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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 44, October 22, 2011

A Blueprint for the Revival and Expansion of the Left Movement

Tuesday 25 October 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin

The Indian polity needs the Left in order not only to provide an alternative to the Right, represented by the BJP and the Congress, but to stop close cooperation between the two which has of late seen new dimensions of collaboration on several political, economic and social issues. Who knows they may eventually form a coalition around a common social constituency and support of the market economy?

Political Status

IN the General Election 2009, the Left representation was reduced. In the last Assembly elections 2011, the Left lost West Bengal and has now no representation in the entire Gangetic valley. In Kerala there was a marginal defeat. What is important for the Left is to have an effective political presence in the north. It has to make a special endeavour to enter the political space in Bihar and UP.

Left Unity

THE first step should be to unite the Left as pro-Left elements are unable to understand the continued separation between the CPM and the CPI. Their unification will catalyse consolidation of Left unity and reap the support of the intelligentsia and the masses.

Revision of Ideology

WHAT is equally important is to reinvent the basic ideology of the Left in keeping with social and economic developments in Europe and elsewhere while in India the social context is more or less static. The Indian society, which is plural and multidimensional, has to be analysed in terms of its characteristic social identities which have persisted for centuries, during the freedom struggle and in the post-independence period. Therefore, it is essential for the Left to recognise the legitimacy and political importance of social identities which are marked by religion, caste, language, region, domicile etc. and give all recognisable identities and even sub-identities a place in the party structure and the programme of the Left. Without such recognition, it is not possible for the Left to penetrate into north India or make an impact even among the deprived and marginalised masses. This means that the Left has to travel beyond purely economic criteria into the question of social discrimination and deprivation and categorise the proletariat both as economic and social, while at the same time deal with inbuilt economic disparities among and in identifiable social groups.

Quest of Social Justice

DIFFERENT social groups suffer from relative deprivation and indignities within and externally in relation to others. This implies that every social group has to be analysed under both economic and social criteria. Under a democratic system, every group seeks empowerment and aspires to see its face and presence in the administrative structure as well as receive the benefit of economic development. It must be understood that the demand of social identity is a prelude to the demand of social equality and justice, that is, a proportional share in the resources, goods and services that the state offers including the benefits of the socio-economic development programme that the state undertakes in a given area. Indeed, the Indian state has reached a stage of development where it is in a position to offer some essential services universally, at least minimally, even though it cannot meet the basic aspirations of the people in all respects. The universal services include availability of food and drinking water, shelter, facilities for primary education and for basic health care and movement, and regular means of livelihood in terms of formal or informal employment. The Left’s essential task is to press the state to improve the quality of the universal services to the people, widen their scope and quantum in order to provide security for all the people. To husband the resources for such improvement and expansion, the Left must at the same time block the state’s leaning towards the privileged classes in terms of open and hidden tax subsidy or monopolisation of power and social progress. This was not done in West Bengal. Despite being in power for decades the Left pampered and nourished the bhadralok, who command only seven per cent of the population, and channelised the flow of disproportionate state resources towards them and in fact allowed them to dominate all social positions in administration and services.

The main lesson is that the Left must not patronise the high castes, or even the so-called Ashraf among the Muslims; it should protect and promote the interests of the landless agricultural labour those who have no land at all, ensure that land reforms largely benefit them and not benefit the small agriculturists who cultivate their own land. Similarly, in the field of labour the Left should move away from supporting in toto the organised factory labour which, thanks to the trade unions, has reached a stage where it no longer looks upon itself as an exploited class but aspires for the status of the middle class while 80 per cent of our people are living on an average daily expenditure of Rs 20. It is this informal unorganised labour which deserves the Left’s support and in turn shall provide the basic strength for it in future battles and must be organised and supported against economic injustice, administrative tyranny and persistent deprivation.

Secularism

SINCE the Left is generally regarded as secular, it must take urgent note of social or group conflicts and intervene effectively to stop state atrocities or one-sided action. It is amazing that individuals apart, the Left has not inter-vened in such massacres as Nellie, Bhagalpur, Ahmedabad, Meerut and Moradabad and even Kolkata (in the sixties). It must not only preach communal harmony and secularism but play an active role in restoring peace and justice. That is how it shall establish its credibility as an impartial force, irrespective of who is pitted against whom.

All marginalised and deprived groups, including the Muslim community, the SCs and STs, shall look upon the Left for redressal of their grievances, which are ever piling up. The Left must, therefore, become their protector and defender.

Decentralisation

THE Left must carry the policy of administrative and financial decentralisation to its logical conclusion with effective Gram and Mohalla Sabhas. All villages and mohallas must receive their due share of national resources and services. Education has touched them and it is possible and essential for the Left to recruit workers and organise and train cadres in every panchayat and mohalla, so that they break the existing liaison between the administration and the elected panchayat which are both corrupt and swallow and divert development resources. The Left should press that planning must be decentralised and begin at the bottom, at the village level, and go upward by stages to blocks, villages and States and then to the national level. No plan formulated in an ivory tower in Delhi should be imposed from the top and every level must not only receive its share of development resources in proportion to its population but decide what to do with it and how to meet its felt needs.

Universal Reservation

THE common people have become conscious of the fact that the administration at every level denies justice to them because it is controlled by high castes or the elite. It is, therefore, essential that in order to remove this bias in distribution of resources and planning their utilisation, the Left must propose and insist on universal reservation in higher education beyond the secondary level, government jobs, bank credit and in the distribution of benefits of economic and social development based on a common cut-off of the families whose total income exceeds the state average, who live in pucca houses, have TV and radio, and pay income tax.

Electoral and Political Reforms

INDIA is and should be a Democracy but the democratic system needs to be reformed in the light of 60 years’ experience. The present electoral system generates opportunities for those with criminal background who use money power to enter the legislatures. To defeat them, the Left must support the proportional electoral system, so that the electors do not vote for individuals but for policies, programmes and ideologies represented by recognised parties. If this proportional system was in force, the Left would not have lost Kerala and averted the disaster in West Bengal This will be a revolutionary change as the legislatures will represent 100 per cent of the electorate, and not 30 per cent as at present. Such legislatures shall be much more sensitive to the problems and miseries of the people. The Left supported this idea on the eve of independence. It has to revive its commitment.

Also the parliamentary system, which India inherited from the British on the ground of familiarity, needs a basic change. The head of the government is under persistent pressure of the legislators for inclusion in the government so that those who have commercialised politics or invested large amounts of money and their cronies can get full returns on their investment. The Left should seek to strengthen the institu-tional power of the Legislatures, for example, to have a say in the appointment of judges, ambas-sadors, statutary commissions and boards, limit foreign and domestic loans, even in concluding bilateral or international agreements, But the political system must change first, the head of the government should be elected, directly or indirectly, for the whole term and, what is very important, the Constitution should erect a wall of separation between the Legislature and the Executive. This will have the advantage that the head of the government can include the most talented and experienced persons from various fields of life in the national government, persons who are not likely to work for themselves but primarily to serve the country and society.

Reorganisation of States

INDIA has a great disparity in the area and population of States. This means that the masses living in big States or big districts or even big blocks are receiving much less of the national resources and services than their due. The Left should, therefore, proceed beyond the outdated concept of one State for each language and support the formation of small States with much more social, geographical and economic homogeneity and better understanding and cohesion among the people. Small States, which respond to echoes of history, should be divided among small districts of reasonable size for better management roughly equal in population to a parliamentary constituency.

We have more than 30 States and Union Territories which vary widely in area and population. Many big States have large groups of disinherited or marginalised people, particularly the tribals living across a central belt running from Orissa to Maharashtra. Territorial reorgani-sation should ensure that contiguous homogenous tribal or linguistic pockets have their own States whose administration shall be in their own hands and which shall develop their own administrative machinery so as to depend less and less on All India Central Services and control the utilisation of their natural resources, both renewable or non-renewable.

Natural Resources and Land

THE Left must stress that the local people should have the first claim on their non-renewable resources and, at same time, control the allocation of land for extraction of minerals and ores and utilisation of forests and water resources. States should themselves decide the terms of allocation of land for industries or mineral extraction.

The Left should demand a complete stop to the export of raw mineral ores and press for their primary conversion in the country for the benefit of the people.

The Left should oppose acquisition of agricultural land as far as possible for non-agricultural use or against the consent of the holder or for non-public or private purpose, or without full compensation at the current market rate. The Left should also press for providing employment and skills to the displaced, and for profit-sharing if the land is utilised for industrial or commercial purpose.

In urban areas, the Left must oppose the takeover of inhabited areas by the state in the name of slum clearance, particularly in growing cities where slum land is handed over to private interests for development without providing avenues for alternative rehabilitation and means of livelihood

Government housing schemes should equitably cater to all homeless families and deprived groups.

Minorities Welfare

THE Left has left a poor record in providing education for the Muslim minority in West Bengal. Muslim educational institutions were not recognised or given due grants. Areas with Muslim concentration had no schools, even primary schools, or ITIs. The Left must appreciate that apart from security of life, limb and property, education and employment are the major concerns of all deprived groups including the Muslim community. The Muslim are confident that the Left shall oppose saffronisation of school education and culture and that it should not deny educational facilities to Muslim concentration areas on the ground that it has its own madarsas and maktabs. But the Left should not touch religious seminaries, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, and leave their management to the community concerned. It should encourage the Muslims to establish their secular institutions and recognise and support them under the Constitution. In general the Left must work for school education of equal quality everywhere as well as to promote employment, establish secondary schools and technical institutes according to national norms. It should extend the due quantum of reservation for the backward classes, including minorities, to enter higher education.

Wherever the mother tongue of a minority community is different from the principal language of the State, their mother tongue should be the medium of primary instruction and taught right up to class X. In administrative units like districts, municipalities, blocks and panchayats, where they form at leat 10 per cent of the population, their mother tongue should be used for official purposes.

Freedom of Religion

ALL religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are attached to their religion The apprehension that the Left in the name of uniformity shall interfere with their personal law should be removed. In the case of Muslims their Waqf properties have been extensively encroached upon and the Left Government in West Bengal did not fulfil its promise to protect them though they can provide a good base for the economic and educational development of the community.

In general in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India, no government should try to change the ways of life of the people except those which are obnoxious. The Left policy should be based on freedom of choice in what they wear or what they eat. The Muslims of West Bengal gave credit to the Left for controlling communal violence and for not restraining consumption of beef. In religious matters the Left must stand strictly by Article 25 of the Constitution and oppose forcible conversion and organised Hinduisation of Backward Classes, tribals, Dalits and Muslims

Electoral Strategy

THE Left must not give up the path of peaceful and democratic agitation for the causes of the masses. Nor should it give up the parliamentary route. It should build up alliances with secular parties, including the INC, if necessary, to isolate the BJP and its camp-followers. Either as a Left alliance or as part of a national secular alliance, the Left should contest as many seats as possible for Parliament and Assemblies to promote progressive thinking and political linkage with their potential social constituencies and to train its future leaders.

Basing itself on proper demographic mapping it should put up or support the best candidate from the biggest social group in any constituency. If that group is inclined towards another party, then it may field a candidate from the second biggest group but ensure that the candidate is acceptable to the group and known in the area to be a person of integrity, with a record of social service. In choosing a candidate from a multi-sectional group, it should deliberately field a candidate from a sub-group or section which forms the biggest unit of the group. The Left must maintain due inter-group balance among the number of candidates fielded from various groups or sub-groups in the State or in the country.

Foreign Policy and External Relations

THE Left should foster the policy of non-alignment (no military alliance, no foreign bases, no strategic alliance with any superpower), promotion of regional cooperation, political, economic and social integration of South Asia and closer relations with South-East Asia, West-Asia, Central Asia and Africa. In particular the Left should encourage friendly relations between India and Pakistan and support any steps they take towards the solution of the Kashmir problem. The Left should support democratic and progressive international economic relations, equitable terms for exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, and free movement of know-ledge, technology, skills, and culture and develop-ment resources across the globe. The Left must support development of human rights and international humanitarian laws and peaceful reconciliation of interstate differences and conflicts. What is most important is that the Left must refrain from showing any partiality towards any state on ideological grounds as the nation-state continues to provide the foundation of the international system.

The author is an ex-MP, and the former editor of Muslim India.

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