Trinamul Maoist Nexus Reconfirmed

THE rally held by the TMC – Trinamul Maoist Combine – at Lalgarh on August 9 reconfirms, if ever such a reconfirmation was required, that the Trinamul Congress and the Maoists have, indeed, been political collaborators in creating mayhem and anarchy in certain areas of West Bengal.

The murderous assaults by this combine has already martyred 255 leaders of the CPI(M). Most, if not all of these, belong to the poorest of the exploited classes and tribals, whose interests, ironically, the Maoists claim to champion drawing the blind romantic adulation by some `intellectuals’ and `social activists’.

An embarrassed and cornered Manmohan Singh-led government tried to duck, unsuccessfully, the issue of one of its cabinet members being caught red handed in the open political collaboration with the Maoists. They took refuge behind the argument that they shall return to both the houses of parliament after having “ascertained the facts”.

Ironically, the very next day, August 11, the minister of state for home affairs stood up in reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha on the involvement of Maoists in railway accidents stating: “Investigation conducted reveals that Police Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (PSBJC/PCPA), a frontal organisation of Maoists, was involved in damaging the railway track, thereby causing the accident.

The CBI has arrested 12 persons so far in this case”. It is the very same minister for railways, whose primary job, under oath of the constitution is to protect the life of passengers traveling on the Indian railways and to improve its safety standards, who is openly collaborating with the Maoists.

She has openly advocated the withdrawal of the operations of the security forces against the Maoist violence. She, in fact, has gone to the extent of asserting that Maoist leader Azad was `murdered’ and not killed in an encounter as claimed by the security forces.

The Trinamul-Maoist nexus became abundantly clear when, according to media reports: “Maoist politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji once again batted for Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Azad issue.

“There is no doubt that our politburo member and central committee spokesperson Charakuri Rajkumar alias Azad was treacherously killed by the members of Andhra Pradesh police special intelligence branch in a fake encounter. Mamata Banerjee spoke the truth and there is no reason behind the furore over the issue in parliament”. This comes from a Maoist leader whose party openly rejects parliamentary democracy and calls for a `people’s war’ against the Indian State!

Unable to defend the role of an important ally and cabinet colleague, the UPA-II government through its minister for home affairs, P Chidambaram, stated in the Rajya Sabha, “No one should support the Maoists and the government will certainly not encourage anybody who does so.”

However, the UPA-II government, in a crass display of political opportunism, requiring the numbers of TMC MPs in the Lok Sabha for the survival of this government, is tolerating such `support to the Maoists’ making a mockery of its commitment to safeguard India’s internal security.

Indeed, there is an irreconcilable contradiction that continues to plague the UPA-II government. The prime minister has repeatedly asserted that Maoist violence constitutes “the gravest threat to India’s internal security”. Yet, its own cabinet colleague, under the leadership of this very prime minister, openly collaborates with Maoist violence and defends the attempted subversion of parliamentary democracy.

The composition of the people gathered in Lalgarh clearly exposes the reasons for organising this meeting. The overwhelming bulk of the people were brought by huge number of transportation vehicles from outside of Lalgarh. The fact that the people of that area stayed away in large numbers shows the growing political isolation of the Trinamul Congress combine. It is precisely in order to strike terror and browbeat the local population into supporting them that this rally was organised.

Clearly, the Trinamul Congress has exposed itself to stooping to the lowest of levels in its quest to gain in the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal. In the bargain, neither the safeguarding of innocent life nor strengthening the unity and integrity of India are of any concern.

If the UPA-II government and prime minister Manmohan Singh continue to turn a deaf ear to this threat, then India will have to pay a heavy price. Brazen political opportunism to continue to remain in office cannot be allowed to sacrifice the interests of India’s unity, integrity and internal security.

From People’s Democracy

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CPI(M): Rout In Municipal Polls Cause For “Serious Concern”

Here is the Editorial from this week’s People’s Democracy explaining the Left Front’s rout in the recent elections to 81 municipal bodies across West Bengal. The message: All is not lost; there’s another 12 months to regain lost ground before the all-important Assembly election next year…

IN the results of the elections to the 81 municipal bodies across the state of West Bengal held on May 30, 2010, the Left Front has won in only 18 municipalities.

The Trinamul Congress has won 26, the Congress 7, the anti-Left alliance 4, while 23 are hung, 3 have resulted in a tie. In whose favour these would be resolved will only be known in the future.

In the finest traditions of democratic practice, the Left Front led by the CPI(M) has accepted the people’s verdict. The Left Front in West Bengal has declared that it shall make a proper assessment and review of these results to draw correct lessons for the future.

There has been a massive media hype that these elections are a `semi-final’ for the so-called `final’ assembly elections in May, 2011. The politically conscious electorate in Bengal is discerning in the sense that it treats every election on the basis of its objective.

