The Message of the Assembly Elections Mandate
The Assembly elections to the five states of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Goa were projected to be the biggest electoral test in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress and the BJP, the two biggest all-India parties, both had significant stakes in these elections. The results show that while the Congress has emerged as the biggest loser, the BJP has not gained much either. Uttar Pradesh, where both the Congress and the BJP were hoping to improve significantly upon their 2007 positions, has produced the biggest setback for both these parties. While the BJP’s tally has been reduced to 47, the Congress could win only 28 seats, losing heavily even in places like Raibareli and Amethi, the pocket boroughs of the Gandhi-Nehru family.
The NDA’s surprise victory has come from Punjab, where for the first time in the state’s electoral history, an incumbent government has been voted back to power. But this could happen on the basis of an improved performance by the Akali Dal, which succeeded in increasing its tally to 56 seats, just three short of the majority mark in the state Assembly. The BJP’s presence came down from a record 19 seats in the outgoing Assembly to a more modest 12 seats. Clearly, it is the BJP which had to bear the brunt of corruption charges against the Akali-BJP government. The Congress blames its unexpected defeat on flawed choice of candidates, which led to rebel candidates damaging the party’s prospects in several places, and the rise of the Punjab People’s Party in Malwa region which walked away with sizable chunks of anti-Akali votes.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP managed to do a high degree of damage-control by replacing the widely discredited and notoriously corrupt CM Mr. Pokhriyal on the eve of the polls, bringing back the erstwhile CM Mr. Khanduri. The BJP fought the poll with the slogan “Khanduri zaroori hai” (Khanduri is necessary), yet it finished one short of the Congress tally of 32 with Khanduri himself failing to retain his seat, which is widely attributed to infighting within the BJP. The Uttarakhand Assembly remains tantalisingly hung where the three victorious Congress rebels, three MLAs of the BSP and the lone winner of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal are now expected to have a decisive say in the emerging power equations in the state.
The two other small states that went to polls in this round – Goa and Manipur – have produced clear verdicts. The Congress government in Goa had been thoroughly discredited on account of corruption, illegal mining and growing influence of a handful of Congress families in the economy and politics of Goa. For the first time, the BJP succeeded in winning a clear majority in the state, expanding its base among the traditionally pro-Congress Christian community as well. In Manipur, the Congress retained power with more than two-thirds majority; what was interesting was the emergence of the Trinamul Congress as the second largest party with as many as 7 seats in the 60-member Assembly. Mamata Banerjee deftly exploited the anti-AFSPA sentiment of the Manipuri people, visiting Irom Sharmila before launching her high-profile campaign, even as her own government in West Bengal continues to spearhead Operation Greenhunt against the fighting adivasi people of West Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, which was widely predicted to emerge as the biggest claimant for power, secured a comfortable majority, ending speculations of imposition of President’s Rule in the state or the compulsion of a Congress-Samajwadi Party tie-up. The outright majority secured by the Samajwadi Party in these elections has been as surprising as was the BSP coming to power on its own in the previous election. The two successive election results indicate a growing trend of polarisation between the two dominant regional parties even though the two big all-India parties retain their presence and newer parties continue to emerge and make their presence felt in various parts of this big state. Comparisons have accordingly begun to be made between the electoral political patterns in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, but it must be remembered that unlike the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the regionally dominant parties in Uttar Pradesh – the SP and the BSP – are not products of regionalism.
There has also been a lot of media hype about the so-called ‘generational metamorphosis’ of the Samajwadi Party, the term ‘dynastic succession’ apparently being reserved only for the Gandhi-Nehru family. But the hype already stands exposed with SP goons letting loose violent assaults on journalists, dalits and supporters of other parties in different parts of the state. Bourgeois political analysts and the corporate media always go overboard in their attempts to legitimise and even idolise new regimes as epitomes of ‘democracy’ and ‘development’. But real life does not take long to unmask these new regimes and shred their pretentions. Whether it is Nitish Kumar in Bihar or Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal or earlier Mayawati in UP, popular expectations have been shattered everywhere and the people are back on the path of struggle for their basic interests and rights.
