EMS Smrithi 2016 Attempts a Rainbow Coalition of the Political Left, Intellectuals & Social Movements for a Progressive ‘Idea of India’

MORE than 1000 delegates converged in Thrissur on June 13-14, for the EMS Smrithi 2016, on the ‘Idea of India – A New Agenda for Social, Economic and Environmental Justice’. The national discourse was organised in the context of the current political and economic challenges under the right wing NDA government with the intent to create a rainbow platform to not just resist the communal and pro-corporate policies but also to articulate an alternate economic paradigm. The EMS Smrithi is an annual event being organised in Thrissur for the past 18 years in memory of the legendary communist leader EMS Namboodiripad.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, Narmada Bachao Andolan founder and activist Medha Patkar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, political scientist Gopal Guru and poet K Satchidanandan spoke at the inaugural session.

‘The drawing in of the exploited majority of rural India; the drawing in of the socially oppressed people, especially those who continue to be subjected to caste based oppression and atrocities; the drawing in of the multi-religious Indian population, above all the drawing in of all Indians in an inclusive path of economic and social justice, constituting the core of the inclusionary ‘Idea of India’ remains an unfulfilled agenda. The struggles for realising these incomplete tasks constitute the essential agenda of the Indian Left’, said Sitaram Yechury.

Seven parallel thematic sessions were run for two days on issues ranging from the role of artists, writers and intellectuals in re-claiming a pluralist idea of india; Left alternatives for economic and social transformation to resist neo-liberalism; new paths for combating communalism; gender justice and women’s collectives; Marx-Gandhi-Ambedkar – a new praxis; forging united alliances between mass organisations and social movements; and rise of student activism in defense of azadi.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau members Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat, M A Baby and Subhashini Ali spoke in various sessions. Invited speakers also included CPI national executive members Amarjeet Kaur, Annie Raja and national council member Binoy Viswam. Apart from M B Rajesh, MP, former members of parliament P Rajeeve and T N Seema, writers Gita Hariharan and Chandrakant Patil, artist Riyaz Komu, film maker Leena Manimekalai, academics Archana Prasad, Surajit Mazumdar, Dinesh Abrol, K N Ganesh and A K Ramakrishnan, activists D Raghunandan and Prabir Purkayastha also presented papers at the two day event.

At the student and youth meet organised as part of the EMS Smrithi 2016, elected student union leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Shehla Rashid from JNUSU, Zuhail K P from HCU and Harishankar Nachimuthu K from FTII and SFI CEC member Sunand Singh spoke on the topic ‘Rise of Student Activism: In Defense of Azadi’. They stressed the need for joint action to combat the communalisation of academic spaces and to ensure that public education and its institutions are not eroded in favour of private players.

In the thematic session on ‘Left Alternatives for economic and social transformation’ the need to situate the challenges of the working class within the changes in the production process was emphasised. Speakers recognised that, with the disintegration of the factory floor, the key role of information technology in global supply chains and emergence of outsourcing, the ability of workers to confront capital is much harder in the 21st century. A socialist imagining not only needs to articulate resistance at the level of workers (for example against outsourcing and contract work) and consumers (for example in the case of the free software movement or access to medicines) but also use State and peoples power to re-organise production processes through a new imagining of cooperatives and collectives in areas ranging from agriculture, finance, industry and public services. Kerala, with its rich history of the cooperative movement and democratic decentralisation offers tremendous potential in this regard. It was also argued that the Left needs to take a more proactive position on emerging agricultural technologies and revitalise the role public research institutions and agriculture extension services. The continuing relevance of EMS’ line on the two pronged strategy of participation in government and advancing the larger struggle for a Left and socialist alternative was underlined.

Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali and M A Baby chaired different sessions. Brinda Karat chairing the session ‘Resisting Neoliberalism: Left Alternative for Economic and Social Transformation’ stressed on the need for linking of social issues, social oppressions, issue of gender, caste and class. Chairing the session ‘Combating Communalism: Search for New Paths of Resistance’ Subhashini Ali traced the origins of communalism in the subcontinent, and said that the challenge for the Left is to combat the communal ideology which has a strong resonance among big sections in society. In the session ‘Reclaiming a pluralist idea of India: The role of writers, artists and intellectuals,’ M A Baby talked about the thoughts of EMS who had warned about the dangers of communal forces and how to counter them.

Prakash Karat, speaking in the concluding plenary said that the rise of the right wing in India cannot be evaluated in the backdrop of the electoral performances of the BJP across the last three decades alone, but that it has to be looked at in terms of how the public consciousness is seeing a rightward shift across various sections of the society. He also said that to counter this it is imperative for the Left and progressive forces of the society to intervene in public services like education.

Speaking on behalf of the EMS Smrithi organising committee, Chandradutt T R said that given the emphatic victory of the Left Democratic Front in Kerala, it is critical that social movements, trade unions, academics, writers and artists work together to ensure the advance of a Left and progressive agenda not just for Kerala, but for the entire country.

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