Monday, October 16, 2017

Resignation from CSD : Dhruva Narayan

Resignation from CSD _ Dhruva Narayan

7 October 2017

Prof. Muchkund Dubey
Council for Social Development
New Delhi

Subject: Resignation from the post of Managing Editor, Samajik Vimarsh.

Dear Prof. Dubey,
I would like to convey my decision to withdraw myself from the responsibilities of Managing Editor of Samajik Vimarsh, our important initiative conceived as a meaningful intervention in the process of knowledge creation in Indian languages.

The letter from the Director, Dr. Ashok Pankaj dated 6 October 2017 to Ms. Neetu Kalra of Sage asking her to withhold the process of publication of the journal without obtaining registration number from RNI came as an extreme surprise to us. The CSD is well within its right to seek a legal opinion and arrive at a decision when to publish its journal. What pained us was the way it was rushed to her bypassing all normal channels of communication with Sage regarding publication of Samajik Vimarsh throwing aside the established democratic norms of functioning. The matter could have been discussed with the editorial team of Samajik and with Prof Mohanty who has been in constant touch with Sage in this regard. Of course, we always kept the administration of CSD in loop marking all the correspondence with Sage in this regard to the Director and discussing new developments in person from time to time. In this case, instead of rushing a letter to Sage the CSD administration could have called us and discussed the issue and asked us to communicate the decision to withhold the publication to Sage. Instead, while we were in final stages of closing the inaugural 2017 issue of the journal this unilateral letter was sent to Sage and a copy was marked to editor and managing editor of the journal.

I do not think there was any emergency situation where such rash action was required as any publication has its own process which takes time. As an accomplished author you are well aware that there is a time gap between submission of a manuscript and actual production. Hence the manner in which this letter was rushed to Sage was totally uncalled for.

But this is not the first time that the CSD administration has formed an opinion and acted in haste violating all decency and democratic norms. It seems the personnel manning the administration are not fully convinced of utility of bringing out a Hindi journal from CSD. I am listing some incidents where the administration particularly the Director tried to stall the publication process.
  1. After taking over as Director of the CSD, Dr. Ashok Pankaj first raised the issue that being an FCRA holder we are not allowed to publish a newspaper (according to him journals are also issued license as a newspaper by RNI as there is no such category as journal in the Act). That time too the Director violated the normal channels of communication with Sage by calling a meeting with its representatives bypassing the Vice-President who has been in-charge of communication and negotiations with Sage. Anyway, the situation was clarified to him that academic journals are a separate category and there is no legal provision prohibiting CSD from bringing out an academic journal.
  2. Then, doubts were raised that maybe due to editorial team’s political views the government was delaying the registration. We tried to clarify to you and to the Director that this is a normal procedural delay which requires approval of more than eight ministries and departments of the government. Since publication of a journal is not on the priority list of the concerned ministries, the delay could be a result of the normal bureaucratic lethargy our government departments suffer from
  3. Since the registration process got stuck with delayed approvals from various ministries and departments, Sage decided to explore other ways of expediting the process and applied to RNI through licensing branch of Delhi Police. This accelerated the process. But again there were attempts on part of the CSD administration to scuttle the process by not supplying the required documents for submission in time. On one occasion, the attempt was allowed to time out and Sage had to start over the whole process once again. This time fortunately a title was secured by the Sage team for our journal. We all were very enthused and were waiting for registration number to be allotted after the verification process is over.
  4. Meanwhile, I received a letter from Ms. Pallavipushpa Sinha of Sage on 28 September 2017 requesting us to submit the final contents list of the first issue by 30 September 2017 and all the material by 5 October 2017 as they wished to ready the journal for publication by November end. I thought that they just wanted to keep everything ready so that when the registration number came there was no further delay in publication of the journal. Later, Ms. Neetu Kalra clarified that they intend to go ahead with its publication while continuing to pursue the process of obtaining the registration number. Accordingly, we started working overtime in consultation with Prof. Mohanty to complete the process in time and shared with them all the material. We were waiting for your message to readers, as promised by you to Prof. Apoorvanand.
  5. Giving the journal a sound footing involved creating an ecosystem to support and encourage scholarship in Indian languages. Towards this we proposed a series of activities like monthly discussion forums, inviting young scholars to share their research findings, organising writers’ workshops, etc. In fact, the Director himself proposed a series of lectures on pluralism which we incorporated in our proposed activities and roped in Shri Ashok Vajpeyi to deliver the first lecture. The Director without discussing with us stopped the AO from booking a space at IIC. He even did not show the decency to call us for a discussion over the issue, instead chose to instruct the AO not to entertain our request. This compromised not only our standing but the whole organisation’s prestige. We still kept quiet in order to maintain the decorum and dignity of the institution and its management. 

This is just to list a few instances where we felt our authority as editors of the journal, personal integrity and public standing is being undermined deliberately.

Sir, let me clarify here that we never tried to conceal our political views. In fact, you were well aware of our political views before inviting us to join you in bringing out this journal. It would be a gross misinterpretation of facts to say that we ever intended to use this journal as a platform to propagate one type of view. We are firm believer in plurality of views based on a sound system of academic rigour. Hence we invited authors and chose articles which represent this plurality of methodology and understanding. We were always willing to go extra mile to accommodate differing opinions.

I would like to mention that Sage requested us to withdraw one particular review of Praful Bidwai’s book on left movements in India as it mentioned JNU disturbances last year. The Sage representative suggested dropping this piece from the first issue on the basis of their informal chat with a clerk at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Against my conscience I agreed to accede to their request despite the fact that the review in question was highly critical of left politics pointing out its failings and mistakes.

There was another instance of an article analysing the Una incident and the dalit upsurge in its aftermath. Again this article was pointing out the failings of the dalit movement and left politics in general. The Director even without looking at the abstract of the article formed an opinion on the basis of its title and insisted on dropping it. Since we had already decided to defer its publication as it had become somewhat dated in the light of results of UP elections and developments since then, we preferred not enter into any argument with him.

Sir, I am a Marxist but being a Marxist is no crime or stigma. Marxism is a philosophical and methodological category used by scholars all over the world to understand social realities and give direction to processes of social change. Yes, it is true that Marxist traditions in India and elsewhere have lacked inner democracy, and persons in power have misused it to foster an ideological uniformity. But this is equally true of other methodological and ideological persuasions as well, be it rightist or liberal. The lack of democratic values and norms is a much deeper question and the scholars and activists all over the world are grappling to understand it and devise ways to counter such tendencies. There is no dearth of people coming from within Marxist traditions raising the issue of democratic deficit in the established left movements. I too belong to the category of people who repose their faith in pluralist and dialogic traditions.

When I was told that the direction of most of the articles was anti-government, I was surprised. As editors all we were concerned with was whether the articles we were selecting were sound in their method and represented rigorous scholarship.

I have a great respect for you as a scholar and a public personality. I joined the CSD thinking that I may be able to contribute meaningfully to the Indian scholarship under your and CSD’s distinguished faculty’s guidance. But it seems that CSD too suffers from same kind of mediocrity and absence of democratic spirit afflicting other institutions in India.

Since the process of publication of the journal has been stopped unilaterally and our standing as editors has been challenged and compromised systematically I do not think there is any point in my continuing at CSD. This letter should be considered a notice to terminate my current contract ending on 20 January 2018 with immediate effect.

I must take this opportunity to express my gratitude to academic colleagues and staff who made me feel at home at CSD and extended all the help and guidance in my work as managing editor and communication advisor of the CSD.

With warm regards,

Dhruva Narayan

Resignation Letter _ Apoorvanand

Resignation Letter _ Apoorvanand

Professor Muchkund Dubey
President, Council For Social Development

Sub: Resignation from the post of Editor, Samajik Vimarsh
                                                                                                                     7 October 2017

Respected Sir,

This letter is to inform you of my decision to resign from the post of Editor, Samajik Vimarsh, the Hindi journal of the CSD, proposed to be published in collaboration with Sage Publications.

I had been contemplating doing so for the last six months after I noticed attempts by the CSD administration to interfere in the working of the editorial team of the journal and usurp its powers. Till now, going against my own instincts I had restrained myself from taking this step.

