Raise the Level of Mass Assertion; Expand the Realm of Party Initiatives

This April 22, as we observe the 41st foundation day of the CPI(ML), let us pay attention to some key areas of our mass practice and find out ways to raise the level of mass assertion and expand the realm of Party initiatives.

We are passing through a phase of persistent agrarian crisis and relentless rise in prices of all essential goods and services. The agrarian poor are facing tremendous insecurity while the real wages and purchasing power of the working people in other spheres are also suffering steady erosion. The air is thick with mass resentment and we must do everything to channelize it towards powerful mass assertion against the policies and performance of the powers that be.

While pressing for a rollback of hikes in prices of essential goods and services, the battle against soaring prices must also focus on increasing wages. This is the most opportune time to demand doubling of wages under NREGS and significant upward revision of minimum wages for all occupations. Rising prices are adding to the coffers of the rich, especially big capitalists and big traders, and the Party of the working class must respond with heightened wage struggles.

A particularly cruel joke the poor are facing almost in all states concerns the BPL list. The more our governments are talking of inclusive development, the more the poor are getting excluded from the very list that is meant to define the poor. The prevailing Planning Commission estimate of 28% poverty has now been comprehensively rejected by almost all official committees that have worked on the subject. In spite of concerted government attempts to hide and understate poverty, it is now crystal clear that large numbers of people have been impoverished and even pauperized in the last two decades of free market capitalism.

How do we identify the poor in today’s India? While experts talk of diverse parameters to identify and measure poverty, we must boldly press for automatic inclusion of the following classes and sections in the BPL category: all agricultural and other rural workers, all small and marginal peasants, unorganized workers in low-paid occupations and unrecognized employees rendering social service (para-teachers, rural health workers in ASHA and Anganwadi schemes) for a paltry ‘honorarium’.

Of late, the UPA government has begun toying with the idea of a food security legislation. On the basis of a revised BPL list ensuring automatic inclusion of the above sections, we must ask for a guaranteed provision of at least 50 kg foodgrains at subsidized rates for every BPL household. Under the Public Distribution System or some other network of government run fair-price shops, the lower middle class too needs to be protected from the onslaught of soaring free market prices.

Land, housing, PDS and NREGA constitute the four key concerns for the rural poor in India today. The hunger for a small piece of cultivable land they can call their own continues to motivate and mobilize the rural poor in powerful land struggles. As the state seeks to abandon and reverse the agenda of land reforms, we must push for a renewed and vigorous campaign for implementation of the entire agenda of land reforms.

The issue of homestead land and a dwelling place too figures high on the agenda and the Indira Awas Yojana in its present state is just no answer to the housing needs of the rural poor. The demand for an IAY grant of at least Rs. 100,000 per beneficiary and increased IAY allocation to clear the backlog is most appropriate, but what generates maximum resentment on the ground is corruption and misappropriation of the scheme and there is a lot of scope for more planned and effective mass intervention on this issue.

NREGA which was promised as a demand-driven employment guarantee scheme remains mired in corruption and bureaucratic control. The very demand for job that is supposed to be the point of departure and driving force for this scheme is being suppressed and killed by all possible means. The payment of wages too remains a big issue and unemployment allowance exists only on paper. Clearly, there is a crying need for a new wave of determined mass intervention on the NREGA front, to bring organized mass demand for jobs to the fore, secure timely payment of due wages and challenge the unemployment allowance bluff.

In much of Eastern and Northern India, PDS has become synonymous with systematic loot. In recent past West Bengal witnessed a whole season of ‘ration revolts’ against this loot and in Bihar too wherever we have paid some serious attention we have seen tremendous mass anger against the corrupt dealer-middleman-official nexus. We must take up this issue on a bigger scale and generate a more powerful and sustained resistance against loot and corruption.

