Road To Fascism

Of Ordinances and Reconversion

Santosh Rana

Under the Land Acquisition Act that was enacted in 1894, the State could acquire any land according to its will and the landowners had to accept whatever compensation it decided to pay. Sometimes, owners of land got small amounts of compensation years after the acquisition. Many landowners died before getting the compensation money. The State acquired land in ‘public interest’ and what the State considered ‘public interest’ was recognized as public interest according to law.

After independence, this Act underwent some revisions, but the basic framework remained the same. At the time of the Second Five-Year Plan, large tracts of land were acquired in many places, particularly in eastern India for steel factories, thermal power projects, the Damodar Valley Corporation and heavy industrial complexes. In south Bihar (now Jharkhand) seventy thousand acres of land were acquired for the Bokaro steel plant only. Similar acquisitions took place in Sindhri, Ranchi, Chandil, Chakradharpur etc. Even then demonstrations took place in various places against land acquisition and for adequate compensation. But then the projects were being built up under state ownership, and the leaders running the State gave assurances of employment to the displaced people. In reality, some people indeed got employment. Particularly the scheduled castes and tribes (dalits and adivasis) got the benefits of reservation. In 1991, after the adoption of the economic reform programme by the Government of India, which Jagadish Bhagwati has termed the ‘First Revolution of India’ (according to him Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014 is the ‘Second Revolution’), large domestic and foreign capitalists jumped on the mineral rich plateatu regions and the state governments of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattis-garh, Madhya Pradash and Maharashtra started acquiring land on behalf of private companies in the name of 'development'. In the areas that were included in the fifth schedule, there were some safeguards for the adivasis. But the over-zealous state governments, in total disregard for all these, launched the drive to evict hundreds of thousands of adivasis and other sections of the peasantry by using the draconian Act of 1894. Grievances erupted and at one point they assumed the form of mass rebellions. In the face of these rebellions, the plan to build up factories in Singur and Nandigram was abandoned. The Tatas faced strong resistance in Kalinganagar and the construction of the steel plant of Posco had to be postponed. In many places of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra the struggling masses frustrated the plans for land acquisition. Among these struggles, the movements of Singur and Nandigram became, for various reasons, models of anti-acquisition movements. Primarily under the impact of these movements, the Left Front rule in West Bengal came to an end.

Under these circumstances, demands were raised throughout the country for changing the contents of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, and in consequence, the Congress-led UPA Government, after conducting discussions with various peasant organizations and concerned stakeholders prepared the draft for a new Act, which was approved by a parliamentary committee. The chairman of the committee was Sumitra Mahajan, the present speaker of the Lok Sabha. Finally, the parliament passed the new Act unanimously in January 2014. According to the new Act, acquisition of land for industry must require the consent of 70% to 80% of the owners of land in the concerned area; provisions of compensation and rehabilitation must be there not only for the owners, but also for the sharecroppers and other people dependent on the land. Besides, assessment of the social impact would be made before acquisition and it will be examined if the acquisition would have any negative impact on food security.

Immediately after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister by securing 31% of the votes in the Lok Sabha polls, the big business and the economists representing them began to demand the canecellation of the new Land Acquisition Act, claiming that it was a strong obstacle to industrialization. As a matter of fact, Narendra Modi had given such an assurance to the big corporate houses before the polls. But cancelling the Act was not an easy affair, because the BJP did not have a majority in the upper house, i.e. the Rajya Sabha. It might not be possible to cancel the Act and pass a new one through a joint session of both houses. Yet the pressure from the captains of industry was mounting. For that reason, Modi promulgated the Ordinance, virtually cancelling the Act of 2014. Thus the country was brought back to the period of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Worse than that, the Ordinance was introduced just two days after the end of the winter session of the Lok Sabha.

The Ordinance has dropped vital issues like ‘consent clause’, ‘social impact assessment’, the question of food security and compensation and rehabilitation for sharecroppers and farm labourers. Five sectors have been kept outside the purview of law. Among them, one is ‘industrial corridor’. Any area can be acquired in an extra-legal way in the name of industrial corridors. According to informed sources, large areas of land on the two sides of the Mumbai-Delhi Highway have been earmarked for an industrial corridor for building up multi-storied housing complexes and shopping malls. Narendra Modi during his tour of Japan, reportedly assured the Japanese investors that he would hand over this land to them.

The rapidity, with which this Ordinance has been introduced, bypassing the parliament, gives some clue as to the course of Indian politics. The Act over which there were nationwide discussions and debates, and which was approved by a parliamentary committee and passed uninamously in the parliament, has been virtually cancelled through an administrative decision. An authoritarian step has destroyed the good results of the democratic process. Two organizations belonging to the Sangh Parivar, namely the peasant organization of the BJP and the Swadeshi Jagaran Mancha have opposed the Ordinance. Although the BJP secured 31% of the votes in the Lok Sabha polls, it can be said with certainty that the number of people supporting this Ordianance would be even less than 20%. To reject an Act that was drafted on the basis of a national consensus is definitely a step towards fascism.

