Presidential Polls: Cross-Coalition Currents and the Course of the Left
The President of India is the ceremonial head of the Indian state. In the early years of Indian Republic when the Congress ruled the roost both at the Centre and in almost all states, election for the post of the President was also a largely ceremonial affair. The fourth Presidential election held in 1969 was the first exception when VV Giri won the Presidency defeating the official Congress nominee and second preference votes had to be counted to reach the result in this most keenly contested Presidential election till date. This happened in the wake of the first major breach in the Congress monopoly in 1967 and led, in turn, to the first major post-Independence split in the Congress.
The era of one-party domination has however long been over and for the last two decades the country has been passing through what has been termed the era of coalition politics. Two coalitions seem to have acquired a degree of stability in the shape of the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA. But since Presidential election also involves the State Assemblies, the ruling coalitions at the Centre have to look for additional support to ensure victory for their candidates in Presidential elections. Presidential polls in the coalition era have therefore been witnessing hectic pre-election bargaining often generating considerable cross-coalition traffic in the process.
Two bargaining chips have now become fairly commonplace – the Centre using the CBI as a smart weapon to secure support from regional leaders facing corruption charges, and states demanding 'packages' in lieu of extending support. With a growing bipartisan or cross-coalition consensus on key policy matters, ruling class politics is fast getting reduced to a dynamic demand-and-supply management in the electoral marketplace. This is seen quite crudely in Rajya Sabha elections; only the other day elections to Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand even had to be cancelled. The 2008 trust vote on nuclear deal had also become a veritable political scam.
The current Presidential poll has already witnessed an interesting cross-coalition alignment and the Congress has already secured enough support for its candidate even though the TMC, currently the second largest constituent of the UPA, is yet to declare its final stand. While political observers are trying to decode the bargaining terms and calculations that have prompted various non-UPA parties to rally around the Congress candidate, the Left camp is witnessing an important debate on what should have been the principled course for the Left following the CPI(M)'s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee. Interestingly this debate has now come up from within the CPI(M), accusing the CPI(M) Polit Bureau of violating the line adopted by the party's most recent 20th Congress held in Kozhikode. The debate has forced Prakash Karat to offer an elaborate explanation for the party's decision, giving us a graphic picture of the growing delinking of the party's tactics from its strategic proclamations and perspective.
The arguments of Prakash Karat can be summarised as follows. His basic argument is that the presidential poll should not be seen as another platform of struggle against neo-liberalism or imperialism, the only concern for the Left should be to ensure that the President is not open to the BJP's influence. And he says since 1992 the CPI(M) has accordingly always voted for the Congress nominee, 2002 being the only exception when the Left had to put up its own nominee as the Congress supported the BJP's candidate! If the party agrees to this basic formulation, other considerations become really redundant. The additional arguments furnished by Karat are –(i) the CPI(M) must not get bracketed with the TMC – so if TMC has its own reasons not to be enthusiastic about supporting Pranab Mukherjee, the CPI(M) must discover or invent its own reasons to support the same Congress candidate, (ii) supporting Pranab Mukherjee's candidature will widen the rift between the Congress and the TMC and help the CPI(M) regain its base in Bengal and hence help the Left cause nationally, (iii) the CPI(M) has kept in mind the choice made by other non-UPA parties like SP, BSP, JD(U) and JD(S), and (iv) abstention would have blunted the party's 'intervention in the developing political scenario'.
Limiting the agenda of the presidential election to 'secularism' even when there is no chance of the BJP nominee winning the elections, and when the Congress candidate in question is a key custodian of the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist order in every realm of policy-making and governance, clearly shows the real meaning of the CPI(M)'s ranting against neo-liberalism and imperialism. The CPI(M) had demonstrated it during its 2004-08 phase of collaboration and cohabitation with the Congress/UPA, and it is doing it again in this presidential election. Karat ends the first paragraph of his explanatory article on the presidential election with the following observation: "This election is not to be seen as just a contest between these two candidates. Beneath the surface are stirrings and a churning process that presage a political realignment." Evidently, we should also see the CPI(M)'s decision in the same context of 'the stirrings, the churning and the political realignment,' and the message is loud and clear.
By supporting Pranab Mukherjee, the CPI(M) hopes to widen the rift between the Congress and the TMC and revive the party in Bengal. Little does the CPI(M) realise that its growing proximity and identification with the Congress would grant much bigger leeway to the TMC to exploit the growing countrywide resentment against the Congress, and also consolidate its image as a regional force fighting for Bengal! A weakened Lalu Prasad had similar dreams in Bihar, he shed his anti-Congress past and image and courted the Congress as a secular ally only to leave Bihar in the hands of the JD(U)-BJP alliance. Time will tell us what happens to the CPI(M)'s fond dreams of using the Congress for its revival in Bengal.
