January 04, 2015

To Realize a Happy New Year Strengthen Popular Struggles

PEOPLE’S Democracy wishes its readers a very Happy New Year. These wishes– hoping that the coming year would be better than the one that has gone by – however, will have to be realized through stronger and more powerful popular people’s struggles. This is because all portends suggest that 2015 will be a year of greater economic burdens on the people; greater threats to our country’s unity and integrity due to the sharpening of communal polarisation, thus, a year latent with the possibilities of greater misery and insecurity for the vast sections of our people. If these trends have to be reversed, they can only be done through mounting popular resistance. During this week, the interregnum between the year that has passed by and the new year that has just begun only confirms these apprehensions. Last week, this column had stated that “the dangers before our secular democratic republic and our people multiply. It is no longer only a combination of rabid communal polarisation joining with aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal economic reforms any more. These two are now combined with growing authoritarian trends like the resort to `ordinance raj’. Thus, both secularism and democracy – the foundations of our republic – will increasingly come under greater threat.” As we enter the new year, all these tendencies have intensified. The `ordinance raj’ of the Modi government, appears now to be here to stay. In addition to the four ordinances promulgated till last week, the Modi government is reportedly considering at least five more. The Land Acquisition Act amendment ordinance denying the farmers the benefits envisaged in the original legislation as well as depriving the large sections of people whose livelihood depends on the land in spite of them not being the owners (like agricultural labourers etc) of any compensation or rehabilitation as promised in the original law. Reports indicate that the cabinet has decided to amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996; Whistle Blowers Protection Act legislated in February 2014 by the parliament months before the Modi government was sworn-in; amendment to the Textile Laws and to regularise 895 unauthorised colonies in Delhi on the eve of assembly elections. It is not only the Left in parliament and outside that has opposed such an `ordinance raj’. Many other secular opposition parties joined in the parliament. The Hindu editorially comments: “By promulgating ordinances within days of the winter session of parliament coming to a close, the Narendra Modi government has shown that it is not averse to repeating what his party would have considered a constitutional impropriety, had it been done by a Congress government. The power to issue ordinances is normally to be exercised to bring in urgent legislative measures when parliament is in recess. It is not one to be resorted to merely because the government of the day lacks a majority in the Upper House or is unable to break a deadlock in parliament.” (December 31, 2014) Even The Indian Express negating the union finance minister’s statement that ordinances were necessary to demonstrate the commitment of the Modi government to greater reforms, editorially comments that “Reform by Decree”, “raises troubling questions about the manner in which the Modi government seems determined to bring in crucial reforms…. In fact, reforms-by-ordinance only underlines dispiriting signals about the Modi government to deliver on its tall promises.” (December 31, 2014) As far as the economic situation is concerned, notwithstanding the grand promises of well being and prosperity through the repetition of by now familiar slogans by PM Modi, it has worsened. Since the Modi government took over, there has been no appreciable GDP growth. Worse, the index of industrial production is minus 4.2 percent now as compared to a minus 1.2 percent in October 2013. The manufacturing sector grew by minus 7.6 percent. This means that even those who were in employment till recently have now joined the ranks of our already huge army of the unemployed. Though the government claims that the inflation rate has fallen to zero, the Central Statistical Office has put out contrary data on inflation on November 2014. The general index for all commodities grew by 4.38 percent over last year. The consumer food price inflation grew by 3.14 percent. The government’s claims of a reduced inflation rate mean little for the improvement of people’s livelihood. Inflation rate coming down does not mean that the prices are coming down. It only means that the prices are rising at a lower rate but, nevertheless, they are still rising. Rising prices means deteriorating livelihood conditions for the people. This is happening when the global inflation has sharply declined. The global international prices of oil fell by nearly 40 percent. This should have provided relief to our people through lower costs of petroleum products and, hence, of transportation. But this did not happen. The benefits of lower international prices have been appropriated by the government through an increase in duties. Thus, the Modi government makes a profit (over Rs 70 thousand crores) by burdening our people more. The global food prices have declined by