Central Committee Meeting at Boddapadu
Party Central Committee (CC) met from December 18 to 21 in the historic Boddapadu village in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. The village has been a stronghold of the revolutionary communist movement for decades and has been associated with the lives and struggles and sacrifices of legendary martyrs like Comrades Tamara Ganapati, Panchadri and Nirmala Krishanmurti, Subbarao Panigrahi, Vempatapu Satyanarayana and several others. December 18 this year marked the tenth anniversary of the demise of Comrade Vinod Mishra.
The CC therefore chose this historic occasion and venue to initiate the month-long Pledge Campaign (December 18, 2008 – January 16, 2009) and step up all-round preparation for the important battles ahead, and also to prepare for 2009, the 40th anniversary year of the Party’s foundation. Before the CC began its meeting, Comrade Malleswar Rao hoisted the flag of the Party and Central Committee members (CCMs) paid floral tribute to the portrait of Comrade VM. Members of martyrs’ families were then felicitated by CPI(ML) General Secretary in the presence of CCMs, local comrades and several leading cadres of the Andhra state unit. Throughout the four days of the meeting, Andhra comrades set a new standard of hospitality and people’s participation and involvement in making the meeting a memorable experience for the entire CC.
The entire village – young and old, men, women, children and young college students alike – all had worked tirelessly to prepare for the meeting. The small village was swathed in red everywhere. Fresh flowers decorated the meeting tent every day, which was next to a Martyrs’ Hall dedicated to the martyrs of the entire ML movement. The Hall had a dais that faced, across a wide ground, the small temple where Subbarao Panigrahi had been a priest, and next to it the school which had been set up through a movement by the party in the 60s – and which the Government had closed down in the 70s, finding that it was producing an inconvenient number of Naxalites. All around were cashew groves. The red flag adorned a tall pole atop an enormous banyan tree, and another tall pole right in the centre of the ground.
The entire period of the CC Meeting – from 18-21 December – seemed like a festival in the village, to celebrate the very fact that this Party, braving all the brutal repression and the murder of its entire leadership, had stubbornly refused to die, and instead, was returning more than 40 years later to pay tribute to the village that had borne the brunt of the horrors of that phase. Families of the martyrs from the CPI(ML) as well as the other ML parties were felicitated by Comrade Dipankar, the party General Secretary.
The meals were wholesome and simple, and it was obvious that the entire village was involved in cooking for and serving the guests. One woman comrade who earned her living as a tailor had, for the past many weeks, completely dedicated her sewing machine to the CC Meeting preparations.
Unobtrusively yet surely, one could feel the imprint of communist culture all around. Aruna, a daughter of Thamada Ganapati, introduced us to her mother, Thamada Polamma, and also to Telukala Dandasamma, whom she said was “like my mother.” We learnt that Dandasamma was a sister of Saraswati, who had been killed by the police. After Ganapati’s death, Polamma and the children had had to be underground, to avoid police repression. At that time, Dandasamma had helped to bring up Aruna. There were innumerable such stories in the village: of people forging filial bonds across caste and community.
It wasn’t an easy journey. Aruna herself recalled that when Comrade Malleswar came out of prison and spoke to her of her father, her own family and all in the village were extremely reluctant to reopen the bloody chapter of repression. Comrade Malleswar had an uphill task: but he succeeded in breaking the fear and getting Boddapadu to reclaim its proud legacy. Even those of the youngest generation in the village would tell anyone who asked that even the most basic necessities of life: literacy, education, drinking water, dignity – had been a contribution of the communist movement, not a gift from the benevolent State. Rather, the movements for such basic needs had invited fierce and bloody reprisal from a vengeful State. An entire generation of revolutionaries had been eliminated – but the State had failed to eliminate the enduring respect and love that the village had for those brave men and women.
On the last day of the CC meeting, there was a moving moment when Comrade Dipankar and other comrades met with Surekha Panigrahi, Subbarao Panigrahi’s wife, and visited her home.
On 22 December, there was a revolutionary cultural festival in the village, where the entire village gathered. One young man, asked if there were any singers in the village, was puzzled: “We all sing here,” he said. It was true – there are a remarkable number of cultural activists in the village, a result no doubt, of the tradition of Panigrahi and the Boddapadu Youth League. The guests bid farewell to Boddapadu with full hearts, taking with them the love and comradeship of a community that had been a great centre of resistance, had been tested by the fire of the worst kind of repression and had remained true to the glorious spirit of the communist movement.
State-wide Protests Against Manoj Gupta's Murder
The CPI(ML) in UP held a State-wide protest on 25 December 2008 and burnt effigies of Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati against the murder of PWD engineer Manoj Gupta, demanding resignation from the Chief Minister. In Bhadaura of Ghazipur the protest demonstration was lathicharged by the police. There were clashes with the police in Balia, Ambedkar Nagar and Mirzapur also.
