Peoples’Concerns vs Preoccupations of the Ruling Class:
Towards a viable political strategy
· What are the issues of critical significance for the people and what is the preoccupation of the ruling classes, (which includes not only the ruling party and its allies and adherents but also the main official opposition, its supporters and the whole lot of beneficiaries of the present order, including large sections of the print and electronic media) ?
· First the preoccupations of the ruling classes: On the economic side, deceleration of the rate of growth of GDP and the widening fiscal and current account deficits constitute their main concern. While the ruling party’s embedded economists , seek to establish that the roots of the trouble lie largely abroad, their critics in the official opposition point to the “ policy paralysis”, on the one hand, and all- pervading corruption, on the other. In other words, there is no divergence on policy goals. The critics merely say that they would create greater investor confidence and accelerate the process of “reforms”.
· Both are blissfully blind to the fact that two decades of “economic reforms” have brought us to this pass! Let us take some parameters for comparison. The current account deficit( i.e. what the country’s economy owes to the rest of the world in a given year on current transaction basis) has now reached an unprecedented level of 6 percent of GDP. In 1991-92 when the balance of payment “crisis” was used as the lever to justify the U turn in India’s economic policies, the magnitude of the current account deficit was almost half, that is, 3 percent .At that time, the inflation was in the region of 10 to 12 percent as measured in terms of consumer price index. And the rupee had to be devalued by twenty percent . Now the consumer price inflation has been ranging close to 10 percent for the last three years and no respite is in sight. And the rupee has been tumbling down rapidly, reaching the lowest ever value in terms of US dollar. At that time the wholesale change of policies was justified to remedy the situation. Now the remedy has proved worse than the disease! Yet the mantra of “reforms” continues to enthrall the ruling classes.
· “Reforms”, in a nutshell, call for drastic reduction in public expenditure; aligning the domestic prices of imported essentials like fuel with the global prices ( both of which affect the masses very adversely); opening up the economy further and further to the global finance capital; ensuring that losses are borne by the state( i.e. the people )and profits are guaranteed to the capital through the so-called “ Public Private Partnership”; and , above all, legitimizing, facilitating and encouraging the loot of natural resources ( land, water, forests, minerals, spectrum) by the private capital, mainly the speculative capital. All this in the name of releasing “ animal spirits” of the business class. It does not need any profound knowledge of economics to see that these policies will only aggravate rapacity, plunder and venality .
· While the ruling party continues to defend the indefensible policy of reforms and all it spawns, the opposition merely seizes the symptoms of corruption and adopts a “holier- than- thou” stance, despite skeletons tumbling out of its own cupboard ! Both are unanimous on the goal; their only difference is about who wields the power to push the process further and appropriates the resultant booty .
· On the political side, there is complete unanimity between the two when it comes to the question of dealing with an iron hand what is described as “ the terrorist threat” to national security. Both have promoted and legislated draconian laws to deal with the situation. Both compete in the ultra- nationalist sloganeering. In giving a free hand to big capital in resource- rich tribal areas and in crushing all tribal discontent and resistance with a heavy hand, there is no disagreement among them. When it comes to the terrorist threat essentially originating from the Islamophobic policies of the US-Israel combine, both are equally shy of going to the root of the problem lest that may annoy the bosses in Washington. The only difference is that while the ruling party professes its pragmatic secularism , the opposition has no qualms in using the conjuncture to push its divisive communalism in an aggressive fashion. But in actuality, governments of the states ruled by either of the two adopt the same chauvinistic, anti-democratic, oppressive policies and practices.
· On the side of the international relations, both have clearly accepted the lode- star direction of the US strategic and economic interests. Some differences arise in the immediate neighbour-hood, mainly out of their different domestic political histories and trajectories.
· The most tragic consequence of this bi-partisan near- unanimity is the growing alienation of Kashmir. Which also casts a deep shadow on the very integrity of our polity. The other dangerous consequence is the growing jingoism vis-vis two most important neighbours viz; Pakistan and China.
· Growth in GDP is a necessary but not sufficient condition for people-centric development. What is the main concern of people- centric development? Where sixty to seventy percent of the workforce depends on the agrarian economy; where two-thirds of the population lives in the rural hinterland; where ownership of land is extremely skewed, with 8 percent of holders owning 56percent of land and 92 percent holding the remaining 44 percent of land ; where 92 percent of peasantry is small or marginal ,i.e. with landholdings less than two and one hectares respectively; where two-thirds of cultivable land is rain- fed with no assured source of water; where access to water, better implements, and other inputs is largely determined by the scale of operation; where farming is a loss making proposition for the overwhelming majority of peasantry; where even the better-off section of farmers is caught in the double jeopardy of increasing input costs and un-remunerative/ volatile output prices and driven to despair and suicide; and where adequate avenues of alternative off- farm employment are not in sight: obviously the agrarian question is the most important concern of people. And that finds no place in the preoccupations of the ruling classes.
· The Twelfth Plan document wishes away the question. With its obsession with raising the rate of growth , reducing twin deficits, generating “investor confidence”, attracting flows of global capital and the goal of acquiring global competitiveness, the Question of Land seems alien to its thinking. The land is treated as just one input, one resource at the disposal of capital and market. The rapid shrinking of arable land and its serious long term consequences are overlooked. The undeclared but easily decipherable path that underlies the thinking is the adoption of contract/corporate farming as the eventual solution. Inevitable decimation of peasantry that this would bring about is not on the radar of the Planning Commission.
· Only palliatives are proposed in the name of new act on land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation. Higher monetary compensation in line with the prevailing market rate for the land acquired; token provision of jobs/compensation/ shares in the enterprise eventually set up for those displaced/affected; eventual access to a fraction of the developed land;, an attempt to eschew multi-cropped land; and mandatory provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation are contemplated. The approach is essentially defined by the dynamics of market. Its main objective is to legitimize the process of loot of land by speculative capital. Besides, this approach misses the woods for the trees. The problem of Land Acquisition is only a subset of the larger Question of Land. No piecemeal approach will do.
· What is needed is a National Land Use Policy which is people-centric, scientific, environment friendly, livelihood enhancing. Enough data and analyses are already available which should make it possible to delineate such a policy for different agro-climatic zones in the country. We need to set up a high level Commission whose task will be to lay down such policy norms. The whole question of land acquisition will fall in its place, once such norms are set and appropriate policies are adopted on land use.
· One pre-condition for the success of such an approach is that there must be an immediate moratorium on transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes either through the mechanism of land acquisition law or through the market process.
· Simultaneously equitable redistribution of land must be brought back on the political agenda, particularly in regions where large scale absentee landlordism prevails under one pretext or the other and where huge land holdings are owned by the corporates for plantation or similar purposes.
· But redistribution though necessary is not enough. It is essential to find an institutional solution to the problem of fragmentation of landholdings which was always there but which has now acquired a crisis proportion. Pooling of land is the only lasting solution. A massive mobilization in favour of cooperative farming is necessary.
· Simultaneously, creation of suitable avenues for absorption of surplus labour released as a result of pooling of land will have to be organized. Such avenues can be created through co-operativising both the procurement of inputs and processing of output. Clearly, this would require a fundamental redirection of the present mode of industrialisation which is geared to global competitiveness. Instead the new mode will be yoked to productive use of released surplus labour. It will be part of a wider vision of social solidarity.
· Closely related is the question of water, forest and mineral resources. Present policies have resulted in large scale displacement of people dependent for their livelihood on forests, mineral bearing lands and rivers, ponds and coastal waters. The policies unabashedly promote such displacement, on the one hand, and, on the other, encourage loot of such natural resources which belong to people. The market is allowed to determine the dynamics. Simultaneous initiatives will have to be taken in these areas to restore peoples’ sovereignty over these resources and promote policies which will enhance livelihood creation, conserve environment and promote social solidarity.
· Galloping inflation and burgeoning unemployment are inevitable consequences of the policy of “reforms” set in motion two decades ago. They have made the life of working people increasingly intolerable. The ruling classes have been the greatest beneficiaries of the dispensation of “reforms”. Their only worry is that the bubble of unprecedented prosperity that they have enjoyed so far is somehow made to survive. To that end, they would not mind sacrificing all policy space and tying the economic destiny of the country to the goals and requirements of the global capital. They are not only blind to the misery of the masses; they are also blind to the burgeoning crisis that is engulfing the core of global capital.
· What is needed is a complete break with the policies of “reforms” and adoption of a new path of people-centric development . At the core of such path will be a radical resolution of the question of land and peasantry. Restoration of peoples’ sovereignty over natural resources will be the guiding principle. Enhancement of livelihoods , protection of environment, assurance of a decent living standard and a life with dignity for all will constitute immediate imperatives.
· On the political side, there are four main concerns of the people. They revolve around the central concern : The idea of India which inspired the long freedom struggle is under serious threat.
· The latent or patent communalism practiced by the ruling classes has resulted in a deep sense of insecurity and alienation among the Muslims. The last two decades have witnessed steep deterioration in the communal situation. Political opportunism practised by the mainstream political parties is certainly responsible. However, there is other, more fundamental reason. US-Israel combine has conveniently created and sustained the bogey of Islamic terrorism on a global scale to mask its imperialist designs on the oil-rich West Asia. It is also an economic and strategic necessity of the US ‘military-industrial complex’ to promote the concept and practice of a global war on terrorism, as it comes handy to interfere with the regimes in the third world and provides a strong stimulus to the US economy, particularly after the end of the cold war era. The Islamophobia systematically generated by US-Israel combine has its willing takers in the retrograde Hindutva politics. The revival of majoritarian communalism poses a serious challenge to the integrity of polity. This challenge has to be met frontally and unambiguously. First and foremost this requires that we as a country disengage ourselves from the strategic objective of US-Israel combine.
· Adivasis too are getting alienated fast. It is true that they have borne disproportionate burden of the development process ever since independence. However, in the era of economic reforms, they are being dispossessed of their livelihood, their habitat and their very life on a scale which has had no parallel before. Consequently, there has been a strong reaction. In some places their discontent has taken the form of challenging the Indian State. This has provided an excuse to the ruling class to treat the discontent as “threat to national security” and use its armed might to eliminate the challenge. Neither the armed challenge to the Indian State nor the armed might of the ruling class constitute the answer to the deep alienation of the Adivasis. What is needed is a decisive break from the present path of growth pursued by the ruling classes which has posed a threat to the survival of Adivasis with dignity in their traditional habitat.
· Dalits continue to suffer atrocities, discrimination, insecurity and denial of access to life of dignity, despite the Constitutional dispensation and various enabling laws and measures. The most backward sections of other backward classes too suffer exclusion and deprivation. It is necessary to carve out a sub-regime of reservations for most backward classes. The policies of reforms, however, are increasingly making measures such as reservations in public sector jobs less and less meaningful. Even so, the upwardly mobile sections spawned by the reforms are clamouring for ending reservations in government jobs as well as in educational institutions. Recent court pronouncements are virtually nullifying progressive measures such as reservations in promotions. The social contract envisaged in the Constitution is coming under stress. A decisive break from the policy of reforms and a move towards a new paradigm of people-centric development based on social solidarity will provide a conducive environment to relieve this stress. But it must be recognized that no struggle for transformation of our society and polity will be meaningful unless it adopts the annihilation of caste and caste injustice as a goal in itself.
· The situations of deep alienation and seething discontent have been exploited by the ruling classes to strengthen their armoury of black laws and anti-democratic measures to intimidate and suppress all democratic dissent which is an inevitable consequence of the economic, political and diplomatic policies pursued by the ruling classes. The space for democratic dissent is being circumscribed and narrowed. Police apparatus is being used to suppress the rising political challenge to the establishment. The people are being denied the only means of protest that they have against the injustices of the prevailing economic, political and social order.
· The current political scene is marked by loss of credibility on the part of the ruling combine of political parties as well as the opposition. The regional political outfits are trying to exploit the situation to their advantage. Barring the parties of the Left, whose parliamentary strength has been reduced considerably, none of the regional parties have any alternative political vision. Therefore, even if they benefit because of the weakening of the main political combines and thus succeed in acquiring greater share of power after the upcoming General Elections, little can be expected from them . On the other hand, unstable and opportunist combinations may only strengthen the prospect of the main combines after disillusionment with such experiment. That would only give a further lease of life to the ruling classes. However, with the rising discontent among the popular classes, such dispensation can not last long. In the circumstances, there is a clear possibility that the ruling classes adopt more and more anti-democratic measures in the name of maintaining “law and order” and “stability” and prolong their hold on power. The other possibility is that the discontent of the popular classes is organized politically on the basis of a clear alternative vision and programme rooted in peoples’concerns, through a radical, inclusive and broad democratic political formation. Indeed, this is the only ultimately viable political strategy .
· It is time that all parties, movements, groups and individuals who are in broad agreement with the forgoing analysis and are willing to adopt the political strategy get together to create such a political platform.