The 99% are marching towards Delhi

The sangharsh sandesh jathas after covering the entire length and breadth of the country are slowly converging towards Delhi where a clarion call for the struggles for alternative policy framework will be given on 19th March in a massive rally in Ramleela Maidan. While on the one hand, Mr. Chidambaram presented another budget for the corporate houses and crony capitalists, passing it off as the budget of the aam aadmi; the biggest opposition party in the country was busy deciding its candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, projecting a model of corporate loot as 'good governance'. Far away from all this, media chose to ignore something which was phenomenal to say the least, for the first time in the post-Independence Period, a campaign for alternative policies that place development for the masses on the agenda and not the profits of the corporate houses, was carried out on such a wider scale. Covering more than 10000 kms and reaching out to millions of people with the message of sangharsh through public meetings, nukkar sabhas and cultural programmes, the 'suffering India' asserted its resolve to snatch away from the 'shining India' everything that has been systematically denied.

In these times

We are living in times when inequality is not only widening, but it has also become obvious that it’s no longer a concern for political parties of the ruling classes. In 2011-2012, the combined assets of the 100 richest Indians grew from 602.5 lakh crores to 625 lakh crores, while on the other hand 86.3 crore people in the country are able to spend just 20 rupees a day. Nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide since 1995. Precious public sector units are being sold over to private and foreign corporates, assaulting national sovereignty. Natural resources of the country such as coal, water and minerals are being handed over to corporate, while the livelihoods and democratic rights of the adivasis living in these areas are being snatched away. Retail sector has been opened for companies such as Walmart putting livelihoods of 5 crore Indians, dependent on the retail sector; as well the millions of other marginal and small farmers. Wherever the jatha went with the message of sangharsh it received massive support. People not only reaffirmed their faith in the red flag, but also resolved to break the shackles of the neo-liberal growth which is making their lives a misery.

Who's the 99%?

Who are these 99% and what is it really that bothers them? The farmers and the workers, most of whom are in the unorganised sector; the dalits who are facing the exploitation of the retrograde caste system; adivasis who are reeling under the brunt of the corporate loot; minorities who have to face communal political system in their daily lives; women who are being treated as inferior citizens and the students and youth who have uncertain futures staring them straight into their eyes. Who were these millions of nameless and ordinary? They were the struggling workers of Gurgaon, facing inhuman work conditions in the heart of the India's corporate growth story. They were the mining workers of Tosham in Haryana who lost their jobs, as the mines have been sold away to the private corporate.

The number of landless farmers has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. While in 1992, the number was 22% of the total population, by 2011 it rose to 41%.

They were the dalits of Maharashtra who are still trying to figure out the reality of equality which is enshrined in our Constitution, even after 66 years of Independence. There was Sakharam Ramji Tamda, a 65 year old tribal peasant from Sarani village in Dahanu, Maharashtra who owns 2 acres of land won due to the famous Warli Adivasi Struggle of the 1940s and is still fighting the Mumbai land mafia, who is trying to over such tribal lands using force and murder with the support of ruling parties leaders. They were the migrants from Bihar who together remit more than Rs 7,500 crore per year, which is 5 percent of the GDP of Bihar, and still live in poverty, misery and illness. Without any industries, men have no option but to migrate; while women work as cheap labour getting just 35 rupees a day and looking after the old parents and young children.

They were the peasants of Ghadsana in Rajasthan, who fought for canal water for several months and saw their loved ones die in police firing. They were the Guaar farmers of Northern Rajasthan whose produce fetched exporters Rs 33,000 a quintal in export market last year, while the peasants were given only Rs 2,000. They were the vada paw sellers of Andheri, who have to face the exploitation of the police and the authorities every single day. They were many others who for the first time saw a sense of hope, a belief that the present can be made better and they have decided that sangharsh is the only way ahead.

