India – 50 years of a failed “republic”

IN STARK contrast to the lavish celebrations marking 50 years of independence nearly three years ago, the ruling elite in India is not that enthusiastic to rave about the anniversary of the formation of the Republic on 26 January 1950. JAGADISH CHANDRA of Dudiyora Horaata (Workers’ Struggle), looks at capitalist India today.

“FIFTY YEARS into our life in the republic we find that justice – social, economic and political – remains an unrealised dream for millions of our fellow citizens”, lamented President KR Narayanan on the eve of India’s republic day.

Not a single one of the nation-building tasks that the ruling class took upon themselves has been completed, and many social problems have worsened, courtesy of capitalist/landlord rule.

Marxists are all always accused of being negative, who point out only the faults and failures of the capitalist class. But only a hi-tech virtual realist can afford to ignore the problems faced by the overwhelming majority of this newly billion plus country.

Vendor economy

THE GLITZ and glitter story of economic liberalisation and globalisation would have us believe that India, despite all its problems of poverty, hunger and disease, is poised to leap-frog into this new millennium. The wishful thinkers of Indian capitalism are daydreaming that this century belongs to India.

India, a protected market until the 1990s, had a relatively strong manufacturing sector amongst the “third world” or “developing” countries. Though the growth rate was very low (of not more than 3% to 4% in the 1980s) it at least maintained its grip over the domestic market.

But the drastic economic reforms (annihilation of the local industry and the manufacturing base), set in motion in the 90s and the subsequent opening of the economy to foreign domination, has turned India into a vendor economy.

The protagonists of liberalisation in India call this “creative destruction”. Of the 4,000 firms that went public between 1989 and 1995 barely 1,500 are still running.

Recently, the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that over 1,000 listed corporations indicated an 18% rise in sales and an 8% rise in profits. But CMIE also added: “Multinationals have outperformed all other ownership groups in terms of the rise in profits.”

It is true that the stock markets are seeing a boom in India, mainly in relation to information technology (IT) and pharmaceuticals. But the sudden fall in the USA’s NASDAQ share prices of IT industry showed the fragile nature of the Indian economy; the value of the IT stocks in India plummeted sharply.

The present weak bubble in the Indian economy is pegged mainly to the American bubble. One shudders to think of the consequences of a burst or even a ‘soft’ landing in USA.

In a country where more than 45 million are officially unemployed, the ruling classes glorify the job creation potential of information technology, which can be counted in thousands not millions.

It is true that some of the services such as medical transcripts and legal transcripts of the Western countries in general and US in particular is largely done in the IT centres of India. Of course some of the upper middle class computer whiz kids have made it good in this IT revolution. But can India, with 420 million illiterate people, take real advantage of the advanced technology?

On a capitalist basis there is no way out for India apart from languishing in the present hellhole.

Near collapse

THE CAPITALIST snake charmers would like to create a mystique around us. But the hard realities tell a different story – a horrifying tale of the failure of capitalism in India.

Every third human being in the world without safe and adequate water supply is an Indian. Every fourth child on the globe who dies of diarrhoea is an Indian. Every third person in the world with leprosy is an Indian. Every fourth being on the planet dying of waterborne or water-related diseases is an Indian. Of over 16 million tuberculosis cases, worldwide, 12.7 million are in India.

All the Indian metropolitan cities have air pollution levels stupendously higher than the specified WHO (World Health Organisation) standard. The rise of asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and many other related ailments threaten the life of millions of people – almost 35% of the people in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta are at the same risk as someone who smokes 40 cigarettes a day.

The greatest threat to India’s future ecological balance comes from a fast decline in fresh drinking water. Almost 400 million people in India drink contaminated water and have insufficient quantity of water, which is less than eleven gallons a day per person as against 30 gallons required according to the WHO.

Besides, 40% of children in India suffer from malnutrition. Almost one out of four Indians goes to bed hungry, eating less than 2,000 calories a day.

Cities are on the verge of collapse, with 270 million living in urban areas. Almost 108 million live in the most degraded slums. As the cities continue to grow and expand, it is projected that almost 60% of the urban people will live in the miserable conditions of slum jhuggies (clusters of slums) by 2010.

Socialist change

IT IS proved beyond doubt that the capitalist system has failed miserably and has no future. “The unabashed, vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche has left the underclass seething in frustration”, says India’s president. True, but unlike the fretful president, we say this rotten system has to go!

Only a social system which can take control of the productive forces and run it on a democratic socialist planning can harness the latent energies and talents of the vast mass of Indian populace. Only such a socialist system can take India forward and end the misery, poverty and the degradation of environment. And that new socialist alternative is the urgent need of the hour in India.

Strikes demonstrate working-class power

INDIAN WORKERS have been resisting the BJP government’s plans to restructure public-sector industries, initiated by the World Bank, as a prelude to privatisation.

On 2 February, an estimated 1.5 million workers struck against poverty pay and the privatisation policies of the BJP. The 24-hour strike was called by a number of trade union federations and involved public sector workers in steel, coal mining, power generation, and others.

There are also plans for a mass protest march on parliament on 9 March.

In January, 95,000 power workers in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh struck for eleven days against the state government’s attempt to split the electricity industry into three separate businesses prior to privatisation.

The BJP state and federal governments were determined to break union resistance. The strike was declared illegal and police arrested and jailed several union leaders. 4,000 workers were sacked during the strike.

Workers in neighbouring states threatened to come out in solidarity. And although the strike was badly prepared by the union leaders, workers in the industry – by taking action – began to feel their industrial muscle.

The union leaders decided to call off the strike after the electricity bosses agreed to defer the company’s break-up for a year.

Immediately following the start of the power workers’ strike around 170,000 unionised and unregistered dockers struck for a 100% pay rise and against dismantling the trusts which manage the ports – the first stage to privatisation.

The authorities brought in the Indian navy and territorial army to run several major ports. In Calcutta, police baton-charged a demonstration by strikers.

The strike was suspended after a week pending further talks between the unions and authorities.

BJP government – neo-liberalism and chauvinism

LAST YEAR’S Indian general election was won by a BJP-led coalition, who defeated an opposition bloc led by Sonia Gandhi’s Congress.

The BJP (Banata Jawaya Party) – fronted by the ‘moderate’ prime minister AB Vajpayee – is an extreme right-wing Hindu chauvinist party that has led sectarian attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities.

It used the recent conflict with Pakistan over control of Jammu and Kashmir to whip up Hindu chauvinism.

While proclaiming a policy of Swadeshi (economic self-sufficiency) the BJP is pursuing a neo-liberal economic policy of privatisation, cutting state subsidies, increasing prices and opening up Indian markets to multinational corporations to exploit.

It is also upgrading and procuring new weapons for the military at enormous cost while over 300 million Indians live on incomes of $1 a day or less.

A prison house of nations

‘DEMOCRACY’ AND ‘Republic’ have no meaning to the present capitalist rulers. It is only at gunpoint, under the garb of parliamentary democracy, that the so-called nation is held together.

Foreign media sarcastically refer to India as “the biggest democracy”, but India is literally a prison house of nations. The issue of self-determination for Indian-occupied (and Pakistan-occupied) Jammu and Kashmir is threatening a nuclear holocaust.

Other national questions in the north-east and south of India may not make the headlines but they too are burning questions. The Kodagu movement in Karnataka and separate Telangana movement in Andhra Pradesh are the new entrants to the arena.

The capitalists are trying to circumvent the national question by dividing the existing linguistic states, but they are opening a Pandora’s box. The attempts to grant autonomy to the hill regions in West Bengal, Uttaranchal in Uttar Pradesh, the Chattisgarha region in Bihar and Vidharbha in Maharastra are future conflicts waiting to blow up in the face of the ruling elite.

“Infotech Czars”

JUST 476 rich families own and control corporations that dominate the Indian economy.

India’s richest businessman is Azim Premji, whose 75% share of Wipro Corporation is estimated to be worth $12 billion. This does not take account of any of his extensive property assets.

“Infotech Czars” as the Times of India calls them, “are bound to become fantastically wealthy.” (6/1/00)

But, once infotech shares begin to crash it will be another story.

Build a new workers’ party

IN LAST year’s general election the two main Communist Parties tail-ended Congress in a failed attempt to defeat the BJP. Yet it was the capitalist policies of Congress which bred communalism (religious, ethnic and caste discrimination) in society.

In West Bengal the ruling communist Left Front, which has been in power for 23 years, is more than willing to accommodate the interests of multinational corporations. It has no alternative economic strategy different from that of the BJP or Congress.

The genuine forces of socialism explain that the only way to defeat the BJP is to unite the working class and peasantry around a socialist programme. This means fighting within the trade unions for a socialist anti-privatisation, anti-cuts policy linked to the formation of a new workers’ party.