Special feature

People’s Conference against Globalisation

Radhika Menon

The resistance to the onslaught of globalisation and economic reforms carried out in the country entered a new phase of unified struggle with the successful conclusion of the People’s Conference against Globalisation, held in the Speaker’s Hall at the Constitutional Club, New Delhi from March 21 to March 23, 2001. 297 delegates from Bihar, U.P, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra, Orissa, Assam, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi attended the Conference. Guests from Pakistan, Nepal, USA, Australia, Finland, Canada, UK, Philippines also participated and expressed their solidarity at the conference. Activists belonging to left and socialist parties, new social movements, Gandhians, academicians, literary personalities, scientists and people from various other pursuits were present at the conference, creating an enthusiasm both among activists and intellectuals on the possibility of a unified struggle. Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, Gen. Secy. of the CPI(ML), Arundhati Roy, KN Ramachandran of the CPI(ML)-Red Flag, Karnataka PUCL President Dr. Laxminarayana, noted literateur Arijit Mitra, AICCTU president Yogeshwar Gope, Deepak Nayyar, Ashish Nandy, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, KN Kabra, Thomas Mathew, Ishwari Prasad, Jai Sen, MS Randhawa, convenor of Jan Chetna Manch, Chabag, were also present at the conference.

SP Shukla, who had been coordinating the preparatory process of the conference, greeted the speakers and the audience in his introductory speech. The conference was inaugurated on March 21, 2001 by Walden Bello, the director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, and one of the leading theorists of the global anti-corporate movement. In his inaugural speech, Bello asked the anti-globalisation forces to go on the offensive by challenging the legitimacy of World Bank, IMF and WTO working for the interests of the US and multinational corporations He underlined the need for remodelling these institutions. He called for discarding the social and labour clause in the WTO and exposing the Global Compact as a whitewash mechanism. He called for exposing the trans-nationals as mafia and campaigning against any attempts on their part to gain legitimacy by coopting NGOs and trade unions through consultative meets. He supported peasant and farmers groups struggling to remove agriculture from WTO and suggested that people’s health should be put above TRIPS. Supporting special and differential treatment for South, he declared that this was the time to hit the WTO, which is floundering under criticism and demoralisation. Emphasising the need for alternatives, he put forth his theory of de-globalisation and reorienting economies from emphasis on production for export to production for local market and for an economy that subordinates the logic of market.

Justice VR Krishna Iyer presided over the inaugural session and fervently appealed to all the forces opposed to imperialist globalisation to launch a united and determined action. Speaking of the doublespeak by the USA through the UNO, he said, “the present manoeuvres and legislative gambits under compulsion from the WTO are a contra constitutional gaffe.” Such a coup on the Constitution has to be rejected by all Indians, he said adding that a single minister signing India’s self-reliance away behind the backs of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha is “egregious effrontery”.

The perspective session was presided over by Manoranjan Mohanty, and Prabhat Patnaik, economist and professor at JNU, spoke on Resisting Imperialism. Describing globalisation as an aggrandising and exploitative form of imperialism, he spoke of the menace of finance capital and the shackles with which countries like India are tied. He said only a radical political force could take up the task of effecting a rupture from the logic of globalisation. Pointing to the combination of strategies that were being used to promote globalisation, Patnaik pointed out that economic policymaking was being totally taken out of the purview of the elected bodies, and said that attempts to make Reserve Bank of India autonomous was only a preparation for making the governor an employee of the World Bank. He said that even if a progressive government got elected, it would be arm twisted to accept the reforms as bankruptcy through flight of capital would stare it in the face as soon as it came to power. He pointed out the uneven regional development in the country and the state governments directly approaching international capital might lead to communal and regional destabilisation. He said that India could easily go the Yugoslavia way and said that Andhra could easily become like Slovenia and Croatia, which attracted more foreign capital.

He however felt that the strength of the resistance in India lay in the size of the country as well as the awareness about the dangers of globalisation, the latest phase of imperialism. He said that rate of implementation of the globalisation agenda was much lower as compared to other countries because of the constant struggles being waged. Answering an interjection by BD Sharma on inequality in earning, Patnaik said that all forms of inequalities would get widened in globalisation as the salary of skilled labour would increase with their mobility while unskilled labour, being made immobile, would find its salaries going down. He said there was a need to work for an alternative nation state based on the strength of workers and peasants.

Manoranjan Mohanty, Professor of Political Science at Delhi University, said that different movements would have to be part of the resistance as globalisation was imperialism in the contemporary stage. Speaking of different movements that have emerged since Independence, he said they have expanded the understanding of Swaraj and globalisation was attacking the very existence of this understanding of freedom. Mohanty said that linkages for struggle would have to be both at the vertical and horizontal levels and that the people’s agenda should be both creative and autonomous.

