situation wherein the parliament and assemblies can do what they want in violation of people’s will, will be put an end to.
(2) Party system of rule is ended, role of political parties redefined
(3) The human, democratic and national rights of people and their collectives must be explicitly defined and mechanisms put in place to ensure that they are justiciable
(4) The rights of women, religious and national minorities, the tribal peoples, the victims of caste oppression, the differently-abled, of workers and peasants and so on must be explicitly formulated and mechanisms put into place to ensure they are justiciable
(5) WE must ensure the reconstitution of the Union so that the rights of nations and peoples within the borders of the Union are affirmed — that is the right to self determination. We want a voluntary Union of peoples and nations, where every one will benefit from the union, and assist each other in fighting imperialist aggressors.
Constitutions must reflect the times, as well as the aspirations of the people. The Constitutions and the political system and process in all the advanced capitalist countries, US, Britain, France etc, as also of India, Russia, China, etc., reflect the reality of who is ruling and the economic system of capitalism wherein power vests in those who are plundering the wealth of the land, labour and resources of the people at home, and do the same abroad through wars of conquest.
They do not reflect the aspirations of the people in any of these countries. That is why in all these countries, the rulers are discredited, and the party system of government which, helps the capitalist class to rule, is getting discredited. The same holds true in India.
We need to carry out a mass campaign for reforms of the political system and process, including electoral reforms, in the same way we have carried out the agitation for a strong law against corruption.
Then either the parliament will be forced to pass reforms in the political system and process in favour of the people, or have a referendum on the need for re-electing a new Constituent assembly which will rewrite the constitution according to the will of the people at this time.
This main address was greeted with loud and long applause, after which the floor was opened for discussion.
The meeting reflected very active participation of members present. They got up and spoke with vigour and enthusiasm on the question of sovereignty. The level of discussion and interventions reflected the maturity and consciousness of all those present and showed clearly that experience of the people was evidence of the timely call for the people to ensure sovereignty in the interest of the larger majority and that this needed to be taken away from those who hold power today.
The following important resolutions were passed at the end of the meeting (please click on the list below to see full text of any resolution):
1. On where sovereignty must vest
2. On the right to initiate legislation
3. On electoral reforms
4. On the Land Bill
5. On the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks in New York and Washington, and
6. On campaign in defence of the sovereignty of countries
Very important points summed up during the conclusion to the meeting included the need to build the unity of the peoples, by not being sectarian, or making an issue of this or that individual, but to place people’s interest and demands at the centre and understanding the main enemy and roadblock for people to take power and decide their destiny!