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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 37 New Delhi August 31, 2019

Solidarity of “Social Left” alone can guide the “Party Left” | Gopal Krishna

Saturday 31 August 2019


by Gopal Krishna

In his “End of ‘Left-politics’ in India?”, Sunil Ray (August 3, 2019, Mainstream) has attempted to develop a critique against the rootless thought of ‘Left-politics’ having lost its relevance to India. It is crystal-clear that “Left-politics” does not begin and end with the fate of Left parties; it rises whenever enough people from “Social Left” engage, mobilise and organise themselves truthfully with concrete social conditions for comprehensive justice, it gets subdued when their engagement is not truthful or when they engage with apparent social conditions or when their mobilisation and organisation is not pursuing the path of comprehensive justice. The critics of “Left-politics” do not seem to realise that “Party Left” is a subset of “Social Left” and not the other way round. All the voices against comprehensive injustice constitute “Social Left”. Organised effort alone can ensure that it does not get co-opted by capitalism which is happening now.

The critique contends, albeit tentatively, that “one may claim that no political party will ever antagonise” the agenda of creation of productive employment, equal access to natural resources, agriculture as a source of livelihood, availability of basic minimum facilities to provide quality health-care and education for all, environmental protection and rejuvenation of local economy. An analysis of the manifestoes of political parties reveals that their political programmes have antagonistic positions on the issues of access to natural resources, agriculture, livelihood, health care, environmental protection and local economy. He poses the question as to where does the problem lie and prefers to locate the problem in the paucity of political will. It is not explicit as to whether he is referring to the political will of the state or the political parties or the donors of these parties or people’s will. The author of the critique underlines that the power relations do not allow systemic order to change by resisting structural transformation by depriving the poor of access to productive resources such as land to ensure livelihood security. On the question of land, the author makes access of the landless to land at the micro level as a pre-condition for structural transformation aimed at rural prosperity as his central argument.

To take this argument further, to begin with what is required is allocation of admittedly surplus unused land owned by the Central Government and State governments to the landless and to those owning marginal landowners who own less than 2.5 acre land. The reports of CAG and a recent annual report of the Ministry of Defence reveals that the Central Government has unused surplus land. Ministry of Railways has surplus land to the tune of 106,255 acres, Ministry of Defence has 81,001 acres and 13 major ports have 35,993 acres. Some of the Central Ministries admit to that they own about 13,50,500 hectares of land. Other official sources suggest that the correct figure is several times more than what is being disclosed. States too own surplus land whose exact remains to be ascertained. In February 2019, it has been admitted in Parliament that “Small farms are more efficient, especially in cultivating labour-intensive crops or tending livestock, but land holdings are too small to generate sufficient household income.” The land acquired by governments for public cause and public utility since the days of the East India Company can be given to the landless and marginal farmers on lease and if an economic environment of co-operation is created, small land holdings can be pooled together to ensure that sufficient income is generated for the households of landless and the marginal and small land owners. The spirit of Social Left can play a critical role in creating such an environment of solidarity as a concrete political response to the ongoing commodification of land amidst attempts by the state to create a common and perfect land market and to sale the existing surplus land with the state which was acquired for public purpose to private business enterprises.

As to the triggers for agricultural prosperity, unless the “Social Left” addresses the agrarian crisis as a civilisation crisis amidst unprecedented extinction of insects, there can be no transfor-mation for farming, farmers and farm workers. Under the current state of affairs, no social and political forces appear equipped to adopt a political programme which can reverse the trend of extinction. Indians who are part of the “Social Left” and who are likely to join them are looking for structural transformation.

In this 2900 word-long critique, “development” word has been used some 20 times. Towards the end it is averred that what is “needed is to counter false development priorities inherited from false development epistemology” and argued that the “development paradigm needs to be overhauled....without being dictated by the capital system”. The fact remains “development” became such a notorious word that in order to make it sound positive the wordsmiths had to put “sustainable” as a prefix to it without questioning the abnormality of naturalisation of negative externality. While redesigning the systemic order is a difficult problem, the critique infers that it is not so but does not offer the blueprint of the new design.

The ‘Left-politics’ of Social Left and Party Left can begin only with such a blueprint which factors in “Solidarity between humans on the one hand and humans and nature on the other”. This is aptly underlined in the critique.

The author is a law and public policy researcher. He is a member of the National Steering Committee of Nation for Farmers (NFF), a forum of non-farmers to support over 210 farmers’ organisations, farmers and farm workers. He had appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. He is also the editor, Toxic Watch Journal.

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