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Showing posts with label CPI-M. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CPI-M. Show all posts

04 December, 2012

Brave new subsidy scheme

BRP Bhaskar
 
India, saddled with an outdated administrative apparatus controlled largely by semi-feudal political leaders at the lower levels, is all set to experiment with a computer-driven scheme for direct delivery of subsidies in cash to entitled citizens.

The government says the scheme, which will come into operation in the New Year, is a game changer. However, many political parties, for their own reasons, do not want any change in the rules of the game.

With large sections of the population too poor to fend for themselves, the government has instituted various welfare measures for them and sanctioned subsidies on items such as food, fuel and fertilisers. The measures, conceived and funded mainly by the Centre, are implemented by the state governments.

Taking into account the burden the globalisation process has cast on the poor, many new schemes have been taken up in the past two decades, pushing up the cost of subsidies from about Rs80 billion in 1994 to an estimated Rs3,200 billion next year. All the money does not reach the intended beneficiaries.

In the absence of prompt scrutiny of accounts, there is no way to ascertain the extent of leakage. It is well known that in Kerala, now one of the richest states, few buy grains from the ration shops. The unsold grain is diverted to rice mills. The shopkeepers and the millers thus become the actual beneficiaries of the subsidy. A pilot study at Alwar in Rajasthan showed that more than half the subsidy on kerosene meant for the poor is appropriated by others. The new scheme envisages payment of subsidy direct to the beneficiaries through banks, eliminating intermediaries. They can open bank accounts with the unique identification numbers allotted to them under the Aadhar project, managed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAD).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week asked Central officials to assist the states, which hold most of the information relating to beneficiaries of welfare measures, to digitise the databases and seed them with Aadhar numbers to ensure smooth flow of cash from January 1. He said direct transfers, made possible by innovative use of technology and spread of modern banking across the country, will eliminate wastage, reduce leakages and benefit the poor.

One reason why opposition parties dislike the scheme is that they suspect the United Progressive Alliance government has conceived it with a view to deriving an electoral dividend. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005, which assures employment for a minimum of 100 days in a year to at least one member of every rural family, is believed to have helped the UPA to earn a second five-year term in 2009. The opposition fears that direct cash transfers will do for it in 2014 what NREGA did in 2009.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has written to the Election Commission alleging the scheme violates the code of conduct which bars policy announcements while the poll process is on. The national elections are one-and-a-half years away but the BJP argues the scheme cannot be launched now as Assembly elections are under way in some states. The Commission has sought a response from the government.

The Communist Party of India and the CPI-Marxist view the scheme as part of a strategy to cut down subsidies. The CPI says it will hurt the poor, and the CPI-M fears the Centre will use it to lower subsidies and undermine the public distribution system.

A fall in government spending can certainly be expected — not because of cuts in the size of subsidies but because of the elimination of ineligible persons from the list of beneficiaries.

The Asian Development Bank has endorsed the scheme for direct payment of subsidy as a step that will plug leakages in welfare spending, which, it estimates, is about five per cent of India’s GDP. It says the Philippine government’s scheme of direct cash payments to mothers with school-going children, introduced three years ago, has proved cost-effective.

If successful, the cash transfer scheme will help the poor by freeing them from the clutches of intermediaries who wield political power at the state and district levels. If it fails, it will take the Congress and the UPA down with it. Aware of the risks, the Centre has decided to move cautiously. To begin with, it proposes to introduce the scheme in selected districts across the country and to bring under it only pension and scholarship payments, which can be easily managed. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 4, 2012.

03 July, 2012

Uncertainty in politics

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s major national parties are in the throes of crisis. Their internal problems may have their impact on developments at the national and state levels in the months ahead.

The Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance government, has lost its second most important Cabinet minister, Pranab Mukherjee, having picked him as its candidate in the presidential election to be held this month.

An astute politician, Mukherjee was perhaps the one most qualified to be the prime minister. Congress President Sonia Gandhi having chosen Manmohan Singh, a non-politician, for the post, it fell to him to handle sensitive negotiations. Apart from being finance minister, he was chairman of most of the Cabinet committees.

The prime minister’s decision to keep the finance portfolio with himself and to distribute the chairmanship of Cabinet committees among several senior ministers testifies to the paucity of talent in the party’s higher echelons.

Mukherjee has the support of several parties outside the UPA, including the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena, which are constituents of the rival National Democratic Alliance. The Congress party’s largest partner, the Trinamool Congress, has set its face against his candidature, but he is set to win, thanks to the wide measure of support from outside the UPA.

So far there is nothing to indicate that the switch of loyalties by some partners of UPA and NDA in the presidential election signals the beginning of a realignment of forces at the national level.

Most Congressmen regard Sonia Gandhi’s son, Rahul Gandhi, who is general secretary of the party, as a future prime minister. His attempts to rejuvenate the party in Uttar Pradesh, the original home of the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, have not been a success. However, no one in the party sees it as a reason to delay his induction as a minister and eventual elevation as prime minister.

While Sonia Gandhi can easily bring about changes at the national level, she finds the going tough at the state level. In Andhra Pradesh, the largest state where the Congress still has primacy, the revolt by family members and followers of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has administered the party a rude shock.

The party’s top leaders in Maharashtra are under the shadow of scams. In Kerala, the caste and religious forces on which the party has relied for sustenance have become an acute source of embarrassment.        

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the NDA, too, is facing serious troubles. Since its long-time prime minister-in-waiting Lal Kishen Advani is too old to be in the reckoning, a frantic search is on for a new candidate.

The Hindu rightwing Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, the power behind the party, wants Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be projected as the presidential candidate. Nitin Gadkari, whom the RSS pitch forked into the party chairmanship some time ago, has started preparing the ground to bring Modi to the national stage. Young parliamentarians like Sushama Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who lead the party in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, resent the move.

The RSS can smother all opposition to Modi from within the BJP but it will have a hard time selling his candidature to the NDA constituents as he bears the odium of having presided over the 2002 pogromme against Muslims in Gujarat. The Janata Dal (U) has made it known its opposition to Modi in no uncertain terms.

Like the Congress, the BJP, too, faces internal problems in its strongholds. In Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, who was forced out of chief ministership in the wake of grave corruption charges, is seeking the ouster of his successor, DV Sadananda Gowda. Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vajayaraje Scindia, who is hoping to stage a comeback riding the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress government, is encountering opposition from a dissident faction.

The Left parties, which once played a role far in excess of their natural strength in times of political uncertainty, are no longer significant actors on the national stage. The largest of them, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, is in deep trouble in its traditional strongholds. The Trinamool Congress, which put an end to its unbroken stewardship of the West Bengal government for 33 years, is making it difficult for the party to rebuild its shattered base. In Kerala, several CPI-M leaders are in custody in connection with murder cases being investigated by the state police and the Central Bureau of Investigation.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 3, 2012.

28 February, 2011

Crucial election for Left

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

West Bengal and Kerala, strongholds of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, are among four Indian states going to the polls shortly. For the Left movement, the outcome of the assembly elections in these states is crucial.

In West Bengal, the Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, has been in office continuously since 1977. The severe setbacks the party suffered in last year’s municipal elections and the previous year’s Lok Sabha elections have damaged its winning record.

The Left’s main challenger in West Bengal is the All India Trinamool Congress, founded by Mamata Banerjee after quitting the Congress in 1997 saying it was soft on the CPI-M. It quickly became the main opposition.

In 2004 the Trinamool Congress aligned itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha poll and became a partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Now it is a partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Last week Mamata Banerjee, as Railway Minister, offered a bouquet of projects to West Bengal to woo the voters.

The Congress, which has had a troubled relationship with the volatile Mamata Banerjee, has reconciled itself to being a junior partner of the Trinamool Congress.

The CPI-M is facing the electorate with a severe handicap as the bitterness caused by its high-handed action in Nandigram and Singur against those opposing forcible acquisition of land for industrial projects has not subsided. Mamata Banerjee personally led the agitation in both places.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya lacks the charisma of Jyoti Basu, whom he had succeeded a decade ago, and the LF partners who unquestioningly accepted the CPI-M’s dictates earlier are now remonstrating.

The CPI-M national leadership is hoping for gains in Kerala to compensate for likely losses in West Bengal.

In the last three decades, Kerala has voted the Left Democratic Front, led by the CPI-M, and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress, to power in alternate elections. The LDF, which will have to make way for the UDF this year if the trend continues, is making a bold bid to break the jinx and win a second successive term.

The poll season began, as usual, with ministers laying foundation stones for projects and the parties organising marches to enthuse the cadres. Away from public gaze, other strategies were also taking shape.

An estranged relative of Muslim League leader and former UDF minister PK Kunhalikutty, whose name had cropped up in a sex scandal in the 1990s, and a television channel spilt into the public domain information on how he had got away without even figuring as an accused in the case. The government promptly asked the police to investigate the matter.

It also sought the Vigilance court’s nod for further investigation in the palmolein case which Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan had been pursuing from the time he was Leader of the Opposition. The prime accused in the case, former Chief Minister K Karunakaran, died recently. The fresh probe is aimed at bringing Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy into the net.

The CPI-M had demoted Achuthanandan from the Politburo in 2009 as a disciplinary measure. But his image as a crusader against corruption has brightened with the Supreme Court awarding a year’s rigorous imprisonment to Kerala Congress (B) leader and former UDF minister R Balakrishna Pillai in another case which too he had been pursuing independently of the government. However, it is not clear whether the party is ready to restore his Politburo membership and give him another term as chief minister.

Responding to the revival of the old cases against its leaders, the UDF also tried to breathe new life into some old allegations. Its primary target now is Achuthanandan’s son, VA Arunkumar, not any of the ministers against whom it had previously levelled charges.

The re-floated scandals are unlikely to sway the fronts’ traditional supporters whose loyalties are primordial. Will they persuade the non-partisan voters whose swing from one front to the other leads to a change of government? The answer to this question must wait.

Although the CPI-M does not figure in power play outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, its decline has implications for the nation as a whole. It will further reduce the influence of the Left which has raised its voice against the evils of globalisation even though it has generally comprised with them where it is in power. --Gulf Today, February 28, 2011.

01 November, 2010

Left on the decline

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Left-wing parties which wield power in three states in India are going downhill. The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which leads the pack, was routed in local self-government elections in Kerala last week. It had received a severe drubbing in the municipal elections in West Bengal in May.

The Left Front, headed by the CPI-M, has ruled West Bengal continuously for more than three decades, setting a record. The Left Democratic Front, also led by it, has been voted to office in Kerala in alternate elections for as long.

Coming after the heavy losses in last year’s parliamentary poll, the reverses in the local elections are a major setback for the CPI-M as it prepares for the Assembly elections, due next year, in the two states. The other Left parties count for little.

The CPI-M has established procedures for evaluation of its performance, identification of mistakes and initiation of remedial action. However, the time available to it to take corrective measures and avoid a third successive reverse is too short.

Lately, the corrective system has not been functioning well. The party’s state and central committees had conducted mandatory reviews after the Lok Sabha poll but no meaningful measures ensued.

When the country gained freedom in 1947, the Communist Party of India was committed to a policy of violent revolution but it participated in the elections. In the first national elections on adult franchise, held in 1952, it emerged as the largest opposition group in the Lok Sabha, winning more seats than the Socialist Party which polled more votes.

Five years later, the world sat up and took notice as the CPI formed the government in Kerala. That was the first time Communists had come to power through the ballot box anywhere. The government, sadly, was short-lived. The Centre dismissed it in 1959 as violent protests against land and educational reforms initiated by it swept the state.

Despite the rude experience, the CPI remained on the parliamentary path. When the party split in two in the wake of the rift in the international communist movement both the factions continued along the same course. Although communist influence in the country shrank, the CPI-M outpaced the parent body and emerged as the strongest political formation in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

In all these states the CPI-M is now facing a problem which other parties that are a part of the power structure have faced before. It is problem resulting from prolonged exposure to and involvement in power politics. As a party with an assured place in the ruling Establishment it tends to attract those seeking political power more than those wanting social and economic changes.

Party documents show that it is losing long-term cadres who are not interested in the loaves of office. The annual dropout rate has been above 10 per cent in Kerala for some year. It is one of several states where more than 40 per cent of the party members are comparative newcomers.

Elections are a costly process. In a five-year period, parties now face three separate elections — one to the Lok Sabha, another to the Assembly and the third to the local bodies. At one time the CPI-M could proudly say it relied entirely on small contributions from the poor. Material that surfaced in the recent past indicates that the Kerala party has benefited from the munificence of some businessmen with dubious backgrounds.

The absence of charismatic leaders like EMS Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu, who had led the party in Kerala and West Bengal along the parliamentary path in the early years, is a major handicap for the CPI-M in facing today’s challenges. To make things worse, the central leadership is in the hands of persons with little grassroots level political experience.

Under former general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the CPI-M had carved out a place for itself in national politics by acting as a catalyst in the formation of non-Congress governments when elections threw up a hung parliament. His successor, Prakash Karat, helped in the formation of the last Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and the party was able to influence its working to some extent.

Karat’s attempt to bring down the UPA government on the issue of the civilian nuclear agreement with the United States backfired. His effort to put together a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party alternative in advance of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections also failed. The party needs a win in the Assembly elections to retain its relevance at the national level.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 1, 2010.

01 August, 2009

Lalgarh and the radicalization of resistance: from ‘ordinary civilians’ to political subjects?

SAROJ GIRI

MRZine

One image stands out from the Lalgarh resistance. Chattradhar Mahato, the most visible leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), distributing food to ordinary villagers — not as a high-up leader doing charity but as one among them. Is this the ‘new’ image of the Maoist? But maybe Mahato is not a Maoist — he himself denies being one. But if he is not, given his power and influence in the area, the ‘dictatorial’ Maoists must have eliminated him by now? Then maybe he is only being used by them, following their ‘diktat’ out of fear. But a man with the kind of popularity and love from the masses would fear the Maoists? So, is he a Maoist, or like a Maoist, after all? But a Maoist who is this popular among the masses and who does not seem to terrorize them?

These questions are tricky, almost baffling to many. For the resistance in Lalgarh is a unique experiment, not following any formulaic path or given script. The Lalgarh resistance not only rattled local power relations and state forces but also challenged accepted ideas and practices of resistance movements, their internal constitution, and above all opened up radical possibilities for the initiative of the masses — partly symbolized in the unscripted image and contested political identity of Mahato and indeed of the PCAPA vis-à-vis Maoists. Crucially, Lalgarh undermines conventional ideas about the relationship between ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ forms of struggle and inaugurates possibilities of resistance unfettered by given notions of political subjectivity or by subservience to the ‘rule of law’.
Lalgarh defied the long-standing shackles on social movements in the country that would ultimately restrict their forms of struggle within the confines given by the lines of command emanating from the Indian state’s monopoly over violence. Lalgarh showed that, when the democratic struggle of the masses runs into conflict with the repressive apparatus of the state which has lost all democratic legitimacy, the struggle assumes the form of a violent mass movement. This violent action, being the expression of heightened mass democratic struggle, bringing down structures that anyway have lost all basis, is in every sense a political struggle, an armed struggle if you like, but has nothing to do with a so-called ‘conflict situation’ where ordinary civilians are shown as only trapped and suffering.

Take the violent Dharampur mass action of June 19, an event many on the left and right decried as a Maoist take-over and an end to the democratic struggle. When this action triggered an offensive by security forces to ‘reclaim’ the area, did the situation turn into a conflict zone between the state and the armed Maoists, with ‘ordinary civilians’ trapped and waiting for outside aid? This then is the crucial point: Lalgarh refused to lend itself to the usual narrative which presents every armed struggle into a depoliticized ‘conflict situation’ with images of suffering women and children waiting for the international community and NGO aid workers to come and save them.

The image of the ‘ordinary civilian’ here was not one of ‘refusing to take sides’ and rushing to grab the first bit of relief supplies, but one exemplified by someone like Malati. Clearly showing where her political sympathies lay, Malati stayed on in the PCAPA-run camp and refused the administration’s medical help as she gave birth to a baby — the ambulance waiting for her went back empty (The Statesman, Kolkata, June 30, 2009). Malati’s ‘humanitarian needs’ were fulfilled by the very struggle which carried out the ‘violent mass action’ — no space for NGOs and the welfarist state, exemplifying the autonomous character of the resistance. What happened was not just that ‘ordinary civilians’ and adivasis supported the Maoists; the very image of a Maoist underwent a change so that anybody, including women and children, could be a Maoist.

‘Ordinary Civilians’, Maoists
The question then: do ordinary civilians stand opposed to and separate from the Maoists? This point becomes pertinent from another angle. Large sections of democratic forces in the country opposing the security-centric solution to the upsurge in Lalgarh proclaim the need to always separate the ordinary villagers/adivasis from the Maoists. The chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, is attacked for conflating the two and using the ‘bogey of Maoists’ to victimize ordinary civilians and crush the democratic struggle of the masses.

Lalgarh thus throws several questions: Is the tribal morphing into the Maoist? Is the groundswell of support for the Maoists such that the adivasis will mostly be Maoists? In today’s situation, is it possible to be other than Maoist and still assert the kind of political resistance and autonomy that the masses of Lalgarh are presenting today?

The question really is: where and how does the adivasi in resistance stand vis-à-vis the Maoist? What if the separation of the two is integral to the present statist approach to the Maoists, so central to it that it has to be invented and enforced where one does not exist? Then, the democratic rights approach calling on the state to make this separation, and spare ‘innocent civilians’, may be a dangerous double-edged sword.

Now what Lalgarh showed is that separating the adivasis from Maoists is no great democratic act, but is in fact what allows the state to undertake severe repression and at the same time claim that it acted in the interests of ordinary civilians. Thus where this separation cannot be made, the state in fact invents it. This was clear from the responses of state officials. When the West Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen admitted that “it is tough to distinguish between the PCAPA and the Maoists”, it was clear that the separation does not hold (The Statesman, Kolkata, 19 June 2009). And yet, even though ordinary people cannot be separated from Maoists, the State chief secretary invented this separation, when he stated, in the same news report, that security forces would “ensure security for ordinary people”. Further, “he stated that common villagers are not involved directly involved with the violence but they are the victims of the violent activities of the Maoists”.
There were reports of the “Maoists support base in women and children” (The Statesman, 28 June 2009). This support base meant that state officials could hardly find locals for gathering crucial intelligence inputs about the Maoists after the CPIM network collapsed; a senior state officer was quoted stating that “unless we have local sources, it is going to be extremely difficult to identify the Maoists, who have mingled with the villagers. Although these (new) men are from Lalgarh, we haven’t got people from the core area. Those villages are still out of bounds”(The Telegraph, Friday June 26, 2009).

In this light, as in the case of Malati, it is not really the armed Maoist who is most dangerous in Lalgarh; it is the ‘ordinary civilian’, the PCAPA supporter who is indistinguishable form the Maoist supporter. Is Malati a Maoist? If she refuses health care offered during her most vulnerable moment, then what is the state supposed to do to win back her support? If ‘ordinary civilians’ do not want to get out of the ‘conflict situation’, and want to take sides, maybe not in any dramatic manner but at least by wanting to err on the side of the ‘violent Maoists’, then the task of separating the Maoists from the civilians becomes tough — and in fact politically reactionary.

What the state realized in Lalgarh was that if anyone can be a Maoist, and if the separation does not hold, then the way to go, under a democracy, is to technically enforce a ’separation’. A technical solution: reports tell us that the security forces in parts of Lalgarh would sprinkle a special kind of an imported dye from a helicopter in areas where Maoists are present. This dye makes a mark on the skin which stays for almost a year. Well, now you can clearly separate Maoists from the ‘ordinary civilians’!

Inventing and enforcing a separation therefore allows the state to repress a popular movement in the name of winning over or defending ordinary civilians. This enforced separation is such that even when the adivasi in Lalgarh stands with the Maoist or is a Maoist it is regarded not as the condition of the adivasi in the given conjuncture, as part of what it means to be an adivasi, his being or life, but negatively understood as the fallout of government policies. Thus an adivasi Maoist is treated as just waiting to be rescued or won back into the democratic mainstream by benign policies and favours.

Images of Adivasi and Forms of Struggle
Now the Maoist cadre can and must be distinguished from the ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi. However some quarters are not just making this distinction but heavily invested in proactively separating the two — trying to understand Lalgarh through it. This is happening since this separation is sustained by at least two other long established images of the ‘ordinary villager’ and in particular of the adivasi.
In one case, this separation is sustained by presenting a now familiar image of the ordinary villager or adivasi as the victim, the displaced, a negative fallout of the Nehruvian belief in science and industrial development. In the second case, there is the image of the adivasi resisting ‘modern development and industrialisation’ and engaging in democratic forms of struggle, engaging in non-hierarchical and autonomous welfarist activities outside the state and statist logic.

The first image informs some ‘pro-poor’, welfare policies of the state, for the ‘upliftment of tribals and displaced’, the kinds declared in rehabilitation packages or ‘poverty alleviation’ programmes. The second one comes from the dissident, anti-state left where being the marginalized and the subaltern (’outside’ of modernity and capital) in itself is supposed to form the basis of ‘political’ struggle. These two images, often running counter to each other, however start converging as they get invested in and start deriving their rationale and intensity from their ability to ideologically pit the benign, democracy-loving ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi against the supposed violence, top-down terror methods and repressive character of the Maoists.

However the events in Lalgarh have shown that this separation pushes back the ‘ordinary villagers’ into political infancy, not allowing them to break with the statist logic and the morass of parliamentary democracy. For once the ‘ordinary villagers’ or adivasis break with being mere victims and act autonomously as political subjects, they very soon come into conflict with the logic of not just the state but also of oppressive power relations more generally. Deep-rooted power structures that have found their expression in the abstraction called the state do not fade away progressively through democratic practice and rational deliberation; they exist with a necessity, a knotted base which cannot be untangled unproblematically, without a rupture.

Dharampur marked this rupture where the use of force bringing down the now decrepit power structures was anticipated by the democratic struggle and marked its intensification and qualitative expansion. From the perspective of the longer struggle, the use of violence at this stage is only a gentle push to bring down terribly weakened but knotty oppressive structure — a push to eliminate the now even more intolerable limits imposed on the democratic practices of the masses. The mass violence at Dharampur was such an intensification of the autonomous practices of the Lalgarh adivasis. This ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi who refuses to limit his democratic practices and struggle within the lines of command given by the state and its oppressive relations, at this point, emerges as the Maoist. In the given conjuncture, the ‘Maoist’ is the articulation of the ordinary villager or adivasi as the political subject.

What Lalgarh showed is the interplay and interrelation between the ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ methods of struggle. This means that it is not possible to separate the democratic struggle from the Maoist moment in it. However the state as the defender of oppressive relations in its most generalized form, isolates the violent methods of the Maoists and tries to show it in isolation from the larger struggle of the people against oppression. In a bid to force ‘ordinary villagers’ to restrict their democratic struggle and practices within the limits set by the state and its agencies, by the limits of parliamentary democracy, the state wants to target Maoists. This is where the state and, perhaps not surprisingly, the democratic rights activists make the separation between ordinary villagers waiting to be uplifted and the violent Maoists exploiting their plight.

It is against such deft ideological operations that it needs to be pointed out that the ‘violent Maoist’ is actually an emergent quality of the democratic struggle and autonomous political practices of the ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi in Lalgarh. For, the moment you separate the two, you are back to enclave democracy, NGOisation. It is here that we have to ask what it means to oppose the state for using the ‘bogey of Maoists’ in order to kill and repress ordinary villagers and ordinary civilians. Now, the state does not always kill civilians; nor does it right away go after anyone who calls himself a Maoist (didn’t the Bengal government arrest Gour Chakraborty1 only at an opportune time?). The state invariably kills, as we see in Lalgarh, when civilians, ordinary villagers, adivasis, enter into a symbiotic relationship with the Maoists; or when the Maoists enter into such a relationship with ordinary villagers. That is, ‘ordinary villagers’ now are no ordinary villagers engaged in ‘participatory democracy’ or ‘rural empowerment’ but are challenging the very framework given by the state as the generalized expression of power relations; similarly the Maoists are not a small band of abstract believers in violence roaming the countryside recruiting children and poverty-stricken tribals for a Cause but are now engaged in a real struggle on the side of the masses.

Therefore the state does not really kill ordinary villagers in the name of killing Maoists; it kills those who are ’supporters’ of the Maoists, those who are part of the larger, longer struggle which at some point or other assumes the name of Maoist. To be sure there are armed Maoist combatants and unarmed civilians and one needs to differentiate the two. However if the democratic struggle and the ‘violent’ struggle so often get intertwined and intersperse each other, if the Maoist moment is an integral moment of the overall struggle, then unarmed civilians are an integral part of the Maoist movement.

To say that the Maoist is the name for the articulation of the ordinary villager/adivasi as a political subject is to say that autonomous democratic practices do not close shop once the repressive state moves in, the form of struggle often alternates between ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ ones, and armed revolutionaries as much as unarmed civilians form part of the struggle. Thus the resistance in Lalgarh was such that it was extremely difficult to sustain the separation between the Maoists and the adivasi population.

Benign Government
Even as there is mounting evidence that ordinary adivasis are part of Maoist politics in the area, the government today is forced to somehow act as though the adivasis are waiting to be won over through the right development policies, employment opportunities. First security forces were sent in to flush out Maoists. With hardly any encounters with the Maoists, the armed forces basically marched endlessly from one village to the next, across empty fields and villages whose male members had mostly fled. It is anybody’s guess where the male members had escaped to! After the ’success’ of this ‘flushing out’ operation, sincere attempts are being made to reach out to the people there with all kinds of development plans, employment generation, food and medical provisions. Under express directions form the chief minister, the secretaries from different ministers are posted in the different villages finding out the problems and needs of the people there.
One should not here doubt the sincerity of the CPIM to really follow the democratic rights perspective here in separating ordinary villagers and the Maoists. In fact it declared that it wants to fight the Maoists politically, grudgingly accepting the centre’s ban on the Maoists. So much so that the state government declared that it does not want to apply the UAPA, except in rare cases and that too the police will not have the authority to decide its use which will be decided by the government at the highest level.

Now all these welfarist proposals derive their rationale from the belief that ordinary villagers/adivasis stand opposed to the Maoists or got temporarily duped into supporting Maoists. However in a total reversal of this separation theory, in Lalgarh ordinary villagers not only rejected the welfarist state but upheld the Maoists precisely in their supposed violent avatar.

That is, while, on the one hand, you had the case of Malati rejecting the most benign offer the state can ever make, the 0ffer of medical care to the mother and new-born baby, on the other hand, you had ‘ordinary civilians’ cheering and celebrating (ululate) the mass action at Dharampur, destroying the house of the CPIM leader Anuj Pandey. Where does one draw the line between ordinary villagers and ‘violent Maoists’ when women who reject welfare measures offered by the state are more than participative in violent programmes of the Maoists? The Hindustan Times reports from Dharampur, “A huge crowd gathered below in the area now under Section 144 lustily cheering each blow that fell on the white two-story house, quite out of place in this land of deprivation under Lalgarh police station. By sundown, the hammers had chopped off the first floor, leaving behind a skeleton of what was a ‘posh’ house in the morning” (Hindustan Times, 16 June 2009).

Conclusion
Thus the approach of trying to defend the human rights of ‘ordinary civilians’ by arguing that they are not with the Maoists allows the state to justify repression of the Maoists in the name of defending the rights of these civilians. Far from this separation being something which the state must be forced to adopt, the state in fact was seen in Lalgarh to enforce it. Lalgarh showed that when the ‘ordinary civilians’ rejected the state even at its welfarist best and made it difficult to separate them from the Maoists, the state was forced to invent a technical separation (a particular dye mark on the body identifying a Maoist). This however did not work.

Those on the left who support the democratic struggle in Lalgarh but deplore its supposed Maoist takeover, too, vociferously uphold this separation. What this separation does is prevent the interplay between different forms of struggle, ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’, and constrict it within the limits set by the decrepit structures of state power. In the name of defending the democratic struggle from the authoritarian Maoists, it actually precludes the autonomous emergence of this struggle, a full-fledged political struggle against and beyond the limits set by state power.

Lalgarh showed that the Maoist is the name for the articulation of the democratic struggle which now refuses to give up even when it comes face to the face with the state exercising its monopoly of violence. Opening a novel chapter in the interrelationship between the ‘Maoist party’ and mass resistance, the Maoist ‘take-over’ of the ‘democratic struggle’ was actually the latter’s articulation beyond the last limits set up by given structures of power, the refusal of the struggle to recoil and rescind in the face of this power, refusal to remain merely another enclosure of democracy, the site of ‘primitive accumulation’ for capital and its democratic claims. It is a movement and a resistance where ordinary civilians no longer appear ordinary, and where the Maoists do not appear crudely vanguardist. Lalgarh today helps us rethink the entire question of political subjectivity, party, and the masses — but above all of democracy and its concrete realization through mass action.

Note
Gour Chakraborty, a veteran and widely respected Communist in his early 70s, had been a leading figure of the Ganapratirodh Mancha (Democratic Resistance Front), a coalition of left revolutionary groups in Kolkata. On December 26, 2008 West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that the government wished to deal with the Lalgarh rebellion “politically.” Gour Chakraborty then announced that he had quit the Democratic Resistance Front to become the public spokesperson for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in West Bengal, offered to meet the Chief Minister, and said “we are giving the CPI-M a chance to deal with us politically.” But despite efforts from other constituents of the Left Front in West Bengal, the leadership of the CPI-M refused to enter into political discussions with Chakraborty. On June 23, 2009 the West Bengal government arrested Chakraborty, using the provisions of the draconian anti-terrorism Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as he was leaving a talk show on a TV channel. [ed.]

Courtesy: Countercurrents

21 June, 2009

JNU fact-finding team’s preliminary report on Lalgarh


Picture above (Courtesy: MSN) shows security forces arriving at Lalgarh, a tribal village in West Bengal, on June 18 to put down a people's movement against atrocities by the police and CPI-M cadres.

The following is a preliminary statement on the Lalgarh developments prepared and circulated by a fact-finding team of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University which visited the tribal village from June 7 to 10:

A nine-member fact-finding team comprising students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and journalists recently visited Lalgarh to probe into the reality of the ongoing movement of the people in the area. Here is a preliminary account of our observations. We would like to appeal to your daily/news channel to highlight certain issues of the movement, which have so far been overlooked and neglected by the media.

We heard through various media and other sources that massive state repression had been underway in Lalgarh and adjacent areas since November 2008, after the attempted mine blast on the convoy of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. We had learnt of the incidents of rampant police atrocities after this land mine blast, especially on women and school children in the area. Following this the people there had formed the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee (PSBJC or the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities) and have blockaded Lalgarh and adjoining areas from police and other administration. With these preliminary facts in hand, we visited Lalgarh from June 7 to 10.

The team visited the villages of Chhotapelia, Katapahari, Bohardanga, Sijua, Dain Tikri, Sindurpur, Madhupur,Babui Basha, Shaluka, Moltola Kadoshol, Basban, Papuria, Komladanga,pukhria, Korengapara, Gopalnagar, Khash jongol, Shaalboni, Shaaldanga, Andharmari, Darigera, Bhuladanga, Chitaram Dahi, Teshabandh, Bhuladanga and talked extensively to people. We attended a big meeting called by the People’s Committee at Lodhashuli on June 7 and witnessed other small meetings which were held inside the villages. A firing and frontal battle between the people on the one hand and the state and armed gangs of the CPM on the other, in Dharampura and Madhupur/Shijua had started during our stay in Lalgarh.

The visit to Lalgarh and interaction with the people broke many of the myths which we still held before going there. After listening to the chronological narrative of the history of police atrocities in the area, we realized that the *November incidents were not unique*. It was merely the continuation of extreme state terror and police atrocities that the people of the region have been subjected to since 2000. What is unique this time is the resistance, which has taken an organized and sustained shape this time around. The people in all the villages we visited conclusively verified police torture. They described how the police entered houses very late at night, and in the name of ‘raids’ and ‘checks’ vandalized their houses and mercilessly beat them up, how any movement of the villagers at night even to look for their cattle was banned. Almost every family had one or more members who had been booked for being a ‘Maoist’.

We were told about the 90-year-old Maiku Murmu of Teshabandh who was beaten to death by the police way back in 2006. Young school girls were regularly molested by the police on the pretext of ‘body check’. Women were forced to show their genitals at night during ‘raids’ to confirm their gender. Before every election 30-40 people from every village were picked up as ‘Maoists’ in order to weaken the opposition to the ruling CPI (M). The incident of police brutality in Chhotopelia, where a number of women were ruthlessly beaten up and one of them Chhitamoni lost her eye, acted as the last straw. The arrest of three students on the baseless charge of ‘waging war against the state’ further enraged the people.

Lalgarh has now risen up in arms against this long-drawn atrocities and organized oppression of the CPI (M). For the villagers, police terror was accompanied by the terror unleashed by CPI (M). In fact, *the police and CPI (M) are not just in alliance with each other, they meant one and the same thing for the villagers. Our team was taken to Madhupur, where the local panchayat office had been turned into a camp of the ’Harmad Vahini’ (armed gangs of the CPM). They told us how the ‘motor cycle army’ of the Harmads roamed around the villages, terrorizing people, breaking their houses brutally, firing in the air, and beating people up, exactly in the same way they did in
Nandigram. The police not only stood as mute spectators whenever the Harmads went on a rampage, it supported them in all possible ways. The Harmads even used police jeeps to move around. To return these ‘favours’, the local CPI (M) cadres acted as informers for the police.

We met one villager whose house was demolished by the Harmad, during which he kept calling the police for help, but they never came. Similarly, they narrated the incident of Khash Jongol where the Harmads opened fire on a village meeting and killed three people and injured three others. It was only after an armed resistance was put up by the villagers that the Harmads were forced to retreat to Memul and then to Shijua.

The Committee was formed against police atrocities but it has also been carrying out alternative developmental work inside Lalgarh in the past seven months. These areas are marked by extreme poverty and backwardness. Agriculture is dependent on rainfall which is scanty. We saw the dysfunctional government canal, which is lying dry. They showed us the pathetic condition of roads which become completely inaccessible during the monsoons. The Committee on its own has made 20 km of roads with redstone chips (‘morrum’), with villagers volunteering their labour. They have repaired several tube-wells, and have installed new ones at half the cost incurred by the panchayat. They have also started constructing a check dam in Bohardanga to fight the water crisis.

Two major works undertaken by the Committee are the process of land distribution and running a health centre in Katapahari. The government was supposed to distribute wasteland among the landless, but never did so. Now the Committee is taking initiative in Banshberi and other villages to distribute the wasteland adjacent to the forests to the landless people. We witnessed the distribution of the patta in one village.

The Committee has also turned a dysfunctional building in Katapahari into a health centre, which attends to more than 150 patients every day. Doctors from Kolkata and other regions visit there thrice a week. We also attended a huge meeting called by the Committee in Lodhashuli against a sponge iron factory located in the region. We visited the factory site and saw the adverse effect of pollution on the trees, water bodies and land. The people informed us that even the paddy grown in the region have turned black, so much so even the panchayats refused to accept the paddy. The meeting was attended by around 12,000 people from many villages of the district, despite a bus strike called by CPM. It was a vibrant meeting where the Committee resolved, among other things, to boycott the factory and bring about its closure.

The presence of the Maoists within Lalgarh was one of the most contended issues during our visit. Our team observed the presence of Maoists and found that they had mass support of the people in this area. Their posters could be seen everywhere. We were informed by the villagers that Maoists have held meetings attended by thousands of people. The people seemed pretty clear about the need for an armed resistance in the face of the regular joint attacks by the CPM and the state. The restriction on carrying traditional arms by them is a clear signal by the state to debilitate this movement.

This team was witness to the genuine anger and suffering of the people. We do not agree with sections of the media which brand the resistance there as ‘anarchy’. We also believe that the police, administration and CPM are solely responsible for the current situation in Lalgarh. By the time we left Lalgarh, the struggle had intensified. By then, the people had been successful in making their immediate enemy CPM to escape along with the police. The people were exuberant. For the first time they are being part of not some vote-minting political party but a committee which is their own organization. They are living a life free of state terror and building their own developmental projects. In different villages many residents held one opinion in common: ‘we have got independence for the first time’. Their fight is against age-old exploitation, deprivation, torture and terror. In this way, it is a historic fight. We urge the media to revisit Lalgarh. The movement has its roots in extremely impoverished socioeconomic conditions increased by the inaction of the state. The state is bound to strike back at this fight of the people. The CRPF and other central forces will soon come with orders to open fire on the masses. The state government is also shamelessly asking the notorious and infamous Grey hounds and Cobra to come and crush the people’s movement. That will be the most unfortunate and condemnable thing. The anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is valid. And so is the fight against it.

This team will publish a detailed report based on our visit about this movement in Lalgarh. We remember the progressive role played by some sections of the media, especially the regional media in Bengal, during the Nandigram movement and would appeal to you to also stand by the people of Lalgarh and their genuine fight before the state carries out yet another genocide.

Thanking you,
Priya Ranjan,
Banojyotsna,
Sumati,
Anirban,
Gogol,
Kusum,
Reyaz,
Yadvinder,
Veer Singh.
Contact: 09711826861

19 June, 2009

LAVALIN: the real picture

The Lavalin case has attracted national attention as one of the persons the Central Bureau of Investigation has listed as an accused is Pinarayi Vijayan, who is Secretary of the Kerala unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a member of the party’s policy-making body, the Politburo.

Vijayan is the first Politburo member of an Indian communist party to figure in a corruption case.

The case arose out of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General alleging irregularities in a supply contract the Kerala State Electricity Board had entered into with the Canadian company, SNC Lavalin. Vijayan was Power Minister at the time and had personally led the official team which had gone to Canada for negotiations with the company.

The case was first investigated by the State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption department. It drew up a list of accused comprising officials and said further investigation was necessary to ascertain the role of others. The Kerala High Court referred the case to the CBI on a public interest petition.

C. R. Neelakantan, a well-known social activist, who recently published a book in Malayalam “Lavalin Rekhakaloode” (Through Lavalin Documents), has now brought out an English version, titled “Lavalin: the real picture” to enable non-Malayalees to understand the ramifications of the scandal.

The book is priced Rs. 100.

Publishers:
Olive Publications (Private) Limited,
East Nadakkav,
Kozhikode 673 011
Kerala, India

Phone: 0495-276 5871, 657 6001
Email: oliveclt@rediffmail.com
Web: www.olivepublications.com

28 May, 2009

Not a mandate against the Left’s social democratic policies

DEEPANKAR BASU
Countercurrents.org

In the recently concluded 2009 general elections to the lower house of the parliament, the Social Democratic Left (SDL henceforth) in India, composed of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a bunch of smaller left-wing parties, has witnessed the severest electoral drubbing in a long time.
This year, the CPM won a total of only 16 parliamentary seats; compared to its performance in the last general elections in 2004 this is a whopping decline of 27 seats. The CPI, on the other hand, won four seats in 2009, suffering a net decline of six parliamentary seats from its position in 2004.

Does this mean that the Indian population has rejected even the mildly progressive and social democratic policies that the SDL tried to argue for at the Central level? Is this a mandate for the Congress party and by extension a mandate for neoliberalism? I think not. Rather, a careful analysis shows that this is a mandate against the SDL but not against social democratic policies; on the other hand, just like in 2004 when BJP's "shinning India" slogan was decisively rejected, this is a mandate against neoliberalism and for welfare-oriented policies. To the extent that the Congress was pushed by the SDL to partially implement such pro-people policies, it can possibly be interpreted as an indirect endorsement of Congress's late-in-the day populism.

Dipankar Basu is Assistant Professor of Economics at the Colorado State University. The above lines are taken from a long article in which he few comments on the Lok Sabha election results and tries to understand why the social democrats got such a drubbing in West Bengal, the bastion of the SDL in India. The article can be accessed at Countercurrrents.org

16 February, 2009

AHRC: Empty rhetoric more dangerous than political bankruptcy

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Is there a relation between the residents of the Gaza strip and the Indians? Other than for the fact that the Government of India supports the Palestinian cause, there is no apparent connection between an ordinary Indian and a person living in Gaza. Yet, for politicians in India like Mr. Prakash Karat, the Israeli action in Gaza is an issue of importance to the Indians, one which Karat took the trouble of enlightening the inquisitive Indian public’s minds about, with his reflections on the Israeli invasion of Gaza and its implications for India.

In a statement released last week through the party media People’s Democracy, Karat shed tears for the Palestinians. He accused the political parties in India, obviously other than the party Karat himself leads, for being politically bankrupt. In the article, Karat accuses the Congress and the rightwing BJP for their alliance with the 'imperialist' western forces. When the state governments led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) forcefully evicted farmers from their lands to create special economic zones for foreign entities, Karat, the General Secretary of CPI-M, looked the other way.

The Communist spirit of the British-educated Karat is not worried about the alarming number of extrajudicial executions carried out by the Border Security Force stationed in West Bengal along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Probably, Karat is busy defending Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, his colleague in Kerala, who is facing prosecution for bribery charges. Vijayan, the State Secretary of the CPI-M , is accused of misappropriating public money to the amount of US$7,500,000.

Indians have their own problems that keep them preoccupied. For example, an estimated 622 million Indians, which amount to 54.8 per cent of the population, earn less than $1.50 a day. For these 622 million individuals, finding a proper meal a day is their immediate concern. It is believed that 150 million Indians live in slums. They have no source for clean drinking water or any other sanitation facilities. It is estimated that 53 percent of the children in India suffer from malnutrition and malnutrition induced sicknesses.

The percentage of the population living in extreme poverty and malnutrition in the country is the highest in the world. It is even higher than the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where there are no stable governments. A democratic underperformance to such an extent, that it creates living conditions even worse than all the states in Sub-Saharan region means that there is something awfully wrong with the government in India, past and present.

The problem starts with the Indian parliament. One-third of the parliamentarians in the country are criminals, facing charges of rape, murder, corruption or other serious crimes. The seat of democracy, the parliament, has thus become a repository of criminals. For these criminals to remain in power or to return to power whenever they require, two factors are essential -- there must not be a functioning rule of law regime and the ordinary electorate must remain illiterate.

Institutions in the country contribute their share in the above process. For example, most of the Indian media are divided along religious, caste and political lines. Depending upon the picture a media would like to paint to its reader, of caste; political affinity or religion; they defend or prosecute the politicians and their policies. So much so, there is no more 'free media' in the country. It is either a BJP media or a Christian news agency or a mere party propaganda tool. The link between the reader and the journalist is reduced to the money a reader pay to watch or read the so called news.

As for the rule of law regime, it has become defunct in the country since the past few decades. Laws in India works for those who can afford to buy it. The rule of law is sold in police stations, courts, legislative houses and in brothels across the country. In a country where police officers, politicians or their henchmen run most of the brothels, it is natural for the brothels to have a status equal to that of the legislature.

Corruption in public life is so open and apparent in the country that it is no more perceived as evil. On the contrary, it is considered as an essential requirement to get things done in the country. To register birth or death; to file a complaint to the police or to get a telephone connection; to admit a child to school or to get treatment at a government hospital; to book a train ticket or to obtain bail from the court, all require the 'lubricant' to be applied at appropriate places. Corruption is the seminal cord that links the police, the politician and the ordinary person in India.

In addition to the brothels and many other similar institutions in the country where 'justice' is sold and deals are negotiated, the police stations in India play the important role of being the collection houses for bribes and the public relations office for the politicians. If, by mistake, the police act against the whims of the ruling political party, the police stations are attacked and the officers assaulted.

In the past six months there were at least seven such incidents in Kerala state alone. When the officers arrested the cadres of the CPI-M , the ruling party of the state that Karat represents, the party cadres attacked the police station and released the detainees. Courts, judicial process and the rule of law are just meaningless words when it comes to protecting political interest. It is the same throughout all of the country. In Uttar Pradesh it is the Bahujan Samaj Party, in Gujarat it is the BJP and in Assam the Congress party.

The politicians appropriately reward the police officers for their political slavery. For example, the Director General of Police in West Bengal, Mr. Anup Bhushan Vohra, in December 2008 asked his officers to assault ordinary people, whenever required, with the definite intention to break their bones. Vohra made this statement in public, addressing his subordinate officers on December 10, the International Human Rights Day. Please see the link to watch a video that showcases what policing means in India. Arrest of a doctor and a lawyer in India. The officers involved in this incident continue to 'maintain' law and order in the country.

Vohra continues as the chief of police in that state. No police officer in the western countries would continue in their post after making such a speech, instigating his subordinates to violate the law. As for Vohra, officers like him are required in West Bengal, for the state government and the politicians who run it to continue their corrupt way of life. There are obviously a few things to be learned from the imperialist side of the world. But unfortunately for India's politicians, it might not be all that welcome, since sometimes, such lessons could challenge their corrupt way of life.

For politicians in India to continue in their corrupt ways, regular Indians must remain poor, torture must be encouraged and practised in the police stations, courts must not function properly and the electorate must remain divided as Hindus, Christians, and Muslims maintaining their caste hierarchies, no matter which religion they follow. Poverty must thrive in the country so that a lesser number of Indians will have the strength to challenge the slavery imposed by the landlords and the local politicians who steal life and honour from the poor.

What is important for the Indians is that they must be aware of the Israeli actions in Gaza. They must condemn it, since anything else spoken about India by a citizen might challenge politicians like Karat. Opportunity to reflect on one's own living conditions will expose the empty rhetoric of the Indian politicians. Such voices might also challenge the corrupt bureaucracy.

Hence, it is important for the politicians in India to preoccupy the Indian public, filling their minds with irrelevant world affairs that would not fetch them a meal. And for Israel, it must continue invading its neighbor, for that will provide Indian politicians with a subject to be concerned about.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

25 January, 2009

A CPI (M) 'plant' in The Hindu?

Many long-time readers of The Hindu have accused the daily of tilting towards the Communist Party of India (Marxist) since N. Ram became the Editor-in-Chief. A report appearing in today’s edition shows the party has the ability to plant a story in this venerable newspaper.

The report, headlined “Krishna Iyer for debate on Central, State police process”, is based on an interview with former Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer. The report has no dateline. Nor does it have a creditline. The absence of attribution suggests that the report was not received from any correspondent of the paper or from any news agency to which it subscribes.

The report identifies the interviewer as P. Rajeev, a leftist journalist.

P. Rajeev is a young CPI (M) leader and Resident Editor of the Malayalam daily, Deshabhimani, which is an official organ of the party.

Rajeev’s report of the interview appeared in Deshabhimani only today. Evidently it was made available to The Hindu before its publication in Deshabhimani.

The interview report quoted Krishna Iyer as saying, “I feel that the time has come for a national debate on the creation, operation and control of the Central and State police process. I express this view because I find so much of hot controversy over the Lavlin issue where Sri. Pinarayi Vijayan’s name is being made the subject of political imputations.” (Italics added)

Rajeev interviewed Krishna Iyer after the party launched a campaign accusing the Central Bureau of Investigation of implicating Pinarayi Vijayan, who is a member of the CPI (M) Politburo and Secretary of its State Committee, in the SNC Lavalin case as reprisal for withdrawal of the party’s support to the United Progressive Alliance.

Deshabhimani featured it as the lead story.

According to Malayalam news channels, Krishna Iyer said in a statement today that his remarks were capable of misinterpretation to suit the needs of some political leaders.

While reiterating his stand that investigations must be truthful, he said he believed an offender, howsoever high, must not escape punishment and an innocent person must not be penalized.

For more on the Lavalin case, please see my commentary "Lavalin developing into CPI-M's Bofors", distributed by Indo Asian News Service.

POSTSCRIPT:
Justice Krishna Iyer's revised statement, referred to above, appears in The Hindu's edition dated January 26 under the heading "Investigating agencies must enjoy immunity and independence, says Krishna Iyer". It carries a Kochi dateline and is credited to the paper's Special Correspondent.

09 August, 2008

When Red Fades, It Turns Saffron

‘When Red fades, It Turns Saffron'.This is the telling headline of a commentary by journalist KA Shaji, circulated by Countercurrents.org.

In it, Shaji mentions how the Sangh Parivar’s attempt to wrest control of the Left bastion of Kodungallur, an ancient town of Kerala, is threatening to undo its historic legacy of communal harmony.

It can be read here.

31 July, 2008

Cheating the party and cheating the people

When the Communist Party of India (Marxist) withdrew its support to the Manmohan Singh government, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had before him two choices. He could give up the Speakership and stand with the party which sent him to the Lok Sabha. Or he could reject the party’s suggestion and stand with the house that had made him the Speaker. If he thought solely as a CPI-M man, he could only take the first choice. If, as demanded by the office of the Speaker, he looked at the issue from outside the framework of party politics, the second choice would become more acceptable.

If the report that he informed the party leadership that he did not want to vote with the Bharatiya Janata Party is correct, it is clear that he did not look at the matter solely as the Speaker. As critics have pointed out, the CPI-M has voted with the BJP in the past too. Whenever the party so directed, like other comrades, he had voted with the BJP. But it will be not be proper to characterize his present stand as dishonest on that ground. On the previous occasions, no other way was open to him. This time a new path was available and he took it. He had two different identities as a member elected to the Lok Sabha on the CPI-M ticket and as the Speaker. In the end, he attached more importance his identity as the Speaker. A democratic sensibility that makes it possible to set aside party interests and act in keeping with wider national interests is discernible here.

As one with long political experience, Chatterjee certainly knew that the party will brand him a lover of office. That this did not dissuade him from taking the path that he chose is something the party cannot easily accept. Under the system that the party follows, those lower down are duty bound to accept decisions taken by those at higher levels unquestioningly. Chatterjee’s decision has the potential to undermine its foundation.

Speakers usually assume charge with a promise to stay above party politics. When Varkala Radhakrishnan of the CPI-M, who has been Speaker of the Kerala Assembly, questions the concept of the Speaker’s impartiality and asks whether Vakkom Purushothaman, a Congressman who served as Speaker, had maintained impartiality, the gap between precept and practice in politics comes to the fore. In this country, there have been occasions when a person who was in the Speaker’s chair became the Chief Minister or a minister before one could flutter one’s eyelids. But it is not proper to torpedo the principle by pointing to such deviations. Leaders must treat them as exceptions and work for good precedents.

In including Somnath Chatterjee’s name in the list of party members submitted to the President, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat harmed the concept of the Speaker’s impartiality. In the early years of Independence, the Congress had established the tradition of the Speaker staying out of the party while he held that position. It is doubtful if even that party observes that practice today. There are people in that party who, while being Speaker, were active in group politics.

Somnath Chatterjee continued his party connections even after he took over as Speaker in 2004. But he was excluded from the Central Committee at the party congress of 2005. It is said that he wanted to remain in the committee but gave up the desire on Karat’s advice. It is interesting to note that three years ago Karat was more eager than Chatterjee to adhere to precedents.

The confidence vote would have taken place without a hitch even if Chatterjee had resigned as Speaker in compliance with the party’s directive. The Deputy Speaker would have presided while the confidence motion was being discussed. Since he, like the Speaker, was under a party whip to vote against the government, there would have been no change in the vote count on either side.

Beyond the attitude of individuals and parties, what should be decisive in such matters is the desire to maintain healthy democratic practices. Everyone swears publicly to act without fear or favour when he takes up a constitutional post. He has to remain truthful to the Constitution, which says that We the People of India made it and gave it unto ourselves. But, for a Communist, the party is above everything else and his primary loyalty is to it. Loyalty to the Constitution comes only after that. According to a saying of the days of princely rule, the royal command can break the rock. As far as the CPI-M is concerned, commands issuing from the A.K.G. Bhavan in New Delhi and the A.K.G. Centre in Thiruvananthapuram have the same force.

Somnath Chatterjee’s crime is that he valued loyalty to the Constitution more than loyalty to the party. That is why State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan called him a cheat. As Politburo members, Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan stand higher in the party hierarchy than Chatterjee who only got to the Central Committee level. Those looking at things from within the party framework will have no doubt at all that Chatterjee deserves the ridicule. But at least some people outside it now see Chatterjee as a saviour of democracy.

The basic question is not whether Somnath Chatterjee’s decision as an individual is right or wrong. It is: to whom should party members who hold constitutional or other positions be loyal? The Speaker, the Chief Minister and the ministers are elected representatives. They got these positions as part of their political activity. If their conduct or that of their party is not satisfactory, those who elected them will have the opportunity to give a verdict against them. At the most they will have to wait for five years for it.

There are many government employees in Kerala who maintain relations with political parties. The political affiliation of their organizations is widely known. It is not uncommon for one to establish relations with a party while still a student. At one time, government jobs were denied in the name of such relations. The end of that practice is a triumph of democracy. For, one’s political belief must not be a bar to government employment. At the same time, under the service rules, a government employee does not have the right to be member of a political party. If he is a member of a party at the time of appointment he has to give up the membership. If he is not, he should not seek or accept membership while in service.

A government employee can be member of a cultural organization. There are many cultural organizations with political links in the country. Among them are the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham (progressive artists and writers organization). Not content with being members of such organizations, government servants at various levels maintain party membership. Information about CPI-M members has come out from time to time. The clandestine membership of some government officials came to light when they earned the leadership’s displeasure and were expelled from the party. They included a university vice-chancellor and an executive engineer. Two police constables’ membership of the party became known when a leader attempted to prevent them from voting in party elections as they belonged to a rival group. Party considerations surface at election time in the organization set up to promote the welfare of policemen and take care of their work-related problems.

Like Somnath Chatterjee, government employees who are members of the CPI-M are bound by party rules to obey its orders. Since Chatterjee belonged to a high party body, the general secretary alone could issue directions to him. The branch secretary can issue instructions to a policeman who is member of a branch committee. The activities of persons in the lower echelons are keenly watched by those at the top. Television channels had brought us the scene of the party State secretary upbraiding an employee of the Kerala House in New Delhi who had raised an allegation against film star Mammootty.

It is not CPI-M members alone who have infiltrated government service. There will be occasions when a government employee who belongs to a party is compelled to decide whether his loyalty is to the party or to the government. Will he then cheat the party or the government? Here, cheating the government means cheating the people.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated July 31, 2008