Looking Back on 55 Years of The Republic Day
By Jyoti Basu
January 29, 2006
THE Republic Day 26 January is replete with historic significance. It marked the adoption of the Constitution of India. The Constitution declared that India would be a democratic republic. The Constitution has been modelled on the Constitutions in force in several countries abroad including Great Britain, USA, and USSR as well as Switzerland. The crux of the Constitution is the set of principles known as the directive principles of state policy.
These principles include: adequate means of livelihood for every citizen and the right to work; an economic system which does not result in the concentration of wealth; right to education and provision for free and compulsory education for children; living wage for workers and equal work for equal pay for men and women.
As our Party Programme points out, none of these principles could be implemented thanks to the class-bias of the bourgeois-landlord system that has prevailed in the country. The gap between the pious intentions and the actuality of practice, stares us in the face, 55 years since the adoption of the Constitution.
The period since independence has been marked by a continuing crisis in the nation’s economy. India is principally an agrarian country with a superstructure of industries. After we gained freedom from British colonial rule, the Indian ruling classes refuse to go in for land reforms. Concentration of land and rural inequalities continue unabated. A central legislation on minimum wages in the rural stretches is yet a far cry.
The policy of liberalisation and the imperialism-driven globalisation have opened up the economy to the marauding forays of multi-national corporations. The bureaucracy, the education system, the media, and the realm of culture are now subject to the penetration of finance capital.
The advent of the BJP government at the centre and in some states, saw the beginning of a new form of anti-people oppression when religious fundamentalism was patronised officially. Already there was a concerted attempt by the bourgeoisie and the landlords to distort secular values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
The Congress is not a communal party but it does make compromises with religious fundamentalism. The BJP and its ideological patron the RSS have been engaged in the onerous task of communalising instruments of the state including the administration, the education system and the media.
Communal riots became a frequent feature. While we defend the religious freedom of every religious community, we stand firm against the intrusion of religion into the realms of the economy, education, polity, and administration. Caste oppression, and oppression on the tribal people (the Kalinganagar incident is the most recent example) has been allowed to continue.
The Indian Constitution is a federal instrument. However, right from its inception, the Indian ruling classes have been engaged in ensuring that a unitary structure is allowed to overwhelm the political scenario. This is evident in the realm of centre-state relations in particular. On our India-wide campaign and movement for correct centre-state relations, the H S Sarkaria Commission was set up by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Its recommendations were not fully satisfactory, but even so its views with regard to financial relations have not been implemented.
The Union list is bigger and exudes much more power than the concurrent list and the State list put together. Over the years, the power and the prestige of the states have been allowed to get eroded. Such has been the bias of the succession of union government that the states have suffered grievously because of lack of administrative and financial powers.
In the present capitalist set up, Left Front governance in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, with limited powers, has been travelling along the path of alternative governance. In West Bengal, the Left Front government has been in office for six consecutive times. During this period, the succession of Congress-run and BJP-led union governments have been riding roughshod over the state’s rights, administrative and financial. We had formulated the case for providing more power to the states in the document of the Srinagar conference quite a few years ago.
Discrimination against the Left Front government had been manifest in the freight equalisation policy and the licensing system. Planning also favoured a few states and West Bengal was deliberately ignored, allowing the state to lose its leading position in the sphere of industrial production and expansion.
Under the freight equalisation policy, while the comparative advantage of the location of raw materials like coal and iron-ore in West Bengal was effectively nullified, there was no freight equalisation for the raw materials we needed. Under the licence-permit raj, the Congress governments would tell potential investors that industrial licence would only be issued if they chose to invest in states other than West Bengal.
An example of this frame of mind has been the Haldia Petro Chemical project. We had to wait for 11 years because of lack of cooperation of the union government, although we had repeatedly approached the union government for clearance of the project, clearance which was never forthcoming.
Then when Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister, he hurriedly organised a foundation stone laying ceremony with me for the project, more probably, with an eye to the ensuing elections. He, of course, lost the elections. There are many such examples like this. Only after internal and external pressure, the policy of freight equalisation and of licensing system was ended, which has been of great help both to West Bengal as well as other states.
