In this Issue
Financial Bankruptcies Rock the US, : Bombs and Communal Violence Rock India
Seven years after 9/11, fear of a different kind seems to have gripped the US. Riding on a spate of mega bankruptcies, a huge dark shadow has resurfaced in the US, reminding the whole world of the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. When flagship American financial giants tumble like ninepins and the state has to bail out companies that claimed to ‘insure’ people against risks of every kind, it is not difficult to see why the fear of 1929 should once again spread like a contagion.
If the fear that pervades the American system appears familiar, no less so are the ways the system tries to overcome the fear and ‘reassure’ itself. Mega bankruptcies have triggered massive bailout packages, forcing the state to shelve its ‘free market’ doctrine and nationalise the huge losses left in its wake by the deflating financial bubble. The bankruptcies have exposed the bluff daily dished out by the proponents of privatisation who equate privatisation with efficiency, and the bailout packages have once again made it clear how capitalism cannot survive without heavy periodic doses of state intervention. Globalisation has made no difference to the classic capitalist principle of privatisation of profit and nationalisation of loss.
We must also remember the other classic fact about US imperialism. Every time the vulnerability of the American system gets exposed, the system responds with its tested and trusted policy of systematic economic and military aggression to export its crisis to other parts of the world. The excuses have ranged from ‘free trade’ and ‘development’ to ‘democracy’ and a ‘terror-free world’; but the pattern has been the same – a combination of war, hot and cold, and relentless economic expansion. Even as financial chaos spreads like wildfire in the US market, Venezuela and Bolivia are having to cope with renewed US-inspired coup attempts, the ‘war on terror’ has spilled over from Afghanistan into Pakistan and in Georgia the US is seeking a new base to encircle Russia and target Iran.
Any crisis faced by the US these days has a louder resonance in India too, for the Indian ruling classes have pushed the country into a tight strategic embrace with the crisis-ridden superpower. Every time Wall Street sneezes, Dalal Street in ‘aamchi Mumbai’ promptly catches the contagious cold. The Sensex takes a nosedive, wiping out billions of rupees in a few seconds even as prices of almost all essential commodities soar through the roof. The powers that be ask us to celebrate the crisis imported straight from America and promise redemption through an ever more comprehensive strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington. And even as the US continually twists our arms over the nuclear deal, bombs explode at regular intervals all over urban India to warn us that we are fast turning into a typical outpost of the US ‘empire of terror’.
If the neo-liberal economic policies exposed the entire Indian economy to systematic American penetration, the nuclear deal and the ‘war on terror’ now threaten to invite increasing American ‘involvement’ in India’s domestic affairs. Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent blasts in Delhi, the BJP has renewed its clamour for re-enactment of POTA and the Congress, while ruling out the return of POTA, has promised tougher anti-terror laws. Beyond the domain of legislation, the competitive anti-terrorist rhetoric of the Congress and the BJP continues to fuel anti-Muslim prejudices across the country. The Sangh brigade is using this environment to the hilt to refuel its communal fascist agenda and anti-minority campaign. The Sangh’s campaign of anti-Chirstian violence has already spread from Orissa to Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, and in UP, Sangh outfits are working overtime to whip up anti-Muslim communal frenzy. They are even physically preventing lawyers in UP from taking up cases of Muslims who have been charged with perpetrating or abetting any terrorist activity. In the name of tackling terrorism, the US has imposed a global war on the world. Similarly, in India, the Sangh brigade has been using anti-terrorist rhetoric to intensify its campaign of communal fascist violence. Nothing could pose a bigger threat to India than a combination or convergence of these two ominous trends under the patronage of the state and the ruling classes.
Peasants Up Against Another Singur-Type Plot In Bengal
The consensus at the meeting was that there were far less costly alternatives to the WBPDCL’s land grab policy, ostensibly for augmenting power production to meet growing demand for electricity.
