THE annual address by the president of India to a joint session of the parliament is always a balance sheet of the past year’s work of the government and a roadmap of its proposals for the next one year. This speech is both prepared and endorsed by the union cabinet and subsequently delivered by the president. In both the houses of the parliament, a motion of thanks is moved by the ruling party expressing gratitude to the president for having delivered his/her speech. This is a hangover of the British parliamentary practice of thanking the `Majesty’ for gracing and speaking to the MPs. To this president’s address, usually, a large number of amendments are moved expressing dissatisfaction on one aspect or the other of the address. These amendments, as a practice, are often subject to a voice vote, at best, as a `division’ (vote count) is not pressed. However, such a `division’ did take place, at least on three occasions, in the distant past.
This time, Prime Minister Modi, while replying to the debate, refused to take any interjections in the Rajya Sabha on what he was saying or entertain clarifications by the leaders of the opposition parties, which is the usual practice. Even the officially recognised leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha was not permitted to ask clarifications. This is, also, unusual. Under these circumstances, given the unreasonableness of the ruling party, the opposition was left with no option but to register its unhappiness by pressing for a `division’ on one of its amendments. This amendment was passed by the house with 118 for and 57 against in the presence of the 175 members of the Rajya Sabha. The opposition, largely, united in expressing its dissatisfaction over the manner in which this debate was conducted, particularly, as concluded by Prime Minister Modi. The motion of thanks now sent to the president by the Rajya Sabha ends with the following: “but regrets that there is no mention in the address about the failure of the government to curb the high level corruption and to bring back black money.”
In his reply to the debate, the prime minister made a series of allegations against some of the opposition parties, mainly the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal. As these observations have been made in the parliament, they shall be replied to, according to the methods available under our parliamentary democracy. It was primarily the attitude of the ruling party, particularly PM Modi, in not permitting a genuine discussion that led to this embarrassing situation for this government.
Amongst the many allegations leveled by the prime minister were those seeking to ridicule the Left as being an `anachronism’, `outdated’ etc. He went to the extent of saying that the Trinamool Congress, the current ruling party in Bengal, inherited a legacy of economic destruction by the 34 years rule of the Left Front in West Bengal. These will be replied to, both in the parliament and outside, in detail, subsequently. In this context, however, to put the record straight, during the last years of the Left Front government in West Bengal, the state rose to the fourth position in the country in terms of industrialisation, according to the latest National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data. The great `Gujarat model’ was ranked a distant seventh. In terms of large and medium industries, between 1991 and 2000, 2,531 new industrial units began production with a materialised investment of Rs 65,686 crores. This generated a direct employment of 2.98 lakhs and twice as much in indirect employment.
The medium and small enterprises (MSEs) considered as the backbone of industry in any state saw the largest expansion in West Bengal under the Left Front rule. The RBI data shows that the credit growth of the MSEs, the basic indicator of healthy industrial growth, has shown the highest and fastest growth amongst all major states in West Bengal. Between 2005 and 2011, according to the NSSO, more than 40 per cent of the new manufacturing jobs created in India were generated under the Left Front rule in West Bengal alone. Out of the 58.7 lakh manufacturing jobs created all over India, during this period 24 lakh were in West Bengal while the `Gujarat model’ delivered only 14.9 lakh. During 2007-2008, despite the belligerent anti-industrial campaign led by the Trinamool Congress allegedly with the help of Maoists, centering on Singur, West Bengal, under the Left Front government, achieved a 12 per cent industrial growth, the highest in the country.
With regard to agriculture, the first Left Front government in 1976-77 inherited a rice deficit state. During the 34 year Left Front government in West Bengal, it became a state ranking first in terms of rice production and vegetable production amongst all the states in the country. This was due to the path-breaking land reforms implemented in the state accompanied by the process of democratic de-centralisation through the establishment of the panchayati raj structures. Recollect that under the Left Front government, West Bengal initiated the panchayati raj system more than a decade before the Rajiv Gandhi government at the centre amended the Indian constitution making this mandatory in all the states of the country.
The Left Front government inherited in 1976-77 a state that produced 59.48 lakh tones of rice. This rose to 143.40 lakh tones in 2009-10. Likewise, the total foodgrains production rose from 74.50 to 157.41 lakh tones. During 2010-11, the severe natural calamity – “Ayila cyclone” – destroyed vast tracts of agricultural land in the state. Despite this devastation, rice production was 133.89 and total foodgrain production of 148.11 lakh tones.
Thus, both in terms of industrial and agricultural growth, this is a healthy legacy and inheritance that the Left Front government left behind for the Trinamool Congress. The subsequent destruction of the state’s economy is there for all to see today.
Clearly, PM Modi by mounting such a campaign of disinformation against the Left, reflecting the congenital anti-Communist predilections of the RSS, was also seeking to appease the Trinamool Congress whose support is crucial for this government to legislate anti-people, pro-foreign and domestic Indian capital economic reforms in the Rajya Sabha.
As far as the Trinamool Congress is concerned, its role in the massive chit fund scam in West Bengal is getting more and more exposed with its senior leaders being detained on charges of fraud or being questioned by the CBI. In addition to the Saradha scam, other such instances of massive loot of the people are also surfacing like the latest Rose valley scam. The West Bengal chief minister’s second-in-command in the state cabinet is under detention. Her second-in-command in the parliament and seen as the main trouble shooter of the Trinamool Congress appears to indulge in many compromises with the BJP in order to save himself from such questioning. He is no longer the chief of their parliamentary party. On top of all these, the CBI has begun investigations into the money accumulated by the party through the so-called auction of paintings by the chief minister and has sought the submission of the Trinamool Congress accounts during the past few years.
Beleaguered by these developments, the Trinamool Congress chief sought an appointment with the prime minister and subsequently met him. The prime minister nor the finance minister, in the recent past, had consulted the state chief ministers or even sought their customary opinions before the annual budget. On this occasion, however, the prime minister promptly granted time and met the chief minister. Only time will tell what are the deals in the offing. On this will depend the Trinamool Congress’ attitude to the proposed economic reforms’ legislations in the Rajya Sabha.
However, as we go to press, the Modi government was forced to accept the constitution of two separate select committees to examine its proposed legislations on Mines & Minerals Development and on Coal Block allocations. These legislations passed in the Lok Sabha in exercise of the BJP’s `tyranny of the majority’ will now have to wait for a decision in the Rajya Sabha till the select committee reports are considered by the house.
On the other two crucial bills, amendments permitting increased foreign capital in the insurance sector and on land acquisition, their fate will crucially depend on the attitude of the Congress party. Recollect that on both these, the BJP as the principal opposition, had opposed such a legislation earlier in the insurance sector and voted for the Land Acquisition Bill which it now wishes to amend to satisfy the corporates, both foreign and Indian. Indeed, this is the `pay back time’ for the services rendered by these corporates who liberally financed the Modi election campaign.
During the last few years of the Manmohan Singh government, there was the practice of `match-fixing’ between the BJP and the Congress on many such neo-liberal economic reforms. We shall have to wait and see if a reverse `match-fixing’ will now be in operation. Essentially, on these anti-people economic reforms, the Congress and the BJP have often been on the same plane.
As far as the CPI(M) and the Left are concerned, the anti-farmer changes in the Land Acquisition Bill and the pro-foreign and domestic capital amendments to the Insurance Bill will be firmly opposed in the interests of the vast majority of the Indian people. This would be in resonance with the large-scale public protests that continue to gain strength outside the parliament against these measures.
(March 11, 2015)