Saturday, December 6, 2008

Democracy and Politics

By Yogendra Yadav
I like a game very much. Whenever i go to some school, i play it there with students. This is a very simple game. First i ask from students: Democracy is good or bad? Almost Everybody raises hand that democracy is indeed a good thing. The second question i ask: Politics is good or bad? and almost everybody replies "bad". Even if one or two students raise their hand, after seeing others they also bring it down. On average the ratio is like while 98 say democracy is good, 2 say that politics is good. Then i ask third question: Is democracy possible without politics?The question is not whether politics is possible without democracy. Of course in Saudi arabia politics is going on without democracy, In pakistan and nepal it was going on without democracy. But anywhere in the world democracy is going on without politics? Is there any place where no political organisation, no opposition, no criticism, no picketing, nothing political is there and still democracy is running smoothely. After some discussion students reply: No democracy can't function without politics. Then i say to them to combine all the three responses: "You are telling Democracy is good, you are telling Politics is bad and you are also telling Democracy can't function without politics. Do you realise what you are really telling?".

Few facts for you all to consider

These Fact talk about problems of world in numbers:
1. According to the report, published by the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) and based on data from 2000, the top one percent of the world’s adult population (about 37 million people) owns 40 percent of the world’s wealth, while the top two percent owns over half and the top 10 percent owns 85 percent. Wealth is defined as physical and financial assets minus liabilities.
In contrast, the bottom half of the world’s adult population—or about 1.85 billion people—owns collectively only one percent of the world’s assets.
This means that the top one percent of the world’s adult population owns 40 times more than the bottom 50 percent, and nearly 3 times more than the bottom 90 percent. Put another way, the authors note, "The average member of the top decile [top 10 percent] owns nearly 3,000 times the mean wealth of the bottom decile, and the average member of the top percentile [top one percent] is more than 13,000 times richer."(The report does not take into account individuals under the age of 20). Using a common measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, the authors note that the global wealth Gini is higher, at 0.892, than the corresponding figure for income. A Gini value of 0.892 "roughly corresponds to the Gini value that would be recorded in a 10-person population if one person had $1,000 and the remaining 9 people each had $1," the report notes.
In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 2000, 80 times as much.
Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day(with PPP) or 20 Rs per day approximaely.

2. According to the report, the top one percent of the population in the US owns 32.7 percent of the wealth, trailing only Switzerland, where the top one percent owns 34.8 percent. However, the US figure excludes the very richest families that are included in the list of Forbes billionaires. If these were included, the share owned by the top one percent would rise to 34.7 percent. The share owned by the top ten percent, a figure that is available for a larger set of countries, ranges from 41.4 percent in China to 69.8 percent in the US. The richest one-tenth of one percent of the population, or about 300,000 Americans, reported significantly higher combined pretax income in 2004 than the poorest 120 million.

3.World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006.
The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%).
The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).
Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%).
Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%). The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exports.
4.Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
5. In recorded history since 3600 BC, over 14,500 major wars have killed close to four billion people – two-thirds of the current world population In armed conflicts since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties have been civilians compared to 50 per cent in the Second World War and 10 per cent in the First. There are at least 250,000 child soldiers fighting in armed conflict. USA is World’s biggest arms exporter – supplies around 40 per cent of the developing world’s arms. World’s second-largest arms exporter with a 25 per cent share of the legal global market.