Uttar Pradesh has been witness to massive corporate land-grab even as vast sections of the people languish in crippling poverty and unemployment. If the youth have rallied around the SP in a big way, it is not because of any ‘charisma’ of Akhilesh Yadav, but because of the SP’s promise to provide jobs and unemployment allowance. In the run-up to these elections, employment exchanges in UP have recorded a surge in the numbers of young people seeking jobs in the state and that tells us what has moved the youth. It is significant that neither the Congress attempts to hoodwink Muslim voters with election-eve promise of insultingly low levels of reservation nor the BJP’s dreams of harvesting Hindu votes by stoking anti-reservation prejudices have worked in UP. Basic issues like land, employment opportunities, accountability of public expenditure and dignity and security of the common people have relegated caste and communal prejudices considerably to the background.
Trends in Assembly elections are determined primarily by state-specific contexts, but the overall situation in the country also has a bearing on elections in major states. The election results have clearly revealed a popular anti-Congress mood of the electorate across the states. Equally evident is the lack of credibility of the BJP. If the Congress is now likely to find it increasingly difficult to run the show at the Centre and control the UPA coalition, as of now, there is little prospect for the BJP to attract more support and expand the NDA net either. The renewed rise of the SP in UP coupled with the restiveness of combative UPA allies like the TMC or NCP has revived speculations regarding the prospect of a non-UPA non-UDA third front or federal front. But we must remember even a loose federal front needs a centre and as of now no single non-Congress non-BJP party or leader within or outside the UPA/NDA folds seems to have reached that level of strength or acceptability.
The message of these elections therefore is clearly twofold – while both the UPA and NDA will face pressures of political realignment, the situation is ripe for intensification of popular struggles on the basic and burning issues facing the people. The outcome of the Assembly elections must be seen in conjunction with the popular participation in the February 28 strike. As a weakened Congress and a weakened UPA get ready for the budget session of Parliament, the fighting forces of the working people must also get ready for a showdown with the regime and fight hard for a reversal of all pro-corporate policies and for a check on corruption and soaring prices.
CPI(ML)/AILC performance in Assembly elections
Punjab: CPI(ML) and CPM Punjab had put up respectively 7 and 6 candidates in Punjab. The 7 candidates of CPI(ML) polled approximately 14,000 votes while the 6 candidates of CPM Punjab polled around 18,000 votes. The highest vote polled by CPI(ML) candidate has been approximately 4,000 from Mansa, while CPM Punjab nominee from Bhoa polled more than 5,500 votes. CPI and CPI(M) had contested these elections as junior partners of the Punjab People’s Party led by former Akali Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal. Total votes polled by the 9 candidates of CPI(M) have been above 21,000 while the CPI polled more than 100,000 votes by fielding 14 candidates.
Uttarakhand: CPI(ML) had fielded 5 candidates in Uttarakhand – the party had seat adjustments with the CPI and CPI(M) (the latter however did not have complete adjustments among themselves). Uttarakhand Assembly seats are smaller than UP seats (3 seats in Uttarakhand are roughly equivalent to one Assembly seat in UP) and in some seats winning candidates poll only about 20,000 votes. Here, the highest vote polled by CPI(ML) has been close to 2,000 from Dharchula in Pithoragarh district. None of the other four candidates however managed to cross the 1,000 mark.
Uttar Pradesh: In UP, the party had put up 41 candidates in all, and total votes added up to a little above 50,000. Highest vote polled was more than 5,600 (Comrade Salim finished fifth from Mirzapur seat, ahead of the Congress candidate). But many candidates could not even poll 1,000 votes.
In all these three states votes showed a very slight overall increase from the 2007 level. While votes generally improved almost everywhere in Punjab and Uttarakhand, UP witnessed a drop in votes in several constituencies despite recording an overall increase of 10,000 votes.
All India Left Coordination’s Statement on Justice for Journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi
The arrest of senior journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi in connection with the attack on an Israeli diplomat’s wife last month is condemnable, based as it is on accusations that carry little credibility.
Mr Kazmi is a journalist of very high repute, and was currently working with an Iranian News agency, which naturally required him to be in touch with his Iranian employers.
Israel was quick to implicate Iran in the attack on the Israeli diplomat’s wife and has been pressurizing India to do so. India however is yet to name Iran as being behind the attack. However, the arrest of Mr. Kazmi seems to be clearly at the behest of the Israeli Government and investigators, who have a vested interest in establishing an Iranian connection with the attack.
A large number of journalists and citizens have come forward to protest Mr. Kazmi’s arrest and demand his freedom and justice.
Mr. Kazmi must be released on bail without delay and be given a full opportunity to clear his name
CPI(ML)’s Statement on War Crimes in Sri Lanka
The recently revealed footage of the brutal execution of the 12-year-old son of LTTE leader Prabhakaran is only the latest evidence of the genocide and war crimes on a mass scale committed by the Sri Lankan Army against the Tamil people.