In indirect elections where it is difficult for the Left to have its own nominee (Presidential election, Rajya Sabha elections, elections to form boards in panchayats and municipalities where the Left has very limited presence), abstention can often be the only principled and effective course of action for the Left. Yet Karat rules it out with the flimsy argument that it would blunt his party's intervention in the developing scenario. What he suggests on the other hand is virtually a permanent policy of support to the Congress, and one wonders how that could sharpen the edge of the CPI(M)'s 'political intervention'!
The base the communists have built in this country has almost always been through direct struggles. Instead of developing and implementing tactical measures that would help consolidate and broaden that base and strengthen its independent political projection, defensive and opportunist tactics have often blunted the edge of communist politics. The dream of stronger political intervention cannot be fulfilled with tactical measures that only blunt the edge of struggle and sacrifice opportunities and platforms to propagate, project and popularise the political agenda of the Left for 'presumed' gains that are invariably more wishful and transient than real and enduring. The exacting reality of class struggle never allows communists the luxury to pass off acts of surrender as tactical masterstrokes!
CPI(ML)'s Politburo Statement on Assam Floods
The CPI(ML) expresses deep concern at the floods that have affected Assam. The worst ever flood in the state in the last decade, it has affected 20 lakh people and claimed 77 lives till date. 23 out of Assam's 27 districts are affected, and of these, three are completely submerged.
The response to this terrible natural tragedy, however, is highly inadequate, and affected people are desperate for the most basic rescue and relief efforts.
The CPI(ML) demands that the floods in Assam be declared a national calamity, and the state and central governments immediately ensure rescue, relief, and rehabilitation for the flood-devastated people.
Statement on Chhattisgarh Massacre of Adivasis
The CPI(ML) condemns in the strongest terms the massacre by police and CRPF in Kotaguda village of Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district, in which 20 adivasi villagers, including a woman and five children aged between 12 and 15, were shot dead or hacked to death with axes. Villagers have also alleged that the security forces sexually molested four young girls.
The police and CRPF claim that those killed were Maoists who opened fire, the villagers have said that the forces wantonly attacked a village meeting, continuing the attack for several hours.
The Chhattisgarh Government initially claimed that all those killed were dreaded Maoists and attempted to deny the deaths of children and civilians. Shamefully, the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram too declared the massacre to be a genuine encounter, without ascertaining the facts and the version of villagers. Subsequently, the Chhattisgarh Government has tried to explain away the deaths of civilians by claiming that Maoists used villagers and children as a 'human shield.'
It is imperative that a credible and impartial judicial panel enquire into this heinous incident so as to establish the truth and ensure that those responsible do not enjoy impunity.
It is clear that such crimes and tragedies will continue to recur as long as the state's war in the forest and tribal areas in the name of combating Maoism continues. 'Operation Green Hunt' must be called off without delay, and efforts for dialogue and peace must be pursued in earnest.
Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola Calls for Convention
In solidarity with the Bathani Tola massacre survivors' quest for justice, and to protest the acquittal of the entire massacre accused by the Bihar HC, a committee – Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola – has been formed.
Members of the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola include:
Filmmakers Anand Patwardhan and Ajay Bharadwaj, noted academics and public intellectuals Bela Bhatia, Uma Chakravarti, Anand Chakravarti, Nandini Sundar, Anand Teltumbde, V Geetha, Tulsi Ram, Tanika Sarkar, Nivedita Menon, and Manager Pandey, Simpson (activist of a Tamilnadu based group Odukapattor Viduthalai Munnani), journalists Seema Mustafa, Anil Chamaria, Jaspal Singh Siddhu, Satya Sivaraman, Kiran Shaheen, poets Nirmala Putul and Manglesh Dabral, economist and activist Jaya Mehta, noted critic and social scientist from Assam Dr. Hiren Gohain, Nirmalangshu Mukherjee, PK Vijayan, Sanghamitra Mishra, and Uma Gupta of Delhi University, Kamal Chenoy, Anuradha Chenoy, and KJ Mukherjee of JNU, Ashok Bhowmick, painter and cultural activist, Sucheta De (JNUSU President), Pranay Krishna and Sudhir Suman (Jan Sanskriti Manch), Chittaranjan Singh (PUCL), and Kavita Krishnan.
At a press conference held in Delhi on 3 July, Nirmalangshu Mukherjee, Satya Sivaraman, and Kavita Krishnan on behalf of the committee, announced plans to observe the anniversary of the Bathani Tola massacre.
