Tuesday, January 1, 2013

NEW YEAR GREETINGS: Intensify Struggles for a Better Livelihood

PEOPLE’S Democracy wishes its readers a very Happy New Year.

These wishes, however, come with a very agonised heart full of anguish and anger as the victim of the brutal gangrape in the capital continues to struggle to live in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Usually, Tennyson’s famous lines, “Ringing out the old, ringing in the new” are invoked on this occasion. There is an element of hope that the coming year will see changes for the better.  Such hopes, however, are belied by our experiences during the year that has gone by. The hopes do not automatically translate into reality. A better reality has to be achieved through relentless popular struggles by the people.

The last year ended with the Lokpal Bill being aborted in the Rajya Sabha by this UPA-2 government. In these columns, last year, we had hoped and said, “2012 appears all set to finally establish these institutions after a four decade long struggle for creating institutions to combat corruption in high places. This, however, may not happen automatically. This will have to be ensured through relentless public pressure.” 2012, however, ended without this happening despite growing public pressure.

In the meanwhile, 2012 has seen a series of corruption scams rocking the country.  This merciless loot of our resources, apart from the immorality involved, diverts humongous amount of resources away from social development denying our people a better life.  Last year, in this column, we had said, “The effectiveness of this fight cannot be ensured unless it is linked with fighting these economic reforms that are continuously opening hitherto unknown avenues for corruption at high places.”

Unfortunately, for the Indian people, this UPA-2 government has relentlessly pursued its trajectory of neo-liberal economic reforms.  This, as anticipated, has led to a severe economic downturn heaping misery on the people.  As against the targeted 9 per cent growth rate of our GDP, the year will be ending with a growth rate of around 6 per cent or less.  Compounding the misery of the people is a relentless rise in the prices of all essential commodities.

In the background of the continuing global economic crisis and recession, such a neo-liberal policy trajectory is only widening the hiatus between the two Indias.  While these reforms are creating more avenues for profit maximisation by international finance capital and India’s big business, they continue to impoverish the poor as a result.  After all, profit maximisation can only happen by intensifying the economic exploitation of the vast mass of the working people.

To create a better life for our people in 2013, it is imperative that this policy direction must be reversed.  The alternative lies in a massive hike in public investments to build our much needed social and economic infrastructure. This will create significant new employment opportunities and, thus, contribute to enlarging the domestic demand in our country. This, in turn, will give a boost to the manufacturing sector and overall industrial production. A sustainable and more inclusive growth pattern can be set in motion with such an alternative policy direction.  This is all the more relevant in the present global context, where due to the sustained global crisis over the last five years, Indian exports have sharply fallen.  No export-led growth strategy can work in this situation.  Any growth that can take place will be predominantly influenced by the levels of domestic demand in our country.  The current neo-liberal reforms precisely result in the opposite – sharply declining purchasing power in the hands of the vast majority of our people.

Often the question is raised: From where will the government marshall resources for these huge public investments? We have repeatedly shown that during the last fiscal year, the amount of legitimate tax foregone voluntarily by the government was a huge Rs 5.28 lakh crores. This is more than the high fiscal deficit of 6.9 per cent of our GDP, which translates into Rs 5.22 lakh crores. Ironically, in the name of reducing this fiscal deficit and for a prudent fiscal management, the prices of diesel, cooking gas, urea etc are hiked and the meager subsidies for the poor are further slashed. The deficit is incurred because of the tax concessions or subsidies for the rich and the poor are made to bear the burden by heightening their levels of misery.

Such a policy direction cannot be allowed for the sake of the vast majority of our people and to build a better India.  2013 must, therefore, see the mounting of greater pressures through popular mobilisations on the government to reverse its disastrous policies. For the first time in independent India, all the trade unions, cutting across political inclinations, have shown unprecedented unity in calling for a two-day industrial strike against these policies. Its success must be ensured by all who care for our country and people.  The continuation of these policies will only mean a further ruination of the livelihood of the vast majority of our people and also the continuation of the drain of wealth of our country through corruption and sleaze.

On the social front, 2012 has seen a regression – the khap panchayats, the continuation of caste based oppression, the continuation of the denial of  elementary rights and opportunities to religious minorities and the alarming rise of sexual assaults on women. The Delhi gangrape case is not an isolated inhuman crime of gruesome proportions. Reports of such attacks on women, including minors, keep pouring in from all across the country.  This dehumanising of our society comes as a result  of a deadly cocktail of  regressive value systems of the past combined with the equally regressive  culture of neo-liberalism.  Further, these economic reforms, while fattening the profits of foreign and domestic capital, on the one hand, on the other, it continuously shrinks the size of the cake, so to speak, for our people.  This sets in motion a scramble by various sections to at least maintain their previous share of the cake.  This lays the fertile basis for all divisive and disruptive expressions in our social order to thrive.  This further strengthens the regressive trends.  These need to be combated aggressively in the coming year.

2013 will see elections to the state assemblies in at least eight states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

The Indian ruling classes hope that these elections will divert the people’s attention away from intensifying struggles against their policies of looting our resources while further impoverishing the poor.  These series of elections, on the contrary, must be utilised by the Left and Democratic forces to mobilise the people around alternative pro-people policies.

Also with the general election slated to take place in 2014, 2013 may well see the government announcing a slew of populist measures and taking recourse to gimmicks.  One such is the announcement of the Direct Cash Transfer scheme instead of providing essential commodities through a public distribution system (PDS).  This is a big fraud as the value of the cash transferred to families will continuously decline due to this price rise. As a result, people will increasingly fail to meet their minimum needs.  This is an ingenuous way to automatically reducing subsidies for the poor while giving them the illusions of safety and economic security.  Likewise, no meaningful food security for our people can be ensured unless all families (BPL and APL) are provided with at least 35 kgs of foodgrains at a maximum of Rs 2/kg through a universal PDS.

These are some of the issues that must engage our attention in the coming year.  These must not merely engage our attention but popular struggles must be intensified in order to achieve a better livelihood for the vast majority of our people and for the realisation of the inherent potential of our people and country, that is currently being denied by our ruling classes.

2013 must not be allowed to be a year where we continue to be denied the opportunity to realise our potential. Welcome to 2013 – a year of intensified struggles by the vast mass of our people to realise our legitimate due and our country’s inherent potential.

People's Democracy

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