(Report by WB Secretary Partha Ghosh, of a CPI(ML) Delegation’s visit to Koshigram)
Deposing at a public hearing regarding the state-owned West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited WBPDCL’s 1000 megawatt (2 x 500 MW) power project at Koshigram village under Katwa sub-division in Burdwan district, 403 peasants have till date recorded their position. A five-member CPI(ML) Liberation team comprising Comrades Kartick Pal, Biman Biswas,Meena Pal, Sajal Pal and myself, along with Comrade Ashok Chowdhury, a district level leader of the party, visited the village which would be worst affected if the project takes shape, and met with the functionaries of Krishi Jami Krishak o Khetnajur Bachao Committee (Save Agricultural Land, Peasants and Agricultural Labourers’ Committee – KJKKBC). Even the day we were there over 60 persons deposed before the public hearing and all but two spoke against the undemocratic acquisition.
When the project implementation took off in August 2005, the WBPDCL acquired 650 but now the area, forcibly acquired, has increased to 1030 acres in nine mouzas of not only this village but others under the police station of Mongolkot and Ketugram. The entire region is a fertile multi-crop tract. Apart from three DVC canals, there are nine deep tubewells, 200 submersible pumps and four river lift irrigation arrangements – a distinct impress of a flourishing farming area.
The resentment has been growing since 2005. In the recent panchayat elections, the CPI(M) was completely routed here, with all the six panchayat seats were won by the Congress. Our conversation with the villagers reveals that the winning candidates primarily belong to the KJKKBC rather than the Congress. The Trinamool Congress has very feeble presence there, if at all.
We organized a meeting which was attended by about 500 people. Apart from Comrade Kartick Pal and myself, Tapan Ghosh spoke on behalf of KJKKBC while its secretary Rabindranath Rai took the chair. People came from other villages like Shrikhanda, Bonkapasi, Sitahati, Ban Nagra and Bagdola – all facing eviction threat. Attendance of women in large numbers was notable.
Raj Bhawan March On Singur
Two thousand people had held a march in Kamarkundu on 10th September demanding alternative land and livelihood for the victimised peasants and bargadars. A compensation of a minimum of one lakh rupees as rehabilitation cost along with alternative means of livelihood for the displaced agricultural labourers was also demanded. CPI(ML) also demanded that the deal between the West Bengal state government and Tata Motors be made public. The protesters had also criticised the fact that the CPI(M) is even ignoring the latest talks between government and opposition, which were mediated by the Governor, for the sake of absolute benefit of Tata. Immediate punishment for the killers of Tapasi Mallick and Rajkumar Bhul was also demanded. On September 19, the West Bengal State Committee of CPI(ML) held a March to the Raj Bhawan, reiterating the above-mentioned demands. A procession, which was joined by scores of people from Singur, marched from College Square to Esplanade where a public meeting was held. The meeting was addressed by CPI(ML) leaders. Subsequently, a delegation comprising of Partho Ghosh, State Secretary, Kartick Pal, PBM, Sajal Adhikary, SCM, Shyamapada Dhara, an agricultural labourer from Singur and Tarapada Kole, an unregistered sharecropper from Singur, met the Governor and submitted a memorandum. Shyamapada Dhara and Tarapada Kole told the Governor about the miserable conditions in which they led their lives after land was acquired for the Tata Motors plant. The delegation urged the Governor to visit Singur and examine first-hand the condition of the affected people. The delegation also demanded that work under NREGA be started at Singur and urged the Governor to clarify the stand of the state government with regard to the September 7 agreement since it was signed in his presence. The Governor assured the delegation that all demands would be conveyed to the state government and he would sincerely consider visiting Singur.
Floods in Assam and Orissa: Same Story of Negligence and Devastation
Assam faced its usual yearly bout of severe floods, while Orissa is facing a unprecedented flood fury that is threatening to break the record of the Kosi floods in Bihar. In these cases, too, however, the catastrophe is less natural and more man-made–specifically, made by negligent Governments.
