ML Update 02 / 2010

ML

Update

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol. 13 No. 02 5 – 11 JAN 2010

Post-poll Jharkhand:

The battle for democracy and against political opportunism must continue

Shibu Soren has been sworn in as the Chief Minister of Jharkhand for the third time. While the full shape and size of his ministry is yet to emerge, his two deputies – Raghuvar Das of the BJP and Sudesh Mahato of the AJSU – have also been sworn in along with him. This is perhaps the first occasion when the government in an 81-member State Assembly will have as many as two Deputy CMs! But then Jharkhand has already scored so many firsts in India’s history of parliamentary democracy. The state is yet to complete the first decade since its formation, and the Assembly remained suspended for nearly the whole of 2009, yet this is already the seventh occasion a CM has been sworn in!

The political composition of the new Jharkhand government is quite interesting even by the opportunist standards of bourgeois coalition politics. The BJP is sharing power with the JMM, AJSU and the JD(U). While the BJP and JD(U) – the latter is not a major or stable political formation in Jharkhand though – have long been partners in power, nationally as well as in states like Bihar and Jharkhand, and had fought the Assembly elections together, the JMM and AJSU had contested independently. Now poll-time rivals have all joined hands to share the post-poll booty of power.

During the elections, the BJP along with the Congress had run a relentless campaign against regional and small parties, peddling ‘stability’ and ‘governance’ as gifts that can be provided only by big ‘national’ parties! But the Congress had no problem tying up with the JVM while post-elections, the BJP shows no qualms in sharing power with parties like the JMM and the AJSU that it had rubbished till recently as being tainted and responsible for all the mess in Jharkhand. Sections of the BJP and the Congress had also campaigned quite loudly for a non-tribal Chief Minister in Jharkhand, suggesting quite bluntly that tribal politicians are more susceptible to corruption and less capable to ‘govern’! But now the same BJP is busy justifying the new coalition on all possible grounds – sometimes invoking ‘political compulsion’ to avoid another election, at other times stressing the need to uphold pragmatism for the sake of ‘stability’ and ‘development’ in Jharkhand.

The BJP and the JMM both have demonstrated time and again their ability to excel in political opportunism and there is no reason to believe that they cannot stay together for long in their current experiment. But at the same time, we must also recognize the elements of tension and instability that are built into this coalition for historical, social as well as political reasons. The BJP in Jharkhand is still predominantly perceived as a non-tribal party and is largely identified with traders and money-lenders and other sections of the rich and the powerful in Jharkhand society, and the JMM has been traditionally ranged against precisely such forces.

Politically, the BJP would like to develop Jharkhand as a laboratory for its divisive communal politics and repressive rule. Even if the ‘Gujarat model’ appears a bit too remote for the BJP to replicate in Jharkhand, neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Orissa, and the BJP’s own past record in Jharkhand give us a clear idea of how the party would like to use its grip over state power – a combination of Salwa Judum type ‘governance’ and Kandhamal-type communal violence. The JMM on the other hand cannot really be completely insensitive to these concerns. Shibu Soren’s offer to talk to the Maoists – most ex-Maoists who contested the Assembly elections did so on the JMM’s ticket and the official Maoists too are reported to have helped the JMM in many areas – seems to have already irked the BJP.

As the new government begins to allocate ministerial portfolios in the coming weeks, we will surely see many glimpses of coalition acrobatics in Jharkhand. But the people of Jharkhand have little time to wait and watch the acrobatic skill of the government partners. The people have their own agenda of action – they are in need of urgent relief and having heard so much about corruption in election speeches they now want to see the guilty brought to justice. They want the new government to cancel all corporate land acquisition deals, rehabilitate the displaced and provide employment guarantees for the jobless. Jharkhand is the only state where Panchayat elections have not been held for three decades now and where the schemes of rural employment and development are condemned to utter bureaucratic apathy, lethargy and corruption. Holding of panchayat elections and strict implementation of the Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts have been long-pending demands of the people of Jharkhand. There can be no pause in the real battle for democracy in Jharkhand.

Congress’ Unprincipled and Opportunist vacillation on Telangana is condemnable

An eight-party meeting chaired by Home Minister P Chidambaram today on the Telangana issue has again ended in a stalemate. Even as the struggle for a separate Telangana rages on, and various forces including a substantial section of Congress leaders fan up sentiment against bifurcation of the state, the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre has stepped back from its declared commitment to the formation of Telangana. In the eight-party meeting too, the Centre represented by the Home Minister took recourse to the line that "consensus" was a precondition – a transparent ploy to indefinitely delay any steps towards separate statehood.

The CPI(ML) demands that the Centre must cease its politics of convenience and must take a principled position to honour its commitment to the formation of Telengana. It must also urgently address the aspirations for autonomous statehood in Karbi Anglong and NC Hills and constitute a second State Reorganisation Commission to address various pending demands for separate statehood in other parts of the country.

