Demonetisation and the Casualty of Social Sector: Lopsided Governance and Lack of Vision

Ravi Kumar

Expenditure on education as percentage of GDP in India is around 3.1% (2014-15 BE) and the same for health has been around 1.2% (2014-15 BE). BJP’s election manifesto (2014) said that it would increase this figure for education to 6% of GDP. The same Manifesto said, “Highest priority would be given to address the acute shortage of teachers and researchers, quality of education and research…” Nothing seems to have moved on that front either. On health BJP in its Manifesto said that it would like to “initiate the ‘National Health Assurance Mission’, with a clear mandate to provide universal healthcare that is not only accessible and affordable, but also effective, and reduces the out of pocket spending for the common man…” These arguments for increasing access to education and health and for improving the quality of education as well as Health should have been paramount priority for the BJP government.

NSSO reports on education published in 2015 point out that in 2014 the Net Attendance Ratio for secondary education has been as low as 52% and 51% for male and female respectively. The same figure at higher secondary level is 38% and 37%. The drop out/discontinuation from formal education system in the age group of 5-15 has been around 60 % in rural areas and 43% in urban areas. While the cost of education for individuals has gone up as indicated by the massive increase in the private expenditure on education the government schooling system is not the most popular one. Only 37.5% of students at secondary and higher secondary education level attended government schools in urban areas. The average annual private expenditure has more than doubled for general as well as technical education from 2007-08 to 2014. If one combines the ‘financial constraints’ and ‘engaged in economic activities’ as the reasons for the drop out one finds that over 50% male and 20% female drop out because of these reasons. Around 30% female drop out because they are engaged in domestic activities.

 

And this is happening in a situation when Economic Survey 2015-16 says that around 91% workers are in informal sector which faces immense insecurity as has become evident in the initial days of demonetisation. A huge chunk of workers are rendered unemployed or underpaid. There are evidences from reports of NSSO as latest as 2014, which indicate that the poor and the marginalised castes and girls are deprived of education in terms of access to start with. The 2014-15 data of MHRD puts drop out rate among Scheduled Castes at secondary level at around 18.6% and among Scheduled Tribes at around 27.2%. Now if a government which wants to launch Digital Literacy Mission it has to consider that providing good quality education and good health services to everybody is the first step in development of a society and nation. No substantial step has been taken in this direction. Instead of directing all attention to this agenda it launches new schemes and rather directs the higher education institutions to ensure that they implement the Vittiya Saksharata Abhiyan through the students and faculty members. Even if the Prime Minister had looked at the statistics by his own ministry (NSSO statistics) which says that only 12.4% of population aged 14 years and above are able to use internet for sending emails he could have made out the need to first address the basic questions of education and health.

 

An August 2016 report by the consultancy firms KPMG and OPPI pointed out the dismal health scenario in the country. There end-argument is obviously that private sector needs to play a greater role but the facts that they gave was startling: Number of hospital beds in India per 1,000 population is 0.9; India has lowest number of physicians per 10,000 population among BRIC nations; infant mortality rate of 38/1000 live births and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) of 174/100000 live births in 2015 was quite high compared to other BRIC partners; deaths due to non-communicable diseases are nearly 60% of the total deaths annually; around 63 million Indian are in debt trap due to health expenditure whereas a third of population is driven below poverty line due to out of pocket expenditure on health and so on and so forth.

 

Demonetisation has unleashed a huge debate on its impact on economy, one being how the focus of the government has shifted from black money to ‘cashless’ economy. In the initial phases some demonetisation supporters were expressing hopes about possible increase in spending on social sector by Government of India once RBI reclaims all the black money. Though that debate is not to be heard anymore as Government’s claims of black money seem untenable and the intent is more about how to bring every penny stored with an Indian into circulation in market and add to the strengthening of finance capital.

 

Irrespective of what would happen in next few months and may be years it is amply clear that a lot of money is being wasted on this whole process. Initial calculations by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy had put the transaction cost of the Government of India and the RBI at staggering Rs. 16,800 crores. On 15th December the NITI Ayog announced that nearly Rs. 340 crores would be spent on different kinds of awards to be offered through two schemes, namely the Lucky Grahak Yojna, which will be for the consumers, and the Digi-dhan Vyapar Yojna, meant for the merchants. Given that the cost borne to ensure that the demonetisation campaign works would be huge one often wonders if it was really important to prioritise it over the other much serious needs of the society such as education and health. The Government, it is obvious, is not too keen to address the inequality in access to a good education or health system. In a nation with such massive poverty and such immiseration good governance would meant that a system of education and health is created which is at par with the private education and health system and which can address the issues of unequal access, low quality and improvement to meet global standards. As pointed by facts above the current move by the government, which puts all its energy into one programme to ensure that the face and grace of a government is saved, will only lead to aggravation inequality in social sector.

