Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Public Meeting on "Discrimination, Racism and State Violence: The Farce of “Different” Laws for the North-East"

The rise of the Modi government has seen a marked aggravation of brutalities carried out by organs of the Indian state – the armed forces and the police in particular - against the people of North East India. Following and amplifying the policy direction of the UPA, the BJP-led dispensation seems hell-bent on using all its might to crush and muzzle voices of democratic dissent. The most recent such onslaught on the right to protest has been the brazen re-arrest of Irom Sharmila, tireless crusader against the draconian and colonial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), barely three days after her release. Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since 2000 demanding the revocation of the AFSPA, and her struggle has consistently foregrounded the manner in which the law has been shamelessly used by the armed forces to unleash a reign of terror in the North-East – employing the dastardly tactics of rape, murder, torture and other varied forms of intimidation. The re-arrest of Sharmila is yet another tactic of the Indian state to quell the ever-strengthening democratic upheaval against such untold human rights violations. The ascendancy of the self-styled “Loh Purush” Narendra Modi has emboldened the ruling classes in their constant crusade against the rights of the people, and increased the pitch of assertion of their feudal, misogynist, casteist and racist attitudes.

While on the one hand the draconian AFSPA is being used to ride roughshod over the rights of the people of the North East, on the other there has been a tremendous increase in incidents of racist violence and other forms of discrimination against them in various parts of the country. The racially motivated killing of Nido Tania, and the rape of a 14-year old Manipuri girl in Munirka are still fresh in public memory. Built on a foundation of racial stereotyping and prejudice, such attacks have rendered the lives and livelihoods of people from the North East extremely vulnerable and insecure. While the left and democratic sections have consistently demanded a comprehensive legislation against racial profiling, stereotyping, discrimination and violence, the ruling classes have turned a deaf year on every occasion. Both the current regime and the previous UPA government made no effort whatsoever to contain, check or prevent such forms of racist discrimination and violence. Despite increasing democratic assertion on the need for an anti-discrimination legislation, both the Congress and the BJP have tried to shove the issue under the carpet.

It must be remembered that question of AFSPA-related brutality, and the systemic racist discrimination and violence faced by the people from the North East, are deeply interlinked. The need of the hour, therefore, is to forge a larger united democratic struggle which battles both draconian legislations like the AFSPA, and systemic and entrenched forms of prejudice. This struggle has to begin with a recognition of the multinational character of our country, and with a re-envisioning of the republic on the basis of the staunch upholding of the equality of the nationalities which constitute India. A democratic churning is required demanding both the immediate repeal of the AFSPA and the setting up of institutional and legal mechanisms to counter deep-seated discrimination. With the firm resolve of strengthening and deepening such a united and democratic struggle, and to discuss the possible directions and forms this struggle should take in the days to come, SFI invites you to tonight’s public meeting at Kaveri Mess.


Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Independent Journalist, Author of Che in Paona Bazaar: Tales of Exile and Belonging from India's North-East
Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, Journalist, The Hindu
Vijoo Krishnan, Former President, JNUSU
Date and Time: 26 August 2014, 9.30 pm
Venue: Kaveri Mess

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

SFI’s Initiative Successfully Resists CITD’s Tactics to Deny Admission to Students!

