Benazir: Casualty of US-sponsored ‘Democracy’ in Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto’s shocking and unconscionable assassination has plunged Pakistan into crisis. The streets continue to simmer with rage; the Musharraf regime desperately tries to claim that Benazir’s death was an accident not an assassination; Pakistan’s elections are mired in uncertainty. Bush was quick to declare that the assassination was the work of ‘extremists’ – further justification for the ‘war on terror’; the Musharraf regime echoed this with the claim of evidence of an al-Qaeda plot to kill Benazir. Much of the media, in India as well as internationally, has anointed Benazir as a ‘martyr for democracy’. But, for people of the subcontinent, whether in Pakistan or in India, this explanation is too superficial to be satisfactory.
Benazir’s killing is cowardly and condemnable, and even those who had been her sharpest critics are united in abhorring her death. However, to portray Benazir Bhutto’s death as a heroic sacrifice for the cause of democracy is far from the truth. It was an open secret that Benazir returned as part of a US-brokered deal. In return for a reprieve from corruption charges, Benazir was to bail out the embattled Musharraf regime facing a raging pro-democracy movement, by providing a democratic Prime Ministerial façade. The simplistic story peddled by Bush and Musharraf that ‘evil Islamic terrorists’ targeted Benazir because she represented modernity, democracy and the values of the enlightened West has proved difficult to swallow within and beyond Pakistan. Instead it is now widely recognised that it was Benazir’s part in the US design which put her in the line of fire. In fact, many in Pakistan believe that the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan headed by Musharraf that engineered the assassination which took place in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Al-Qaeda’s outright denial of any responsibility for the killing, as well as the flimsy attempts by the military dictatorship to cover up the killing and pass it off as an accident only strengthen this suspicion.
Benazir was no icon of ‘democracy’: she was in fact a symbol of, and also a tragic casualty of the Iraq-Afghanistan-style US-sponsored ‘democracy’; a democracy that was meant to legitimise rather than challenge a US-approved dictatorship. The weak content of the democracy represented by Benazir and the PPP is also underscored by the feudal and dynastic features shared with Indian political parties: the leadership of the PPP has now been bestowed upon her young son, (on the premise that the party was Benazir’s property to be disposed of in keeping with her will), while her husband will act as regent.
For the US ruling establishment, it’s a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation. The assassination of Benazir may be a blow to its design – but not for long; it is already looking to capitalise on the new situation and use the current chaos as a pretext for intensified US military and political in Pakistan. The US strategic design in the region is no secret – for long, the US has been claiming that the Pashtun tribes’ territories bordering Afghanistan are a ‘safe haven’ for the al-Qaeda, and has been declaring its intention to send in troops there with or without Musharraf’s consent. If Musharraf becomes more of a liability than an asset for the US, it always has the option of dumping him in favour of some other more presentable candidate from within Pakistan’s ruling class. The US will also expect India to be its partner in any new chapter of the ‘war on terror’ in Pakistan.
Within the US establishment, there are sections that, in view of Musharraf’s increasing loss of credibility, would like the US to keep its options open in Pakistan rather than tying itself down to Musharraf. US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton represents such an opinion. She made it clear that she was not asking Musharraf to step down – but she has suggested a possibility of the Pak military’s role in the killing and recommended an international investigation into Benazir’s death with the participation of the UN, Afghanistan and India. Just as in the case of Iraq, there is no fundamental difference among the Democrats and the ruling Republicans over the US use of Pakistan as a base for its ‘war on terror’: just minor difference over the shape of US intervention and the choice of allies. Hillary Clinton’s remarks also display the characteristic imperialist arrogance and condescension for the people of developing countries: referring to the lawyers’ movement for democracy, she said, “When you have people demonstrating in the streets who are wearing coats and ties, you know, those are the people we should be standing with.” No doubt, if the people demonstrating on the streets of Pakistan, India, Iraq or Latin America do not have the right kind of clothes on their back, their demand for democracy cannot be said to merit US support!
For India, Benazir’s assassination is yet another reminder of the dangers of being the darling of US imperialism, and of the farce of US-sponsored ‘democracy’ and ‘war on terror’. Musharraf’s dictatorship received US approval and backing because it was said to be a frontline partner in the ‘war on terror’ – yet the result is that terror and the tragedies have become a daily reality in Pakistan. Now, in Pakistan’s hour of crisis, we must vigilantly and vehemently resist any attempts by the UPA Government to be part of any form of US intervention in Pakistan. The democracy that the people of Pakistan are striving for is something deeper and more enduring – and that democracy can be achieved only if the US leaves well alone and its stooge Musharraf steps down. These would be the first painful steps towards a potential restoration of some measure of democracy to Pakistan.
Condemn the Arrest of Workers, AICCTU, AIALA and AISA activists in UP
Dinkar Kapoor, National Secretary and U.P. State Secretary of AICCTU, Ramayan Ram, UP State President of All India Student Association (AISA), Radhey Shyam, UP State Vice President of Uttar Pradesh Khet Mazdoor Sabha and 3 workers were arrested on 28 December by police and taken to Colonelganj police station, Allahabad when they had just begun a hunger strike in support of the contract workers’ struggle ongoing at IFFCO, Phulpur, Allahabad. At the police station they were abused, maltreated and humiliated for the whole night by police, and were not even provided with blankets for the cold winter’s night. The same treatment continued the next day, and finally in the evening of 29 December they were sent to Naini prison on concocted charges.