 

The priorities of the government seem lopsided. It seems least bothered that its declining performance in agricultural production, food grains, manufacturing, personal income, exports etc., need much more attention because they affect the everyday lives of individuals and therefore the ability to access basic facilities like education and health. Its intent is also in question here because while it has shown at one level that it can mobilise resources for things that are its priority such as the drive to push demonetisation on the other hand it has shown little or no interest to address the fundamental issues that affect the millions in this country. While talking of education and health the argument is always about lack of resources but nobody questions how in the middle of a budget year without any provision in the budget the NITI Ayog would come with Rs. 340 crores to give awards to people or how does MHRD create budget heads for its Vittiya Saksharata Abhiyan. In order to further the individualised priority of the Prime Minister all sections of state machinery have been put to work to meet his vision which reveal how he is least interested in improving the educational and health condition of masses but more inclined to divert state resources, bend rules and do everything possible for a policy decision that is his ‘own’. In that sense, education and health are not his priorities and close to heart initiatives.

As SAARC Faces Unprecedented Setback, Time to Rethink the Rigid Boundaries of Its Nation States

by Ravi Kumar and Sasanka Perera
Four member states recently withdrew from the SAARC summit that was to be held in Islamabad, affectively scuttling the meeting. This has raised several questions – from the continued existence and overall usefulness of the regional grouping, to the foundational concern of how to work out issues of regional cooperation. As a process, the dominant understandings of regional cooperation have been mostly looked at from the perspectives that privilege space, in the geophysical and cartographic sense, as opposed to the less tangible possibilities of culture and collective imaginings of the past. In this context, the idea of cooperation has focused on relationships based on territorial identities, marked by militarised borders and geophysical spaces surrounded by these borders, which have come to typify the general and popular conceptions of what is meant by nation states.

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There is an immediate need to begin conversations as militarisation and nation-centric politics will not work through these moments of anger and angst, particularly if regional cooperation is the preeminent ideal. We need to imagine South Asia differently in a new framework with a sense of hope. As Ernst Bloch has noted, “hope means venturing beyond”.

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Read the piece at The Wire

Meanings of Bihar Election 2015: Victory of the Local and Popular over the Ignorance of the Others

(Note: This was written immediately after the assembly elections in Bihar in October-November 2015. This was not published anywhere out of laziness and because publishing in magazines/journals also involves many constraints. It is being posted without any alteration. It would be interesting to see how things have moved since then and when the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh would be going to polls very soon.)

The exuberance at the daily labor haat at Kankarbagh the day after Bihar state assembly elections and the reaction of the so-called upper castes at their happiness or the response of some Muslims during elections that this was a fight for their existence when asked about their electoral preference said a lot about who turned the election around for the combine of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad. And there was contribution of women voters from the Other Backward Class (OBC) and Mahadalit castes as well. This was a combination which did the unthinkable in an age when elections are contested through the prism of publicity campaign industry, though the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Janata Dal (United) or JD (U)-Congress Party) also could not resist the temptation of hiring the same company that worked for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during 2014 Parliamentary elections. It was the “mother of all elections” as stated by the construction worker in Patna when he said that this was a “battle between CM and PM”.

For Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad it was a question of survival when they had been marginalized by the “national” organized political forces. It is relevant to mention how they always headed formations, which flourished on personalities rather than cadre network. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it was not only about consolidating the march of an aggressive rightward politics in economic as well as socio-cultural sphere but also a necessity to reconstitute the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament where they were consistently facing tough opposition. At the end, the personality cult of the Prime Minister received a drubbing and more and more internal squabbles would come out when this defeat will be analyzed along with the recent defeats in the local body elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The voices of dissent coming from the senior party leaders will be only the beginning.

Trying to get over the Brahmanical Lineage

The BJP has historically been a brahmanical political force, which in a certain sense also substituted the Congress party in Bihar, which earlier represented the landed savarna population. The only way that they could have won was to bring to their side (which had a sizeable portion of Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas) a little bit of Mahadalit and OBC vote bank. Their politics historically alienated these sections and the effort to get them in this time was through Lok Janshakti Party or LJP, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party or RLSP and Hindustan Awam Morcha or HAM. They could have added at least some votes to the BJP kitty even though their performance in 2010 assembly elections was not great. LJP had only three MLAs, RLSP and HAM were new entrants to politics.

However, the impression generated by the submissiveness of the three parties to the BJP during seat allocation as well as during campaign on issues of communalism and reservation did not go down well among people. The message that went across through press conferences and statements of leaders belonging to these parties was that of “surrender” to the BJP whether it was distribution of seats or expressing their opinions. One would recall how the BJP dictated terms about number of seats each partner would contest as well as gag orders that were imposed on these partners, which they readily agreed to. Their image of “junior partner” did not add any autonomy to their identity. These factors failed to bring those crucial additional votes from oppressed masses to the partners and hence to BJP. In the process, all of them were decimated.

Laloo-Nitish Wave for a Secular Ethos

If the 2014 general elections were termed as “Modi-wave” then the Bihar election was definitely a “Laloo-Nitish wave” evident in the way Congress piggy-rode to victory in 28 constituencies out of the 40 it contested. The 2014 wave was against the Congress-led regime, as historical amnesia did not let people remember that there were BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regimes in between as well. The continuous ten years of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had given an opportunity to the campaign by Modi-led BJP to project the possibility of a complete turn-around of fortune of every Indian. This campaign found resonance among people due to the rising cost of living, declining income and increasing gap between rich and poor. The 2015 wave in Bihar was against a divisive and arrogantly blasphemous politics of elite, brahmanical political forces trying to hegemonize the oppressed castes. This became apparent in the discourse in favour of reservation that was started by Laloo Yadav when he declared that this election was for Mandal-II and later on the RSS Chief – Mohan Bhagawat – talked against reservation.