The post-lunch session on Perspectives was chaired by Ashok Mitra. Aijaz Ahmed, spoke on Globalisation and Culture. Looking first at the preconditions to the current phase of globalisation, Ahmed went on to elaborate about cultural questions. He said that a complex network was woven to legitimise American aggression and hegemony through all kinds of NGOs to high-minded postmodernism to the End of History ideology. Democracy and Human Rights would be reiterated as absolute values except when it came to places like Saudi Arabia, which are pawns in the hand of the US. In its global anti-communist crusade, fanatics were portrayed as Mujahideen but with the fear of communism gone they have been dubbed as Islamic fundamentalists. He said that national, regional and local cultures were being reorganised to create a singular civilisation based on commodification. And within that phenomenon, all kinds of differences were maintained, encouraged, even manufactured to sustain the illusion of choice and freedom. That is why ethnicity is finding such a large space within the global and metropolitan market. With globalisation, the local sphere increasingly comes under the purview of international markets and finds decreasing autonomy. He said the power of market for expansion was such that even some well-intentioned people become its moral agents and cultural representatives. Aijaz Ahmed felt that in a society divided along the lines of power and powerlessness, there could hardly be a singular culture. He was critical of chauvinistic opposition to the ‘culture of globalisation’ because it puts the most advanced means of cultural combat in the hands of some and denies it to others. Referring to the invasive role of ‘culture of globalisation’ he said household items like TV, commercialised music, Internet etc. affect not only the thought processes but also the lived value systems, consumption patterns and even nature of human desires like love and sexuality. He called this process of homogenisation the “disneyfication” and said that we should defend the culture of the victims of globalisation and not of the beneficiaries. He said a national culture should evolve through a process of struggle for social change and we should not fall into jingoistic nationalism of the RSS and its friends.

The session on Infrastructure and Industry in the Age of Globalisation was presided over by Ashok Rao, leader of the federation of public sector officers’ associations. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, who could not be present, sent in his paper for the conference. Jayayti Ghosh spoke on external sector and finance. CP Chandrashekhar presented a paper on Industry, Probir Purkayastha on the Power Sector, Dinesh Abrol on Research and Technology and Ashok Rao on Disinvestment and Public Sector.

CP Chandrashekhar said that even after ten years of liberalisation the rate of growth is far from satisfactory. The trend rate of growth of the index of industrial production, which stood at 7.8 per cent between 1980-81 and 1989-90 has fallen to 6.7 per cent between 1990-91 and 2000-01. He said this conclusion had a larger implication as the theology of liberalisation is based on the presumption that one of the features of globalisation was the emergence of large volumes of footloose capital in search of appropriate locations for production. Since every developing country would have some comparative advantage, it is argued, the liberalisation of trade and foreign investment rules would attract some of this capital, which would relocate the relevant capacities to the developing country concerned, to use it as a source for production for the world market. Investment flows would be accompanied by trade flows, including exports, making FDI either benign or virtuous from a balance of payments point of view. This argument regarding capital mobility is not theoretically obvious, since a range of factors can distort this picture of freely flowing capital that redresses production inequalities across the world. If it is to be valid, it must be empirically shown to be true. Using the available evidence relating to FDI during the liberalisation years he proved that it was not true.

CP Chandrashekhar felt that measures such as land reform, that provide ownership of productive assets to the poor, have to be at the centre of the economic revival programme. If, instead of coming to terms with these realities, the government slides into complacency encouraged by dubious industrial production figures, he felt, Indian industry could only look forward to a period of stagnation as witnessed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Jayati Ghosh said that it was impossible to speak of any major economic processes in India without reference to the specific external environment and the pattern of the Indian economy’s integration with it. She said that the twin goals of the economic reform strategy for the external sector were to create a major shift in the momentum of export growth and to attract very large inflows of foreign capital (particularly in the form of FDI) to augment domestic savings, and therefore, allow much higher rates of gross domestic investment. But the reform process thus far has accomplished neither of these objectives, rather it involved rates of export expansion which were not dissimilar to those of the past and caused much greater import penetration in manufacturing. She thought this would have particular pressure on employment-intensive small-scale industries and had made the economy as a whole much more dependent upon volatile short term capital inflows without really increasing the total inflow of foreign capital in relation to GDP.

