A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 18, No. 21, 19 – 25 MAY 2015
Distress and Despair Everywhere–
Tall-talk Government Completes One Year!
t is now one full year since Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister. The government continues to indulge in tall talks, but the rhetoric is sounding increasingly hollow. Modi and his men stand exposed on almost every promise they had made to the people.
This was supposed to be a year of respite from rising prices. When diesel and petrol prices dropped initially, though in much less proportion than the global decline in petro prices, BJP leaders went to town claiming it as a gift from the Modi government. Modi himself described it as a sign of good luck he is bringing for the people. But as Narendra Modi completes his first year in office, repeated hikes in diesel and petrol prices have again become the order of the day. Fares and freight rates have gone up; even platform tickets have not been spared, the rate has doubled from Rs 5 to Rs 10!
Agrarian distress is spreading like an epidemic. Farmers’ suicides are being reported from all corners of the country, not only from the old suicide belts of southern and western states, but increasingly now from states in northern and eastern zones, and even right in the middle of a rally near the Indian Parliament. Untimely rains have damaged crops heavily across the country and while farmers await compensation to cover their huge losses, central and state governments are only trying to outdo each other in making complacent claims.
Far from taking urgent measures to mitigate the acute agrarian distress, the Modi government has made it clear that it would like to use this crisis as an opportunity to push more and more farmers out of agriculture and grab their land for greedy corporate without even bothering to ask landowners for their consent. Despite countrywide uproar, the government has re-promulgated the notorious land-grab ordinance for a second time. Along with land and other natural resources, the government is also trying to lure corporate investors with the offer of cheap skilled labour.
The BJP may like us to believe that the ascent of Modi to the PM’s post has raised India’s international profile and his foreign trips symbolise India’s growing stature and role in international affairs, but in reality most of his foreign visits have been aimed at attracting foreign investment. In the process he is also trying to help his Indian corporate cohorts like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani secure business contracts abroad. The controversial coal mining deal for Adani in Australia, backed by a proposed $1 bn loan from SBI, raised eyebrows in both India and Australia. It is another matter that the deal has run into trouble in the face of powerful protests in both countries,
Indeed, consent-free cheap land, and union-free rights-free cheap labour, are Modi’s biggest incentives to attract foreign investment. The so-called move to rationalise labour laws and abolish inspector raj, initiated by the Rajasthan government and now taken up with great gusto by the Union government itself, is a brazen attempt at further tilting India’s labour laws and factory and business rules in favour of big capital and against the working class. A similar move is on to legitimise child labour in so-called ‘family enterprises’, a euphemism for the supply chain of sweat shops for big companies. The cabinet has already approved an amendment to this effect in the existing child labour abolition act.
While the government has thus been busy unveiling and executing its economic vision of FDI-dependent corporate-driven restructuring of the Indian economy, the RSS and its affiliates have been systematically vitiating the atmosphere with their majoritarian agenda of communal nationalism and shrill opposition to the democratic aspirations and assertion of the people in every sphere. From the spoken and printed word to the visual and social media, hate speech has become the signature of the Sangh brigade. While the government occasionally tries to distance itself under public pressure, the practitioners of hate speech and other hate crimes carry on with impunity.
The only reassuring component of the new regime’s year one balance-sheet comes not from the government but from the people many of whom had voted emphatically a year ago to install the Modi Sarkar in office. The people are making it clear that they cannot be taken for granted. Farmers are up in arms against the anti-farmer land-grab ordinance and the all-pervasive corporate-friendly anti-farmer bias of the government. Workers have also expressed their readiness to resist the government’s anti-worker anti-people moves. After powerful strikes of coal miners, telecommunication and financial sector workers and employees, trade unions across the country have now come together to launch a concerted campaign for the basic rights and demands of Indian workers.
The growing disillusionment with the Modi government has also begun to make its presence felt in election results. After facing a resounding rebuff from the Delhi electorate in the Assembly elections, the BJP has also been snubbed in the West Bengal municipal elections. As the Modi government begins its second year, let us get ready for a more decisive and determined popular resistance.