SFI thanks the student community for rallying behind our initiative to ensure that students who were denied admission to the Centre for International Trade and Development (CITD) on absolutely unjust grounds are given admission in MA. The new admission criteria at CITD says that only those students who have a Bachelor’s Degree with Economics (Honours) with Mathematics as subsidiary subject,  Mathematics (Hons.) with Economics as a subsidary subject, or Statistics (Hons.) with Mathematics & Economics as subsidiary subjects would be eligible for admission to its MA programme. Given the fact that very few universities in India have Honours courses at all, this elitist criteria essentially meant the exclusion of the vast majority of students, including even students who completed BA (Economics) from various universities, from applying to CITD. Nevertheless several students from non-Honours backgrounds had written the entrance exam and cleared it, and the Centre had refused to admit them.
But following the protest on Tuesday (12 August), the administration was forced to give admission to those students who cleared the entrance test after studying economics as one of the core subjects in their under-graduation. This struggle has to be seen in the context where the students were made to run from pillar to post and had to undergo a lot of pain in the process.  Adding to the anti-student approach of the Centre was the apathy shown by JNUSU-SIS Convenor who was informed of this issue on 3 August. But even after coming to know of the issue there was absolute lack of concern from the Convenor. What is equally deplorable is the fact that the JNUSU, which should have taken up the matter, was slack in its approach. When SFI got to know about this injustice being done, we immediately took up the matter with the concerned departments and forced the JNUSU to take up the matter on an urgent basis in the All Organisations meeting called by us on 11 August. A call for protest was suggested to JNUSU in the All-Org meeting. The strength of the united protest by the students against this elitist discrimination ensured that the matter was taken to a logical end. The illogical stand of the Centre to put on hold the registration of students was defeated and four students, who had to face taunts and harassment, were at last allowed to finish their registration process.
This struggle doesn’t end here, as we need to ensure that the anti-student admission criteria which crept into this year’s prospectus are kept out in the next year’s prospectus. After all, the injustice done to all those students who didn’t appear for the entrance exam after seeing the new admission criteria cannot be undone. Let us also not forget that a similar move by the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) which made it compulsory for students to have studied mathematics at the Plus Two level or during Bachelor’s in order to be eligible for admission had made it impossible for the vast majority of students in various universities in India to apply to the Centre’s MA programme. It had taken several years of efforts by perceptive students in the Centre to get this regressive move reversed.
SFI would like to thank the JNUSU for taking up the issue though it was late. We would also like to thank progressive teachers and officers who stood with us in this struggle. The democratisation of educational institutions is something that the left student movement has always stood for, and we will struggle to ensure that all students, especially those from deprived backgrounds, have the opportunity and resources to pursue higher education. The student community have to be in constant vigil against elitist machinations inside and outside the campus. We pledge to stand should to shoulder with the student community in such struggles.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Comrade Vijender Sharma Amar Rahe!

Comrade Vijender Sharma, veteran leader of the University and College Teachers’ movement, passed away on 9 August 2014 after bravely battling cancer for over eight months. He was 63. His demise is an irreparable loss to the left and democratic movement and the University and College Teachers’ Movement.
Com. Vijender began his political activity as a student in Delhi University and became a member of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) in the early 1970s. He was also associated with the Research Scholars Association in Delhi University. He joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1974 and was member of the Delhi State Committee of the CPI(M) since December 2001 and that of the CPI(M) State Secretariat from November 2004 up until his death.
Com. Vijender did his B.Sc. and M.Sc. from Delhi University and became a lecturer in ARSD College in 1976. He was awarded Ph.D. by the University of Delhi in 1977. He later pursued law and completed his LLB degree in 1985 from the University of Delhi.
Com. Vijender’s name is synonymous with the teachers’ movement in Delhi University. He was one of the Conveners of the Temporary Teachers’ Forum and led a difficult struggle in 1978-79 that resulted in almost 700 temporary teachers being regularized. He was an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association from 1987 to 1989; member of the Academic Council from 1990 to 1994; President of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association from 1995 to 1997 and member of the Delhi University Executive Council from 2002 to 2006. In all these capacities he made a seminal contribution towards advancing the rights of university and college teachers.
An excellent trade-unionist, Com. Vijender was a fearless militant. But he did not thrive on slogans alone. Rather his forte lay in the in-depth study of different issues and challenges facing the education system as a whole in the backdrop of the impact of neo-liberal policies. His incisive analysis of such challenges was of great use not only to the teachers’ movement in Delhi University but outside it as well.  He was in regular touch with the leadership of the All India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organizations (AIFUCTO) and teachers’ associations of different universities and provided them with whatever inputs and help he could without any hesitation.
He was a convinced Marxist-Leninist. This helped him seek truth through concrete study of facts. It also gave him the courage to fight all that is wrong and oppressive not just in education but in life in general. He was associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions all-India Centre in the late 1970s and early 1980s and helped in the publication of the CITU’s journal the Working Class. This experience helped steel his resolve and partisanship. His life was a classic example of an intellectual born in a middle class family devoting his entire life to the working class movement. At a time when international finance capital is using commoditized education to create its own foot soldiers, Com. Vijender’s life is a pointer to the importance of organic intellectuals of the people.
Comrade Vijender’s was a life full of struggle and courage in adversity. He was an extraordinary leader of the University and College Teachers’ movement and the left and democratic movement, and a conscientious human being. He will be remembered and sorely missed by all those who had the good fortune of knowing and working with him. SFI dips its flag in memory of Com. Vijender and resolves to champion the ideals he stood for by fighting to fulfil his unfinished tasks.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Carry Forward the Struggle to Restore the JNUSU Constitution!

