Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A report of PPF meet By Asha Ji

People’s Political Front: meetings in South
It has been a very inspiring experience being part of the meetings of the newly constituted People’s Political Front (Lok Rajniti Manch, LRM in Hindi) in Bangalore and Mandya, 19-21 December. On 19th we had a press conference as well as an internal audit meet, about the experiences of PPF in various states and constituencies, since its last meet in Jaipur.
Kuldeep Nayyar, Ajit Jha, Ravivarma Kumar, Sunil, Rajiv, Yogendra Yadav, Jacob joshi, MR Khan, amongst others were present at the press meet.
KN introduced PPF, saying that PPF did not want to affiliate itself to any of the existing major political parties. He said “we are not satisfied with any of them”. The Bangalore press asked him whether such an initiative, which was not even registered as a political party, had any chances of creating change.
KN mentioned the case of the Greens in Germany, of how they started as a small group and evolved into federal politics. Asha kachru thereupon gave her experience as a Green City Councillor in Bonn in mid Eighties, about how the Greens, who started as a street initiative movement, finally became a well recognized party and have created change in Bonn for example on environmental and financial issues. She referred to the pedestrian paths constructed for the cyclists and for (pregnant) mothers using prams, in Bonn, after Greens came into power in the city council and also about how they put through the demand that the mayor of Bonn now uses a bicycle instead of a Mercedes for transport in the city. She used the opportunity also to point at the missing women in the round and the need to raise issues from the perspective of the Indian women’s movement in PPF.
Advocate Ravivarma Kumar spoke of the Sarvodaya Karnataka movement, about how it started as a part of the JP movement, abolishing the transport of night soil to toilets, to start with. Kishen Patnaik under the guise of the changed name Kishan Prasad had helped in this process. A young woman advocate Akhila from Bangalore joined us later and so did her mother Anusuya, vice-president of the Sarvodaya Karnataka.
Ajit Jha spoke about the last meeting of PPF in Jaipur, where they had recognized the missing South Indian partners and hence thought of having the next PPF meetings in Chennai, Bangalore and Kerala. The meetings in Bangalore and Chennai were a great success (see below), but in Kerala it is not so yet. From Andhra Pradesh farmers union APVVU, Mr. Chennaiah could unfortunately not arrive and report as they were busy with their annual meet.
Yogendra Yadav reported from the first meet of PPF in Chennai. With the large number of workers from the unorganized sector and agricultural workers, whom Geetha Ramakrishnan is guiding since many years, it has been an enriching and heartening experience, he said. In Karnataka too, in Bangalore with the organized Sarvodaya Karnataka farmers and the Dalits organized in the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, DSS, it has been a successful experince for the PPF. YOGENDRA YADAV reported from Rajasthan too. In Harda the PPF candidate has had a positive impact. They got support from the Dalits, Adivasis and unorganized workers, not from the urban middle class.
The Electoral Commission with a Dalit member has performed very well. The MSKSS forum (Aruna Roy) with its agenda of Right to Employment and Right to Information and the Election Watch performed well too. All parties, except BJP took part in the discussions. One bad experience of a candidate, who shifted to a dominant political party in the last moment, warns us to be careful with adopting candidates, who have already filed their nominations, he said.
My question to him, whether we would be prepared to work with individuals in the other parties, who are amicable to us and who support our manifesto, he said at the moment it was not possible to do so. My question, arising out of my experience with the Greens in Germany, was directed at PPF reflecting about an alternative political organizational form, which would allow individuals, who could also be members of some political parties, but having their own - differing from their party - views on certain issues and would be in solidarity with our views on those particular issues.
Suneel reported from MP/Bhopal. A huge rally took place, however the organizations are not ready to participate in elections. Kuldeep Nayyarji seemed very happy about the Bhopal happenings. Barghi dam and NAPM members took part. Madhuri of Jan Sangarsh Morcha, Tribal Constituency and Bharat Jan Andolan also took part.
One sad experience Sunil shared with us, was the fact that all over votes do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the people, it is instead the money and the muscle power, which plays a big role. He mentioned that PPF has a lot of problem with the non-existing resources, workers get mislead by bribes. They do not see the connections between fighting for their rights and the voting process. He said we have to find an alternative method of fighting for an alternative politics.
Anurag of Betul is going to contest for LS elections. Norms for putting up nominations are required.
