Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Left Front Government’s Development Strategy: A Critique and Notes Towards an Alternative Imaginary

Sanjeeb Mukherjee

The term development has come to assume a mythical status in the third world. Development has been portrayed as a necessity; its broad parameters cannot be challenged. Development has been touted as the panacea for all the ills and suffering of the postcolonial world. Development is made out to be an independent goal that has to be pursued whether the government is right, left or whatever. Development is seen as an independent technical issue – a matter of science and technology, a question involving knowledge and truth and wealth generation. Thus, development is not a matter of politics and ethics in the sense of issues for debate and criticism by the people. Development is out of bounds for democracy. Is there no alternative to this dominant model of development?

In this article, we shall critically think about development and the Left government Front (LF) government’s perspective on development in West Bengal since 1977. Throughout the article, we shall primarily talk of the CPI (M) when we discuss the LF because the CPM overwhelmingly dominates the Front and the government. First, we shall examine the CPM’s imaginary of development and then, try to answer how the CPM, which, believed in fighting capitalism and imperialism and in making a revolution, has today come to be capital’s greatest advocate? How did this transformation come about? Finally, we shall try to look for alternatives to this model of development – alternatives, both in theory and practice, alternatives, which can be implemented here and now.


Waiting for Revolution: The CPM’s Imaginary and Strategy of Development

To orthodox communists, the revolution led by the working class is central to their understanding of both, history and historical change. The CPM, in 1964 split from the CPI to uphold the revolutionary line of change; it believed that no fundamental change or development is possible within the existing system. It further believed that given the weakness of the Indian bourgeoisie even full-fledged capitalist development is well nigh impossible. Unless, imperialism, monopoly capitalism and feudalism is overthrown by making a revolution no development is possible. However, under democratic rule the communists may participate in parliament or even form governments at the state level for three reasons. First, to use the government as an instrument of struggle, initially for popular demands and ultimately, to create conditions for the revolution to occur. Secondly, to bring about limited agrarian reforms, which the bourgeoisie is supposed to do but is unable in backward countries, like India. Finally, these governments can merely provide some relief to the people to tide over their immediate difficulties, mainly, economic. Relief is an interesting term, lifted straight out of the colonial bureaucratic discourse, where it meant giving doles to the people during famines or natural calamities to prevent discontent among the people. In fact, the communists believed that successful participation in parliament has the danger of mellowing their militancy and creating illusions among the people about the possibilities of development within the system. Given their revolutionary beliefs and practices, the left believed that they would invariably be dislodged from government by the centre. In fact, all communist led governments in the 1950s and 1960s were dismissed in spite of their having a majority in the legislature.

In the mid 1960s, the CPM faced a major challenge from the Maoists, who wanted to make an instant revolution. It led to a bitter conflict between the two ending in a left gang war, which took urban Bengal to the brink of a civil war. This situation gave the Indian state the opportunity to stage a major counter attack on the entire left, leading to its defeat and the near decimation of the Maoists.

In the wake of this defeat, the CPM made a historic compromise with the Indian state, capitalism and imperialism. And it is this defeated left that came to power in 1977, a left that had given up its militancy against the dominant classes, a left that had given up its struggle to make a revolution. The interesting point is that the left could not create an alternative imaginary of historical change and development. So, in 1977, it was not only a defeated and mellowed force, it was also a cautious left, lest it face dismissal from office. It was a left that abjectly failed to critically and creatively think and dream the impossible.

Since the Left’s imaginary, ideology and strategy was centred on revolution, once it moved away from militancy to prepare for the revolution it simply did not know what to do. It was a collective failure of imagination and creative and critical thinking on the part of the CPM. They completely ran out of ideas. New thinking within CPM could not emerge, not only because of the anti intellectual culture of the party, but also because of the dogmatic way they believed in Marxism which, did not allow them to formally accept that they have given up their belief in revolution. Like any religion, they just clung on to Marxism as a set of rituals and mantras. Their formal beliefs and their actual practices just did not match. However, such a mismatch cannot continue for long as otherwise it would have created a serious problem of credibility.

Hence, gradually, almost imperceptibly, the ideology and discourse of the CPM changed to create a new set of practices and to make better sense of these to gain legitimacy within the party and the people. In fact, the key figure to make this discursive shift was Jyoti Basu, whose pragmatism and lack of understanding and faith in orthodox Marxism proved to be his greatest strength. He started speaking in a new language, a language far removed from talk of class struggle, revolution, anti capitalism and anti imperialism. His new discourse was built around development, the development of West Bengal as a whole, which he believed could only follow new investment. Hence, his focus shifted to attract investments. Soon, the other leaders started speaking in this new language and even started imitating Basu’s mannerisms. From the perspective of the working class, he moved over to the perspective of the Bengali nation or nationality. The new assumption was if Bengal developed and prospered, everybody would get to benefit, including the poor and the oppressed. Since revolution was not round the corner and nothing could be done to hasten its arrival, the CPM now argued that, it is better that we come to terms with reality. But the party had not completely given up its revolutionary baggage and many of its accompanying articles of faith, like no fundamental change can be brought about within the system. The CPM was caught in a dilemma; it opted for development powered by private investment but could not whole heartedly provide the other preconditions for the long term growth of capital like a disciplined work culture, an autonomous civil society and the rule of law. For winning elections, it needed the support of the people and the party, which prevented it from serving capital the way it wanted. It is in this context, that we can better understand the CPM’s development strategy.

