Vol. XLI No. 05 January 29, 2017

Pledge to Restore Supremacy of People’s Sovereignty

Sitaram Yechury

INDIA enters its 68th year of the republic in an atmosphere marked by a high degree of uncertainty and a sharp increase in the vulnerability of large sections of our people particularly the marginalised. This is not the making of any external factors such as war and encirclement of our country but by our own making thanks to the policies that are being pursued currently by our central government and the ruling classes. The wisdom of an ancient Libyan fable comes to mind. The fable informs us that an eagle when struck by a dart said upon seeing the fashion of the shaft: “not by the others’ hands but by our own feathers/we are now smitten”.

This BJP government assumed office promising the moon. Amongst others it promised ‘maximum governance, minimum government’. Ironically on the eve of our Republic Day international ranking of countries on the index of transparency has shown India in a very poor light and designated in the ‘Red Zone’. The real miseries being faced by the large majority of our people remain virtually unnoticed and kept away from any public discourse. The control over the media by the government, both print and electronic, has virtually turned them into a propaganda machine. The opportunities for expression in the social media are increasingly being constricted with the strong arm of the State imposing an undeclared censorship. The government’s cheerleaders among media barons notwithstanding, it is clear that each of the lofty principles that we proclaimed in our constitution and “gave to ourselves” fundamental rights of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity, are compromised today.

The preamble of our constitution proudly states that India shall “secure to all its citizens: liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” During the course of the past year the transgression of this fundamental tenet of our constitution, on each one of these scores could not have been more explicit.  The increasing incidents of communal polarisation; the targeting of religious minorities particularly Muslim minority, the growing intolerance against ideas and expressions uncomfortable for the ruling establishment has reached such an extent where noted intellectuals have been murdered, self proclaimed vigilante groups are running amok enforcing moral policing and harassing women. In the name of cow protection vigilante groups have attacked and murdered dalits and Muslims. Hindutva nationalism is sought to replace Indian nationalism. Our educational system is sought to be revamped to suit the advocacy and promotion of the Hindutva agenda and objective of transforming our secular democratic republic into the RSS ideological project of ‘Hindu rashtra’. This list can go on. It only underlines the degree of vulnerability of this fundamental promise that all of us made to ourselves in our constitution.

We had promised ourselves “equality of status and of opportunity” for all “irrespective of caste, creed or sex”. The growing attacks and sexual crimes against our women; the atrocities against the dalits, the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula; the continuous pillage of the rights of our tribal population are all indicators of the fact that the goal of equality is moving farther away.

The constitution promises that by ensuring justice – social, economic and political; liberty and equality our republic shall “promote among all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of our nation”.  Looking back, it is this dignity of the individual that has come under a severe assault and the sharpening of communal polarisation that dangerously threatens the unity and integrity of our nation.

Any solemn pledge that the Indian people give to themselves on the occasion of this year’s Republic Day must therefore necessarily mean to reject and defeat these trends that continue to undermine the foundations of our republic.

An inviolable principle of the founding of our republic was the fiercely independent and sovereign character of India. This is increasingly becoming compromised by the developments that have been the consequences of this government’s policies during the course of the last year. Both in terms of our independent stature in the international comity of nations and in terms of our economic independence and economic self reliance, there have been severe compromises made by this government during the course of this year. India has been reduced virtually as a subordinate ally of US imperialism promoting the interests of international finance capital. The Indian economy is increasingly being dovetailed to international capital’s quest for profit maximisation. The current woes of the vast majority of our people as a result of the recent demonetisation are a reflection of this.

The demonetisation of the 1000 and 500 rupee notes announced by the prime minister on November 8 has caused immense loss to a large part of our economy plunging crores of people into agony and loss of livelihood. The prime minister’s appeal for a fifty day time frame after which he assured things will come back to normalcy turned out to be yet another illusion – a jumla. The agonies of people continue to mount. The restrictions on cash withdrawals from the people’s own money deposited in banks continue. All these facts are well reported but the government turns a blind eye and claims that its demonetisation is a tirade against black money and corruption.

None of the four objectives – combatting black money; corruption; counterfeit currency and terrorist funding – that the prime minister listed as the reason for the demonetisation have been achieved. More than 90 percent of the black money, the prime minister himself publicly said is parked in tax havens abroad. Not a rupee of this has been touched nor is there any move to pursue the recovery of these monies. With almost all the demonetised currency now returning to the banking system it is clear that whatever black money was held in cash has now been converted into white money and lies deposited in the banks. Final figures for the deposits in the banks are yet to be made public. If it exceeds the value of recalled notes then it means that all the counterfeit currency in circulation has also been legitimised. The seizure of huge quantum of new notes is indicative of the fact that high level corruption exists. Far from eliminating corruption, this move has only created newer and higher forms of corruption.

