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Return to the grassroots

india Updated: Nov 26, 2006 17:28 IST
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To many Americans, and to some Indians as well, the recent win of a radical Left group like AISA in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) elections probably seemed like an anachronism: according to the logic of the current neo-liberal regimes in both countries, Marxist and Communist thought and political relevance died with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s. The spokespersons of neo-liberalism and free market policies in the Bush government, as well as their counterparts (or agents) in the UPA government here in India, clearly agree that US military and economic hegemony — for they are two sides of the same coin — are unavoidable, and are close to being established in every last corner of the globe. (The Indian public has not forgotten the statements by not only the UPA but earlier the NDA that one must cater to the demands of a world-power like the US on everything from nuclear policy to domestic economic initiatives.) Elite ideologues in both countries try to give support to this theory: Francis Fukuyama and company have declared the ‘end of history’ and that ‘the last man’ has been reached — ie capitalism has triumphed as a world system leaving no viable alternative. The cult of globalisation seems to have gripped every intellectual and policy-maker in every country: talking heads babble about some amorphous angel of globalisation that will open every market, flood it with knowledge and products, and liberate the stupefied masses of the developing world from their ignorance and backwardness.

Why then do we suddenly see a resurgence of Left thought and political action across every developed and developing nation from India to France to Venezuela? It would seem that the more blatant American imperialism becomes and the more exposed its relationship with the ruling classes of developing countries like India becomes, the more clearly the working masses of these countries understand the nature of their exploitation and who is responsible for it. The complicity of the ruling elite in India with the Bush government in implementing anti-worker, anti-people policies has at this point become so naked that no fig-leaf can hide it: the signing of nuclear agreements, creation of Special Economic Zones, and imposition of new patent laws in recent months have only reinforced the public’s conviction that India’s rulers are only looking out for their own.

In the US, decades of conservative rule have been slowly eating away at the rights of workers, minorities and women, rights that were won after long and hard battles culminating in the victories of the 1960s and 70s. The social welfare programmes that were created through their struggles have been gradually dismantled by the successive administrations of Reagan, Bush Sr, and now Bush Jr, with the Clinton administration allowing them to be further eroded during its tenure, dissolving any remaining doubts in the public mind that the ruling elites of both the Democratic and Republican parties could not care less about the working classes of the country.

Interestingly, however, the explicit imperialist designs of the current Bush administration and its anti-worker, anti-poor policies have provided conditions in which a united pro-people movement can take shape. Abroad, the Bush government sends the young women and men of the working classes to their graves in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan so that corporate partners of the administration can profit from contracts to ‘rebuild’ these decimated countries, while at home it lets the poor of Louisiana drown under flood waters, tries to take basic reproduction rights away from women, and cuts spending on education and healthcare while giving tax cuts to the richest of the rich. The more severe the antipeople, anti-democratic policies of the Bush administration become, the more aware the American people become of their repression and exploitation. The more tyrannical and fascist the Bush administration reveals itself to be, the more clearly the American people see who their real enemy is.

The cult-like discourse of pro-globalisation forces has also backfired in a certain sense: it has made the working poor of various countries more aware of their common exploitation and their common enemy. It has shown the working poor of countries like India and the US just how much they have in common. The standardisation of multinational corporations’ anti-human work culture across the globe gives us all a first-hand experience of how we’re all being equally exploited. The workers in Costa Coffee outlets are not even allowed to choose the music playing in their restaurant, whether it’s in London or Delhi; call centre workers from the US who lost their jobs to outsourcing come to India to find their replacements are being subjected to the same long hours and inhuman working conditions that they endured in the US.

One thing has also become clear: we cannot rely upon the elite ideologues of any of our countries to lead us out of our poverty and exploitation; we will have to do it ourselves. The workers of all nations are realising that policy discussions between heads of state and their elite intellectuals in air-conditioned five-star boardrooms will not render any solutions to their problems. It is for this reason that people are beginning to re-discover the power of grassroots mobilisation.

Whether it be the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the protests in the North East against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or the protests of adivasis and peasants in Kalinganagar and Singur against the government-brokered usurpation of their lands by corporations, we see a return to grassroots mobilisation, to the belief that the only thing that will stop the state or the private corporations it patronises from treading on our rights is a large-scale movement of common people. Not only that, but these separate groups are beginning to see the necessity and benefit of joining together to pursue a larger pro-people agenda, as evidenced by cross-cooperation of pro-student, proworker, and pro-minority groups. In the US too, the anti-war movement has provided a space in which students, workers and minorities have united and begun to develop a broader agenda. For the first time in several decades, the workers, students, and minorities of America are talking about systematic inequalities in US democracy, and about how to pursue a common agenda of economic and social equality for all.

The recent election of Left parties, especially of a radical-Left party like AISA of which I am a part, is a sign of a shift in the consciousness of students and the student movement as a whole in India. It is a sign that students see their destiny as inter-linked with the destiny of workers, farmers, the poor and the marginalised. It is a sign that students are becoming aware of their responsibility as educated, privileged members of society to be the voice of those who have none in government. And it is a sign that across the world, students, workers, and the oppressed have awakened to their common bonds and their common programme of establishing true equality and democracy across the globe.

(The writer is the first foreign national to be elected vice-president of JNUSU.)

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