The Lok Sabha elections were to determine the government at the centre. The elections to the state assembly are to determine the government in the state. Likewise, the municipal and panchayat elections have their own objectives. Each election is, therefore, a different ballgame.

The Trinamul Congress has mounted a shrill campaign for the dismissal of the duly-elected state government and the holding of early elections. This is not only patently undemocratic but completely irrational.

The total number of people eligible to vote in these municipal elections was 85,33,000 out of a total electorate in the state of 5,24,32,000, i.e., only 17 per cent of the total electorate. This makes up for less than 40 seats in an assembly of 294.

The rest of the 83 per cent constitutes the rural Bengal electorate or more than 250 assembly seats, which has predominantly determined the character of the government in the state in the past. Hence, it will be fallacious to conclude that the results of these municipal elections are a reflection of the state’s electorate as a whole.

Nevertheless, it is a reflection of urban Bengal. To that extent, the Left Front is committed to undertake a serious introspection of these results. During the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, which saw a serious erosion in the Left vote, the Left Front had a lead in 525 of the 1766 municipal wards in the state or 29.73 per cent.

In these elections, the Left Front has won 603 out of 1791 municipal wards or 33.67 per cent. Hence, the situation now shows, at best, a marginal improvement in the performance of the Left Front.

Clearly, therefore, the setback suffered in the Lok Sabha elections has not been reversed but the downslide appears to have been partially arrested.

In the 2005 elections to the municipal bodies, the Left Front had won an unprecedented victory bagging 50 out of the 81 municipal bodies. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, however, it had led in only 19. In these elections, it has won in only 18.

However, as noted earlier, the leadership of 26 municipal bodies will only be decided later. The main reverses to the Left Front have come from Kolkata and its adjoining urban areas. North 24 Parganas district has 21 municipal bodies while Hooghly district has 12.

In 2005, the Left Front had won 26 of these 33 municipalities. This time Left Front has won only in 4 with a tie in 2 municipalities. This is a serious matter that needs to be properly reviewed in order to draw the correct lessons and apply the needed correctives.

The CPI(M) and the Left Front are committed to undertake this task in right earnest.

UPA Report Card: Drifting From Tragedy To Farce

The Manmohan Singh government completes 6 years in office today. Alas, it has nothing to show by way of achievement except making India an American satellite. As the following assessment by Prakash Karat underlines, if there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves.

The present UPA government is completing one year of its tenure on May 22. Unlike the first UPA government, its second edition did not spell out a common minimum programme. Instead, the Congress-led government began by reiterating its commitment to pursue the neo-liberal agenda. It announced that it would take up those policy measures which it could not push through in its first term in office.

The government also promised to bring in some welfare measures for the aam aadmi. On foreign policy, the government stated that it would adhere to the path taken by the first UPA government of aligning India’s foreign policy in tune with the strategic alliance with the United States of America.

The one-year of the UPA government has been notable for the following:

Firstly, it has totally failed to tackle the relentless price rise of essential commodities particularly food items. This has been the biggest cause for people’s suffering in the past year; for the poor it has meant less food and more hunger and malnutrition.

This is not a “failure” as such but an outcome of the determination to pursue neo-liberal policies. Food items and other essential commodities are traded and speculated in the market in a big way. The forward trading system is the playground for big trading companies and corporates. The government is in the least interested in curbing these interests who are making huge profits.

Secondly, the Congress-led government is in the grip of finance capital and the sway of big business. It believes in cutting taxes for the rich; providing a tax bonanza for big business and maintaining favourable terms for foreign finance speculators.

The Direct Taxes Code which the government proposes to usher in will make India one of the least taxed countries as far as the rich are concerned. In the last financial year, the government provided Rs. 80,000 crore of tax concessions to the corporates. The disinvestment of shares in the profitable public sector units is the favoured agenda of both Indian big business and the US corporate interests.

Every sphere of policy making, whether it concerns the pricing of gas, the allocation of telecom spectrum, opening up of mining and minerals, the financial sector, retail trade or allowing foreign educational institutions into the country – bears the imprint of a government pandering to big business and their foreign finance collaborators.

Thirdly, this type of growth under the neo-liberal regime has spawned crony capitalism. The nexus between big business and politics has become the hallmark of the Congress regime. The legitimacy provided to foreign capital flows from dubious sources through the Mauritius route and other tax havens; the huge illegal mining business flourishing under political protection; the refusal to discipline and penalize law breaking and tax evasions on a large scale on the part of the super rich – all this has promoted a unhealthy and perverted capitalism which is celebrated as India’s growth story.

What this has produced is corruption and illegality on a large scale which affects every sphere of society. The first year of the government has seen the IPL affair, the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers. All this can be directly sourced to the nexus between big business and ruling politicians.

Fourthly, the UPA government’s concern for the aam aadmi has proved to be shallow. The Congress and the UPA government are conscious that some relief has to be provided to the people who are the worst victims of the neo-liberal policies.