As far as combatting terrorist funding is concerned, that this demonetisation has not made any dent is obvious from the fact that since the September 30 ‘surgical strikes’ happened, 33 security personnel have lost their lives due to terrorist attacks. The death toll of security personnel in 2016 has been recorded as double the death toll in 2015

The Indian economy, particularly the rural economy and the overall 90 percent of the economy that exists on cash transactions has been severely hit with some sectors devastated by this move. All international agencies and domestic institutions including the RBI have estimated that the GDP growth will take a hit as a result of demonetisation in a substantial manner. All economic indicators have shown a sharp decline. The index of industrial production is estimated to have fallen by nearly 2 percent, manufacturing has fallen by 2.5 percent, capital goods production has fallen by a whooping nearly minus 30 percent and the services sector has recorded a decline. The major export-oriented industries like textiles, leather and jewellery have reported a loss of over four lakh jobs in the first week following demonetisation. 31.9 million people work in these three sectors on the basis of daily or weekly wages. In the subsequent period, the bulk of them have been rendered jobless. Retail trade was estimated to have fallen by a huge magnitude of 75 percent. Trade in perishable commodities has fallen so drastically that in many areas vegetables and fish continue to rot as people do not have sufficient cash to purchase.

The talk of shifting to digital payments is ridiculous because in rural India only 13 percent, 108 of the 834 million people have access to internet connections. Only 26 percent of the people have access to smart phones. Given this predominant dependence on cash transactions, the devastation of many of the sectors has been enormous.

The result of all this has been large scale growth in unemployment. There has been a reverse migration of daily agricultural labour who had moved to Punjab and Haryana for the agricultural season but have largely returned to their homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Vegetable farmers are reportedly selling their produce at one-fifth of the price. Farmers in areas where grain has been harvested are being forced to sell their produce at one half of the MSP since procurement has come to a standstill due to lack of currency notes. All traditional commercial crops like rubber, cotton, spices etc have reported a sharp fall. The agrarian distress has deepened as a consequence with a sharp rise in distress suicides by farmers. According to reports, farmer suicides have risen by nearly 32 percent in these two years. This demonetisation will further aggravate the rural distress. There are reports that even supplementary nutrition for children has dropped by a whopping 16 percent in the post-demonetisation period from the previous eight months average due to the non-availability of cash.

All these put together mean that the lives of crores of Indians have been devastated by this demonetisation. This is bound to impact upon the economic inequalities in the country. Already in the two years since this BJP government assumed office inequality has sharply risen. In 2014, 1 percent of India’s population, the ultra-rich held assets worth 49 percent of our GDP. By 2016 as a result of PM Modi’s neo-liberal policies this figure went up to 58.4 percent. With these effects of demonetisation the enriching of the rich and the impoverishment of the poor is bound to intensify.

The real objective of this demonetisation is clearly to promote further the process of neo-liberal reforms. The current phase of imperialist globalisation is being led by international finance capital which continues to constantly create newer and newer avenues for profit maximisation. This can only be achieved through a greater squeeze on the livelihood of the vast majority of the people ie, by intensifying economic exploitation further.

Thanks to the high level of crony capitalism that this BJP government under PM Modi has been promoting, the bad loans in most State owned banks doubled and in some case tripled in 2015-16. As of March 2016 the RBI Asset Quality Review estimated that more than 8.5 lakh crores of rupees of loans given by our banks have not been returned by the borrowers mainly large corporates. The top ten corporate houses owe a staggering amount of Rs 7 lakh crores to the public sector banks and financial institutions. In July 2016 the CAG is reported in the media as having said that there is a belief that a large part of these amounts have been transferred abroad and may never get recovered. Instead of proceeding against these defaulters and ensuring that these monies which are the life long savings of crores of Indian people deposited with faith in our banks are returned by confiscating the assets of these corporates, this government in 2014 and 2015 altogether waived corporate loans worth Rs 1,12,078 crores. This happened when this government refused to waive loans to our beleaguered farmers committing distress suicides.

With the continued restrictions on cash withdrawal from the banks, crores of Indian depositors who have put their lifetime savings in the banks are being penalised and forced into suffering to ‘bail out’ these banks and the corporates who have massively borrowed, amounting to a loot of people’s money.

The forcible move towards digital transactions is a bonanza for profit maximisation to international finance capital and corporates. Each digital transaction carries a transaction cost which is an additional burden on the consumer and the source of profit for the corporates. Clearly this demonetisation exercise has been undertaken by this government as part of its subservience to the neo-liberal reforms trajectory and a part of its larger subservience to imperialism.

India has not only emerged as a junior subordinate ally of US imperialism as seen in the recent defence agreements and as a major defence partner of the USA but is now also a subordinate partner of international finance capital’s efforts to pursue aggressively the predatory profit maximisation nature of capitalism.

In addition, we have the severe undermining of the Indian parliament and its institutions which has dangerous portends for our constitutional republican order. In order to circumvent the BJP’s lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, many legislative bills are being categorised as “Money Bills” depriving the upper house of our parliament the right to consider and vote on these legislations. A tyranny of the majority is being exercised in the Lok Sabha subverting the constitutionally mandated accountability of the government to the parliament. In the final analysis this sovereignty of India rests with its people. The people exercise this sovereignty through their elected representatives who make laws and hold the government of the day accountable in the interests of the people and the country. If the parliamentary institutions are subverted then this central scheme of our constitution virtually breaks down.

On this year’s Republic Day we need to solemnly pledge to restore the supremacy of the people’s sovereignty.