It is shameful that even after such irrefutable evidence, India continues to maintain a dubious silence on war crimes in Sri Lanka, and is yet to commit to supporting a resolution against war crimes in Sri Lanka, to be introduced in the UN Human Rights Council soon.
It is true that the resolution on Sri Lankan war crimes is being moved by the US – which itself stands implicated in war crimes and continuing crimes against humanity in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even recently, the US armed forces have been guilty of a massacre of civilians in Afghanistan. However, that is no excuse for India’s vacillation and Sri Lankan impunity on the question of war crimes in Sri Lanka. India, while supporting the resolution on Sri Lankan war crimes, ought in fact to move resolutions against the war crimes by US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
AILC Memorandum to the President of India
A five-member AILC delegation comprising Comrades Mangat Ram Pasla (Secretary of CPM Punjab), Bhimrao Bansode (General Secretary of LNP(Leninist) Maharashtra), Taramani Rai (General Secretary of CPRM), Dipankar Bhattacharya (General Secretary of CPI(ML)Liberation) and Prem Singh Gehlawat (Party’s incharge for Haryana) presented the following memorandum at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The Hon'ble President,
Union of India
Subject: Pressing Legislative and Policy Issues Facing the Country
At the outset of the Budget Session of Parliament, the All India Left Coordination would like to bring to your attention several urgent legislative and policy issues requiring consideration in Parliament.
1. Anti Corruption Legislation: The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill passed by the upper house has serious flaws and shortcomings that will render it completely incapable of combating the deeply ingrained cancer of corruption. In its present form, the Bill does not allow for a Lokpal/Lokayukta that is truly independent of the ruling regime of the day, nor one that has the requisite authority and force to independently probe and pursue complaints of corruption. It fails to cover a large range of public functionaries, while its clauses against 'false complaints' intimidate whistleblowers and anti-corruption activists. Further, it has no specific safeguards to discourage and penalise crony capitalism and corporate plunder of natural resources – that is the dominant characteristic of most big-ticket scams in India today. We submit that the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill be redrafted to ensure full independence, autonomy, and investigation powers of the Lokpal/Lokayukta institutions; bring all public functionaries from the Prime Minister to the pradhan under the purview of the Lokpal/Lokayukta; provisions to protect rather than discourage and intimidate anti-corruption activists and whistle-blowers; and provisions specifically targeted against the beneficiaries (both corporate and public servants) of corporate plunder of natural resources and crony capitalism.
2. Food Security: Prices of food, essential commodities and fuel have been constantly on the rise, imposing an unbearable burden on the common man. Widespread hunger and malnutrition mock our claims of progress and development. The UPA Government's Food Security Bill, far from protecting the common people in these tough times, will, if passed, actually render them more vulnerable. The Bill continues the discriminatory and exclusionary policy of targeting, dividing the needy into 'priority' and 'general' households. It proposes to replace food rations with cash transfers – a move which can only benefit corporate and MNC retailers and rob farmers of MSP by doing away with procurement. The Government needs to acknowledge that the vast majority of Indians are needy, and the PDS and other social schemes must be universalised to provide any real measure of food security for all. Only the topmost layer of upper middle class and rich must be excluded from the benefits of PDS: all other households must get 50 kg of food grains at subsidised rates, as well as subsidized supply of other essential requirements like dal, cooking oil, vegetables and milk, while the poorest households and those in especially vulnerable situations must get additional protection. We seek an amendment of the Food Security Bill to this effect.
3. Right to Employment: With jobless growth being aggravated by the economic crisis, job cuts and retrenchment are creating great anxiety and insecurity for youth. Those jobs that have been created are casual, contractual, highly exploitative and insecure and lacking in basic dignity and rights. It is high time that the Government recognised the Right to Work as a fundamental right. Right to Work must be defined as the right to dignified and remunerative work, and calls for an end to exploitation of casualised and contract labour and violation of labour laws, upholding the principle of equal pay for equal work and ensuring fullest democracy at the workplace. In case of inability to provide dignified and secure employment, the Government be obligated to pay adequate and reasonable unemployment allowance.
4. FDI in Retail: The disturbing attempt by the Government to introduce FDI in retail, bypassing Parliament, has been temporarily put on hold. We submit that FDI in retail, far from opening up avenues for employment as the Government promises, will actually rob millions of Indians, currently surviving as small vendors, shop employees etc, of their already precarious means of livelihood and survival. We therefore ask that the proposal of FDI in retail be withdrawn.
