Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Achievements of Left Front in India

The Guardian,
30 April, 2008

John Bailey, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia, attended the Congresses of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) held in March/April. Here are his observations of the situation in India.

The present national government in India is promoting economic policies geared towards providing more concessions to big business and foreign finance capital. Many of the measures taken are the result of US imperialism’s influence on the government. Over the past three years this influence over domestic, economic, political and foreign policy has grown.The growth in the GDP in at eight percent, however, this is due mainly to booms in real estate, the stock market and credit-driven consumption by the urban elite. This economic growth, far from improving the living conditions of the working people, is increasing inequalities at an alarming rate.While big business and urban elites are enjoying the benefits of faster income growth and rising purchasing power, the working class in the urban areas and almost all the agrarian classes in the rural areas are experiencing dwindling opportunities of income and employment.So bad is the situation that while India has produced 48 billionaires in recent times 77% of the working population earn less than 20 rupees a day (35 rupees is worth 1$A) or 600 rupees a month. The per capita income in India is 1,937 rupees a month but this per capita income is more than three times what is earned by more than 77% of the population.

This is happening at a time of steep price rises in essential commodities and when workers in India are facing increasing levels of exploitation due to the casualisation of labour, outsourcing and widespread use of contract workers.The prices of basic food items such as cereals, edible oils, sugar, fruit and vegetable have risen sharply. The successive rises in fuel prices have added to inflationary pressures. A National Commission of Rural Labour has found that approximately 50% of male workers and 87% of female workers in urban areas and 47% of male workers and 87% of female workers in rural areas get wages below the national minimum wage.

Unemployment in rural areas has risen from 9.5% in 1993-4 to 15.3%Impoverishment and unemployment in the rural areas is leading to large scale immigration to cities where they are subjected to high levels of exploitation.The corporatisation of the health system and the lifting of price controls on drugs have made medical treatment and medicines prohibitively expensive. A National Family Health Survey shows that 40% of children under three in India are underweight, 23% are wasted (stunted) and 70% anaemic. The survey also found that one-third of women are underweight and 55% of women are anaemic, all this points towards the level of malnutrition in the country.The privatisation of basic services like water and electricity supply has also added to the burden of the people.It is obvious that the plight of the common people in India has worsened due to imperialist globalisation and the neo-liberal policies being pursued by the central government.Prosperity for the upper classes on the one hand and deprivation for the majority of the working people on the other has become the hallmark of the neo-liberal regime in India.However, the central government has not had it all its own way.

The Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, have championed the interests of the people and have put forth alternative policies on many issues. Whether it be protecting the interests of workers, women, the poor, the oppressed caste, tribal people or minorities, the Left has checked or halted some of the more harmful measures proposed by the Congress led National Government.These measures include handing over vital control of the financial sector to foreign capital; opening up the retail trade to foreign interests; privatisation of pension funds; and taking away the rights of workers in the name of labour reform.Under pressure and mobilisation of the masses by the Left forces, the Rural Employment Guarantee Act was passed with improvements to the bill.The Tribal Forest Rights Act was also adopted and the struggle for its implementation is under way. Other measures fought for by the Left forces such as the Right to Information Act and the Domestic Violence Act have been adopted and child labour is now prohibited by law.Due to pressure from the left forces there has been some increase in the allocation of funds for education and the midday meal scheme has been expanded throughout the country.The passage of these measures through parliament has been accompanied by national campaigns and movements to ensure that the necessary laws are passed and implemented.

The Left has also registered impressive victories in three states; West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In all three states the Left-led forces increased their percentage of votes and the number of seats they hold in the state assemblies. These governments are playing an important role in strengthening the Communist and Left movement in India.expenditure for the public sector and welfare.The problems of Central-State relations have entered The Left Front Government of West Bengal has been re-elected in every election for the last 30 years while a similar government in the state of Tripura has now won six elections.Faced with the neo-liberal policies of the national government the Left governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, have had to struggle hard to pursue policies which ensure pro-people and balanced development.The central government’s policies have led to a further erosion of the state’s autonomy and capacity to boost resources. The unequal share of resources between the central government and the states and the limitations imposed on public investment and allocation of resources have had an adverse impact on the ability of state governments to provide a new era under liberalisation and deregulation.

On the one hand, there is a withdrawal from economic and investment activities and, on the other hand, the Central government seeks to push through neo-liberal reforms by setting conditions on the transfer of funds to the states. Every grant or devolution of resources is attached with conditions.In spite of the limitations imposed on them by the central government, Left-led state governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura have taken measures to reduce poverty, create new welfare measures and improve living conditions. The success of these policies can be measured by their achievements in three key areas.In all India in 2006 the infant mortality rate was 57 per 1,000 live births. In West Bengal it was 48; in Tripura 31 and in Kerala 15 which is the best record in the country.In all India life expectancy is 61 for males and 62.5 for females. In West Bengal it is 64.5 for males and 67.2 for females. In Kerala it is 70.7 for males and 75 for females. In Tripura it is 71 for males and 74 for females.The all India literacy rate is 63.4%. In West Bengal it is 69.2%; Kerala 90.09% and Tripura 80.14%.

In order to reverse the economic, social and foreign policy trends being adopted by both the major parties in India, the BJP (a right-wing Hindu Nationalist Party) and Congress, the Left forces are proposing the formation of a third alternative based on a platform of policies for which the Left, democratic and secular forces can work together.Such a platform would address the problems faced by the people and advocate pro-people economic measures. It would make provision for social welfare and strengthen the public distribution of resources; defence of national sovereignty and an independent foreign policy.Given the present policies of the Congress and BJP parties and their allies there is a need for a Left and Democratic Front based on a platform which can meet the aspirations and defend the interests of the working class, peasantry, artisans, small shopkeepers, middle class and intelligentsia.It is envisaged that the third alternative would emerge through joint campaigns by the Left, democratic and secular forces based on a common program and would be more than a mere electoral alliance to meet current exigencies.

Such a program would be based on:

· defence of secularism and national unity
· a democratic transformation of agrarian relations and land reform
· an economic system which would develop the productive forces in a way to maximise employment and reduce economic and social disparities
· a democratic and federal political system
· defence of the rights of working people to a higher standard of living
· access to health and education services and social security
· social justice and protection of the rights of women, dalits (untouchables), minorities and tribal people
· an independent foreign policy

At both the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of India held in Hyderabad and the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) held in Coimbatore, concrete plans for such a front have been made as an initiative of the left forces for creating and presenting a third alternative before the people. In this way the left forces can find a way immediately to combat the ruling class drive towards a highly iniquitous and socially unjust society.Both parties are determined to build on the achievements of the past and maintain a united approach to achieve their goals.The combined membership of the CPI and the CPI (M) is now just over 1.5 million. The Left Front led by the CPI (M) and the CPI has 44 members in the Lok Sabha (central parliament) of India.The CPI (M) publishes five daily newspapers, seven weeklies, five fortnightlies, six monthlies and four ideological publications reflecting the numerous ethnic groups and languages across India.Trade Union membership increased from about 2.78 million in the early 1980s to the current figure of 3.98 million today. The population of West Bengal is 80 million, Kerala 32 million and Tripura just over three million. These three states are led by Left Front governments. The all India population was 1,129 million in July 2007.

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