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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 27, June 25, 2011

The Formation of the Socialist Party is a Welcome Decision

Tuesday 28 June 2011, by Rajindar Sachar

The comrades of the Socialist Front have decided to form the Socialist Party (India) deriving its inspiration from the philosophy, ideology and movement of the Socialist Party formed by socialist stalwarts like Acharya Narendra Dev, JP, Dr Lohia, Yusuf Meharally and others.

Till the 1990s, the political scene in the country made the citizens believe that there can be only two national parties, the Congress and BJP-Janata combine. People therefore looked askance at every other individual and party formation vis-a-vis the election scenario. People in their helplessness, though appreciating the ideology and genuineness of the Socialist Front and ideologically similar parties, ruled them out of the electoral contest on the self-interest stand of these not being effective, not only at the political level but for even day-to-day help in their daily activity of small earning requirements. But the public had a self-guilt in not coming to stand by these people who were genuinely working for them in the trade unions, peasantry and in movements to prevent displacement of people. But they always regretted that, though appreciating the social work of these groups in the masses, they could not help them electorally. Of course, this did not in any manner weaken the resolve of the Socialist Front to carry on their work amongst the masses, and participate to lead the people’s movements against the onslaught on the people’s rights, their struggle against globalisation, the movements to prevent mass pauperisation of the farmers by their illegal eviction, policies to benefit the rich corporate industry by giving them gifts of land in the name of special economic zones resulting in thousands of crores of loss to the nation resulting in ruination of the agriculture sector and suicides by farmers on a large scale. This has resulted in the GDP of the agriculture segment to be six per cent from the already low ratio of 16 per cent a decade back. The result is that there is the horrible unacceptable gap between the top 10 per cent and the rest of the population.

Whatever the pronouncements of the present government, it cannot be denied that the poverty level of 77 per cent of population not even able to spend Rs 20 per day should be a nightmarish thought for any government. The so-called middle class resurgence is a deception. According to the Asian Bank, only 10 per cent of the population has the capacity to spend between Rs 99 and Rs 990 per day, that is, Rs 3000 to Rs 30,000 per month, the percentage which can spend the higher slab is hardly 00.4 per cent of the Indian population; can such insulting situation where the percentage of the poor of India at present exceeds that of the whole population of India before August 1947 be acceptable? Such a demoralising of state of the nation requires a combination of determined persons committed to the poor of the country so as to bring to fruition the dreams of the Socialist Party of JP and Dr Lohia and the clarion call of Gandhiji in 1947 clearly stating his concept of Independent India. Gandhi was troubled even at the inception of independence to see the unfortunate direction the policies of free India were leading her to. He had then uttered a strong warning and a message for those who were committed to the welfare of the country in these words:

Economic equality is the master-key to non-violent independence. Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means the levelling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth on the one hand, and levelling up of the semi-starved naked millions on the other. A non-violent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists…..

The Socialist Party (India) in all humility would work to redeem the dream of Gandhiji who also bemoaned where the country was moving in the very first months of Independence. He warned:

Today there is gross economic inequality. The basis of socialism is economic equality. There can be no Ram Raj in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which only a few roll in riches, while the masses do not get even enough to eat. I accepted the theory of socialism even while I was in South Africa. When the panchayat raj is established, public opinion will do what violence can never do. The present power of the zamindars, the capitalists and the rajas can hold sway, only so long as the common people do not realise their own strength. If the people non-cooperate with the evil of zamindari or capitalism, it must die of inanition. In panchayat raj only the panchayat will be obeyed and the panchayat can only work through the law of their making.

A similar stirring reminder of Netaji Subhas Bose needs to be reiterated wherein he said:

Freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social inequities, and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance.

Globalisation has led to the decline of the economy of the world. Even the West, the cradle of capitalism, is forced to admit, as Michael Porter has admitted, that in the aftermath of the US recession, the biggest issue before the corporate world is the loss of reputation. Business is seen to be profiling at the expense of people and the community which is why business has lost its reputation.

The country is sitting on a powder keg. The patience of the deprived and poor cannot be just wished away. Though the poor in our country have enormous forbearance, I believe that even their proverbial patience has been breached. And why not? On the one hand you have our media proudly announcing a few names who are included in the Forbes fortune list of billionaires in our country but heartlessly and conveniently ignoring the real face of Bharat, that is, India.

We have the highest number of malnourished people and malnourished children (43 per cent of India’s children under five are underweight— that is, with BMI lower than 18.5, the highest in the world) as of 2008. In fact almost simultaneously with the Credit Suisse report, another one by the International Food Policy Research Institute placed our country far behind Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan in terms of people-children in particular—suffering from hunger and under-nutrition. With these three countries placed in the 39th, 56th and 52nd positions and China miles ahead in the ninth place in the world, India occupies the 67th position.

The Gini coefficient of income inequality (a statistical measure where zero denotes complete equality and one denotes absolute inequality) in India comes to a high 0.535. Inequality of opportunity—which is more important in determining a country’s future growth trajectory and which depends mostly on distribution of land as well as access to education, health, stable employment etc.—is even more pronounced.

