Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kanu Sanyal

There is something ironical about communists ending their life by committing suicide. Kanu Sanyal, the legendary who set a generation take up arms, in the belief that violence was inevitable to change the world into a better place, was found dead hanging himself to the ceiling. Kanu Sanyal, along with Charu Mazumdar and Jungal Santhal belonged to the CPI(M) initially and broke out of the party to found the CPI(ML). While Charu Mazumdar died while in jail (and many believe that it was not a natural death) in 1972, Jugal Santhal too passed away after his release from a long jail term in 1981.

When Charu Mazumdar passed away, it was felt that the Naxalite movement that had taken shape just about a few years ago at that time had been put to rest. But then, the movement did show its signs of existence and even recorded its role in the resistance to the Emergency regime. The Emergency, in fact, provided the context for the post-Charu Mazumdar generation of the Naxalite leadership to reinvent themselves. In this phase, they were seen struggling in defence of the constitution and the democratic rights it guaranteed.

Jungal Santhal lived longer, but more as a mental wreck, to see the Naxalite movement splinter into groups and fragment in the years after the Emergency was over. There was hardly any movement when he died in 1981. West Bengal, from where the fire was lit, was by that time firmly under the CPI(M)’s hold and the legatees of the Naxalite movement were reduced to holding fort in a few university centres and colleges in Calcutta; and even in those places they were known to be fond of endless discussions on radical issues rather than being part of any radical actions.

But then, the Naxalite movement had established roots in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and the Chattisgarh part of the then Madhya Pradesh by this time. In other words, Kanu Sanyal, unlike his two other comrades, did survive a prison term and also lived longer to see the movement reinventing itself. It grew in strength in Andhra Pradesh, entrenched itself in Chattisgarh, established into a major force in Bihar and has emerged into a resurgent force in West Bengal too. But then, in all these places and elsewhere, the movement has undergone several mutations from where it began.

The simple point is that the Maoists, whom the articulate sections of our society now blame for the underdevelopment of the tribal regions in many States are indeed the products of all the changes and the mutations of the idea that was set rolling by the Naxalbari revolt of 1967. From being a spontaneous action by the landless agricultural labouerers who claimed that the land they tilled must be given to them, the Naxalite movement soon turned into the platform into which bright young men and women from some of the best colleges decided to join; they did so because they believed that the world had to be made into a better place not just for themselves but for those who toiled and suffered oppression of various kinds.

And it is most appropriate to state here that Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal inspired them to do so. They were made to believe that the world will change for sure. But then, it is also important to say here that those were times when the youth were exposed to such legends as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. The existentialists and their novels had influenced the generation that went to college in the Sixties to simply resist against the given system. That was the time when the students were resisting regimes everywhere in the world and Kanu Sanyal’s intervention made the colleges and universities into the haven for idealists.

The Maoist movement may have a few things in common with that era but then it is certainly not the force that determines the culture in the universities and the colleges of today. It’s cadres seem to be drawn from the ranks of the adivasis who are forced out of the forests and their homes in the name of development and the farmers whose land is being compulsorily acquired by the state to be handed over to house-builders and companies that build fantasy parks as well as IT parks. The average middle class youth is rather a beneficiary of this regime and is not driven by ideals of the kind that drove the youth in Kanu Sanyal’s days.

In other words, Kanu Sanyal lived longer to see Camus, Sartre and Kafka being sent out of circulation by management gurus who churn out books that preach the idea of self-preservation and self-promotion. It is a fact that a majority of those in college today are caught up with another kind of existentialism: Their very existence, in fact, is dependent and defined by their material accomplishments. And hence it is another world that Kanu Sanyal was beginning to see even while he saw the movement he founded entrenching itself into a force that is being seen as the most serious threat by the Union Government as well as the various States.

Well. For the existentialist of the old world, these were realities that were beyond his comprehension. And Kanu Sanyal perhaps could not wait endlessly to get out of this dilemma. In his death, he will be remembered for having intervened in the lives of a generation of young men and women to adopt a set of ideals and live up to those.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the Bill that the Rajya Sabha passed....

The passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill providing for reservation of constituencies for women in the Lok Sabha and State assemblies in the Rajya Sabha is indeed a milestone. However, it is too early to celebrate. For the Bill has to be moved in the Lok Sabha, where the opposition to the idea could be louder given their numbers and also the fact that we will have such men like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav conducting the battle by themselves in the Lower House.

But then, it is unlikely that the process can be stalled for long given the push it has received now. The momentum must be maintained and it is important that the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties refrain from claiming credit to the achievement and reduce the entire exercise to being a party affair. It is not. It is important also because the Bill will have to be sailed through in at least 14 state assemblies. As it is, this must not be difficult. With the three national parties in favour as of now, it should sail through so well in the state assemblies in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura.

It should also be endorsed by the assemblies in Tamil Nadu (where we may see the DMK and the AIADMK voting together!) and Orissa where the Congress and the BJD will vote on the same side. It should sail through in Punjab too with the Akali Dal and the Congress voting the same way. In Andhra Pradesh too, the Bill must find safe passage though we do not know what the TDP stands for as such. The point is that more than half the number of States will approve of the constitutional amendment and this is for sure.

But then, the Bill is unlikely to be approved in Uttar Pradesh; with both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party against it, the supporters of the Bill – the Congress and the BJP – will be far outnumbered. The Congress and the BJP do not add up to even one fourth of the Uttar Pradesh assembly! In Bihar too, notwithstanding Nitish Kumar’s position in its favour, the Bill is most likely to be defeated in the assembly. These, however, do not matter because it is necessary for only 14 state assemblies to endorse the Bill to be made as part of the constitution.