Over the past few days, a “joint front” comprising a handful of political organizations has been campaigning towards a referendum asking the students to reject the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR) in toto. While the objective of rejecting LCR is laudable, the campaign leaves several questions unanswered. But before getting into those questions, let us briefly review the history of the struggle against LCR.
Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations – A look-back
The Lyngdoh recommendations had its genesis in the Sojan Francis case, born out of the attempt by college managements to trample upon the democratic rights of students. The Kerala High Court which heard the case filed by Sojan Francis, an SFI activist who had been debarred from sitting for his examination due to his political activism in St. Thomas College, Pala (Kottayam, Kerala), had given a verdict which effectively allowed the college managements to prohibit political activism in campuses. This draconian order was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Kerala University and the Kerala University Students’ Union led by SFI, and the Supreme Court issued an order on 12 December 2005 directing the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to constitute a committee to “frame guidelines on students’ union elections in colleges/universities”. The committee thus set up, with J M Lyngdoh as Chair, submitted its report on 23 May 2006. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the committee, which upheld the need for students’ union elections in all colleges and universities in the country, including private colleges and universities, and its praise for JNU and HCU as “models”, the ultimate effect of the LCR has been that these very unions which were held up as models were targeted because the students’ movement in such places have challenged the unbridled march of neoliberal policies in education and in other spheres.
The objective of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR), contrary to all pious statements, is to weaken the students’ movement so as to pave the way for fee hikes, commercialisation, privatisation and centralisation of higher education — a process that is already underway. LCR has put in place restrictions that are fundamentally undemocratic and exclusionary (particularly adversely affecting students from deprived sections). For instance, the clause that stipulates an age barrier of 22 years for BA students, 25 years for PG students and 28 years for M.Phil./Ph.D. students (30 years for JNU as per the relaxation granted), militates against students from deprived backgrounds who are often forced to enter higher education at a later age. The clause that prevents candidates from contesting more than once in the central panel and twice for councillor posts defies logic even as it serves to constrain the development of a mature leadership for the union. The eligibility criteria which prevents students who have been “tried/convicted” for any criminal offence and those who have been “subjected to any disciplinary action by the University authorities” only aids the college/university administrations to victimise student activists who have participated or led any kind of protests against unjust measures by the authorities. In short, the overarching framework of Lyngdoh curtails students’ rights and has been damaging to our fight against anti-student college and university administrations and the neoliberal policies of the ruling classes.
The students of JNU, having recognised the perils of the LCR, rejected LCR at the very outset, and held elections for two years (in 2006 and 2007) as per the JNUSU constitution without accepting LCR. But in 2008, the Supreme Court stayed the very JNUSU elections which Lyngdoh had held up as a “model”, thus exposing the real intentions underlying LCR. The students of JNU, however, rejected the LCR and chose to battle it out in the Supreme Court by constituting a Joint Struggle Committee for the purpose. But the Supreme Court referred the case to a constitution bench on 11 November 2009, and the said constitution bench has not been formed till date. When it became clear that the formation of the constitution bench and the final settlement of the case will take several years, the SFI in 2010 took the position that we should go ahead with the JNUSU elections as per the JNUSU constitution. If the election process is challenged in the SC or if it takes suo motu cognizance, the JNU students would be asked to explain their stand. We argued that it is likely that the SC, given the fact that it is deliberating on the constitutional validity of the Lyngdoh recommendations itself, would agree with the position of the JNU students and restore the JNUSU constitution, at least till the final verdict on Lyngdoh Committee is delivered. It might of course disagree with the JNU students and issue specific directives on JNUSU elections, and the question of any “contempt of court” would arise