Jayati Ghosh felt that the extent of the trade deficit that had to be financed through other inflows of foreign exchange was not only much larger than was generally recognised, but was growing over time, especially in the recent period. Commenting on the overall consequences of financial sector reform, she said India was growing dependent on volatile short-term flows of capital in the form of FII and NRI investments and NRI deposits. Combined with the decision to allow the value of the rupee to be determined by market forces, the central bank was left with only purchases and sales of foreign exchange as a means for the government to influence the value of the rupee, thereby resulting in considerable uncertainty on the value of the rupee. Further, domestic policies with regard to expenditure, interest rates and exchange rates were now influenced by perceptions of how they would affect whimsical foreign investor sentiment. This had substantially reduced the manoeuvrability of the government, and made it difficult for the government to change policy track, if and when it chose to deal with many of the problems that have emerged during the period of reform.

Probir Purkayastha questioned those who claimed that agricultural subsidy was the culprit responsible for the power crisis. He wondered why Delhi and Orissa with only 5% agriculture power supply should then suffer a crisis. He warned against the privatisation of power and said that the political system would suffer large-scale instability if power were to be privatised, as it would certainly get expensive. He predicted popular resistance, as people would refuse to bear the burden of increased tariff; nor would they be ready to go back to candles and lanterns. Concrete steps and agendas were also put forth by him like keeping power tariff affordable, abandoning costly liquid fuel, improving peak capacity to installed capacity, reducing theft and improving functioning of SEBs.

Dinesh Abrol, while speaking on technology and globalisation, said that the reforms in S&T have been such that the role of the state in technology diffusion and development has gone down. Innovative policies that provide support to local industries have been eschewed on the grounds that they will interfere with marketisation. Abrol said that the thrust of the reforms have been on importing technology and deregulation of FDI as well as on liberalisation of import of capital goods, freeing private sector from controls for indigenisation and withdrawal of government from infrastructure. This has affected the technology that is coming in and MNCs were at the centre of the networks generated. He felt that the quality and intensity of R&D were also declining and their dependency on foreign firms is increasing. He elaborated on the growing privatisation of professional and technical education. The small-scale industries were increasingly being dereserved and innovation was only being done for economic advantage, and not for social and environmental uses. He said that struggle was needed to liberate the environment for innovation from neo-corporatism and the needs of the people should be on the centrestage for innovation rather than for the market.

The second day of the conference started with a session On Food and Agriculture in the Age of Globalisation. Vandana Shiva chaired this session and spoke on Corporatization of Agriculture. She felt that the government was getting away with the surrender of food rights of the people very easily and denounced the notions of comparative advantage, with references to the huge subsidies that agriculture got in the developed countries. She said that American agricultural productivity, so highly spoken of, was a pseudo phenomenon as the diversity of crops that grew was less and the number of crops that they managed to get was only one a year, while in India, farmers easily got three crops a year. Even when negotiating in the WTO, Vandana Shiva felt that our real comparative advantages like pepper, cardamom did not even find mention. Commenting on the changing nature of government subsidies, she said that while farmers were being denied subsidies, huge corporations were being given large subsidies to set up infrastructure for floriculture.

Speaking about the ruthlessness of corporations, she refereed to the role played by the Monsantos and Cygentas in buying up smaller seed companies, and the consequences it would have on farmers. Now, with genetically engineered crops the farmers would also lose control over what they could grow. She said that World Bank money was being used for importing genetically engineered corn and soybean, when there were other easily available, tastier and more nutritious grains, pulses and millets available in the country for children. Emphasising the need for struggle, she said that the next few rounds of the WTO would go for integrating water, energy, food distribution, forestry and mining with the global markets.

Utsa Patnaik presented a paper on Challenges in Agriculture and Food security. She began her presentation by demystifying and blasting some of the myths associated with agriculture. (See note)

Ranjit Singh Ghuman from Punjab University spoke on Peasantry in Green Revolution Areas. He said that green revolution had brought in prosperity only for a section of large farmers and that a significant proportion of the workforce in Punjab was under disguised unemployment or underemployment. He put forth arguments for postponing implementation of the Agreement on Agriculture in the WTO with specific references from Punjab. He said that resource-poor farmers should be protected from clauses on aggregate measurement of support and that market access and export subsidy would not be applicable to many of these poor farmers. He said it was important to normalise Indo-Pak relationship even for developing agriculture in the area and increasing trade in this region. He said that states with agricultural surplus should prevail upon the government before signing any treaty.