The extremely skewed land ownership in our country is well known, but few people know that India’s educational inequality is one of the worst in the world. According to the World Bank estimates, the Gini coefficient of the distri-bution of adult schooling years in the population, a rough measure of educational inequality, was 0.56 in India in 1998/2000, which is not just higher than 0.37 in China and 0.39 in Brazil but even higher than almost all Latin American countries.

Now add to these figures the wherewithal of economic growth: large-scale displacement, land grab, resource loot and onslaughts like UAPA and Operation Green Hunt. What you get is the moral of the whole story—in the neo-liberal model, the growth in GDP and ‘national’ wealth has to be inversely proportional to real development and democracy.

According to a recent report on global wealth by the investment bank Credit Suisse, the total wealth in India has tripled over the past decade to $ 3.5 trillion (this is a general trend in the emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region: Indonesia’s wealth, for example, has grown five-fold over the same period) and could further increase to $ 6.4 trillion by 2015. Given the hardly reassuring state of Indian and world economies, will the forecast come true? More pertinently, assuming it does, will that bring India any nearer the UN Millennium Develop-ment Goal of halving poverty by 2015?

SUCH apprehension arises in view of a number of very disturbing facts and trends. The hallowed wealth increase occurred almost exclusively among the uppermost and higher-middle layers of population and much of it in stock market operations, where only around five per cent of Indians participate. Not surprisingly, at least 200,000 peasants committed suicide around the same time as India became the nation with the second highest number of dollar billionaires, and the annual food intake of an average poor is shockingly low. But a government survey reveals that just 18 per cent households in rural India have access to basic amenities—drinking water, sanitation and electricity. Urban areas enjoy these facilities in 68 per cent households. The NSSO survey highlights that a vast majority in rural India still lack basic civic amenities. Around 65 per cent of rural households have no sanitation facility, while the corresponding figure for urban areas is 11 per cent, according to the survey. In rural India, social groups like STs (75 per cent), SCs (76 per cent) and OBCs (69 per cent) don’t have sanitation facility in their house-holds. The NSSO study—Housing Condition and Amenities in India 2008-09—points out that around 64 per cent of rural households don’t have a bathroom as compared to 22 per cent in urban areas. The disconnect of policy-makers is evident as the Planning Commission is pushing hard to levy user charges on water at a time only 30 per cent of rural population have access to safe drinking water and 55 per cent depend on tubewell or hand pumps, says the survey. Montek Singh Ahluwalia said rationing of water is required to bring in efficiency in the judicious use of the resource. He says: “By water rationing, I don’t mean that less water should be supplied. We can price water so that people can use it as per their requirement.”

According to one estimate, black money accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the GDP. According to the Economic Times, the amount of Rs. 1.76 lakh crores, estimated by the CAG as loss from the 2G scam, is more than thrice the Centre’s education budget of Rs 49.904 crores, it is nearly seven times the health budget of Rs 25.154 crores, and nearly fifty per cent more than the Centre’s total subsidy bill, including those on food, fuel and fertiliser, which is budgeted at Rs 1.16 lakh crore.

Globalisation, the tale-sum of present govern-ments, is a certain recipe for disaster for millions of our countrymen. The claim of the propagan-dists of globalisation that it will accelerate progress in developing countries is belied by the UNDP’s Tenth Human Development Report of 1999, which says that
Market dominated globalisation has led to growing marginalisation of poor nations and people, growing human insecurity and growing unequal with benefits accruing almost solely to the richest people and countries and that the global gap between the haves and have-nots is widening.

HDR 1999 has commented tersely:

the benefits of globalisation in the past decade have been so unevenly shared that the very word has come to acquire in certain quarters a pejorative tinge.
The present situation must cause concern to all human right activists.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 17,368 farmers killed themselves in 2009. This is an increase of 1172 over the 2008 count. Further divided, it comes to roughly 50 people per day. A study on the agrarian crisis, conducted by the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies at New Delhi, says that farm income, even if the earnings from the livestock were added, is “insufficient to meet cultivation cost and consumption needs”.

As against an average seven per cent growth of India’s economy in the last decade, agriculture registered only 1.6 per cent. In fact, the agricultural growth in the country has now stagnated for more than 15 years. In the eighties it was 3.3 per cent, in the nineties it came down to two per cent and now it has slipped down further to 0.4 per cent. The Steering Committee on Agriculture for the formulation of the Eleventh Five Year Plan has admitted that after indepen-dence such a drop in the agricultural output has been “witnessed for the first time”. The result of decline is that per capita availability of foodgrains in 2011 has come to the level attained in the fifties. Calories intake has gone down from 2153 (1993-94) to 2047 (2004-05) in rural India and from 2071 (1993-94) to 2026 (2004-05).

On the food front the situation is even more alarming.

1,50,000 tonnes grain rotting, 1.37 lakh tonnes lying in open, 27.38 lakh tonnes in Pb., 18.90 lakh tonnes wafted under polythene.

A Oxford report says, foodgrain availability is less than that 20 years ago.
In view of the above, I sincerely hope and appeal to all socialist comrades to join and strengthen the SPI.

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, was the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail: rsachar1@vsnl.net/rsachar23 @bol.net.in

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