only if the JNU students wilfully defy those specific directives. Many other progressive organisations in the campus agreed with the SFI position and supported holding the elections as per the JNUSU constitution. But the AISA went on a scare-mongering campaign arguing that there would be a crackdown on the JNU student movement if we went ahead with our elections as per JNUSU constitution. Ultimately the UGBM did not accept the proposal to hold elections immediately as per JNUSU constitution, and SFI and the JNU student movement, respecting the verdict of the UGBM, went ahead with other initiatives to take our struggle forward. Negotiations were held with the SC-appointed Amicus Curiae and the students, in a UGBM in 2012, decided to restore JNUSU elections, the election process being governed by a modified LCR. It was agreed that the modified LCR was being accepted as an interim arrangement pending the judgement of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. It was also decided that the newly elected JNUSU would be mandated to carry forward the legal and political struggle to restore JNUSU elections as per the JNUSU constitution.
Elected Unions Cannot Run Away from Their Responsibility
But the unions which were elected subsequently (two AISA-led, AISA-majority unions and one DSF-led, AISA-majority union) have done precious little in carrying forward this struggle. It is indeed ironic that the DSF, which did nothing to intensify the struggle when it led the Union is now part of the “joint front”. It is also to be noted that the DSF holds the position that the association of student political groups with political parties is the biggest impediment to the student movement in the country (something that the Lyngdoh Committee would gladly endorse).
The restoration of the JNUSU elections as per the modified LCR was definitely not the first choice of the JNU student community, but something that was forced upon it by objective conditions. The student community took this difficult decision recognising the fact that not having an elected Union in JNU was doing immense damage to the student movement, causing depoliticisation among students and making it extremely difficult to wage powerful and united struggles against an emboldened, anti-student administration. In doing so, the students rejected farcical arguments like those put forward by DSU, which essentially holds that almost nothing can be done to advance the student movement when Lyngdoh is in place. It was plain for the students to see that the DSU’s argument against having an elected union at a time when the administration is on a rampage trampling upon hard-won students’ rights was, in the ultimate analysis, a brazenly pro-administration argument — after all, not having an elected union would simply mean handing the decisive upper hand on a platter to the anti-student administration.
Incidentally, the “joint front” has been arguing that episodes like the militant student struggle by the SFI-led JNUSU of 1998-99 when 63 students were arrested and 14 students were sent to the Tihar jail are no longer possible now. We would like to remind them that seven SFI comrades, including two JNU students – Com. Rahul N and Com. Nitheesh Narayanan – were sent to Tihar jail in July 2013 for protesting against the corrupt Congress government of Kerala, and both of them contested as candidates to the JNUSU elections later in September 2013. In spite of Lyngdoh, SFI in the recent past has successfully waged a number of struggles in different parts of the country against fee hikes, for student amenities, for increasing seats in colleges, for restoring union elections in several places where they had been scrapped and so on. Therefore while it is true that the Lyngdoh clampdown is a significant setback for the student movement, it cannot be the case that the LCR, which governs the election process, is the factor that conclusively determines the character of the entire gamut of the student movement. We have seen in the recent past forces like the DSF trying to wash their hands off their failures in the Union by blaming LCR, and we will have to remain guarded against such opportunism. Nothing can justify the unwillingness of recent Unions, whether led by DSF or AISA, to take up and fight for core student demands.
The SFI restates its commitment and resolve to carry forward the struggle to restore the JNUSU constitution and to uproot Lyngdoh from the campus. A democratically elected JNUSU should lead this struggle rather than ad-hoc “fronts” which are not accountable to the larger student community. Further, the struggle against LCR and for campus democracy essentially has to be an all-India struggle. The JNU student movement and the JNUSU have important roles to play in this struggle – what is required is concrete study and sincere struggles that would in all probability be protracted, not opportunist alliances devoid of any politics.
Srabani, Secretary, SFI JNU Unit       
Viswanathan V, President, SFI JNU Unit

