2013 had begun on a high note of popular assertion and the momentum continued through the year. The unprecedented upsurge of young India triggered by the December 16 incident of the brutal gang-rape of Nirbhaya in a Delhi bus forced Parliament to pass a stricter and more sensitive legislation against rape and various forms of sexual harassment. As the year draws to a close, we can see women in India throw up a powerful challenge against forces and practices of patriarchal reaction on every front, pulling down powerful men including one notorious self-proclaimed godman, a famous journalist and a retired judge of Supreme Court, from their high pedestals and forcing the laws and institutions of the land to wake up and act on cases of rape and sexual harassment that many men in positions of power, authority and influence considered their unquestionable privilege.
Indeed 2013 has been a year of inspiring resistance against systemic injustice. While the resistance itself sends out a powerful message against the forces of oppression and inspires many hitherto unorganised and uninvolved sections of the people to get involved and organised for change, it has also succeeded in forcing the media, judiciary and even the legislature to respond to the growing power and momentum of popular protests. One of the high points of judicial recognition of popular resistance was when the Supreme Court referred the Vedanta’s bauxite mining project at Niyamgiri hills in Odisha to the gramsabhas and all the twelve gramsabhas identified by the state government unanimously rejected the mining project.
Faced with popular protests, the government has had to repeal the infamous colonial era legislation on land acquisition, replacing the 1894 land acquisition act with a new law. While the repeal of the old law testifies to the growing strength of peasant and adivasi anger and resistance against land acquisition, the new law however continues to reject the core demand of the peasantry to save agricultural land. While limiting the role of the state in land acquisition and promising relatively better compensation to land-losers in cases of state-led acquisition, it actually expands the scope of land acquisition and leaves the crisis-ridden peasantry at the mercy of predatory corporate capital which is out to grab as much land as possible on various pretexts.
Similarly, the Lokpal Bill which has now been passed under popular pressure goes only halfway to create a new institutional architecture without addressing the root of the problem – the intricate nexus between big business and state power. Corporate capital which is the biggest beneficiary of all recent scams remains conspicuously exempted from the jurisdiction of the Lokpal which is being projected as a credible and effective bulwark against corruption. There can be no credible cleansing of governance without a paradigm shift in policies – the corporate-centric policies must give way to people-centric policies and governance must become transparent and accountable. That the policies of liberalisation and privatisation are at the root of most of the recent scams was indirectly admitted by Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram when in the context of the CBI probe on coalgate they openly asked the CBI to stay within its limits and not question policies which were a prerogative of the executive.
The popular quest for change has started making its presence felt in the electoral arena too. While the Sangh brigade is desperate to engineer riots and vitiate the atmosphere – Muzaffarnagar being the most alarming case in point – and hijack the public mood for change by projecting an aggressive BJP led by the party’s PM aspirant Narendra Modi as the alternative to a thoroughly discredited and near-incapacitated Congress, the growing quest for change beyond the Congress-BJP bracket became stunningly visible in the Assembly elections in Delhi. The fact that a one-year old party could make such a spectacular debut right in the national capital shows, first and foremost, not just the intensity of the people’s anger against the ruling party but more importantly the intensity of the people’s desire for some positive change, for people-centric policies and people-centric politics.
With all its communication skill, networking strategy and resource mobilisation capacity, AAP could not possibly have created such a powerful undercurrent without touching a basic chord with the working people of Delhi and this it did, not just around the agenda of Lokpal, but by taking up issues like electricity and water, education and health, which helped it make deep inroads among the urban poor and the toiling people of Delhi beyond its initial fund of middle class support and goodwill. As subsequent developments have clearly shown, the ruling elite has no fundamental problem with the idea of a Lokpal (of course the degree of its independence and the extent of its powers may be an issue), but it is distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of supplying cheap electricity, clean water, quality education and healthcare for all, or for that matter, the idea of regularisation of contract workers and enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work, issues that have figured prominently in the AAP charter of promises made to the Delhi electorate.
Politically, the emergence and rise of AAP was marked by a strong tinge of anti-Congressism. But ironically, it now finds itself positioned against the BJP with the Congress offering it ‘unconditional support’ to form the next government in Delhi! It remains to be seen how AAP handles this post-poll phase and its contention with the BJP especially because 31% of AAP supporters had been reported to have a prime ministerial preference for Narendra Modi. But no matter how AAP evolves as a political entity, its emergence has exposed the vulnerability of the status quo while highlighting the need for turning the anti-corruption movement into a positive struggle for securing people’s rights and defending the country’s resources from corporate plunder.
This is where revolutionary communists will have to boldly intervene and play their due role, drawing on the developing situation and the positive aspirations and energy of the people and carrying the movement forward against all odds. All through 2013, CPI(ML) took a series of impressive initiatives. Beginning with a powerful and energetic intervention in the anti-rape movement and determined and organised participation in the historic February strike of the Indian working class, the party successfully held its 9th Congress in Ranchi where it came out with enriched guideline to orientate and improve its growing multifarious practice. In the student elections in JNU and DU, AISA put up a great performance, winning all posts of JNUSU and emerging as an effective third force in DU. In a way, the student union results were an early reflection of the changing political mood in Delhi with more and more people looking beyond the Congress-BJP (in DUSU elections NSUI-ABVP) bipolarity to welcome a third force.
Following the BJP-JD(U) split in Bihar, the two parties tried their best to polarise the political scene around their new-found contention and hostility. Sustained agitations and initiatives spearheaded by the CPI(ML) have checked this polarisation and laid the basis for a powerful Left assertion countering the BJP’s feudal-communal offensive while challenging the non-performing Nitish Kumar government on every front. The tremendous courage demonstrated by party ranks at the October 30 Khabardar Rally in Patna effectively foiled the BJP’s sinister game plan to create an environment of terror and frenzy following the blasts during Narendra Modi’s October 27 Hunkaar Rally. And the party has also effectively built up a comprehensive movement for justice in opposition to the increasingly repressive rule of the Nitish Kumar government, the serial massacre of justice and acquittal of massacre convicts and the witch-hunt of Muslim youth in the name of anti-terrorist operations. The collection of millions of signatures demanding justice for the massacre survivors and reinstatement of the Amir Das Commission marked a new high in the oppressed poor’s protracted battle for justice and democracy in Bihar.
With an utterly discredited Congress fast losing ground, the BJP has unleashed an aggressive campaign to grab power at the Centre. Regional parties do have their pockets of influence but barring a few of them, most have shown a readiness to collaborate with the BJP in the past. It is the Left that has historically offered the most courageous and credible ideological resistance to the communal fascist agenda of the Sangh brigade, but the continuing decline of the CPI(M) in West Bengal and the opportunist tactical line pursued by the CPI(M) and CPI have weakened the Left bloc nationally. CPI(ML) must make its presence felt in this challenging situation with a powerful election campaign. Every gain made by the CPI(ML) in this critical hour will be a powerful rebuff to the BJP’s fascist campaign and the pro-corporate policies of the ruling classes. Every forward step of the party will be a vindication of people’s struggles and facilitate a resurgence of the Left vis-a-vis the growing offensive of the Sangh brigade. All for the big political battle of 2014; all for the victorious assertion of the people!