People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
How Long Will NDA Partners Ignore Nations Interests?
Harkishan Singh Surjeet
HE NDA governments move to raise the recently promulgated Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) to the status of an act of parliament has not only exposed the real face of the BJP. It has also underlined --- once again --- the utter lack of seriousness on part of the BJPs allies even on issues of national importance.
This became clear on November 19 when a meeting of the ruling NDA was held at the prime ministers residence. According to press reports, the allies expressed at the meeting some apprehensions regarding the possible misuse of the proposed act. But a significant point was that at the meeting, not to talk of Ms Maneka Gandhi, there was no representative of either the Akali Dal or the Trinamul Congress, that is, "two allies which have publicly expressed reservations on POTO" (The Hindu, November 20). Were these parties "publicly expressed reservations" for public consumption only?
Moreover, while the allies expressed reservations about the misuse of the provisions of POTO "against the press, political opponents and any specific community," an important fact was all their fumbling was verbal as "no specific changes were discussed" at the meeting. In short, the BJP got away with what it wanted regarding the ordinance; the maximum it will do is to make some cosmetic changes here and there.
This was in sharp contrast to the attitude of the opposition parties whose demand is that the ordinance be scrapped altogether. The oppositions point of view is very clear --- while there no doubt exists the threat of terrorism in some parts of the country, there are enough laws in our statute book to deal with the menace. Moreover, various states have already enacted specific laws for the purpose (remember that law and order is a state subject) and these laws are based on the specific situations in the concerned states; in fact, no law is required at the all-India level. The opposition also pointed out that the Terrorism & Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act --- TADA, that preceded the present POTO --- had singularly failed to check the menace of terrorism in the country. It became notorious for its large-scale misuse against the Muslims. The TADA was misused most of all in Gujarat where no terrorist threat existed. Also, the rate of conviction under the TADA was dismally low --- one per cent or so.
Giving concrete examples, the opposition also pointed out that the POTO has more draconian provisions than the earlier TADA. (The two articles by Prakash Karat in these pages earlier have already brought out the differences in sharp relief.) Therefore what the opposition is demanding is not that amendments be made here and there; rather the ordinance itself must be buried. But this is precisely what the BJPs allies are feeling shy of demanding.
There is one more point to be noted. Faced with all-round criticism of the POTO from the common public, intelligentsia and all sections of the media, the PM did agree to incorporate certain "safeguards" in the proposed bill. But, significantly, the union home minister --- L K Advani, a staunch RSS man --- put his foot down. This was the reason the all-party meeting, scheduled to take place on November 20, was cancelled at the last moment. Though the government says it will hold such a meeting some time later, this may well be a device to divert the criticism.
ANOTHER ATTACK ON FEDERALISM
Nowadays, the BJP is out to make yet another dent in the federal structure of Indian polity. It has declared its intention to make changes in the way the Rajya Sabha is elected. First, it wants to do away with the provision of secret ballot in Rajya Sabha elections. Thus, if this change is effected, while all the organs of governance from the panchayats to the president of India will be elected by secret ballot, just one institution will go a separate way. The logic is simply incomprehensible. The only reason is that the BJP, a party which never tired of moralising others, is itself not sure of its flock who are no less prone to sale and purchase than those in other bourgeois-landlord parties. While political corruption may be a big bane of Indian democracy, and steps must be taken to thoroughly curb it, the way the BJP seeks to tamper with the Rajya Sabha polls is certainly not the way to do it.
Secondly, and more importantly, the BJP seeks to bring in a provision that one can contest for Rajya Sabha from any state or union territory of the country. This is simply against the spirit of the constitution that provided for a federal set-up in India. Contrary to Lok Sabha for which an Indian citizen can contest from any constituency in the country, the constitution defines Rajya Sabha as the "Council of States" where the constituent states and union territories are represented. The BJP game is thus a direct attack on our federalism. And this too is not without reason. Mr O Rajagopal heads the BJPs Kerala unit but has entered the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, simply because he cannot hope to win from his home state. Thus, the BJP wants to legalise the dirty practice which some politicians and parties have been resorting to so far.
But the saddest part of the story is that the NDA parties like the DMK and TDP, that used to fight for more powers to the states and in defence of our federal set-up, are feeling no qualm of conscience over all these happenings. The TDP under Naidu boasts of carrying the legacy of late Shri Ramarao. But they have forgotten how their late leader waged a consistent battle in defence of the states rights.
NATIONAL UNITY UNDER ATTACK
The allies commitment to secularism also appears to be skin-deep; at least this is the impression going to the public at large. With its eyes on the fast approaching UP elections, the BJP is out to rouse communal passions in order to divide the people on communal lines. Without any basis whatsoever, the prime minister promised that he would solve the Ayodhya dispute by March 2002. It is known that the dispute can be solved either through negotiations or through a court verdict; there is no third way. But, since no talks are on, nor can Vajpayee bring any pressure on the judiciary, the groundlessness of his claim is evident. Obviously, he was doing nothing but trying to placate the VHP hawks who have threatened that they would start temple construction in February.
