(Text of the speech by CPIML GS Comrade Dipankar at the Left parties’ rally at Brigade Parade Ground, Kolkata on 3 February)
Comrade President and leaders of Left parties on the stage,
THANK you for inviting me to today's rally. And red salute to all of you who have made this brigade totally red. Today you have once again proved how deep and strong the Left roots are in Bengal. Today the Left is no more in power in the state. The number of Left MLAs and MPs have dropped to an all time low. In this adverse situation you have accepted the challenge, you have proved that the chant of “Inquilab Zindabad” still rends the air in Bengal, that Lenin still throbs in the hearts of Bengal's new generation.
Just the other day the Modi government presented its last pre-election budget. In an election year budgets are always meant to be of an interim nature, yet this Government has used the budget to make all kinds of announcements. I agree with Comrade Sitaram who reminded us that the farmers have consistently been asserting two main demands: one, that their loans be waived, and two, that they should get a fair minimum support price for their crops, i.e that they should be assured of an MSP that is 50 per cent over and above their input costs. The budget has ignored these demands - and has instead offered what it terms ‘respect to farmers’. What does this ‘respect’ amount to? A mere Rs 3.30/-per day for every member of a farmer's family that can't even pay for a cup of tea!
Today, India is facing the worst unemployment in 45 years - these were the findings of the recent government survey. The Government claims that there is no unemployment - the issue is merely one of wrong statistical estimates of employment. Those statisticians whose job it is to count the numbers, have found that unemployment rates which used to hover around 2-2.5 per cent, have jumped to above 6 per cent. If we speak of young men and women between 15-29 years of age, we see that 13-17 out of every 100 rural youth and 18-27 out of every 100 urban youth are unemployed. What does the Budget have to say on this state of affairs? Through the Budget, the Government washed its hands off any responsibility to provide jobs by claiming that those who used to be job-seekers in previous years have now become job providers!
All over the country we can see women workers who run the Midday Meal and rural healthcare schemes of the government fighting for recognition and regularisation of their jobs. The government policy is to treat them as volunteers and get them to work almost for free. They are fighting for monthly minimum wages of Rs 18,000.The Budget has said not a word about these workers. It talks big about a so-called social security plan for unorganised workers. What is this plan? A construction worker whose age in 2019 is 29 years will have to pay 100 rupees every month for the next 31 years, and then in 2050 when she turns 60, she gets a monthly pension of Rs 3000.You can easily imagine how much it will be worth in 2050. Should we call it a pension plan or a government scheme of extortion?
The budget is full of such gimmicks, but since time is short I won't talk more about it. Let me just quickly mention two other devious designs of this government. When the youth are asking for jobs, the government has come out with this constitution amendment to reserve 10% jobs for the economically backward in the general category. And what is the yardstick for measuring economic backwardness? Annual income up to Rs 8 lakh and up to 5 acres of agricultural land holding. This is basically more than 90 percent of the general category. The Constitution had provided for reservation to ensure a degree of representation for Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs who have otherwise suffered from institutionalised exclusion and adverse social discrimination for centuries. Reservation was a tool to address this social injustice and not economic evils like poverty and unemployment. While diluting the concept of social reservation, the government is also denying reservation in various ways to its constitutionally identified claimants.
Another attack on the Constitution is being spearheaded through the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill. We know in Assam, four million people have been excluded in the NRC. Now the BJP says it wants NRC to be implemented in Bengal. We don’t know how many millions they are planning to exclude here. Modi and Shah are saying that Hindus need not be afraid, for even if the NRC leaves them out, the Amended Citizenship Act will let them in. This is a big lie.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill says non-Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries will now be granted citizenship after six years instead of twelve. The millions of refugees from Bangladesh and erstwhile East Pakistan who have settled down in India have now been here for decades. If they find themselves excluded from the electoral roll, if they are denied ration cards and reservation benefits, it is not because of the Citizenship Act. They could have got all their rights under the old Citizenship Act.
Today they are not amending the Citizenship Act as a mark of respect for the refugees – they are doing it only to divide the people on the basis of religion. Can religion be the basis to determine citizenship in India? If Hindus are feeling insecure in Bangladesh so are many Muslims. The battle is between religious bigotry and human rationality, whether in Bangladesh or in India. The religious minorities in Bangladesh have already appealed to the Modi government not to amend India’s Citizenship Act in their name. We cannot allow the Modi government to get away with such conspiracies against the basic nature of our Constitution and country.
