Update from India

vieuxcmaq, Mardi, Novembre 7, 2000 - 12:00

cpiml Liberation (

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) campaign against globalization.

Power Reforms Pack More ‘Power’ into the Popular Resistance

November 1 turned out to be a historic day for the Left and democratic movement in Rajasthan. The ‘pink city’ of Jaipur witnessed an unprecedented red spectacle on that day as tens of thousands of small farmers, agricultural labourers, workers and unemployed youth staged an effective blockade of the State Assembly under the united leadership of the three communist parties - CPI(ML), CPI(M) and CPI - backed by formations like the Samajwadi Party and the JD(Secular). The demonstrators were demanding assured and adequate supply of electricity at an affordable rate. Scared by this massive outburst of farmers’ unrest, the Congress Chief Minister who commands a record majority in the Assembly and who never forgets to boast of his administration’s so-called commitment to the three principles of ‘sensitivity, transparency and accountability’ chose to flee to Delhi. But when it became clear that the thousands of peasants would not return to their villages without getting any concrete word from the state government, the energy and irrigation ministers of the state cabinet had to come out of their cosy and insulated chambers in the midst of the resentful demonstrators. The peasants of course threatened to renew their agitation on an even lager scale if there were no visible signs of any emerging solution within November 6.

Recent times have witnessed a series of electrifying expressions of popular unrest sparked off by the ongoing power sector reforms. The arrival of the year was signalled by the historic weeklong strike by power employees in Uttar Pradesh which succeeded in stalling an imminent move towards privatisation. All through the summer we saw a militant united campaign against power tariff hike in Andhra Pradesh which culminated in the end-August gherao of the State Assembly in Hyderabad. And as the winter approaches, it is now the turn of Rajasthan. Held against the backdrop of the forthcoming power reform bill (Amended Electricity Act, 2000), the Rajasthan protest could well prove to be a veritable prelude to a countrywide popular outburst on the crucial issue of electricity.

The experience of Rajasthan shows that the ruling classes are continuously modifying their campaign for power sector privatisation. Perhaps both foreign power generating companies and the central and state governments have taken some lesson from the anti-Enron agitation in Maharashtra and the Cogentrix controversy in Karnataka. The emphasis now is therefore on first dismantling the existing state-dominated structure of the power industry as a public utility sector. State Electricity Boards are being fragmented into smaller units - in Rajasthan the SEB has been broken into as many as five parts - so the private sector and foreign companies could smoothly pick up the smaller pieces at a later point. Meanwhile, power tariff rates are being hiked drastically and, as seen in Rajasthan, SEB employees are being asked to virtually terrorise the small consumers in the name of collection of ancient arrears. The cost of installation of new connections is also being effectively transferred to the customers at the exorbitant rate of Rs. 12,000 for every single electricity pole. All this is being done to further alienate the electricity employees from the consumer and further tarnish the images of state electricity boards so that fragmentation and eventual privatisation of the SEBs could be ‘sold’ as a welcome relief! But the examples of Andhra and Rajasthan indicate that the move could also have the opposite effect by widening the arena of resentment and resistance and creating an objective unity between the workers’ struggle against privatisation and the small consumers’, especially peasants’ demand for adequate availability of power at affordable rates.

If the ruling classes, the monopoly houses and MNCs are drawing their lessons, communists and other fighting forces must also draw their own lessons. The power reforms have unmasked the ugly, brutal, anti-people face of many a ruling party. If the BJP had exposed itself as the ruling party in UP, in Rajasthan it has forfeited its oppositional pretence by keeping silent on this explosive issue. The Congress which was so keen on stealing the show in Andhra is guilty of enforcing similar measures in its own territories in Rajasthan and Delhi. For Chandrababu Naidu, this one single issue of power tariff hikes has almost singlehandedly demolished much of his edifice of cyber-populism. With the whole gamut of ruling parties standing exposed, the ground is clear for the Left to give a clear political direction to the growing popular anger. Of course, the CPI(M)-led governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura will have to steer clear of similar reforms in their respective states and the record of West Bengal has so far been pretty bad and dubious on this count. The agitations in Andhra and Rajasthan have begun to throw up new models of militant Left unity from below. Struggles on the explosive issue of electricity can clearly energise the broader popular resistance against the ongoing imperialist-aided onslaught on life and liberty and intensify the fight for self-reliance and democracy. The way to any meaningful version of Left unity or even third front can emerge from the blockades in Hyderabad and Jaipur and not from Thiruananthpuram-type conclaves. The mood below is for bigger and deeper unity and more vigorous and determined action. The response from above must be made to fall in line and not allowed to disrupt or derail these growing prospects of a democratic resurgence.