Kalpana Wilson spoke on agricultural Labourers struggles in an integrated global market. (See paper)

The session on Basic Needs and Employment in the Age of Globalisation was chaired by BD Sharma of Azadi Bachao Andolan, who also spoke on the Right to Resources and the Growing Impoverishment of the Indian Masses. He questioned the paradigms of development, which deprived people from their resources. Abhijit Sen from Jawaharlal Nehru University spoke on Poverty and Employment. He kept his presentation confined to the nature of the statistical system. He said that that it is important for the credibility of the NSSO to stress the experimental nature of the 55th Round and its non-comparability with past rounds. While experiments with different schedules, canvassed separately, should continue, it is necessary to conduct another large sample Consumer Expenditure Survey using the 30-day reference period as soon as possible. Sen felt that failure to do this would not only give misleading indicators to policymakers using the data but also compromise the reputation of India’s statistical system.

Journalist, Devender Sharma, spoke on Biodiversity and said that India had 45,000 plant species originating in this country and equated American attempts to patent any of them as bio-piracy. He said that enforcing product and process patenting was like imposing scientific apartheid on a developing country. Referring to the overzealous attempts to document traditional knowledge by the government, World Bank, and foreign-funded organisations, he said there was a need to sceptically look at the destination of all such information, and said that information so collected was being used to patent them and further impoverish the original controllers of such knowledge.

P. Sainath, rural reporter and journalist, spoke of his experiences in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh where impoverishment has reached new scales. He said that in Anathpur, Andhra Pradesh, in the last 3 years, even by official count 917 farmers had committed suicide. This figure included groundnut farmers who committed suicide after a good crop, as indebtedness had become higher than ever before with new corporations acting like new-age mahajans. He accused the collapsing public health system, which was being increasingly privatised, being responsible for the poor health status resulting in indebtedness amongst farmers, who had to take loans for treatments. He called for storming the godowns, as large stocks of foodgrain rotted there while adjacent to them were starving tribal population who rotated their hunger to ward of certain death. He spoke of how badly the mass media had got disconnected from the reality of the masses and focussed on the small urban minority who gained from the globalisation process.

Sunil, from Shramik Adivasi Sanghtan, Madhya Pradesh, spoke on Informal and Unorganised Sector. Referring to the anti-people development projects and the resulting impoverishment of the local tribal population he spoke of the resistance that was coming up all over Madhya Pradesh. He said globalisation had opened the doors for large-scale exploitation of forests and said that there were 40 odd World Bank and other foreign-funded projects that were supposedly being run to save forests. He spoke of this as the latest form of depriving the forest dwellers of their traditional rights over the forests.

Imrana Qadeer spoke on Health and Globalisation and said that third world countries were being used as experiment grounds for medicines and health practices, and medical care costs were being increasingly shifted to the poor. She referred to the large corporate pharmaceutical organisations tying up with United Nations institutions, thereby reaching government bodies and decision-making powers in developing countries, which only expanded their markets. This also got them tax reliefs as well as subsidies while gaining legitimacy for their exploitative aims.

The post-lunch session on Democracy and Globalisation was chaired by Prof. Randhir Singh. Aruna Roy spoke about corruption that goes on in the name of development and how wool was being pulled over the eyes of people through non-transparent deals. She talked of her experience with the “Right to Information” movement and how the small struggle at Beawar had spread to the whole of Rajasthan. Referring to the fear driven into public figures and the consequent humiliation that they would have to face, with all papers being open to public scrutiny, in many of the villages they had been able to get village projects moving. She wondered why things of consequence like signing a treaty and disinvestments were not being discussed.

B. Sivaraman, editor of Liberation, Central Organ of the CPI-ML, spoke of how globalisation was being announced as a great democratising force but had proved, on the contrary, to be undermining democracy, even in its limited bourgeois form. He dealt with different facets of erosion of democracy in the globalised world. He expressed scepticism about the props and palliatives being proposed to sustain democracy. Highlighting the need for a New Democracy, he said that a powerful movement for democracy against globalisation could derive its necessary strength from workers and peasants. He emphasised the need for overall democratisation going beyond established institutions, while protecting them from fascist designs. The path to a new democracy could be only through forging a coalition of all anti-globalising forces of the popular classes and he underlined the need for a dialogue among them.

Prof Randhir Singh reiterated that globalisation was nothing but capitalism, which by its very nature, was a globalising system. He said that globalisation was a structural response to the crisis of capitalism and said that the trade cycles were becoming shorter and shorter. Linking the question of inequality raised by other speakers, he said that wealth at the centre and poverty at the periphery was the logic of capitalism. Hence stress should be for giving primacy to politics over economics, so that this logic of the market could be defeated. Speaking of the twin weapons of organisation and consciousness for the struggle against global capital and the Indian capitalists, he called for a new strategy based on a socialist perspective.

