Text of the Sundarayya Memorial Lecture 2001
I am very grateful to the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram for inviting me to deliver this year's P. Sundarayya Memorial Lecture. Comrade Sundarayya throughout his life struggled relentlessly against imperialism and its exploitative order. His life and example will always inspire all those who are committed to fight for socialism and social emancipation.
I have decided to focus in this lecture on the need to counter the rightwing offensive which is unfolding in India.
India has been subjected, in the past one decade, to a virulent rightwing offensive. Both, international developments which witnessed setbacks to socialism and the trajectory of capitalist development in India, coincided to facilitate the advance of such a rightwing assault. This offensive is not confined to any particular sphere, it has economic, political, social and cultural dimensions.
Politically, the 1990s witnessed the rise of the Hindutva forces. The unabashed advocacy of majority communalism began to occupy centre-stage which successfully challenged the dominant ruling class consensus represented by the Congress.
Economically, the ruling classes in India embraced the neo-liberal prescriptions purveyed by imperialist capital and its international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.
Socially, the rise of sectarian ideologies based on communal, caste and ethnic identities increasingly fragmented and polarised society. It gave rise to divisive forces asserting sectarian identities which is also a reaction to the authoritarian effort to have a centralised, anti-feudal structure.
Culturally, the thrust of the Hindutva forces to remould society away from a pluralistic and composite culture, towards a chauvinistic, homogenised version of society went along with the increasing penetration of globalised imperialist culture and its values.
All these processes have posed new challenges before the democratic and Left forces in the country. It is therefore necessary to have a proper understanding of this multi-dimensional offensive which can be broadly characterised as right-wing in nature and which seeks to make India totally subordinate to the dictates of imperialism and finance capital.
Underpinning this rightwing offensive is a change in the trajectory of capitalist development in India. Till the eighties, the Indian ruling class preferred to have a State-sponsored path of capitalist development which would enable them to accumulate sufficient capital and embark upon industrialisation. By the eighties this path of development was not sustainable and reached a dead-end. The reasons for this need not be taken up here. With the steady proliferation of capitalism both in industry and agriculture over three decades, the Indian big bourgeoisie found it necessary to switch from the old pattern of development. By the eighties the model of capitalist development based on State capitalism and State regulation to promote the cause of the bourgeois-landlord classes had exhausted its possibilities. The big bourgeoisie, which had grown enormously and fattened at the expense of the people by its hold over State power, was now prepared to embrace liberalisation. The changes in the international situation with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the neo-liberal offensive only hastened the shift in the stance of the ruling class.
It is this new alliance between the big bourgeoisie and imperialist finance capital which provided the impetus for the rightwing policies being enforced in India by successive governments through the nineties.
It is necessary to recognise this qualitative change in the position of the Indian big bourgeoisie which is also shared by important sections of the rising regional bourgeoisie. It aspires to be a junior partner of imperialist capital in order to further expand and develop capitalism in India. The wholesale turn to deregulation, the withdrawal of the State from the economic sphere, increasing emphasis on privatisation and the uncritical acceptance of all the latest economic theories purveyed by the ideologues of finance capital are meant to facilitate a new aggressive type of capitalism which can accommodate the aspirations and interests of a large number of new entrants into the ranks of the bourgeoisie both urban and rural.
The last one decade of liberalisation and privatisation has enormously profited the big bourgeoisie and significant sections of the non-big bourgeoisie. The new avenues for expansion and the quicker rate of capital accumulation has emboldened the ruling classes to push ahead on this path.
The change in the trajectory of capitalist development had its political repercussions. The Congress party which was the initiator of the State-sponsored capitalism, popularly known as the Nehruvian path, reversed its approach and adopted liberalisation. It began haltingly in the mid-eighties during the Rajiv Gandhi regime but then became official policy with the advent of the Narasimha Rao government in 1991. The BJP and the erstwhile Jan Sangh were always rightwing in its economic policies. With the turn to the right by the Congress, the dominant consensus among the ruling class political parties was for liberalisation. However, the myth of the BJP being for "internal liberalisation" and for "calibrating" the Indian economic integration with the global economy was fully exposed when it came to office in 1998. In the last three years the BJP has shown itself more rightwing in its economic policies than the previous Narasimha Rao regime.