Two weeks ago there was another big rally on this same ground. Incidentally, I was in Kolkata that day and I watched the meeting live on television. Leaders of almost all non-Left opposition parties were present in that meeting. The meeting talked about the danger to our Constitution and democracy and called for voting the Modi government out. There can be no dispute about that. But we did not hear anything about the state of affairs in Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee told her guests that the average farm income in Bengal has already increased threefold. But we know some 200 farmers have committed suicide in the state in recent past. Bhatar is a block in Bardhaman district, and just in that one block more than 60 potato and paddy growers have committed suicide. Didn’t the news of this spectacular rise in farm income reach them? Many tea gardens are closed in North Bengal, there’s a Rajya Sabha MP from the ruling party who owns a few of these closed gardens in Darjeeling. The tea workers have no land rights and they recently struck work demanding minimum wages. We heard nothing about them. When Mamata Banerjee was an opposition leader, she protested against starvation deaths in Amlashol, but today when seven people of the Shabar community die of starvation in Lalgarh, she says they died by consuming too much alcohol. Why? She came to power riding on the anti-land acquisition agitation over Singur and Nandigram, but today we see her government forcibly acquiring land and killing protesters in Bhangor and Bhabadighi. Why?
I remember ten years ago large sections of the youth in Bengal looked to Mamata as their didi or elder sister. They hoped that since didi had fought her way to power she would stand by them in their own struggles for dignity and rights. Today I find many of these young people are frustrated over the rise of corruption, over the growing control of the Syndicate Raj in the state. In fact, in Bengal’s social media didi is now popularly called ‘pishi’ or aunt (thanks to the growing power of her nephew who is projected as her heir apparent). This is the transformation that is taking place in Bengal. Today democracy is under attack in the Modi regime. But is it any safer in Bengal? Did we see democracy in the panchayat elections? Why does every agitation have to face TMC goons in the state? Why are you trying to dismantle elected student unions and impose TMC domination in campuses? Why are tripartite settlements in jute mills being subverted through collusion between mill owners and the state government?
Today therefore just as India is crying for freedom from the disastrous Modi regime, West Bengal is also looking for an alternative to the betrayal and tyranny of the TMC government. Today’s red rally raises a lot of hope. The Left ranks in the state had hoped for a broad unity of the Left forces during the 2016 elections. But unfortunately that did not happen. However, it is better late than never. A broad-based fighting unity of the Left is the need of the hour. It is heartening to see this unity taking shape. The Left ranks of West Bengal are working closely together on every front in the fields of struggle. We saw this unity in the 8-9 January all India workers strike, and hopefully we can fight together in the forthcoming elections and free India from the clutches of the fascist Modi regime.
Our party had emerged from the fire of the Naxalbari peasant uprising. This party founded by Comrades Charu Mazumdar and Saroj Dutta is now about to turn fifty and through all the ups and downs over all these fifty years we have carried forward the Left movement and defended democracy and the interests of the people. There have been occasions when we have had to oppose the Left Front government, but today all of us in the Left must work and fight together at this crucial political juncture, both nationally and in the state.
The Modi regime has been nothing short of an outright disaster for India. Babasaheb Ambedkar had rightly warned us at the time of adoption of our Constitution that any attempt to make India a Hindu Rashtra will be a big setback for our country. Today this disaster continues to stare us in the face. We have to rescue India, rebuild India. As the whole of India confronts the disaster called the Modi government and West Bengal faces the added challenge of dealing with the TMC misrule, we appeal to the people of West Bengal not to allow the BJP to grow in this state. Please do not give an inch of space to the forces of communal violence, to the likes of Modi, Shah and Yogi, who only know how to destroy the lives of people. When the BJP is losing ground in all its erstwhile strongholds because more and more people have started sensing the danger, we appeal to the good sense of the common people of Bengal to steer clear of the BJP’s dangerous agenda. West Bengal has been a bastion of the Left movement in India. At this critical juncture of modern India, the Bengal Left must play its due role in defending democracy and advancing the movement of the people.
Long live revolution. Let us unite and give our best to strengthen the Left movement and take India forward.