Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ML Update | No. 40 | 2015

ML Update

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol.  18 | No. 40 | 29 SEP - 5 OCT 2015

Modi's US Visit – 
And Unanswered Questions 
About 'Digital India' and Democratic India  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his visit to the USA and especially Silicon Valley to sell India as an investment destination for digital services, in particular the Government's 'Digital India' programme. Beyond the hype and hard-sell of Modi's interaction with top CEOs, several urgent questions remain unanswered.  

Some of those questions were posed by protesters at Silicon Valley itself during the PM's visit. Under the banner of Alliance for Justice and Accountability, protesters raised their voices against growing communal, caste and gender violence in India, systematic erosion of environmental safeguards, and above all, the crackdown on freedom of expression and civil liberties, and the purging of diversity and dissent from academic and cultural institutions in the name of 'cleansing' foreign (read non-Hindutva) influences. The protesters also included LGBT groups that demanded that the Prime Minister break his silence on India's shameful Section 377 law that criminalizes homosexuality. Leading academicians from various US universities had also written an open letter raising many of these concerns. It must also be noted that Modi, on his visit to Ireland, chose to use Irish soil to take a dig at India's secular ethos and concerns.  

Ironically, at the venue, Modi supporters from the Hindutva camp confirmed many of the concerns being raised about the crackdown on dissent by abusing, intimidating and roughing up the protesters. It is indeed significant that while Modi poses with CEOs of social media and Internet-related service companies, the social media in India have become spaces where dissenting voices, especially voices criticizing the Prime Minister, his party, his organization the RSS or his Government are subjected to an organized campaign of intimidation and abuse by a virtual army of Modi supporters. In India, the police under Governments ruled by parties of most hues have been quick to arrest and harass dissenting voices on social media. Section 66A was the legal instrument for such arrests and harassment; it has now been outlawed by the Supreme Court but not before the Modi Government defended it in Court.        

The Modi Government has also, in recent times, been forced to retreat on several policy moves to undermine privacy and freedom of users of the internet and social media. The Department of Telecommunication and IT Ministry of the Modi Government had to backtrack on a proposal to introduce a draft encryption policy requiring users to preserve every WhatsApp, SMS or email message for 90 days and make these available to security agencies on demand, or else face a jail term. Similarly, the Government had to make a U-Turn on a misguided attempt to ban porn sites on the internet. And earlier, the DoT tried to undermine net neutrality in collusion with some Indian telecom corporations, but was forced to retreat.      

Modi's meeting with Facebook CEO Zuckerberg also raises the spectre of a threat to net neutrality. Zuckerberg's project is already under fire for its proposal to undermine net neutrality (i.e a free internet) by carving up the net into different saleable 'segments' or 'packages.' This project is being defended in the name of internet access for the poor: but the hidden agenda is to restrict the existing free access to the internet by compromising net neutrality.

In the name of providing important Wi-Fi in railway stations and broadband services in rural India, PM Modi has rolled out the red carpet to Google and Microsoft. But the question is, why can't such basic infrastructure be provided by Indian companies? Why allow MNC penetration in what is a potentially strategic area? More importantly, why is the Modi Government itself lagging behind drastically in implementing the National Optic Fiber Network plan to lay down the fibre optic cables required to ensure broadband access to 250,000 villages? The deadline for this plan has been delayed and extended several times even in the tenure of Modi himself. The 'Digital India' promise can only remain a mirage unless the Government delivers on such infrastructure.  

Another issue on which Modi's Silicon Valley visit was silent is the condition of the IT sector in India. This sector is today primarily one of brain drain, with Indian IT workers overworked and underpaid in exploitative and repressive conditions.

Modi's US visit throws up other areas of concern too. On Modi's past visit to the US and US President Obama's visit to India, there have been shadowy talks concerning pharmaceutical patents and nuclear liability. Both are areas which have grave implications for India's poor and common citizens. Yet the details of such discussions and agreements lack transparency and Indian citizens are kept in the dark.  

At home in India, Modi's graph is declining with his Government increasingly surrounded by questions about steeply rising prices, the control exerted by the RSS and corporations over the Government, meat bans, saffronization, the worrying spectacle of emboldened Hindutva terror groups that are assassinating secular and rationalist activists and intellectuals, and the Government's own harassment of activists and dissenting voices. Modi's 'development' rhetoric too is being questioned, since the promised 'good days' are yet to arrive for the poor and deprived while the corporations and MNCs bask in the Modi sun. The carefully scripted optics of Modi's foreign tours cannot get rid of these questions that are growing louder and demanding answers.

Declare Jharkhand Drought Affected Region

Even as entire Jharkhand has been severely affected by the drought, the BJP government headed by Raghuvar Das has so far shown no steps towards addressing those affected by the drought. As starvation, unemployment and forced migration continues to increase, the government apathy shows no signs of ending.   In view of the severe drought conditions affecting the entire state of the Jharkhand, CPI(ML) organized a series of protests in several districts across Jharkhand demanding that Jharkhand be declared a drought area.

On 19 September, the CPI(ML)'s Ranchi city committee organized a march, followed by a meeting to protest against Jharkhand not being declared a drought area and giving a call to observe a state-wide protest day against the increase in petrol prices. During the entire march, slogans were raised demanding- "Declare Jharkhand a drought area", "Start relief work", "Guarantee 200 days' work under MNREGA", "Roll back increase in petrol price" and "Pass employment guarantee law for urban poor". Addressing the meeting, Bhuvaneshwar Kewat, district secretary, said that despite continuous fall in prices of crude oil in the international market, the people of Jharkhand have received no relief; rather, they are burdened with increased petrol price and spiraling cost of living. The government is oppressing the people with more and higher taxes. People from villages across the State are being forced to migrate because of the government's failure to declare Jharkhand drought-affected despite continuous drought conditions and failure of maize and paddy crops.

Protests were also organized in other districts including- Garhwa,  Palamu, Latehar, Lohardaga, Gumla, Giridih, Ramgarh, Dhanbad, and Jamtara under CPI(ML) and AIPF banners.  In Dhanbad, about 100 farmers sat in dharna at fertilizer factory gate on 21 September, protesting the management's illegal takeover of farmers' lands, and demanding long pending compensation for land by the factory. In several districts memorandums were submitted to the Chief Minister through the local DMs.

CPI(ML) leaders warned that if the state of apathy continued, the agitation would be strengthened in days to come.

Five CPI(ML) leaders in Punjab Sentenced for Leading Anti-Land-Grab Struggle

On 19 September, the Fatehabad court sentenced five CPI(ML) leaders from Punjab, Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, Ruldu Singh, Gurjant Singh, Jasbir Kaur and Rajvinder Rana for three years in jail for their role in anti-land grab struggle in Punjab. In 2011, a series of 'kurkis' took place in Mansa district, by the money lenders whereby they grabbed the land of poor peasants against their pending debts. During one such incident, a moneylender fired at the peasant union activists who were resisting the land grab and a peasant leader Pirthi Singh was killed in the firing. The police refused to arrest the money lender, who had fired, for almost a month owing to considerable political pressure. It were only relentless protests by peasant organizations and CPI(ML) that the administration was forced to arrest the murderer eventually. When the murderer was brought to the court, amidst continued protest and raising of slogans against the delay in arrest, and some angry peasants and protesters manhandled the hated killer inside the court premises. The police took even this as an opportunity to act in favour of the usurer, land-grabber and murderer and revengefully slapped serious false criminal cases against CPI(ML) and other peasant leaders!

The five leaders have now been granted bail in order to appeal in the higher court.

The conviction of leaders of anti-land grab movement comes at a time when the government of the day is pushing hard the policy of land grab and displacement and brutally oppressing dissenting voices. CPI(ML)'s struggle against anti-poor, anti-peasant measures of the government will continue undeterred

Candle March against the Move to Make Bindukhatta a Municipality.

Hundreds of Bindukhatta residents came out on the streets once again on 23 September under the banner of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Mahasabha, for the campaign "Harish Rawat Sarkar, Jawab Do" and raising slogans against making Bindukhatta a municipality.