No More Ruchikas

The conviction of former Haryana DGP Rathore on charges of having molested a 14-year old girl Ruchika 19 years ago has brought to the fore several urgent issues. The inexplicably and inexcusably light sentence to Rathore, contrasted with the callous and calculated campaign of intimidation by Haryana police and even Ruchika’s school, which drove the young girl to despair and suicide, has sparked national outrage. The courageous campaign by Ruchika’s friend who refused to succumb to intimidation is an inspiration. Protests have eventually succeeded in an FIR being lodged (based on a complaint by Ruchika’s brother who also was framed on false charges and even jailed as a minor, as part of the intimidation campaign against the girl’s family) against Rathore for abetment to suicide. Rathore has been stripped of various medals he received. Home Minister P Chidambaram has ordered that all complaints be compulsorily registered as FIRs.

The belated FIR against Rathore for abetment of Ruchika’s suicide is welcome. But it cannot be forgotten that the case revealed how successive Haryana Governments – whether led by Chautala or the Congress – protected and promoted the perpetrator of sexual harassment. This raises the question: are not these governments, and institutions like the police and school authorities, which left the victim defenceless at the mercy of her powerful molester, equally culpable for pushing Ruchika to suicide?

The Ruchka case is a reminder of the urgent need to amend outdated laws for sexual crimes against women. The Sexual Assault Bill has been pending for several years now, but the Central Government continues to ignore the demands of the women’s movement for wider public discussion and time-bound enactment of the same. The Bill is intended to amend the rape law and laws dealing with sexual harassment, molestation, ‘unnatural offences’, kidnapping and abduction of girls and women.

Chidambaram’s order on FIRs has underlined the fact that in a large number of cases, FIRs by women are routinely rejected, the more so if the accused is a powerful person or one of the police’s own. In this context, Chidambaram must however answer why his Ministry has chosen to remain silent in the case of the 6 adivasi women of Dantewada, a hotspot of Chidambaram’s war. These women have bravely stuck to complaints of rape against top Salwa Judum leaders in the face of ceaseless intimidation. The police refused to lodge FIRs; subsequently, their attempt at registering complaints in front of the magistrate were stalled and delayed for months, while the accused hovered around the court to intimidate the women on every date. Even after the cases have been registered, the accused are yet to be arrested: they are freely visiting the women’s villages, beating them up and threatening to kill their near and dear as ‘Naxalites.’ Is this not as much of an instance of miscarriage of justice as that of the Ruchika case? Is Chidambaram waiting for these women to either commit suicide or withdraw their complaints, which are an embarrassing exposure of the reality of Chidambaram’s war.

Justice for Ruchika can only mean speedy and deterrent punishment for Rathore; protection and justice for all the vulnerable women who wage a struggle against sexual violence, especially by powerful individuals and state machinery; and time-bound legislation to recognize sexual harassment as a crime, amend the outdated definition of rape and introduce provisions for sexual crimes against minors.

Stop Racist Attacks on Indians in Australia

The racist attacks on Indians in Australia have now claimed two lives. A 21-year old young man Nitin Garg was stabbed on his way to work, and some days later, the half-burnt body of another Indian man was discovered – both incidents have happened in the vicinity of Melbourne.

It is shameful that while the Australian Government continues to deny that racist attacks are happening, even India’s Minister for External Affairs, S M Krishna, has refused to recognize that the killings are racist in nature. The latter has said he will not ‘prejudge’ the killings as racial – an ironic statement given that surely it is prejudiced to deny that the spate of murderous attacks are anything but racist in nature! After all, the Melbourne police’s ‘advice’ to Indian students to avoid speaking their native language in public etc only confirms that the latter are being targeted for their ‘native language’ and related factors. That racism is very much a reality in contemporary Australia is also borne out by a recent study at the ANU, Canberra, which confirmed racist discrimination in employment, especially against Asians: for instance, to get the same number of interviews as an applicant with an Anglo-Saxon name, an Asian applicant must submit 68 per cent more applications.

The Indian Government must stop toeing the Australian Government’s shameful denial of racist attacks – an attitude that is only emboldening the attackers, and must take stern and decisive measures to pressurize the latter to combat race-crimes and protect Indians in that country.

Pledge Day Meetings in TN

In Tamil Nadu, Pledge Day mobilizations were held by AICCTU and AIALA from December 18 to 30 at various centers from Chennai to Kanyakumari.

In the rally and mass meeting held in Kanyakumari, more than 750 unorganised workers including 400 fisher-folk rallied demanding withdrawal of Marine Fishing (Regulation and Management) Act, 2009 and raised various other demands such as controlling price rise, compensation for the families of fishermen who go missing while fishing, social security for fishermen, protecting fishermen from the attacks of Sri Lankan Navy and harassment by the coastal guards etc.

