Autumn Number 2019

Timetable For Catastrophe

Facing the Future

Manas Bakshi

It is a mere platitude to state that the spirit of struggle and spate of agitation concerning trade union, peasants and students movements of the sixties and the seventies of the previous century have ebbed away. The overall ennui that seems to have gripped a large section of the working as also unemployed force—irrespective of their class (middle or lower middle) or social status—can be attributed to more reasons than one; but the vital one is lack of political awakening which was, to a limited extent stirred up in the late sixties and early seventies by the left forces.

It may be pertinent to recall that in 1952, during the first session in the Loksabha, the Left with a formidable representation of the undivided Communist Party had 16 MPs. The combined strength of the Left forces rose to as many as 61 in 2004 but plummeted to 12 in 2014, and to a microscopic minimum—3 in 2019. No doubt, there has been considerable erosion of support base of the Left. What does it indicate? Has Left politics that once organised mass movements, though to a limited extent, in several states on some burning issues has lost its relevance or sheen in today's context? Or, one can take it for granted that the impetus and fervour with which some specific issue-based movements were launched earlier have all faded out? Whatever it be, it is undeniable that hardly any broad-based consensus could ever be reached. Which is why solidarity of the Left forces has still remained a far cry. The ideological differences between the fragmented Left groups apart, there has been lack of political consciousness and ability to mobilise people—who usually prefer to go with the tide—for sustained movements or struggle on socio-economic grounds.

It can be exemplified with the instance of Loksabha Polls, 1984. It was owing to the sudden deaths of Sm. Indira Gandhi that the tide turned in favour of Congress so much so that it could have a thumping majority of 415 seats in the Loksabha. With the new millennium people have witnessed scandals—from 2G spectrum to coalgate—unbridled price rise, unemployment and several other grinding factors making way for the fall of UPA regime. NDA's coming to power at the Centre in 2014 airing the slogan of 'Achhe Din' (better days) and again in 2019 banking on "Sabke Sath Sabka Bikas" (development for all) is proof enough of the constellation of such political forces that eluding Left Democratic unity at the national level at the moment. And this, depite the promise of providing employment to 2 lac youths per year and ferreting out black money being belied in reality, despite nearly seven lac industrites having been closed down between 2016 and 2019 resulting in jobless plight of lacs of people, despite no stringent action having been taken to bring the economic offenders like Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Malya to book, and last but not the least, despite an ambience of political turmoil and religious intolerance clamping its iron grip with no redressal.

There was a time when people, believing in Nehru's socialist rhetoric started dreaming of a socialist pattern of society. Now it is realised that capitalism has spread its tentacles almost all over the world and is well-entreched in dream of economic development to come true. Being part of and remaining glued to parliamentary politics and its cretinism, movements of the so-called left forces have so far remained confined to playing the role of reformists only. Viewed against the post 1991 economic perspective—following the imprints of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation—what is in evidence is the absence of a tactical line to combat excessive dependence on and scourge of private capital. It has often meant jobless growth with influx of private and / or corporate capital, and concerted attack on the organised sector. It is an inevitable outcome of the present imbroglio. Because funding of politics in the Indian polity has in its backdrop the nexus between big business houses and pot-bellied power-wielding political parties who are supposed to play a key role in influencing the administrative apparatchiki. The latest instance is the decision of the present dispensation to privatise 46 central Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) many of which are profit-making, providing employment opportunities and generating revenues for the government. Is it justified to disinvest them?

It goes without saying that modernisation and technological advancement with an eye to profit maximisation with minimum labour have squeezed the scope of employment which means reduction of dependence on workers in the organised sector. From e-banking, Mobile banking, ATM to computerised activities like ticket-booking have made so many things easily available at the cost of an onslaught on manpower. Not only that, indirectly it broadens the scope for outsourcing or contract labour even for accomplishment of works of the organised sector with the added advantage that nobody will raise voice against injustice or exploitation at all. Even in the organised sector, a trend is growing fast to employ adequate number of professionals like I.T experts/MBAs who are well-equipped with modern technology and know-how, and as a norm, they work as long as required even minimising the requirement of being aided by subordinate staff.

It is against this situation that the prospects for organised resistance or movement—as required—have to be viewed. If one looks back, it will be clear that even a few years ago specially when the Bank, LICI, GIC employees—who have often been called "white collar employees"—went on a strike, public support was largely lacking. But the scenario is no more that disappointing at present. Because public-confronted with hazards due to shortage of staff in the public sector banks specially where manual work is a must like Fiexed Deposit, Advances, Foreign Exchange and the like—have felt the need for fresh recruitment which is also on the agenda of bank strike as one of the major demands. The all India bank strike, observed on 26.12.2018 at the behest of United Forum of Bank Unions comprising some nine unions was also against merger and staff curtailment besides salary hike. People at large have realised the bitter truth, for they have experienced the nightmare following notebandi and still have to face delay and embarrassment in getting regular service due to shortage of staff. It is indeed encouraging that 9 unions of different colours and ideological stance including All India Bank Officers' Confederation took part in the strike. It is also heartening that the three non-BJP parties, to be more specific, Congress, CPI(M) and TMC, coming close to each other on the issue of privatising 46 Central PSUs has made possible passing "a unanimous resolution against the Narendra Modi government's decision" in the West Bengal Assembly.

Still there are miles to go. Because some sporadic movements at a crucial juncture as at present are not just enough. Unfortunately, the overall attitude of the mass that appears at times apathetic to a broad-based struggle on certain burning issues, concerning trade union or peasant agitation, has its roots in the process of the struggle itself which had drawn due attention in the late sixties and early seventies with a tint of militancy but has virtually failed to retain that momentum and appeal. An overall lack of political training in trade union activities apart, the newcomers in some sections of the organised sector appear complacent with their pay-packet—a factor adding to aversion to a struggling spirit. This is just like pacifying a large section of farmers with loan waiver scheme which serves no meaningful purpose in the long run. It is, therefore, necessary that all the non-BJP Left and Democratic forces—irrespective of their ideological differences—should come forward and join hands to motivate and mobilise people for a united action whenever situation so demands. Admittedly, much depends upon the young generation. But, sorry to say, the attitude that seems to have gripped the students and young generation in general is directed towards building up their individual careers to become quick bucks in their chosen field of activities—leaving the question of social responsibility or involvement in mass movement to others to take up.

Not only that, it is a pity that organised movement has not yet taken shape to organise and motivate the vast majority of several millions toiling in the unorganised sector. It is reported that people of working age are nearly 600 million in the country now of whom only 15 to 20 percent have formal employment. The rest is composed of people having informal work or no work. What is more alarming, the entire labour force is increasing in size by ten to twelve million per year. And again, what about those in the unorganised sector like the rickshaw and cart pullers, coolie, mutia, urban daily labour, Bidi-workers and the like whose daily earnings are decided by fate and future is bleak in the absence of adequate social security measures. Time is propitious now to think of these issues seriously but the question is : who is there to take up the cudgels for the benefit of posterity?

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Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019