Elections, Return of UPA and Challenges for People’s Movements
Meeting held on May 22 2009 @ Indian Social Institute, New Delhi
On May 21 2009 some 70-75 people from different civil organisations and social movements met in a conversation discussing the verdict of ‘General Elections 2009, Return of UPA and the Challenges for People’s Movements’. The meeting was organised at Indian Social Institute by Delhi Solidarity Group (http://delhisolidaritygroup.wordpress.com/) and received a good response from many and with a request for documenting it. In addition to this note, a short clip will soon be available on DSG website.
This note is an attempt at summarising some threads of the conversations directly focussing on implications for Peoples Movements. Voting patterns in states by different social groups and how and what led to Left fronts debacle in West Bengal and Kerala were also discussed, but we are consciously avoiding that part of discussion, since a good deal of news reel and air time has been and is still devoted to that. For more details of the meeting you could listen to the audio recording which will also be available on DSG website in some time.
What is this vote for ?
It was not a vote for stability nor for economic reforms, but for dal-roti, the pro-poor image and to some extent the pro-poor agenda of United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It was also pointed out that much of the vote share garnered by UPA was anti votes for others. J. John pointed that emergence of Congress doesn’t mean the emergence of a single party in which India’s diversity can be summarised, and which allows for the oppositions and differences to co exist within – ‘Congressism’ (an earlier coinage by Prof. Rajni Kothari). It’s also a vote against the arrogance of CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist) and a vote against the communal and hard line politics for which Mr. Advani and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) stands. It’s a vote against the ideological and programmatic vacuum in third and fourth Front. There is no One Mandate, as groups that voted for congress are diverse and have very different expectations. The diversity of the voter’s perspective was summarised in the inability of Congress and BJP to gain much in some prominent states.
What is the implication of this Vote for People’s Movements?
Congress lead-UPA will vigorously push for economic reforms in agriculture, health, education, banking, insurance, energy and other sectors. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) – the most bitterly fought legislation by People’s Movements (PM) – will be pushed vigorously, as soon as there will be signs of economic recovery. This means a greater assault on people’s sources of livelihood with even less tolerance for resistance. There is a danger that neo-liberal economic policies (of the Economic right) will prepare conditions for a Nationalist and a Political Right to strengthen and dominate Indian politics in the near future.
Elections 09 and Challenges for the Peoples Movements
- There was an overwhelming consensus that pro-people policies and significant legislations such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Right to Information Act (RTI), farmers’ loan-waivers, among others, passed during the UPA government paid rich dividends in this election. Even the passing of the Forest Right Act (FRA) has benefited the UPA and the implementing state governments. This was felt across the spectrum, as was visible in Congress’s performance as well as in BJD (Biju Janata Dal) win in Orissa and JD (U) (Janata Dal – United) win in Bihar. Even though this alone can’t explain all the defeats or successes.
- People’s movements’ influence on the elections was also pointed out. Sumit Chakraborty reminded that the poll percentages in struggle areas were generally high, and those were also areas where vote difference between candidates were very high. In West Bengal peasantry and poor voted against the Left, showing simmering discontent in places where NREGA implementation has been meagre, which was further fuelled by discontent over land acquisitions in Nandigram and Singur. It was opined that the progressive legislations have come after long sustained efforts of peoples movements across the country. However, its implementation continues to witness tough opposition from feudal elements in society, governance and political parties. The Congress has been rewarded for passing those policies, but its own cadres are reluctant to their implementation. This mandate will embolden the arrogance of the Congress machinery and the government, which will try to stop the effective implementation of these empowering schemes. Till now, a little implementation has happened due to sustained pressure from the PMs. We need to be ready for bitter struggles ahead at the implementation front.
- The vote is also a rejection of the Left for its ideological bankruptcy, arrogance, and failure to admit its mistakes. There is a serious need for introspection and an attempt at putting its house in order and bringing to its centre the politics of people. It was stated that CPI(M) needs to understand that if there is industrialisation, it has to be small scale labour intensive, as the real problem is unemployment. J John specifically argued that the Left had failed to be the party of the workers and of peoples movements and that it needs to be able to do that to be relevant. Quoting from a note by S.P.Shukla, Vijayan added that if Left wants to be relevant in the national scenario, it has to work towards the formation of a grand alliance of Left, Trade unions and Peoples Movements. The left’s inability to garner the electoral support of the more than 450 million workers in the country goes against its very basic – the mobilisation of working class towards political power.