minus 7.5 percent inflation growth. Yet, in our country, they continue to rise. The situation in the agricultural sector has become more worrying. The total area under coverage for the current Rabi season as on December 19, 2014 has declined by minus 5.3 percent. The production of major Kharif crops has declined totally from 129.3 to 120.3 million tonnes – rice from 92.3 million tonnes to 88; pulses, the main source of protein intake for our people declined from 6 to 5.2; Coarse Cereals, i.e., jowar, bajra and maize declined from 31 to 27.1 million tonnes. Apart from lower availability of foodgrains for our people, this data shows that many farmers are abandoning agriculture as it no longer provides them a sustainable livelihood. The sheer inability to return the debt they have incurred due to non-profitability (rising cultivation costs not matched by the minimum support prices declared by the government) is forcing farmers to commit distress suicides. Thus, agrarian distress, growing unemployment and rising prices means that the purchasing power in the hands of the Indian people continues to decline sharply under this Modi government. This is reflected in the rate of fall in production of consumer goods (minus 18.6 percent) and consumer durables (minus 35.2 percent). This is because what was produced earlier was not sold simply because the people have less money to buy. All promises of growth and prosperity by the Modi government, hence, become more illusionary. (All these data are from the department of economic affairs, ministry of finance, Monthly Economic Report, November 2014) On top of this, the Modi government had announced, as soon as they assumed office, a ten percent cut in all non-plan expenditures resulting in lower expenditures on social programmes like MGNREGA etc. To make matters worse, the Modi government has spent less than 30 percent of the planned budget allocations in key sectors during its six months in office. Notwithstanding the grandiose propaganda slogans of swacch bharat by the prime minister, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation had spent only 29 percent of their planned budget allocation by end September, 2014. The figures for other ministries dealing with social schemes is equally pathetic – ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation (29 percent), ministry of panchayat raj (28 percent), ministry of labour and employment (23 percent) and so on. (Mint, December 29, 2014) The cumulative result of all this statistical data confirms the fact that the health of people’s livelihood has sharply declined. The Modi government’s grand slogans of greater prosperity is only resulting in widening the divide between the two Indias. In order to divert the consequent growing popular discontent, communal polarisation is being sharpened. Despite the PM’s brief intervention in parliament on a minister of state’s obnoxious remarks earlier, the RSS/BJP spokesmen, at the highest level, continue to make provocative statements sharpening communal polarisation across the country. Both the RSS chief (in Kolkata) and the BJP president (in Kerala) pledged to continue their campaign of religious `reconversion’. Each day, such communal assertions continue to be made vitiating social harmony in our country, violating our constitution and the law of the land with impunity, thus, imposing greater dangers for our country’s unity and integrity. Those who violate the constitutional guarantees and the Indian Penal Code, particularly elected BJP ministers and MPs, must be punished for their crimes. The prime minister refused to give any such assurance on the floor of the parliament. This is what had caused the disruptions in the Rajya Sabha. Ironically, these parliamentary disruptions caused exclusively due to the Modi government’s obduracy are now being used as the excuse for promulgating ordinances! The authoritarian trend of ruling through ordinances undermines the very essence of our parliamentary democracy. Such authoritarianism resulting in a centralised accumulation of authority in the central government undermining parliamentary scrutiny and abandoning government’s accountability to parliament also negates a fundamental feature of our constitution – federalism. This, however, facilitates the effective implementation of the Hindutva agenda whose aim is to transform our secular democratic republic into the RSS vision of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. With this, as stated at the outset, the dangers before our secular democratic republic and our people multiply. It is no longer only a combination of rabid communal polarisation joining with aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal economic reforms any more. These two are now combined with growing authoritarian trends like the resort to `ordinance raj’. 2015, therefore, would be decisive in deciding whether the popular resistance and struggles against such dangers will succeed or not. Hence, greetings on the new year must be realized through the strengthening of such popular people’s struggles. Thus, we wish that our readers to join us in strengthening such popular struggles both for improving our livelihood status as well as safeguarding and strengthening India’s secular democratic republican foundations in the new year. (December 31, 2014)