Till around 1990, the CPM, in the wake of these changes, sought refuge in the Soviet approved Nehruvian model of economic development. It has to be appreciated that Nehru’s imaginary of development was far more comprehensive. It included a plan of democratic political development, a strategy of civil society and public institution building and a vision of peaceful social change. Not that he was successful, but the vision and the philosophy were quite well articulated. CPM’s Marxist ideological baggage and its political support base prevented it from accepting Nehru’s wider model of change, so they as a matter of convenience found his economic plan worthy of copying. Soon after coming to power in 1977 the LF government produced an industrial policy document which, stated that the government’s main goals were, reversal of industrial stagnation; lessening the stranglehold of monopolies and multinationals; encouragement of indigenous technology and self reliance; increasing the control of actual producers, i.e. workers, over the industrial sector and increasing employment.1 For more than a decade it was obvious that the government could not come anywhere near any of these goals. Its major achievement was in the field of land reforms and the creation of panchayats.

Given the meager resources of the states in India it is impossible for any government to implement such an industrial policy, especially one with a government hostile to the central state. In fact, Jyoti Basu had long realized that and went out of his way to attract investments in marked opposition to the government’s official policy. In a major speech to the Bengal Chamber of Commerce he candidly confessed that he has a ‘vital interest in helping the growth of industries’, that he wanted to take a ‘realistic view of the political and economic situation’ and in the existing situation the private sector, including multinational and monopolies, have a ‘major role to play.’ Basu continued, ‘Certainly we would support the need for foreign technology or even investment if it would help production and distribution of items essentially required’. He added, ‘our incentives to the private sector have been increasing rapidly’.2 Jyoti Basu being less doctrinaire and more pragmatic and farsighted was clearly bringing about a paradigm shift in the discourse of the left which, since 1990 became the official policy of the party. He could indeed, be credited with making a discursive revolution within the left, without in any way being a Marxist theoretician. In the meantime, the left was vociferous about greater power to the states and a greater share of resources for Bengal in order to implement the Nehruvian model of economic development.

The global changes in the 1990s was a godsend for the CPM to get out of the impasse it had landed itself in trying to attract capital and half-heartedly implement the Nehruvian development plan. The disintegration of Soviet socialism and the rise of global capital were the background factors, which compelled a weak minority government of Narsimha Rao to fundamentally change India’s course of economic development towards the neoliberal path. The ascendancy of the market saw the end of the license raj that led states to compete with each other to attract capital. The LF government could no longer hold the centre responsible for investors bypassing Bengal. Billboards in Bengal celebrated development with as much gusto as the left had earlier championed revolution. And development was defined and measured by the quantum of private investment that came to the state. (In the 1960s and 70s private investment was the index of exploitation and subjugation, which was a standard item of the left’s graffiti on Calcutta’s walls.)

The LF government gave up all pretences to leftism, even of the Nehruvian variety. It officially welcomed capital, whatever its nature. It engaged international consultancy firms like Mckinsey to advise the government how best to make Bengal attractive, safe and profitable for capital. The present chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharyya, when accused of acting as an agent of the Tatas in Singur, proudly retorted that he is not merely the agent of Tata but is the agent of all capitalists willing to invest in Bengal. What I find most interesting in this transformation of the left is not any betrayal, defeat or sell out, but the failure to come up with alternative imaginaries and strategies of change and development. They did not have to depend on the centre for making the children of Bengal literate or improve the quality of educational standards or provide a better public health system or ensure a more efficient and responsive administration or come up with innovative livelihood schemes for the poor. That they failed to do what was even achieved by Congress led state governments, leave alone Kerala, speaks of this failure to think differently.


Development in the Time of Globalisation: The SEZ Model

Now that the Soviet empire has collapsed and revolution is not round the corner, what could the left have done other than surrender to capital? One answer, which the left in Bengal has espoused, is that there is no alternative. The TINA factor is at work. Politics is all about alternatives and possibilities, rather politics is about the impossible; dreaming the impossible and devising strategies to make the impossible possible. If the TINA line is sold there is no politics, there is no debate, no criticism, no dreams and hence no legitimate opposition. Thus, Buddhadev Bhattacharyya claimed, the only alternative to the LF government is a better LF government. Politics then is reduced to efficiently implementing the only policies that exist. Politics becomes a matter of management, requiring technical skills, which experts will provide, leaving no space for the people or democracy. TINA is part of the culture of authoritarianism.