A meeting was held at Car Road, Bindukhatta in the evening. Addressing the meeting, Kisan Mahasabha State President Com. Purushottam Sharma said that the government has betrayed the people of Bindukhatta by making it a municipality. The people of Bindukhatta voted MLA Durgapal to a one-sided victory so that he could fulfill his election promise to make Bindukhatta a revenue village and give ownership rights to the farmers who had settled on lands here. But the MLA, by making this a municipality, has made full plans to enable the land mafia to loot the people's lands. Bindukhatta was made a municipality, waiving all laws, as it was not legally possible. As a result, the government has not even been able to file a reply in the ongoing case in the High Court. He pointed out that MLA Durgapal and his workers had been spreading misinformation among the people that it was not possible to make Bindukhatta a revenue village under the Forest Act. However, the Congress government is unable to explain as to how it is possible to make it a municipality if making it a revenue village was not permissible since the process for transfer of land revenue is the same in both cases. However, in view of the existence of a municipality, transfer of land in Bindukhatta will mean that the land will be considered "nazul" land whose owner will be the municipality. In order to get ownership rights to the land that they are settled in, the farmers will have to pay 25% of the circle rate and double the revenue amount, into the government account. Therefore, in order to get ownership rights, most of the villagers will have to sell their lands to the land mafia at throwaway prices. On the other hand, if Bindukhatta was to become a revenue village, it would be directly beneficial to the villagers as there is a provision for making up to 3 ¼ acres of land in the villagers' names without fees.

Purushottam Sharma further added that even if the government wishes to make it into a municipality, they must either first give the ownership rights of the lands to the farmers otherwise the municipality order should be revoked without delay.

Addressing the meeting, CPI (ML) district Secretary Kailash Pandey said that the State government is the government of the mafia. Under the Congress rule, only the land mafia and mining mafia are being strengthened. The land mafia has its eye on the lands of Bindukhatta, which is why the government wants to make it into a municipality. The people have been long agitating against this move but the local MLA, instead of replying to the High Court and listening to the people's demands, is trying to obstruct panchayats by sending goons to disrupt Kisan Mahasabha Panchayats. He further said that the fact that people have once again taken to the streets in hundreds after 1 April to protest against the municipality proves that however much the MLA and the Congress try to threaten, frighten, tempt and mislead the people, they will not be fooled and will not rest till they get ownership rights to their lands.

Convention in Support of Left Candidates in Bihar Elections

A convention of writers, cultural activists, and intellectuals was held on 13 September 2015 at the Madhyamik Shikshak Bhawan in Patna on the topic, 'Left Alternative in Bihar'. It was co-organized by Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh (Progressive Writer's Association), Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Janvadi Sanskritik Morcha, and Paigham Cultural Society. Addressing the convention, Chief Editor of Samkaleen Janmat, Ramji Rai said that the seeds of fascism, communalism, violence and brutality are present inside the neoliberal policies on which the governments of this country are running. The Modi government is implementing this policy even more aggressively. Even otherwise, there has always been a fascist tendency in the Indian ruling echelons. Narendra Modi is a product of a continuum. This is the reason the Left did not consider Modi's becoming the Prime Minister an ordinary phenomenon. Neither Lalu, nor Nitish, nor the SP, nor the BSP have the capacity to fight fascism. Time has placed this historic responsibility of fighting fascism on the shoulders of the Left, and it is this responsibility which has made possible the present unity among the Left parties. The seeds of a strong united Left in the future are present in this current unity.

Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh national committee member and critic Khagendra Thakur said that the Left has played a historic role through its struggles in passing the Land reform act, Sharecroppers' Act, and other pro-people laws. The unity of the Left parties is a historic event which has filled Left activists with a new energy and enthusiasm. He appealed to litterateurs to write on political subjects also. He expressed the belief that they would also write articles in support of the Left.

Addressing the convention, Janvadi Lekhak Sangh Bihar State President Prof. Neeraj Singh said that this moment of Left unity has been long awaited. Writers in this country have always been predominantly fromthe Left, and the lack of unity among the Left parties has been a matter of concern to them more than to anyone else. That is why they always found themselves in a dilemma during elections. However, this time there is no dilemma. Writers are full of hope and enthusiasm with the unity among Left parties.