Except the Left-governed states, Lalu Prasad’s government in Bihar was the only one which established its secular credentials. He not only had the courage to arrest the then aggressive face of Hindutva—L.K. Advani — on October 23, 1990 in Samastipur when his Toyota rath (chariot) was out to change the political history of the BJP by catapulting it to political power subsequently but he ensured that there won’t be religious rioting in the aftermath of Gujarat genocide. In fact, surveys among Muslims post-Gujarat riots termed Bihar as the safest place in India. Even the Left Front government could not stop Advani when he was going around in Purulia in West Bengal state. It is this secular credential which led to consolidation of the Muslim vote behind Laloo Yadav. And the dangers of a rightwing upsurge were quite imminent as rioting in Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Bihar, the cow debate and murders and an overall hegemonistic ideology of dictating food habits and lifestyles showed.

The rightwing propaganda could not work because of the ineffective presence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre base in the state though they did begin to expand during the Nitish-BJP regime. Nitish Kumar could manage to emerge as a secular figure due to his anti-Modi rhetoric and furthermore due to straining ties with the BJP. The field-visits in some of the constituencies during elections revealed that BJP was trying to rely on a huge bogey of exported campaigners which was not taken positively by the voters as it strengthened the BJP’s image as an outsider. This image, which led to the rhetorical battle of Bihari versus Bahari (insider versus outsider), had left a negative impression and was visually represented in billboards without any image of local leaders or alliance partners. It was replaced only after the second phase of the elections with images of local BJP leaders and alliance partners.

Aggression Backfired

The campaign by Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah appeared too aggressive for the people to digest. This aggression was also akin to the aggression that the oppressed castes and now the Minorities have faced at the hands of the brahmanical forces. A clear message was sent to this effect by Amit Shah, the BJP Chief when he indicated that if BJP comes to power Pakistanis (meaning Muslims, in fact) will be very happy. There were posters circulated by BJP that blamed communities for killing cows.

It needs to be remembered that in a largely rural society like Bihar, the massive chunk of voters, who voted for Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar are also embedded in local social relations where the aggression of the upper castes has been historically a matter of contention. Presenting this aggression through campaign added to the polarization that was taking a political/electoral form. A good understanding of how historically social relations have unfolded in the state would have taught the BJP campaigners that brahmanical symbolisms embedded in food habits, lifestyles and even verbal communication forms had been consistently challenged by the likes of Karpoori Thakur, Left as well as post-Mandal forces. Laloo Prasad represented the agenda of social justice through his post-mandal rhetoric and politics as well as of secularism. He could connect more with the masses through his calm and quiet rebuttal of whatever the star campaigners spoke against him. The connection between the masses and the leaders of the Mahagathbandhan was becoming the key element, which would consolidate their electoral base. The opposition was not able to establish this connection and could not gauge the level of matured politicization of the masses leading to this reversal.

The Language of Masses: Who Connects Better

The BJP campaign was about taking rhetoric to its optimum level, as a theatrics that sought to draw masses into a conversation with the speaker. Every time the speaker spoke he also prodded the audience to repeat the same in an effort to transfer that rhetoric to the masses but it did not really happen because the socio-cultural and economic realities which masses inhabit is completely different from what the rhetoric represents.

A new style of public speaking where the audience is asked to repeat so as to give an impression that the masses are speaking the same thing as the speaker is superfluous way of assessing the mood of the masses. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah that way are not only new to the field of rhetoric but also belong to a particular genre, which is incapable of connecting to the masses due to the absence of necessary language and voice modulation, which comes from the local culture. Even when it came to exploiting the mythical notions Lalu Yadav outdid Narendra Modi. This was reflected in the spat that occurred over Modi calling Lalu Shaitan and Lalu responding by calling Modi Brahmapishach. Lalu again emerged victorious because he sent a message entrenched in the social relations by using a nomenclature that is used for the spirit of a dead Brahmin who did evil things in his life or misused his knowledge to harm others. This was in bad taste for those sitting in Delhi but while doing rounds in fields backward caste and Dalit villagers understood the meaning of it. In other cases, for instance, one speaker loudly proclaims how Laloo Prasad would force Bihar to a dark, jungle raj while the other retorts that Laloo Prasad is known as a thief who stole fodder. He responded to many such theatrics without any aggression and with a very serious face when he said pointing to the neck “Narendra Modi, speak normally or your veins will burst”. Masses connected to him in Bihar more than to any other politician. Though Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were calm speakers avoiding any kind of aggressive tenor the former’s aggression became more prominent when he talked of communalism and reservation — two things that masses awaited to hear from their leaders. Aggression on these two issues was seen as positive, as some kind of hope. It is not simply an electoral victory but questions the idea of politics, which bans a convicted leader, but masses send him back with a thumping majority.

The Myth of Jungle Raj

What the BJP did not realize was the level of politicization of masses in Bihar on account of historical factors, unlike the comparatively different nature of politicization in states like Gujarat which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been more familiar with. This ignorance allowed them to not only have problems mentioned above but also tell masses things that they were not ready to believe, such as the argument of coming back of the Jungle Raj. Laloo Prasad had already indicated his political in the first pre-election rally of the combined alliance when he said that this was a battle for Mandal II. Laloo Yadav is heading a party where forces like his two brother-in-laws, Pappu Yadav or Shahabuddin are either out of party or do not have the same significance as before. It is not the same RJD as the earlier avatar and masses very well knew that. Along with this absence of criminal elements from the party, what also made the alliance sober was the image of Nitish Kumar as the “Vikas Purush” (Development Man). In fact, Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were able to thwart even this oppositional campaign though their counter-propaganda of development with justice that they stood for.

The Prospects of the New Government

The results of the Bihar elections gave a respite to anybody wanting to check the parochialism and aggression that the contemporary India is experiencing. However, it is not going to be a turn around for the lives of masses in Bihar. If the new government has to prove itself it will have to be on grounds of how well it can further the neoliberal model of development. Mr Kumar has been able to show in past that he could do that. The rhetoric that Mr Prasad used to consolidate his mass base cannot work now. In earlier political avatars he had basic achievements to show to masses — participation of oppressed castes as equals in everyday life. That was achieved when his 15 years of rule gave voice these castes. Now he is confronted with a much more difficult question — that of bringing the fruits of “development” to these masses. Even Mr Kumar could not improve the educational system in the state as the universities remain academically and physically in a state of decay; employment generation and developing agriculture along with expanding manufacturing and service industry will be some major challenges. This challenge is important when construction drives the growth rate and the share of primary sector has been decreasing in economy. Also, any serious effort in any field would drive up the growth rate but that would not necessarily mean that poverty and inequality would be taken care of. The post-electoral developments also cast doubts about how efficiently will the new government perform. It would have been wiser for RJD to have two sons of Lalu Yadav as ministers in the new government rather than making one of them Deputy Chief Minister. They are neither well read nor have any experience in governance or politics. In next five years it will be a challenge for Nitish Kumar to retain his image as Vikas Purush, more so when the hopes generated by the new government will be put to test.

Left and the Organisational Question

The JNU elections 2016 have done what the mobilisation for Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban did. It has sent a message across the whole spectrum of Right that there are possibile spaces where it cannot have it as easy as it expects. The official intervention through a Sangh-subservient Vice-Chancellor to use of all sorts of state machinery – from Police to Judiciary – could not transform it overnight into a Sangh camp. It might over years nobody knows but the different kind of politics that the campus stood for has been blocked for now. It is the student politics in the campus and its historical lineage that has withstood for now the attack that the campus has faced. However, this does not exonerate the Left in campus of many criticisms that it draws.

This reflection is not about the campus politics as such but only one dimension of the Left politics – its inability to strengthen itself even in times when the state goes into crisis. The way that the Kanhaiya Prakaran (Episode is the nearest translation but does not convey the whole meaning, which has a sense of process inbuilt into it) culminated into a politics wherein AISF (All India Students Federation) did not contest the elections needs more than just a passing reference. The episode has also created new discourses within the so-called Left such as the one concerning the significance of caste among other things. This development from arrest of JNUSU President to the non-contestation of AISF is a mere excuse here to understand the larger issue of the myopic handling of the organisational question within the Left or rebuilding of the Left.

Rumours and whatsapp discussions had already informed me about the decision of All India Students Federation to not contest the JNUSU elections. The newspaper report had further  clarified it. The Left Unity in JNU is sans AISF. Reasons are not to be debated – whether it was the lack of organisational ability to put up a candidate or it was the committment of AISF towards Left Unity and it did not want to contest alone when the two other partners tried to treat it as a junior partner. These things are immaterial to the discussion here.

And I am not writing to debate whether they have the ability or not or how far can their ability go as an organisation. I am merely using it as an excuse to raise a larger organisational question because the 2016 saw emergence of a leader who travelled the length and breadth of country and was seen as having the potential to add something to the ‘democratic’ political process.

When Facebook posts about how large audience attended his meetings in Pune or Patna were being posted I asked a student leader a basic intellectual question – when you flaunt these pictures and events do you also see a possibility of your organisational expansion with it? Or how does his travels help your organisation? I didn’t get an answer and I expected none because I had a hunch that using such possible moments as the one thrown up by JNU kind of incidence has never been on the agenda of the Left organisations or they have been incapable of taking it further. The arrest of Kanhaiya had provided sufficient meat to the Left to get this politics of Right out among the masses through a well though out organisational exercise routed through its organisational structure as the Right did across the country using the same incident. This could have been possible where the AISF/CPI claimed to have organisation or where they did not have they could have used it to start the process of organisation building there.

When the situation gives the organisation an opportunity wherein the leader acquires a popular mass appeal (and this has been the case many a times) it generates a lot of energy and momentum even within the non-existent units of the organisation. This can be visible in the way local units are compelled to respond to the tirades against the leader for being anti-national in this case for instance. The cadre prepares defence to the charges and in this process begins to devote time to the organisation which s/he had stopped doing.  The other possibility can be seen in the way the units become proactive and organise programmes to felicitate the leader or listen to him. This also becomes an opportunity to reflect on  the ideas and politics of the organisation.

When the Right-wing government, for all its miscalculations that it has been doing, wanted to make an entry into JNU to destroy the ‘different’ kind of history and politics that the institution has represented in the heart of the national capital it generated a huge reaction to the acts of aggression by the state. While a BJP spokesperson immediately remarked that ‘let these people feel the might of the state’. Now when I retrospect he must be faltering for explanations despite his eloquence on television channels. He along with all his fraternal raucous voices would be compelled to rethink their political strategy because within a period of five years it would be difficult to completely transform the nature of the politics in JNU. It cannot be made into the Delhi University kind of students politics (where money and muscle power is the predominant requirement to participate in elections) despite a subservient administration and all sorts of propaganda. The aftermath of the arrest of student activists led to an unprecedented mobilisation on streets of Delhi as well as within the campus. It led to many developments which shall be discussed separately. My concern here is look at how the JNUSU President acquired  an image of a star politician who would travel to different parts of the country to speak. One could see the reaction of people around when he would attend meetings or travel. In the same way as a people had a sense of awe when big politicians moved around with police protection he also experienced the same, obviously, for no fault of his own. Different people from different places in the country narrated how this image was created.

Communist Party of India (CPI) as well as its students wing tried to use this status of the former JNUSU President inviting him to their meetings as a speaker. As we all know CPI has been on downward slide early 1990s electorally as well as organisationally. Its mass organisations have weakened and its seats in Parliament and assemblies of states have declined. In such a situation it hardly has leaders who would have a standing of their own – intellectually as well as in any charismatic sense. Kanhaiya seemed to fill that void – of a JNU student and a charismatic leader. The over dependence on him also created an image of this leader which became much bigger that the organisation itself, whether the party realised it or not is a different question. This further happened because of organisational inability to deal with this larger than life youth leader.

What happened in this process was that his role in organisation was not redefined (as it should have been done) and the use of his image to strengthen the organisation also did not happen. Sometimes it also seemed whether his understanding of different contemporary as well as historical issues were in line with the politics that the party stood for. The answer to questions like how much has the organisation become stronger in aftermath of this whole episode within JNU and how far has AISF gained organisationally nationally from this whole episode would help one understand how can Left chart a different path than the bourgeois organisations while dealing with situations that has been created in recent past.

श्रीनगर के कब्रगाह में

एक के बाद एक हर कब्र से जमी बर्फ की चादर हटा कर जब वह बुजुर्ग ईद के दिन श्रीनगर के कब्रगाह में अपने बेटे की कब्र तलाश रहा था मेरे अंदर से अनायास ये शब्द निकल पड़े:

तुम्हारे कब्र पर जमी बर्फ ने
आग लगा दी वादी में
कितनी गर्मी होगी जाने
अबकी बार की जाड़े में

Challenges of New Unionisation – Do we pay sufficient attention to Changed Situation

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I was urgently required to get my bank passbook updated and when I asked somebody I was told that it may not be possible the the trade unions from Left and Centre had given a call for All India Strike. It had slipped out of mind and it tells a lot about where I stand politically vis-a-vis the whole issue and within the system. As a student one had fought physical battle on streets with right wing groups and police to ensure that the All India Strike was made successful at the site where we worked as students. As a faculty that was not there. It needs to be thought over.

Coming back to my passbook updating business (which is generally done by machines nowadays as banks have been replacing humans with these electronic equipment) I thought of giving it a try and went to one of nationalised banks and saw that the staff was there and it was working as usual. The difference from last time I visited was that instead of senior staff all counters had youngsters sitting. And it struck me whether it is the casualised/contractualised work force which is hired nowadays so that the threats of strikes etc., are minimised. I can see that happening in universities where the staff has been increasingly contractualised and have lost the right to strike work in a situation of hire and fire through contractors of different kinds. In such a situation it does a significant challenge to unionise and bring these people out on streets.

On the other hand, it also pushed me think about the extent to which the traditional unions have been able to integrate themselves with the employees/unions of the private banks where there have been cases of harassment by management for participation in strikes etc. If the demands are against privatisation will it be possible for the private bank employees to become part of the call, unless the demand is for nationalisation of the private banks? There are many more questions concerning the conditions in which the traditional employees and, therefore, unions have worked and the way the new private sector employees in the given situation work. It will be challenge to bring on board the traditionally established unions and the new kinds of workers that have emerged post liberalisation of economy. Only this is the way out to ensure that the capital is challenged in unison because then only will it face the sense of crisis generated by strikes etc.

Greece: People Reject the Obstinacy of Capital

Despite the efforts by the Corporate Capital directly as well as indirectly the Greeks have stood up against the bullying by European powers. Veiled and open threats, that would nowhere be termed democratic, unless bourgeois democracy would mean in its ultimate run a rule by corporate capital, failed to diminish the spirit of Greeks against the austerity. It is not the victory of political coalition as much as it is an assertion by people – the pauperised masses – against the brutality of capital. It has also proven that there is no disconnection between being radical in thought and action. The idea of brutality and callousness of capital translates into a rebellion irrespective of what lies in future. This is also not so much to ponder over what future holds except that the popular won’t tolerate suffering beyond a point. It would, however, pose a challenge to how Left consolidates this upheaval and how it fights, in a non-sectarian way, the monster of capitalism. And this is what makes Merkel and her likes nervous. As the solidarity protestor on streets of Portugal said: “we were not so courageous as the Greeks when the same happened to us”. What if courage extends to the suffering masses in Spain and Portugal?

This may or may not trigger a similar rebuttal of austerity measures – basically another name to compel people to suffer to ensure that private capital continues its insatiable run to devour the labour of masses. But this would definitely force the people around the world the possibility to stand against the bullying by banks, states and their patrons – the private capital. The imagination of another world is alive in the In the minds of people vis-a-vis the TINA syndrome forced upon us. The times for a global solidarity are most urgently needed.

An open letter to Aam Admi Party (AAP) on educational issues

Dear Mr. Arvind Kejriwal,

I write this without knowing whether your party will win the elections in Delhi. I seek to draw your attention to the pathetic state of education in Delhi due to mindless privatization which has taken away the basic right of poor and other marginalized section to be educated and be at par with anybody else irrespective of whether the person comes from public or private education system.

The education system needs a complete overhauling. The farcical Right to Education Act would never make education a fundamental right and anybody with even a bit of critical mind can realise how farcical the act has been. In fact, it was an act that the ruling classes needed to get through due to pressure from the so-called civil society organisations. It also makes evident the skewed vision of education of even non-state actors and educationists who whole-heatedly supported this Act.

No doubt the enrolment figures have gone up and many new schools have also been opened but it is clear that the inaccessibility is still a major issue along with high drop out. And these are issues for those sections who cannot purchase education of good quality. What is also evident is a stark distinction between the education that the poor and deprived population gets compared to the classes which can buy education. The condition of government schools has been pathetic though in past many “progressive” academics and activists were part of the machinery that runs these schools during earlier regimes. Their vision was always dictated by subservience to the business classes because like the state they could not think of improving the condition of government schools because it would bring them at par with or make them much better than the private schools. At least whatever happened on the ground reflects this and has led me to this conclusion.

I realise that if your government comes to power it would not be able to radically control the private schools because of many factors but there will be still possibility to work towards certain things that can improve the condition of government schools. Globally, there has been a history of high quality public education coexisting with private schooling till neoliberalism completely destroyed public education system in those places as well. You must be aware that though the number of private schools has been increasing but the public education system is still the dominant one. And if your government works towards improving the condition of these schools it will have far reaching impacts. I believe the following areas need to be prioritised in education to start with if your party comes to power:

  1. Improve the infrastructure of public schools and bring them at par with Kendriya Vidyalayas of pre-contractualisation stage
  2. Ensure that there is a government school within one km radius of each habitation
  3. The schools must hire regular teachers instead of contractual teachers
  4. Class sizes must be cut
  5. Any traits of communalization of education system must be dealt with strictly by the government
  6. All schools – private or public – must have Parent-Teacher-School Administration councils to check undue things happening at the school and to control the whimsical nature of school management
  7. The teachers must undergo rigorous training after the teacher training institutes are overhauled in terms of their content unlike now when the teacher training is not a priority
  8. Education must try to impart critical education and it is important to define what is ‘critical education’
  9. Critical education must aim at preparing citizens which believe in democracy, social justice, secularism and equality. This needs to be done across the curriculum. Children should be taught to question the world in front of them and the curriculum needs to address this.
  10. Critical education must constitute basis of education and not the uncritical skill based education which the corporate houses want so that uncritical people are produced to serve them
  11. The public education can be strengthened to an extent that it can offer better education than private education system but the governments in past have always aimed at destroying and delegitimising public education system so that the corporate houses can spread their business
  12. In higher education all state managed institutions must be made more transparent, less authoritarian, freed of contractualisation
  13. The government must ensure that there are teacher and student unions in higher education institutions that would ensure the above mentioned aspects
  14. The institutions must not be brought under unnecessary pressure to provide only skill-based education because this would subsequently destroy social sciences and humanities and any space for critical thinking

While I am writing counting of votes is still to happen and one does not know who would win the elections. I would not have written such a letter if your party would have had a history like that of other parties who have made it clear that their interest is no longer in improving public education system or public health system. I do not need to tell you how desperate the corporate capital is to take over the two primary social sectors as indicated through their numerous calculations about how much profit can be earned if the state opens up these two sectors. Education and health are two crucial needs of the poor in an economy where the income and wealth gap between rich and poor has been growing.

I hope that if a new government comes it will act towards improving the education system and not become another instrument of private capital.

Best of luck

South Asian-ness and Institution Building Across Borders

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The recent overtures by India to strengthen neighbourly relations across South Asia have been noted as the hallmark of its foreign relations. Analysts would differ, and not unreasonably, that it is also due to the geopolitics of the region where non-Indian business ‘intrusion’ has been increasing. There is a general hype to this new attitude from India, which is an apparent departure from the patron-client relationship. The Nepali politicians seemed to be hailing Indian Prime Minister’s ‘efforts’ in unison cutting across political lines. But can this building up of a composite and cogent South Asia happen without developing institutional mechanisms that foster deep rooted sharing of intellectual processes across the region? It is only through such a complementing process of institutionalising dialogue across South Asian countries that a more organic evolution of relationships can be imagined. This is a protracted process compared to the signing and conduct of business relations. However, this would contribute to bolstering of business relations in the long run as well if one so wishes.

One way of doing this whole process is to organise an intellectual ambience that encapsulates this organic-ity and functions with the principle kernel that knowledge is non-hierarchical (which will start with the premise that in the process of knowing there is no hierarchy of knowledge) and always contestable. Taking off from this premise it can be a possible project to explore the commonalities, challenges and possibilities across South Asian countries. Once this happens as a common initiative of countries across the region, expressing their willingness to embark on a path that will of revelations narrowed and restricted by the boundaries of nation-state, it will open up possibilities for a dialogic South Asia. This intellectual project, whatever be its history or intention, got initiated in form of one institution – South Asian University. Though diverse institutions of SAARC have existed but an university compared to institutions such as SAARC Cultural Centre etc., involve a completely different process of ethos building – moving beyond bureaucratic detailing into the realm of much open and liberal intellectual sphere. However, amidst the recent emphasis on neighbourliness it does not seem to be occupy the same place of significance as many other issues as the zeal and enthusiasm on this front seem to lack.

Imagine a Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan and Indian sociologist sitting together and deliberating on what should be taught as part of a Sociology post-graduate programme. This exercise takes place even on themes which otherwise seem irreconcilable, for instance, the identity question in Sri Lanka or questions of indigeneity, violence and religion in South Asian context. The same situation might come up while discussing regionalism and nationalism in classroom or in seminar halls. While deciding on curriculum and pedagogy it is also fiercely debated as to how can the courses represent the South Asian context transcending the narrow confines of national sociologies. This was inconceivable four years back and it is a reality in South Asian University, an initiative of the SAARC. Debates within departments such as sociology have seen such moments quite often.

When there are efforts being made to explore the South Asian neighbourliness an institution like SAU provides the platform where the possibilities of a dialogic South Asian ethos can be experimented. The MEA website tells us how unique is this experiment especially as an effort to bring together the different countries concretely – as students and teachers who make the rhetoric of South Asian cooperation a reality in flesh and blood. How far this happens and what can be the conditions to further concretise this, though, remain an issue but as an experiment this has been a major step in re-imagining South Asia in recent past.

The way this university was conceptualised it was kept in mind how the balance of power in administrative matters could be maintained. For instance, it’s rule no. 06 states that “the President will identify up to three Professors working in the University for appointment as Vice-Presidents. Subject to the availability of suitable candidates, the Vice-Presidential candidate should be from SAARC Member States other than that of the President”. Rules mention that the President and the Vice-President of the university should come from different countries. Similarly, the students should ideally come from across South Asia and the Indian students must not dominate the composition because of its sheer physical location in New Delhi. This, as a sociologist, compels one to engage with the challenges of teaching and researching in a situation where the Bangladeshi student brings fresh insights from his location and debates. Even when I think as a pure intellectual endeavour the University opens new possibilities to understand and analyse the South Asian societies, for instance, the identity question with the Afghani, Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan students in a classroom becomes a learning experience for any faculty from any part of South Asia who get exposed the complexities of a subject matter.

Commonalities and absence of dialogue

The South Asian societies share great amount of similarities – ranging from their economies to the social structures and the challenges confronting their societies. Whether it is the changes experienced by the social structures over different points of time under influence of variety of factors or the emergence of new forms of mass resistances or the challenges posed by religious sectarianism a dialogue across the region has been absent. Pakistani scholars working on Hindu temples in Pakistan or historians working on evolution of the region or sociologists grappling with similar issues across region are never institutionally brought together by the states. An effort that transcends the frequent political skirmishes between countries and establishes platforms of sharing would add to bringing out the vast amount of knowledge generated in the region.

This requires a concerted effort that transcends the national frontiers and academia is one such space, which can do that easily. It would create a dialogue that is bereft of enmities and sectarian prejudices. While at one level through research it generates tangible possibilities through pedagogical practices It makes the whole process organic. It evolves as a natural process rather than as a forced practice. In a classroom the academic engagement, in fact, does precisely this when it asks students from different countries to share, analyse and debate the issues that confronts their societies. From classrooms to the hostel rooms to cafeterias it creates a context for a dialogic South Asian ethos.

When students from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India share a room in the hostel, when they deal with questions that may have different national interpretations but they discuss it amicably within the classroom or when they celebrate each other’s independence days it ceases to be a mere pedagogical issue. It rather becomes an organic intellectual process that would produce minds engaged with the South Asian realities.

To have an atmosphere of South Asian-ness the states will have to sensitively get into institution buildings of kind that goes beyond the mere bureaucratic sharing of officials and rhetorical cultural exchanges or business cooperations. It can be done only through imagining a situation where national boundaries become porous and insignificant and when people across these borders start to locate themselves as organic constituents of any agenda, dream or programme. These will also be processes that bring together people to share the developments, concerns and hopes within this region.