At Orissa, where embankments on the Mahanadi have given way at 61 places, it is a man-made tragedy. Analysing weekly data released by the Central Water Commission, and daily data from the Orissa government about water flow in the Mahanadi river and reservoir levels in the Hirakud dam, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, an NGO, has pointed to a total disconnect between information and action by the government. It has highlighted how despite having a flood control cushion, apathy in operating the dam—filling up the reservoir to full capacity before the end of the monsoon, in violation of an official expert committee recommendation—has led to an avoidable flood disaster. As Orissa confronts the enormously destructive floods, CPI(ML) will do all it can to aid the relief efforts, and will also demand accountability about the role of Government negligence in causing the floods.
An NDTV report (September 03, 2008) observed about Assam that “the misery this time is entirely manmade. At Kendukona in lower Assam, embankments constructed in 2008, have already given away... While predicting a natural disaster may still be difficult under Indian conditions, there is no reason why a work of civil construction like an embankment constructed as early as April should give away.”
Three Days Among the Flood-Affected
(As recounted by activists of AIPWA and AISA who visited the affected areas)
A 17-member team of AIPWA and AISA activists, led by Shashi Yadav, National Secretary of AIPWA, Sangeeta Singh, National Council member of AIPWA, and AISA National Vice President Abhyuday, left for Purnea from Patna. Travelling in the jam-packed general bogey of the Capital Express, we reached Katihar, and from there to Purnea.
At Purnea, AIPWA leaders Shashi Yadav and Sangeeta Singh along with Madhavi Sarkar were let in the Government mega shivir (mega camp), thanks to Madhavi Sarkar’s identity of being the slain MLA Comrade Ajit Sarkar’s wife. But the officials prevented other members of the team from entering, claiming that the entry of ‘outsiders’ was prohibited. When the DM was contacted on phone, he said ‘visiting hours’ were from 8-10 am only– as though the place were not a relief camp but a jail or a hospital! We found that flood victims from all over have come to the relief camp but are not being given room in the camp. Officials are making announcements on mikes, telling people to return home since the waters have receded.
We met around 50-60 people, many of them women and children, waiting outside the camp. One youth among them said there was nothing to eat in their village and they had somehow managed to reach the mega camp, but here too they were being chased away. When we along with the local CPI(ML) leaders took up the issue, some of them got registration in the mega shivir.
At the mega shivir, we found that there were no special arrangements for women and children. Women told us that when they went to the camp doctors for their own and their children’s treatment, they were scolded and told, “Just because you see a doctor doesn’t mean you have to concoct an illness.”
When a large number of flood victims including many women and children from the Bela Refugee Colony, post Basmatiya Bazaar, in Araria district, tried to enter the Purnea Maranga mega shivir, they were stopped at the gates and spent two days on the streets, depending on the charity of local people. We spoke to Dilip Chandra Das, Kajoli Das, Vibhendra Chandra Das, and Dayal Varma from among these people and heard that eventually tired of being hungry, they broke the bamboo barricades and entered the mega camp, but were beaten up and thrown out by police and officials. We took up their case with the DDC, who told us that these people were from Araria and so we cannot provide for them. We insisted that now that these people are here, and in dire need of help, the officials cannot refuse to feed them on any bureaucratic pretext. As this stand-off continued, JD(U) leader and Chairperson of the State Women’s Commission, Lacy Singh along with another JD(U) goon Babbu Jha came up and began abusing and threatening us. They boasted that they could get us lathicharged or even shot at, and in fact Babbu Jha even boasted that he was the biggest local goonda. These abusive threats to flood victims and flood relief activists by representatives of the ruling party were captured on videotape by students. We stood our ground and challenged the police to do whatever lathicharge or firing they liked–we would not budge as long as there were hungry flood victims who were being denied relief. Eventually the DM intervened and ordered the administration to feed those people. But we heard that later, after we left, those people were once again chased away.
