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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

Return to the Basics


Saturday 26 December 2009, by SC


With this issue Mainstream enters the fortyeighth year of its modest existence.

When this weekly made its appearance in 1962, the editorial in the first issue cogently spelt out its basic objectives in the following words:

Faith in the people of India is our shield and armour; determination to resist all attempts to withhold the fruits of freedom from them our only weapon. It shall be our endeavour to try relentlessly to demolish the wall of misunderstanding, mutual suspicion and even personal pique that divides progressive sections in the country one from another.

And to the readers, it made the following appeal:

From week to week, Mainstream shall strive to bring to your table varied, informative and instructive fare, neither sensational nor dull but honest and objective in presentation. There will be no glossing over friends’ defects for fear of hurting, even as no quarter will be given in exposing whatever is rotten and harmful in society. In this difficult task, dear reader, we seek your support, material and intellectual.

The situation prevailing then was indeed grave. The prospect of Sino-Indian tension over the border dispute erupting into a major conflict was quite high although none could then predict the blitzkrieg operation from the Chinese side turning into an open aggression trampling underfeet the inviolability of the Indian boundary that was also a direct attempt to undermine this country’s sovereignty. The net effect of that unfortunate development—armed clashes between two major emerging nations of the Asian continent—was such that it dealt a heavy blow to the ideas and ideals of Jawaharlal Nehru, our first PM, who felt terribly betrayed by Beijing’s perfidious action; and he could never recover from that sense of hurt—his life was tragically cut short. On the international front too the Cold War posed a serious threat of a nuclear collision between the two superpowers, the US and USSR, over the Bay of Pigs incident. In such a scenario it was but natural for Reaction to raise its ugly head and mount a resolute offensive on Nehru in particular as the progressive forces, both within the ruling party and outside, were overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis.

Mainstream was born around this time. And in its first issue itself it resolved to unite the forward-looking sections of society for the purpose of defending our hard-won freedom and marching towards national regeneration.

It must be admitted in all humility that while some advance was recorded in carrying out the onerous task of bringing together the progressive forces in the early years of this publication, by and large that project has been unsuccessful even if we have not given up our efforts on that score. Today those forces lie scattered and disunited while the post-independence objective of India’s development based on equity remains largely unfulfilled. At the same time the economic policies of the Nehruvian years have been jettisoned on the plea that those sought to imitate the policies of the statist socialist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe which, having failed to deliver, underwent a sea-change to embrace market reforms relying on undiluted capitalism some twenty years ago. However, Jawaharlal Nehru and or his daughter, for all their limitations, never sought to impose statist socialist structures on the populace (precisely because it was virtually impossible to do so in a functional democracy like ours) and the command system in the economic policies adopted there was never introduced in this country. The socialism upheld by Nehru as his objective, broadly accepted by his daughter and the Congress since the latter’s Avadi session in the fifties, was always democratic in content and aimed at ameliorating the condition of the poorest strata of society by ensuring equal opportunities (though in practice this did not happen as the exploitative system remained broadly unaffected since little was done to recast it for the benefit of the masses).

Today this foray into the past has only one significance: to get a measure of the distance we have traversed away from the Nehruvian—as also Gandhian—path under the impact of the Western neo-liberal pressures that are also striving hard to circumscribe our freedom and independent, nationalist aspirations under the garb of globalisation.

On the political plane the unity of the progressive forces was intended to ward off the threat of Rightwing communal, divisive and fissiparous trends which, drawing sustenance from the imperialist camp, tried to weaken Indian unity thus enfeebling the country’s independence and making it dependent on foreign powers on the way to turning it into a banana republic. That was definitely achieved in some degree in the seventies but subsequently the Bonapartist attitude of Congress President Indira Gandhi-mirrored in her promulgation of the Emergency generated a backlash cashing in on which the communal elements could assume power at the Centre and remain in government for six long years, years which saw the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat (besides the demolition of the Babri Masjid ten years earlier that witnessed the mobilitation of majoritarian communal elements on an unprecedented scale and this was followed by a serious of gruesome communal riots accompanied by blood-bath reminiscent of the partition-eve holocaust in 1946-47). One needs to also necessarily mention in this context the anti-Sikh riots that rocked the country in general, and North India in particular, after Indira Gandhi’s tragic assassination bearing fresh testimony to the fragility of the pillars of our secular democratic edifice we are justifiably proud of. These developments were all manifestations of the weakness of our progressive forces as also evidence of the disunity in their ranks caused by both objective and subjective factors.

In the present setting the latest expressions of regionalism, reflected in the demand for smaller States, reveal the complex mosaic of uneven development as displayed best in the deprivation of the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh—a powerful reason behind the potentiality of the call for a separate Telangana to mobilise the entire populace of the area cutting across all political divisions and caste divergences. However, the reaction that this demand has engendered in the non-Telangana regions of the State, especially in the Rayalaseema and coastal areas, bring to the fore the frightening prospects of real division of not just Andhra Pradesh but the country and nation as a whole. The Andhra developments have also emboldened other regional forces to jump into the fray to demand other States—three in UP and one in West Bengal. While the issue of deprivation of several regions where such a demand has been raised must be addressed immediately, the call for a separate State is not justified in every case under scrutiny. For example, one can definitely have indepth discussions and dialogue on the reasons that have propelled those who are now insisting on a separate Gorkhaland, but the demand for a separate State in the Darjeeling Hills is basically impractical not because it would lead to further division of an already truncated Bengal but because, as had been argued in this journal by a retired administrator, a “three-subdivision ‘State’ is unviable ab initio”.

Meanwhile the extraordinary rise in prices of essential commodities, especially foodstuffs, across the country has caused acute distress among all sections of the people, and especially the most vulnerable among them, and this has found echo within Parliament as well with the government failing to give any clear-cut answer to on how it intends to cheek this phenomenon, largely attributed to the drought conditions in different parts of our vast landmass. The global meltdown has not affected India as much as other states but even then its impact is being felt by us as well although we have not yet been totally ‘globalised’ due to various factors.

The national scene is also punctuated by the setback of the Opposition parties, the BJP in particular, even if its overall clout remains by and large intact. What is more striking is the decline of the Left establishments as a whole in the country with the Left Front Government in West Bengal facing the danger of being ousted in the next Assembly elections in 2011 (after a series of electoral defeats at the hand of the Opposition), primarily because of its reliance on brute force against the people at large and the ill-conceived steps for industrialisation it took in Singue and Nandigram in particular without deeming it necessary to consult the local citizens to be affected by such ‘development’ projects. But what is most significant in the current scenario is the proposed paramilitary offensive in the country’s tribal heartland to flush out the Maoists who have deeply entrenched themselves among the down-trodden adivasis who have all along been neglected and bypassed in every scheme of ‘development’. Such an offensive could lead to a veritable revolt by the indigenous populace if the casualty figures due to collateral damage cross the threshold. Intense myopia on all sides of the political spectrum has created a dangerous situation which can be overcome only through negotiations between the state and the Maoists on the basic problems of the local people in those areas as suggested by well-meaning individuals who have the interests of the country at heart. However, driven by the corporates the state is as yet hell-bent on conducting the ‘operations’ to rescue the region from Leftwing extremists and hand it over to Indian and foreign companies for exploitation of the mineral resources available there in the name of ‘development’ along neo-liberal lines. Without holding any brief for the violence unleashed by the Maoists one must underline that the state’s motive needs to be exposed in order to reverse the course it has embarked upon at the behest of the corporates.

Fortyseven years ago when this weekly was launched the issue of environmental degradation had not assumed the kind of menacing proportions it has taken today. The very future of the planet itself is in danger now because of global warming and climate change. Unless the battle against rising temperatures is taken up is right earnest, the whole world will be afflicted by storms, floods and drought. What is more, the deltaic regions in different countries as well as low-lying states like Maldives and Bangladesh would face extinction before long. It is against such an ominous backdrop that the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change was of considerable importance. However, what it has yielded may be tom-tomed as “meaningful” by the US President and British Premier with Barack Obama even calling it an “unprecedented breakthrough”, but in effect the outcome is nowhere near such descriptions. At one level the ‘achievement’ is being condemned as a backdoor deal between the leaders of the US, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and major European nations that excluded the poor states and doomed the world to the inevitable fate of disastrous climate change. At another level the fact is that the final accord is just a statement of intent and not a legally binding agreement even if the US has promised to contribute $ 3.6 billion in climate funds for the 2010-2012 period, Japan $ 11 billion and the European Union $ 10.6 billion (while $ 100 billion a year from 2020 onwards has been announced by the US as assistance from the rich to poor nations). However, the developing countries, notably those in Africa, are deeply suspicious of the developed nations when they make such offers because from past experience they know that those are not genuine and sincere promises, the gap between words and deeds being unbridgeable. The reality is that the US and China, the world’s largest polluters, have made few concessions in effecting genuine emission cuts. As for India, it remained with the other members of the Basic group (comprising Brazil, South Africa, India and China) in endorsing the US-sponsored scored thereby inviting sharp criticism from different segments of informed citizens. Even if it remained with the BASIC forum it could have articulated its independent stand instead of hanging on to the coat-tails of China and not mustering sufficient courage to antagonise the US. That would have also helped to minimise the impact of the division within the G-22. It is high time it comes out openly demanding that the US and other developed countries effect deep and immediate emission cuts.

The irony of the situation is that while the final accord has brought the countries together to “recognise” the view that the global temperature rises should be kept below two degrees Celsius, experts feel that it is so weak on specifics that it cannot inspire urgent action and in that eventuality the net result would be a three-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.

The crises both at home and abroad are fast acquiring a serious dimension. The problems are compounded by cross-border terrorism in J&K in particular (that continues unabated) as well as the culture of impunity being enjoyed by the security forces entrusted to tackle the menace. Massive violations of human rights on this score both in J&K and the North-East are not only alienating large sections of the local populace from Indian democracy, the democratic fabric itself is coming under great strain with every passing day.

At the same time there is no sense of urgency on the part of the powers that be to bridge the growing disparities among the people. While some sections of the middle classes, notably those at the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder, are enjoying the benefits of the economic reforms, the same reforms based on the neo-liberal paradigm of development are inexorably driving the lower segments of society towards pauperisation. This could not only aggravate the crisis but also give rise to an explosive situation culminating in unforeseen consequences.

This is where people’s intervention is imperative to return to the basics of the Gandhi-Nehru paradigm of growth with equity as well as self-reliant approach to events in the global sphere aimed at building purposeful unity among developing states. In all such endeavours Mainstream once again promises to play its modest but sincere role in uniting all forward looking forces in order to help realise a meaningful life for our teeming millions while carrying forward the battle for a better world on the international plane.

December 21 S.C.

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