During the UPA I tenure, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the farm loan waiver and the Forest Rights Act were some such measures. These were part of the Common Minimum Programme and came into being mainly due to the consistent pressure and struggles waged by the Left parties.

However, under the UPA II, the government has failed to legislate even one substantial measure for relief. The proposed Food Security Bill would have in no way enhanced food security for the people.

After one year, the government is still debating how to bring about such a measure. The Public Distribution System has been further weakened and curtailed. The plight of the farmers does not seem to concern the government which has cut the fertilizer subsidy by Rs. 3000 crore in the current Union budget.

The Common Minimum Programme of the first UPA government had promised to increase public expenditure in education to 6 per cent of the GDP and in the sphere of health to 2 to 3 per cent of the GDP.

As far as education is concerned the combined central and state expenditure is still below 4 per cent. In the case of health the combined budgetary allocation of the Union and state budgets was a meager 1.06 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10, far below the target of 2-3 per cent.

Fifthly, the UPA government has failed to utilize the favourable political atmosphere and the strength of the secular forces in parliament to push for firm anti-communal measures. It seems visibly reluctant to come to terms with the Ranganath Mishra Commission report recommending reservation for the minorities on the basis of their socio-economic backwardness. There has been a noticeable lack of political initiative in dealing with the simmering problem of Kashmir.

As far as tackling the Maoist violence is concerned, the UPA government tends to treat it solely as a law and order problem without realizing that some of its own policies like the licence for indiscriminate mining in the forest areas is alienating the tribal people.

Moreover, it finds itself hampered by its own partner in government, the TMC. Mamata Banerjee has declared that there are no Maoists in West Bengal and therefore there is no need for joint operations against them.

Sixthly, foreign policy under the Manmohan Singh Government has remained steadfast in its fealty to the United States. As a quid pro quo for the nuclear deal, India has agreed to buy billions of dollars of US arms and equipment.

The End Use Monitoring Agreement which would allow American inspections on Indian soil was signed. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill which has been introduced in parliament to meet the demand of the United States is patently against the interests of the Indian people. The growing military and security collaboration with the US and Israel affects the pursuit of an independent policy.

India has gone along with the United States which is targeting Iran on the nuclear issue. It once more voted against Iran in the IAEA, unlike other non-aligned countries. India is not playing the role of a leading non-aligned country.

In contrast, President Lula De Silva of Brazil has stood up to the United States and refused to go along with the campaign for further sanctions on Iran. President Lula has visited Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership to find a way out of the impasse and to come to some agreement with the help of Turkey.

One of the few positive aspects in foreign policy is the Prime Minister’s refusal to adopt a confrontationist stance towards Pakistan despite what sections in his government and party wish.

The great potential of shaping an independent foreign policy and strengthening of multi-polarity by India’s vigorous diplomacy and energising forums like the BRIC, IBSA and the trilateral meetings of the foreign ministers of Russia, China and India is being underplayed.

Politically, the striking outcome of the first year of the UPA government is its increasing vulnerability. In May 2009, the UPA won the elections but failed to get a majority. The Congress leadership ignored this reality and became complacent with the unilateral declaration of support by parties like the BSP, SP, RJD and the JD(S). By the end of the first year that complacency has been shattered.

During the last budget session, the Congress had to adopt the tactic of bargain and striking deals to garner support from amongst these parties. The last three weeks of the budget session have witnessed the manouevres to prop up the government’s majority against the cut motions and the struggle to ensure the passage of legislations.

The cynical use of the CBI for political purposes is undermining the credibility of the agency. The wheeling and dealing that saw the postponement of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and the introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill – all portend a tortuous path for the future.

If there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves. There is growing opposition within parliament.

As far as the people are concerned, their experience is of a government increasingly callous to their sufferings due to price rise, while it showed great solicitude for big business and the corporates when it felt the impact of the global recession.

After the first six months of the government, there has been the rising tempo of popular struggles and movements. A peak in this struggle was reached with the April 27 hartal called by the 13 opposition parties. A spate of struggles of different sections of the working people have taken place. The struggle is on against the harmful policies of the government and to defend the livelihood and the rights of the working people. The question is whether the UPA government has learnt any lessons from its first year in office.

Oppose The Nuclear Liability Bill

The recent radioactive poisoning death in Delhi has once again highlighted the fact that the Civil Nuclear Liability Act being foisted on the nation will only help American companies get away with murder just as Union Carbide did after killing and maiming thousands in Bhopal. In the Mayapuri case one person died after coming into contact with a radioactive pencil that was disposed of by Delhi University as scrap, the vice chancellor appeared on TV to offer only an apology. No talk of compensation. This is going to be repeated on a horrific scale in case of an accident at nuclear power plants proposed to be built across the country. Sitaram Yechury argues why this the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill must be opposed

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, the government hurriedly introduced the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill amid largescale protests by the Opposition.