There was also a sustained campaign against West Bengal that propogated that no work gets to be done here because of ‘labour troubles.’ This myth we had to counter not only here in India but also abroad. In the mid-1980s there was an RBI report wherein it was clearly stated that only 3-4 per cent of factory closures were due to the workers’ actions like strike’ and, in fact, the vast majority of the closures were due to the outlook and policy of the management.
A PRO-PEOPLE GOVERNMENT
In West Bengal under Left Front governance, a pro-people, especially pro-poor outlook, has permeated policies. Democracy has flourished and we have recognised even government employees’ right to strike, although emphasised that strike should be used as the weapon of last resort. We have called upon all workers to take an active interest in production and productivity.
Communal harmony has long been a part of the glorious heritage of this state. The rights of people belonging to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and the dalits have been well secured.
While a great conundrum of economic progress was chalked up in the country as a whole, we in West Bengal have managed to achieved outstanding figures in agricultural production, social forestry, pisciculture, and horticulture, topping all-India figures.
Fast progress has also been noted in the sphere of industries. Back in 1994 the Left Front government, on the floor of the Assembly enunciated its industrial policy on the demand of the Chambers of Commerce. Industrialisation is being pursued on with especial emphasis on the ‘sunrise industries’ of information technology, food processing, and electronics, generating a high level of employment, especially in downstream units. Attempts are being made to revive sick industries both in the joint sector and in the private sector.
We recall how several years ago, we had approached the then prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi for investment in electronics in West Bengal. She set up a committee, and for a one full year the committee did nothing. Then she informed me that her officers had told her not to invest in West Bengal since it was a border state, and decided instead to invest in an electronics complex in north India. We told her that the security threat was from Pakistan and not Bangladesh, but she would not listen. We acted on our own and at present there is a flourishing electronics complex at Salt Lake.
To give a few examples of our achievements, the very first Left Front government not only initiated land reforms, but made education free up to the Higher Secondary level. Later 50 engineering colleges were set up from the three existing ones. The sixth Left Front government is determined to achieve a position of primacy in industry nationwide, based on the agricultural advancement already made.
However, we brook no complacency anywhere. We tell the people what we have achieved and what we have not. A great deal of work has been done, but plenty more is left which the seventh Left Front government, we are sure, will tackle as soon as it assumes office.
Politically, we have triumphed in elections at all levels, from the Panchayat and the Municipalities to the assembly and the Lok Sabha in West Bengal. We have no doubt that the people who reside trust in us, will again rally to make the Left Front win the assembly polls later this year, for the seventh time in succession. People create history, and as we always say, they have created history here in West Bengal. We deeply respect the heightened political consciousness of the people.
NEW POLITICAL SITUATION
There is a new political situation prevailing in the country at the present moment. Following the defeat of the anti-people and communal BJP-led forces of right reaction, a Congress-led UPA government took office with outside support from the Left. We chose to lend outside support to the Congress-led government, because we wanted to keep the evil BJP out of office.
However, our support is not unconditional. We are not quite satisfied with all the policies of the Congress-led UPA government and there are some policy matters that we do take exception to. We hope that the two committees the Left and the Congress committees, will sit down and sort matters out for the sake of the nation and the mass of the people. We have reserved the right to organise and build up struggles and movements on important issues in the interest of the people. We call upon the Union government to implement the Common Minimum Programme.
I would like to end this article on a rather personal note. I remember how many decades back, during the pre-independence years, every year there would be a great procession in London to Trafalgar Square and a meeting held there on 26 January, calling for independence. The London Majlis, an association of Indian students, of which I was the general secretary, organised the rally every year. Ignoring the bitter cold of London in January large numbers would congregate and participate in the march and the meeting, such was the enthusiasm.
STRENGTHEN THE PARTY AND THE MASS ORGANISATIONS
Looking back on the decades of independent India, I do believe that much remains to be done especially for the interests of the mass of the people. The strengthening of the Left parties and the mass organisations throughout India is essential for the task of advancing to our goals.
SOURCE: PEOPLES DEMOCRACY, January 29, 2006,
Republic Day Special Number