AISA protests against draconian UGC guidelines

Students from JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University and Delhi University staged a massive protest outside the UGC office under the banner of AISA, against the 'Guidelines on Safety of Students on and off Campuses of Higher Educational Institutions' issued on April 16th 2015'. The students express tremendous anger over the fact that in the name of security, UGC was trying to convert campuses into jails. The protest against this circular has also sparked off protests against moral policing in several campuses. Addressing the protestors, the National President of AISA, Sucheta De said that it is evident that the sole purpose of this circular is to curb students' voices and open doors for moral policing.  Students across universities and states ranging from engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu to Lovely University in Punjab have also conveyed their criticisms on the basis of their experiences. 

Prior to organising the protest outside the UGC, a massive signature campaign had also been launched to inform and warn students, youth and other progressive-democratic sections about the contents and implications of this circular. The signature campaign had received massive response from the students across the universities and in several campuses protests against this circular had already started. 

Comrade Sucheta pointed out how one after another anti-student policies were being undemocratically imposed by  UGC and MHRD and whenever students organized themselves and came out to protest, they were being labelled as anti-nationals. At a time when there major lacks in campuses in terms of - infrastructure, regular teachers proper implementation of provisions to ensure social justice, and basic infrastructural and educational tools to challenge patriarchal mindsets, it is outrageous that the UGC and the MHRD spend their time and resources to come out with such regressive measures.

The UGC circular includes guidelines such as construction of high walls with barbed wires surrounding girls' hostel that cannot be crossed, installation of CCTV cameras, presence of police forces and metal detectors on campuses, use of digital technology and biometrics to keep track of students' movements, regular parent-teachers' meeting, issuing conduct codes to students, monitoring of students' mobile phones, among others.

A delegation of students also met the UGC authorities. Sandeep Saurav, National General Secretary of AISA, who was a part of the delegation later informed the students that the UGC was bent on providing justification for the draconian guidelines citing a few incidents. However, considering that the UGC did not bother to consult any representatives from among the student and teacher communities, showed that they were least serious about the issues they claimed to be concerned about.

AISA Delhi unit President, Anmol Ratan asked if the UGC did not consider students studying in universities as citizens deserving of freedom, dignity and right to choose. Several guidelines included in the UGC circular contribute to the culture of victim blaming.

AISA leaders declared that the students' agitation against such draconian dictates will intensify in days to come. A government that is committed towards 'sell out' and marketization of higher education and towards curbing of democratic spaces in campuses by silencing dissent, will not be allowed to trample upon our freedom, dignity and choices!

Viren Dangwal

CPIML dips its flag in salute to noted Hindi poet Viren Dangwal who passed away in the morning of 28 September 2015, finally succumbing to a long battle with cancer. Viren Dangwal infused a fresh energy into progressive poetry, using a lucid idiom accessible to every common person. Always disarmingly humble and warm, Viren Dangwal associated himself with the Jan Sanskrit Manch and other progressive cultural platforms. His passing away is a tragic loss for all of us.

Red Salute to Comrade Viren Dangwal !

Lalan Thakur

Com. Lalan Thakur passed away on 7 September 2015 after a prolonged illness at the age of 70. He hailed from Patna. Com. Lalan was associated with the Party immediately after the spring rising of Naxalbari. He, along with other comrades, used to paint slogans on walls at night. He played a significant role in establishing the Party's base in Patna's Jakkanpur Mohalla at a time when the struggle had started in Jakkanpur against feudal domination. Com. Lalan was also arrested during this time and lodged in Ward No. 2 where all the prisoners associated with the Naxal movement were kept and not allowed to meet other prisoners. Com. Lalan played a significant role in initiating study, discussion and debates on political books and literature.

On coming out of jail, he was put to organizational work by the Party. After staying at Ranchi for a time, he came to Patna and worked in the Irrigation department first on a casual basis, and later as a regular employee. He continued to be associated with Party work. Very few people knew that he was a government employee, as he was active in all the Party programmes. Despite his transfer to Dehri, he stayed for the most part in Patna and made it clear to the authorities that his first priority was Party work.

Com. Lalan remained dedicated to the Party and continued to maintain contact with the Party base in the mohalla. During the several ups and downs seen by the Party,  saw he remained a firm and a strong pillar for the Party. Red salute to Com. Lalan Thakur!

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