Comrade Anthonimuthu, AICCTU State Vice President led the rally in which over 250 women unorganized workers participated. Preceding the rally, preparatory meetings were held in 50 work areas including that of fishermen. Comrade N K Natarajan, State GS, AICCTU also attended some of these meetings. Comrades Thenmozhi and Mary Stella met the women workers in their living areas and organized them for the rally.

The rally and mass meeting was held on December 28. Comrade S Kumarasami, President, AICCTU and Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, GS, AICCTU addressed the gathering. Comrade S Kumarasami called for the workers of TN not to tolerate the anti-people measures of the DMK government which is not ready to address the real issues of people’s livelihood and rights, and instead merely extends some token doles. Com. Swapan Mukherjee stressed that fishermen should rise in large numbers against the UPA govt which is attempting to snatch away the livelihood rights of fisher-folk and serve the MNCs and corporates in the name of Marine Fishing (Regulation and Management) Act, 2009. He also said that AICCTU will strive to organize fisher-folk at the national level and form a national level organization for fisher-folk.

On December 29 and 30 AICCTU State Office Bearers meeting was also held in Kanyakumari. Comrade Swapan Mukherjee attended the meeting. It was decided in the meeting that a demonstration will be held in Delhi demanding Presidential assent for the amendment passed by the TN assembly in the interests of trainee workers and demonstrations will be held all over TN the same day. It was also decided to organize a Padayatra from Coimbatore to Chennai on a People’s Charter stressing TU Recognition Act and other issues of the working people of TN. TN AICCTU will organize workshops at the district and sector levels before the first week of February and gear toward achieving 1.5 lakh membership while submitting the E-form for the year 2009.

Rally of Rural Poor at Mysore

An impressive rally of rural poor was organized by the Mysore district unit of CPI(ML) from Palace gate to the District Commissioner’s office on 4 January 2010 against the Yeddyurappa-led BJP government and stressing people’s demands. Rural workers of HD Kote taluk, organized under the banner of AICCTU, AIPWA and AIALA, participated in large numbers. The rally marked the assertion of CPI(ML) as a political force in the district.

Rallyists demanded housing for the shelter-less, land to the landless, BPL cards for all poor people, increase of NREGA wages to Rs. 200, extension of social security schemes of construction and beedi workers to all unorganized workers, including agricultural labour, and interest-free loans and sufficient funds to SHGs. Demonstrators also demanded a minimum of 10 lakh rupees as housing loan with a 50% subsidy component, and education allowance equivalent to the actual expenditure incurred for the children of construction labour enrolled under the welfare board. The Additional DC of Mysore district came to the demonstration spot to receive the memorandum from the people and assured to take necessary action on the issues.

Addressing the Rally, AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee said that the BJP government in Karnataka has no moral right to continue in office and demanded resignation. He said that the demonstration of rural poor and workers in Mysore is only a beginning and emphasized the significance of rising powerful voice of the downtrodden under the banner of CPIML in the state.

The rally was led by the party district secretary and AICCTU state secretary C Javaraiah and was addressed by Swapan Mukherjee, GS of AICCTU, E Rati Rao, VP of AIPWA, J Bharadwaj, state president of AIALA, Chowdappa, state secretary of AIALA, Narayan Swamy, VP of Bangalore AICCTU, Parasuram, Taluk Secretary of HPHalli and Ayyappa Hoogar of Red Flag. Comrades Thimmaiah, Jayaveeramma and Mallaajamma of Sogalli, Nanjunda of Uyyamballi, Ramesh, AISA, and Sannaramamma of Sathigehundi also addressed the gathering.

Workers Meet at Bangalore

AICCTU workers of Bangalore, mainly from RMC Readymix (India) Pvt Ltd branch, had an interaction session with Com. Swapan Mukherjee, GS of AICCTU on 3rd January at NGO Hall. CGHS Employees Association’s State General Secretary Rajiv Lochanan and president Rajaram Naik also addressed the gathering.

Swapan Mukherjee highlighted the situation of Bangalore, where no unions are allowed to function while Bangalore remains a centre of aggressive exploitation of labour by capital. He drew attention to the incident in which more than 500 workers of Jockey Garments, near Electronic City, were admitted to hospital on complaints of vomiting and stomach pain and criticized the attempt of government to hush up the matter. He also called upon workers to join the struggle for workers’ rights against the Congress-led central and BJP-led state government in Karnataka.

The meeting decided to focus on work among un-unionised workers in emerging industrial estates, construction and garment sectors.

Comrade Somu, RMC unit president chaired the session while M Narayan Swamy, VP, Thomas, Secretary, Kishore Sethy, Organising Secretary and Kalai Vanan, Joint Secretary addressed the gathering along with Gandhimathi, treasurer of AICCTU.