I tried to explain to you personally our editorial policy. I went out of my way to share with you and your team the content of the journal and the rationale behind the selection of the articles. I had expected the administration to see reason. Yesterday I realised that I was wrong.

The letter by the Director, CSD to Ms. Neetu Kalra of Sage Publications, asking her to withhold the publication of the journal’s inaugural issue, has convinced me that the administration is simply not interested in its publication and is trying to wriggle out of its commitment using various technicalities. The reason given in the mail by the Director is that a legal issue has arisen as the journal is being published without the approval of the Registrar of Newspapers and this needs to be resolved before the journal is published.

The letter in itself is improper as it bypasses not only the editors but also Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty, the Vice President of the CSD who is now the Head of the Research and Publications Committee. He has been supervising the functioning of the journal on behalf of the CSD administration and is in regular touch with both editors and the publisher. The letter was rushed to Sage without even informing the editors and the head, RPC, let alone consulting them. It breaks the chain of command and has for all practical purposes made the editorial team and the Head of the RPC redundant.

You were aware that Sage took a decision to go ahead with the publication of the journal, while pursuing its request for the RNI number ten days ago. Accordingly it had informed the editorial team that it would like to bring out the inaugural number in 2017 itself. It had waited for more than a year for the RNI number and believed that after securing the title ‘Samajik Vimarsh’ it could go ahead with its publication. Sage is an international publisher and brings out numerous journals in collaboration with institutions across countries. It is inconceivable that it would even think of committing any illegality for the sake of one journal. It must have consulted its legal team before going ahead with the publication of the journal, while the registration process was underway.

We, as part of the editorial team, have been waiting patiently for the last one year for clearance from Sage. The journal should have been launched in January, 2017 itself. The first edition of the journal was ready and papers and articles for the next two also had been finalised so that the schedule could be strictly followed. But the title was not secured and it was impossible to publish the journal with a proposed or tentative title. So, the publishers decided to work with the governmental agencies to expedite the process.

We were informed two months ago that finally the title had been cleared by the concerned agency. Ten days ago we were told by the publishers that they have decided to print the first issue while pursuing for the registration number. They asked us to immediately submit the manuscript of the first edition of the journal.

We decided to drop one article as it had become slightly dated and the author could not have revised it at such a short notice. We brought an article from the second number to meet the deadline and submitted the manuscript.

Subsequently, I wrote to you for your message to the contributors and readers of the journal as the Head of the CSD. Next morning I called you to remind you that we were expecting your message. Then I found you reluctant. You said that apparently the publishers were bringing out only the web edition of the journal and this was not acceptable to you. I told you that this was not the case and the publishers were committed to bring out the journal both in print and online. You did not sound convinced and said that the intent and decision of the CSD was to have a printed journal in Hindi like its English counterpart and it would be very difficult for the CSD to invest its resources only to have a virtual journal. This issue had never come up earlier before us.

As a result, I asked Sage to put it on record that the journal would be brought out both in print and online. With their assurance in this regard I went to you again requesting you to write your message as the journal edition was being closed. Then you raised the issue of the journal’s registration number. I shared with you the letter by Ms. Neetu Kalra in which she had informed us that the journal could be published as the title had been secured and they would keep working with the concerned government department to obtain the registration number. After having seen their letter you promised me to give your message the following day.

When I went to you yesterday for the message you told me that you had decided to withhold the publication as you were not sure whether the content of the journal complied with the guidelines of the editorial advisory body and also if the publication of the journal without the registration number would be legal or not. You told me that you would consult with the head of the RPC and also the general body members available in the town on Monday to take a final decision regarding the publication of the journal. This was a completely new situation which was disturbing for me.

Barely five minutes after my meeting with you I found an email in my inbox from the Director informing the publishers about your decision to put on hold the publication of the journal. The letter was copied to me and the managing editor Shri Dhruva Narayan along with you and Prof. Mohanty.

This letter convinced me that the administration had little regard for the process of discussion and consultation. Unilateral decisions were being taken bypassing the concerned people. The promise of a discussion after the decision has been taken makes the whole thing a farce.

It need not be said that public-ness of an institution can only be ensured by respecting institutional processes and having regard for the autonomy of individual units constituting the institution.

This apart, I have reason to believe that the administration has real discomfort with the journal and the editorial team.

On more than one occasion I was told that the ideological leanings of the editorial team were responsible for the delay in the registration of the journal. Apparently the contents of the journal were thought to be anti-government and also the reason for the governmental agencies not granting the registration number or delaying it. I was also told there was an impression that the contributors belonged to a particular line of thought and there was no diversity of viewpoints.

To be fair to you, you quite frankly told me that you would not like to put CSD in trouble by inviting the wrath of the government by publishing matter critical to it at this stage when it had adopted a vindictive stance vis-a-vis its critics. You as head of the institution had a larger responsibility to ensure its survival and you could not be expected to preside over its liquidation for the sake of a journal.

I did not agree with you but could appreciate your dilemma. You were kind enough to invite me to edit the journal and also accept my suggestion of having Shri Dhruva Narayan as its managing editor. You knew me, my ideological and intellectual position very well before reposing your faith in me. You were also aware of the ideological stance of Shri Dhruva Narayan as he had published your book earlier. Knowing us fully well you took the risk of giving us the editorial responsibility of the journal in an atmosphere in which the government was brazenly targeting organisations and individuals it was suspicious of.

The CSD does not have a corpus large enough to sustain itself without grants from the state agencies. It has to tread with care. I shared this concern. I explained to you that the journal was never intended to be an anti-government platform. It was not a forum for people to express their political opinion. The idea behind the journal was to address the lack of serious, rigorous social science scholarship in Hindi. It was a peer reviewed journal and committed to give space not only to diverse viewpoints but also to expose young scholars to different methods. The government of the day cannot be the sole reference point for ideation and scholarly pursuit. We are against regimentation of thought, be it from left or right or even from those who claim to be liberals but are intolerant to views which are different from theirs.

Let me say that I found it slightly strange that an impression that the articles were anti-government was even entertained. How could such an opinion be formed without even knowing the contents of the articles is beyond me. But when it persisted I decided again to clear the air by sharing with you the abstracts of the papers, the names of the reviewers, which I should not have disclosed to anybody.

I am a person of compromises. I prefer to go extra mile to keep people with me. So, in this case, leaving editorial pride aside, I discussed all the articles with you. Even after this meeting, the administration continued to be suspicious. The RPC was told that matter going into the journal needed to be vetted.

Our editorial advisory team is itself comprised of scholars of repute, belonging to different disciplines and impeccable scholarly credentials. We drew our editorial policy in consultation with them and with your approval we gave it the final shape. Keeping the aims and scope of the journal in mind, we commissioned papers and articles from young and established scholars of differing shades. The peer review process was strictly followed. Authors accepted and revised their papers after the feedback and we as editors exercised our discretion when necessary.

It is not a practice anywhere in the world for editors to get the articles of their journal vetted and cleared by the editorial advisory body. Otherwise the body turns into a censor board and the editors lose their authority and autonomy. They are reduced to being clerks of the advisory body.

The office of the editor cannot be diminished in this manner. Let me recall the meeting of the editorial team of the Social Change, the CSD administration and the representatives of Sage held in July, 2017. In that meeting the Director had proposed that the contents of journal should be run past the Advisory body. This proposal was rejected forthright saying that the authority and autonomy of the editor cannot be compromised.

I fail to understand why the principle, which is accepted for the conduct of the journal in English is not good for another journal published in Hindi by the same institution. Is it because Hindi requires paternalistic supervision as it is thought to be generally excitable?

Let me also put on record that we had initiated some activities to support the journal, which involved no extra costs. They included monthly discussions with young scholars, a Samajik colloquium, etc. But all this was discouraged and stalled.

As I have said before I understand the constraints that the present political situation has put on all academic institutions. It is perfectly understandable that they choose not to confront the government and decide to survive for better days. It is not for me, nor do I have any authority to suggest to CSD how it should function. But recalling your trust and affection you have given me, I would like to request you to not to let administrative suspicions fetter the workers you choose.