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Condemn the Majoritarian Designs of the JNU Administration! Defeat Attempts to Make Forms Available Only in Hindi!!

In an extremely alarming development, the hostels in JNU have made mess rebate forms and other forms available only in Hindi. The forms that were bilingual (in English and Hindi) so far, have been replaced by Hindi-only forms. Angered, sections of students approached the Rector today (Wednesday, 25 July), demanding a reversal of this retrograde move. The Rector informed the students that this step was taken as per the directive of a parliamentary committee delegation which recently visited JNU. Sensing the collective dismay of the students, she attempted to trivialise the issue by terming it a “minor” one. But the steadfast resistance of the student community forced the administration to back down and to give the assurance that bilingual forms will be made available as before.
Let us recall that the JNU prospectus makes it clear that “JNU being an all India University, the medium of instruction for all programmes of study (barring Languages) is English”. This explicit recognition of the all-India character of JNU implies that there is space in this central University for students hailing from diverse linguistic backgrounds. This is the promise on the basis of which students from all over India and from abroad have come to our University in pursuit of the famous “adventure of ideas”. The JNU administration’s regressive move threatens to hack at the roots of this democratic, pluralistic tradition. There are large numbers of students in JNU who don’t understand any Hindi, and even among those who understand spoken Hindi, there are big sections who do not read or write the language. Making forms available only in Hindi amounts to treating them as social outcasts.
The JNU administration’s chauvinistic move is nothing but a continuation and extension of the central government directive that Hindi should be the major medium in social media and official exchanges. This is evidently part of the larger attempt by the BJP government to impose the majoritarian identity of ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ on the people of our country. This communal, sectarian notion doesn’t conceive India as a union of different linguistic nationalities and groups. It rather attempts to construct and impose a monolithic culture over every nationality in India, refusing to recognise the multi-national character of our country.
Steps to make the government and its processes more easily accessible to every citizen must be undertaken through the promotion of all national languages in India for official uses. Such promotion of Hindi along with other national languages — treated at par with Hindi — would have been a progressive move. But no such concern is being shown by the government or by the ruling party. Their intention is not to promote and develop Indian languages and thereby democratise access to knowledge and society at large, but to arouse passions and to pit speakers of different Indian languages against each other. Doing away with English while not providing alternative mechanisms to promote other Indian languages would mean that speakers of other Indian languages would be deprived of even the bare minimum democratic treatment. The ground reality today is that the only available language that enables communication between people belonging to different linguistic groups in India without discriminating against or depriving any linguistic group is English. That is why English was made one of the official languages of the Union government, and must remain one of the compulsory languages for every official communication by the central government.
Given the context in which it has occurred, the JNU administration’s step can only be seen as a dress rehearsal for even more of such regressive moves, and the student community must be on guard to make sure that the administration doesn’t backtrack on its assurance that bilingual forms will be back. We warn the administration not to indulge in such chauvinistic moves in the future. Our republic can move forward only by staunchly upholding the equality of the nationalities which constitute India, and any further attempts by the ruling dispensation to rouse passions and thereby divide people by imposing Hindi would be fought and defeated by the progressive, democratic forces in the country.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Adiós, Gabo!

