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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Daunting Scene, Hopeful Signs

Sunday 29 December 2013, by SC



After having crossed half-a-century of its chequered existence last year, this journal is now entering its fiftysecond year at a time when the scenario around us has turned out to be more daunting than before. And yet there are unmistakable signs of hope in the midst of gloom.

Why was this weekly launched in 1962? In its first issue itself it was explained in the editorial that while “faith in the people of India is our shield and armour” and “determination to resist all attempts to withhold the fruits of freedom from them (the people) our only weapon”, “it shall be our endeavour to try relentlessly to demolish the wall of misundersanding, mutual suspinion and even personal pique that divides progressive sections in the country from one another”.

It is not necessary to recall in depth whatever had happened in the second half of 1962 when this periodical made its first appearance. The consequences of the perifidous Chinese attack were obvious. Yet it bears repetition to highlight the grave conditions prevailing at that time primarily because it helps us to better understand the present complexities facing the nation. As was pointed out in these columns 12 years ago in Mainstream Annual 2001,

When Mainstream first appeared on the Indian scene, the country was in the grip of instability and uncertainty in the wake of the Sino-Indian armed conflict that threatened our democracy and self-reliant advance while the very concept of our non-aligned foreign policy came under fire with the weakening of the Nehruvian project as a whole. It was at that critical moment that progressive forces in the country, despite their disunity (heightened by the impending split in the communist movement as a direct consequence of the Chinese attack as also the even-then-perceptible Sino-Soviet schism), rose as one man in defence of India’s unity, integrity, security, stability and democracy as well as ensuring and promoting regional and global peace and progress. In that effort Mainstream too made its humble contribution within the means of its limited resources. And eventually the ideals upheld by the freedom struggle under the inspiring leadership of Mahatma Gandhi since the 1920s were not allowed to be jettisoned by vested interests keen to mortgage our independence and sovereignty.

Today instability an uncertainty are once again hovering over the national horizon. The problems and difficulties before us are indeed multidimensional. From terrorism exported into the country from across the borders, to the grim economic situation and the accompaniying vices of the neoliberal dispensation visible everywhere, India is truly under attack from all sides. The incumbent government’s uncritical acceptance of the neoliberal policies prescribed by the international lending agencies of the West has thrown the country into the vortex of a storm manifest in the incessant rise in the prices of essential commodities and food-stuffs in particular affecting the common people as a whole as also the all-encompassing corruption generated by the proliferation of black money which none of the political parties represented in Parliament are resolved to effectively combat and eradicate with requisite seriousness as warranted by the existing ground reality.

The Nehruvian policy perspective of growth with social justice that formed the bedrock of the socialistic pattern of economy, unveiled at the Avadi Congress in the fifties, has been wilfully abandoned. It has met the same fate as the two other Nedhruvian ideals of non-alignment and self-reliance. The upliftment of those sections at the margins of society is no longer the prime objective and the corporate sector has assumed a larger-than-life image. What is most disconcerting is the virtual retreat of the state from nation-building giving place to private industry whose profit motive has not undergone an iota of change despite mounting poverty in the countryside; it is also disheartening to find industrialists dominating the political discourse whether in Parliament or outside, something which never happened in the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and even Indira Gandhi. And this at a time when the words ‘corporate social responsibility’ have undergone substantial devaluation—what an irony in such an economically stratified nation like India!

Side by side there has been an alarming rise in social problems like the growing sexual assaults on womenfolk throughout our vast landmass as reflected in the media. One had written the following in these columns in the Mainstream Republic Day Special this year (January 26, 2013):

The day the Delhi gangrape victim breathed her last in a superspeciality hospital in Singapore, countless people had gathered at Jantar Mantar in the Capital to silently mourn the loss. This journalist was also there when he overheard someone conveying to another person in Hindi: “Yeh sab bazarbad ke pradurbhav hai (these are all manifestations of marketisation)” bringing out the ill-effects of the neoliberal paradigm in operation here. But one was not in a mood to discuss such issues, doubtless important, at that point in time; instead one sent SMS to some friends that read: “Went to Jantar Mantar when dusk was setting, saw four young men sitting silently on the road having lit four candles and placed them on a sheet of paper on which was written: ‘Ashamed to call ourselves Indians’, lit a candle myself and placed it also on the sheet. Silently stood there for some time. Much has been uttered in the last few days—I feel it’s now time to bow one’s head in shame and stand in silence to offer homage and thus repay one’s debt of gratitude to that intrepid 23-year-old for having aroused our collective conscience even as we cannot conceal the guilt behind our collective failure to save her from untimely demise. Silence alone being holy at this moment, let us silently try to introspect.”

Has that introspection led to any change for the better on this score in the last eleven months? It must be admitted in all honesty: ‘No’. Witness the spate of incidents of rape and sexual assaults shaming the country in the global arena, even if one cannot condone some cases of ‘trial by media’ that has in one specific case led to a tragic suicide by the alleged accused.

Against this backdrop the ruling coalition at the Centre has suffered major reverses in the just-concluded State Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland. The fact is that these polls were a veritable dress rehearsal for the Lok Sabha elections due in early 2014. The decimation of the Congress in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was the most striking feature of these polls sending a rule wake-up call to the premier national organisation, the Congress. Its relatively better performance in Chhattisgarh was a poor consolation as this could not prevent the BJP from wresting power, for the third time in a row, in that crucial State. The Congress’ solitary victory in Mizoram too was of limited value since the outcome in that North-Eastern province, though significant in the context of that region, has practically no impact on the central areas of the country.

However, most encouraging was the meteoric rise of the debutante Aam Aadmi Party in the naitonal Capital winning as many as 28 seats and its supremo, Arvind Kejriwal, trouncing the three-time Congress CM, Sheila Dikshit, by a massive margin in the New Delhi Assembly constituency. Even though it could not emerge as the single largest party, the AAP was able to frustrate the attempt of the Narendra Modi-led BJP to secure absolute majority in Delhi it was fervently hoping to get. As we go to press, the news is that the AAP is now reconciled to form a government in Delhi with outside support from the Congress, and the swearing-in ceremony of the new CM (Arvind Kejriwal) and his ministerial colleagues will be on November 28 at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. The party took the momentous decision to form the government after it received the green signal in this regard through a public referendum wherein the people’s overwhelming view was that having got the opportunity the AAP should not shirk its responsibility. This was a clear reflection of the public mood which is distinctly anti-Congress but not wholeheartedly pro-BJP despite Modi’s strenuous appeals to the electorate to back the saffron party. It has become more than transparent that the people are ready to repose their trust in the AAP’s political greenhorns rather than the heavy-weights in both the Congress and BJP. This is not to the liking of the BJP leaders because it showed that the so-called ‘Modi-wave’ was stalled by the AAP. This confirms the fact that if there is a fresh and viable alternative to the BJP, howsoever inexperienced, the people will throw their weight behind it rather than the established political organisations whose past records do not inspire any modicum of confidence. The significance of this development has not been lost on political observers analysing the poll scene.

Nevertheless, the AAP not being present across the country the threat of the neofascist forces’ takeover of India remains potent and this needs to be combated with all the tenacity, strength, sincerity and resolve by progressive forces of all hues. The attempt at forging an unworkable ‘third front’ the Left parties are engaged in at present is, in contrast, an exercise in futility and this the Left will learn to their utter dismay and consternation in the days ahead. This will hopefully happen sooner than later.

As for the Congress, it has to go a long way in restoring its livewire contacts with its traditional vote-bank—the common people in general and the downtrodden segments in particular. Rahul Gandhi’s initial response to his party’s defeat in the Assembly polls was positive especially when he candidly spoke of learning a lot from the AAP. It was his humility in this regard which came out loud and clear and did leave some impress on the public at large. But he should be careful and not bend over backwards to befriend India Inc. After all, he needs to realise that widening the gap between India and Bharat is the legacy of UPA II (and this no amount of rhetorical statements on growth and development can help to conceal), whereas his great grandfather had, through his policies, taken concrete steps to narrow the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

There are, despite the visible complexities, signs of hope all around us as the AAP phenomenon underscores within the country. In the wider world too the Iran nuclear deal and the non-intervention by the US in Syria offer the peace forces with some opportunity, even if for a brief spell, to reassert themselves. In the meantime the Khobragade affair in New York has revealed the US’ ugly face and the Government of India has, for once, displayed its capability to call a spade a spade and take long overdue retaliatory measures, something that must be acclaimed even though more needs to be done to conclusively establish that India is not a banana republic.

As it steps into its fortysecond year, Mainstream pledges, as before, to stand by the progressive forces of the country in their efforts to ensure socio-economic progress while resisting the forces of regression and obscurantism in India and the region to the best of its ability. At the same time, it promises to reinforce the global battle for peace in the interests of the working people of the nation and the world.

December 25 S.C.

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