Concomitant to the process of liberalisation has been also the political assertion of Hindutva as a political ideology. The rise of the BJP-RSS combine from the late eighties has been in one sense a response to the crisis of the earlier path of development patronised by the ruling classes. With the exhaustion of the Nehruvian model -- the State-sponsored capitalist path, the political ideology which underpinned it of Nehruvian secularism and a welfare State approach also got eroded. What has sought to replace it is a variety of majority communalism which seeks to mould the Indian political system and society on an authoritarian model.
The chauvinistic and authoritarian nature of Hindutva does not contradict the interests of big capital and imperialism
Over the last one decade imperialist capital has sought guarantees for the safety of its capital investments and the maintenance of stability. The Indian State which enforces a regime in the interests of big capital even if it is the authoritarian Hindutva one, will not contradict the interests of such capital. The close ties which have developed between the BJP-led government and the United States of America exemplifies such a convergence of interests.
The demand for stability and law and order, the need to discipline the working class, the need to provide safe havens for investments by MNCs have all found echo in the debates which have risen in the last one decade on providing stability to the political system. The spectre of political instability haunts both the big bourgeoisie and foreign investors. With the loss of Congress dominance, the ruling classes were desperate to see an alternative through the BJP being established in government. Having failed throughout the nineties to have a two party model and a stable system, the spokesmen for the ruling classes are now openly voicing the need to modify the system and even the Constitution.
The obsession to maintain a full five-year term, even if a government loses it majority in the Lok Sabha, has led to the talk of ensuring fixity of tenure for the Lok Sabha. More outrageous are the proposals for restricting adult franchise and indirect elections to the legislatures and parliament. There is talk of making literacy as one of the qualification for a voter and making educational qualifications compulsory for a candidate. All these proposals to modify the current parliamentary democratic system are overshadowed by the advocacy of a presidential form of government by the BJP. Even within the Congress there are a few leaders who favour such a system. The Committee to Review the working of the Constitution, set up by the BJP-led government is designed to generate discussion on such issues so as to provide legitimacy to the ideas of limiting parliamentary democracy.
Such proposals are directly meant to serve the interests of international finance capital and the domestic big bourgeoisie. The BJP reflects these concerns when it projects a presidential form as a more suitable system. While doing so they are also promoting the goal of taking over the State structure through a powerful presidency. Such a president can more easily help the Hindutva forces to penetrate the State apparatus and subvert the existing secular constitutional order.
Here again the authoritarian aims of the BJP-RSS combine coincide with the needs of big capital -- both Indian and foreign -- to protect their interests.
The social consequences of liberalisation in India is reminiscent of what has been taking place in Latin America. In the major countries of Latin America like Brazil and Mexico the neo-liberal policies were adopted in the eighties itself. It led to the sharp widening of inequalities. One sees the spectacle of the rich living in golden ghettos in Sao Paulo, Rio and Mexico city, while the huge numbers of poor live in shanty towns. In Mexico, liberalisation created 15 Mexican billionaires overnight -- only four other countries in the world had more.
The region spends a huge 13 to 15 per cent of the GDP on security expenses, private guards, surveillance gadgets, weaponry etc. This expenditure is more than the total welfare spending in the region.
India too will go the Latin American way if liberalisation continues. In India too we see the widening disparities in incomes and wealth. India in the last one decade has produced billionaires who now figure in the list of the world's richest people, like Aziz Premji of Wipro or the Ambanis. According to one estimate, the top 50 big business houses had assets totalling Rs. 215990 crores in 1997 (this do not include transnational corporations and assets of joint ventures abroad). Another pernicious feature of such development is the continuing drain of India's human and intellectual resources. There is one Indian doctor serving 1325 Americans in the US compared to one Indian doctor serving 2400 Indians in India itself.
The most serious consequence is for the life of India's poor. The basic goal to public policy in India should be the elimination of the crushing burden of mass poverty. India has the largest number of absolute poor in the world. But the rightwing prescriptions advocate growth without abolishing poverty. Growth sans equity is unashamedly advocated by the rulers today.
The obsession with reducing the fiscal deficit as demanded by the IMF and the World Bank leads to all subsidies and expenditures which benefits the common people to be cut, while subsidies for the rich are maintained.
The most callous of all policies is the attitude to the public distribution system. A country which has the highest number of malnutritioned people in the world is now set on a course to dismantle the public distribution system which can offer cheap food for the poor. The spectacle of 4.5 crore tonnes of foodgrains accumulated and rotting in the FCI godowns while millions of people go hungry in the drought affect states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh is a damning indictment of this inhuman policy.
The effects of this anti-people market-oriented policies are becoming evident. The increased electricity tariffs in different states and in particular Andhra Pradesh is a good example.
Increasingly, basic services which should be a fundamental right for the people are being privatised and made into tradeable commodities whether it be drinking water, sanitation or municipal services. In Andhra Pradesh, the Naidu government has now put in place a project for the private operation and distribution of water supply through the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board. Wherever water supply has been privatised in Latin America, the prices of water has gone up three to four times for the ordinary people.
The increasing costs of privatised basic services for the people which should be provided by the State, is accompanied by a direct attack on the livelihood of the working people. The shrinking employment prospects as a consequence of the heavy cuts in public investment and expenditure are borne mostly by the poorer sections. In the rural areas employment opportunities for women has already shrunk rapidly. The per capita consumption of pulses have actually gone down in certain areas showing the fall in purchasing capacity of the poor households. In the first phase of the reforms, the brunt of the attack was borne by the industrial working class and the unorganised sector. But now with the WTO regime in place, the farmers and agriculture have come under direct fire. The removal of quantitative restrictions between April 2000 and 2001 have led to a sharp fall in the prices of all agricultural commodities which has impoverished lakhs of peasants. Andhra Pradesh alone has witnessed suicides by 800 farmers in the last three years. This is the most glaring illustration of how Indian farmers suffer due to the ravages of the global market. The integration of agriculture with the global economy will mean a shift away from food crops threatening food security for the people.
One of the pet themes of the right wing policies is the necessity to reform the labour market. The disciplining of labour is on the agenda of the BJP-led government -- a reform long sought by foreign capital. The right to hire and fire without any restrictions is to be considered. In the recent budget it was announced that amendments would be made in the Industrial Disputes Act to allow managements to retrench, lay off and close factories in enterprises employing upto 1000 workers. For this prior permission of the government would not be required. This would change the current provision which confines this right to enterprises with 100 workers only. The new labour policy will be part of the world-wide drive for the deregulation of the labour market which is advocated by the rightwing orthodoxy.
All the rightwing economic prescriptions are supported and propagated by a continuous media campaign. There is not a single national newspaper or major regional language paper which opposes liberalisation per se. Much of the media, both print and electronic, owned by the big bourgeoisie and the regional bourgeoisie are not only supportive of the drive for liberalisation and privatisation but also are vigorous advocates of the same.
The corollary of this outlook is also an anti-Left ideological posture adopted by the same media, particularly in states where the Left is strong, like West Bengal and Kerala. Opposition to liberalisation incurs the wrath of these media barons. Epitomising such anti-Communist propaganda are newspapers like the Ananda Bazar Patrika in West Bengal and the Malayala Manorama in Kerala. They do not act only as purveyors of anti-Left propaganda but become active participants in the anti-Communist struggle. The inflammatory campaign has gone to the extent where the editor of the Statesman in Calcutta called for the dismissal of the Left Front government prior to the elections and the deployment of the army to stage flag marches in all the districts to suppress the Marxists.
Much of the privately owned media promotes naked consumerism and market values. With the new climate of Hindutva there is also the hybrid mix of spirituality, portrayal of women as sex objects and crass consumerism. The bourgeois media today is one of the main vehicles for the projection of rightwing values in our society.
The countering of this rightwing offensive must be the foremost task of the Left and democratic forces in our country. This task must begin with countering the economic policies of the BJP-led government. The 67 day strike of the workers of BALCO at Korba is a historic landmark in the struggle against privatisation. The ongoing struggle against the Enron project at Dabhol is an equally significant one as the Dabhol project symbolises the loot indulged in by a powerful multinational which suborns the entire state machinery for its profiteering.
The heroic struggle in Andhra Pradesh against the increase in power tariff and the prolonged resistance waged by the Left parties shows how the people can be mobilised to resist the attacks on their living conditions.
The direct attack on workers' rights and the trade union movement should also be fought back by developing the united movement of all sections of the workers.
With the adverse impact on farmers and Indian agriculture under the terms and conditions of the WTO, the possibility for linking up the working class struggles with that of the peasantry have become much more.
But it would be crude economism to consider that such struggles alone can roll back the right wing offensive. There is no doubt that the basic struggle involving all sections of working people against the onslaughts on their livelihood will be the lifeblood of the counter offensive against the right wing forces. But this alone is not sufficient.
The ideological and political struggle and the battles to be waged in the social and cultural spheres are vital for success. In the political sphere it is imperative that the Left parties lead the resistance to the present ruling class consensus on liberalisation and the so-called economic reforms. Experience teaches us that parties which represent the interests of the regional bourgeois-landlord classes are not committed to fight against the imperialist driven globalisation and liberalisation. They take opportunistic positions depending on their immediate political and electoral interests. The normal pattern being that they would voice their opposition when they are out of power and adopt the same policies when they are in power. In order to break this vicious circle it is necessary to build up the independent movements of the working people which are linked to the alternative policies presented by the Left and democratic forces. The more the independent strength of the Left grows the more will it be possible to rally the vacillating elements among the secular bourgeois parties.
For this, flexible tactics have to be adopted. On each and every issue where mass struggle and resistance develops, efforts should be made to draw in these parties however vacillating or temporary it may be. It must be kept in mind that the masses following all these parties are subjected to the same attacks on their livelihood as the people who are the support base of the Left parties.
The recent discordant voices against the naked pro-imperialist policies of the Vajpayee government from within the Sangh combine is an indication of how the mass base of the RSS and the Shiv Sena are themselves reacting to these anti-people measures.
At the ideological level, it is essential that the Left provide the lead for taking on the free marketeers and the purveyors of imperialist ideologies. There should be no compromise in the ideological battle to expose the inhuman and anti-people character of these policies.
At the social and cultural level much remains to be done to mobilise the patriotic and anti-imperialist sentiments of the people. While the right wing Hindutva forces seek to arouse chauvinism, communal passions and hatred for the minorities and use this as the smokescreen for acting as servitors of imperialist capital, the Left and democratic forces have to utilise the healthy cultural traditions in our society to inculcate hatred for imperialist exploitation and inspire the youth to come forward to counter the reactionary and divisive tactics.
It is not only in the economics and politics that the right wing ideas prevail. Maintenance of the status quo, conservatism and glorification of all that is unscientific and irrational is a feature of the current reactionary offensive. It was the bourgeois ruling circles, fresh from the freedom struggle, who talked of propagating the scientific temper and democratic principles with the advent of independence. Today under the BJP regime the University Grants Commission has already approved the introduction of astrology as a course in the universities. Many more efforts would be made to take India backwards in the cultural and educational spheres.
The fight for secularism and scientific values and the ability to counter the purveying of imperialist cultural values as modern and progressive is part of the cultural struggle which should be waged with renewed vigour.
At the beginning of the twenty first century, we have much to learn from the six decades of revolutionary life of P. Sundarayya who consistently fought against all obscurantist ideas, the caste system and feudal and decadent values. He had taught us never to compromise in the struggle against imperialism.
Com. P. Sundarraya, if he were with us today, would have in his inimitable style, provided leadership for this struggle against the right-wing forces with a clear vision and determination. It will be fitting to take inspiration from his life and example in this crucial struggle for the future of India.