On 11 July, the anniversary of the Bathani Tola carnage, members of the committee will join a massive public meeting to be held at Ara town, in which survivors of the Bathani massacre will participate. On behalf of the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola, Nandini Sundar (Head of the Dept. of Sociology at DU, and petitioner in Supreme Court against Salwa Judum) as well as Kavita Krishnan will participate in the Ara mass meeting.
On 15 July, Bathani Tola massacre survivors will attend and address a Convention called by the Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola. The Convention will be held at Speaker's Hall, Constitution Club, on 15 July, from 12 noon – 6 pm. Students from Ara's dalit hostels, which were attacked by Ranveer Sena supporters this month following the killing of Brahmeshwar Singh, will also speak at the Convention. A documentary film on the Bathani Tola massacre will also be released at the 15 July Convention.
The members of the committee demanded protection for the eyewitnesses of the massacre and other common people in Bathani Tola and condemned the pro-Ranveer Sena bias displayed by the Bihar Government as well as judiciary. They said that the country would not accept such an unjust verdict, and citizens all over the country would reject it and continue the struggle for justice.
Save Democracy Convention by AILC at Kolkata
To commemorate the anniversary of declaration of emergency on 26th June, the All India Left Coordination organized a convention on the demand of "Save Democracy" on the same day this year in the historical University Institute Hall, Kolkata. More than a thousand people enthusiastically attended the convention which was presided by Comrade Partha Ghosh, Secretary, West Bengal State Committee of CPI(ML). The speakers included Comrades Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI(ML) General Secretary, Taramoni Rai, General Secretary of Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), Aloke Nandy, General Secretary of Democratic Communist Party (DCP), Nabarun Bhattacharya, renowned poet, Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University, who was manhandled and arrested in the cartoon episode recently, Prof. Partha Sarathi Roy, Scientist, who was arrested for supporting the anti-eviction movement at Nonadanga in Kolkata. The convention was attended also by Comrade Abdur Rezzak Mollah, MLA and peasant leader of CPI(M), who, in the wake of CPI(M)'s defeat in the Assembly elections, made public criticism of the anti-peasant policies of the previous Left Front government of which he had been the Land and Land Reforms Minister.
Comrade Dipankar said that "today we are passing through a period of undeclared emergency in West Bengal where the space for democratic rights has considerably shrunk. Liberalisation of the economy has given rise to unprecedented corporate and imperialist loot and politics is being drastically changed and tailored to facilitate that loot. State terrorism is being intensified together with increase in joblessness, poverty and price rise. War is being thrust on different countries in the name of countering terrorism, whose real target is a particular community. Muslim youths are being branded as terrorists. Young people leaving Azamgarh district in search of jobs elsewhere are being arrested and killed. As many as 32 Muslim youths belonging to Azamgarh have been arrested during the last six months by branding them as terrorists. He said, the Left Front government started its journey with the assurance that it would restore democracy and remedy all the anti-democratic deeds of the Congress government in the seventies. Far from that, it itself started to snatch people's democratic rights. The new TMC government seems to have taken over the mantle from its predecessor. Any democratic opposition is being branded as 'Maoist' or opposition (in this case CPM) conspiracy". He further stressed that, in this hour of crisis for democracy, peasants, agricultural labourers, students, teachers, cultural personalities, intellectuals, all have to unite. He called upon all the fighting Left to unite.
Taramoni Rai exposed the parochial policies of the GJM in the hills of Darjeeling and the evil design of the TMC government to create unrest and division in the hills for narrow political gains. Aloke Nandy warned the audience about the signs of the impending autocratic rule in West Bengal. Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra recounted the repressive and disgracing action against him by the TMC government in the cartoon issue. Partha Sarathi indicated all the inherent symptoms of a fascist regime, which seriously manifested itself in the functioning of the present Govt. Comrade Rezzak Mollah said that he had "come to the convention taking great risk, and it was necessary to take that risk to swim against the tide".
The convention gave a call for "March to Singur" on 3rd July, 2012 in view of the impasse created there due to the recent judgement delivered by the Calcutta High Court and the immense miseries caused to the peasants, bargadars and agricultural labourers of Singur, who are almost on the verge of ruin. Comrade AR Mollah wholeheartedly endorsed the Convention's call for a March to Singur on July 3.
AILC's Singur March
In response to the call given by the AILC convention of 26th June, a 3,500 strong rally packed the roads of Singur on 3rd July demanding repeal of Land Acquisition Act, 1894, return of land and right to till to the peasants of Singur whose land has been locked in a legal tangle, one time compensation of Rs. 7 lakh and monthly compensation of Rs. 7 thousand to each affected peasant for loss of cultivation for the last 7 years, unconditional withdrawal of all Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh related false cases and exemplary punishment for the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik and murder of Rajkumar Bhul during the Singur movement. The rally was obstructed by the TMC goons, but ultimately backed off in the face of the militant mood of the marchers. The rally, adorned with red flags and banners and filled with militant zeal, marched 10 kilometres raising revolutionary slogans through the villages of Gopalnagar, Bajemelia and Beraberi, where most peasants are the victims of forceful land acquisition during the LF regime for facilitating setting up of the Tata Nano factory. The rally culminated in a mass meeting at the Beraberi market, where Comrades Partha Ghosh and Kartick Pal, Politburo member of the party spoke.
