CPDR-TN has released a People’s Manifesto on the eve of assembly election in Tamil Nadu and appeals every citizen, notwithstanding their choice to vote/not to vote, to insist upon the primary demands of the people for better livelihood and democratic space to bring about a changed politico-social environment.
It is election time. Once again, the different parliamentarian parties suddenly realise the importance of the citizens, also called voters, in the democratic process. They urge the people to exercise their democratic rights by casting the valuable vote in favour of their party and offer them great promises of a better future or “Achhe Din” as made famous by Narendra Modi. For the rest of the five years, until another election comes up, the people’s representatives decide what is supposed to be good for the people, and a party in power seldom likes the idea of people coming to the streets with their demands as a mark of democracy.
Suppose the government spends 100 crores for conducting an election while its citizens suffer from a food crisis. In that case, it is better that we make elected candidates and the election process more accountable. CPDR-TN firmly believes that the democratic rights of the people do not end with the casting of votes but begins with it. It is the people’s right to know the priorities of an elected government or whose interests are being served behind given legislation. We will explore these priorities and interests later. However, we may point out that ordinary people’s interests are often compromised. This is evident from the frequency with which candidates switch from one party to another, showing how little the ideologies espoused by these different parties are implemented in reality. Instead, we will observe that many a time, the common factor uniting these seemingly different parties is subservience to corporates and privatisation. The people have a right to express concern and grievance regarding maladministration and demand resignation if they feel that the government has failed to serve their interest. But we should not restrict ourselves to these abstract questions or philosophical aspects. Let us look around to ascertain our current condition and try to draw up our demands based on our experience.
Last year, around the same time, the nationwide lockdown was imposed by the BJP-ruled central government with just four-hour notice. In contrast, the prime minister could give several days notice for clapping or for switching off electricity as measures of showing solidarity with the healthcare workers or for driving away the corona pandemic. But the number of deaths of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers worldwide, including our own TamilNadu, due to lack of availability of PPE for healthcare workers shows how much the government cared. Similarly, instead of using the lockdown time to augment hospital beds and other facilities, we found flourishing private hospitals that charged a hefty amount to the patients. Not just for the Covid time, a country that aspires to be the world leader must provide free medical facilities to the people who need them. The state of government-run hospitals and primary health care facilities must be improved so that our reliance on private corporate hospitals reduces.
Lockdown also brought out the sad condition of the workers, and more particularly, the migrant workers. Newspaper reports of the mass exodus of the migrant workers from the big cities to their homes in rural areas or distant towns and cities present heart-wrenching stories. Deaths of migrant workers, ranging from teenager to old, while travelling back from the city, in the backdrop of loss of job in the big cities and lack of transport due to government regulations, will haunt the national conscience for a long time to come. We have seen migrant workers from other states held up in Chennai, Coimbatore, Tirupur and similarly Tamil workers working in other places got stranded in their places of work in other states. While the central government could send special flights to bring back the citizens from abroad, could they not have anticipated the plight of the workers and do something? The very fact nothing was done till media reports forced the government to act shows the priorities of governments led by different political parties.
If such sorry states of workers were not enough, different state governments ruled by the BJP have introduced new labour laws. These laws aim to take away the historic right of the workers to work no more than 8 hours a day. The rights to unionise and several other democratic rights of the workers in safeguarding their interests were trampled in the name of pandemic emergency and recovery of economic activities. We should ask the political parties for whose benefits these measures were taken. The answer is obvious as these were intended to help the industrialists. We should therefore ask the political parties seeking our votes to repeal these anti-workers laws. The government had also tried to help the industries through corporate subsidies and undertook loan restructuring. However, with demands collapsing, there were not many takers of loans, and the stupidity of the economic package became evident. The economic slump, which had begun even before the Corona pandemic started, continued during the entire period and the country, which boasts of a large section of youth, witnessed a 47-year record of highest employment. Lockdown measures during the Corona pandemic saw more than 2 crores Indians lose their jobs, and over 50,000 small, micro and medium enterprises (MSME) closed down. Should we not ask the political parties for steps they have planned to offer jobs to the unemployed instead of listening to their empty rhetoric?