The Ordinance on insurance and that on privatization of the coal mines tell the same story. Coal mines were nationalized in 1973. Everybody knows that prior to it the triumvirate of owners, musclemen and moneylenders ruled the coal mines. Workers had no security of jobs or lives. It is not that since nationalization, workers of coal mines have been living in a paradise. But compared with the pre-nationalization period, the standard of living of workers is far better. Almost all the permanent workers fall within the income tax bracket. Dalits and adivasis constitute a considerable section of the workers that benefited from nationalization. Now, the decision to privatize through an Ordinance has opened up the road of free plunder to domestic and foreign players. During the Congress rule, some coal mines of West Bengal (known as ‘captive mines’ or patches) were handed over to private owners at the recommendation of the left Front Government. Workers have no premanent employment there, and casual workers are made to do hard and strenuous work. Their wages are even less than half of the minimum wages fixed by Coal India for casual workers. The purpose of the new Ordinance is to replicate the condition of the ‘patches’ in the whole of the coalfield regions. Quite naturally, workers of coal mines have started movements against privatization. The unprecedented solidarity displayed by coal workers in the five-day strike held in January 2015 has raised hopes among the struggling people of the country. It needs to be mentioned in this connection that the Trinamul Congress, its verbal opposition to privatization notwithstanding, let loose its ruffians and tried to break strikes wherever possible.

Through another Ordinance, the scope of direct foreign investment in the insurance sector has been widened. In 1956, the insurance companies of India were nationalized and the Life Insurance Corporation of India was formed. The LICI has played an important role in providing the people with the protection of life insurance. The savings of customers have remained in safe hands, and have been used for economic development. Every year the government receives billions of rupees from the LICI. Now the government has given foreign companies the opportunity to enter the insurance sector in a big way and has threatened the existence of the LICI, thus endangering the future of several lakhs of employees and agents. The Insurance Bill is pending for several years, but Narendra Modi, during his visit to the USA assured Barack Obama that he would open the insurance sector to foreign investment so as to give US capital the scope of plunder. This has been done through an Ordinance.

This tendency to bypass the parliament and implement important decisions through Ordinances is an extremely dangerous one. These measures have to be examined in conjunction with implementation of the policy of 'hire and fire' at will by reforming labour laws, measures for contraction of the NREGP; steps towards the cancellation or dilution of the Forest Act and Environmental Act, and curtailment of allocation for health. The Planning Commission has been abolished and replaced by an organization named ‘Niti Ayog’, and an economist named Arabindo Panagaria has been placed at its head. This economist, a disciple of Jagdish Bhagwati, has for long been decrying the policies of giving at least partial legal sanction to right to work, right to food, right to health and right to housing and recommending their curtailment. There is no doubt that the Niti Ayog headed by him will follow the course, of cancelling even the small provisions of social security and leaving everything to the market.

But the Indian people will not accept these steps. If the NRGEP is curtailed, the scope of food security is reduced, government-sponsored health services are abolished or land is forcibly seized by means of a black Ordinance, the people will resist it. This will influence poll results also. Hence Narendra Modi is hell bent on taking such steps as will destroy the democratic system. For accomplishing it, the hanuman brigade of the Sangh Parivar has started an attack on religious minorities all over the country in the name of Ghar Wapsi (re-conversion). At the same time, the theoreticians of the Sangh Parivar are seeking to put an end to scientific cultivation of historiography and social sciences in India and to set up a regime of medieval obscurantism. Togadia and his men who lead the Viswa Hindu Parishad have declared that they want to convert 100% of the people to Hindutva. They claim that in the past, Muslim and Christian rulers converted Hindus by means of sword, and that the Sangh Parivar is now bringing them back to Hinduism in order to remedy that wrong. That is why they call it ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or ‘Homecoming’.

All those who have studied Indian history with a scientific outlook know that among the forms of struggle that the lower caste people adopted in order to fight against the repressive caste system of India. There were the Lokayat and Charvak philosophies, Buddhism and Jainism in the ancient period, the bhakti movements of Kavir, Nanak and Chaitanya in the medieval period. In the countryside of Bengal, Manasa, Dharma Thakur and other rural deities are worshipped till now. Similarly there were numerous instances of deserting Hinduism and adopting Christianity and Islam. Such a large number of people did not become converts just by succumbing to force. Discussing the subject of conversion, Swami Vivekananda said, ‘Why are there so many poor people among the Muslims? It is sheer nonsense to suggest that they were converted by means of sword. These people became converts in the expectation of liberation from the oppression by landlords and priests.’ (Vivekananda Complete Works, Vol VIII, p. 330)

Hindu scriptures do not recognize equality among human beings. According to them (e.g. Manu Samhita, the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, the Gita etc), the sudras have no right to property or education. They have even no right to enter temples. The peculiar system evolved in India in order to appropriate the fruits of labour of the toiling people. The mission of equality and fraternity propagated by Christianity and Islam attracted the oppressed people. Whether they, after conversion, have been able to gain equality and human rights is a different question altogether, but there is no doubt that millions of lower caste people became converts in the hope of obtaining equal social rights. What will be the caste status of the people who are being subjected to Ghar Wapsi? In reply to this question, Yogi Addithanath, one of the spoksmen of Hindutva says, "they will be returned to the same caste or clan from which they had come." The meaning is clear. They are being taken back to the hell from which they wanted to escape and hence became converts.

The two programmes are intertwined. The aim of augmenting or even maintaining the rate of profit is seriously hampered by bourgeois democracy in the situation of an all-pervasive crisis of capitalism. That is why big businesses are abandoing bourgeois democracy and taking the path of fascism, abandoning secularism and taking the path of Hindutva evading the parliament and resorting to Ordinances. The experience of Gujarat has taught them that if they are able to create a communal division, even an authoritarian step can have the support of some people.
It is the million-dollar question of today whether all the left and democratic, nationalist and secular forces of the country will come together in order to resist this demon.

[Courtesy : Deshkal Bhabna, 5 February, 2015]

Vol. 47, No. 37, Mar 22 - 28, 2015