Red Storm in Pink City

Tens of thousands of peasants coming primarily from the districts of Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Nagaur and Ganganagar accompanied by good numbers of workers and unemployed youth from almost all over Rajasthan staged an impressive gherao of the Rajasthan Assembly on November 1. The gherao marked the culminaion of a vigorous and sustained campaigning for the last three months on the issue of electricity. In recent days peasants in many parts of Rajasthan have not been able to get electricity for more than two hours a day while the rates and other expenses have been jacked up exorbitantly. With less than average rainfall over the last three years and now electricity supply too becoming extremely erratic and meagre, the agricultural community in drought-prone Rajasthan is threatened with a major failure of crops and consequent outbreak of a near-famine situation. Called by the five party campaign committee comprising CPI(ML), CPI(M), CPI, Samajwadi Party and Janta Dal (Secular), the gherao evoked a massive response and the pink city of Jaipur looked nearly overtaken by a veritable red storm. In front of the State Assembly the blockade was addressed by the state secretaries and other leaders of the three communist parties as well as by Comrades Dipankar Bhattacharya, AB Bardhan and HKS Surjeet and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. Regarding the follow-up action when CPI(M) leader Sheopat Singh called for a 4-hour rail and road blockade on November 16, large sections of demonstrators insisted on continuing the blockade till any concrete steps were announced by the government. Eventually it was decided to stage a sit-in right outside the Assembly gates. In the absence of the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who had chosen to be away from Jaipur, the energy and irrigation ministers met the squatters and promised to guarantee eight hours of assured power supply to farmers within a week. The gherao was eventually lifted after 7-30 in the evening with a call for imposing a ‘janata curfew’ on blacklisted ministers including the chief minister (i.e., greeting them with vigorous protests everywhere) and organising indefinite statewide rail and road blockades if the government failed to keep its promise of improving the power situation within the next few days.

Resist the NDA Govt.’s New Textile Policy

On November 2, the NDA government announced a disastrous new textile policy. While the policy is absolutely silent on the burning question of revival of the hundred-odd mills of the National Textile Corporation - in fact, most of these mills have been asked to close down - it virtually hands over the Indian garments industry to foreign multinationals. The ready-made garments sector has been fully dereserved for the small scale industry and there will be no cap on direct foreign investment in this sector. This single measure of throwing open the garments industry to the big multinational players threatens to sound the death-knell for many small producers and opens the floodgates for more intensive exploitation of the low-paid and highly casualised garment workers including large numbers of women workers. The handloom sector is also likely to be hit hard by the new policy. Trade unions, women’s organisations and all other organisations related to the toiling masses and their battle for survival must stand up against the disastrous implications of this new textile policy.

"NTC Mill Bachao Sangharsh Samiti" has decided to observe protest week from 18th November to 25th November 2000, where the meetings and conventions will be held in Ahmadabad, Mumbai and Kanpur, against the new textile policy and proposed closure and privatisation of NTC mills and retrenchment of mill workers. It's a part of the broader movement of the textile workers of the count

Food grains for Export --but Not for the Poor

The Vajpayee government has approved a Food Ministry proposal to export foodgrains at rates not lower than that for Below Poverty Line population, but deffered decision on the scheme to off-load huge stocks of foodgrains through Antyodaya, a scheme for feeding poorest of the poor at subsidised rates. Last week, the group of ministers had cleared this Antyodaya scheme. The scheme was to give 25 kg of foodgrains to 5% poorest families at the rate of Rs. 2/kg for wheat and Rs. 3/kg for rice. It is understood that the Finance Minister Mr Yashwant Sinha expressed reservations on Antyodaya, which involved a total subsidy of Rs. 1000 crores. He also wondered how the poorest of the poor could be identified by the states. Only last month the Finance Minister had approved a subsidy package of Rs. 400 crores for Punjab in paddy procurement and then for Haryana and Himachal. (The Hindu, Nov. 3, 2000

Andhra Protest World Bank President's Visit

Called by 9 Left parties, a ten days protest programme against the World Bank president's Andhra visit began on 5th Nov. On the first day of campaign a massive road jam was organised. Hundreds of Party supporters blocked the national highway-5 at Tuni for hours. When the first batch of 200 comrades got arrested, the second batch of 100 comrades reached the spot and continued the blockade. A programme of a TDP Minister got disrupted. In Kathipudi, on the same NH-5, Party supporters halted the traffic for more than an hour. In Yellavaram, 150 people were arrested. In Kollapalli, CPI & CPI(M) activists joined the blockade. Party has called for effigy burning programme on 7th Nov. and another protest programme on 10th Nov. at Hyderabad.

CPI (ML) to Intensify Campaign against Privatisation in Delhi.

Delhi State Committee of CPI (ML) will hold a massive rally on 12 Dec. in Delhi against price rise and privatisation. Centred on all-devastating effects of the liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation on the lives and livelihood of working class and the unemployeed youth, this rally is going to be a timely intervention on the part of the left in Delhi.

After the conclusion of six-months long 'Strengthen the Party' campaign, Delhi State Committee of the Party organised a State Cadres' Convention in Delhi on 31 October in which 50 leading cadres participated. It was addressed among others by party Central Committee members Com. Swapan Mukherjee and Com. Kumudini Pati and Com. Rajendra Pratholi, State Secretary of the Party. They emphasized the need and tasks of the party in the present phase and called upon the rank and file of the party in the state to be at the forefront of the struggles of common people. Representatives of different party committees and leading teams as well as the state committee members presented their sum-ups of the last 6 months' campaign. Experiences were shared, shortcoming were identified and tasks were chalked out.

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