The Students’ Federation of India mourns the demise of Gabriel García Márquez (6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014), who held millions of readers spellbound with his dazzling depiction of Latin America’s quotidian charms and the maddening contradictions of its social life. Undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of our time, Márquez shot to fame with the publication of his 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the most beloved works of world literature that continues to enthrall generation after generation of readers. His other important works include The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), and The General in his Labyrinth (1989).
Born in Aracataca, Colombia, Márquez’s writings were deeply influenced by his early childhood, and his works constantly returned to the torrid region where he was raised by his grandparents. He struggled as a journalist and writer for several years in Colombia and Europe, before shifting to New York following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as the correspondent of Prensa Latina, the Cuban press agency. Later he moved to Mexico, where he wrote his magnum opus One Hundred Years of Solitude which enraptured readers with its intricate engagement with Latin American politics and profound conversance of folkloric beliefs.
Márquez, along with several others including Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, became one of the leading lights of the Latin American Boom in literature during the decades following the Cuban Revolution. The children of the Caribbean and Latin America and the sensuous fantasies of the region came alive in the works of Gabo (as Márquez was affectionately called) and his contemporaries. Márquez became known as the most famous practitioner of magical realism, which referred to the poetic use of supernatural elements such as fairy tale and folklore within a poker-faced objective reality, which made the extraordinary seem almost routine. It turned out to be an apt form to depict the bewildering political tumult in Latin America during the 1960s and 70s.
The Nobel Laureate’s leftist political views informed and energised his writings. The banana massacre in One Hundred Years of Solitude, for instance, was based on the massacre of hundreds of striking workers of the United Fruit Company by the Colombian army in 1928. Gabo was a fierce critic of Latin America’s social inequality and the human rights abuses of the region’s dictatorships. He said in his Nobel Lecture in 1982: “A promethean president (Salvador Allende of Chile), entrenched in his burning palace, died fighting an entire army, alone… There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator (Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala) who is carrying out, in God's name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one - more than have been born in Europe since 1970… Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children who were furtively adopted or sent to an orphanage by order of the military authorities. Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand men and women have died throughout the continent, and over one hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and ill-fated countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years.”
Márquez maintained a long friendship with Fidel Castro as an early ally of the Cuban Revolution, and campaigned for peace in Colombia. He was a staunch opponent of US imperialist aggression from Vietnam to Chile, and his political views caused the US to deny him entry visa for years. In 1981 he was “accused” of sympathizing with M-19 rebels in Colombia and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group which was fighting state oppression.
Gabriel García Márquez will continue to be an inspiration, for his writings that conjured the extraordinary out of the ordinary while laying bare the marvels of love, myth and the pain of unbridled reality, for the exemplary courage he showed in standing up against imperialism and dictatorships, and for the steely determination with which he came to the defence of the struggle for socialism. Salutes, Gabo. Adiós!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Politics and Economics of Development Under Neoliberalism


The elections to the Lok Sabha this year are being held in the backdrop of intense popular anger against the outcomes of the economic policies followed by the ruling classes of the country. These outcomes include, among others, increased poverty, worsening unemployment, a reduction in real incomes for a majority of the population, and corporate encroachment on the assets and livelihoods of the most marginalised sections of society. 23 years of neoliberal economic ‘reforms’ in India have turned out to be 23 years of relentless assaults on the Indian people. All the political formations which were in power during these years – the Congress/UPA, BJP/NDA and the United Front – followed the same basic set of economic policies which piled misery upon the Indian people.

While the outcomes of these ‘reforms’ are more well-known, what is often not recognised is that the reasons given out for rolling out liberalisation measures in 1991 were bogus. It is often claimed that the country had no choice but to adopt the structural adjustment policies prescribed by the IMF. But as Prabhat Patnaik and C P Chandrasekhar (the latter is the speaker in tonight’s public meeting in Lohit mess) pointed out in an important paper in EPW in 1995, the economic crisis at that time was almost entirely speculative in origin, having little to do with the developments in the real sectors of the economy. The vulnerability of the economy to speculative forces was itself in part a result of the gradual 'liberalisation' measures put in place during the second half of the 1980s. Even the foreign exchange crunch could have been easily averted if the Indian banks had not refused to accept the accumulated savings of Indians working in Kuwait who wished to shift the money to India during the Gulf War (about $5-7 billion were reportedly lost to the western banks as a result). Moreover, the magnitude of forex reserves at the end of March 1991 was still large enough to cover almost three months' imports, which was generally considered 'safe' enough in the Indian context.  When import restrictions were imposed (by March 1991), it was the speculative outflow of funds and not the trade or current account deficit which was responsible for the foreign exchange crunch. And yet the Indian government went in for the full gamut of structural adjustment policies - not because of any objective necessity, but because the IMF and the World Bank, as well as elements within the Indian government and the business class (the leading sections of the Indian ruling classes, in short) considered this a golden opportunity to jettison altogether the dirigiste regime which had prevailed since independence.

The problems associated with the economic regime that prevailed till 1991 were very different from what right-wing economists would want us to believe. The dirigiste regime was rife with contradictions – a key factor being the fact that a continuous growth in state spending was essential for the growth of the domestic market, while at the same time the state exchequer was the medium through which large-scale transfers were made to the capitalist and proto-capitalist groups; the state in other words was an instrument for the primary accumulation of capital. These two roles that the state had to perform were incompatible in the long run. But what the ruling classes wanted to do was to eliminate every aspect of the economic regime which were inconvenient for capital – which included the interventionist nature of the state, and the sizeable public sector that the economy had come to acquire.