Land to the landless

Today more than 2.1 crore hectare of land in the country is under illegal possession over the land ceilings. Only 27 lakh hectare has been declared and out of that only 19 lakh hectares have been distributed (majority of which is in West Bengal alone). The number of landless farmers has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. While in 1992, the number was 22% of the total population, by 2011 it rose to 41%. Instead of giving land to the landless, government in its attempts of appeasing the private and foreign capital is facilitating massive land acquisitions for the corporates. Constitutional rights that were given to the adivasis under the 5th schedule are being systematically curtailed. Today the struggle is not only to resist the corporate driven land acquisition, but also to demand the land for the landless.

Right to Food

In a country, which is home to largest malnourished population in the world, Right to Food isn't some welfarism, rather it’s a fundamental right. But instead of a universal scheme government is dividing the poor into the categories of BPL/APL, thereby snatching from them the right to food. Government's poverty line estimates only make a mockery of the poor. For them anyone in the rural India who earns more than 26 rupees a day and more than 32 rupees a day in urban India is not eligible for getting food grains at subsidised rates.

In 2011-2012, the combined assets of the 100 richest Indians grew from 602.5 lakh crores to 625 lakh crores, while on the other hand 86.3 crore people in the country are able to spend just 20 rupees a day.

While 6.67 crore tonnes of grains are rotting in the government warehouses, children in the country still have to sleep with empty stomachs every single day. With exponential inflation of necessary items, even subsistence is becoming difficult for the majority of the country. A cap on subsidised gas cylinders has been enforced and since then prices have increased 3 times. The food security bill which has been prepared by the government is not only completely inadequate, targeting and cash transfer programmes are proving to be self defeating. The fraud in the name of food security has to be exposed, future trade in necessary items be banned and universal food security has to established.

Right to work

Every other day, government comes with new figures of GDP growth; but this GDP growth has hardly translated into any meaningful employment. Forget employment generation, present growth model is actually snatching away employment. For instance, while in 1998, 2.82 crore people were working in the organised sector; in 2008 this came down to 2.75 crore. The employment growth rate for 200-05 was 2.7%, which came down to 0.8% in the period 2005-10. The situation is particularly gloomy for the young men and more so ever for the young women. Yet more than 10 lakh posts continue to remain vacant, majority of which are in the SC, ST and OBC category.

Without any industries, men have no option but to migrate; while women work as cheap labour getting just 35 rupees a day and looking after the old parents and young children.

Whatever employment is being generated, is mostly on contract basis with no social security provisions. More than 80% of workers in private sector are working on contract basis, while the corresponding number in the public sector is 50%. Particularly the minority youth have to face exclusion when it comes to employment in central and state governments. MNREGA which was a monumental legislative measure giving 100 day employment guarantee in rural areas , has seen drastic budgetary cuts with even the allocated money not being spent. In almost every state the actual days of employment generation is not even half of the guaranteed 100 days.

Right to Health

Dependence on private health sector has continuously increased in the last two decades. Private hospitals and clinics have become money minting shops without any effective control. One study reveals that among the reasons behind the debts of families, health comes as the second biggest factor. National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is way short of the actual need in rural areas. Instead of the promised spending of 5% of GDP on health, only 1% is being spent. Not only this, according to the latest census reports out of the 33 crore households in the country, 57% have no access to pure drinking water, 39% have no kitchen and 53% have no toilet facilities. These facts speak volumes about the state of health. Further the monopoly of the multinational companies over the medicines market has made most of the medicines out of the reach of the overwhelming majority. Today there is an urgent need of strict control over the private health sector and the medicines market.