While raising the level of mass assertion on all these basic concerns of the rural poor, we are aware of the new opportunities that have opened up for us to mobilize the marginal and middle peasants and tenants and sharecroppers on a whole range of issues. In Bihar, the battle for land reforms has entered a crucial phase. This is the first time the question of rights of tenants and sharecroppers has come to the fore as the hottest issue in land reforms. The feudal lobby is of course working overtime and making a desperate bid to stall the reforms and kill the agenda. This is bound to sharpen class antagonism and intensify social polarization. With the intermediate caste leadership making common cause with the feudal forces, the stage is open for us to take the lead, forge a broader class alliance and emerge at the head of a renewed anti-feudal social mobilization.

In the face of the continuing agrarian crisis, the peasant today has to defend himself against the corporate offensive on the one hand and the feudal reaction on the other. The Indian state had initiated the green revolution in the 1960s betting on the big farmer. This was the Indian version of the landlord path of capitalist development in agriculture. If the strategy has now run into a serious crisis, a key reason lay in the narrow base of green revolution. Yet, today the government has come up with a refurbished version of the same strategy relying on an even narrower base. Such a corporate-led strategy seeks to reduce hitherto independent peasants into dependent contract farmers subjected to the vagaries of an ever-uncertain market. Much of the government’s rural/agricultural budget is also meant for and appropriated by the agribusiness lobby.

The decision to revitalize our work on the peasant front and launch a national level peasant organization through a national conference of the fighting peasantry is aimed at creating a new wave of radical peasant struggles on various facets of agrarian relations and agrarian crisis. In the process of strengthening the peasant movement we will also have to free the peasant discourse from the corporate-feudal clutches, forge stronger linkages of unity among the peasants and agricultural labourers and thwart the feudal attempt to stall land and tenancy reforms. The corporate and feudal lobbies may not be equally strong in all states – but despite the uneven nature of capitalist development in Indian agriculture, the fight against both these lobbies remains interlinked and constitutes the core of peasant activism on the national level.

Our socio-political identity has all along been defined around the oppressed landless poor and their core agenda of land, wages and dignity. Conditions are maturing for us to broaden this identity and agenda and incorporate the tenant/sharecropper and the middle peasantry as an integral part of our rural class alliance and social identity. To this end, we will have to considerably strengthen our efforts on the peasant front and coordinate the work on the agricultural labour front and the peasant front as we walk on both legs and coordinate our two arms.

This year is the IWD centenary year and the Party central committee has outlined a yearlong course of action to draw more and more women into the movement and Party organization. The desperate reaction against the proposed reservation of 33% reservation for women in Assemblies and Parliament has revealed the deep-seated patriarchal pattern of our society. While the backward caste kulak leadership is most vocal against the bill, we must realize that the old feudal forces that dominate the parties like the Congress and the BJP are also as much opposed to this idea and it is this underlying collusion between the proponents and opponents of the women’s reservation bill that has kept the bill in abeyance for so long. It is the same feudal-kulak nexus that stalls land reforms, thwarts progressive changes and serves as the bedrock of patriarchy and social reaction. We must mobilize more and more women in every possible way to intensify the battle for women’s liberation and social transformation.

The Indian state, which never tires of portraying itself in parliamentary democratic colours, is now busy directing Operation Green Hunt, justifying it on the basis of its new found security doctrine that identifies Maoism as the biggest threat to internal security. The Government has already indicated the protracted nature of the operation and it is quite clear that the whole thing is actually aimed at redesigning and restructuring our polity to suit the agenda of corporate globalization.

While the state is marshalling all its resources in this protracted war and there is a systematic campaign to silence and eliminate every voice of dissent, time and again we have witnessed the strength and resilience of democratic activism in India. The wells of anti-imperialist, anti-communal and anti-authoritarian resistance run deep in our history and popular memory and consciousness, and the party of the revolutionary Indian proletariat will also have to marshal all its resources to defeat the Indian state’s war on democracy and on our precious human and natural resources.

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