5. Land Acquisition: Corporate land grab and forced eviction of peasants and tribals has emerged as a burning issue all over the country. This is a matter of concern, not only from the point of view of peasants' and tribals' rights to land and livelihood, but also from the angle of the country's food security and protection of precious natural resources. The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill 2011, introduced to replace the notorious 1894 Land Acquisition Act, seems to be founded on a completely misplaced premise. Its fundamental thrust appears to be to facilitate land acquisition, rather than to safeguard food security and peasants' and tribals' rights. Not only does it not have any will to prevent forcible land acquisition or protect fertile and forest land; its provisions for compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement are also extremely weak and inadequate. We therefore demand that the LARR Bill 2011 be withdrawn, and instead a fresh legislation be drafted, that will impose severe restrictions and safeguards against indiscriminate acquisition or purchase of fertile and forest land; prevent any forcible land grab (whether through acquisition or purchase) by making people’s informed consent mandatory; prevent any land acquisition for private companies; and ensuring adequate compensation and R&R for land holders as well as affected agricultural labour and other toiling people who lose their livelihood, both in cases of land purchased by private companies or land acquired by the government.
6. Second State Reorganisation Commission: Long-pending popular movements for separate statehood in many parts of the country, most notably Telangana and Gorkhaland, continue to await any satisfactory resolution. The Centre's policy towards such issues has been marked by vacillation, double standards, and backtracking on promises – aggravating the situation. In this light, we demand that a Second State Reorganisation Commission be set up at the earliest, for a sympathetic resolution to such long-pending questions of separate statehood.
7. Six Bills on Higher Education: We note with concern a package of six Bills on higher education, which are being introduced in the name of reforming the manifest ills of anarchy and corruption in higher education. However, these Bills, instead of addressing these rampant problems that exploit and cheat students and rob them of their right to education, are designed to aggravate the problem by giving a freer hand than ever before to private, commercialised and foreign educational institutions. The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, the Universities for Innovation Bill 2010, the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, the Educational Tribunals Bill 2010, the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill 2010, and the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill 2010, all have clauses exempting private and foreign 'education providers' from regulatory norms, and in fact these Bills fail to lay down any adequate norms – relating to cap on fees, infrastructure and teaching, compliance with reservation for students from deprived backgrounds - or penalties for violation of such norms. We therefore demand that all these Bills be withdrawn with immediate effect, and fresh legislation be drafted as required in consultation with educationists and students' and teachers' groups.
8. National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC): The proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has been opposed by Chief Ministers, mainly on the grounds of violation of federal principles. In addition to these federal concerns, we feel that the proposed NCTC confers several draconian and invasive powers on the Intelligence Bureau, that are a matter of serious concern for democracy and civil liberties in India. We therefore demand withdrawal of the proposed NCTC. In addition, we also demand the scrapping of several draconian legislations – including the UAPA and the Armed Forced Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which violate principles of democracy and civil liberties.
9. Koodankulam: We note with outrage the attempts by the Prime Minister himself to intimidate protestors against the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamilnadu, by insinuating that they are pawns of a 'foreign hand.' Such statements are an insult to the democratic principles that allow citizens full freedom to protest and voice their opinions on policy issues. In fact, what is of concern that our country's energy policies seem to be tailored more to serve the interests of foreign nuclear corporations and industry, rather than to prioritise the safety and interests of India's own people. We demand that the Koodankulam project be cancelled, with view to the prevailing concerns about public safety posed by it.
10. Dow Sponsorship of Olympics: The brazen refusal of the London Olympics Organising Committee to cancel the sponsorship of Dow Chemicals (which, after taking over the infamous Union Carbide, is yet to acknowledge its commitments towards compensation and clean-up of the Bhopal gas disaster), and the British Prime Minister's defence of Dow's sponsorship, is a matter of outrage for the vast majority of Indians. We demand that the Indian Parliament honour the sentiments of Indian citizens, and adopt a resolution demanding cancellation of Dow's sponsorship.
We hope that you will bring the above matters, of concern to the common people, to the notice of the Government for speedy action.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML)(Liberation)
Mangat Ram Pasla, Secretary, CPM Punjab
Bhimrao Bansod, General Secretary, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) Maharashtra
KS Hariharan, Secretary, Left Coordination Committee, Kerala
Taramani Rai, General Secretary, Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM)