Saturday, 18 February 2017

BJP’s Poisonous Poll Campaign
IN THE ONGOING ASSEMBLY ELECTION CAMPAIGN in various states, most notably the state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has once again unleashed a communal campaign aimed at consolidating Hindu voters against the imaginary Muslim enemy.
The BJP Manifesto for Uttar Pradesh promises to set up ‘anti-Romeo quads’ outside college campuses. While the BJP President Amit Shah claims these are aimed at curbing incidents of sexual harassment of women students, the BJP’s national co-convenor Sunil Bharala has made the communal and anti-women agenda of ‘anti-Romeo squads’ amply clear. Bharala declared that the squads are aimed at acting against Muslim men involved in “love jehad” – the BJP’s term for consensual relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women.
This is not the first time the BJP has invoked the bogey of “love jehad” in an election campaign. Bharala also recalled that danger of “love jehad” was the rallying cry for the communal violence of Muzaffarnagar in 2013 that had helped Modi win the 2014 polls. During the 2014 poll campaign, BJP President Amit Shah had invoked the Muzaffarnagar communal violence to ask the Jat community to vote BJP, saying “people are forced to riot” when “a community violates the honour of our daughters and sisters.” A recently leaked audio clip also revealed Amit Shah appealing to the Jat community not to desert the BJP in 2017, reminding them that their proximity to “BJP ideology” goes back several centuries, “farther back than riots.” Shah, in this appeal, reminded the Jats that Sanjeey Balyan (Modi Cabinet Minister accused in Muzaffarnagar riots) had “aged 7 years in the past 2 years helping to free riot-accused (Jat) boys.” In flagrant violation of EC rules against communal and casteist campaigns, the BJP is invoking imaginary rapes and real anti-Muslim riots to appeal to Jats and Hindus to vote for the BJP.     
The BJP’s star campaigner in UP Yogi Adityanath has also repeatedly invoked the “dangers of love jehad” and campaigned for “anti-Romeo squads.” It may be remembered that the same Adityanath was among the BJP MPs who, in 2010, publicly declared their defiance against the party whip issued to vote for the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament. Adityanath’s attitude sums up the BJP’s ideology towards women: their posture of ‘protection’ only masks their hostility to women’s own autonomy and assertion.
Along with “love jehad”, Adityanath is leading BJP’s UP campaign with another mythical bogey: that of the “exodus of Hindus from Kairana.” Adityanath has compared Kairana in Western UP to Kashmir in 1990, claiming that Hindus are being forced to flee – in spite of the fact that Hindu residents of Kairana have declared such claims of a communal exodus to be bogus. Adityanath claims that Eastern UP is free from such eviction of Hindus and crimes against Hindu women, because of the countervailing presence of his own vigilante Hindutva brigade.
The BJP Manifesto and campaign in UP also promises to abolish the practice of triple talaq – declaration of divorce in one sitting – prevalent among Muslims. A whole gamut of personal laws – including but not confined to Muslim personal laws – require reform to ensure gender justice. By focusing on triple talaq alone, the BJP projects the Muslim community as uniquely opposed to gender justice and progress. The BJP Manifesto’s promises of ‘anti-Romeo squads’ (with the undertone of protecting Hindu women from Muslim men) and ‘abolition of triple talaq’ (to protect Muslim women from Muslim men) offers a platform for anti-Muslim consolidation in a progressive and pro-women guise.     
Modi, addressing election rallies, taunted the former PM Manmohan Singh for his ability to ‘wear a raincoat while taking a shower’ – i.e maintain a clean image while being surrounded by scams. The metaphor applies much more aptly to Modi himself. Manmohan Singh could project an appearance for personal honesty in spite of his Government’s involvement in rampant scams and crony capitalism, but he and his Government did face the brunt of public anger for the same. Modi both as CM of Gujarat and as PM of the country has managed to evade scrutiny and accountability not only for cold-blooded encounter killings on his watch, but also for violations of civil liberties and witch-hunt of activists as well as for a series of scams and instances of crony capitalism benefiting corporations like Adani, the Ambani brothers, Raheja, Mallya and Lalit Modi.
Modi has mastered the art of wearing a raincoat not only in a scam-shower but in a bloodbath. His lieutenants are openly using communal mud and blood to tarnish the poll climate – even as Modi himself cloaks himself in the raincoat of ‘development.’ In fact, Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP hope that the communal hate-mongering will be able to deflect from widespread public resentment against the Note Ban diktat. The ongoing Assembly polls are an occasion to administer a firm rebuff to the communal propaganda of the BJP and assert the democratic concerns of the people.  
ML Update
A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 20 | No. 8 | 14-20 February 2017

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Budget 2017 and Deepening of the Demonetization Disaster

This year the annual budget was tabled on the first and not the customary last day of February. This was also the first time when the railway budget was stripped of its separate existence and appended to the general budget almost as a passing footnote. Most importantly this was a budget presented right on the eve of a crucial round of Assembly elections. In ordinary times, the budget would perhaps have been deferred till the elections were over, but these are extraordinary times with the trappings of an undeclared Emergency, and the budget was considered an essential electoral ingredient for the ruling party. Even the news of the unfortunate demise of Kerala IUML MP E Ahmed was sought to be stopped from becoming public till the budget was presented and when the news eventually became known the traditional obituary courtesy was also sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
For the common people of India, the real point of interest about this year's budget however lay in the fact that it came in the wake of Modi’s massive demonetization blow. The Prime Minister had himself promised that the fifty days of pain were but a gateway to a new era of gain. Having withstood the pain, the people were looking forward to the budget for the promised gain. The Sanghi rumour brigade which had earlier been agog with the presumed mythical powers of the new 2000 rupee note, worked overtime with promises of redistribution of wealth from the corrupt rich to the honest and hardworking poor. Even the Economic Survey of the government preceding the budget talked about a 'windfall' gain from demonetization in terms of extinguished notes and mooted the idea of a universal basic income! Viewed in the context of the demonetization-hit people and the economy, the budget has turned out to be not only a damp squib but a brutal betrayal.
There is one most glaring and inescapable fact about demonetization that the budget has sought to evade. The scrapping of the two big currency notes has not managed to extinguish any currency, almost the entire amount of scrapped currency came back to the banks ruling out any possibility of a windfall gain for the government exchequer. Whether the forcible harnessing of 86% of the currency in the banking system will yield any additional tax revenue is anybody's guess, the government just does not have the machinery to investigate every deposit and tax claims made by the government will anyway be subject to protracted litigation and dispute resolution processes.
By all accounts, demonetization has squeezed demand in the economy by destroying jobs, lowering income, weakening purchasing power and making transactions difficult across the board by creating a massive cash crunch. Projections for economic growth have been revised downward by all agencies and even the government’s own economic survey has had to acknowledge it. Against this backdrop of depressed demand, the budget should have been used as a corrective instrument to increase public expenditure and boost demand. But in the name of ‘fiscal prudence’, the government has adopted precisely the opposite course to further curtail expenditure.
The only increase being highlighted by the government is a marginal increase in MNREGA outlay, which is however less than the revised estimate of expenditure on this count incurred last year. MNREGA is supposed to be a demand-driven employment guarantee scheme and the real subversion of the scheme is taking place through a progressive reduction in the wage component vis-a-vis administrative costs and a growing role for contractors and machines which the Act was supposed to avoid altogether.
In his demonetization discourse, Modi has often talked about the growing inequality in India and pointed to the ridiculously low level of income declaration and tax payment among the rich. What he of course does not disclose is that it is the super rich which have been the backbone of his support whether in Gujarat or now at the Centre. His organic intimacy with the likes of Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani has been common knowledge and the rise of Adani’s economic muscle has happened in tandem with the rise of Modi’s political fortunes. The share of the top 1 per cent in the country’s total wealth has grown significantly during the two years of Modi rule at the Centre – from 49% in 2014 to 53% in 2015 and 58% in 2016. Fifty-odd top business houses claim as much wealth as the bottom 70% of Indian people.
Has the budget done anything to challenge this growing inequality? The answer is a loud NO, if anything the budget has only reinforced the process where mass impoverishment is mirrored by continuing concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Demonetization itself disproportionately affected the people, while the poor were hit hard, the rich had every protective cushion at their command. And now the budget has only handed out tax cuts to the limited number of direct tax payers while the common people are left high and dry with the growing burden of indirect taxes.
The main thrust of the budget has been a stronger push for further digitalization of the Indian economy. While the public sector has already been effectively downsized and dismantled through disinvestment, public-private partnership and outright privatisation, the government is now bent upon dismantling the remnants of a welfare framework by propping up the so-called JAM platform (a convergence of Jan-dhan accounts, Aadhar cards and mobile internet). The Universal Basic Income mooted in the Economic Survey is only a step in this direction.
Instead of ensuring universal welfare measures including a minimum income for all, the UBI scheme being talked about would only replace the existing welfare measures with a paltry amount of direct cash transfer to a targeted group. We have already seen the travesty of such targeting which results in large-scale exclusion of the needy and the deserving from basic welfare measures, and if the measures will now be replaced by a token amount of cash transfer, it can only sound the death-knell of any notion of mass welfare.
The restructuring of the state that began with the onset of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation a quarter century ago has thus reached a new and alarming level. The so-called economic retreat of the state which has already resulted in unprecedented accumulation and concentration of wealth through corporate exemptions and write-offs is now being stretched to a complete abandonment of the welfare agenda and abdication of the responsibilities of the state in this regard. The republic is being systematically redefined with steady devaluation and subversion of the institutions and processes of democratic accountability and citizens are being reduced to the status of subjects at the mercy of the king. And now in the name of digitalization the state is arming itself with extraordinary powers of intrusive surveillance.
Both demonetization and Budget 2017 should be seen in this unfolding political context. While the government arms itself with a digitally powered state-corporate convergence, we must confront it with a counter-convergence of wide-ranging struggle for people’s rights, with a rainbow of popular resistance to the state-corporate tango.
ML Update
A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 20 | No.7 | 7- 13 February 2017

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Comrade Srilata Swaminathan
(29.04.1944 - 05.02.2017):
An Inspiring Revolutionary Journey

- Kavita Krishnan

Veteran CPIML leader Comrade Srilata Swaminathan passed away in Udaipur (Rajasthan) in the early morning of 5 February. She was 74. Comrade Srilata had suffered a brain stroke on 28th January night and was rushed to a hospital in Udaipur where she breathed her last following a cardiac arrest.
Comrade Srilata was born in Chennai on 29 April, 1944. After finishing college she came to Delhi and joined the National School of Drama and subsequently went to London to pursue her interests in theatre. But back in Delhi in 1972, her life took a decisive turn. She joined the CPIML and began organizing farm workers in Mehrauli region of Delhi. She also worked among hotel workers in Delhi. During the Emergency she was imprisoned in Tihar jail for a period of ten months following which she was interned in Chennai. For Comrade Srilata this only meant an opportunity to plunge back into trade union work among Port and Dock workers.
After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, Srilata returned to Delhi and shifted base to Rajasthan in 1978 to start working among Adivasis, women and various sections of working people from rural bonded labour and displaced people to trade unions in the mining sector and various industries. For a woman with an elite background and upbringing to adopt rural Rajasthan as her area of Marxist activism was a bold decision that typically reflected Srilata's revolutionary zeal and political courage. Till her last breath she worked to strengthen the revolutionary Left movement and spread and defend progressive ideas and values against the deeply entrenched feudal-patriarchal forces and communal-mafia nexus in Rajasthan.
Following the early 1970s setback to the CPIML, Comrade Srilata worked for some time with Comrade Kanu Sanyal, but the rise of the IPF in Bihar attracted her attention and following the highly inspiring Delhi rally of the IPF in October 1990, Comrade Srilata joined the CPIML along with Comrade Mahendra Chaudhary, her husband and comrade-in-arms, and hundreds of other comrades. She was elected President of the All India Progressive Women's Association in the mid 1990s. At the Varanasi Congress of the CPIML in October 1997, she was elected a member of the Central Committee, a responsibility she continued to discharge till she had to be relieved on health grounds at the Ranchi Congress in April 2013. She was also a Vice-President of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions.
Comrade Srilata was a remarkably versatile activist with great creative energy, infinite enthusiasm and strong political will. She withstood every adversity in life with characteristic resilience and powerful sense of humour. When her deteriorating health stopped her from attending the AIPWA National Conference in Patna in November 2016, she composed and sang a song for the delegates and sent the audio clip to the conference. With her wide-ranging concerns and activism, Comrade Srilata was a natural bridge between the CPIML and various streams of progressive democratic ideas and action. She had high respect for all struggles of the people for a progressive cause and had great hopes from the CPIML-led struggles in Bihar and Jharkhand. She had deep empathy for the people and felt deeply for all her fellow comrades working on various fronts.
Comrade Srilata's illustrious legacy will continue to inspire us to carry forward the struggles of the oppressed people for dignity, democracy and social emancipation.
Red Salute to Comrade Srilata Swaminathan!
(The message and photos originally posted by the author as her Facebook status)

Friday, 3 February 2017

Budget 2017: Adding Insult to the Injury Caused by Demonetization
Coming close on the heels of the disastrous blow of demonetization, the 2017-18 budget has gone on to further backstab the disaster-hit people who were looking for some relief. The budget has refused to acknowledge and compensate for the massive loss of income and livelihood caused by demonetization.
The debt-ridden peasants badly needed a waiver, but there is no relief for the peasantry and the farm sector. The Economic Survey talked about the introduction of a Universal Basic Income, but the budget makes no move in this direction. It is ironic that after rubbishing the rural employment guarantee act, the government now seeks to take credit for a marginal increase in MNREGA budget.
The lowering of the undeclared cash donation limit from 20,000 to 2,000 rupees will hardly clean up the corrupt process of corporate political funding and money-laundering. What is needed is transparency in the entire process of political funding and exemplary action on the disclosures made in Sahara-Birla diaries and Panama Papers, but the government continues to reject and obstruct these demands.
The budget has also refused to address the burning question of growing inequality in India. While Modi waxes eloquent against black money and the corrupt rich, the wealth of the top 1% super rich in India has jumped from 49% of total national wealth in 2014 to 53% in 2015 and 58% in 2016. Instead of introducing wealth and inheritance taxes and ending corporate tax exemptions, Arun Jaitley has granted greater tax concessions to the super rich.
In the name of presenting an integrated budget by amalgamating the railway budget with the general budget, the government has further devalued the railways and sabotaged the pressing agenda of passenger amenities and safety and security. The token announcement of a future safety fund and bio-toilets does little to reassure the harassed and overburdened millions of common passengers for whom railway travel is becoming unaffordably expensive and insecure.
For the common people of India, Budget 2017 has come as an insult added to the injury caused by demonetization. We appeal to the common people and organisations representing various sections of workers, peasants, women and youth to rise in protest against the disastrous course of Modinomics. Voters in the poll-bound states of Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur must use the vote as an opportunity to give a strong rebuff to the assault of demonetization and the betrayal of the budget.
Dipankar Bhattacharya
General Secretary,
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)