New realignments amidst reforms and repression

Protests at the grassroots


A novel protest came up in Nellai. The hike in the price for PDS rice for APL category was steep – Rs. 3.50 to 9.50. The existing stocks vanished from the shops even before the price hike came into effect. The masses were terribly agitated when they went to the ration shops. Party leaders in Tirunelveli went around the Pettai area beating drums “Tappu” calling out to the people to march towards the collectorate. One hour ahead of the schedule around 600 women assembled with ration cards. Sensing trouble police reached the spot along with the town supply officer and tehsildar who were held up for 3 hours and let off only after giving assurance in writing that rice would be supplied at the old rates.

In Kumarapalayam, Namakkal district, several hundreds women, mobilised by our comrades, converged into the streets and blocked traffic for eight hours. They threw their ration cards at the local officials who pleaded helplessness at the price hike.

Such protests and resistance sprang up throughout the state. Sensing trouble, the government rolled back the food price increase.

In Ambattur Industrial Estate, after a street-corner meeting, slips were distributed among the gathered workers for a spot vote on POTO. About 95% of the workers voted against POTO.

In her characteristic Maharani-style, Ms.Jayalalitha displayed her munificence recently by getting her minion, the dummy CM Pannerselvam, to partially rollback some of the harsh revenue measures announced earlier. The occasion was the judicial exoneration of this Booty Queen when the Chennai High Court set aside her conviction. Underlying this celebratory gesture was fear. The upsurge in workers’ struggles and popular protests had clearly unnerved the AIADMK government which had adopted a very hard approach in pushing through a plethora of reform measures and adopting a tough posture in dealing with major labour agitations.

Ms.Jayalalitha is expected to be directly in the saddle soon after the Andipatti by-election, her party might be enjoying a comfortable majority in the Assembly and she might have received a judicial clean chit. But she still has a major image problem. Probably in order to overcome that she decided to ape the neighbouring AP by putting reforms on the fast-track and making them wide ranging. The financial crisis in the state was severe but not unmanageable. Under the pretext of empty coffers, the AIADMK government has signed a MoU with the Centre for financial restructuring assistance, the IMF-style, for restructuring power sector and other infrastructural and public sectors. Subsidies have been cut on a wide front. The pernicious package of reforms included greater privatisation of the transport sector, increase in power rates, ban on recruitment and reduction in staff strength by 30%, privatisation of loss-making PSUs, wage freeze and even wage cuts in the government and public sector, no bonus to public sector employees, cut in food subsidies and increase in PDS prices and so on. The story is, of course, old and the same everywhere but what’s new is the sudden spurt in the implementation of all round reforms, which is now becoming a phenomenon in TN as in AP and other

‘reforming’ states. It is too early to say whether these reforms would salvage for Jayalalitha her sullied image and make her

once again a darling of the bourgeoisie and their media. But she has already started facing the heat of popular anger.

Take, for instance, the recent 14-day transport workers’ strike. The attitude of big trade union leaderships was one of pusillanimity: whether to stick the neck out in the face of a defiant government just for the sake of bonus. But the mood among the workers was one of militancy. The government resorted to all-out strike breaking. Private buses were pressed into service. Tens of thousands of workers rallied in solidarity with the striking busmen. Some 20,000 workers were in jail. Workers’ rallies defied police restrictions despite the notorious reputation the TN police had earned in attacking rallyists, as witnessed during an earlier DMK procession. The Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation workers’ strike coincided with the transport strike. The power workers too had put the government on notice through a token strike against restructuring. The industrial actions, amidst savage austerity measures, brought about a mood change. Protesting against bus fare hikes and food price increased people started storming ration shops and detaining the buses.



Comrade Suseela Gopalan

Veteran CPI(M) leader in Kerala and a leader of AIDWA, Comrade Susheela Gopalan passed away on December 18 after a grim battle against cancer. A parliamentarian for two terms, Comrade Suseela Gopalan was a key national figure in the movement for women’s liberation led by communists. She was one of those few outstanding first-generation women leaders in the communist movement and her sad demise is a big loss to the left and women’s movements in the country.

Comrade Biren Roy

Veteran communist leader and a leading light of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, Comrade Biren Roy breathed his last in Calcutta at midnight, 8-9 December. He was 86. He had joined the Communist Party in 1936. After the 1964 split, he did not join either the CPI or the CPI(M), but remained active in the CITU and preferred to work for communist unification. Comrades Kalyan Goswami and Kartick Pal paid floral tributes to the departed leader.

Liberation pays its homage to both the leaders.

The left parties, rudely jolted by the new turn, ended their honeymoon with Jayalalitha and gave a bandh call which was supported by

the CPI(ML), DMK and the Congress and TMC. Our comrades got into the streets to actively enforce the bandh, in many places jointly with other left ranks. To be sure, there were matching political moves in the opposite camp. The BJP opposed the bandh. Jayalalitha began with a wholehearted support to the POTO and went on to declare unilateral issue-based support to the NDA government at the Centre. DMK, in turn, expressed its reservations about POTO but chose to cling on to the NDA. After all, not all was lost. Maran was making waves at Doha! Soon the Parliament witnessed the unusual spectacle of both the Dravidian parties vying with each other in supporting the Vajpayee government. The baffled CPI(M) and CPI have been spared the ignominy of having to wait at the Poes Garden gates for everything even as ‘corruption’, the ‘lesser evil’, started a fresh round of flirtation with communalism. Now they are looking up to Karunanidhi, even though the DMK is ambivalent about the reforms and is in no mood for any display of ‘self-respect’ by coming out of Jaya-friendly NDA.

Jayalalitha did not extend any invitation to the left parties, to the Congress and TMC, not only for the Iftar party she hosted but also for jointly fighting the panchayat elections. The PMK and MDMK are already out in the woods. The neo-liberal reforms and the industrial actions of the working class have helped in bringing about the circle of political realignments almost to completion. But the question of a broad left unity in TN is not going to be an easy affair. A turn in the political situation, howsoever favourable like both the DMK and AIADMK finding themselves in the saffron camp, is not going to automatically bring about a left and democratic unity. The CPI(M) and CPI in Tamil Nadu are more keenly looking for opportunities to hobnob with DMK and other major parties of opposition rather than going in for a movemental coordination of political forces as in the neighbouring TN. Hence the mass organisations of the left parties, objectively pushed into an agitational course, have acquired greater significance. For us the question of left unity is subordinated to the orientation of fighting unity. But the opportunities for a fighting unity are galore.

The CPI(ML) has given a call for a Jail Bharo movement on 2nd January. We are gearing up the party and mass organisations in a big way to provide political expression to the growing popular anger.

– Balasundaram and Mathivanan