Abdur Rezzak Mollah, CPI(M) MLA and former Land and Land Reforms Minister of the LF Government, eventually could not make it to the March, reportedly prevented by his party.
A series of programmes on the Singur issue from 10th July were declared in the meeting, which include Dharna in Kolkata on the same day and subsequent programmes at Singur and other places.
CPI(ML) Observes Emergency Day in Uttarakhand
The CPI(ML) held dharnas and demonstrations all over Uttarakhand on 26 June on the occasion of the anniversary of the Emergency, protesting against corruption and repression on people's movements, including cases filed against CPI(ML) activists and repression on khattavasis and workers.
Dharnas were held at Lalkuan, Bhikyasain and Munsiyari, and a memorandum addressed to the CM was submitted through tehsil authorities in all these places.
Campaign for Student-Youth Rights
The All India Students' Association and Revolutionary Youth Association (AISA and RYA) have undertaken an intensive countrywide campaign for students' and youth rights – for education and employment, and against corruption and corporate loot. Despite the summer heat, students and youth in many states have begun campaigning daily, performing street plays, holding street corner meetings, and distributing leaflets. The campaign will culminate in a 'March to Parliament' in August.
Around 30 AISA activists from three universities in Delhi – JNU, DU and Jamia Millia Islamia– began their campaign in the national capital on April 30, at Delhi University's North Campus. A street play prepared by students was staged, which exposed the nexus of the government with corporate, that results in massive scams, loot of natural resources for private profit. The street play shows how the exchequer is being looted to serve corporate interests, while, on the pretext of 'fund crunch', education is being privatised, and jobs with dignity are not being created. The campaign received a good response with students signing a demand charter and taking AISA membership in good numbers.
The campaign followed in coming days in the student localities with a door to door campaign in hostels, and staging of the street play in public squares. Throughout the campaign, the activists engaged students and young people in conversation about their own lives, problems, and views. In this first phase of the campaign, 700 signatures on the demand charter were collected, and 60 students took membership of AISA.
The campaign also took place in the Batla House locality near Jamia Millia Islamia campus. The response was positive, especially from students and youth, who showed an interest in interacting with campaigners on the issues of corruption, privatization of education, and lack of opportunities of dignified employment, that had been raised through the play and speeches by activists.
The campaign also reached Bersarai and Katwaria Sarai near the JNU campus, and in the working class localities of Wazipur and Mohan Nagar. It was heartening to find that many of the students and people recalled AISA from last year's campaign against corruption and corporate loot.
In UP, the campaign is underway at Allahabad, Lucknow, Ghazipur, Ballia, Chandauli, Pilibhit, Faizabad, and Varanasi. Large numbers of students and youth have participated in the mass meetings organised in the course of the campaign. In Allahabad, there is widespread resentment against the Akhilesh Yadav Government's move to introduce the CSAT system in the UP-PCS (State civil services) exam, making English and Maths compulsory. It must be remembered that the Mulayam Singh Government had earlier opposed compulsory English in schools, and making Maths compulsory makes it difficult for students from humanities disciplines to clear the civil services exam. AISA's stand is that it would be discriminatory to make these subjects compulsory until and unless a common school system ensuring the same level of affordable and good schooling for all, is established. 1In Pilibhit, meetings have been attended by students from rural background.
In Bihar, the campaign was initiated with cadre conventions and signature campaign at Patna, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga and other districts. The issue of the attack on dalit hostels in the wake of Brahmeshwar Singh's murder is being raised by the AISA-RYA campaigners all over the state. AISA is leading a protest against fee hike at Patna University.
Cadre Conventions were held at various places in Maharashtra (Nagpur, Nasik, Pune, Ahmednagar and Aurangabad), and plans for the campaign in the state were made. AISA's President Sandeep Singh attended most of these Conventions. In Bhind (Madhya Pradesh), and in various centres in Tamil Nadu, AISA comrades have started the campaign, distributing leaflets and interacting with students, and the latter have responded warmly, signing the demand charter. In Jorhat (Assam), a student-youth convention was held with 100 participants, who then undertook the campaign in the state. The student-youth campaign has begun enthusiastically at Giridih and Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. RYA and AISA organised a workshop on the 'Right to Education and Employment' in Punjab.