Left and General Elections 2014: Crisis and Possibilities for Working Class Politics

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Parliamentary Left seems to have lost steam – organizationally as well as electorally. CPI(M) was prudent enough to admit well in advance that it would not do well. The results only a testimony to where CPI as well as CPI(M) stand today. It is not only the decline in number of seats in provincial Assemblies and Parliament but also its strength across different sectors where it organized peasants, agricultural labourers, students and workers in industry. This becomes a matter of concern when the politics is based on cadres. The other kind of politics which is cadre based is that of RSS and it has scored victory for BJP in collaboration with/for corporate capital. It implies that the floor is gradually slipping from under the feet.

Ajoy Bhawan, the CPI headquarters, does not look the same today. Once bustling with cadres it wears a desolate look with a few leaders around carrying the burden of a party, which seems to be dying a slow death. The situation seems further grim when one looks at the near alarming absence of a second line of leadership. For instance, the student mass fronts in the past years have not contributed to party leadership. Both CPI and CPI(M) face this crisis. The new leadership, which would take reins of the Party once the current batch of leadership is gone is either lacking or has dismal training in Marxism leave aside their experience of mass politics. Also these parties have failed to grow beyond the geographical areas, which used to be their strongholds. Even in those places they are already on decline. CPI(M) in West Bengal or Kerala or CPI and CPI(ML) in Bihar are examples of this trend.

The death like silence at Ajoy Bhawan tells the story of where Communist Party of India stands today. On the other hand, last year CPI and CPI (ML) Liberation, organised rallies in the state of Bihar, which was marked by huge attendance. In fact, observers stated that the number far exceeded expectation of the leadership raising questions of disconnect that is happening between the situation on the ground and the leadership. There are many issues that have culminated into this decline – ranging from gradual dissipation of political distinctness that the Left earlier stood for to the way internal culture of the Left has resulted in disgruntlement within the parties. The politics of alliance hollowed its mass base across states while its failure to distinguish between Party and the Government in places like West Bengal generated all sorts of deviations.

It is no surprise that the spaces vacated by them have been usurped by political formations such as Aam Admi Party (AAP). An example of these trends are not only found in CPI(M) where a section of active members left the party on the issue of supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s presidential candidature but also in CPI where its students wing, AISF, which revived a near death in Bihar and went on to win Patna University students union elections, is witnessing demoralising effect due to the recent developments in the state party. The way recent revival of the AISF brought new exuberance among the students had been historic. However, their spirit watered down due to internal squabbles within Party over candidature issues as well as over the issue of alliance with the ruling JD (U). The parliamentary Left, for many reasons, cannot read the signs of popular disenchantment with the ruling class politics expressed through different political parties. The space which has been created in recent past by crisis of capitalism and the unabashed looting of public money by corporate houses with active direct and indirect support of political parties have not been used by this Left. For instance, in a situation of high food inflation, growing costs of health and education and what stopped Left from taking to people issues such as how state does not mind doling out lakhs of crores to corporate houses as bad loans or tax waivers but when it comes to providing basic facilities it talks of resource crunch. A development paradigm that is starkly distinct from those of the other political formations would have touched the cords even though the past history might have created some hurdles.

When the media under dictat of the corporate capital created what BJP calls the ‘Modi wave’ it also become amply clear that people looked for an alternative to the Congress regime, which pauperised the masses. Along with this the opportunist alliances of regional political parties is also loosing its credibility. They sustain on the national scene because of the decline of the two national parties and absence of an alternative to BJP and Congress. What India, in its electoral history, is yet to see is a national alliance of Left forces in this situation. There is an obvious situation of a two-party system with the regional formations ultimately making a choice to be party to either of the two ideological positions (UPA or NDA), which are not very different except in how they pitch the class politics of private capital. An credible alternative to this political situation can come only from an alliance of the Left front, which bases itself on a concrete political and economic discourse counterposed to that of UPA and NDA and is driven by the strength of the cadres vis-à-vis that of the corporate capital. Third front patched up through temporary conglomerate of ideologically diverse forces cannot be a viable alternative in long term. An electoral experiment as seen in the case of De Linke in Germany or Antarsya or Syriza in Greece do open up possibilities of left front with CPI, CPI(M) and CPI (ML) coming together. Setting aside the sectarian politics and keeping mind the common political goal they may think towards a common platform.

As a micro-level case – Bihar shows how the decline of the Left has been quite prominent and how, finally, only political forces with a cadre base are able to sustain their base. The General elections of 2014 showed how forces like RJD or JD (U) fight battles of electoral survival because their history has been of inconsistent politics and political allegiance. They get compelled to become part of bigger/national political formations – either BJP or Congress. BJP remains a potent force because it’s political rhetoric of being pro-corporate under garb of ‘development’ is effectively supported by the strong cadre base on the ground. As far as the regional forces like JD(U) or RJD are concerned they do have a concept of cadre based organisation but flourish on allegiances to a political satrap. In this battle for political survival social identities become an important tool to mobilise the voters diverting attention from the issues of everyday struggles. The role of the Left ought to be different in such a situation – to bring to fore the contradictions of this politico-economic order, which it has failed miserably to do at the cost of its waning influence. Third front is not the alternative as shown by the post-1989 politics in the country. This was the time when the right wing assertion driven by corporate capital could have been effectively countered by the working class politics of the left had they not faltered along way.