Guest post by SHANKAR GOPALAKRISHNAN and TREPAN SINGH CHAUHAN
On April 11th, a memorial meeting was held at Gandhi Park, Dehradun. You probably haven’t heard of Sadhuram, the person for whom it was held. Thousands of people have indeed heard of him. But it reflects the divided world we live in – the world that Sadhuram fought to change – that it’s very unlikely that you are one of them.
Sadhuram was a Dalit, a mason and a resident of Jakhan, Dehradun. He was also the vice president of the Uttarakhand Nav Nirman Mazdoor Sangh, a union of unorganised sector workers. To the daily wage workers of Jakhan, he was a daily presence at the mazdoor chowk, the place where people stand for work in the morning; some of them affectionately referred to him as “mantri-ji.” Late on the night of March 26th, Sadhuram committed suicide.
Why did he do it? That question has many partial answers. On December 5th, 2014, his wife Geeta Devi died of kidney failure. Geeta was not one to give up easily; her death came after a long battle against a painful disease and the extortions of private doctors. That very night, Sadhuram’s younger son, Ravi, lay down on the tracks outside Dehradun station and committed suicide. Sadhuram was left an angry, saddened man, having lost the two most important people in his life. His remaining son cared little for either the union or Sadhuram. They had frequent fights, and his son often beat him. Nor was that the only atrocity in Sadhuram’s life. After Ravi’s death, he was entitled to Rs. 50,000 in compensation under the Building Workers’ Act; that 50,000 might have meant the difference between continuing abuse and independence. But for an entire year the Labour Department sat on the application, notwithstanding at least twenty meetings and even a personal direction from the CM.
For those who don’t like Modi-Sangh politics, February 10th was a day of joy. When this note was drafted a month ago, the provisional title was “This is No Time for Despair.” But last Tuesday has not only dented Modi’s invincible image – it has also dented the sense of being besieged. Since May 2014, almost every progressive force in the country has been on the defensive. The AAP’s politics and the popular tsunami that drove it to power have shattered this gloom.
But the key question at this point – is the eventual defeat of the NDA in an election the only goal? I argue that here that that is just the beginning. The end of this period – which, notwithstanding February 10th, is obviously some time away – will offer a space that has not existed in Indian politics in decades. Whether that space gets used or not will depend on how the struggle develops in the interim period.
The potential of this period is rooted in three basic flaws that the current ruling coalition (between big business and the Sangh) suffers from. First, its key forces are fundamentally myopic and delusionary in character. Second, it is internally contradictory – the two pillars of this formation will undercut each other in organisational (not just political or rhetorical) terms. Finally, it embodies a peculiar combination of organisational strength and political weakness. Continue reading A Chance for Social Change Like Never Before: Shankar Gopalakrishnan→
When the country’s rulers have to tell barefaced lies to get their policies through, you know that there’s something wrong. Consider the recent “big-ticket reforms,” of which the two biggest (in terms of direct impact) have been the diesel price hike and the opening of the retail sector to FDI. The diesel hike, we’re told, was a “tough decision” necessary to “prune subsidies.” Except that diesel isn’t subsidised in this country. To repeat: there is no subsidy on diesel in India. As for FDI in retail, the Cabinet statement on the policy cites four justifications, accompanied by a “Studies show…” claim. Except that the data in the government’s sole study on the issue does not support three of these four justifications. As for their much touted “safeguards”, at least one has been said to be illegal by the Commerce Ministry itself, while the very same CCEA meeting diluted a similar safeguard for single brand retailers. Continue reading ‘Big Ticket’ Reforms and Bigger Deceptions: Shankar Gopalakrishnan→
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared that the government’s “decision” to allow FDI in multi-brand retail outlets “has been held in abeyance” until there is a “broad based consensus.” In other words, it’s already a decision, but it’s just being held back until the government feels it can go ahead safely. The question though is: why is the government so convinced of its decision? How does Mr. Mukherjee so firmly declare that “organised retail helps in reducing costs of intermediation… benefiting both consumers and producers”? Has the government done the homework to justify its actions? This note looks at the government’s own data to find out.
As far as is known, there was only one study commissioned by the government in this regard (Business Standard 2007) This was done by ICRIER in 2007, first published as a Working Paper in 2008 (Joseph et al 2008), and subsequently converted into a book – Retail in India: A Critical Assessment – in 2009, with one chapter added by other authors.[i]
Guest post by SHANKAR GOPALAKRISHNAN. This piece also appeared in Radical Notes earlier.
As central India’s forest belts are swept into an ever-intensifying state offensive and resulting civil war, there has been a strong convergence of left, liberal and progressive arguments on Operation Green Hunt. This note argues that this ‘basic line’ is problematic. The line can be summarised as: The conflict is rooted in resource grabbing by corporate capital, in the form of large projects, SEZs, mining, etc. Such resource grabbing leads people to take up arms to defend themselves, resulting in the ongoing conflict. The conflict thus consists of a state drive to grab people’s homes and resources, with people resisting by taking to arms as self-defence.
Supporters of the Maoists’ positions now often conflate these points with the more orthodox positions on the necessity for “protracted people’s war” in a ‘semi-feudal semi-colonial’ state. Liberals in turn tend to deny these orthodox positions and instead advocate the resource grab – displacement – corporate attack issue as the “real” explanation. Both, however, accept this as the predominant dynamic at the heart of the current conflict. But at the heart of this line lies an unstated question: why are forest areas the main battleground in this war? While the conflict is not coterminous with the forests – most of India’s forest areas are not part of this war, and the conflict extends outside the forest areas in some regions – forests are both politically and