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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 28, New Delhi, June 27, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.14

Friday 26 June 2020

Letter to Readers Mainstream, 27 June 2020 - Lockdown Edition no 14

Forty-Five years have passed since the midnight of June 25 - 26, 1975, when the infamous National Emergency was imposed on India by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi –- suspending civil liberties, introducing pre-censorship on printed materials, newspapers and publications, and outlawing protest -– marking a big rupture in our political system and damaging our parliamentary democracy. Following the emergency, the anti-congress elements which had forged a coalition to oust the emergency regime came to power under the banner of the Janata Party, that legitimised and white-washed as democrats a political pariah for all Indians i.e. the authoritarian forces of the Hindutva Far right – the RSS, and its political arm the Jana Sangh (later to be re-christened as the BJP). That process of sanitisation blinded the Indian citizens to the reactionary ideologies of communalism that slowly flourished and became socially acceptable. Gradually, a political movement with a Hindutva political agenda expanded in the country and became the precursor to the present ruling party in India. At the same time, it must be emphasised that the communal forces in the post-emergency ruling conglomerate did not go unchallenged. If the anti-emergency movement among the people and the working class, in particular, was spearheaded by a doughty socialist by the name of George Fernandes, the post-emergency ruling coalition saw another outstanding socialist Madhu Limaye, who led the redoubtable George Fernandes in the Socialist Party, playing a prominent role in taking up the cudgels against the RSS, by raising the issue of Dual-membership that eventually led to the split in the Janata Party and its collapse as a consequence. This split and Indira Gandhi’s extraordinary contacts with the masses finally resulted in the defeat of the post-emergency Janata Party, which was thrown out of power with the re-installation of the Congress-led by Indira Gandhi in early 1980. Significantly before Indira Gandhi took her oath as the PM it was made abundantly clear by the ruling Congress that it would never henceforth seek to re-impose the emergency and suspend democratic rights in the near or distant future. So regardless of whatever the present-day rulers may claim today, democracy was not in the least weakened by the Congress’s return to power in 1980.

What is the current situation in the country?. True, Emergency has not been re-promulgated as of now but the fact that democracy has been emasculated cannot be overlooked. India has been ruled over the past six years by a political party that holds overwhelming dominance; it has become the richest and possibly the most corrupt force, sharing its powerful hold on society with its extra-parliamentary parent, the reactionary RSS. RSS think tanks now deeply influence state policy. The political opposition stands side-lined; the social movements, students movements, the trade unions, in all sectors of society face the coercive ire of the Government and its extra-judicial Hindutva vigilante armies. The most well-meaning of protesters are either arrested on trumped-up charges under serious offences of sedition or terrorism or are publically intimidated by either the right-wing media or the right-wing militias. Every day, we sink deeper into a space where all standards of decorum and propriety are torn to bits by leaders of the ruling party. Are these not manifestations of a regime which is far worse than the emergency rule? The opposition forces stand divided politically and socially, while the ruling party gets away with breaking every rule in the book. Anybody pointing fingers at the Government over its irresponsible and authoritarian ways —in the face of the recent migrant workers exodus across India or the brazen public faux pas by the Prime Minister in his giving a clean chit to the Chinese in Ladakh (and then the PMO coming out and editing-out and deleting his mischosen words spoken and broadcast as a loop on TV in India and in China), or the recent sale of Coal blocks violating schedule 5 in constitutionally protected areas, deregulation of environmental norms to please business lobbies – becomes a target of the Government and its Non-Government allies. The Government is turning more unaccountable by the day, evading all forms of scrutiny. We don’t know much about the China – India military standoff as facts are spun on both sides every day. There is no rollback of the recent Chinese occupation in the Galwan valley but the leader of India’s ruling party is trying to offset the damage to its reputation by spinning a tale of India having ceded some 43,000 sq km in times of the Congress-led UPA Government. They haven’t yet blamed the Congress party as the force behind the spread of Covid-19 or the Cyclone Amphan in India. Amid high tensions with China, Ram Madhav, the RSS trained General Secretary of the BJP, is advertising India’s claim to Aksai Chin, saying that India needs to be as assertive on the India – China Line of Actual Control (LAC) as it is on the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LOC), Suggesting, that all Congress and opposition-led Government’s of the past have been talking peace and therefore China doesn’t take India seriously, It is likely that the RSS might now raise the Tibet card to further heighten the temperature; this will be music to our American advisors. The opposition parties should join hands to push the Modi Government to take them into confidence regarding recent developments and policy on the India-China front.

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We express our concern at the persecution of the widely known Philippino journalist Maria Ressa. Ms Ressa was recently convicted by the court in Manila on grounds of cyber libel [1], and could serve up to six years in prison. This judgment is yet another sign of the vitiated atmosphere for the media and civil society in the Philippines which is now regressing under its authoritarian and popular president, Rodrigo Duterte who has also led a cabal against all who have dared to challenge or criticise him.

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On the occasion of 100 years of the formation of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) the country’s first pan India trade union, the General Secretary of the AITUC Amarjeet Kaur in an interview to the Times of India on June 26, 2020 has said:

“Are we using Covid-19 as a convenient excuse to change laws and deny workers their right to basic wages, healthcare, security, bonuses and overtime? Are we observing the credo of ‘one law one nation’? The labour laws are being changed and suspended at the behest of the Central Government in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Statutory working hours have been increased from the mandatory eight hours to a staggering 12 hours or worse. In the case of Rajasthan, the government has withdrawn its order on working hours. All these changes are not required for restarting economic activities. It is actually providing a system of hire and fire, maximisation of profits, cutting the cost of labour, curtailing the rights of collective bargaining and right to unionise.”

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We celebrate the decision by a Canadian university to honour the sterling work of Teesta Setalvad, the well-known journalist and activist, who has challenged communal politics.

We pay our homage to Zeev Sternhell, a leading Israeli scholar for his work on fascism and a prominent voice in a fading Israeli left-wing which he lamented was too weak to overcome ultra-nationalism; he died on June 21, 2020.

June 27, The Editor

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