If we have to think of alternatives, we have to dare to dream the impossible. The revolutionary communists did dream of the impossible in the form of the revolution, the impossible will be achieved once the revolution takes place. The revolution did take place, but only in very few countries and the mere fact of revolution did not guarantee the promised order. In fact, in most countries, either the revolution collapsed or new forms of exploitation and oppression were established. Change in human history has not always taken the route of the insurrectionary model of revolution as seen in France or Russia. In most countries there has been no revolutions nor is revolution round the corner, for which we wait patiently. What do we do in these circumstances? The insurrectionary model of the revolution was forged under authoritarian and absolutist states, like Czarist Russia or monarchical France. The establishment of democracy has fundamentally changed the prospects of the old model of revolution. In fact, the reason why the orthodox model of revolution failed to materialize in Western Europe, which otherwise was the most developed capitalist zone of the world, was the coming of democracy. In fact, not only has democracy thwarted insurrections, no two democratic countries have ever gone to war. Paradoxically, revolutions, in the post war era, have occurred in communist countries all of which lacked democracy. Democracy thus opens up new possibilities of historical change, but for that we need new imaginaries and strategies of change. And it is on this count that our collective failure has been truly immense.

Why do we need to think of alternatives to the dominant model of development? We have to think of alternatives because this model of development just cannot provide its benefits equitably to the entire human race and leave enough for future generations and for other living beings. Colonization is central to this model of industrialization and development; this was not only true at the time of the birth of capitalism, but also true for the entire history of capitalism, including the present phase of globalisation. Though the forms of colonization has changed over time, it has always been extremely violent, oppressive and exploitative, involving genocide, pauperization, displacement and de-industrialisation and the loss of common resources of the community, both physical and cultural. Marx called it the primitive accumulation of capital, it is primitive not because it happened long ago and its victims were primitive peoples but because it is the original source of capital which has been generated through large-scale violence. It is a process, which is both central and contemporary to capitalism.3 The tragedy of colonialism has to be repeated, and every time as more tragic, whenever capitalism is in crisis and has to renew or expand itself.

Our received understanding of colonialism does not always bring out the colossal dimensions of the global genocide and destruction that capitalism unleashed from the time of its birth. We are more familiar with the loot and plunder and slavery that accompanied modern European colonialism; what is often overlooked is human history’s greatest genocide wherein the overwhelming majority of the indigenous population of three continents were decimated and they were occupied by European settlers. This happened to North America, South America and Australia. This should make America, not Auschwitz, the metaphor of genocide. The standard political economies of colonialism have to be supplemented by these tragedies. Alfred Crosby4 has described, what he calls ecological imperialism, where besides traders and gunboats there were four agents of European expansion, namely, i. Human beings, ii. Animals closely associated with Europeans, including rats and mice, iii. Pathogens that cause epidemics like small pox, and iv. Weeds.

Today we are witnessing another phase of colonization for which a legitimizing term has become fashionable – globalisation – global flows of information, of culture, of finance, of ideas, of people, of goods. The world, it is claimed, is open like the Internet; economically the world has become one marketplace. Land, labour, capital and ideas freely move to buy and sell at the most competitive prices. Nations and states are becoming redundant; borders are supposed to vanish very soon. No center can control the new global order – the Internet is the best model and metaphor of this new world.

Let us for a moment check out if this matches with our reality. Since nothing is purely local and unique under globalisation, let us talk of what is happening in our immediate vicinity – Singur and Nandigram. Nearly all the factors of production are available there at the most competitive prices – labour, roads and ports have attracted Tata and Dow. There was one small hitch, land was, well, both free and unavailable at the same time. The laws of the global market seemed to have been suspended in communist Bengal, at least for one crucial factor of production, viz., land. The government decided to acquire land from the peasants and hand them over to Tata and Dow gratis, well, almost. Land in Bengal is scarce, so it becomes particularly expensive, if available, at all. So, Mr Tata found the CPM’s hostility to the market, at least, the land market, very profitable; communist ideas are not always unpalatable to capital. Little did the CPM suspect that the progressive politics of Nehru and his family, which communists in India and Russia found to be paving the path for a peaceful transition to socialism could now come to the aid of Tata and Dow. The Nehru family, prodded by the communists, made crucial changes in the Indian Constitution, which it was believed would facilitate the future switch to socialism hassle-free. Through a series of amendments, the fundamental right to property was initially pruned and finally simply dumped. As a result, if your property is acquired by the state, you cannot challenge it on any ground, be it the quantum of compensation or even the declared purpose of the state. So, land was acquired and handed over in a platter to Mr Tata by a communist government in Bengal, period.

Tata and Dow and their self-proclaimed agent, Buddhadev Bhattacharyya soon faced popular struggles against the state’s land grab programme. They however, found their business and political rival’s hand in these uprisings. The state and the ruling party had to resort to murder, rape, arson, violence and lies to quell the rebellion. Why did the government not follow the logic and ideology of globalisation in its bid to set up car plants and chemical units? West Bengal has a wealth of skilled, educated and unemployed labour; Tata and Dow have the means and knowledge; the only thing missing is land. Neither is well endowed with land. In this age of globalisation, economic common sense should have prompted them to look for a place where land is in excess supply. I know of at least three places where land is abundant – United States of America, Canada and Australia. Of course, labour in these countries is very costly. I know of another simple solution – Indian labour is willing to migrate to the west at its own cost. But then, it could be argued that minimum wages must be pretty high in the west. Again, there is a simple solution – set up SEZs in America, where the normal laws of the land would be suspended. There is an added advantage, the infrastructure there is excellent and immigrants are known to work real hard.

What kind of globalisation is it, where capital and goods and culture have freedom of access, but not labour or why should SEZs only come up in the non-western world? The reason is pretty simple – globalisation is not an innocent phenomenon quite in conformity to what it propounds. Globalisation is the most contemporary form of colonization. It is, of course, different from earlier forms of colonialism. It does not involve direct political rule. The present strategy of capitalist colonialism is the creation of interconnected colonial enclaves on a global scale, involving, SEZs, new high-tech cities, pristine tourist zones and entertainment sectors. Special Economic Zones is the official form of this strategy, or Special Exploitation Zones, as Medha Patkar has described them. SEZs are enclaves where the sovereignty of the nation state is suspended, of course, willingly. Hence, capital is allowed to loot, plunder, enslave, and not pay taxes or whatever is conducive for its profits without any legal or political opposition. It is a model of efficient colonialism where the writ of global capital reigns wherever it needs and not all over the country. Meanwhile the rest of the country can remain sovereign, democratic with a constitution and rule of law, or even socialist. This vast hinterland is relegated to backwardness, misery and often civil wars. In the time of globalisation, if anything is truly global it is capital. SEZs are open to capital, which is not bound to territorial nations. Thus, even Indian or Chinese capital can become key investors in these global havens. It is pure economic sovereignty without any political or social responsibilities.


Search for New Imaginaries of Development and Change

Development is no longer measured by gross national product, or investment or growth rates; rather, development is evaluated in human terms and is rechristened as human development. Amartya Sen and others have tried to identify the indices of human development in different countries and regions. As a result of these initiatives, human development reports have been published by different states in India, which are quite revealing. Kerala, which is a low income state with low levels of growth, industrialization or investment has achieved high levels of human development, in terms of the different indices of human development. This phenomenon has attracted worldwide attention and has been called the Kerala miracle. What is even more fascinating is the contrast between Kerala and West Bengal. In India, Kerala’s HDI is highest, even comparable on many counts with the west; whereas, West Bengal has become a middle level state, though its growth rate, investment or industrial development has been higher. The Kerala example has shown that important development goals can be achieved here and now.

What Bengal badly needs is a new politics, which will offer us alternative models of development and change, which can be implemented here and now. The major left argument is that no serious programme of change can be successful without first making a revolution. The right, on the other hand argue that development is dependent on capital, which we lack, and hence have to attract. In the absence of any revolutionary possibility, the left has become right and is concentrating on attracting capital for development, whereas the right has become a kind of negative left by concentrating their attack on the left’s right turn. Politics in Bengal is faced with an impasse, there seems to be no way out of this double bind. So, this becomes the most important task of this moment – imagine alternatives to get out of this impasse. So, instead of waiting for a revolution or capital for deliverance, let us work out strategies of change, with our existing resources. What can we do within this system, with all its oppressive structures and corruption and lack of capital? Let us concentrate on what we have, our resources and our possibilities, here and now.

Central to social change and development is the issue of agency. Which social class or group will lead and direct the process of change? Marxism privileges the rising classes as the agents of change; however, in the present era it reposes faith on the working class exclusively as the principal agent, as the other classes, including the bourgeoisie, no longer has any revolutionary potential. Lenin made a disingenuous move by arguing that the proletariat under capitalism is steeped in economic consciousness preventing it from radicalising its consciousness and hence, the intellectuals organised in the communist party provide the essential knowledge and leadership in making social change. With this the privileged agent of change is the communist party and the working class merely becomes the privileged instrument of change. In countries with backward capitalism, the peasantry is accorded a limited and transitory role in anti-feudal social change. But in the transition to an industrial order the peasantry’s role would reach its limit and it is likely to oppose industrialisation, unless the communist party guides it.

The fundamental challenge that democracy poses to Marxism is to question the privileged position of the party and the proletariat. Privilege is an arrogant aristocratic legacy which democracy denies. Hence, no class or knowledge system can claim privileges based on monopoly of truth or monopoly of agency. The Soviet experiment has exploded this myth.

Everybody is autonomous and everybody can claim agency. Historical change, of course, is the work of collective agents, but they are not pre-existing agents, but agents produced through common concerns and conversation and conflicts. The Marxist idea of historical space is, in the time of capitalism, global, which is why their principal slogan is ‘workers of the world unite’. Again the privileged theatre of history is the entire world, or at least, the only concession is made to the space of the nation. There are many issues, which are global or national or regional, but there are also many issues, which are local. In fact, large social and historical spaces disempower people and denude their autonomy and agency. Thus the local as the unit of democracy and human action becomes crucial, especially where technology has not expanded the unit of human operations, as in much of the third world countryside. We have to recognise the spatially layered nature of human activity and living and corresponding to these spaces there has to be spheres of autonomy and agency. Of course, linkages have to be established between these levels, but each level has to be recognised as autonomous spaces of human living and action.

Besides the question of agency, we also have to address other issues like, institutions and ideology, and ethics and aesthetics. Marxists are deeply suspicious of all existing institutions, as they believe that these are instruments for protecting the interests of the ruling classes only. Even if they can be temporarily used, in the long run either they would thwart revolutions or revolutions would sweep them away. Democracy has fundamentally opened up new possibilities for working within institutions and in the process reforming them or even transforming them in fundamental ways. Democracy even offers possibilities of creating new institutions. Institutions can become crucial sites of contest. Closely related to institutions is the question of ideology. What are the systems of beliefs, norms, knowledge, values and practices that are considered to be just and legitimate? Is there any single criterion of truth to determine the validity of any ideology? Or is ideology to be subjected to the canons of democracy and made the subject of human conversation and hope to come up with consensus on issues attracting immediate action. Ideologies like Marxism are contrary to the democracy of the human imagination.

Marxists in class divided societies look upon ethics with askance; the ethical, to them, is coterminous with the revolution and the post-revolutionary society. Everything else is merely a means, and eminently justified to attain the revolutionary goal. Consequently, all institutions, including democracy, the rule of law and the constitution can be treated with scant respect and subverted when necessary. Even human beings become means. It can rightly be objected that the CPM has abandoned revolution and hence there is no reason for treating existing institutions or people as instruments. In a stroke of discursive disingeniuty the CPM has redefined its goal in terms of stages. The final stage, however elusive, lurks on the horizon, but what becomes more important is to stay in power and develop and improve the condition of Bengal and its people. Hence, staying in power and development become the new goals and everything else; including faith in the revolution, become merely means. The CPM’s Stalinist belief, of course a Stalinism tempered by electoral democracy, defines its basic attitude towards development, democracy, and industrialisation. This has had disastrous consequences for the social and moral fibre of Bengal, for both the individual as well as the republican pursuit of virtue and character. Any alternative imaginary of development and change has to bring back in the ethical, where each and every person will be treated equally and with respect and will be equally entitled to live a full and free life. This entails every person is equally entitled to the earth and its resources and a just share in the products of collective and cooperative human labour. To Marxists, the other is an enemy, a class enemy against whom a war has to be waged, to defeat him. This makes violence legitimate. As against this war ethic, we have to converse with the other, criticise, debate and discuss, where violence has no place. Closely related to the ethical is the aesthetic. The good and the beautiful are crucial matters of deliberation. How and where do we seek the good and the beautiful, in material abundance and mastery over nature or in a life of the mind, both intellectual and cultural, and in close harmony with nature?

Towards an Alternative Imaginary of Development and Change

Marxists’ romance with the idea of insurrectionary models of revolution has undermined the possibilities of democracy and has made revolution a sacred ideal, beyond any questioning. Revolutions may be contingently necessary, but in other times we have to draw up strategies of development and change, which could be legitimately argued and implemented then and there. In this context, we need to seriously rethink the possibilities of justice, under conditions of democracy, in the Indian Constitution. I would, in particular, highlight a crucial chapter of our constitution, which has been totally forgotten; but a chapter which is as full of possibilities as some of the world’s greatest manifestoes, like the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the Communist Manifesto. I am referring particularly to the Directive Principles of State Policy, read along with the chapter on Fundamental Rights and the Preamble and the system of self-government at the local level in the Indian Constitution. These provide us with a vision of justice, which can be used not only to judge the development policies and goals of the Indian state but also to be used as a guide for action and a vision of the future.

We are all familiar with our Fundamental Rights, which are justiciable, i.e., enforceable by law courts. The Directive Principles (DP), on the other hand, is not justiciable. It was a promise of justice made by the founders of the Indian Constitution, but unfortunately an unredeemed promise. If we have to fight for justice let us invoke what has been promised in the Constitution itself; it makes for greater acceptability. The DP makes the state responsible for ‘securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.’(Art. 38.1) It lays down basic principles of justice and expounds new rights and calls for new institutions to secure justice. Art.38.2 states:

‘The state shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only among individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.’

It adds ‘that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;’(Art.39b) and ‘that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;’(Art.39c).

Besides, the standard rights guaranteed in the Fundamental Rights, the DP enunciates some very important new rights like, ‘the right to an adequate means of livelihood’. (Art.39a) It also calls for ‘securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.’(Art.41) It further directs the state to secure to all workers ‘a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or cooperative basis in rural areas.’(Art.43)

The DP makes another very important injunction about our political institutions. Art.40 says:

‘The State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.’

Under Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative the Constitution was amended for making panchayati raj mandatory. Art.243G entrusts panchayats and muncipalities to prepare and implement plans and schemes for economic development and social justice at the local level. They are also empowered to levy taxes and duties. Further, a District Planning Committee has to be set up, to consolidate the plans prepared by panchayats and municipalities in the district, and to prepare draft plan for the district as a whole. (Art.243ZD) Panchayats for the first time institutionalises direct democracy and the representation of women. With this India embarked on the world’s largest and greatest experiments in democracy and self-government at the grass roots level. Of course, not many states have enacted adequate and appropriate laws for their effective implementation, and nor have the people and political parties and organisations been able to realise its potential and possibilities. The only exception is the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad led movement for a peoples’ plan in Kerala. Panchayati raj almost promises Gandhi’s dream of India as constituted by self-governing village republics. This vision is truly a recipe for revolution, albeit a peaceful and democratic revolution. We often blame constitutions and laws for being inadequate, but in our case it is the people and their leaders, organisations and representatives who have failed miserably to make adequate use of our Constitution. Unfortunately most of our radical or popular democratic mass movements have not fully explored the democratic possibilities in our Constitution and this includes movements as far apart as the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the Maoists. Of course, in many parts of rural India feudal power prevents any kind of democratic politics, where popular resistance has to be first built alongside formal democratic participation. Some social movements have successfully appealed to the higher courts to pass orders, which have made way for the mid-day meal for children or the right to food and work. Another major achievement of popular movements is the Right to Information Act. But in almost all these cases none of these movements or organisations participates in the formal democratic process, from panchayats to parliament.

It should be remembered that the above articles of the constitution enables the legislature to pass necessary laws. The laws either have not been enacted or they are caricatures of the intention and the possibilities of the constitution. This is best reflected in another radical feature of our constitution, namely, the right to property, or actually its gradual elimination from the chapter on fundamental rights. This makes for radical possibilities. The Indian Constitution enables capital or high-end urban land to be acquired by the state without any compensation. Yet there is no law on our statute books which can say takeover excess land allotted to factories or the land of closed units, as was very rightly pointed out by the Left government in Bengal when they wanted to give land to the Tatas. But for more than a century there is a law to compulsorily acquire agricultural and forestland, and all governments, including communist ones, make best use of this colonial legacy. As a result, the absence of the right to property has actually enabled the government, including communist governments, to actively help capital in its primitive accumulation process of expropriating the peasantry of its land and livelihood. It is the greatest fraud on the Constitution because the right to property was removed from the chapter on fundamental rights through a protracted legal and political battle, primarily to abolish feudal landlordism, and distribute land to the tiller and to battle big capital. And the left in India played no mean part in this exercise. Yet, today the absence of the right to property helps capital and the state to deny the peasantry any legal remedy against the forcible acquisition of agricultural land.

Given these constitutional possibilities what kind of development strategy can we imagine? In this concluding part, we shall very schematically outline some strategies in different spheres. First, we must identify the spatial unit of development; is it the state or region, the nation or, as in vogue, the entire globe? Though capital and technology operate at the global level, the people overwhelmingly work and live at the local level, in villages and towns. Hence if development has to be people-driven and sustainable, we have to operate at the local level. Though the focus should be on villages or gram panchayats and towns, there are many issues, which have to be addressed at the district level by coordinating village level work. Most states or provinces in India are larger than independent nation states and districts are large enough to handle macro issues. Of course, necessary linkages would be made with the outside world. This means the focus of political activity, including popular campaigns, must be primarily pitched at the district level. If districts become autonomous and democratic units of self-government then all questions of development and change should be decided by the people of the district and not by the market, or the central state or party or capital.

Earlier, we spoke of agency and had questioned the privileges claimed by the proletariat and the communist party. The kind of development perspective, I am proposing calls for two kinds of agents; first, is all labouring people, and second is a key public institution, namely, a suitably modified education system. This is the political prerequisite of any egalitarian development model. Centralised political parties, all over the world, have usurped political power usually by allying with elites and powerful social classes. The most authoritarian and efficient political machinery was conceived by Lenin in his famous 1904 tract, ‘What is to be Done?’ As a reaction to this phenomenon there has been a shift in favour of voluntary social action, or the NGO sector as it is popularly called; and new social movements – raising a host of issues, like, environment, development, gender, human rights, the rights of the oppressed and the marginalized, et cetera. Jai Prakash Narayan and Rajni Kothari strongly advocated this development and called it the non-party political process. JP even called for building a non-party democracy in India.

The question of organisation is important; the alternative to political parties is not the banishing of all kinds of political organisations, but re-conceiving the form and nature of political organisations, so that they could be prevented from usurping power and creates a situation, where the space of popular initiatives ever expands. The complexity and diversity of Indian society makes unified political parties an authoritarian patron and benefactor of the people and not their representative. Thus peoples’ organisations must take more and more the form of a platform or network or front of different organisations, each operating with a large measure of autonomy. In other words, a broad social coalition of the labouring people must be built based on a common agreement on justice. The fundamental rights and the directive principles of the Indian constitution provide us with a broad paradigm of justice. This social coalition and political platform or coalition must be built from below, at the district level. These district-level efforts must be coordinated at the state-level as well. It is crucial for this platform to participate in the formal democratic process, especially elections and the running of panchayats and municipalities. In other words, existing non-party social and political movements and organisations, like human rights groups, peasant organisations or women’s groups etc., should not only continue to do what they are doing but also must come together in larger political platforms or fronts and assume more political responsibility. This is not a task which is as difficult as it appears to be, because there are many organisations and movements which exist and work independently; they have to be brought together to share a common perspective on justice and assume greater political responsibility. Initially, district or block-level conferences of these organisations and concerned people can start the process of building a district-level political front or platform. Political parties willing to join this coalition can also be involved. For realising self-government at the local level, these platforms must demand a radical restructuring of political power from the state to the districts and villages.

The other key agent and tool of development and change is the education system. Education has always been used to cater to the economic and ideological needs of dominant social forces. Today, education is increasingly geared to the requirements of global capitalism; instead of meeting people’s needs our education system acts as a gigantic sieve, which continuously eliminates students who do not meet the needs of global capital. The others find places in subaltern layers of the economy or administration. As a result, the education system involves waste and incompetence on a colossal scale. The other obscene feature of this system is that the doors of education are permanently closed to a huge number of children. The idols of our education today, are the IITs and IIMs – providing technological and managerial skills to service global capital. The emancipatory possibilities of education have been transformed into world-class technical skills and services, subsidised by the Indian state, needed by global capital.

If education has to serve our people and our community from the lowest level, we need to make major changes in the goals, content and structure of education. The education system produces and reproduces knowledge, skills and different cultural practices, like art and music. The education system in India is split into two compartments, with internal hierarchies in each. The first is the formal or official system and the other is traditional. We are more familiar with the formal system of schools and colleges, but there is a large pool of knowledge, skills and cultural practices, which are produced and reproduced within traditional society, sometimes formally, more often informally. Agriculture, traditional industries and crafts, traditional medicine, folk arts and our whole repertoire of music and dance, both folk and classical forms continue to flourish by this informal system of education, which is often local and regional. In fact, the most important contribution of India to world knowledge and culture is in the field of Indian philosophy and music, and traditional institutions, both formal and informal, largely sustain both of them. A large part of the modern system is marked by massive waste, redundancy and parasitism; whereas, because of want of proper institutional support many traditional knowledge systems and skills are simply becoming extinct. The crucial question is what role could these systems of knowledge play in building a just, good and beautiful society?

We had proposed the district as the most feasible unit of development and democracy; likewise, in the sphere of education too, the district should be the key unit of operation to cater to the diversity of culture, knowledge, skills and needs. It follows that every district must contain the key institutions of education, namely, schools, colleges, including technical and professional colleges, and a university. These institutions, instead of being pale and emaciated copies of global institutions, must have a distinct character and function of their own. They would be expected to perform the following roles: first, they would primarily serve the knowledge based needs, both theoretical and practical, of the people of the district; secondly, they would bridge the divide between the modern and the traditional systems of knowledge by opening up to the other and by mutual respect and learning; finally, no society or institution can flourish if it is closed, hence, district universities particularly, should be open to the outside world.

This plan at first sight, appears formidable in terms of resources – where are the trained people and the money? Since my plan is based on the politics of here and now, rather than wait for the revolution or for the mega funds to set up fancy institutions, we need to spell out an action plan with existing resources. Almost all districts have colleges and hospitals, but people running them are either poorly trained or are under utilised, especially in colleges. To start with, a leading college could be awarded autonomous status and deserving teachers could be brought there from the district or even from outside and gradually it could be further upgraded into a postgraduate college or university. District level hospitals could be used for medical education, at least at the diploma, if not graduate level; the non-clinical subjects could be taught at the district university or any college and some advance part of the medical education could be conducted at other state level medical colleges. So without much extra expenditure a university or a medical college could be set up. Engineering colleges are already coming up. What is more important and challenging is reorienting university and technological and medical education by integrating with traditional knowledge systems and addressing the needs of the district.

There are not only two systems of knowledge, but two systems of needs as well. Modern needs, like building a concrete house is addressed by the modern knowledge system, but traditional needs, like improving the quality of a mud house, is left unaddressed. And most people like in mud houses or in shacks and slums. This is where the two systems of knowledge and skills must integrate, learning from each other. The best example of such an enterprise is the work of Laurie Baker in Kerala.4 On a much larger scale the two systems of knowledge and needs must meet and interact at the school level. Our modern method and content of schooling is essentially a device to colonise the minds of our people, first by the British and now by their Indian disciples. Our schools have to undergo three kinds of transformation, first, schooling must liberate us, emancipate us; for that it should be a place for creativity, critical thinking and play. Secondly, it should be related to the life experiences of the students and their community; and finally, the content of education should be based on both modern and traditional systems of knowledge and needs. To start with this requires that students in schools study, in addition to science and maths, agriculture and local art and crafts. This means there would be an additional lot of teachers, who would be the local peasant, the potter, the weaver, the blacksmith, the folk singer or the cook. The school would be the meeting ground for interaction and learning and improvement of new and old knowledge and needs. Institutionalised support for research and critical thinking and interaction with modern sciences could overcome the ossification, which has come about over several centuries, in most traditional knowledge systems and practices. This again can be done now and here. The other imperative is to universalise school education, which in turn, would considerably solve the problem of unemployed graduates.

Any alternative development strategy requires serious thinking and research and planning. Planning presupposes a detailed mapping of the resources and needs and possibilities of the entire district, starting from the villages. This again, at first glance, appears to be a mind-boggling task. It does not require the central Planning Commission to be replicated at every district. Schools, colleges and universities of the district, including teachers and students, can primarily do the theoretical and technical aspects of resource mapping and planning. Public participation in the development process can be ensured by different political organisations and platforms and the democratic decision-making will obviously be done by the panchayats. The KSSP led people’s plan campaign5 in Kerala showed the relevance and feasibility of such an exercise by the people. Such autonomous district level plans would ensure that many experiments would be conducted in different districts and only their results will enable us to judge the merits of different development strategies. Any such development plan must address some of the following issues and problems:

Agriculture It is now officially admitted that agriculture in West Bengal has reached the limits of the possibilities of land reforms; in fact, agriculture is facing a crisis. Input costs is rising rapidly leading to steep decline in profits from agricultural produce, which in turn is causing reverse leasing and loss of land by poor peasants. There has been a phenomenal rise in the number of agricultural labourers, resulting in large scale out migration, including trafficking. Agriculture seems to be unable to sustain the village population. In spite of left propaganda rural poverty does not seem to go down. The LF government has come up with two major strategies; first, they are advocating modern industrialisation on a large scale to absorb the rural poor and secondly, they are trying to get out of this crisis by inviting big capital, like Reliance, to properly buy, store and market the rural produce. The first claim is an outright lie; modern industry is extremely capital intensive and whatever workforce it employs is highly skilled. It, of course has need for domestics, drivers, security guards and so on. The introduction of large firms and modern marketing methods would generate greater incomes for bigger farmers, but it is likely to make food even scarcer for the poor; in fact, agricultural production patterns would change in favour of crops having a high demand among the rich, further generating hunger among the poor.

Other solutions like cooperatives, higher support prices for agricultural produce, further land reforms, including land to the tiller and a serious reconsideration of modern agricultural technology have to be explored.

Village Industries: The surplus population, both in villages and cities, can be absorbed in what has been called village industries, that is, traditional technology based artisanal and craft production, like weaving, pottery, etc. Two major changes have to be made here, first, village industries must interact with modern science for making improvements in products, design and technology, secondly, these must try to replace factory made goods. If we look at our every day life we can easily identify many factory or machine made goods, which can be replaced by existing or suitably modified traditional products. Some examples could help draw up such a strategy, like replacing plastic waste-paper baskets by bamboo ones, using traditional insulation material for keeping modern houses cool, like palm leaf mats; replacing all towels in government offices or even in our homes by gamchhas; replacing synthetic carpets and mats by traditional mats; or weavers of gamchhas could be encouraged to weave cushion covers and table cloths; popularising palm leaf hats or tokas to protect us from heat and rain; we just have to innovate, which will give a precious jolt to our stagnant and dying rural technology. Hand made products are not only beautiful, but consume far less energy and are ecologically sustainable. Similarly human labour could be used much more extensively even in modern cities like rickshaws and cycles lanes could be earmarked especially in newly planned towns.

Industry: The CPM’s attitude towards capitalist industrialisation has truly undergone a revolutionary transformation; earlier, it believed that under conditions of imperialism capitalist industrialisation is impossible and whatever industry existed the CPM fought a determined battle to get a better bargain for labour. It supported industry in the public sector and small and medium national capital. The left’s militancy drove industry out of Bengal and the left too was defeated in the early the 1970s resulting in a historic compromise with capital and the state. The left particularly after the 1990s went all out to attract investments; in fact, it now equated development with investments. What could a pro-people attitude towards industry be? Since industry per se will not generate employment or eradicate poverty, but is likely to create an enclave model of development, resulting in a situation of internal colonialism, setting conditions for investments will not harm the people. So the state can lay down certain parameters like spatial location or even the kind of industry to be set up, for example, is the motorcar industry as important as say goods needed by ordinary people or industries which are ecologically sustainable. It has been argued by eminent economists, like Amartya Sen that the state today is starved of capital and hence has to accept whatever an investor dictates. Then, why not allow the Tatas to set up their people’s car project in the Kolkata maidan, where customers can just walk into the car factory to buy a real cheap car straight from the assembly line, thus eliminating trade margins entirely? It would then cost Rs.80, 000.00 only.

Political Struggles: Ultimately, any strategy of development is determined by politics, by political struggles and people’s political power. This requires the broadest possible people’s front assisted by public institutions like the education system and by participating in democratic institutions.


Anonymous said...

Influence can be defined as the power exerted over the minds and behavior of others. A power that can affect, persuade and cause changes to someone or something. In order to influence people, you first need to discover what is already influencing them. What makes them tick? What do they care about? We need some leverage to work with when we’re trying to change how people think and behave.