Sanitation Workers’ Struggle in Bhilai

Thanks to the sustained struggle of sanitation workers led by AICCTU in Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), 653 sanitation workers working under the CDC company (to which sanitation services have been contracted out the Bhilai municipal corporation) achieved minimum wages. While they were paid Rs. 60-70 earlier in violation of the statutory minimum wage, they forced the contractor to pay wages according the minimum wage rate at Rs 118 per day. These workers are employed in 36 wards, and work from 6 am onwards all day. They come to Bhilai daily from villages as far as 18-36 kilometres away.

On pretext of the Election code of conduct, the CDC contract was extended from October 2009 to March 2010, but workers were laid off without prior notice – clearly to ‘punish’ them for having demanded minimum wages. Further, they were not paid wages for October-November 2009. AICCTU complained to the Assistant Labour Commissioner at Durg as well as the Municipal Commissoner and Mayor, to no avail. A relay hunger strike was then started, and 100s of sanitation workers gathered at gates of the municipality, raising slogans and distributing leaflets. They demanded reinstatement of 653 workers, payment of pending wages, payment according to statutory minimum wages, and 50 kgs of rice to the families of 653 laid-off workers (the workers’ dependents number some 3000).

After 9 days of the relay hunger strike, the CDC paid pending wages according to the minimum wage rates. They tried to employ workers to replace the laid off workers with outside workers as well as minors, but were foiled by workers’ protests. The demand for payment of pending wages according to minimum wage norms was fulfilled. The hunger strike was temporarily postponed on the assurance that not only will pending wages of two months be paid according to minimum wage, 653 workers too will be reinstated. Municipality also employs workers through another contractor – the SHG, Jyotsna Mahila Mandal, run by Geeta Vishvakarma. When workers demanded minimum wages, workers were laid off for 48 hours, two months’ wages were suspended, and outside workers were employed. When they protested, workers were beaten by goons. Leaders were implicated in false cases, and workers’ FIRs were not accepted by the police. Following a sustained struggle, however, pending wages have been paid to these workers too.

The struggle for reinstatement of the 653 workers continues. Recently, leaders of Central Trade Unions and other TUs in Bhilai – including AICCTU, CITU, AITUC, HMS, INTUC, BMS, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha – submitted a memo to the Commissioner of Bhilai Municipal Corporation endorsing the demands of the workers, and demanding that the BMC, as principal employer, must uphold labour laws since, as principal employer, it is responsible to ensure minimum wage payments for workers and prevent harassment.

CPI(ML)-backed candidate wins ward councillor seat in Chhattisgarh

In the recently held Nagar Panchayat elections in Chhattisgarh, a CPI(ML)-backed candidate Seema Banjare, won the seat of ward councilor of Ward No. 14 (Banbarad in Ahiwara Nagar Panchayat -a constituency reserved for women). The CPI(ML)’s had also fielded Dolly Dasgupta for the Mayor’s post in Jagdalpur.

The victory in the Ahiwara seat should be viewed in the context of the impact of the sustained struggle of Bhilai municipality sanitation workers led by CPI(ML). Determined that the trade union struggles to organize the workers around demands for minimum wages and other rights should lead to political assertion too, the party had undertaken party membership drives in several villages from where the sanitation workers hailed – including Beltikri (Gundardehi Assembly constituency), Banbarad (Ahiwara), Sirsakala, Kharedha etc. At Banbarad, the party succeeded in regularising party structures, and initiating mass mobilisation on issues of basic amenities like drinking water etc. Some of these mass struggles had a degree of success, forcing local administration to concede some demands. This is a village from which around 70 sanitation workers working in the Bhilai municipal corporation get up daily at 3 am to make an 18 km trip by bicycle to work. The ward has a population of around 4000 (1068 voters), of which dalits form a substantial section.

Seema Banjare, who formerly was a domestic worker, and whose husband is a sanitation worker, was unanimously chosen as the party’s candidate for ward councilor. BJP has had hold of this seat for the past two years. The BJP and Congress campaigns were marked by lavish expenditure, attempts to entice voters with liquor and cash, as well as attempts at intimidation. In contrast the party’s campaign showed a modest expenditure of a mere Rs. 2000, with the campaign being led from the front by the candidate, and the active participation of women and youth. The CPI(ML) candidate won 312 of the 856 votes polled, with a handsome margin over its main political rivals (Congress-196, BJP-116).

The victory of the CPI(ML) candidate is encouraging – given that candidates of more established left parties like CPI in this part of Chhattisgarh could not win.

The victory has caused ripples amongst the local administration and ruling class parties, and has also been inspiring and encouraging for the working poor in the region. The challenge is to consolidate this modest beginning and intensify struggles and strengthen and expand the party organisation further.

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