It is sad to see however that institutions give way even without a blow. The recent case of buckling down of the EPW Trust in anticipation of a legal threat and removal of its Editor is still fresh in our memory.

I would only say this very humbly that courage should not be reserved only for extraordinary occasions. We need to practise every moment, has to be made an everyday thing, a routine. It is not enough for the government to be asked to follow democratic norms. When we ourselves start self-censorship, we allow corrosion of democracy. Struggle for democracy is not without a cost either. In situations like this I am reminded of a line by the poet Dhumil: काँख भी ढँकी रहे और मुट्ठी भी तनी रहे.

Since we had been interacting with the authors and the wider academic community on behalf of the journal, we will need to put our decision to disassociate with the journal in public domain.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you for having thought of me and putting your faith in me by inviting me to edit the journal. I hope that this single incident would not deprive me of your affection which you have bestowed on me so generously.

I am deeply grateful to Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty for patiently guiding us and negotiating with Sage on our behalf whenever it was needed.

I thank the administrative and academic staff of the CSD for their support during my time as Editor of the Hindi journal.

Thanking you again,

With sincere regards,


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Present Situation and Our Tasks 2014

 (This document has two parts. The first part deals with the international and national situation while the second part is the resolution adopted by the PCC after the 16th Loksabha Election in June 2014. This document was finalized in September 2014. The situation being fluid, many new developments will be observed by November 2014. The Party Congress will take those developments into account.) 

The International Situation

The economic crisis that began in 2008 continues to haunt the world economy. There are frequent hints of recovery, especially in the US economy, but the recovery always proves to be fragile, portending greater disasters ahead. In Europe, German hegemony has kept the German economy afloat while all others except to a certain extent France (strongly allied to Germany) are slowly sinking into a mire of inflation, acute unemployment, homelessness and hunger. Throughout the world, the working class have been subjected to a neo-liberal regime that imposes a ruthless transfer of the burden of the crisis to it. The financial magnates who precipitated the crisis by their gambling with derivatives carry on with their huge profits, salaries and bonuses while the working masses are subjected to a ruthless economic and social squeeze.

The export-led growth strategy pursued by the BRIC and other countries of the South has met with insurmountable roadblocks due to the world slow down. The rate of growth in all of them, including China, has fallen sharply. The continent of Africa is being plundered for its raw materials and the plundering imperialists are in fierce competition through proxy wars.

There are many explanations for the crisis and its duration, but most of them do not delve below the surface. The underlying cause is none other than the prolonged fall in the rate of profit in the real economy in the capitalist centers since the early seventies of the last century. Capitalism has always restructured its way out of the most serious crises in the past but it shows no sign of dealing effectively with this underlying cause except by the hopeful advent of some hitherto unknown and un-thought of technical innovation in the forces of production.

The economic crisis has brought with it a deep political crisis. The multipolar world that emerged after the demise of the Soviet Union was dominated by the US. There were frequent skirmishes with the other great powers but they were mostly confined to the economic sphere, without challenging the dominance of the dollar and did not spill over into military skirmishes or war. There were of course proxy wars, especially in central and sub-Saharan Africa where China has joined the contention between the major colonial powers such as the US, France and Britain.

Has the situation changed in a significant way from the days following the end of the Soviet Union? Is US power now on a sharply declining slope? This is the most significant question today and it arises for various reasons. First, US hegemony is being challenged seriously in Latin America, with some countries challenging the US directly and most others diverging from US diktats in significant ways, most especially in allowing other powers economic entry in a big way and charting independent economic policies. Only a few countries in central America such as Honduras are still ruled by the US embassy. This challenge is in the very backyard of the US. The depth of this challenge can be seen starkly in the developments in Colombia.

Oscillating between setbacks and victories, none of them decisive, an insurgency under the leadership of a group called FARC, which emerged out of a communist party recognized be the Comintern in the early thirties, and still calls itself Marxist-Leninist, has been fighting for power for decades. During the height of US hegemony in Colombia, the marginal peasants, mostly of indigenous origin, were forcibly dispossessed of their meager holdings which were then handed over by the government to large landholdings for agribusiness beholden to US interests. FARC has been fighting government troops and huge militias raised by the landlords and directly hacked by the government. The whole strategy of the government has been backed and directed by the US imperialists and CIA death squads have killed thousands of peasants, intellectuals and FARC leaders. But sustained fighting and diplomatic efforts by Hugo Chavez and Cuba over the last few years seems to have pushed back US power so much that the government of Colombia has been forced to the negotiating table. Most significantly, the main negotiations are taking place in Havana where the question of land reform (the principal demand of FARC) has been agreed upon by both sides. If the negotiations can now move forward to sort out of post disarmament constitutional processes, then that will represent one of the most significant defeats of US imperialism in the region.

Second, the newly emerged (1989) Russian Federation was totally supine before the US until Putin and his ultra-reactionary, great nation chauvinist cohorts grabbed power on a oil boom. Nearing the resolution of US-backed Islamist-Nationalist insurgencies by means as brutal as those used by the US, Britain and France, the Russians are in the process of consolidating a huge security (military) alliance with its own satellites in Central Asia and China. Iran is poised to join it In Libya, the Russians and the Chinese had together tried to stop the US-led imperialist aggression but failed miserable. But is Syria, the two great powers threatened to defend Syria even to the extent of military engagement against US forces and proved the substance of their threat by shooting down a missile of “unknown ownership” sent out of Europe and headed for Syria. The US was forced to desist from another bombing spree and come to negotiations.

This may turn out to be a game changer. Until then, dominance of the US was such that the other great powers either joined it in military adventures – in this case even Britain refused to join the military adventure in Syria – or acquiesced, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a parallel development, Iran has been saved from imminent Israeli-US bombardment by Russian muscle power and tough diplomacy. These new developments have been possible because of US imperialism’s two defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the economic crisis.

Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and some other countries are already shifting their trade substantially from the dollar to the Euro. The Chinese are deep into the process of making the RMB an international trading currency. Even the British are enthusiastic about the Chinese project, offering their financial services to hasten the process.

The outlook ahead is one of great turmoil. Japan is rearming itself swiftly and has taken an aggressive posture vis-à-vis China in the Pacific. Its strategy is closely aligned with of the US and is designed to thwart the burgeoning military might of the Chinese by encircling it. The Germans are also rearming and are financing the opposition, including the local Nazis, in Ukraine. This is direct strategic threat to Russia. When the great powers go into an arms race, turmoil is followed by wars.

But Russia is no pushover like Afghanistan. It is the second biggest nuclear power with advanced delivery systems and it is capable of fighting conventionally. The US plan to further encircle Russia – that is, after the ongoing attempts in central Asia – the world could be plunged into Armageddon. It is now for the world to see who blinks first. In Syria, Obama blinked. Putin may not do so over Ukraine.

The National Situation

Where is India in this conjuncture? Share of manufacture in her GDP is very small and falling. Her currency is depreciating against the dollar and sterling. Her current account deficits are mounting – with China alone, it has climbed beyond 30 billion dollars. Unheard of inflation, especially in staples such as grains, vegetables and essential proteins, has been stalking the land on a rising curve. Layoffs, retrenchment, dismissals and actualization are the common stories shared by millions. The meager amounts of food safety provisions and public works such a NREGA cannot plumb the depths of misery into which the overwhelming majority of our population have fallen.

Agricultural production has slumped due to the lack of infrastructural support from Government for a long time. Agricultural prices at the farm gate have slumped catastrophically while input prices have soared. No wonder then that thousands of peasants commit suicide. And no surprise that lakhs of peasants, men, women and children, migrate out to the cities and other states in search for below subsistence service sector jobs. The much vaunted high rate of urbanization is nothing but cramped unhygienic spaces and lives of below minimum wage work, malnutrition and disease.

This was supposed to be the era of export-led growth but after two decades of it, all we seem to be able to substantially export are mineral ores scooped up by an inhuman and illegal process of displacing and killing forest dwelling tribes and others unfortunate enough to live above or near rich mineral resources.

Our big bourgeoisie is still dependent on imperialism for capital, technology and markets. The central and state governments are all in a race to the bottom for foreign capital, the “Left” governments not excepted. Major industries such as cars, cement and many other industries are directly owned by multinationals. In other large scale, modern industries the big bourgeoisie rides piggy back on multinational. There is a deepening of compradorization. The myth that the Tatas and other Indian big houses have themselves become exporters of capital needs to be seen carefully. Take Tata’s takeover of Tetley. Almost the whole of the capital expenditure came from Wall Street financiers who are using the Tatas in the global market as they have done in India over a long period, ever since the Tatas began as opium exporters for the British. The IT industry so called is nothing but telephone operators for multinational firms. Imperialism has become a greater menace than it ever was since 1947.

Compradorization has, as in many countries of the South, led to vicious cycles of cronyism and corruption. Every economic decision made at high levels is an exercise in rank corruption, helping the politicians and the bureaucracy to help themselves while helping the imperialists and their big bourgeois compradors.
Everyone was singing the GD story till the crash 2008. Now there is song of woe. The currency is at the memory flowing in and out according the moves initiated by the US Federal Reserve. The GDP shows no signs of recovery. The economic picture is bleak indeed.

In short, the world economic crisis has caught up with India and there is no respite. This has precipitated further fragmentation of the political system. The CBI is at the throat of the IB and vice-versa. The bureaucracy is leaking like sieves in turf wars. The political parties have carried their fragmentation to new heights since the process began in the eighties of the last century. Many NGO-led mass movements are coalescing with political forces to give rise to new parties, the principal one being the Aam Admi Party which gave vent to the masses’ disaffection with the big political parties and formed the government in an important state such as Delhi.

The election to the 16th Loksabha was held in such a situation. The Indian big bourgeoisie and their imperialist mentors wanted a political situation where democratic rights can be curtailed, labour-laws can be dispensed with land and natural resources can be acquired by the multinationals and all resistance can be crushed. In order to overcome the vacillations observed during the earlier regime, they wanted a one-party rule in Delhi . With this aim the big bourgeoisie formed an alliance with the Hindutva forces and succeeded in installing Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. We have analysed it the second part of the document entitled The 16th Loksabha Election and Our Tasks.


(Adopted by the PCC on 15-16 June 2014)

In the Loksabha election,2014, Narendra Modi, the choice of corporate-Hindutva Alliance has won. His party, the BJP has secured single majority by getting 31.2% votes and winning 282 seats. The NDA led by it has won 336 seats with 38.5% votes. The Congress, which ruled the country over last ten years has miserably lost with 19.5 % votes and 44 seats. Its alliance, the UPA has got 23.5% votes.

In 1984, the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi had won single majority. Thirty years after that any party got a majority and is in a position to form a single party government. In the parliamentary history of India, Congress alone got majority in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1971, 1980 and 1984 and the Janata Party got it in 1977. But in those elections, the winning party got votes ranging from 40.8% to 48.1% votes. This is for the first time that a party got majority with only 31% votes. There are many other features unique to this election. For example, no Muslim candidate has been elected from U.P., the state with the highest number of Muslims in the country. Overall, the number of Muslim members has sharply declined. Again, the BSP got 20% votes in U.P. and is the third largest party in the country in terms of vote share but none of its candidates has won. Out of every 10 voters, less than four have supported Modi as Prime Minister and more than six have opposed him. But this victory is being hailed as “epoch-making” and “historic “ by the media.

There is another feature unique to this election. The entire big bourgeoisie wanted Modi as Prime Minister. There was unprecedented amount of fund-flow to one party, which spent more than Rs 5000 crores in advertising alone. This is comparable to Barak Obama’s election expenditure in U.S. Presidential election. The big newspaper groups and electronic media did whatever they could do in their capacity to project Modi and his Gujarat model of development. It mattered little to them that Gujarat is a middle-ranking state in terms of social development indices.

This is for the first time in India’s history that an individual has been projected as Prime Minister and people have been asked to vote for him. It is clear that there is an attempt to weaken the multi-party parliamentary system and replace it with something like a Presidential form of government , of course without the checks and balances that are there in the U.S. There is reason to apprehend that India’s constitution has to some extent been compromised. After election, they have hailed Modi’s victory. On 17th May, a big newspaper carried an article by Jagdish Bhagawati in which the economist hailed Modi’s victory as “India’s Second Revolution”. According to him, the beginning of reform in 1991 was the first revolution and “ we stand again at the edge of second revolution”. “ He (Modi) should declare that he will return India to a high growth path by boldly opening the economy, as he did in Gujarat to trade and foreign investment. He should also emphasize that the social spending without the revenues resulting from the growth is a sure recipe for inflation. It will harm and not help the poor”, he said.

On the same day, Arvind Panagariya in an article, accused the UPA government of “intrusion into the lives of the people through extension of rights approach to housing, entrepreneurship and health”. Mr Ruchir Sharma, head of a foreign investment company accused the earlier government of “encouraging farmers to stay home by subsidizing rural incomes”.”India needs to encourage urban migration and rise of new cities”. On 23 May, economist Ashok Gulati advised to “ contain and rationalize food and fertilizer subsidies and MNREGA expenditures, all of which together cost the country roughly between Rs 250000 to Rs 300000.”

It is not that the UPA government was pro-people or anti-corporate. It did as much as it could to deepen the reform, gave lakhs of crores of rupees to big capitalists in the form of tax-concessions and gave them access over valuable resources like coal, oil and gas and spectrum for plunder. But at the same time it passed the Right to Information Act, the Forest Act, the Right to Education Act, the Food Security Act and the amended Land Acquisition Act . The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act were not quite satisfactory but it was better than the existing Act. Moreover, the UPA government had started the Mid-day Meal in schools and MNREGA. The big bourgeoisie did not like them. While the pro-reform economists like Bhagawati, Panagariya and Gulati criticized them in sophisticated languages, the small section of people who employ labour and particularly child-labour opposed them bluntly. “If the children of Bagdis, Bauris and Doms go to school, who will take care of our cattle ?”, said the rural Babus. After the introduction of MNREGA, they insisted that these schemes should not be implemented during the sowing and harvesting season. Actually in West Bengal, they compelled the State Government and the Panchayats not to carry out the schemes during cultivation season.

The agenda of the “second revolution” is to open the economy fully to FDI, carry out financial sector and labour reform and introduce the policy of “Hire and Fire”, to curtail whatever little social security is there (Mid-day Meal, MNREGA, Food subsidy and Fertiliser Subsidy etc) and crush whatever resistance against forcible land acquisition is there in different parts of the country. Manmohan Singh was depicted as “weak” because he could not carry out the agenda of the “second revolution” . So, an Iron Man has been placed at the helm of affairs who has the dubious record of suppressing all democratic voices and the Gujarat genocide. The unstated part of the agenda of second revolution is being propagated by Panchajanya and Organiser, Who are demanding saffronisation of education and culture in the name of “National” education. The NDA had actually started it but could not go very far. Now is the time to fulfill the dream of Savarker and Golwalkor, to destroy the milieu of diversity from India’s social and political life. The Nagpur agenda fits well with the Mumbai agenda (the agenda of Ambanis, Tatas, Adanis and others). The big bourgeoisie in alliance with imperialist capital has chalked out this agenda, part of the medium and small bourgeoisie and the landowners in rural areas had joined it and the RSS had tied them together with the thread of Hindutva. This alliance had planned communal disturbances in U.P. and it has yielded result. The first part of the agenda of Corporate-Hindutva alliance has been successful and Modi has been installed in power. In the first cabinet meeting he has cleared 100% FDI in defence, which only indicates the nature of things to come. This is a situation of great concern for the working class, the peasantry, the middle classes, the Dalits, the Adivasis and the religious minorities. In a vast and diverse country like India it is difficult to impose a fascist rule, but the intention of the ruling classes is clear. So the people of the country must get prepared for a bitter struggle. The party must be with the people in this struggle. The situation demands the broadest possible unity of all secular and democratic forces on the basis of a common minimum programme of defending secularism, democratic values and social security measures and opposing reform programmes. The parties opposed to the NDA have secured nearly 62% votes. They include the UPA allies (23.5%) and others(38%). It shows that nearly two-third of the electorate did not accept Modi as Prime Minister. There are large number of people who value secularism and democracy. But forging an unity of these people is not easy. In U.P. for example, the SP and BSP together have got 42% votes, same as what BJP and its allies got. But the BJP won overwhelming majority of seats due to division of votes between secular parties. In Bihar, too, the division of votes between RJD and JD(U) helped the BJP. Just after the election, these parties are coming together in Bihar but the situation is difficult in UP. In West Bengal, the TMC has won 34 seats. But during and after the election, they resorted to unprecedented terror on all opposition particularly the Left forces. This has complicated the situation in West Bengal and unity of secular forces on a common platform is difficult.

The parliamentary strength of the Left parties has substantially gone down. This is mainly, due to their poor performance in West Bengal. This poor performance is due to several causes. Since their victory in the Assembly election of 2011, the TMC launched all out attack on the Left. During the last three phases of election in West Bengal ( in which 32 seats went to the polls), the active passivity of the Election Commission helped the Trinamul to resort to booth capturing on a large scale. This is one of the causes of poor performance of the Left. But this is not the main reason. In Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, for example, there was no report of large scale terror. But the Left lost those seats. Jalpaiguri is a district where 67% of the population blong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. A large chunk of the SCs are Kamatapuri speaking and the tribals are Sadri-speakers. Occupationally, they are tea-garden labourers and poor peasants. These people, victims of worst form of class exploitation and national suppression are the natural allies of the Left and they were with the Let for a long time. It is due to the wrong policies of the Left parties and the Left Front government that these people have shifted loyalty to some Rightist and fascist parties. The same is true to different extents in different parts of West Bengal including Jangalmahal. The Left parties are yet to rectify their wrong policies.

It is also a matter of great concern that the BJP has made substantial inroads in West Bengal. This is due to several causes. A part of the people who voted for the BJP were swayed by the propaganda of Gujarat model. This happened more in urban areas. Another section voted for it with the expectation that it will give some protection against the reign of terror unleashed by the TMC.

It should also be noted that the Left parties took a soft attitude towards the BJP campaign with the expectation that the BJP would cut into TMC votes. It misfired. The Left lost more than the TMC. Even if it would yield result, it was sheer opportunism. In the end of 2013, the Left parties had convened a meeting of secular parties in Delhi. But the propaganda against the BJP was not carried out vigorously. Above all, the Left Front had gained massive majority in West Bengal in 2006 with the slogan of industrialization. It was difficult for people to demarcate between the Left Front’s slogan of industrialization and Modi’s Gujarat model. We should continue with our critiques of the Left Front but it must be said that their loss of strength in Parliament wii weaken the struggle against the “Second Revolution”, the agenda of the corporate- Hindutva forces.

Within a few days of swearing in ceremony, the Modi government has taken a major decision of allowing 100% FDI in defence. Previously it was 26 %. We know that this government is going to take many such steps including privatization of Banks. Railways, Airlines and mines.

Moreover, a Minister of State has twitted that Art 370 be abrogated. Also, the 4.5% quota for Muslims in central government jobs has been questioned. From these initial moves, it can be apprehended that the Modi government is going to open up the economy wholly to foreign investment ,carry out the second generation of reforms, curtail social security measures and treat the 18% of the population (the minorities) as Anuprabeshkari (illegal immigrants) who have no right, not even right to life. This is a new political situation different from the situation of 67 years after independence. The danger of corporate-Hindutva fascism is looming large over the country. There is grave threat to diversity, the binding force in India’s democracy.

At the same time the situation has created new scopes and opportunities of struggle. The mediation of Nehruvian socialism and social democracy are no longer there between the ruling classes and the Indian people. It also opens up opportunities for new alliances. The party should take active steps to build broad-based unity of all secular and democratic forces on the basis of a common minimum programme which should include (1) Defence of secularism (2) Defence of democratic values and institutions (3) Implementation and expansion of social security measures (4) opposing rampant privatization and other reform measures and (5)oppose displacement of population from land and livelihood in the name of big dams and other development projects sponsored by the imperialists. We should be clear that it is necessary to reach out to political parties like the S.P.,the B.S.P., the RJD, the JD(S), JD(U), UDF, the various Jharkhandi parties, the Aam Admi Party, the Left parties and parties like the TMC. Some of these parties are in power or were in power in some states and while in power ,they succumbed to neo-liberal policies to different extent. The people have to fight against those policies. But in the new political situation, it would be wrong to equate them with the fascist forces. It would be useful to adopt attitude of unity and struggle with them. The degree of unity with these parties will depend on the extent to which they oppose communal fascism and reform measures.

There is some problem with the TMC in West Bengal. Since they came to power in 2011, they have unleashed a reign of terror against all opposition forces, the Left forces in particular. After the Loksabha election, that attack is continuing. In this situation, the people have no alternative but to oppose them along with opposing the communal fascist forces. However, if they change their attitude and allow democratic functioning of other parties, we shall welcome that change and it may be possible to have some sort of unity with them, on the issue of privatization, centre-state relations and defence of secularism, for example.

The Congress has been defeated and its parliamentary strength greatly reduced. But it is still a party with a national presence and in a sense the only national level party in India. There are feudal forces, reactionaries and corrupt people in this party but at the same time, there are liberal and secular forces. Also, there are forces opposed to rampant privatization. Hence it would be useful to take a cautious approach towards the Congress and it may be possible to have unity with Congress forces in mass movements on some issues in some states. Most of the communist revolutionary forces are yet to make any distinction between fascism and liberal democracy and between communalism and secularism. To them, there is no distinction among the BJP, the Congress, the SP, the BSP, the RJD, the JDU, the Left parties and the TMC. Their simple analysis is that they are all ruling class parties and have to be opposed equally. The communist revolutionary forces might have been a dependable core in the unity against communalism and fascism. But due to their dogmatic viewpoint, it is difficult to have them in a secular democratic alliance. However, we should maintain friendly relations with them and unite with them in mass movements as far as possible. Some of them may realise the gravity of the situation and may be willing to participate in a secular democratic alliance.

We should specially try to unite with the oppressed castes, the tribes, the oppressed identities and the religious minorities. They constitute the overwhelming majority of the Indian people. They are the people to be most affected by the neo-liberal onslaught of the Corporate-Hindutva combine. From the time of the Mandal movement, we have maintained friendly relations with these people and on many occasions have participated in joint movements with them. In 1986, when we started the Conventions on Communalism and Threat to Diversity, we had reached out to various individuals and organizations representing these people. But we could not evolve any organizational form where we could work together with these people. Now we should take fresh initiative in reaching out to the oppressed identities and seriously consider the evolution of suitable organizational forms. Whether the alternative organizational forms will take the form of a mass organization or a co-ordination of several mass-organisations or a mass-political party will depend upon future developments and we are keen to open dialogue with all such forces so that we may agree on some suitable form.

At the same time, the party should take some initiative in building broader Left unity. The strength of the Left parties has been greatly reduced, from more than 60 in 2004 to just 12 in 2014. Some of our Naxalite friends are rejoicing at this development. Some have explained the defeat of the Left parties in terms of revisionism practiced by the CPI and the CPI(M). The BJD in Orissa, the TDP in Andhra Pradesh and the AIADMK in Tamilnadu have achieved massive victories. Does it mean that they were following some revolutionary or pro-people policies ? It should be kept in mind that, despite bad results, the Left parties have got 4.7% of popular votes, next only to BJP and Congress. In absolute terms, this amounts to more than 25 million votes. It is a reality that the largest contingent of Left forces are still with the Left parties particularly the CPI(M). After defeat in parliamentary election, a serious rethinking has started among the rank and file of the Left parties. There was a time when they were not willing to hear anything from us. Now the situation has changed. In West Bengal, in particular, thousands of Left cadres and followers have been driven out of their homes, many have been killed, some have been evicted from their khas and Barga lands and large number of false cases have been started. In such a situation, some sort of unity with Left parties will help us reach out to the cadres and masses and a dialogue can start among the Left forces.