The Left had opposed the introduction of the Bill itself on the grounds of violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee says, “In view of Supreme Court judgements which are part of Indian jurisprudence and whose thrust is for the protection of victims of accidents as part of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability.”

However, it is precisely such a cap that the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill introduces.
The proposed Bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore.

The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government’s liability. Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million that’s been proposed shows the scant regard the the UPA has for the people.

The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation. Even today, gas victims are suffering and have received only meagre compensation.

It is unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too.

Apart from this, the minuscule liability of Rs 300 crore for the actual operator is tantamount to encouraging the operator to play with plant safety.

The Indian legal regime is quite clear: for hazardous industries, the plant owners have strict liability. Neither does the law accept any limits to liability — the party concerned must not only pay full compensation but also the cost of any environmental damage that any accident may cause. The Oleum leak from Sriram Food and Fertility settled the liability regime in India and any legislation seeking to cap liability will be completely retrogressive.

Contrary to the claims being made, the Vienna Convention — the basis of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill — does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. It also allows countries to operate their liability regimes. For example, Germany, Japan and Finland all have unlimited liability, the same as current Indian law.

The US has a liability cap of $10.2 billion. Not only is the Indian government proposing to cap liability of nuclear plants, but it is also proposing a cap of only $450 million, way below the consequences of any serious nuclear accident. It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power and foreign suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice its own people.

The suppliers’ liability is also being considerably weakened by the proposed Bill. Instead of the normal contract law, where recourse of the operator to claim damages is inherent, the Bill limits this recourse only if it is explicitly mentioned in the contract. Otherwise, the nuclear operator cannot claim compensation from the supplier of equipment even if it is shown to be faulty.

It is evident that contracts for buying US nuclear reactors will explicitly exclude any liability on the part of the suppliers and, therefore, by the law to be adopted, they will go scot-free even if an accident occurs due to a defect in the equipment supplied by a US company.

In fact the UPA-II government wanted such a legislation, which the prime minister could carry with him to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in April. However, following the controversial passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the help of marshals, the crucial support of 47 Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the BSP, SP and RJD was not forthcoming.

This obstacle, however, appears to have been overcome now through possibly some ‘bargain’ similar to what happened at the time of the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The US is insisting that this law be enacted to protect US suppliers of nuclear equipment from liability to pay compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. Currently, only the State-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. under the existing Atomic Energy Act can operate nuclear power plants. But with the opening up of international nuclear commerce, US companies have sought a civil nuclear liability framework to be put in place before they enter.

The US government has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India’s capping of nuclear liability. The UPA-I government, prior to the ratification of the 123 Agreement, had given a written commitment that India will buy nuclear reactors from the US totalling 10,000 megawatt of capacity.

This Bill has now been referred to the parliamentary standing committee for its consideration. It will now be tabled in the monsoon session. It is imperative for all political parties to ensure that the government is not allowed to disregard the life and safety of the Indian people through such a legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution and the various judgements of the Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be violated.


Higher Education As Profit Centres

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal finally managed on May 3 to introduce in the Lok Sabha the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation and Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 amid protest by Left MPs to the proposed law.

The bill proposes that institutions aspiring to set up campuses in India will have to deposit Rs 50 crore as corpus fund. They will have to be registered with with UGC or any other regulatory body in place.

The bill, however, gives exemption to reputed foreign institutes from the tough conditions set for opening up campuses in India. The reputed universities will not have to go through the rigorous process of approval.

An advisory board will will recommend permission for such universities like Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford and similar institutions. They will not be required to deposit any corpus money.

However, the clause that foreign institutions cannot take away surplus money back to their respective countries also applies to all foreign institutions, including the reputed ones.

The bill stipulates a number of criteria for ensuring quality. The aspiring institute need to have minimum 20 years of standing in the country to which it belongs. It should have adequate finance and other resources to conduct the courses in India.

The bill says that an aspiring institution will apply for recognition as Foreign Education Provider in India. The application will be scrutinised by the accreditation authority and the UGC or any other commission in higher education. The commission will recommend to the government on whether the institute should be given recognition.

However, the bill, which is being referred to a parliamentary Standing Committee, raises more questions. My friend CP Chandrashekhar, professor of economics at JNU in New Delhi, argues that the case for allowing foreign players in the higher education sector in India is weak and controversial and simply a ploy to create a window for foreign players and then changing the rules of the game in ways that persuade them to exploit the opportunity.

There are two arguments, among many, that are being advanced to justify this desire for the foreign. The first is that it would substantially enhance quality in both the new institutions that would be set up by these foreign entities and, by example and the pressure of competition, in old and new institutions created by public and private Indian promoters. The second is that it would close the supply-demand gap.

The supply of higher educational facilities relative to requirements in this country is seen as so large that the government or Indian private players would not have the resources to fill the gap.