Right to Education

Even after high GDP growth rates seen in the last 2 decades of the neo-liberal growth in our country, the state of education continues to be in a poor state. The unwillingness of successive Central governments to allot more resources in the field of education has been one of the main reasons behind the present status of our country, which ranks 134th in the Human Development Index (HDI). In spite of the recommendations of various expert committees since independence and continuous demands from various quarters, spending of 6% of G.D.P. and 10% of the budget on education remains a distant dream. While a systematic bias in the administration works against social justice, the scholarship schemes run by the government have seen continuous ignorance on part of central government. The much touted Right to Education Act has failed universalize school education, mainly because of the lack of adequate public funding. In spite of the act being passed by the parliament way back in 2009 only, UPA refused to take any financial responsibility and decided to put the entire burden on states, which in the neo-liberal phase are already facing financial constraints (rough estimates put that out of every 100 rupees spent on government plans more than 60 comes from the state governments, while out of every 100 rupees of tax collection, hardly 34 comes in states’ share). Implementation of RTE in letter and spirit would require public expenditure in the form of construction of school buildings and recruitment of up to 14 lakh teachers and other staff. Instead of public expenditure, government is pushing privatization of school education in the garb of RTE, with the proposal of 6000 schools to be opened under the PPP arrangement. RTE also has a mandatory guideline of reserving 25% of seats in private schools for the students from poor backgrounds, but it has hardly been followed anywhere.

Professional and Technical Education is directly related to bourgeoisie’s need of a technical workforce. Thus, while in the post-Independence phase a chain of I.T.I.s, premier institutions such as I.I.T.s and regional engineering colleges were set up by the state; in the past two decades this entire sector has witnessed massive privatization and commercialization. Money minting shops have been set up which on one hand charge hefty fees, while on the other fail to give proper training or impart skills. Result is that most of the students who come out of these institutions are underemployed. One particular study said that out of the 7 lakh odd engineering graduates every year, as much as 1 lakh won’t be able to get any proper employability. Today we are seeing a fierce struggle in the field of education where on the one hand are profit motives of a handful of corporate and private players; while on the other hand are the needs of the vast majority of this country. More than half of our population is less than 35 years of age, and this demographic dividend can be translated into people’s development, if they get proper education.

For social justice

Our country can't advance one inch without advancement of dalits, adivasis, minorities and women. These sections form the overwhelming majority of the workers and farmers. But, apart from the economic exploitation that is affecting all the toiling masses, they also have to face social exploitation. In this phase, the question of ‘social Justice’ has been systematically ignored. The 27% OBC hasn’t been implemented properly in most of the educational institutions, with cut-offs and eligibility criterion being used to manipulate rules. The constitutionally mandatory seats reserved for the SC/STs continue to remain vacant every year.

Curb corruption and corporate loot

The nexus of the ruling class politicians, bureaucracy and the corporates has lead to massive corruption in the last 2 decades. 3.56 lakh crore of rupees have gone down the drain in 2G and coal scam itself. Apart from the Congress-led UPA at centre, the BJP Governments of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand are writing new pages in the history of scams. An estimated 5.7 lakh crore rupees have been taken away from the country through illegal routes. Hard earned money of the toiling masses has been shifted to foreign banks. Government isn't making any endeavour to bring this black money back in the country, nor is it showing any will to take actions against the culprits. Corporate loot and corruption is not only wasting the public money, it has also adversely affected democratic process in the country through massive pouring in of the black money in the elections.

So, what is to be done?

The Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha has promoted the message of struggle for alternative policies and addresses the issues and concerns of the millions of working people of the country – of the kisans, agricultural workers, workers in the organised and unorganized sectors, of women, dalits, adivasis and minorities. It has projected the unity of the working people against all kinds of communal and divisive politics. As the jathas have traversed the length and breadth of the country, they have passed through the areas – where the peasants and adivasis are struggling to protect their land from forcible acquisition; where farmers are fighting for their livelihood and a fair price for their produce; where workers in the organised and unorganized sectors are struggling for a fair wage and against the contractualisation of labour; of students who are opposing commercialization of education and demanding better educational facilities; of women who are fighting against sexual attacks and for equal rights; of dalits who are struggling for social justice; and youth who are conducting movements against unemployment. The future course of action is set for us. An alternative policy platform of struggle and bigger movements which can rally all the left and democratic forces of the country is the only way forward. It is in the fire of struggles, which a new India will take its shape and we resolve to witness its making.