Chairing the session on People’s Struggles and Globalisation, Surendra Mohan spoke of the need for intensification of the struggles against globalisation. Prabhas Joshi, referring to his experiences and incidents as a journalist and a sympathiser of different struggles, spoke of the depression in the intelligentsia and their having given up a conscious struggle against global capital. He said that this could be only overcome by aligning with forces of change like the peasants, the displaced, the workers and large sections of toiling population. He elaborated that all the movements have, over time, worked out a space for their own struggle but have stuck on to them and refused to come to a coalition for the fear of losing their identity. He said that such small gains would be blown to bits in the current onslaught of globalisation if the struggling forces did not come on to a common platform. Referring to the plural nature of the struggle, he said different forces against globalisation needed to be there to give it a complete form.

Srilata Swaminathan, president of AIPWA, spoke about grassroots struggles and globalisation. She said that polarisation was emerging sharply as more and more democratic institutions were turning their backs on the people and openly favouring the forces of globalisation. She spoke of how people did not find it difficult now to understand how globalisation operated as they easily equate it with the moneylenders. She also pondered on the threat to tribal rights, with their lands now being open to privatisation as a consequence of the Land Acquisition Act. Speaking on the impact of globalisation on women, she explained how women were being turned into cheap labour leading to their impoverishment and exploitation in the hands of global capital. With the government’s abdication of responsibility towards the people, women are the first to suffer. Referring to the struggles by women workers in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Bihar and UP for minimum and equal wages, she said the struggle ahead had to be with the slogan -- People before Profits.

Vivek Monterio, from CITU spoke about trade unions and globalisation. He said that workers needed to be organised with greater vigour in the coming years as against the decreasing role of trade unions that proponents of globalisation are espousing. He spoke of the scheme of disinvestment being carried out and the growing casualisation and contractualisation of labour and referred to the challenges in the struggle ahead.

MP Parmeshwaran from KSSP, presented a paper on the possible course of action for campaigns and struggles. He said that this struggle should not stop at resolutions or demonstrations alone and urged the need for placing before the people a concrete economic, political and cultural alternative. He said that a broad front, of people belonging to various walks of life and different political convictions, could be developed only under some commonly agreed framework. He extolled the need to go on the offensive by declaring a “People’s War” against policies of sell-out, against fundamentalism, against cultural degradation, against consumerism, and against mafia of all forms.

Pierre Beaudet, Ex. Director of Alternatives, Canada also addressed the conference and expressed solidarity and said that globalisation had a name and identity. It was US imperialism and not free-floating information in cyberspace. He said in every anti-globalisation demonstration there was a lot of creativity and education and this would have to be tapped to give the cutting edge to the struggle against US imperialism.

The final day of the conference, March23, session saw adoption of the original appeal issued for the conference as the Delhi Declaration and an Action Plan. The day began with a solidarity message by Linda Waldron of DSP, Australia, Abdul Majeed Kanjoo of Saraiki National Party (Pakistan) and Risto Isomaki from Finland and Roshan from Green Party, Germany, JN Khanal of CPN(UML) and a comrade from CPN(ML). Referring to their own experiences and struggles against globalisation, they pledged their solidarity and support to the struggle in India.

The final session was presided over by Medha Patkar and SP Shukla. Medha Patkar spoke about the dim employment situation and the question of livelihood of millions of Indian people. She said that there had always been an attack on the tribal rights over natural resources but it had only increased in the recent years. With the welfare state being buried under the new offensive, the traditional large-scale employment options were also getting lost, she said. While speaking on the need for national sovereignty, she underlined that it was people who were sovereign. Along with struggles against the global capital, she said, there was also a need to fight against state power and corruption. Medha Patkar spoke of how people were willing to fight and were always fighting in fields, villages, river valleys and factories. She called for constructive work along with these struggles to fight imperialism.

Other speakers in the session included Ashok Manohar of Lal Nishan Party, Jagjit Singh Layalpuri of MCPI, Arvind Sinha of CPI(ML)-Unity Initiative, and Dr. Sunilam, who proposed ideas for further course of action.

The conference resolved to carry ahead the campaign against globalisation and go for a much larger mobilisation and consolidation of forces against globalisation and for this purpose appointed a 19-member convening body with SP Shukla as the chairperson. As a follow-up, similar conferences will be held at regional level. Referring to the successful conclusion of the conference, Medha Patkar appealed to all the democratic forces to associate and co-operate with the endeavour and intensify the struggle against globalisation.


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