At Purnea, we met Sunita from Forbesganj whose foetus died in the womb itself due to negligence of doctors at Sadar Hospital. Yet, the hospital refused to perform the operation to clean out her womb. Writhing in pain she was taken to a private nursing home, where the foetus was removed and the woman’s life saved. The Government has announced relief of Rs. 10, 000 to anyone giving birth to a child (Rs.11,000 in case of a girl child) – had this amount been given to Sunita, she could have paid off her hospital bills. As it is, the hospital refused to let her leave till she paid her bills. So having lost her home and also her child, a traumatised Sunita was further forced to face the callousness of both the Government and the private health system. She could leave the hospital only when local people came together to collect funds, even in a time of their own misfortune, and helped her to pay off the bills. Many other women and children have needlessly died due to lack of medical care.
Next, we left for Murliganj, which entailed an 8-hour-long journey by train, tempo, on foot and by boats, accompanied by Com.Bharat Bhushan. The people we met there told us we were the only team to have come to check on their fate. They warmly recalled the role of Bharat Bhushan and other party comrades in the first days of flooding. We heard many narratives of people’s courage in helping each other to survive the flood. People used electricity wires to get 60 people across the flooded water to safety. They said no Government aid or relief had reached them – not even food, though foodgrains are rotting in the FCI godown nearby
.We met Ashok Mandal of Murliganj who told us that around 50 people of two wards of Jorgama panchayat are missing. There is no provision of medical care though diarrhoea cases abound. Mahendra Bharti, a CPI comrade who is a member of the Zila Parishad too met us and warmly appreciated the role of our party comrades in the rescue and relief work. He too said we would now have to wage struggles for rehabilitation of people – the Government machinery was going to remain as callous as ever.
CPI(ML)’s Lucknow Convention
On September 17, a State-level Cadre Convention was held at Lucknow on 'The Present Situation and Our Tasks'. The Convention was attended by some 300 district- and block-level Party activists and key organizers on different mass fronts. It was inaugurated by Politburo member and UP incharge Ramji Rai, following which State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav placed a comprehensive action plan to make the forthcoming 3rd national Conference of AIALA scheduled to be held at Ballia on 7-8 November a resounding success. Representatives of different district units and mass fronts endorsed the action plan and resolved to use the occasion to galvanise the entire mass base of the Party and reach out to agricultural labourers and poor and middle peasants in large numbers in a monthlong statewide Mazdur-Kisan Adhikar Abhiyan (campaign for worker-peasant rights).
The convention was presided over by a five-member presidium comprising CCM and AIALA National Secretary Krishna Adhikari, UP Kisan Sabha Convenor Ishwari Prasad Kushwaha, AIALA State Secretary Sriram Choudhury and Party State Committee members Sunil Yadav and Ram Darash.
The campaign will focus on the pressing demands of the rural poor and the aggrieved peasantry concerning NREGA, BPL, land and forest rights, opposition to state-sponsored corporate land-grab, loan waiver for peasants and payment of sugarcane dues and the larger issues of communalism and suppression of democracy. The month-long campaign will culminate in a big worker-peasant rally in Ballia on November 7 preceding the actual proceedings of the conference. Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya delivered the concluding address at the convention and called upon the entire Party organization in the state to rise to the occasion and take the Party’s work on the agricultural labour and peasant front as the key to expanding and asserting the party’s political role in the state.