6. Over millenia, due to agriculture and deforestation carried out by ancient and medieval societies, CO2 levels in the atmosphere inched along from 260 parts per million (ppm) to about 278 ppm until the time of the Industrial Revolution. However, since the mid-18th century, CO2 has jumped to 384 ppm, much of it in the past few decades. As a consequence, the Earth’s average temperature has risen about 0.8 degrees C since the Industrial Revolution, reaching 14.5 degrees C in 2005. The problem, as Paul Brown explains in Global Warming: The Last Chance for Change, is that there’s more warming in the pipeline. There’s a lag of about 25-30 years between greenhouse gases being emitted and the full effects of their warming. So the recent climate chaos is actually the consequence of emissions in the late 1970s. The full effects of more recent emissions, including from China’s coal-based power stations that some are suddenly and rightly concerned about, will be felt in the years to come. We are committed, Brown writes, to a further 0.7 degrees C. That would add up to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5 degrees, 18 per cent of the world’s species will die, and 400 million more people worldwide will be exposed to water stress. In terms of historical emissions, industrialized countries account for roughly 80% of the carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere to date. Annually, more than 60 percent of global industrial carbon dioxide emissions originate in industrialized countries, where only about 20 percent of the world’s population resides. the North is responsible for the problem of global warming given their huge historical emissions. It owes its current prosperity to decades of overuse of the common atmospheric space and its limited capacity to absorb GHGs. Per capita emissions of carbon in the U.S. are over 20 times higher than India, 12 times higher than Brazil and seven times higher than China.
7. 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day).
A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water.
8. In the slums of mumbai countless women line up for water every morning. From four in the morning they begin positioning their buckets in line to stake their place in the queue. Sometimes, they might not get the water they wait for, which is no more than 40-50 litres a day. In and around the same Mumbai, in the same period, there were 24 amusement water parks using 50 billion – that’s right, 50 billion – litres of water a day for the entertainment of the rich. In the desert state of Rajasthan, plagued by actual scarcity of water for five years, more water parks and golf courses were planned. A single golf course takes 1.8 to 2.3 million litres of water a day through the season. On that amount of water, over 100,000 villagers in the state could have all their water needs met for the entire summer season.
9. In india Public spending on health is a mere 0.8% of GDP(reduced from 1.5% from 20 years earlier) , and medical care is now the second most common cause of rural family debt in india. The UNHDR records that almost a third of India's children, or 30 per cent, are below average weight at birth. Amongst children under the age of five, 47 per cent in India are underweight.
Each year since 1990, the Human Development Report (HDR) of the UNDP publishes the Human Development Index (HDI). This index "looks beyond GDP to a broader definition of well-being." The HDI seeks to capture "three dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy at birth). Being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education). And third: GDP per capita measured in U.S. dollars at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)." the rank of 128 puts us in the bottom 50 of the 177 nations that the UNDP Human Development Report looks at. Treat Adivasis and Dalits as a separate nation and you will find that nation in the bottom 25. Or subtract our per capita GDP ranking from the process and watch India as a whole do a slide.India rose in the dollar billionaire rankings, though. From rank 8 in 2006 to number 4 in the Forbes list this year, but we slipped from 126 to 128 in human development. Cuba has zero standing in the roll call of billionaires. In terms of per capita income, it ranks low in the world. But when it comes to human development, it ranks 51 - that is, 77 places ahead of us.

10. An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:
3 to 1 in 1820
11 to 1 in 1913
35 to 1 in 1950
44 to 1 in 1973
72 to 1 in 1992

In Monetary terms according to the World Bank, the 2.3 billion residents of low-income countries accounted for less than 3% of public and private consumption in 2004, while the 1 billion residents of high-income countries consumed more than 80% of the global total. In this same year the United States accounted for 4.6 percent of the world's population and 33 percent of global consumption--more than $9 trillion U.S. dollars.In The U.S. itself also has the largest gap and inequality between rich and poor compared to all the other industrialized nations. For example, the top 1% receives more money than the bottom 40% and the gap is the widest in 70 years. Furthermore, in the last 20 years while the share of income going to the top 1% has increased, it has decreased for the poorest 40%.

Youth and Politics part2

My dear friend,
In last letter we agreed that change is required, change is possible and politics is necessary instrument for any broad and stable change. In this letter i want to put forward my opinion on two questions: why interaction of youth and politics is particularly important, and what are steps youth need to take in order to do positive politics.
Interaction of youth and politics is important in our country because:
1) Some 47% of country's population is under 20 and 70% is under 35. Youth (age group of 13 to 35) make around 40% in countries population. For any strong and healthy democracy involvement of such huge section in politics process is very necessary. Today youth are alienated from politics and that's why they sometimes disrespect democracy itself. If india has to be biggest democracy in reality and not only in textbooks, youth would have to politicise themselves and politics would have to create space for young.
2) Young, since they have ability to dream and think beyond immediate personal gains, are least interested in maintaining the status quo and if something better is possible which would improve the lot of masses, they will be ready to fight for it. Justics, Equality, Liberty all such great values attract them and if given proper platform they can be the most passionate satyagrahis for a just, egalitarian and free society. Politics need the passion of youth.
3) If youth wont do politics, they will become a silent spectator and hence supporter of other's politics. The best friend of status quo are those who feel that it is unjust and inhuman and yet prefer silence. As i already stressed in first part, world wide a special kind of politics is going on: politics of hunger, startvation and prolonged malnutrition, politics of individual and state terrorism, politics of ecological destruction etc. Either youth will do their own idealistic politics against this mainstream rotten one, or they would remain a passive instrument in the hands of those who do mainstream politics.
4) Any individual who is a bit sensitive and socially conscius would be forced to ask this question, when he sees around himself: Is this the society, the nation, the world I want to leave for my future generation to live in? and this is not an insignificant question. It made our freedom fighters give their lives so that we can be citizen of a free nation. Soon he will find the answer: no, there are many things that ought to be changed. His sensitiveness would force him to find ways to do something for society and bring a positive change. and the best way to bring a positive broad and stable change is politics. So for sensitive youths, the hope and the vision to create a better society, a better country and a better world would find its destination in politics.

Now i come to the final topic of my letter: What are precautions youth need to take or thing they need to learn in order to do positive politics:
1) Fault in character or in understanding: We all talk alot about faluty character of politicians: that they are corrupt, greedy, selfish etc. Any problem comes and we attribute it to the fault in character. Thats why few youth who think of coming in politics, assume that since they are strong in character, they are not corrupt, greedy or selfish, they dont have to worry about anything else in order to do positive politics. But in reality fault in understanding is perhaps bigger reason of evil winning the battle. So youth who are interested in politics would have to form an understanding of problems of world: in short Idealogy. If you have to connect farmers suciede in Vidarbha, BT cotton and GATT agreements or inflation and opening of markets or poverty and richness going side by side and form a view about any broad issue, you need an idealogy. It does not have to be dogmatic but you need one if you have to do politics. Like for example, i think in present day india, to form an idealogy, we need to learn from socialists like ram manohar lohia and JP, from Cast system opposers like Jyotiba phule and B. R. Ambedkar, from revolutionary side of gandhi and bhagat both, from feminism and envrionmentalism, from 19th century marxism as well liberalism and form an understanding of the issues our nation and world is facing today.
2) Where to start: I have seen many enthusiastic youth organisations coming and vanishing in last 2 years. The reason behind it are two: first they dont understand that rome was not built in one day (change comes slowly) and second they fail to identify where the potential for change or revolution is, in our society. Since last 25 years this energy for change is coming from various grassroot people movments working through out the country.(You might search on net about MKSS: Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghtan, Aazadi Bachao Andolan, Narmada Bachao Andolan etc). Youth who want to do something for society would find these people movments as an excellent platform to put their passion in practice. Many people movments after working for decades on ground have realised the need to intervene directly into politics and together they have formed Lok Rajnitik Manch(People political forum). It is a flexible organisation of organisations. If you are interested in doing pro-people politics, i invite you to become a part of the manch. This is the platform for you to start.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Youth and Politics: A Letter

I am writing this letter to an average middle class youth of india who loves to hate politics. Hating politics and loving cricket are his two passions compteting for the first position. I do so,as a friend of him, who understand his frustation and anger but disagree with his conclusions. I do so, with an intention, that some day we will walk together and try to make this world a better place to live.

Dear friend, Your hatred of politics is not baseless. When you say "politics has become very dirty", "there is no scope for good people in it", "Politics without muscle power and money power: forget it dude", "Nothing is going to change man, hoping for a better society is fruitless, be practical" etc, it becomes clear that there is something very serious wrong with the present political establishment. This establishment does not deliever what we want, it does not even care to listen. So you have concluded that it is futile to speak and the best option is to withdraw. I think,No, if it does not care to listen, let us shout and if it does not respond even then let us keep ready the instruments needed for an ear surgery.

On a serious note, You should not withdraw because it is impossible to be neutral on a running train. A specific kind of politics is being promoted by ruling party and its loyal opposition around the world: resulting in 496 individuals having more than double the weath of 2.3 billion people, 27000 children below five dying each day because of poverty, misery of many for enrichment of few, prolonged malnourishment and starvation, individual and state terrorism, irreversible environmental damage, increasing crime, insecurity, depression to name a few. In India this politics has resulted into more than 150,000 farmers commiting sucide because of farm crisis, people being displaced and their land being snatched, 83 coror people living on less than 20 Rs per day while Ambanis are growing richer, health care budget declining from 1.5% of GDP to 0.8% in last 20 years, widespread corruption etc. If you are not shouting against it, you are silent in favour of it.

I hope now you agree that Change is required. But what about "kuch nahi badlane wala" (Nothing is going to Change), well let us try to find answer to this question in history. Our country and many other countries were colonised by Brithish Imperalism. People, like you and me, participating in freedom struggle did not think "kuch nahi badlane wala", and the empire was defeated. Slavery was a custom, from ancient greece to modern america. But People, like you and me, fought against it and secured victory. Women's opression, Monarchy, Voting rights only for property holders, Untouchability in our country etc all these things were norms of some place at some time. But when people realised that it is unjust and woke up, change followed. History teaches us that no norm, no custom, no system is god given and at numerous instances ordinary people like you and me, standing together, have defeated empires and brought out important change. Change is possible.