It may be noted that the contract workers of IFFCO (Indian Farmers’ Fertilisers’ Cooperative) have been agitating for the last two months on the issue of PF, wages, etc. and against the proposed plan to replace the local workers with workers from other states. While the struggle was underway, the contractor died in an accident on 29 November. The workers were falsely blamed for his death and under this pretext the administration tried to crush the agitation. Around 100 workers were arrested and put behind the bars, some of them under Section 302 (murder charges).
CPI(ML) and AICCTU intervened in this agitation by holding a protest dharna at the Allahabad District Court from 10-20 December. The dharna ended following talks with the DM, and AICCTU announced a mass meeting at IFFCO to inform about the outcome of the talks. The mass meeting was banned just the previous day. In protest against this undemocratic ban, CPI(ML) and AICCTU (with due prior notice) announced a 48-hour hunger strike on 28 December at the Collectorate. It was at the start of this hunger strike that the activists were arrested and jailed.
AICCTU has sent a memo to the UP CM, demanding immediate and unconditional release of all the activists and leaders as well as the 100 IFFCO workers arrested earlier. The CPI(ML) UP State Secretary Comrade Akhilendra Pratap Singh issued a strong condemnation of the arrests, declaring that minimum democratic rights were being denied in BSP rule, and a protest letter was sent to the Home Secretary. Statewide protests have been held all over UP against the arrests. On 29 December, effigies of the CM were burnt at Duddhi, Myopur, Babhni, Ghorawal, Robertsganj and Anpara in Sonbhadra district; CPI(ML) and Kisan Sangharsh Samiti held protest dharnas at Pilibhit, Puranpur, and Kanpur; CPI(ML) and AICCTU held a dharna at he UP Assembly on 31 December. AICCTU held a nation-wide protest day on 31 December. At Allahabad, around 150 IFFCO workers under the banner of AICCTU held a silent procession with black bands on their mouths, broke Section 144 to march past the District Curt premises to reach the Commissioner’s office and submit a memorandum. CPI(ML) and AIALA held a protest dharna at the District HQ in Mirzapur. At Delhi, AICCTU National Secretary and Delhi State Secretary Santosh Rai along with a delegation comprising other leaders of AICCTU and JNUSU President Sandeep Singh submitted a memorandum to the Resident Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh. Protest demonstrations were also held at Patna, Kolkata, Chennai, and Dhanbad.
CPI(ML) in Jharkhand sets the agenda for the new year
Towards the end of 2007, CPI(ML) in Jharkhand intensified its struggles against loot in BPL, NREGA and other schemes, and against displacement of tribal and rural poor, and also began preparations for several major events in the new year.
In some panchayats at Bagodar in Giridih district, over 1000 people gheraoed the Block Development Officer (BDO) on 28 December, protesting against scams and large-scale irregularities in BPL, NREGA and various rural housing schemes. Women participated in this gherao in large numbers. Eventually the BDO agreed to issue BPL cards and address the other issues within a specified time frame. Keeping the assured time frame in mind, the protestors decided to intensify the agitation in early January to ensure implementation of the assurance. A dam in under construction at Khandoli in Bengavad block in Giridih, where despite the fact that villagers are yet to be paid compensation for the acquisition of their land, the government has cordoned off the land and is imposing a fee on entry to the area. CPI(ML) and the peasant association JHAMKIS have repeatedly demanded the scrapping of the entry fee. On 30 December, a dharna was held at the dam site itself, where around 500 villagers defied the entry fee to gather in protest.
Preparations are on in Giridih for a massive rally on December 16 to mark the death anniversary of Comrade Mahendra Singh. Massive general body meetings and marches were held at several villages in Birni and Bagodar blocks. On 16 January, thousands will march on foot from each panchayat to the spot that marks the martyrdom of Comrade Mahendra Singh. In Ramgarh, CPI(ML) has come into confrontation with AJSU, whose Secretary Chandraprakash Choudhry is notorious for involvement in the coal mafia. On 27 December, our comrades protested at Pochra village against extortion by the AJSU. The local administration being hand-in-glove with the coal mafia and biased against the CPI(ML) which poses the sole challenge to the mafia, several CPI(ML) activists including State Committee members Heera Gope and Devakinandan Vedia were charged with false cases. In protest, Pochra Road was blockaded on 29 December and a demonstration was held at Barkakana Thana which forced the police to withdraw the false cases.
On 28 October, two adivasis had been killed by police in a fake encounter and branded as naxalites at Biju Bathan in Lohardaga district. CPI(ML) and JHAMKIS had gheraoed the thana on 29 October and ensured that cases were lodged against the guilty police officers. A dharna had been held to follow up the issue on 2 November; the thana was gheraoed again on 13 November and on 23 November, a protest demonstration had been held before the Chief Minister at Ranchi demanding action against those guilty of the fake encounter, compensation for the families of the victims and jobs for their dependents. Instead of responding to these demands, the administration has not only failed to initiate any action against the police officers but has in fact given them medals.
Fact-finding team investigates farmers’ suicides in Mysore and Chamaraj Nagar districts
A fact finding team comprising of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties(PUCL), P.D.F., All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA), Samata Vedike, Revolutionary Youth Association and Pedestrian Pictures visited Hosapura village of Nanjangud taluka, Mysore district and Harave village of Chamaraj Nagar taluka and district on 26 December 2007 to investigate the suicides of two farmers Manjunath and Siddaraju of the respective villages. Both had availed loans from ICICI Bank to buy a tractor each.
The team comprised of Prof. Muzaffar Assadi, Prof. Nagari Babaiah, Prof. V S Sridhar, Dr. Lakshminarayana, Dr. E. Ratirao, Sri Venkataraju, Punajur Doreswamy, Maridandaiah Budha, Chowdalli Javariah, Abhishek and Rashmi. The team visited the villages and personally met the family members of Manjunath and Siddaraju. The team found that government policies pushed such farners to private banks for loans, and the violent methods of loan recovery pushed them to suicide. The team raised the following immediate demands: 1. The government should pay monetary compensation to the families of Manjunath and Siddaraju, the farmers who committed suicide. Their loans should be written off and ICICI bank should pay compensation to the families of the dead. 2. ICICI Bank should be penalized and blacklisted for misusing the government’s directives of doubling rural and agricultural finance. 3. Agents and recovery agents and hooligans appointed by Banks should be abolished and any violations be punished according to law. 4. The Government should establish an autonomous body to monitor Bank finance to the agrarian sector.
CPI(ML) Protests Attacks on Christians by VHP in Orissa
The CPI(ML) demanded that the UPA Government at the Centre intervene to ensure stern punishment for the VHP leaders guilty of organising violent attacks on churches around Christmas day. In Orissa, CPI(ML) held a protest demonstration at Gunupur on 28 December against the attacks and against the inaction of the BJD-BJP Government of Orissa, and again at the state capital of Bhubaneshwar on 29 December. A CPI(ML) fact-finding team is soon to visit the affected villages to assess the situation and identify the culprits.
In Jharkhand too, protests against the communal attacks on the churches were held at Ranchi on 28 December, Ramgarh on 29 December and Jamshedpur on 30 December.
Workers' Convention in Chennai
MRF Ltd in Tiruvottiyur is facing lock-out since the first week of November, in spite of the fact that the workers union had approached the TN govt and the latter passed orders prohibiting the continuation of lock-out. The workers have taken up various struggles during this lock-out and workers in Tiruvottiyur and Ambattur have expressed their solidarity with the struggle. Hyundai workers who are also facing serious attacks from the management have also joined solidarity activities. In this background, Democratic Labor Front of Ashok Leyland and the North Chennai unit of the AICCTU organised a convention on Nov. 29, as a part of the campaign for a one-day Solidarity Strike in Chennai in support of the struggling MRF workers demanding immediate opening of the company. More than 700 workers participated in this convention. Workers’ leaders from Hyundai, TI Diamond Chain, Enfield, Eveready, Carborandum, Govt. Press, and from unorganised sectors participated. The leaders from Ashok Leyland and from Working Peoples Council categorically came up in support of the Solidarity Strike Call. AICCTU, AITUC, WPC have all declared their support. Attempts are on to garner the support of CITU. In this convention Com. S Kumarasami, CPI(ML) Politburo member and All India President of AICCTU, pointed out the significance of First General Strike of the Indian Working Class in 1908 and called upon the workers to launch a struggle for the right of TU recognition and for playing enhanced political role as an assertive class.
Protests against Anti-peasant Policies in UP
CPI(ML) and All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti organised a state-wide protest day on December 27 against anti-peasant policies of Mayawati Govt. in UP, in particular against two recent farmers' suicides and the brutal lathicharge on sugar-cane farmers in Lakhimpur-Kheri on December 25 when they protested at the Bajaj Sugar Mills demanding pending dues and minimum support price for their crop. Farmers’ suicides have also been witnessed in the same district. Two brothers committed suicides on December 23-24 when their land (8 bighas) was auctioned by the government for non-payment of a bank loan. The govt. auctioned the land worth more than Rs. 4 lakhs to a rich farmer for just Rs. 1.1 lakh.
A joint investigating team of CPI(ML) and AIKSS visited the village where the two brothers had committed suicide. A protest was held on December 27 in front of Kheri DM office. Hundreds of peasants and workers held a march at Puranpur of Pilibhit district, while dharnas were held in Robertsganj, Duddhi, Ghorawal and Anpara in Sonbhadra district. In Varanasi, an effigy was burnt of the Mayawati Govt. inspite of police efforts to stop it. A demonstration was held in Imlia-chatti in Mirzapur distrct and Kiratpur in Bijnor district, and dharnas were organised in Gazipur and Moradabad. Similar programmes were also held at many other places in the state.