Is the Right to Protest Reserved for Kejriwal Alone, Not for Aam Workers?
DTC Workers’ Protests and Ensuing Crackdown
elhi witnesses a series of protests by DTC workers on a variety of issues in the year 2015. The most recent one was a spontaneous flash strike following the brutal murder of a DTC driver of the Rohini Depot.
The DTC is undoubtedly the lifeline of Delhi’s transport network. Contractual employees within DTC face inhuman working conditions and are subjected to tremendous work pressure to meet targets given by the management. As many as twelve thousand of DTC drivers are employed on contract. This means that they are not paid equal wages at par with permanent staff, for the same work and the wages are not regularized. They arrive at the depot every morning – but may be turned away and denied work by the depot manager in case the buses have broken down. So, while they are officially ‘employed’, they are not even sure of getting work throughout the month! They have no right to a paid or even unpaid weekly off.
Right from mid 2014 onwards, both the permanent staff and contractual workers of DTC protested for their rights. The contractual workers especially, supported the AAP and Kejriwal, based on the AAP’s promises to regularize contractual employees.
When the AAP Government failed to keep those promises, the DTC contract workers organized a March to the Delhi Secretariat from the DTC headquarters on 13 April 2015 under the banner of DTC Sangharsh Morcha, comprising of all the different unions working within DTC. The mood of the workers sitting on the dharna outside the Secretariat was so militant that they wanted the programme extended to an indefinite one till their demands were met. Unions affiliated to INTUC and BMS faced open challenge, as they tried discouraging the workers and pressurizing them to call off the ongoing programme. The Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai met the delegation but this had no positive outcome. Comrade Shankaran represented the DTC Workers’ Unity Centre in this delegation.
While addressing the CII, Delhi, the CM Arvind Kejriwal had declared that it is not his government’s duty to run buses, and the corporates will now be encouraged to run DTC. This open declaration of privatization had certainly disturbed the young DTC employees and disheartened the permanent staff.
Young workers comprising the contractual workforce of DTC took the opportunity of the National Transport Strike on 30th April, 2015, against the proposed Road Safety & Transport Bill 2014 by the Modi Government, to again raise their legitimate demands. After several years, DTC Unions had served a strike notice to their management as well as the Delhi Government, certainly under the pressure of those young workers persuaded by AICCTU affiliates.
These young contractual workers had shouldered the entire campaign all over DTC depots and most of the ‘official’ unions were seen absconding to avoid the campaign. On 29 April, the Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai had invited all the Unions including the DTC Pensioners’ Union (no pension had been paid for the past 3 months to DTC Pension holders) for a dialogue. Once again the AAP Government had no concrete plan for the public transport system of Delhi and DTC workers. Gopal Rai merely assured the workers’ representative for a budget provision for equal pay, release of 2 months pension and clearly refused to meet any other demands.
INTUC affiliates immediately withdrew the strike notice and had informed the administration of their withdrawal. BMS affiliates had not withdrawn their strike notice but had sent sms messages asking the workers to join their duties. DTC workers had resolved to go with the strike and organised a sit-in in front of the Millennium Depot. The AICCTU affiliated Unity Centre worked hard for the success of the strike. The strike could only be implemented partially, but it certainly demolished a long-standing inertia and inspired enthusiasm in spite of the backstabbing by some of the DTC unions.
The sit-in in front of the Millennium Depot was well attended, focused and full of hope for the young workers and they resolved to continue with their fight. A leader from the BMS-affiliated union came to address the gathering, and began a communal tirade, mentioning the Batla House killings and branding minorities as terrorists. A young DTC worker and AICCTU activist, Rajesh, spontaneously got up to take the mike away from him and tell him firmly to stop trying to vitiate the atmosphere of the sit-in. The BMS leader, faced with this rebuff, stopped speaking and beat a hasty retreat from the sit-in site.
Ten days after this sit-in, on May 10th, a Rohini Depot driver Ashok Kumar was brutally murdered in a road rage incident at Mundka while on duty. Workers once again went for a flash strike. Mourning his death, they demanded Rs 1 crore as compensation for the deceased worker, a job for his university-going son, education for his school-going daughter, medical care for his critically ill wife, and security for the DTC running staff. The workers reminded the Government that it had offered Rs 1 crore as compensation to the family of a policeman killed on duty, even though the policeman was not a Delhi Government employee; and also Rs 20 lakhs to the family of the farmer who committed suicide at Jantar Mantar at an AAP rally. Compensation should not be decided by political compulsions and media optics. The workers said that the Government is obligated to compensate the family of a worker murdered while on duty.
This was neither the first nor the only incident of attack on the DTC running staff. The DTC management as well as the Delhi Transport Minister have been informed of several such attacks. The narrow Delhi roads, without any proper planning for public transport, create a situation where drivers are vulnerable to attacks by angry members of the public. With its fleet size of around 4700 buses, DTC caters to 45 lakh commuters everyday in comparison to 21 lakh Metro commuters daily. Every driver under the standard procedure operates a bus for 110 km in 8 hours, a practice which was set in place almost two decades earlier. So it is easy to understand tremendous pressure on these workers.
The Government has been repeatedly informed of their grievances but has done nothing ameliorative so far to redress issues. In response to the flash strike, the Kejriwal Government invoked ESMA on the 11th night itself without even trying to negotiate with its own striking transport employees. The draconian ESMA was invoked as a first resort! On 12th May, the Delhi Government partially agreed to some of the demands including 10 lakh compensation and release of complete salary for the remaining service tenure of the deceased worker, a Government job for his son, free medical care for his ailing wife and free education for his daughter, and deployment of home guards as marshals in DTC buses. But simultaneously, under the directions of Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai, the DTC management initiated action against the DTC employees. Till now, more than 100 workers, most of them, contractual employees, and many of them supporters of DTC Workers’ Unity Centre (AICCTU) were given show-cause notices for not attending duties and participating in the protest, and were asked to reply within 24 hours or face termination.
This action of the Delhi government has further agitated the DTC employees. It seems that for Kejriwal, the worker does not enjoy the status of an ‘aam aadmi’. Kejriwal has defended his own right to agitate and hold sit-ins on the street – but denies the common workers of Delhi the same right! In the media, the AAP Government has been rightly criticized for threatening journalists with defamation cases for running stories critical of the Government. But while the right to freedom of expression of journalists is talked about, the media remains silent on the way in which the AAP Government has cracked down on the workers’ right to freedom of expression. Do workers, then, have no right to show humanitarian solidarity with a slain colleague, to seek adequate compensation and social and economic security for the family of a driver killed on duty? The DTC workers are determined not to bend to the pressures created by the administration and the management but keep fighting for their rights within the ever shrinking democratic space.
Khet Mazdoor Sabha Protest in Supaul
The CPI(ML) and the Supaul unit of the Khet Mazdoor Sabha took out an impressive protest march on 20 April 2015 on people’s issues like vaas-bhumi (housing land) for urban and rural poor, drinking water, electricity, roads and other problems. After traversing through the main streets of the town, the march culminated in a dharna at the block-zonal office. A public meeting was held at the dharna venue chaired by AICCTU district President Com. Jitendra Choudhury and a charter of demands was submitted to the BDO and Joint CO, Supaul.
The dharna was also addressed by Comrades Jainarayan Yadav and Arvind Kumar Sharma. The speakers pointed out that the Modi Govt. at the centre as well as the Nitish Govt. in the State are both pandering to the corporate houses and ignoring people’s issues like housing, land reforms, education, health, water, corruption, electricity, employment, roads, rising prices, etc. The speakers stressed that the need of the hour was to raise our voices against Company Raj.
Jharkhand Mazdoor Sabha Demonstration in Saraikela-Kharsawa
About 600 villagers under the banner of the JMS (Jharkhand Gramin Mazdoor Sabha) and holding traditional implements and arms protested in a forceful demonstration in front of the Kharsawa Deputy Commissioner against the construction which has been started at Lakhandih in Kharsawa block. The searing afternoon heat was rent with the sound of hundreds of villagers chanting slogans of “End the conspiracy of dispossessing adivasis”. At the Deputy Commissioner’s office they raised their voice, warning the authorities that if land was forcibly acquired, it would result in mass agitation and the responsibility for the same would lie with the administration. It is noteworthy that the construction of the reservoir had been stopped under pressure from protests, and further protests would continue for scrapping the project altogether. 205 acres of 5 villages including forest land, raiyaat land and agricultural land will be lost if this project is allowed. A new agitation for scrapping the project was started with a protest march from Kharsawa Bazartand chowk culminating in a dharna and submission of demands at the Deputy Commissioner’s office.
Addressing the protest meeting, AIPF council member Xavier Kujur said that the Modi Govt.’s Land Ordinance is a law to destroy adivasis and farmers. The State Govt. is using this Ordinance for the proposed Saraikela-Kharsawa reservoir. JMS leader Gautam Singh Munda said that the Govt. is working for the permanent displacement of adivasis from Jharkhand through forcible land acquisition. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen the agitation for stopping the reservoir construction.
Gramin Chowkidar Union District Conference in Deoriya
The first district conference of the Gramin Chowkidar Union was held in Deoriya district of Uttar Pradesh on 10 May 2015. About 100 delegates participated in the conference which was inaugurated by AICCTU national Vice President Com. Premlata Pandey. Speaking on the occasion she said that the Samjawadi Party Govt. has started several populist schemes in the State, but the chowkidars (working in the police stations since British times) who have been termed “graamin police” in the Police Act, have not yet been given the status of government employees. They get a pittance of Rs 1500 as honorarium. They are subjected to inhuman treatment in the thanas, and are made to do jobs ranging from giving massages to the station chief to cooking and washing vessels. Com. Premlata further said that the job of the chowkidars is to go to the thanas twice a month and give news about happenings in the village. However, though their service is usually taken by police authorities for apprehending accused persons, this work is not recorded in their records. They have not even been insured for accidents. If they are killed during action in the police patrol, they will get nothing. The slogan raised at the conference was “1500 mein dum nahin, 15000 se kam nahin” (1500 is a mere pittance, less than 15000 is not acceptable). It was resolved that protests would be accelerated to demand State Govt. employee status for the chowkidars. At the conclusion of the conference, a 25 member district committee was elected with Jitendra as President and Raja Prasad as Mantri. The conference was also addressed by current district President Ramanand Paswan, AICCTU district convener Ramkishor Verma, and CPI(ML) town convener Dr. Shailesh Pandey. The proceedings were conducted by Kaviji Chowkidar.
AIARLA 5th TN State Conference Held in Chidambaram
The fifth state conference of AIARLA was held on 15th May in Chidambaram (Cuddalore district). The Conference was preceded with an impressive and enthusiastic procession in which several rural young women and men participated and were joined in solidarity by students and youth. Through their placards and loud sloganeering, the participants stoutly denounced Land grab Bill of the Modi Govt. and demanded its immediate repeal. At a time when the ruling AIADMK is celebrating the Bengaluru High Court Judgment acquitting its leader Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, the participants questioned their jubilation and raised slogans against corruption and questioned AIADMK’s support to the Land Grab Bill brought by the Modi Govt.
The masses congregated into the hall named after Com. Ammaiyappan, Cuddalore district secretary and state secretary of AIARLA, who recently passed away. Com. TKS Janardhanan, the outgoing president presided over the conference. After 2 minutes of silence observed in the memories of Comrade Ammaiyappan, tribal workers who had been killed in fake encounter recently in Andhra, and those who lost their lives in Nepal and India in the recent earthquake, the Central Observer Com. Bangar Rao, delivered his inaugural address. He called upon the state conference to develop Panchayats as platform of struggles.
Com. Rani, one of the Tribal activists narrated the unending woes and sufferings of the jailed workers and their kith and kin. Com. Simpson, member of the National Executive of AIKM and national council of AIPF appealed all to strengthen land struggles. In his message to the conference CPI(ML) State Secretary Balasundaram said that it is an irony that conference was dedicated to the memory of Com. Ammaiyappan who had initiated the preparations for this conference in January despite his ailing health condition. Several leaders stressed that preparations for June 30 struggle should also be a task of building AIARLA units at panchayat level.
The conference adopted several political, movemental, and organizational resolutions. 183 member state council, 27 member state executive and 11 office bearers been elected by the house. Com TKS Janarthanan and S. Janakiraman were elected as State President and General Secretary respectively.
Protest against Attack an CPI(ML) Leader
On 29 April 2015, criminal elements made a murderous attack on Com. Umashankar, CPI(ML) leader from Sariya block in Giridih district. However, under pressure from the local MLA, the Sariya police have not yet apprehended the culprits, who enjoy the protection of the MLA. In protest against this inaction, the CPI(ML) took out a protest march on 8 May 2015, from Jhanda Chowk. The protesters went around the entire market and then held a meeting at Jhanda Chowk. Speakers addressing the meeting said that if the police does not take appropriate action, CPI(ML) will further sharpen the agitation.
Protest March against Vandalization of Ambedkar Statue
AIPF took out a protest march in Bhagalpur town to protest against the vandalization of the Ambedkar statue by smearing it with “jootha” (leftovers) on 30 April. The protestors shouted slogans against attempts at saffronization of Ambedkar’s ideas by the RSS-BJP and demanded immediate action against the perpetrators of the defacement.
It needs to be remembered that one day earlier when the RYA had burnt the effigy of Mohan Bhagwat in protest against the RSS chief’s statement that Ambedkar was a Hindutva supporter, the saffron goons of the RSS had torn down all the posters from that place after the RYA activists left.
Release Chhatradhar Mahato and Repeal UAPA
On 12 May 2015, Chhatradhar Mahato, a tribal leader of the Lalgarh movement along with five others was sentenced to life imprisonment by a West Midnapore court under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). A few members of the AIPF were present in the court when he was convicted. Immediately following the sentence, a joint rally was called by APDR and Nagarik Samanyay in which CPI(ML), AIPF and AISA also participated. Over 500 people gathered in the rally and several representatives including Sumit Choudhury of AIPF, Dipankar Bhattacharya of CPI(ML), Sujata Vadro of APDR and several others condemned the verdict.
A protest rally was also called by CPI(ML) in Siliguri on 15 May 2015 demanding repeal of UAPA and unconditional release of Chhatradhar Mahato and others. The rally was led by CPI(ML) Central Committee member and the district secretary of Darjeeling, Com. Abhijit Mazumdar. Several people participated in the rally carrying red flags and placards carrying slogans against draconian laws like UAPA and demanding release of Chhatradhar Mahato. A rally at Jadavpur was also called by common students on 19 May 2015 in which AISA also participated. A fund drive has also been started for carrying forward the campaign as well as the legal battle.
Prof. Amalendu Guha: CPI(ML) expresses condolence on the demise of Prof. Amalendu Guha, a noted scholar and an eminent historian who worked in the department of History, Dibrugarh University, Assam. Among his several contributions to research on history and in particular history of Assam includes his path breaking work on the rice economy of Assam and his highly acclaimed book ‘Planter’s raj to Swaraj’. Prof. Guha will always be remembered for the crucial role played by him in the advancement of Marxism and historical studies in Assam.
Com. Ramyaad Sharma: CPI(ML) expressed deep shock and pain on the sad demise of Com. Ramyaad Sharma who suffered heart attack on the morning of 10 May 2015. Com. Ramyaad Sharma was associated with Azamgarh unit of CPI(ML) and was also the member of the state committee of the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Mahasabha, UP. A comrade who was never known to say ‘no’ for any organizational work deputed to him, Com. Ramyaad Sharma was an embodiment of communist understanding of organizational commitment and discipline. He was extremely active, despite being 80 years of age. The pain of his loss especially among the CPI(ML) comrades of Azamgarh cannot be overstated. He will always remain a source of inspiration for us. Red Salute!!
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: mlupdate, website: www.cpiml.org