To clarify, the resources that the foreign entities would bring could not be real resources like faculty, administrators and material inputs like classrooms, libraries and labs. Foreign providers would have to find these resources largely from within the country, just as Indian promoters would have to, since importing all of it would make things so expensive that the investment would not make sense unless the intention is merely to throw away the money. “Resources” here means the requisite money.

Neither of the arguments—enhancing quality and augmenting supply—is particularly convincing even for those who are enamoured by these foreign brands and what they could contribute to the making of the modern Indian mind.

It is not that foreigners were barred from coming into the country in the past. They could through many routes subject to certain rules. But either because of the rules or because of mere disinterest not many big names even gave a thought to have an independent presence here (as opposed to collaborating in different ways with domestic institutions).

On the other hand, it is not true that no foreign institutions came into this country. Some did. But they were not the well known and what they offered here did not compare at all with the best or even less than best that Indian educational providers were offering. Both in terms of presence and quality history does not give cause for optimism.

The question then is, are the rules being changed to accommodate the foreign? The government states that it is only clarifying the rules and regulatory framework that would apply to foreign educational providers, and that in itself would serve to attract them to the country.

It is true that if foreign institutions are to be allowed at all, to provide education of any kind in the country, it is better that they operate within an appropriate framework of regulation. If not, unscrupulous operators can use the “foreign” tag to exploit poorly informed students who do not have the scores to enter a good national educational institution or the finances to travel abroad to acquire a good education.

In an environment where good higher educational facilities are in short supply, such operators could get away with charging high fees for courses backed by inadequately qualified faculty, inferior infrastructure and substandard equipment.

This has in recent years been a reality in India because of a mismatch between the law on foreign investment in educational provision and the law with regard to the functioning of “recognised” educational institutions.

The foreign investment law in this country does allow foreign educational providers to enter India under the automatic route in the educational services area. It therefore allows for commercial provision of educational services by foreigners and the repatriation of surpluses or “profits” earned through such activity.

However, the nature of such services must be “informal”. If an educational service provider (foreign or domestic) chooses to establish an institution that is termed a university and is recognised as such by the University Grants Commission (UGC) or if it awards a degree or diploma that is recognised by a range of institutions such as the All India Council on Technical Education (AICTE) or the Medical Council of India, then it would be subject to regulation just as any other Indian institution engaging in similar practices. That is, there is no separate set of rules to recognise and regulate foreign institutions.

This implies that recognised foreign educational institutions cannot (like private Indian ones) operate on a “for-profit” basis. Surpluses can be generated based on fees charged, but those surpluses have to be ploughed back into the institution.

This distinction in the regulatory framework, applying to institutions seeking recognition of their degrees and those that do not, did result in the proliferation of courses that are not recognised by government, in institutions that were, therefore, not subject to regulation under laws governing the higher education system.

Most of these institutions were in the private sector, with a majority being domestic private institutions and a few foreign. Some were good, many extremely bad. These institutions were not all avowedly “for-profit” entities, but there were many that made large surpluses legally and otherwise and distributed them in various ways to their promoters.

In some ways, what the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill does is that it seeks to bring certain of those foreign institutions within a separate, clearly defined regulatory framework, requiring institutions providing diplomas and degrees to register under a designated authority, making them subject to regulation and seeking under such regulation to ensure that the promoting institution has a proper pedigree, brings in adequate resources, employs quality faculty, offers adequate facilities, and reinvests all surpluses in the institution, which cannot function for profit.

However, even though these are not considered for-profit institutions, the government is not seeking to regulate the fees they charge the students they take in, set parameters for compensation for faculty, or impose demands such as reservation of seats for disadvantaged sections as it does in its own institutions.

There are three questions which arise in this context. One is whether the implementation of the Bill amounts to skewing further the inequality in access to higher education and tilting the playing field against public institutions. Clearly, the Bill does not allow for the application of laws with regard to affirmative action in the form of reservation of admissions to private institutions, domestic or foreign.

But if the infrastructure for higher education is inadequate, this is true not just for those who fall in what is termed the “general category”, but for those in the reserved categories as well, who need adequate numbers of seats to be reserved for them.

So if private, including foreign institutions, are seen as entities that would help close the demand-supply gap in higher education, they would need to service students in the categories eligible for affirmative action as well.

Since the aim of promoting private education, including that offered by foreign providers, is to make up for the shortfall in public education, the demand that reserved category students be admitted to these institutions with support from the state is bound to rise.

State money would provide access to the socially and economically disadvantaged to private institutions. That is, while the state is not going to regulate fees, it may be forced to demand some reservation by covering the fees charged by these institutions for those it wants to assure the access they are deprived of because of the social discrimination they face.

The obvious question that would then arise is whether it may not be better to use these funds to expand quality public education at lower cost per student. Hence, clarity on the government’s use of these institutions for closing the demand-supply gap would be useful.