The procedure will take at least several months. And in any case, it will not happen before May 2011, when elections to the Tamil Nadu state assembly will be held. It may happen, if all those in favour of the change keep the momentum, that the Constitution will stand amended before May 2014 and in time for the next general elections.

Let me reiterate that it is only in the realm of possibilities and nothing is certain about that. Let us remember, at this stage, that the Right to Education, to all those under 14 years of age, as a fundamental right is yet to be realised even while the Constitution stood amended with Article 21-A inserted as early as on December 12, 2002 by way of the Constitution (86th Amendment) Act.

There is, however, a positive aspect to this long time that is likely to pass before the realisation of the 33 percent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State assemblies. Parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the RJD can afford to use this time to build a strong and powerful womens’ wing in their parties and thus ensure that the gains achieved by way of long struggles by the Other Backward Classes are not diluted or usurped by the Upper Caste conspirators by way of reservation for women.

Well. There is a point in their argument: That the proportion of empowered women is larger among those belonging to the Upper Castes because they have had a better access to education, employment and such other means of empowerment. And hence it is likely that when the contest in a Lok Sabha constituency is restricted to women candidates only, it is likely that most candidates may belong to the Upper Castes and hence the parties that have risen raising the aspirations of the OBCs will end up in the margins. But then, these parties must now realise that none can prevent them from raising the status of women in their own fold and that such a programme must be integral to the concept of social justice.

Having said all these, let me add a caveat. In the larger context of ``undemocratisation’’ of the political discourse where elections are fought with tonnes of money and where new entrants into the system are either the sons or the daughters of leaders, this amendment to the constitution will hardly make any difference.

The choice before the people, as of now, is between Rahul and Priyanka; Stalin and Kanomozhi; Priya Dutt and Sanjay Dutt; well the list can go on.

Well. I do not think that reinventing the democratic space can be achieved by way of another constitution amendment. It calls for a movement of the people.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Political Parties and Petro-price Hike...

There is a certain sense of absurdity in the way political parties behave. But then, that is no excuse or reason to slide into a partyless democracy. The party system is indeed inevitable as long as we decide to remain a Parliamentary Democracy. It is a different matter that we are now witnessing a conscious and even desperate attempt to distort the Parliamentary Democratic system by almost all the parties across the spectrum. And there is no way that such attempts can be frustrated by way of opting for a partyless democracy.

All these came up as I looked into the discourse that is now on in the media involving the political parties and the hike in prices of petroleum products. A cursory look at the statements reveals it all.

The fuel price hike, according to the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will not impact inflation in any big way. Well. One does not know the basis for such optimism. It defies all logic and even common sense. But then, the media reported Mukherjee saying so. It is sad that no one asked Mukherjee to defend his contention. It is as much as saying that even when the ocean caught fire due to an oil slick, a fibre boat can sail through the stretch without catching fire! It cannot happen but when it is said by a powerful person, it should be reported!

The decision is being opposed by the leaders of the DMK and the Trinamool Congress. It is reported that the leaders of these two parties have expressed their resentment against the decision to increase prices of petrol and diesel. Well. They may have. But then, is it not true that these parties are represented in the Union cabinet? It is Mamata Banerjee herself in case of the Trinamool Congress; and such important leaders as M.K.Alagiri and A.Raja in case of the DMK. The point is that they are as much responsible for the fuel price rise as is Pranab Mukherjee. And yet we find their leaders speaking out against the cabinet’s decision!

This is not all. The BJP and the Left parties are protesting against the decision as if it has happened only for the first time. The fact is that all political parties have agreed to move out of the Administered Prices Regime insofar as petroleum products are concerned. In other words, the consensus among parties is to tune the price of petrol, diesel, LPG and other petro-products with the price of crude in the international market rather than forcing the oil companies to break under the weight of selling petrol for a price less than the total cost of crude and refining. All political parties are agreed on this.

Now, there is an argument, advanced by the Left parties, that prices of petrol, diesel and LPG can still be kept lower than it is by way of reduction in excise duty and other such taxes including sales tax. Yes. It is a fact that more than half the money we pay while we fill petrol or diesel goes as taxes. But then, is there a way out of this regime without agreeing to a low tax regime which will also mean less money with the government!
In other words, the governments in the centre as well as in the states will have less money with them; and that could mean less money to be spent on building flyovers, buying the big-fancy-expensive cars for our ministers, judges and others in that category, flying out in style when our big men in government decide to travel within and outside the country and such other things.

It will lead to a shortage of funds when our security forces ask for sophisticated and more expensive guns and other aids to hunt down the Maoists and others who fight against the Government in the various parts of the country. It will also mean that our state governments will be strapped of money when they decide to acquire lands from the farmers by paying market price as compensation and then hand over such lands to industrialists for a song. It will mean less money in the coffers when our ministers decide to construct new buildings from where they can administer the people more effectively. It will be difficult for them to spend money on functions to inaugurate new flyovers and other civil wonders.

In other words, such periodic hikes in fuel prices are indeed avoidable. But then that will require a political will and a commitment to democracy and the welfare of the people; an attribute that is hardly found in the leaders of today. And hence the feeling of frustration and cynicism when one finds the manner in which the fuel price rise is reported and debated in the media.