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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 41, New Delhi, September 26, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS – Mainstream, Sept 26, 2020

Friday 25 September 2020

The 2020 monsoon session of Parliament was short-lived; it functioned for just seven days and was adjourned sine die on September 23. The Modi Government gave a full display of its will to override the Opposition and steamroll legislation without scrutiny. Readers will recall that there was no ‘Question Hour’ in this session of Parliament. It is getting clearer with each passing day that the government wants no transparency. The manner in which the Multiple Farm Bills were passed disregarding parliamentary procedure has caused much consternation among the public. The government rammed through the bills — Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and denied to Members of Parliament the right to vote on a bill, or seek any amendment to the legislation. These Bills were passed by a voice vote despite protests by Opposition members of Upper House of Parliament who wanted the proposed legislations to be referred to a House Select Committee for debate. They wanted to vote after deliberation.

A protest erupted in parliament. The Rajya Sabha suspended eight MPs for the remaining period of the monsoon session during the passage of Farm Bills. The suspended MPs organised a protest sit-in at the foot of the Gandhi statue within the outer premises of Parliament.

A notice for a no-confidence motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and 46 MPs against the Deputy Chairman of the Upper House was disallowed on technical grounds. But let us hope that the developing circumstances finally drive the Opposition parties to forge a lasting alliance both in and out of Parliament.

The question of violations of parliamentary procedure is one thing but these Bills have important implications for the peasantry and the agricultural economy and the prevailing system of minimum support pricing of agricultural produce as well as the question the of food security. Over the past several years we have repeatedly heard of a continuing agrarian crisis in India and that the peasant households are caught in a debt trap. It is feared that the passage of new Farm Bills could end certain regulatory mechanisms and infrastructure that worked with the protection of the government and could end the system of mandis (or state-designated market yards) run by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee in many States of India. Now seemingly the farm produce needn’t be brought to the designated market yard … and can be sold directly without the levies of the mandis. This may be possible for the big farmers or kulaks but not the vast majority of small farmers in India who will have no minimum price guarantees and will be at the mercy of traders’ cartels controlled by corporate monopolies. Agriculture is a State subject; there should have been consultation with big food-producing States. Punjab and Haryana are two such States which are likely to face a big impact. These State governments used to earn considerable funds from ‘mandi charges’ part of the Minimum Support Price for rice and wheat. We have already seen a deregulated system like this at work in Bihar for the past decade where agricultural produce lands on the roadside and with no infrastructure.

A national network of peasant organisations gave a call for protest on September 25 against these Bills. Peasants from all over the country raised their voice in the Bharat Bandh, for their rights. Time will tell if the government takes a step back or ignores the protests.

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The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, has also just been passed in Parliament. The Bill was brought in a secretive manner; the draft of the Bill should have been in the public domain for pre-legislative public consultations but it was available to none till it was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 20. There is seemingly a political motive here that creates new bureaucratic hurdles; to send a message to NGOs that are critical of the government to watch out. The Bill grants sweeping powers to the Ministry of Home Affairs to cancel the FCRA certificate of an NGO. In the past six years non-profit groups have become vulnerable to harassment. But some NGOs seem unaffected — we never hear of scrutiny over foreign funding etc over the RSS and its hundreds of outfits that operate in India.

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It is important to recall that it is 55 years since the India-China War of 1962. A major military build-up has been underway on the India-China border ever since the clashes of June 2020. All accounts point to the fact that intense activity is underway in the border region of Ladakh, with the Indian military forces engaged in setting up all the required logistics. The winter is already there at altitudes of 16,000 feet as in Pangong in Ladakh. Field hospitals have also sprung up on both sides. Daily sorties of heavy military transport planes are carrying supplies for the troops and fuel etc. All this is a real indicator that plans are underway for prolonged deployment in what would be very harsh weather that offers frostbite, chilblains and the dangerous high-altitude pulmonary oedema that can be debilitating for the human body. The cost of this huge deployment is going to be very high. Just one helicopter sortie costs Rs 7 lakhs an hour. All diplomatic activity to cool tensions and military-to-military level contacts have come to nought it seems. Will the Prime Minister of India and the Chinese President talk or is this not expected?

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Arrest of a Journalist and the Externement of a Gandhian Activist from Narmada Valley and continuing disquiet over biased investigation into North Delhi riots of February 2020:

The Police have arrested journalist Rajeev Sharma over allegations of espionage. According to the news agency PTI, The Press Club of India (PCI) called the arrest of freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma by the Delhi Police "high-handed" and alleged that it "may be inspired by obscure or questionable considerations". Sharma was arrested on September 14. The Press Council of India has also expressed concern at the arrest of Rajeev Sharma under the Official Secrets Act, pointing to the “dubious track record” of Delhi Police’s special cell in selectively framing journalists.

A Gandhian social activist has been externed by the administration for six months from five districts of the Narmada Valley ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Kevadia on October 31; Lakhan Musafir has lived in the valley since 1986.

There is a clear political witch-hunt underway by the Delhi Police to drag the names of prominent figures, academics and activists into an enquiry on Delhi Riots of February 2020. Recently, Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the well known Economist, Professor Jayati Ghosh have been named in the Delhi riots investigation as part of a grand conspiracy. It is now being reported that the names of a prominent leader of the opposition Congress party Mr Salman Khurshid, Women activists Annie Raja and Kavita Krishnan now figure in a Delhi Riots charge sheet prepared by the Delhi Police. It is clear that the critics of the government will be constantly named and in the process defamed and discredited in the eyes of the public. The police is visibly acting on a script line … getting orders from the political authorities. Criticism, dissent and protest are being projected into subversion. The democratic space is being made to shrink every day.

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The UN General Assembly declared September 26th of every year to be the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. We extend our support to anti-nuclear platforms to educate and inform the public of the grave dangers of nuclear weapons.

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Tributes:

Stephen F. Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian Studies at Princeton University and New York University, passed away on September 18, 2020. Professor Cohen was prominently known through his seminal book in 1973 “Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution”, a biography of Nikolai Bukharin. While working at the Bukharin archives, he found the last love letter from prison that Bukharin wrote to his wife Anna Mikhailovna Larina and he got the letter across to her.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the very well known American Supreme Court judge, passed away on September 19, 2020. She was a champion of gender equality and women’s rights.

Rossana Rossanda, the towering figure of the Italian Left who was expelled from the Italian Communist Party in 1969 and co-founded the dissident group, journal and newspaper Il Manifesto, died in Rome on September 20, 2020 at the age of 96.

Roza Deshpande, the communist parliamentarian and labour leader passed away in Mumbai on September 19, at the age of 91. She had prominently organised the workers in the pharmaceutical industry in Bombay. While in Parliament she was quite close to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

We pay our homage to the above

September 19, 2020 – The Editor

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