Housing schemes for poor SC/STs too have proved to be a sham, with incidents of forcible takeover of agricultural land of farmers (and lathicharge of protestors) for these schemes, even before a single house could be allotted to the deserving. As for Mayawati’s much-touted promise of land for SCs/STs under the encroachment regularization scheme, till March 2008, a mere 871 allottees from among the SCs/STs were given a paltry 675 acres of ceiling surplus land. Compare this with the 64,000 hectares promised to Jai Prakash industries for building the Ganga Express Highway Project!
The Samajwadi Party, the main opposition in the state, lacks credibility to challenge Mayawati on the issue of criminalization; apart from its past track record, it has promised a ticket to Brij Bhushan Sharan, former BJP MP from Gonda and notorious history-sheeter with a record of communal rioting to boot. The CPI(M) will not forge a pre-poll alliance with the BSP – mainly because, as a politburo member of their put it, “Generally, the BSP goes it alone in elections.” However, their projection of Mayawati as potential Prime Minister last year is proving embarrassing for them today, as protests against the Manoj Gupta murder escalate. If Nithari was the nail in the Mulayam Government’s coffin in the last Assembly elections, no doubt, the Manoj Gupta murder is a damning indictment of the Mayawati Government, on the eve of Parliamentary polls.
MAJOR LIMITATIONS OF THE ACT
• Neither agricultural labourers have been brought under the purview of the Act nor a separate bill for agricultural labourers tabled. But, the minister claims that they are also covered.
• NCEUS had prepared two Bills, one on social security and the other on working conditions. The latter has been dumped and the Bill passed confines itself only to social security in its most diluted/truncated form.
• The 2008 Act appears to have excluded vast sections of unorganized workers like agricultural labourers, the unorganized labourers in the organised sector including contract labourers and the informal labourers in the formal sector, the anganwadi workers, para workers like ASHAs and parateachers, and those the cooperative sector. This exclusion reveals the true colours of the “Politics of Inclusiveness” of the UPA.
• The Act is applicable only to a small section of unorganized labourers whose income limit is expected to be notified by the government. There is every possibility that the subsequent notification will include parameters to exclude good number of unorganised workers from the applicability of the law and the schemes.
• The workers in the construction sector are exempted from making any payment because a cess was collected from the sector for providing health insurance and other facilities. But there is no provision to collect a mandatory cess from the employers in other sectors. Only the BPL unorganized workers have been exempted from paying any premium only in the case of one scheme – 'Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana – providing for a paltry health insurance cover of up to a maximum of Rs.30,000 for a family of five. As a result, workers in other sectors would have to pay the premium amount.
• The passage of the Act is not accompanied by any legally stipulated guarantee for the establishment of a Central Welfare fund.
• There is no provision for penalties in the Act to punish those employers who violate it.
• “Social Security” to the unorganized workers has been narrowed down to ten paltry social security schemes. Most of these schemes like old age pension or maternity benefit (or even the meagre Bima Yojana, for that matter) are already existing/ongoing schemes and there is nothing new in them.
• As a result of dropping the Bill on conditions of work prepared by the Arjun Sengupta Commission, working conditions of unorganised workers including hours of work, mandatory holidays, industrial safety, job security, industrial relations and trade union rights, guaranteeing minimum wages, bonus etc., would remain unregulated and unenforced.
• The government has not acknowledged the principle of unemployment allowance in the case of job losses for unorganised workers or any form of employment and wage/income guarantee. It was recognized in the case of NREGA and the State governments in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu introduced a meagre payment of Rs.500 per month for organised industrial workers in case of loss of jobs but a comprehensive unemployment/job-loss allowance is yet to take shape in India as in the West. What is social security in the absence of unemployment allowance?
• The national and state boards for unorganised workers provided for in the Act are advisory bodies and like the National Labour Commission they are toothless bodies. While implementation is left to the district bureaucracy, there is no independent enforcement or watchdog/oversight body with representation from unions and there is no appellate authority even.
• Not only there is no penalty against the defaulting employers, there would be no action against the bureaucrats who refuse to register any unorganised worker under any of the twin scheduled schemes.
• The special problems of migrant workers, especially inter-State migrants, among unorganised workers, especially the problem of security, has been totally ignored by the Act.
• The special problem of women unorganised workers do not figure in the Bill. The problems of security, sexual harassment, proper accommodation for migrant women workers, issues relating to nature of work and industrial safety, gender wage gap, non-payment of wages, childcare facilities at work spot etc., have been totally neglected.