Rajiv of Yuva Parishad reported from UP/Varanasi. Azadi Bachao Andolan, Sangharsh Vahini etc. took part. An anti-Mayawati-Ganga scheme is to take place. Jan Sangharsh Morcha wants to work with PPF. Once again the demand for procedures for selection of candidates was felt.
MR Khan from the Socialist Front in Maharashtra said PPF is not an umbrella organization in MH, there are various organizations like Socialist Front, Samajwadi Janata Party, Janata Dal (S) etc. working together. They have already decided to put up 10 LS candidates, 100 Assembly candidates and 6 candidates in municipality elections in Pimpri/ Chinchwad etc.. One of them has already won. He suggested registering PPF as a political party with an information center for right to information, which will help people, know about PPF and thus improve the chances of PPF candidates winning.
Advocate Jacob Joshi from Kottayam in Kerala informed us about the grim situation in Kerala. Though there are a no. of initiatives and individual attempts at progressive politics, there is no united movement. They, Jacob Joshi and Vinod of NAPM-Kerala and Suresh of Kerala Samajwadi party asked for support from the North. The meeting on 27-28th Dec. in Trichur will be a small affair, they said. Some members from North have agreed to attend this meet to give PPF a boost in Kerala.
The Tamilnadu reporter was a first comer. He spoke of the Farmers and agricultural workers union he represents, which would like to be part of PPF efforts. He said they are working against introduction of GM and BT-cotton seeds and are going to have a rally in Chennai under the slogan “Toddy is not liquor”, because of the Govt’s anti-farmer policies.
Abhishek, a young man from Vellore spoke about the need to motivate youth, who are looking out for alternatives.
Someone gave us the background information on how the Dalits and Farmers organizations are working together in Karnataka. It was an effort of Kishen Patnaikji to bring them together. The Sarvodaya Paksha used the strategy of collecting Rotis and some cash from the members to win the elections, as an alternative strategy to the dominant use of money and muscle power in elections. They collected 17000 rotis and some 96.000,- rupees too. On the whole it seems the Karnataka Sarvodaya party under the president ship of Prof. Devanoor Mahadeva and the Socialist Front in Maharashtra are the strong most such movements in India today, which PPF could avail of.
The next 2 days, 20th and 21st December were devoted to the inauguration of the Samavesha Inauguration Political Convention along with a mass rally in Mandya, app. 150 km from Bangalore. N. Venkatesh, the chief Secretary of DSS, Anusuyaamma, vice-president of DSS, KS Puttanaiah, exec chairman of Sarvodaya Party of Karnataka, Kuldeep Nayyar, Advocate Ravivarma Kumar, Yogendra Yadav etc. spoke and were joined by newly arrived speakers from Tamilnadu, Geetha Ramakrishnan of the Tamilnadu unorganized sector union and Christina Samy of the Women’s Front in Karur District of Tamilnadu.
Ajit jha, Prof of History, spoke on SEZ’s. He said even supporters of capitalism are against SEZ’s. the Indian Govt. is going to loose more than a crore of rupees per year due to SEZ. It can only be explained historically that due to the Chinese adopting SEZ’s, India was forced to do the same. Even in China the effects of SEZ’s are very negative and China is reconsidering this decision. Though SEZ’s have generally failed, still one hopes they will generate income and growth. There are no laws against their use as yet. Land is always required for SEZ’s and land laws are very unfair towards the public - as the W. Bengal and Orissa examples show –the state power is used mercilessly against the people. Still they tell lies that the laws are made in favor of the people.
Yogendra Yadav presented the problematics behind SEZ’s in a very lucid, didactic and pedagogic manner. He raised five questions and also presented the five right and wrong answers:
1. What is SEZ?; the Govt. says it will be a place where the Industry will produce and create wealth from export of products etc., but in reality it will be like a country within our country, an island with its own laws!
2. Why do we need SEZ’s?: the Govt. says to provide economic growth, but SEZ has nothing to do with economy. It is only Real Estate, capturing our most precious asset, namely land. Only Tatas and Ambanis will benefit, taking important pieces of land, creating townships and cities with their own laws in app. a hundred years from now. No Ryot will be able to buy any land then.
3. What is wrong with SEZ?: even those opposing SEZ’s are not giving answers. They are only complaining about the farmers not getting proper compensation. That is however not the only problem. Compensation can be given, but SEZ is the biggest tax evasion scam. It is about money. My money is being robbed through SEZ. In his area, Gurgaon, YOGENDRA YADAV said Land is now Rs. One Crore an acre!
