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Andhra Pradesh
Naidu's Pincer Attacks:
Police State and Rollback of Populism

Srinivasa Prasad

What is it exactly that provoked AP government's recent ban on People's War Group (PWG)? Even the high-profile killing of Ongole Congress(I) MP, Subbarami Reddy, a political heavy weight and a prominent industrialist, did not lead to reimposition of the ban, a loud clamour from the Congressmen notwithstanding. Even when a couple of police stations like Yeleswaram were run down by PWG there was no change. Then why the ban now?

Of late, PWG's dalams apparently exhibit greater mobility and rely less on laying landmines to deter the police from moving in deep for combing and encirclement-and-suppression. More significantly, the guerrilla outfit has refrained from kidnappings to either secure the release of its arrested comrades or to achieve other political objectives. Above all, in the last one year or so, there has not been any dramatic expansion in the area of operation of PWG. Its effective influence is still confined to the four districts of Karimnagar, Adilabad, Warangal and Nizamabad though squads do exist in some other districts. Yet, why this ban now?

Looked at purely in terms of the conflict the Andhra police is locked in with PWG irregulars, the ban is not going to bring about any alteration in the ground realities except that it will sanction police lawlessness - indiscriminate arrests, torture and 'encounters', which, going by the past experience, is bound to be extended over other ML groups, mass movements and democratic organisations as well. Clearly, Naidu government's reimposition of the ban springs from larger political reasons and has not been spurred merely by relatively higher rate of killings or armed actions. Indeed, the ban was preparatory to the rollback of populist measures introduced by NTR.

Any cutback on the subsidised rice scheme and cheap electricity to the farmers would be no ordinary measure. They would mean a fundamental shift in TDP's politics since these measures constitute the core of TDP's victory. In clear anticipation of mass protests and popular anger, Mr.Naidu, weary of the possibility of all opposition forces fully building up on these, has started moving towards a police state. There is something more to it. It is also a question of seeking a rightwing solidarity. The ban on PWG and giving unbridled powers to the police at this juncture is to seek the support of the landlords, police establishment, rightwing sections in other political parties and the hardliners in the media and elsewhere, and above all, within Naidu's own party. The ban and the move towards a police state fits organically into the unfolding politics over populism.
The media generally projected NTR as a maverick, who got carried away too far by his own populism. Similar grumbling could also be heard, right from the beginning, within TDP itself over NTR's 'largesse to the poor'. The internal opposition that started over Lakshmi Parvathy, though part of the irreconcilable 'family politics', was subsequently projected more for public consumption. What touched the raw nerve of the rising bourgeoisie, who were pillars of TDP, was the 'unsustainable commitment' NTR was making for the poor. It was considered a major 'diversion' of scarce resources from 'development', or simply as 'squandering'. In this sense, NTR's populism was self-defeating. As a shrewd politician, he realised that restoring the Khamma hegemony was impossible without such a large dose of populism. But the logic of continuing Khamma hegemony - and that of other propertied, neo-rich sections - implied an inevitable rollback of this populism. It is not accidental that Naidu invokes the plea of 'development' to justify both the ban and the price hikes.

The price hikes are no routine affair. They are unprecedented. 75% for the ration rice. 500 to 900% increase in power rates for the farmers. Plus a host of other revenue measures. Populism was a virtue till the parliament elections. Once the polls were over development is the official mantra.

All in the Name of Development

AP Trapped in World Bank’s Noose

It is a SAP of sorts. Designed for the first time for a State directly in a federal polity going over the head of the federal government. According to reliable sources, it is learnt that the World Bank has prepared an Economic Memorandum for the state of Andhra Pradesh. Unlike the usual country memoranda of the Bank, this is unique because for the first time the Bank has come up with a State Assistance Strategy in any country to ‘stabilise’ the provincial finances. Very much like Country Assistance Strategy being operated by Bank in many Third World countries in tandem with IMF, the State Assistance Strategy for AP is full of usual policy diktats for reforms like privatisation, abolition of subsidies etc. The Economic Memorandum for AP which was scheduled for release in July has been withheld temporarily. But for how long the connection between the price hikes and Bank prescriptions can be withheld from the people of AP?