If the direction of policy in other areas is indicative, the public-private partnership mantra would be used to justify supporting private provision by funding access to the disadvantaged with no regulation of costs or prices. In fact, the likelihood is that the implicit control would be on the “subsidy” offered to needy students, who then may have to make do with entry into poorer quality institutions.

A second question that arises is whether the better among foreign educational providers are likely to choose not to come into the country if stringent regulations are imposed on them.

With budgetary cuts for education in developed countries and with demographic changes affecting the size of the domestic college-going population in these countries, universities there may like to go abroad if they can earn surpluses to support domestic operations.

But if regulation includes the “not-for-profit” condition, which prevents them from extracting surpluses and transferring them abroad, they may see no reason to be in India.

Perhaps for this reason, the Act for the possibility that its provisions can be diluted. For example, as of now the Act provides for the constitution of an Advisory Board that can exempt any foreign provider of all requirements imposed by the Act except the requirement of being a not-for-profit body.

It also exempts institutions conducting any “certificate course” and awarding any qualification other than a degree or diploma to be exempt from most of the provisions of the Act, making them subject only to certain reporting requirements.

This amounts to saying that if a foreign provider enters the country, reports its presence, and advertises and runs only such “certificate courses” (as opposed to courses offering degrees and recognised diplomas), it would have all the rights that many of the so-called “fly-by-night” operators exploit today.

Once that possibility is recognised the only conclusion that can be drawn, based on the experience hitherto, is that this Act in itself is unlikely to either bring high quality education into the country, or keep poor quality education out. What motivates it, is therefore, unclear.

This raises the third question as to whether this bill is just the thin end of the wedge.

If foreign providers do not come in requisite measure, would the government use that “failure” to dilute the law even further and provide for profit and its repatriation by foreign operators in this sector?

Some time back, the commerce ministry had put out a consultation paper clearly aimed at building support for an Indian offer on education in the negotiations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The paper, while inviting opinions on a host of issues, was clearly inclined to offering foreign educational providers significant concessions that would facilitate their participation in Indian education.

In its view: “Given that India’s public spending, GER (gross enrolment ratio) levels and private sector participation are low, even when compared to developing countries, there appears to be a case for improving the effectiveness of public spending and increasing the participation of private players, both domestic and foreign.”

GATS is a trading agreement and therefore applies to those engaged in trade in services for profit. Providing such concession would force a fundamental transformation of the face of higher education in the country.

Put all of this together and both the motivation and the likely outcome of this bill remain unclear. If the intent is to attract new, more and better foreign investment in higher education to close the demand-supply gap, then the specific framework being chosen is likely to subvert its intent.

If the idea is to regulate only those who have been coming and would come, then a separate law just for foreign operators as opposed to all non-state players is inexplicable.

This suggests that the process underway is one of creating a window for foreign players and then changing the rules of the game in ways that persuade them to exploit the opportunity. This may explain the fear that the field would be skewed against domestic private players.

Thus, the case for this Act is weak and controversial. If the supply of educational facilities is low and of poor quality because public spending is low, the emphasis must clearly be on increasing allocations for education. This is likely to be extremely effective since India has the requisite institutional framework.

But there is no reason to believe, especially given past experience, that just allowing private entry, whether domestic or foreign, and the resources associated with it would indeed improve access and ensure quality. Unless the state pays the bill, which it claims in the first place it cannot.

EU Voters Turn Back On Social Democracy

When millions of workers turn their back on social democracy in the middle of an economic crisis, it shows one thing: they no longer expect any solution to their problems from these parties

The most notable result of the European elections held last weekend is the dramatic decline of social democracy. On average across Europe, social democratic parties received only 22 per cent of the vote, six per cent less than in the previous European election in 2004. With a turnout of just 43 per cent, this means that less than one in ten of the electorate voted for these parties.

Average European figures distort the real extent of the decline. In the major industrial countries of Western Europe, where social democratic parties have led governments for decades or functioned as the main opposition party, their losses were huge—irrespective of whether the parties are currently in government or opposition.

In Great Britain, where the Labour Party has been in power for the past twelve years, Labour’s support plummeted to a record low of 16 per cent—lower than the vote received by the extreme right-wing UK Independence Party.

In Spain, the ruling Socialist Party lost five percentage points and trailed the right-wing Peoples Party.

In Germany, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has been in government for eleven years, recorded an historic low of 21 per cent.

In Portugal, support for the ruling Socialist Party fell from 45 to 27 per cent.

In France, where the Socialist Party has been in opposition for the past seven years, the party received just 17 per cent—a decline of 12 percentage points compared to five years ago.

In Italy, support for the Democratic Party, which is a successor organisation to the Italian Communist Party and other “left” parties, plunged from 31 per cent to 26 per cent.

In Denmark, the opposition Social Democrats lost 12 percentage points and finished with a total of 21 per cent.

The vote for the Dutch Labour Party was halved to 12 per cent, and in Austria it sank from 33 per cent to 24 per cent.

This decline is all the more remarkable when one bears in mind that the election took place in the midst of the most severe world economic crisis since the 1930s. Although unemployment is rising rapidly and the living conditions of broad layers of the population have worsened considerably, voters are deserting the social democrats in droves.

The cause for this shift is to be found in the politics and character of the social democratic parties, which have for many years functioned like any other bourgeois party. In the past two decades, they have used their influence, in close alliance with the trade unions, to carry out the sort of social attacks that had provoked massive resistance when attempted by conservative governments.

In Britain, the Labour Party led by Tony Blair adopted the program of the Conservative Party’s “iron lady,” Margaret Thatcher, while the German SPD led by Gerhard Schröder passed the anti-welfare Hartz laws and carried out more attacks on social rights than all previous conservative governments put together.

The ‘Financial Times’ in an editorial on June 9 pointed to the seeming anomaly of massive electoral losses for parties historically associated with socialism under conditions of growing popular disillusionment with capitalism. It correctly notes that, in fact, there are no serious differences in economic and social policy between the social democratic and conservative parties.

The newspaper wrote: “At a time when ‘the end of capitalism’ is raised as a serious prospect, the parties whose historical mission was to replace capitalism with socialism offer no governing philosophy. Their anti-crisis policies are barely distinguishable from those of their rivals.”

When millions of workers turn their back on social democracy in the middle of an economic crisis, it shows one thing: they no longer expect any solution to their problems from these parties.

The election result also expressed a broad rejection of the European parliament. The job of the parliament is to provide a pseudo-democratic cover for the institutions of the European Union and the army of 40,000 well-paid bureaucrats in Brussels who, in turn, serve at the beck and call of a comparable army of business lobbyists.

Vast numbers of voters, especially from the working class, refrained from casting ballots. The biggest party in the election was the party of non-voters. At 43 per cent, voter participation was 2.5 percentage points lower than the previous record low turnout, in 2004. In Holland, Great Britain and most Eastern European countries, turnout was less than 40 per cent.

The resulting political vacuum was exploited by conservative and right-wing parties. This has led many commentators to speak of a “turn to the right” in Europe. Such a conclusion is unwarranted and superficial. Right-wing parties were able to exploit the collapse in support for social democracy and the low turnout. In most cases, however, they failed to increase their vote and in some cases saw their support decline significantly.

Even extreme right, xenophobic parties that gained significantly—such as Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland (17 per cent), the UK Independence Party (17 per cent), and the British National Party (6 per cent)—have, based on the low voter turnout of 35 per cent in the two countries, less support than their results suggest.

What is evident in the European election is a sharp social polarisation. Until now, the ruling classes have been able to rely on the social democratic parties and the trade unions to suppress social struggles. The decline of these organisations means that future class confrontations will take a more open and explosive form.

Peter Schwarz

Meaning Of The Verdict

By Prakash Karat

What is the meaning of this verdict? How is it to be interpreted? The first point to be noted is that while there has been a pro-Congress trend in some parts of the country, taken overall, there is no big shift in favour of the Congress. In terms of vote share, the Congress has got just about 2 per cent more than in 2004.

According to the Election Commission’s figures, the Congress party has got 28.55 per cent of the vote. In 2004, it had got 26.53 per cent. The Congress made big gains in Kerala and Rajasthan and improved its position in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Its allies like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal were also successful. That there was no wave or a strong all-India shift in favour of the Congress can be seen by the party losing ground in states like Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Karnataka to mention a few. Here the Congress vote share and seats have gone down compared to 2004. In Andhra Pradesh, while its seats increased, the vote share of the Congress has gone down.

Another feature is that while Congress gained 2 per cent, the BJP lost around 3 per cent. The loss of the BJP has gone to the Congress but the combined percentage of vote of both parties stands more or less as it was in 2004. In 2004, the two parties combined got 48.69 per cent of the vote and in 2009 it stands at over one per cent less at 47.35 per cent.

This is at a time when the Congress and the BJP fought more seats than in 2004. This is particularly significant since it shows no reversal in the long term decline of the two parties. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties continue to have more than 50 per cent share of the vote.

BJP Rejected
The second point to note in interpreting the verdict is the failure of the BJP and its political platform. The people have rejected the BJP’s claim of providing good governance and defending national security. What they saw in the election campaign was the recurrence of communal rhetoric and the ingrained penchant for communalising all problems including terrorism.

Varun Gandhi’s virulent hate speeches and the eulogising of Narendra Modi as the future leader symbolised this campaign. The failure to capitalise on a host of issues such as price rise, unemployment and the continuing agrarian distress by the major opposition party underlines the depth of the rejection of the BJP.

The only NDA partner to do well was the JD (U) in Bihar and that is not due to the BJP but the positive impact of the Nitish Kumar government and the care he took to demarcate himself from the communal platform of the BJP.

Another pointer to the rejection of the BJP comes from Orissa. The BJD, which broke from the BJP just two months before the election, won a spectacular victory getting 103 of the 145 seats in the assembly. In the 2004 assembly election, the BJD-BJP alliance won 93 seats. Thus, the BJD improved its performance after breaking with the BJP.

Reasons for Congress Success
The third point to understand the verdict is that despite the neo-liberal predilections of the Congress-led government, some of the measures adopted have had a positive impact on the people. These are the NREGA, which now extends to the entire country, the Tribal Forest Rights Act and the increase in the minimum support price for rice and wheat, the loan waiver scheme for farmers and some such measures, many of whom were brought under the pressure of the Left parties.

Despite the agrarian crisis, such measures provided some relief to the rural people. Along with this should be seen the measures taken by some of the state governments such as the Rs 2 per kg of rice scheme in Andhra Pradesh and the Re 1 per kg scheme in Tamilnadu and other social welfare measures.

In Orissa too, the Rs 2 per kg of rice bolstered the support for the Navin Patnaik government. At the same time, the fact that four years of high growth of the GDP did not lead to redistribution of resources and incomes and instead sharply increased economic inequalities did play a role in restricting the Congress’s capacity to expand its popular base.

The Congress gained more support amongst the minorities who were keen to ensure that the BJP does not make a come back. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties were not seen as a viable alternative in most parts of the country and this accentuated the shift in minority support to the Congress.

The Congress party has also benefited from the concern of the people that the country should face unitedly the threat of terrorism and their fear that communalism can only aggravate the situation.

Setback for the Left
The CPI (M) and the Left have suffered a serious setback with the losses in West Bengal and Kerala. It was expected that the Left would get a lesser number of seats in these elections given the fact that in Kerala, the LDF had won an unprecedented 18 out of the 20 seats and the Congress got none in the 2004 elections.

In West Bengal too, the odds were heavier given the Trinamool Congress and Congress combining and all the anti-Communist forces launching a concerted attack against the CPI (M) and the Left Front. But the extent of the defeat in both these states has led to the CPI(M) getting only 16 seats, the lowest ever in the Lok Sabha.

This calls for a serious examination of the causes for these reverses. We have to conduct a self-critical review to ascertain what are the factors which are responsible for this poor performance.

Both national and state level factors have to be analysed. The electoral-tactical line formulated by the Party at the national level and the national political situation which influenced the Lok Sabha polls must be studied. Along with that, the specific state factors in both West Bengal and Kerala must also be taken into account.

The Politburo, in its meeting held on May 18, 2009, has initiated such a review which will be completed by the Central Committee in its meeting to be held in June. After identifying the reasons for the failure, the Party will have to take the necessary political and organisational measures to overcome the shortcomings and mistakes.

On this basis, the Party will strenuously work to regain the support of those sections of the people who were alienated from the Party and the Left-led fronts. Such a self-critical exercise will also pave the basis for the Party taking up the organisational tasks set out in the Party Congress to strengthen the Party and to expand its mass influence.

Third Front Alliance
In the discussions held in the Politburo, there was a preliminary review of the Party’s effort to forge a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance and present it as an electoral alternative. The Central Committee, in its meeting held in Kochi in January 2009, had worked out the electoral-tactical line and given the direction that “the Left parties along with the secular parties should work together to make a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative realizable.”

The CPI(M) and the CPI had an electoral understanding with some of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and seat adjustments in Karnataka. On the basis of these state level understandings forged on the eve of the elections, we attempted to project them as a national level non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.

The defeat of the Left in West Bengal and Kerala and the failure of the alliance in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to win a majority of the seats undermined any effective presence of the “Third Front” at the national level. It is evident that such a combination which had its relevance in the concerned states was not a credible and viable alternative at the national level. Further, the electoral combinations, which were forged state-wise, precluded any national policy platform being projected.

There have been two consequences of the projection of a Third Front. Firstly, the BJP-led NDA was adversely affected by the formation of a non-Congress secular combination. The BJP and the NDA’s tally has come down since they were denied any significant ally in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

The second point to be noted is that the secular non-Congress combination has got 21 per cent of the vote and this shows the potential for building up a third alternative on the lines suggested by the CPI (M) in its Party Congress. That is, an alternative which is not merely an electoral alliance but a coming together of the parties and forces on a common platform through movements and struggles for alternative policies distinct from that of the Congress and the BJP.

Money Power
A disturbing feature of this Lok Sabha election was the use of money on a scale not seen before. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka saw an unprecedented use of illegal money. The Madurai constituency in Tamil Nadu was the worst example of the brazen use of money.

In other states too, this trend has grown which is vitiating the democratic process. More and more tickets are being given to moneybags and parties are collecting huge sums of money to be deployed for bribing voters. This is a threat to the entire democratic process and is particularly inimical to the Left’s interests which cannot indulge in such unscrupulous use of money power.

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