If joblessness is so high, can we expect the citizens to not suffer from malnutrition? India is ranked 94th out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020. About 19 crores of people go to bed every day without proper food, while the government-procured food rot in the FCI godowns. Instead of improving the public distribution system and ensuring food reaches the needy, the corporate-friendly BJP government is trying to do away with food procurement and the minimum food support price to the farmers and force the farmers to negotiate directly with large national and international agribusinesses. Hence it comes as no wonder when the government remained indifferent to the demand for repeal of the anti-farmer Farm Laws. The indifference is quite pronounced when we see how the BJP government at the centre has refused to come to the discussion table with the farmers, who have braved cold winter conditions of Delhi and the threat of the spread of Covid, with an open mind. These farm bills leave the farmers at the hands of the corporates and may lead to an increased threat to food security. We should protest against the anti-farmer farm bills and the opening of the gates of agriculture to multinational companies.
Coming to the question of protest, different political parties have resorted to police highhandedness. Be it the Delhi police’s handling of the farmer’s protest or the anti-CAA protest, or the TN administration’s handling of the anti-Sterlite protests by the people of Thoothukudi. We will discuss the Tamil Nadu situation shortly, but if we look at the pan-India situation, whenever anyone raises the voice of dissent, they are charged with anti-national activities and are termed as Maoists, pro-Khalistani (as we see in the ongoing farmer’s struggle), pro-Pakistani (during anti-CAA movement), etc. These activists and democratic rights workers are charged under draconian UAPA, and the National Investigative Agency (NIA) is used to muffle any sane voice of dissent. We saw this in the Bhima-Koregaon case and are now witnessing in Andhra Pradesh-Telangana where activists of different democratic rights groups like CLC or HRF are targeted.
Tamil Nadu is no exception to these state atrocities. We highlight here a few facts as we need to remember these at the time of casting our votes. Tamil Nadu has the dubious record of imposing the second highest number of cases under UAPA. In the recent past, the coastal town of Thoothukudi has witnessed severe repression by the state. To protest against the expansion of the Sterlite project, which caused significant environmental pollution leading to increased medical problems, including cancer, people had come together to form an anti-Sterlite Forum. However, their peaceful demonstrations and protests triggered massive state repression by the Tamil Nadu government, with the brutal murder of 14 activists and thousands of people’s arrest. The people of Tamil Nadu saw the AIADMK-led government’s lame attempt to justify police action. During the pandemic, the police were vested with making arbitrary arrests and charging anyone with imprisonment upto two years for the violation of pandemic law. The killing of the father-son duo in the Santhankulam police station will remain a dark spot in Tamil Nadu’s history. Should we not voice our condemnation as a concerned citizen and reflect it also at the time of voting?
In the name of development and in complete disregard to the lives, livelihood and opinions of the local people, different projects are taken up. This may include constructing big dams in Assam to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam or the 8-lane project between Chennai and Salem, Neduvasal hydrocarbon project in Pudukottai district or earlier in NICE road construction between Bangalore and Mysore. In each of these cases, we saw flouting of the environmental clearance and lack of transparency in conducting a public hearing. The similarity does not end here. The government response to the peaceful demonstrations has been the same when we found Akhil Gogoi of Assam being declared an individual terrorist under the modified UAPA rule for protesting against the big dams and the CAA and the arrest of activists protesting against the projects in Tamil Nadu. Instead of addressing the concerns of the people who lose their lands or fear environmental degradation, the different parties in power in different states have a pervasive agenda. As if this is not enough, the central government has brought out further dilutions in environmental clearance norms in their recent law to help their corporate friends. Should we not question these government actions, which take away land and livelihood for the people and make the place less habitable for our future generations through irreversible damage to the environment?
While talking about our future generations’ lives, should we not be concerned about the developments in the education sector? The New Education Policy (NEP), despite being widely criticised by the educationists, has been implemented. The NEP pushed for a three language formula for the children in a masked bid to push Hindi to regions where other languages prevail. This will put the first-generation learners and the children from rural areas at a disadvantage as learning the third language (for example, Hindi in our state) will prove to be a herculean task. Now, the government has come up with several exit routes at different classes when they intend to hold public examinations. This, we fear, will lead to increased drop-out from not-well to do families, particularly for girls, if they cannot clear examinations at early levels. In the name of reorganising the school system, we believe that clusters of schools proposed will make schools less accessible. Thus, while the stress should have been to increase the vernacular content of education, improve government schools’ condition, and increase teaching staff recruitment with proper remuneration, the NEP aims to infringe upon the state right over the subject of education though it is in the concurrent list. Complete disregard of a state’s concern was exemplified during anti-NEET protests in Tamil Nadu as the central government brushed aside the protests and criticism of the people of the state. We feel that our ardent duty is to ask the political parties to stay away from evolving education policy. Let the distinguished educationists evolve an education policy, keeping in mind the diverse nature of our country, the people’s aspirations, and the states’ federal claims.
Thus, we find that the different parties in power are oblivious to the problems of the people and their priorities lie in satisfying the rich people who fund their parties generously, directly, indirectly and through an opaque mechanism called election bond. The BJP boasts of corruption-free India but aren’t their dealings in Rafale or airport projects and handing over of these deals to the Ambanis, who had no prior experience in aircraft manufacturing and maintenance an act of corruption? Thus while the government supports the crony capitalists, it is indifferent to the needs of the toiling mass. We further find that the fascist party in power at the centre, instead of resorting to gimmicks and doing some fruitful work to alleviate the problem of the poor, did not hesitate to communalise even the pandemic situation when they tried to pass the blame squarely to the Tablighi religious preachers. These acts of communalization should be seen in conjunction with the court’s recent verdict, which gave the disputed land, where the Babri Masjid once stood, for the construction of the Ram temple. This verdict was given despite the fact that there was no proof of destruction of any temple underneath the Masjid, and also, by their own admission, the members of the SC Judges bench deplored the action of the demolition of the Masjid in 1992 as an act of vandalism. By introducing CAA, the refugees who fled from their country of origin to avoid persecution and harassment have been differentiated. While non-Muslims religious believers of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have been accommodated, the atheists have been ignored. If Afghanistan, which was a part of the British Empire until 1919 could be considered why Myanmar, which was a part of the same colonial India until 1937, be ignored? Is it because the refugees there are Rohingya Muslims and accommodating them will break the communal narrative that the Muslims alone are the perpetrators of aggression and torture? In our own Tamil Nadu, the Tamil nationalities who had fled from the oppressive Sinhala regime in Sri Lanka find no mention in the amended CAA of 2019.
The BJP and its supporters boast of an efficient UP government under Yogi who is claimed to have reduced crimes. On the other hand, we found that the atrocities on Dalits and particularly the women are on the rise in that state. Is the gang rape and murder at Hathras and subsequent action of the district administration and arresting of journalists not a criminal act by the government? And we should remember that Hathras is not an exception as several similar actions are being reported from the state. Then the instigation of the BJP to trouble the agitating farmers at Ghaziabad not an act of criminal activity against the farmers and landless workers, many of whom are Dalits? Should we not oppose any division of our country in the name of caste, creed or religion?
While all the parties talk of gender/caste-based equality, none have given any significant representation for women in candidate selections. There is no dearth of instances wherein one or the other electoral parties remained silent during the atrocity on women. No progress is seen in the Pollachi rape case, wherein more than two hundred women have been harassed, even after two years. Hindutva forces were vocal in support of rapists in the Katua case where a child was raped in the temple premises. Different parties have records of giving seats to candidates with anti-women crime backgrounds. No one talks about the newfound interest to guarantee EWS reservation by the centre, thus bringing to nought the caste-based reservation guaranteed by the framers of our Constitution. There was resentment amongst government doctors against the denial of reservation for postgraduate studies. Demolishing/ or denigration of the statues of anti-caste leaders like Ambedkar, Periyar, Anna is suddenly on the rise in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere.
Based on the above observations, CPDR-TN urges every citizen, notwithstanding their choice to vote/not to vote, to insist upon the primary demands for better livelihood and democratic space to bring about a changed politico-social environment.
People shall demand each candidate to
i) Strive to ensure the right to education, employment, housing and health, a fundamental right of citizens and not mere services of the state as under directive principles of state policy.
ii) Work towards shelving of the NEP.
iii) To strengthen the government education system and stress on learning through mother-tongue language.
iv) work towards challenging new labour laws and new Farm bills
v) Assert commitment towards recognising the rights of workers to unionise themselves. This includes all categories of workers in all sectors.
vi) Support the demand of the agitating workers for regularisation from industries to the service sector.
vii) Recognise the rights of Adivasis, tribals and landless farmers on commons land. viii) Ensure protection of women in public and stringent punishment for those perpetrating atrocities on women.
ix) Ensure protection of caste-based reservation in education and employment for the under-privileged backward classes.
x) work to strengthen the government medical network starting from primary health care facilities providing free treatment and medicine to super-speciality hospitals
xi) Should not resort to using diversionary tactics in the name of religion, caste, creed
xii) Should not destroy the environment in the name of development and always consider the local public opinion before initiating any new project
xiii) Work towards the removal of anti-people draconian measures like UAPA, AFSPA, PSA and release all political prisoners languishing in different jails of the state xiv) Rescind cyber volunteer system and friends of a police system that increases the surveillance of common people.
xv) Disband NIA and stop using central agencies like CBI or ED to carry out a political vendetta.