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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 1, New Delhi, December 19, 2020

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Dec 19, 2020

Saturday 19 December 2020

Letter to the Readers – Mainstream, Dec 19 2020

The Modi government has a huge majority in Parliament and exercises near-total dominance in India’s political sphere. This has made them a little drunk on power and they have come to believe that they can steamroll legislation without consulting people. It is over three weeks that tens of thousands of protesting farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are sitting on highways on the borders of Delhi. They have faced all kinds of hurdles (See also: 1., 2. ) travelling to Delhi to join the protests. The Government has not permitted them to enter the Capital of their country to peacefully protest. Top leaders of the ruling BJP are out to tar and discredit the peasant’s movement calling it all manner of names. Farm laws and the new labour codes laws were hurriedly passed in the Parliament with little debate. In that sitting of the parliament despite opposition from non-BJP leaders, the ‘Question Hour’ was dispensed with during the monsoon session 2020.

The Modi government continues its authoritarian tactics despite its top leader’s occasional utterances hailing democracy in India. Its decision to disallow the winter session of Parliament is yet another case in point on how it is trying to bypass scrutiny and accountability. The government is beginning to mimic the modus-operandi of many governments in neighbouring Pakistan, i.e. promulgate ordinances instead of going through the Parliament. Since March 24, when the lockdown was imposed, 11 ordinances were brought in by the Central Government. Now the same thing is being done actively in many of the BJP ruled states Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have all issued ordinances on a range of subjects from diluting labour laws to other subjects, the latest being the draconian Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 —better known to the public as the “love jihad” ordinance on interfaith marriages. Uttar Pradesh state is going overboard in trying to be more loyal than the king to the authoritarian Hindutva project. Earlier, it brought in ’UP Recovery of damage to public properties Ordinance-2020’ for recovery of losses from political protests. Recently in UP’s Sambhal area, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate sent notices to leaders of Bhartiya Kisan Union to submit personal bonds of Rs 50 lakh [five million rupees] to prevent them from mobilising farmers to join the protests against the Centre’s new farm laws. Sometimes there are unexpected push backs against wrongdoing, despite the best efforts to cover-up the Hathras Rape and murder case, the CBI has now gone ahead and filed charges against the four accused who were being defended by local BJP leaders and a massive propaganda effort by Hindutva circles to discredit the victims’ family. This is a tight slap on the face of the UP government Let us hope justice is finally done in this affair.

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Latest data from the latest National Family Health Survey is cause for concern on the malnutrition front, many of India’s states have reported worsened indicators since the NFHS survey of 2015-16. The Covid-19 crisis worsened things with more unemployment, poverty .. the ILO had claimed earlier this year that there is a possibility that some 400 million informal sector workers might sink into poverty. Around 250 million people who managed to climb a little above poverty levels between 2006-2016 risk falling back into poverty. Such a situation required a large scale social safety programme to provide for the vulnerable poor, the measures taken by the state are woefully inadequate. Where is the social spending to strengthen the badly needed Mid-day meals programme in state-run primary schools to feed India’s Children? An estimated 115 million children depended on Mid-Day meals in schools which closed for a long period during the Covid-19 pandemic. India has The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 report places India at the 94th position among 107 countries, behind Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

There is a dire need to greatly expand the access to the Public Distribution Schemes and ration card system to provide cheap food for the poor. It seems highly doubtful that the neo-liberal Modi government that is heavily involved in cost-cutting would expand much-needed welfare schemes.

Tributes:

Kumud Shanbag died in Mumbai on December 13, 2020, at the age of 92. She was a lifelong social worker and the mainstay of a well-known Communist family in the Bombay of the 1950s. Her elder brother Chandragupta Chaudhary was a full-timer of Communist Party of India (CPI). The man who became her life companion was Ganesh Shanbag a Communist Party member and well-known lawyer who had defended the accused held in prisons for participation in Telangana armed insurrection of 1949-1951. The marriage of Kumud and Ganesh took place at a trade union office, the premises of the Mumbai Girni Kamgar Union. Kumud Shanbag was also the mother of Anuradha Ghandy the only woman to be in the top leadership of the Maoist underground (she died in 2008) and is survived by her son Sunil Shanbag the actor, screenplay writer and a noted presence in the world of Bombay theatre.

John le Carré, (the pen name of David Cornwell), died on December 12, 2020, from pneumonia. He was 89 years old. John le Carré’s was a hugely successful novelist and author of chilling spy thrillers of the Cold War, his books topped the global bestseller lists from the 1960s on.

Irfan Hussain, the widely read columnist at Dawn passed away in England on December 16, 2020. He was a great storyteller and a secular humanist. Husain was born in Amritsar, India in 1944. He had been diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago. We offer our condolences to his family and friends.

We pay our homage to all of the above.

December 19, 2020 – The Editors

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