AICCTU Dharna in Lucknow
The Uttar Pradesh State Unit of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) held a Dharna in front of the State Assembly on September 22 against the Mayawati Government’s anti worker, anti-peasant policies. The dharna was addressed by AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee among others. He lambasted the State Government saying those very Dalits and working poor who brought her to power have been and are being betrayed by this Government. Labour laws have been bulldozed and nowhere is the minimum wage act being honoured. Recently the Pay Commission said that no family can survive on wage of less than Rs.200/-, and in keeping with this fact the UP Government must fix the legal minimum wage at Rs.200/-. This urgent step is not being taken by the rulers anywhere in the country and this is just taking many lives of poor people and workers-peasants. The AICCTU General Secretary called for supporting the Kisan-Mazdoor Adhikar Abhiyan to be launched by CPI(ML) in October, a campaign which would culminate in the massive Kisan-Mazdoor Rally at Balia on November 7 2008. The dharna was also addressed by AICCTU State President Hari Singh, State Secretary Anil Verma, Com.Raghunath Prasad of Building Workers’ Union, State leader Com. Babulal, M.Valmiki of Kanpur Jan Sansthan Karmachari Sangha, Comrades Rampravesh Yadav, Anjani Chaturvedi and Netram. Comrade Swapan also addressed the State level dharna of Gram Rozgar Sewaks (Village Employment Volunteers). A 13-point demand letter was sent to the Governor through the City Magistrate.
AIALA's Initiatives in the South
KARNATAKA: A convention on “Rights of Livelihood of Agrarian Labourers” was held at Gangavati, one of the backward taluks of Northern Karnataka region. The Convention was preceded by an impressive rally of hundreds of activists wearing symbolic red shawls. The convention highlighted the real issues of agrarian labour in the state where the ‘Red Shawl’ Movement of agrarian labourers was gaining ground against the hitherto dominant ‘Green Shawls’ Movement led by rich farmers and kulaks represented by Raitha Sanghas. AIALA is possibly the only organization in the State that is trying to give a shape to the aspirations of agrarian labourers, small and marginal peasants as a class while almost all other organizations are only exploiting this most oppressed class.
In this backdrop, a Convention on airport-related issues and its effects on rural labour was held at Karaikal on 4th September. Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya came down heavily on the anti-poor policies of the Congress government and the convention was presided by R Alagappan. Comrades Balasundaram, State Secretary of TN, Balasubramanian, State Secretary of Puducherry, E Jayapal, Karaikal District Secretary and P Sankaran, President of Action Committee of Airport Project, among others, also addressed the convention.
Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya called upon agrarian labourers to give a fitting reply to the anti-farmer, anti-poor BJP government in the state and pointed out the failure of ‘secularism’ of the JD(S) and Congress variety that failed to check the growth of communal forces in the state. He also criticized the growing domination of mining and real estate mafia in state politics, particularly in the BJP government.
Comrade Ramappa, state secretary of CPI(ML) called upon agrarian labourers to recreate the anti-imperialist tradition of Kittur Rani Chennamma and Sangoli Rayan against the growing stranglehold of multinational and corporate houses in agriculture in the state. He also urged them to develop a new wave of Left movement of agrarian labourers in the state against the compromises of Raitha Sanghas and opportunist politics in the state. Comrade Bharadwaj presided over the convention.
The subsequent Cadre Meeting was very lively and encouraging. The kind of issues that were discussed by activists displayed increasing ties with grassroots and indicated the process of internalization of AIALA in rural society of Karnataka. The meeting resolved to increase membership and to intensify struggles on NREGA related issues apart from raising issues of ‘Bagairhukum’ lands, BPL cards, housing sites and ‘Ashraya Mane’.
PUDUCHERRY: Puducherry is a state where rural labour constitutes around 10% of the total population while the share of agriculture in the state GDP is less than 5 percent. But, Karaikal, part of Puducherry which is closer to rural areas of Tamil Nadu and was the worst affected by tsunami is still dominated by issues of rural labour. Issues related to implementation of NREGA are so grave that not a single day passes without any protest. Job cards are not issued to all rural labourers, neither is employment provided for more than eight days. Wages are not paid in full even to those who managed to get some days of work.
With the decreasing share of agricultural income, the government is planning to build an airport in an area of 700 acres of cultivable land. The project is expected to displace hundreds of small and marginal farmers covering three villages, who will also lose cattle-grazing land. A much greater number of agrarian and rural labourers will also lose their livelihood.