4. Who is supporting/opposing SEZ’s?: the answer is like in the case of the elephant whom blind people are experiencing from different angles. Fact is that the political rulers of this country as well as the small movement-wallas are supporting it and the people are opposing it.
5. What can we do about it?How do we oppose and stop it?: we should oppose it, but that is not enough. We have to oppose the politics, the root cause of it; we have to take on the establishment of this country. We have now had 35 different parties in power in parliaments in center or states in the last 5 years. So the entire political establishment has to be opposed.
YOGENDRA YADAV also pointed at the uniqueness of Karnataka political history. It has always offered models of social transformation. Women’s organizations are part of the movement here, he said. Nowhere in North have Dalits and farmers been together in movements. He said we, from North, have come here to the South to learn from them and their experiences.

Advocate Joshi Jacob of Kerala pointed at the grim situation of the Indian farmers. He said even prior to the Globalisation era, farmers were nowhere on the agenda of any of the political parties. Now they are all talking only about farmer’s suicides.
Sunil talked of root causes of farmer’s suicides, namely the development policies of the Indian Government. He said, we need a radical political force to raise issues of farmers, poor Dalits and Adivasis. We should oppose bailouts of big business groups.
Prof. Devanoor Mahadeva said, Karnataka has the strength of leading the country in this process of search for a new political force, the strength of the Sarvodaya Karnataka, the strength of the farmers and Dalits! Under LRM banner they already are about forty thousand members. Still they lost the elections due to the practise of bribes and due to caste divisions in society. The farmers unit is very strong however and they won elections in 2 constituencies. When the Karnataka Govt. invited them, 15 thousand farmers went and fought for their rights, but politically they still need to learn how to win elections. They did not enter politics till now, because they did not trust any party, Congress, BJP, JD(O). he said, the Journalists in Karnataka have played a positive role in bringing the farmers and the Dalits together. At the rally in Mandya nearly fifty thousand would have taken part, but for the running harvesting season, when the farmers are busy at home. Advocate Ravivarma Kumar thanked the speakers and participants from the North for all the ideas we gave in our speeches. He said we hope to have many more such meetings of North and South in future. We now have to think in terms of programs and policies. He suggested forming a South India Regional Council of LRM and the North should come and take part in the Council’s meetings. Strategies and policies need being discussed. In Mandya general constituency 2 candidates, Ravivarma kumar from Tumkur and one from Mysore are going to contest. Since there are a number of Tamilian sugercane workers working in Mandya and registered too, he asked Christina to help in winning them over for voting for the NRM candidates.
Christina from Tamilnadu Women’s Front said in her speech that women have been asking for reservations for long. Now they have stopped asking, instead they have formed a women’s front, to be registered soon as a political party in Tamilnadu. Goal is to have women’s leadership in politics. Men are members of the organization though, total membership being 2.5 lacs today! They are thinking of getting another 2.5 lacs in coming months and are already present in 22 of the 31 districts in Tamilnadu. They also do not want to align with any political party today. LRM is an alternative they accept. They want to go beyond state boundaries, also in solving Cauveri water problems.
Joshi Jacob said Jan Parishad is contesting in Kottayam under LRM banner, but is sceptical due to their base being not large yet. Suresh of Kerala Samajwadi party suggested a meeting of LRM in Tamilnadu, where women, farmers and unorganized worker’s movements can meet.
In the following discussion several questions regarding the political reforms necessary, the manifesto of LRM, the number of and the verifications required regarding the code of conduct of the candidates etc. were raised. What is the strategy of LRM, a unilateral party or part of an alliance? I suggested taking up as one of the codes of conduct for each of our candidates, that there is no case of domestic violence (rape, dowry death, bride burning) or of sexual harassment at workplace against the candidate.
Ajit Jha said, that the divergence of opinions on all issues needs to be discussed in the next Delhi meeting. We should not just distribute tickets, put any candidate without checking his/her character etc. we should seriously think about differences of opinions. No understanding however with NDA or UPA. Feedback from different states is also awaited. LRM should attract students in the movement.
Sunil also wanted to build youth wings of Samajwadi party, with a vision of an alternative as a task.
At this point I made a remark for us as PPF members, to remain open and to learn in a dialogue with the Youth and the Women’s movement experts about their particular issues and approaches.