There are many NGOs working in the country. Their functioning presents a complex picture. Some of them are very active against eviction and other reform measures. We should have no hesitation in joining hands with them. However, the party should deeply study the mode of functioning and funding of different NGOs and be careful about imperialist interventions in mass movements.

As distinct from other Naxalite groups, the PCC saw the danger of communal fascism through the rise of Modi. But this understanding could not be translated into concrete action. I In West Bengal, for example, we set up our own candidate in one seat and supported some Sangrami Bam in few others. But in overwhelming majority of seats, we took a line of pressing the NOTA button. This was no different from the line of other Naxalite groups or some anarchists. In the 2014 election, when it was clear to all except the blind that the imperialists and the big bourgeoisie had made a choice in Modi (unprecedented in India’s history),it was imperative for the Left, democratic and secular forces to have given the call “Defeat Modi”. Considering India’s electoral system, where there is no weightage to the proportion of votes polled by a party, the people had to make choice among anti-Modi forces and to vote for the strongest candidate against Modi’s candidate. The Muslims all over the country actually did it with fair degree of accuracy. But the revolutionary Left failed to grasp the situation. Whatever little we achieved in 1947, were at stake in 2014. In such a situation, comments like “People are concerned with food and jobs and environment and not with votes “are typical anarchist comments . When the imperialists and the Indian big bourgeoisie are making use of the electoral process to install a FAR RIGHT regime, it is imperative for the Left and democratic forces to use the election in a manner that defeats the imperialist design.

On the question of building mass movements, the party should concentrate on issues of social security (Right to Food, MNREGA, Right to Education, Forest Act etc), issues of rampant privatization, the issue of eviction of people for big dams, mines, industries and other “development’ projects, price-rise and issues of democratic and civil rights. Special efforts have to be made to organize the working class both in the organized and unorganized sector and the formation of Grameen Sramik Union should be stressed. In areas where genocidal attacks against Muslims and other minorities are being regularly carried out, the people are building resistance. The party should help these people and organize resistance. After winning seven seats in Assam, the BJP may be tempted to incite Assamese chauvinism against minorities and try to create a situation like that of 1980s. The party should be vigilant about it. Keeping in mind the general situation described above the states will discuss the specific features and chalk out policies and programmes.

The party will issue a call and start dialogue with political parties and social formations for a preliminary organizational initiative.

Latest from Modi: Abolition of Planning Commission, FDI in Railways, Deregulation of Labour. .

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Foreword to "Ideas for the Struggle" by Marta Harnecker

This is an English translation of a Spanish handbook published five years ago. The author Marta Harnecker is a well-known revolutionary who was involved with revolutionary resistance against the CIA-Pinochet coup in her native Chile. In exile, mostly in Cuba where she wrote extensively on that country’s revolutionary process, she is now deeply involved with the revolutionary process in Venezuela.

It is obvious that she is writing for a Latin American audience and the experience she sums up comes mainly from that vast region. Starting from huge mass uprisings—she calls them insurrections—in various countries such as Argentina, she raises pertinent questions regarding their failure to seize power. Her diagnosis is that the heroic, spontaneous mass actions failed because they lacked ‘a political instrument capable of overcoming the dispersion and fragmentation of the exploited and the oppressed...’ This political instrument must be one that ‘can create spaces to bring together those who, in spite of their differences, have a common enemy; that is able to strengthen existing struggles and promote others by orientating their actions according to a thorough analysis of the political situation; that can act as an instrument for cohering the many expressions of resistance and struggle.’

‘And I envisage,’ she says, ‘this political instrument as an organisation capable of raising a national project that can unify and act as a compass for all those sectors that oppose neoliberalism. As a space that directs itself towards the rest of society, that respects the autonomy of the social movements instead of manipulating them, and whose militants and leaders are true popular pedagogues, stimulating the knowledge that exists within the people—derived from their cultural traditions, as well as acquired in their daily struggle for survival—through the fusion of this knowledge with the most all encompassing knowledge that the political organisation can offer.’

Development of such a ‘political instrument’ is and has been thwarted by ultra-democracy and bureaucratic centralist commandism. New militants and leaders of many large-scale movements have, as a reaction to bureaucratic centralism practised by many Left parties, have become highly suspicious of any centralism. Marta tries to allay these suspicions in two ways: first, by showing that movements cannot progress without a centralism that is well grounded in democracy, that respects and creates spaces for minorities; secondly; that a correct ‘political instrument’ would not seek to impose its hegemony but achieve it through the consent that emerges in handling all progressive social and political forces fairly, without impositions and capable of producing a totalizing vision that moves from everyday struggles to seizure of power. The Left’s failure to harness the huge forces that seethe and boil in actions—large and small—against neoliberalism and other capitalist forces and what is to be done to achieve that is the true content of this inspiring book. The major ­sections in the book are descriptions of Left sectarianism, commandism and the failure to come to terms with the various new features of struggle in a globalized world.

She builds on her Latin American experience but from her evidence we find much that we can learn and reflect upon in South Asia. I found uncanny resemblances between that foreign experience and our own. The power of Marta’s generalizations render to us universal truths about the state of the Left movement everywhere. All activists should be aware of this book.

Vaskar Nandy
17 March, 2014 Malbazar, North Bengal

Election Call of the CPI (ML)-PCC

A vicious combination of parliamentarians, military and civilian bureaucrats and very big capitalists have been sucking the life blood out of the Indian people through policies and the corruption of those policies. These policies have many dimensions but their combined message is to make the very rich richer and trickle some of the wealth down to the poor. Over the last three decades of the imposition of such policies by both the big parties that have ruled India alternatively, very little of the trickling down has taken place but the rich have gotten obscenely rich.

Amidst the din of false claims about lifting millions out of poverty, it is instructive to look at the new food security law. There we see that the government itself recognizes that nearly 75 per cent of Indians cannot afford to eat enough to sustain themselves. Some trickle down indeed! What we in fact have is a flood of unemployment, under-employment, low wage unregulated employment, unrestrained price rise in essential and other commodities, malnutrition and lack of healthcare, a farcical system of underfunded primary education, slums and rudimentary housing, and the forcible displacement of millions of rural and urban poor for the aggrandizement of big, comprador corporations.

The country has come to such a pass at full speed since 1991 when the existing export-led growth policy was sought to be strengthened by neo-liberal policies that accord with the dictates of US imperialism through the IMF, WTO and the World Bank. Since the big crisis of the world economy after 2008 our big growth story has dwindled to wishful thinking. More than that, the political system is crumbling, the bureaucracy is leaking through every pore, the judiciary is often exceeding constitutional limitations and is involved in some corruption and the armed forces have overruled executive decisions as in the case of the AFSPA.

The BJP and the Congress now face a general election in a few weeks from now. Both will tell lies and promise much. But the Indian people will not listen; they have not done so in the past and returned hung parliaments in which both the big parties managed to stitch together immoral coalitions with bribes and threatened prosecutions of tainted lesser players such as Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

This time around, the BJP hopes for a breakthrough by projecting as the future Prime Minister a man whose hands are dyed red by masterminding pogroms, riots and false encounters against Muslims. Backed by a formidable electoral machinery that has bought into a US company that specializes in black electoral propaganda and dirty tricks, this man Mody strides across India like a fuehrer who will save India by following the Gujarat “model”, which is neo-liberalism and crony capitalism at its worst.

The Congress also follows neo-liberalism and crony capitalism, but unlike Modi, it tries to temper the hardships caused by some pro-people policies such as MGNREGA, cheap rations through the PDS, the Right to Information Act, etc. But as the Congress approaches the current elections, it remains mired in a colossal corruption that has aroused the anger of the poor. The BJP is also tainted by similar corruption as in the coal scam and its alliance with the Reddy brothers and Yedurappa. In fact all parties big and small, including the parliamentary left, are mired in corruption. But the smaller parties have limited access to corporate and imperialist munificence and hence, they are far lower down in the corruption hierarchy.

Before the elections, the two big parties are trying to augment their alliances, but without much success. The smaller parties are mostly regional in scale no matter what their national aspirations are. It is not clear which way they will go after the elections. Certainly, if they unite they can stitch together a government that excludes both the big parties. But the chances for such unity is remote, given the rivalries for votes among them, viz. Mayavati vs Mulayam, Mamata vs CPI (M), etc. What will probably happen is a hung parliament that will add to the forces disintegrating the Indian state. Even that is better than another five years of the NDA or the UPA.

What should the people of India do under these circumstances? The first principle should be to not vote for either of the two big parties. Second, when the choice is only between the NDA and the UPA, the people must vote for the Congress in order to keep out the shameless forces of communalism and crony capitalism, a heady mixture that breeds fascism. Third, among the regional parties, the people should opt for those that have shown no inclination to join the NDA in any post-poll alliance, but the general principle should be to vote for them according to their chances of defeating the two big parties. In West Bengal, the BJP is a force in a few constituency such as Krishnanagar, the forces in contention should be judged according to the balance of forces and either of the two major parties, the CPI (M) and the TMC should be supported to defeat the BJP. The same applies to the Congress strongholds. The TMC and the CPI (M) have track records of authoritarian, violent rule so there is not much to differentiate between them. Where they are in direct combat, if there are no people’s forces fighting the elections, the people should exercise the “None of the Above” option to record their dissent. In all constituencies where genuine people’s forces such as many ML and genuine national and socialist forces, the people should vote for them to accumulate forces for further struggles.

But under no circumstance should the Fascist forces led by Nanrendra Modi and the NDA achieve power in Delhi.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tea Garden Struggles

Vaskar Nandy

Economic compulsion of the worker and the consequent domination of the worker by the capitalist is the characterising principle of all capitalist production yielding surplus value and normal profits by a process of realisation. But capital, whether in advanced or backward capitalism, has always attempted to pay wages at below value by various means of extra-economic compulsion, with or without the backing of the state.

Historically, capital has even created extreme forms of such extra-economic coercion, as in the brutality of the modern slave system in the Americas, the West Indies, Cuba, South Africa, etc. Once slavery was finally abolished through protests, revolts and war (but even before that in the Dutch colonies) a new form of slavery, the plantation system came into being that mainly safeguarded super-profits in indigo, sugarcane, rubber, tea, etc. The strongest survivor of that system is in the tea industry of North East India.

Starting in the 1830s, after the annexation of Assam in 1826, the British found tea to be growing wild in Assam. Exploration and experiments finally decided against the local plant variety and it was decided to plant a Chinese variety suited to the soil in Assam.

Large scale production of tea in Assam was seen as a boon by the East India Company, both as a very profitable proposition in itself and also as a way to snatch the monopoly of Chinese tea in a thriving and growing international market. It would also go a long way towards solving its balance of trade problems with China.

Long decades of civil war—one of the great peasant wars—and following it, a series of genocidal wars by the Burmese King forced many of the survivors in Assam to flee to neighbouring regions. The country lay waste and much of the land went back to forest. The hills of Darjeeling, the Terai plains (Darjeeling district) and the sub- montane tracts of the Dooars (Jalpaiguri district) -all annexed within a few decades—were mainly forest and sparsely populated. The Company, spurred on by the hope of monopolising the sale of tea world-wide, started to make large land grants to all would be British planters without charging any land revenue. British investors, both from among the local functionaries of the company and from the UK., who did not know anything about planting and manufacture of tea, could rely on a new corporate entity, the managing agency. The individual gardens or cluster of them belonging to the same owners were incorporated in England.

Now the problem was to find the large number of workers needed for the estates. The local populations in these regions refused to work in the plantations once they realised that life in the estates was a form of slavery more onerous that any suffered under the Ahoms or other chiefs. It was then thought that Chinese labourers from the tea belts in Southern China, generally impoverished as they were and not averse to migration for work, could be brought in to work in the North East Indian tea estates. But that attempt failed when the Chinese labourers that were brought in initially refused to work in the conditions and demands of the workplace and more or less withdrew.

It was then that recruitment focused on the tribal and semi-tribal populations of Nepal (mainly for work in the Darjeeling hills) and the hundreds of thousands of the tribals and semi-tribals from the mainly eastern part of the central Indian plateau—West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa—to work in the increasingly proliferating number of estates in the Terai, Dooars and Assam. The overwhelming majority of the latter shared a wide ranging socio-cultural ethos in their homeland and which can be called the Jharkhandi ethos. But they spoke various languages belonging to the Mundari subset of the Austro-asiatic group of languages and also several languages of the Dravidian group. The Nepalese group also spoke various Tibeto-Burman languages such as Tainang, Gurung, Magar, Limbu, Newari and Nepali, the last of which was in the process of standardisation.

The military feudalism in Nepal and aggressive expansionist wars fought by the chiefs led by the King had immiserated the Nepalese peasantry, especially the tribals; in the Bengal Presidency, the permanent settlement, rack renting by the Zamindars and usury had created famine conditions. Enticement, chicanery, fraud and violence reminiscent of the West African slave trade were used by agents of the industry known as arkattis to recruit workers. It was not long before that this system of recruitment proved counterproductive. The managing houses then shifted to the sardari system by which some workers were chosen and nurtured through privileges and sent off to their native places to lure workers into the tea estates. On returning from their various forays, these privileged men, known henceforth as Sardars, soon became the supervisors monitoring work and every other aspect of the workers' lives for the management.

Plantations are in remote and backward regions. This has played a major role in the lives of the plantation workers. The first problem was the transportation of the workers over very long distances by train for a small part of the journey, on foot and boat. Thousands died on the way. Hundreds of thousands died after arrival from Malaria, Kalazar, diarrhoea and dysentery. Sanitation, drinking water, housing and medical care were deplorable.

But once inside a plantation, there was no escaping, not even to a neighbouring garden. The state gave the managers limited magisterial powers as Justices of the Peace, allowing them to imprison people for one month and /or deliver up to 15 lashes of the birch. Being found outside the estate attracted both punishments. There were also state sponsored cavalries and militias officered in the main by estate managers. These were meant to search and arrest the many workers who tried to flee and also to intimidate the workers against the frequent protests and demonstrations.

One of the more important elements in the mechanism for keeping the workers confined to the estate was the payment of the meagre wages not in cash but company tokens. The company sponsored shop on the estate would exchange them for rations for the family and a few essentials. This meant that shopping was not tolerated as an excuse for being outside the estate.

This confinement within the estate and the remote location and inaccessibility of those estates created an enclave economy. This economy had exceptionally minimal exchanges with the local economy. Local purchases of grains soon gave way to wholesale purchases by the Calcutta managing agencies and their designated suppliers and distributors. The boxed tea would travel out of the estates by bullock carts, lorries where there were roads, country and steam boats to Calcutta where they would be loaded on to ships for transport to the London auctions. This is an earlier version of the SEZ.

Work on the plantation was so onerous that an ex-planter and the leader of planters as the big boss of the Indian Tea Association, could recollect in the tranquillity of an Oxford college that the heavy physical labour of the women pluckers in the tea gardens could not be sustained by the strongest British workmen. In the plantations it was not just able bodied men and women who had to toil like this. The old and the children, in their hundreds of thousands, had also to labour to almost beyond their capacities. The token provided rations for all and so everyone had to work. And work was from a little after sunrise to a little before sunset except during the lean period of two months during the winter when there was some relaxation.

There was very little technical division of labour. Carpenters, fitters, etc were usually people of Chinese origin or were non-tribals brought in from outside the estate. At first the migrant workers sieved the tea in their grades, packed them in boxes and helped the technical hands; by the 1920s these workers began to master the machines. Towards the end of the 1930s, when motorised transport and some tractor ploughing became general, many had acquired driving skills and some machining. But of course factory and other technical work absorbs around 5 percent of the labour force. All women and a majority of the men have always been assigned to the hazards and toil of field work.

The less said about the housing of the workers the better. The bamboo and thatch were provided by management but the workers were obliged to collect them. Enough of those materials were normally provided to build one hut and a makeshift kitchen. Three, sometimes four generations were expected to manage with such housing. Even today, the overwhelming majority of workers do not have latrines of any sort. Apart from the main drains out of the planted area, there were no drains and even today the estate drainage systems are deplorable.

There were no hospitals or doctors and nurses. Delivery was by traditional midwives or experienced neighbours. Frequent epidemics were the norm.

The nineteenth century passed more or less in these conditions. There were very small incremental changes due to many anti-planter disturbances created more or less locally. The history of nineteenth century struggles of the tea workers has not been excavated extensively yet.

One non-violent but very effective protest in the 1920s drew a lot of comment from Bengali nationalists. Thousands of workers defied the management in Assam and daring the police apparatus of the government walked out of their gardens and trekked hundreds of miles to the steamboat jetty in Madarihat in Bengal wanting to board boats travelling towards western Bengal. They were surrounded by the armed forces and fired upon, killing a few hundred workers. The survivors, men, women and children, were force marched back to their plantations. Sections of the nationalist press in Bengal protested the incident and described the situation of the tea workers in horror-stricken cadences. The clandestine participation of tea workers during the preparations for revolt by the martyr Piyali Phukan in 1857 or the spread of the anti-imperialist Tana Bhakat movement among tea workers, especially in Jalpaiguri were noted by British intelligence and prosecutions followed in several cases. But the press took very little notice of them. But it is clear that the extreme domination of the planters left room only for the many violent and non-violent protests and this alarmed the colonial government and metropolitan capital.

By the time of independence, there was a rudimentary healthcare system, primary schools with mud-floored structures for all classes and one teacher, improvements in the roads infrastructure (thanks mainly to war preparations), and railways were constructed mainly for hauling tea and grains, etc.

But the enclave nature of the economy and the extreme domination of the management remained. The domination was now not in the form of policing the workers and juridical powers of the management. The sardars referred to above and a small number of their relatives and friends were slowly elevated to a layer of people who did the ground level management under orders from the management, allowing the top layers to retreat from conflict situations. This layer now has a name—sub-staff. This layer of management, with a wage difference with the workers and with many special privileges, was/is not socially very distant from the workers. This was their strength and the measure of their efficacy while carrying out the unpleasant orders of higher management. They could/can utilise kin/community/tribe/ caste differences to divide and rule for the management. But such differences are vanishing fast under the cudgel of the capitalist work process.

Since 1951, many benign laws have been passed for the benefit of tea workers and many good laws have been extended to the estates such as on the payment of wages, compensation for injury at work, pensions and gratuity, minimum wages etc. These were in the main due to the unionisation process that began in the late forties and picked up a very strong momentum in the early fifties. But for the lack of strong inspectorates and the judicial process remaining out of the reach of the workers due to illiteracy, poverty and the rapaciousness of most lawyers, none of these laws are as a rule implemented properly or at all.

Unions could have done something about it. The beginnings of left unions in the tea estates is a glorious story of sacrifice and resistance by the leading workers in the face of violent opposition from the combined government forces of independent India and the colonial planters. A weak left movement in Assam simply conceded ground to company unions sponsored by V V Giri of the Congress. The leaders of the monopolistic Congress unions at the garden level were all sub-staff people nominated by management.

In West Bengal, the left has also evolved to the same reality. Except the extreme left unions (which have very little influence), all unions are led by the sub-staff at the ground level. Unions are being run by management's lowest, but extremely important, tier. All their central, non-garden apparatuses are more or less manned by extremely corrupt agents of management.

Take two examples. Consider the minimum wage law in the tea industry. This law has never been implemented in North India in spite of the law's requirement to do so. One can understand why the reactionaries of the Congress in Assam were not interested to push for its implementation. But what about the left? With a left government in power, the government convened a meeting with the major unions and the apex body of the planters to declare that all sides have agreed to have the wage negotiated between capital and labour declared as the minimum wage. Government was no longer obliged to fix the minimum wages in tea in accordance with the norms established by law. Naturally, the negotiated wage has remained far below the agricultural minimum wage throughout North Indian tea gardens.

The second example is even more interesting. Workers and members of their families were dying in their hundreds in North Bengal tea gardens during 2001 to 2004 and beyond. The cause was illegal abandonment of many gardens by planters who owed millions to their workers in unpaid wages and other dues. The biggest trade union was a left union and the government was a left government. Both denied that any such deaths had taken place. A distinguished panel headed by a retired High Court judge determined that at least 800 people had died from hunger-related extreme malnutrition. The biggest union was still in denial and so was the government.

This raises the question of class formation among the tea workers. Workers who participate very frequently in violent and militant confrontation with managements accept nevertheless the union-management collusions that violate their legal and fundamental rights and deprive them of their entitlements. During those confrontations, the unity of the participants transcend tribal, caste and ethnic barriers. There have been only two examples of militant change covering, first, the whole of the Darjeeling Hills and, second, the whole of the Terai and Dooars region. Both were ethnic upsurges that toppled the established unions. In the hills, the various tribes and castes united behind the slogan of the Gorkha nation. In the plains, all the tribes and castes united as an independent Adivasi identity. New unions were formed in both places, but these unions have more or less reverted to the style and functioning of the old unions. But the feeling of ethnic solidarity remains strong. A very large working class, perhaps the oldest in India, is coalescing around ethnicity and not moving towards a class for itself may appear to some as undesirable.

The main features of the plantation system were the extreme domination of the workers and its enclave nature. In spite of all the legal and political changes since independence and the changes in the methods of the planters, both of these features remain. The domination is exercised not with political and juridical powers backed by a colonial state but by a coalition of the management, the unions and the state. One example will suffice. A garden that had been abandoned a number of times was the focus of tripartite negotiations. Along with a small extreme left union, all the major unions were there, as was management. Number two in the labour department hierarchy in a left government was presiding. The major unions agreed to delay the payment of arrear wages, pension fund, etc, amounting to several million rupees indefinitely. They also agreed that the workers will only get the current wages at half rate. Only two persons did not sign the agreement (which went into effect immediately). The government official praised the agreement but said that he could not sign it because it was illegal! The extreme left walked out. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant example of domination through collusion that has been spoken about. The workers agreed to work because they were on the verge of starvation.

Without a minimum wage and the presence of this kind of collusion, the wages in tea, after some improvement recently, is still way below the agricultural minimum wage. The tea workers' wage at present is 90 rupees in cash in West Bengal (it's lower in Assam) and what is given in kind adds to hardly 25 rupees. That's 115 rupees, while the agricultural minimum wage is 135 rupees. With such low wages the workers are perpetually on the threshold of starvation. And if they have been abandoned or locked out, they fall back into starvation and extreme malnutrition and disease. It is no wonder when the colluders who ensure such low wages force them to work under such humiliating condition, they do so.

Why don't they run away? Where will they go? They have hardly any connexions in the lands they left behind more than 150 years ago. There are no industries within hundreds of miles of their estates so they could find work there. Even if there were, they do not have the social and technical skills that can compete with the outsiders.

More than 90 percent of the workers are functionally illiterate although there are many primary schools in or near the estates. The reason for this is simply that the children who go to the pre-primary ICDS centres or the primary schools do not learn anything on account of instruction being given in languages (Assamese, Bengali and Hindi) that they do not understand. All pleadings with the leftist government about this situation have been rejected. Government and the international experts continue to count success as a function of attendance without realising that the mid-day meal alone accounts for attendance by hungry children.

Hungry and illiterate, without the chance to acquire any skills and holed up in remote places, these workers, separated from the dominant populations of the states where they reside by prejudice, cultural disdain and caste hatred, have nowhere to go except to remain in the estates—an isolated population living in remote economic enclaves.

The recent ethnic upsurge has already provoked a strident and widespread discussion on the recognition of the Sadri language, a language based on Sadani Hindi of Jharkhand that has been constructed by the workers from many languages originally spoken by the tribes and castes that inhabit the estates. The primary focus of this discussion is education and the need to have ethnic assertion to get that education. Class struggle in the tea gardens can never start up in a system-breaking way without an ethnic upsurge that ensures educational rights without which the masses of workers remain ignorant about laws, about the obligations of the police and the bureaucrats, about the rights of workers and about what is being done in their name by the leaders. Besides, a cultural renaissance among workers will propel class consolidation to new levels, levels that can construct socialism the workers' way. Revolutionaries must critique and help this ethnic upsurge that clears the way to more intense and more thoughtful class struggle.

Frontier, Autumn Number Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013