Speaking about the ban, the TDP Home Minister told the presspersons that "the State government reimposed the ban not bowing to police pressure but the naxalites have become a stumbling block for development." Pressure has thus been mounting not only from the traditional feudal lords but also from the kulaks who have come up in parts of Telengana and the emergent business class for a crackdown on PWG. Moreover, Naidu government is also acting at the behest of greedy landowners from the Andhra region who are out to grab the agricultural land in Telengana and the Andhra businessmen whom the locals describe as `outsiders' who are out to `colonize' the Telengana region. So far, the media, while adopting an occasional liberal tone, has been attributing PWG phenomenon to the underdevelopment of the region. Naidu has reversed the logic and is now attributing underdevelopment of this region to the activities of PWG. But it still begs the question: why Rayalaseema is so backward where PWG is not known to have a significant presence? Where even for a drinking water project people had to depend on the political munificence of a PVN who arranged the financing through tainted money legitimised and recycled through wheeler-dealers like Saibaba.

What is going on in Telengana is a civil war over issues relating to land, wages, democracy, social justice and development. The state has not only taken the side of vested interests but has itself proved to be bankrupt on tackling these issues even according to bourgeois constitutionality and legality. The new bourgeoisie in Andhra Pradesh, still to emerge out of its feudal trappings, is not only impotent in curbing the feudal vestiges. Rather it is more aggressive against the revolutionary forces. No trace of liberal or humanist pretensions are to be found in this class. That is why, despite periodically repeating that the rebellion in Telengana is rooted in 'socio-economic problems', the bourgeois rulers of AP have never seriously addressed themselves to the so-called root causes of this rebellion. For instance, the TDP's election promise of forming 'land committees' to redistribute ceiling-surplus and government banjar lands to the landless remains a non-starter.
The only change visible in their approach is their changed strategy in counter-insurgency. Similar to the revolutionaries' perception regarding the protracted nature of their struggle, the AP rulers have also come to the conclusion that their counter-insurgency operations will also be a protracted affair. Attempting to put an end to the movement through massive suppression - a strategy they adopted in the early phases of the movement - is a not only a messy affair. Extreme exploitation and oppression in vast area of AP proves to be such a fertile soil that the revolutionary movement has re-emerged from the ashes time and again. That is why the rulers blow hot and cold alternatively - intensifying and relaxing the intensity of repression; revoking and reclamping the ban time and again. But, despite the changed strategy, they are fully conscious not to allow any space for open, mass, political activity for PWG's mass organisations. And the institutions of the state themselves violate civil liberties with impunity, at all times, ban or no ban, and against all ML organisations. The principal weakness of the revolutionary movement in Telengana is its compartmentalisation of its anti-feudal struggle and its inability to combine it with a powerful political struggle against this new bourgeoisie. This is a new challenge the answer for which they cannot find in the text books from China. Their understanding of political struggle has seldom gone beyond civil liberties angle. But this time the ban is going to pinch the PWG harder because the civil liberties movement is also in a disarray and the PWG suffers a relative isolation.

Civil Liberties Movement in a Disarray

The bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie in AP finds its reflection in the civil liberties movement also. As far as Marxists are concerned, the civil liberties movement, in contrast with the mass revolutionary democratic movement, should ideally be a liberal bourgeois affair and not a 'mass movement' of the petty bourgeoisie. No such lobbying by vocal liberal bourgeois sections is to be seen in Andhra Pradesh. The courts seldom pull up the trigger-happy police force but at best engage only in weak sermonising for reconciliation. The media never sticks to the principle that revolutionary violence should never be a justification for the institutions of a constitutional state to indulge in lawlessness. That is why its occasional criticism of extreme cases of state's violation of human rights and acts of state terrorism become muted with every spurt in revolutionary activities. Making 'fake' encounters a category in itself is a contribution of AP media. They are in the habit of making a distinction between 'fake' and 'real' encounters in such a manner as if 'real' encounter killings are justifiable. It is not the liberals from the bourgeoisie but a few left intellectuals who did an exemplery and pioneering work in building up a civil liberties movement in the State by conducting investigations into human rights violations, bringing them to the limelight, seeking court intervention and assisting commissions of enquiry etc. Strangely enough, it is only a traditional Congress politician like Chenna Reddy who realised the futility of resorting only to police repression and wanted to experiment a different approach but was soon forced out of power due to mounting opposition within Congress itself.
Unfortunately, the civil liberty movement at present is in a disarray. This is because, the PWG and some other ML organisations, in their lack of clarity, built up the civil liberty organisations as mass movements of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. With the first sign of setback and stagnation in the struggle, the petty bourgeois intelligentsia fell prey to disillusionment, ideological pollution and disorientation and gave vent to all this in the arena of civil liberty movement. That is why we are witness to the strange spectacle of 'fight against "upper castes"' within the civil liberty organisations. Giving up consistency on the principled position of opposing state terrorism on all its victims, some rabid elements even started drawing a distinction among martyrs on the basis of their caste origins.

Under the influence of most sectarian forms of Mandalism and dalitism, they have even made ML organisations facing severe state repression their main target of attack, thereby unwittingly serving the repressive state. Any perceived distortion with regard to caste question in revolutionary movements should be addressed within the scope of these movements and civil liberties organisations are hardly the arena for that. But large sections of these petty bourgeoisie are not known to have the commitment and tenacity to work inside these revolutionary organisations nor are they known for breaking any fresh grounds against caste inequalities by way of organised mass movements of the oppressed castes through independent initiatives. If the political backwardness combined with the militant sentiments of the rural poor finds expression as the anarchism of the groups like PWG, the anarchism and the political bankruptcy of sections of petty bourgeois intelligentsia find expression through the extreme posturing and phrase-mongering, whether revolutionary or casteist. It is as if vituperative inverse casteism is going to reduce the caste inequalities in society and not the ongoing objective social struggles led by communist revolutionaries. Additionally, there are also some conceptual confusions. While certain civil liberties activists, in their justified criticism of senseless violence and excesses by some revolutionary organisations, committed the cardinal mistake of challenging state terrorism and 'individual' terrorism on an equal footing, organisations like PWG, despite some self-criticism about their own excesses, have turned hostile against some leading civil liberties personalities. Likewise, some other left and ML organisations, piqued by PWG's attack on their cadre, tend to become sectarian and this somehow dilutes their movement against state terror. Thus while PWG in its bandh calls focused primarily on the ban, these organisations, in their political mobilisations, focused exclusively on the price rise and were not equally unequivocal in their condemnation of the ban on PWG. We, on our part, have never condemned revolutionary violence on principle, never equated PWG excesses with state terror and have always conducted our bitter polemics with PWG within the limits of tactical debates among two left organisations.

Political Backwardness of PWG

CPI(ML) Liberation Protests the
Ban and the Price Hikes

Hundreds of people participated in eight different dharnas organised all on the same day on 19 August before MRO offices including Yeleswaram, Pratipadu, Gollaprovalu, Sankavaram, Tuni, Kotandur etc. in East Godavari district as well as before the collectorate at Kakinada condemning the ban on PWG and the anti-people price hikes announced by Chandrababu Naidu government.

As mentioned earlier, the biggest shortcoming of PWG lies in its failure to combine its militant struggles against feudal vestiges with an imaginative political struggle against the bourgeoisie, especially in laying bare its impotence to act against feudal forces. In this failure to establish proletarian hegemony over the weak-kneed bourgeoisie, they remain petty-bourgeois peasant revolutionaries. For instance, reacting to Chandrababu Naidu's raising the bogey of development, the Telengana North Zonal Committee leader of the organisation has claimed that it is PWG which is ensuring proper development by seeing to it that all the panchayat pradhans are properly implementing the developmental schemes. This apparently prompt counter however betrays PWG's own bankruptcy in political struggle. It is one thing to get the mandal pradhans, under the threat of dalams, to implement the developmental and welfare schemes. It is quite another thing to chalk out a comprehensive programme for alternative development, with land reforms as the cornerstone, for the region and building up a mass political movement on that basis. The PWG lacks a clearcut and comprehensive policy on land question. It doesn't have a detailed programme for a political fight on pro-people development despite all its exaggerated claims about existence of a guerrilla zone. Worse, it doesn't have mass organisations, legal or illegal. Everything depends on the arbitrary whims of the dalam, rather its commander. That is why, the village committees that the PWG formed last year as part of a new realisation from internal rectification, instead of developing into embryos of mass organisations or organs of people's power, are degenerating into yet another anarchic exercise.

True, the PWG, acting in a pragmatic way when urged by the masses, is forcing the mandal and zilla parishad pradhans to properly implement the schemes. This, however, is not due to any assertive supervisory role of the 'village committees' but due to the threat from the squads. Well, the PWG can secure IRDP loans at gun point. But its AK-47s cannot rewrite the State budget. Even if they kidnap Ashok Gajapathy Raju, the Finance Minister, they cannot alter the class priorities of the budget and cannot make more funds flow into Telengana. What is required is a more sustained political struggle and a mass movement, the capability for which PWG is lacking. Between a few spokesmen under the cover of 'civil liberties activists' and dalams there is a wide vacuum. Whatever be the enemy strategy and whatever be the intensity of enemy repression, the comrades in PWG leadership, despite widespread goodwill among the masses, have miserably failed to build up any effective and durable structures for mass actions and political mobilisation, the half-hearted attempt at forming 'village committees' notwithstanding. That is why 'everything through dalams' has become their credo. This is why dalams have come to wield out-of-proportion role in its struggle which goes against the grain of Mao Thought.

The PWG gets angry when it is pointed out that a guerrilla zone, as defined and understood as per Mao Thought, doesn't exist in Telengana. Even if one is to grant that some sort of 'guerrilla action zone' exists, what prevails is not a dual power but a dual terror. The squad comes, metes out some sort of summary justice, 'settles' some basic issue of the masses, goes away and, depending upon the heat of the police pursuit, often comes back after months only to find that the people's conditions have worsened. The respective roles of the people's organisations and the squad are not clearly demarcated. This is also the reason why there are frequent 'total' bandhs, in fact very 'successful' bandhs, in Telengana called by PWG without even hardly a few hundred people coming out on to the streets to enforce the bandh and make it an event of mass political protest.

The PWG leaders have failed to seriously address these questions even in their recently concluded conference. One gets the impression that the conference devoted itself wholly to a long discussion on international and national situation but had no time for scrutinising their own practice in Telengana.

One hopes the PWG, in response to the ban, instead of blindly escalating isolated actions, will take up the less dramatic, less sensational, but more onerous task of shaping up an appropriate mass political response to the anti-people repressive policies of Chandrababu Naidu government which is fast losing its legitimacy. Otherwise, they can never come out of this vicious circle, out of this more than a decade of deadlock.

Unbridled Populism to Unabashed Plutocracy

MR.Chandrababu Naidu tries to pass off his wholesale package of price hikes as a mere fiscal adjustment measure, i.e. additional revenue mobilisation just sufficient enough to cover the revenue gap so as to continue the pro-poor welfare schemes. But the steep hikes speak for themselves about the ruthlessness with which these schemes are sought to be subverted. The interim budget presented by Naidu government before parliamentary polls mentioned only an uncovered gap of Rs.302 crore but later he held out an unsubstantiated but highly exaggerated figure of Rs.4000 crore as the fiscal gap. In the wake of the taxation blitzkrieg, when the Finance Minister, Ashok Gajapati Raju proudly announced that the new revenue measures would net in an additional Rs.3155 crore, Naidu, to ward off questions regarding the need to rise such high revenue, promptly contradicted him the same day saying that it would be only to the tune of Rs.2000 crore. His revenue exercise is thus not transparent even to his own Finance Minister!

One need not be surprised if Andhra Pradesh ends up with a revenue surplus with all these exorbitant hikes. The secret behind such a fiscal ruthlessness lies in World Bank prescriptions (See box). But there is a design in Naidu's ruthlessness. In the name of 'development' he robs the poor to benefit the rich. First, there is a 20% reduction in the supply of subsidised rice - from 5kgs. per head to 4 kgs. This means 20% reduction in the subsidy as well. Added to this is the 75% increase in the supply price of rice which would mean roughly another 20% reduction in the subsidy. The total subsidy on the rice scheme was estimated to be about Rs.1350 crore. The subsidy on cheap electricity to the pumpset-owning farmers however was much more - it cost APSEB about Rs.2000 crore. Even according to the lower estimate of Naidu, the new measures would bring in Rs. 550 crore from higher rice prices, Rs.255 crore from higher commercial taxes, Rs.1692 from increased power rates for pumpsets and Rs.200 crore from land cess.

The net loss for the poor on the rice scheme would be Rs.820 crore (Rs.270 crore due to 20% cut in subsidy and Rs.550 crore owing to 75% price increase). True, the 500-plus percentage increase on power rates to the farmers is also very sharp. All classes of farmers stand to lose Rs.1700 crore. But there is a qualitative difference here. Whereas the rich farmers can easily pass on the additional cost on the consumer, the poor dependent on subsidised rice enjoy no such facility. Their wage increase will not be that automatic. Whereas the additional subsidy on fertilisers announced in the Union Budget would partly offset the burden on the farmers, the poor will have to pay more for rice in the open market and their dependence on it has only increased to about 80% of their requirement.

The small and marginal farmers would be the worst hit. Take, for instance, the case of a middle farmer in dry area. With irregular power supply he would be able to raise paddy crop only in about 5 acres with a 7.5 HP pumpset for which he would have to pay about Rs.3400 as power rates while current net profit is in the range of Rs.10000-12000. Those who would favour a step-by-step approach for the reduction of subsidies and are aghast at the very steep increase in the power rates to agriculture miss the crucial point. Chandrababu Naidu is preparing the State for a World Bank-prescribed regime of power rates to agriculture which can facilitate large-scale entry of MNCs into the power sector, restructure the market for power to make the counterguarantees sustainable and help translate into projects all his 'midnight MoUs'. This is the reason why Naidu has not given any relief to the poor and marginal farmers, has not introduced any differential rates according to the acreage owned and has not exempted the farmers in the uplands and dry regions from his price shocks.

All the high-sounding demands of Naidu for restructuring the Centre-State relations have come to nought. His attempt to get UF govt. to provide central assistance to the rice scheme and prohibition met with stiff opposition from Congress as well as from the entire big bourgeois media. Nevertheless, some more money - to the tune of Rs.300 to 400 crore - would be flowing to AP as a result of Chidambaram's budget. He could have raised some more money through sales tax: with only Rs.255 crore additional commercial taxes he has spared the business class. Increase in commercial taxes, especially higher sales taxes on articles of luxury consumption, would have fetched him several hundred crores more. Commentators have pointed to the 'hidden subsidies' to the rich, especially about Rs.800 crore annually to the industry in AP. Sustaining the subsidised rice scheme is not impossible. Though debt servicing has gone up to Rs.1900 crore, there is no imminent debt trap. Just in order to take a couple of thousand crores loan from World Bank for 'development', Naidu has chosen to hit the poor below the belt. If the rich has been asked to part with some money the poor have been forced to cough up more.

Why does Chandrababu Naidu need such a sharp increase in revenue, especially by fleecing the poor and endangering agricultural production in the State? Clearly he is not an exceptional politician to consider fiscal discipline or a zero-deficit budget a virtue in itself. What he intends to do with the massive surplus funds and what his priorities in 'development' are going to be? Of course, he will reapportion a part of the funds to the benefit of kulaks and the rising bourgeoisie, for 'development' in their favour. But more importantly, he has emerged as the don of the most ruthless and powerful political mafia the State has ever witnessed and it will be no surprise if the State exchequer is in for the biggest ever loot at his hands. The police state is in part preparation for this as well.


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