- Main problems to come: J. John pointed out that the coming times will see a massive proletariasation of labour due to large numbers of SEZs and the decisive role they will have in determining the “face” of labour rights. Aseem Srivastava made it clear that the land will continue to be the biggest source of conflict as the govt will continue to promote agro-business, industrial farming, SEZs, among other practices, which are being pushed by Multinational companies and international financial institutions. C K Raju said that we need not forget that the managers of this government are the same men of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their capacity to carry out economic reforms in previous regime was limited by coalition politics, which wont be the case now to the same extent. Sushmita Das Gupta emphasised that BJP has been voted for in the states of Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand (a former BJP ally, BJD, has been voted back in Orissa). As planned industrial production will increase the need for steel and iron ore, times ahead will surely be difficult for people’s movements in these states. One need not forget that the economic interest of BJP and Congress are the same. In consequence, UPA at the centre is going to tacitly support land acquisitions and atrocities on tribals for exploitation of minerals even in states governed by BJP.
- There was a worrying analysis of the possible scenario for the time to come. First, the next five years UPA/Congress’s neoliberal economic policies will prepare the ground for the return of more extreme nationalist and political right forces (BJP and likely National Democratic Alliance) in the country, as it happened in case of Germany at the time of Hitler. This will be aggravated by the effects of the current economic recession, without an effective implementation of pro-people policies which will certainly aid the process of shift towards extreme right politics. Secondly, after the defeat of the BJP lead NDA and the formation of UPA in 2004, civil society groups in general have been in a comfort zone. This comfort zone is not of help for people’s movements in urban and rural areas, who are engaged in fierce battle for survival and livelihood. In the cities, we have to come out of our comfort zone and forgo the tendency that we will deal with the economic right by any means, but dealing with social and political right (read fascists) is much tougher. We need to unite and prepare for struggles ahead before it is too late.
- To resist effectively one need to know one’s opponent well. Sarita Bhoi asked, if people’s movements are so strong in states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand then how is it that right wing governments are still in place? Kavita Krishnan suggested in her written note to the meeting that if CPI won from Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, it is with help of BJD, which is responsible for POSCO project. Subhash Gatade, Naveen and others raised the issue that if people’s movements are so strong in Singur and Nandigram then how come they chose to vote for Trinamool Congress, which was an ally of NDA sometime back and is now ally of the Neo-liberal Congress. All these tendencies together raise the need for introspection within as well. Reflecting on the role of people’s movements and their engagement with the parliamentary process it was felt that somewhere we are lacking two things, the macro perspective, and a broader mass political front.
- Some speakers felt it is time that people’s movements develop a broad political front which can challenge the existing parties. Vijay Pratap asked, how long will we keep siding with one or the other party? How long will we keep preparing the ground for political parties? Rajendra Ravi added that the time has come for developing a broader critique of development, power and a macro perspective for the people’s movements’ politics, which can challenge the existing structure and also offer a different vision for the larger society. Ashok Chowdhury emphasised that we need not necessarily build political parties but more importantly we need to develop a vocabulary to conduct and engage meaningfully with politics, to negotiate and form tactical alliances with Left parties such as CPI, CPIML, RSP, and not see CPIM only as our ally. However, we need not forget that our agenda will not be carried by those who are sitting in opposition since they don’t identify with our politics. Ashok added that the movements will have to continue to go to streets, since that is what symbolises our politics and is also the only way in which we can keep up with the pulse of masses. The critical consciousness of masses in areas where movements are strong is far ahead of those who are in the leadership position there. He stated that we have to learn to align with the new generations of activists and forge effective alliances with the broader Left and find our allies in the progressive elements within various parties for parliamentary politics.
The meeting was concluded in a positive note that emerged from sharing analyses and finding common ground. It was felt that longer duration programmes formatted as workshops could help groups like DSG to strengthen its genuine search – for political understanding and analysis.
Report prepared for DSG by Madhuresh, Susana and Vijayan. May 30 2009