"Ok fine, but this dirty politics can not be an instrument for such change. Ya i want to do something for soceity. I will join some NGO and do social work" are you thinking this my dear friend? Well it is possible to teach 2 hours per week in slum through NGO but the route to reform education system so that quality education is accessible to all goes via politics. It is possible to conduct a medical camp on weekend as social work but politics is bound to come into picture if one thinks of a well functioning public health care system. For any broad and stable change, politics( in a broad sense, not merely the power game) is only instrument. You take example of education, for instance. We all would agree that every child should a minimum of 10-12 years of education. Now in order to achieve it: people might have to come together and start a campign, government might have to pass a law and allocate necessary resources, then create awareness on a massive scale so that children attend school and recieve the education. All these are inherently political steps.
NGO is about charity of rich and luck of poor, Politics is about responsibility of state and rights of people. NGO is about (only) feeding the poor: easy, self esteem building but ineffective, Politics is about eradicating the poverty and hunger: tough, includes suffering but long lasting and effective. Politics has the power to create and stop war, NGO can, at best, heal the wounded. So while what NGOs do may be a good thing in itself, for broad and stable changes in any field like education, economy etc politics is absolutely necessary. So Politics is necessary instrument for change.

So Change is required, Change is possible and Politics(again in a broad sense, not merely as the power game) is necessary instrument for any broad and stable change. You still hate politics, my dear friend? I hope not anymore!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lok Rajniti Manch: why and how?

LRM is an outcome of various initiatives that have in the course of last several years tried to address a long felt need to forge a political instrument for people's movement. All these initiatives were rooted in the realization that all the popular struggles and movements in the country had a political dimension in so far as any attempt to bring about fundamental transformation in any aspect of the existing system acquired a political character. It requires an integral political outlook, an understanding of how the political system operates and can be tackled and some kind of a political instrument or vehicle.
The experience of peoples' movements also demonstrates that none of the mainstream political parties can be relied upon to do justice to the issues, demands and the energy of the peoples movements. Let alone becoming the vehicles of social transformation, most of the mainstream parties are deeply cut-off from the people and have become unaccountable centers of power. Even those mainstream parties that appear to take up people’s issues are no different from the rest whenever they are in power. Far from being a part of the solution, the political establishment of the country has become a central part of the problem itself. People feel helpless vis-à-vis political leaders and parties that operate in their name. Sometimes this helplessness drives them in the direction of violent and in the long-run self-destructive forms of protest.

This has resulted in a reversal of democratic possibilities in the country. While the 'third space' in politics has expanded, thanks to the energy unleashed by people’s movements, the political formations that seek to represent this space have shrunk. There have been many meaningful attempts outside the political mainstream to forge a political alternative, often an alternative of national political party. While these initiatives provide a useful starting point, they did not quite succeed in meeting their objectives. These initiatives have remained limited, localised and largely ineffective. None of these has succeeded in capturing the national political imagination. Hence the need for a new alternative expression of peoples politics.
LRM would address the following objectives:
1. Create a national level centre of alternative politics that can draw a wide spectrum of citizens, especially the youth, who are increasingly alienated from politics;
2. Provide a forum where various peoples movements can forge a shared understanding of the political implication of their struggles and work out a common political strategy and a political agenda;
3. Create a mechanism to identify, unite and strengthen the various organizations and initiatives all over the country that are already working towards forging an alternative politics;
Serve as an organizational vehicle for some joint political action or intervention in the political arena by people’s movements in the country.

These objectives and the past experience would suggest that LRM should be organized in the form of a loose confederation, an oragnisation of organizations (including some small political parties with a similar objective) and individuals. Its success depends upon it not becoming or being perceived as a supra-organization that can dictate all its constituents. A political front of this kind would undertake only a few activities, after considerable preparation and deliberation. But it is hoped that such activities would have a deeper imprint on the political landscape of the country than the many isolated attempts being made today.

In the next year or so, the LRM could undertake the following activities:
1. Prepare a people's manifesto, publicize it and develop a widespread consensus around it so as to put pressure on mainstream political parties to incorporate its main points;
2. Start a dialogue with peoples political movements, groups and parties about effective intervention in the next Lok Sabha elections
3. Work out ways (media expose, RTI, PIL etc) of exposing the character of parties and candidates representing the political establishment
4. Identify as many candidates as possible all over the country that can be extended support by the LRM as symbols of alternative politics
5. Launch a focused and visible struggle on one issue (SEZ is one such example) that exposes the anti people character of the entire political establishment.