The fact is that, with its credibility reaching a new low in the state, the BJP has no hope of winning the elections except by rousing communal passions. (Rajnath Singh is also busy playing casteist game in the state for the same purpose.) But even when the VHP leaders were made to enter the disputed site at Ayodhya and this made the intentions of the BJP governments at the centre and in UP perfectly clear, the allies did not issue anything but a hardly audible murmur of protest. And this despite the serious threat the RSS outfits are posing to our communal amity and national unity!
And now the BJP has surpassed all records in playing dirty games in order to retain its power in the state. What they have done in the Thakurdwara and Ayodhya assembly constituencies in the state, has in scale far surpassed what others used to do. In both these constituencies, tens of thousands of fake Hindu voters have been added to the electoral rolls and the names of tens of thousands of genuine Muslim voters deleted. In Ayodhya, one single house has the dubious distinction of having as many as 1,778 voters! And there is no ground to believe that such tampering of voters lists is not being resorted to in other constituencies in the state.
CAPITULATION TO IMPERIALISM
The NDA constituents, as said in these columns earlier, also kept mum when the BJP government went on dismantling the whole edifice of our time-tested consensual foreign policy and prostrated before the US imperialists.
Apart from the aftermath of the September 11 strike and the USAs Afghanistan war, the regimes capitulation before imperialist powers was again evident during the WTOs ministerial meeting at Doha. Before sending its delegation to Doha, the BJP-led NDA government roared that it would not compromise the nations interests, and the entire spectrum of public opinion in the country assured the government of full backing on this score. But what our negotiators finally did was to succumb to the developed countries pressure on several vital issues; they raised the issue of a review of how the provisions agreed to during the Uruguay round are being implemented, but did not even press for it. This issue of Peoples Democracy carries some items, including a detailed analysis by CPI(M) Polit Bureau, covering the various aspects of Doha negotiations. What all these analyses make clear is that not only the government sacrificed our vital interests to appease its imperialist masters; it considerably weakened the third worlds struggle against the iniquitous global economic order which the WTO has imposed upon the world.
But, obviously, that too is of no concern to the BJPs allies.
That these issues are not of mere academic importance, is proved by the way the BJP government is trying to harm the vital interests of various sections of our toiling people. Is it an academic issue if the WTO provisions are pauperising our peasants and hundreds of them have committed suicide, more so after the removal of quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports? Is it of only academic interest if the government is trying to drastically change the labour laws that provided a modicum of security and some benefits to the working class? The government is seeking to give the class of employers an unhindered right to hire and fire and make, at the same time, any working class struggle extremely difficult if not impossible. Thus it is seeking to take away the rights and benefits which the working class has won after prolonged and bitter struggles. And all this just to appease the masters abroad!
The middle classes too are not to be spared. While the scams like that in UTI have already hit the small middle class savers hard, the government brought down the rate of bank interests from 12 to 9.5 per cent between budget 2000 and budget 2001. And on top of that, accepting the Reddy committee recommendations, the finance minister has further slashed this rate since March 2001. Peasants and other rural people, that is the smallest of small savers, who generally use post office saving facilities, are going to be the worst hit. The ongoing efforts to commercialise education, health services and the like are going to further pick the pockets of the middle class people and others, further depleting their real income.
BUT HOW LONG?
Obviously, however, the allies seem to be living in their own ivory towers, unmoved by the hue and cry that is going on outside. Right now safe in their ministerial gaddis, they have nothing to care but their loaves and fishes. The Tehelka exposure showed that some of the allies are as neck-deep in corrupt deals as the BJP people are. But Vajpayee gave a clean chit to Fernandes and reinducted him into the ministry even before the inquiry commission finished its work, while several army personnel have been punished in the same case. This shows to what extent the BJP can go to save its gaddi, and why the allies are tied to the BJPs apron strings.
But how long? The results of the elections to assemblies, local bodies and the Lok Sabha byelections in the last three years are an unmistakable pointer to the erosion in the mass base of the BJP and its allies. They badly lost in Delhi, Bihar, Assam, Bengal, Tamilnadu (assembly and local bodies), Andhra Pradesh (local bodies) and Pondicherry. And most certainly they are going to suffer the same fate in UP, Uttaranchal and Punjab very soon.
It is obvious that for the allies there is no escape from paying the price of aligning with a thoroughly reactionary, communal-fascist, pro-imperialist, anti-national and anti-people party like BJP. And the more time the allies take to realise this point, the bigger will be the price for them and the worst their plight will be. The fact is that the BJP has made it clear that the central government is a de facto BJP government, and that it cares little for the allies opinions. But equally incontrovertible fact is that these allies can, if they want, force the BJP leaders to scale down their level of arrogance. Herein precisely lies the tragedy that has betaken these allies.
However, no matter the allies wake up or not, the people are not unaware of the bleak future that lies before them. The struggles by various classes and sections during the last three years, including the recent global protest actions against globalisation which Indian people also joined, show that our people are definitely on the move. Much more of course remains to be done, coordination of various streams of struggle is also an urgent necessity, but the fact of the mass awakening cannot be denied. And that will be quite evident in the coming UP elections where Samajwadi Party, a Lok Morcha constituent, is causing the BJP sleepless nights.