That 2.8 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India since 1995 is perhaps the most horrifying outcome of the economic reform measures put in place in our country. The deep agrarian crisis in India is a direct result of measures which include actual declines in central government revenue expenditure on rural development, cuts in subsidies, declines in public infrastructure and energy investments that affect rural areas, dismantling of the universal public distribution system, reduction in priority sector lending by banks which reduced the availability of rural credit and pushed peasants into the hands of moneylenders, and the liberalisation of external trade. Trade liberalisation, which entailed the removal of quantitative restrictions and reduction in import tariffs, was instrumental in triggering severe crashes in the prices of a number of important crops and in causing increased volatility in crop prices. The decline in real incomes and the high indebtedness which the peasantry fell prey to resulted in the most blood curdling episode of structural violence the country has seen in recent times, something which can only be called policy-driven mass murder.

The failure to create jobs is yet another important feature of the era of neoliberal reforms. This phenomenon used to be called ‘jobless growth’ when growth rates were high, but now even the much trumpeted economic growth rates have come down. The National Sample Surveys of 2004-05 and 2009-10 show that even during the period of extraordinarily high growth between these two years, the number of those who reported their “usual status” as being employed increased by a mere 0.8 percent per year. The population of the country grew at around 1.5 percent per annum during the same period.

Neoliberal economic reforms have resulted in vicious attacks on the workers in India. Jobs have become increasingly contractualised and casualised, thus diminishing job security. This in turn has meant that it is far more difficult for workers today to unionise for their rights, as employers find it easier to "hire and fire" workers. Successive governments, instead of implementing laws designed to protect workers, have sought to dilute, weaken and do away with labour laws. They have actively encouraged the mushrooming of Export Processing Zones and Special Economic Zones where labour laws effectively do not apply. And yet it is often not recognised that as per data (and contrary to the lies peddled by the corporate media), far more mandays (61%) are lost due to investor strikes (lockouts) rather than workers' strikes (39%).

State policy under neoliberalism, which focusses on appeasing finance capital, has entailed a withdrawal of the State from its role in supporting and protecting petty production against the onslaughts of big capital. This has exposed petty producers (such as peasants, craftsmen, fishermen and artisans), and also petty traders to a process of expropriation. Such expropriation has occurred both through a direct takeover by big capital of their assets, like land, at throwaway prices, and also through a reduction in their incomes, and hence their capacity to survive. The dispossessed petty producers throng urban areas in search of work, adding to the number of job-seekers. This, along with the inability to create new jobs, has worsened the problem of unemployment in the country.

The neoliberal era has been a time when big capital is out to grab assets at throwaway prices or for free, including the property of petty producers as mentioned above, along with common property, tribal property (through predatory mining by corporates) and state property (through privatisation). This period in other words has seen a process of “primitive accumulation of capital” with a vengeance. This process often requires the complicity of state personnel, which forms the basis of the big ticket corporate-led corruption that we have seen in this period.

The high inflation that has hit the people hard in recent times (10% as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers during 2008-13) has resulted in an absolute fall in the real incomes of vast sections of society. This phenomenon again is a result of the anti-people policies which characterise neoliberalism — India’s vulnerability to the effects of changes in international prices has increased with trade liberalisation and the deregulation of the administered price regime in the oil sector. At the same time, increased industrial concentration due to the dilution of anti-monopoly measures and reduced regulation has encouraged a profit driven escalation in the prices of manufactured goods such as pharmaceuticals. The imbalances between demand and supply of primary products are accentuated by the government’s reluctance to release additional food through the public distribution system in order to limit subsidies. The drive to reduce subsidies has also resulted in a continuous increase in the prices of commodities such as petroleum and fertilisers whose prices are administered. In some instances, as in the case of natural gas, price increases are not even driven by costs, but a shameless attempt to provide large transfers to industrial groups like Reliance. These increases have fed into the costs and prices of other commodities.

The need of the hour is to intensify our fight against the anti-people policies pursued by the ruling classes of the country, and a better understanding of the politics and economics of development under neoliberalism is essential to sharpen this struggle.

We invite one and all to tonight’s public meeting in Lohit Mess, to be addressed by Prof. C.P. Chandrasekhar.