Sudha Reddy raised the particular issue of girls missing in youth wings and requested all to consciously integrate more girls into our movement.
Someone said we should get more information on why our constitution is anti-people.
Yogendra Yadav reminded us about what our strength is, namely vision, ideology and experience of struggle! And what is our weakness? It is the lack of visibility. As an example he said many Dalit activists do not know Devanoor Mahadeva. Sarvodaya Karnataka is not known widely. We have no viability and no resources. He pointed at us concentrating on our weaknesses and building coalitions, bringing fresh blood into the movement, inventing a new language/ form for example to address girls/ youth. We need role models! We need to have a short 10 point charter in/as manifesto, we need a National Fund, at least a Crore of rupees for our work, we need a flag and/or a song as our symbol! And we need the Media.
Ajit Jha summed up saying this semi formal and unstructured approach of LRM meetings has helped in bringing out some fresh ideas. He said this method can be used again, in future. He gave information about coming elections in May. We should have notified candidates by mid March. Every state is asked to give feedback to Delhi. At the next National Committee meeting (end February in Delhi?) final decisions will be taken. We should not restrict ourselves to the election only, even afterwards what we need to do. For the organizational work, he asked for some people who do not already belong to any organization of NRM.
Mr. Shivprasad, a speaker presented a Harikatha like style of speech with lot of songs, rhymes of wisdom of Kabira, Basawa and other Indian saints etc. I felt this should become the dominant form of speech style amongst us, due to its strong cultural roots.
Geetha Ramakrishna of Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangham in Tamilnadu said NRM is very important to them for a social revolutionary change in Indian society. She pointed at the fact that 93% of unorganized sector are farmers, construction workers, weavers, women etc. and they contribute to 65% of GDP. Still they do not have any social security. MLA’s etc., who work for only 5 years or so, get a huge pension. This shows the unfairness of our society towards the working class. Added to this is the fact that these very people do not even have control and/or rights over the natural resources, which they work with. Christina of Women’s Front in Tamilnadu spoke of the wave of change that women are bringing about. Common resources are wealth of our country as long as the people/communities own them. When grabbed by individuals they become private property. The Government is systematically delinking people - who are also natural resources- from their own common resources. Most affected by such policies are women, as people who are very close to natural resources. Not people, but money is important for the development policies of the Govt. She said money and male domination have been the major decision-makers in the last 61 years of India’s independence from the British rulers. Women, who constitute 51% of the population, have now to be the center stage of Indian politics. And it is our, women’s responsibility to change the society towards a more humanitarian one. It is not an alternative politics, but the original democratic concept, which should dominate. Women have to become owners and controllers of these resources. They have been doing it silently all the time.
One representative of the Republican Trade Union in Tamilnadu spoke of their achievements in land and agriculture and also in Dalits issues. Leelavathi, head of the federation spoke of the fact that people have no control over natural resources like water, air and land. One lake area in Chennai has been handed over to a private company, who has built a Food Company there. The Govt. is polluting all the rivers in Chennai by allowing all sorts of industrial users along the rivers, but the poor people living in slums along the rivers are being evicted as if they are the polluters of the rivers!? Right to livelihood is one issue they are involved with.

Towards the end of the first half of the last day, Ajit Jha approached us, Asha Kachru and Sudha Reddy, asking us about any inputs we wanted to give to the gathering. We had joined the meetings as observers on behalf of South Asian Dialog on Ecological democracy (SADED) and also because we were interested in knowing more about the alternative political initiatives happening in India at this precarious moment of our independent history. We pointed at the missing issue of Adivasis in the agenda and at the missing symbolic presence of women next to Gandhiji or Baswa or Budha on the posters/flags decorating the inauguration event as well as otherwise. I sang 2 songs from the Indian Women’s movement written by Vibhuti Patel of Bomby women’s group and Kamla Bhasin of Delhi respectively, describing a rural women’s work day (Uth Jaag Meri Behna…) and the New Economic Policy (Jo Desh Gulaam Banaye, Kaisi Neeti Ye…).
At the very impressive rally in Mandya, there were at least 10 thousand farmers, Dalits, workers and women from various parts of Karnataka and neighboring states. It was an exhilarating experience for all of us. Unfortunately we had to leave earlier and could not be part of the closing ceremony. Wishing us all well, Asha Kachru from Kohir village in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh 502210.

We must become the change we want to see- Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI