It has been called a great moment of rage. With over 800 million eligible voters, more than 100 million of whom would be voting for the first time — half the population being under 24 — the 2014 general election places unprecedented power in the hands of the nation’s youth. But India has rarely been more divided with conflicting ideas and visions for the way ahead. What course the life of the nation takes will be decided by us. But will we vote, and will we exercise that power responsibly?
T5E brings you a series of Op-Eds on the major political parties/coalitions to help you decide.
In this piece, Deepak Johnson, M. Akhil and Pratheesh Prakash tell us why they support the Left.
The main issues on which the people’s mandate in this general elections is supposed to be based are corruption, development and secularism, if we were to go by the claims of the ruling parties at the national level. However, very little is being said about the manifesto promises that would drastically change the way in which the economy operates in this country — reservation in the private sector and bringing the private sector under the purview of the Lokpal Bill. It is the Left parties that have put forth these points in their manifestos. In fact, they go further than the AAP in demanding that Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and large private organisations be brought under the Lokpal. Let me pre-empt you before you raise the bogey of “market friendliness”. Please go through two of the articles referenced below, to understand how prevailing thinking may not always be true and that it undergoes timely changes.
Let us now consider the economics of inflation. It wouldn’t be surprising to note that the word “petroleum” doesn’t figure in the manifestos of the BJP or the INC. (However, the BJP manifesto talks about “explorations for oil”.) Economic theory suggests that inflation is very much related to oil prices. The government has been misleading the public on oil prices for a while now, an issue which saw little coverage by the mainstream media. This was brought to the public attention by Tapan Sen, a Rajya Sabha MP representing the Left. A reduction in fuel prices, which would benefit the public, has not been proposed except by the Left parties which have committed to “reversing the deregulated regime of pricing of petroleum products” and “reducing the central excise and customs duties”. The bouts of food inflation even at a time of record production points to the inefficiency of the food procurement and distribution models in place. Effective government intervention in these sectors can bring the system out of this anomaly and only the Left parties have given importance to the public distribution system in place of the private sector.
Speaking of the Left would also entail some discussion on “totalitarianism” which is seemingly associated with “communist” ideology. In this context, it would be interesting to note that it was the CPI(M), through P. Rajeev MP, which moved a resolution against Section 66A of the IT Act. It is one of the most draconian provisions of the IT Act and its implementation saw the arrests of several individuals who posted their opinions in the new media, that is, on social networking websites. The Left parties have united themselves in the fight for the repealing of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, AFSPA, and have clearly indicated that the draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, UAPA, which allows for detention without bail for 180 days, should be removed. The decriminalisation of homosexuality and the enactment of a law against “honour crimes” are two of the measures that would directly impact the lives of the marginalised. It is disappointing that the two main opposing coalitions have not mentioned them in their manifestos, which claim to envisage a great Bharat.
The one aspect of the Left parties which is highlighted the most, apart from their economic policies, is their inexperience in forming governments and the “stability” of an alternative Third Front. In response, let me tell you that coalition politics does not compromise on the key issues that a government wants to pursue, as is evident from the way the governments elected in 1999 and 2004 — of the NDA and the UPA respectively — held dear to them. Both the governments had the participation of diverse political parties. In this context, the approach from the Left is to create a secular alternative to the existing parties, with a pro-poor commitment, by forming a Third Front. This is outlined in an NDTV interview of Sitaram Yechury, a politburo member of the CPI(M). The Left has tried to get all secular parties on board with a common agenda of fighting communalism and has tried to keep them focused on this issue. Even though this has not been completely successful, as the constituent parties deviated from their stated points of view in the past, the politics of aligning with parties that unite on some grounds — which matter to the people — and to persuade others to follow a progressive approach seems to be the underlying thinking of the Left.
Coming back to the issue of economic policies, “black money” has become an important issue in the upcoming elections, along with corruption. The outcry regarding bringing back the money stashed in foreign banks is legitimate but it is suspicious that political parties do not call for a comprehensive set of reforms. One of the principal channels for the flow of black money in India is elections. The source of black money is largely the benefits that the rich extract from the government. The Left is the only political front that has been calling for a ban on corporate funding of political parties and that has repeatedly exhorted the ruling class to tax the rich. One of the talking points of the Left, the corporate taxes foregone presented in the annual budget, indicates how much the tax incidence has shifted towards the lower income companies, and away from the largest companies. There is undoubtedly a nexus between the government and the corporate sector, and the latter receives substantial unwarranted benefits under the guise of “incentives”. The much-needed strong action from the government seems a far-fetched dream when individuals splurge crores of rupees that they owe commoners, in luxuries, even as governments remain mute spectators in the act. If the example given is trivial, please take a look at how the government aided the telecom companies which came up with irrational bids to obtain the 2G spectrum or how it provided the much needed “stimuli” to the IT sector with its unreliable Aadhar scheme.
The Left has always had support among the working class. It has also striven hard to highlight the issues of the working class in the Parliament, be it the case of underpaid nurses or that of farmer suicides (with an alarming rate of two per hour). The Left parties and the trade unions affiliated to them also managed to organise a massive rally in Delhi, in December 2013, demanding their rights, which were given least importance by the media. The lack of interest in the working class shown by the corporate-influenced parties (and the media) shows how much they care about the issues of the people. On the other hand, the Left parties had been represented by Ajit Sarkar who had to sacrifice his life fighting the terror of upper class interests. The key factor in this election, as always, happens to be the people. And the choices that people make will differ according to the local contexts in many cases. What the Left asks for, is to take a pragmatic view of electoral democracy, taking the nation as a whole, where the immediate concerns of the people are addressed instead of hate-mongering and a clamour for development. The relevance of the Left in terms of creating alternatives has to be perceived by the people for bringing a change that would affect the aam aadmi and the poor of this country.
A comprehensive article on the position of the Left parties, particularly CPI(M), can be found on Insight — the student media body of IIT Bombay.
About the authors: M. Akhil is an alumnus of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences who graduated with an MA in Economics. Deepak Johnson is a V year MA Economics student of Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Pratheesh Prakash is currently pursuing a PhD in the IC Engines Lab of Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras.
 CPI(M) Manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. Retrieved from: http://cpim.org/elections-2014/manifesto
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 Thorat, S., “On Reservation Policy for Private Sector,” Economic and Political Weekly 39(25): 2560-2653, 2004.
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 INC Manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. Retrieved from: http://inc.in/media/pdf/English_Manifesto_for_Web.pdf
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