Bandh against FDI invasion is Necessary, but…..what Next?

Big Ticket Reforms or Road to Disaster

In what is being billed as “Big Ticket Reforms”, the Congress led UPA government recently announced its decision to further open up the economy with FDI in multi-brand retail (51%), FDI in Aviations (49%) and Disinvestments in 4 PSU’s. As if these were not enough, earlier the government had further increased the price of diesel by Rs. 5 and has limited the number of so called subsidized LPG gas cylinders per households, all of which is only adding to inflation and price rise.

Without having made even a single noteworthy contribution in terms of either increased expenditure in social services or pro-people economic policies during its tenure, this heartless government seems hell bent on pursuing neo-liberal reforms come what may. The only cheerleaders for the government latest moves have been the Indian capitalist class and foreign investors, who have constantly berated the government for not being bold enough or accusing it of ‘policy paralysis’, with the Time magazine going to the extent of dubbing Manmohan Singh as an “Underachiever”.

The opposition, including the constituents within or outside supporters of the UPA, have predictably made their opposition to the latest government move, especially over FDI in retail, for their own political reasons. This has once again put in question whether the government will complete its full term in office till 2014. FDI in multi brand retail has been a contentious issue for a long time with direct implications concerning many small retailers, that employs more than 40 millions workers in this sector. The opposition led by the BJP have called for a Bharath Bandh (total shut-down) on 20th September, similar to the bandh called on 31st May to protest against petrol price hike.

Whether this government survives or not, the Congress will definitely be the biggest loser in any elections if it continues with such brazen neo-liberal policies. Congress should be day dreaming if it were to imagine for a second that it can re-live a second 1991 moment when Manmohan Singh, as the then Finance Minister, unveiled the first set of neo-liberal reforms.

It is even more ridiculous to hear the central government stating that it is up to the respective state governments to implement FDI in retail if they wanted. Big retailers like Walmart do not actually need to set up shop all over India to achieve their objective. Once they are in, they will directly or indirectly have an impact by trading with different regions irrespective of whether the state governments allow FDI in retail. For instance, already they have started their operations in the name of ‘Easy Day’. Bharti group’s Easy Day operates maximum number of stores, close to 70, in Punjab aloneIn Bangalore they have already sourced space for their first outlet near Virgin Mall, Hebbal.

Who Benefits?

The only beneficiaries in this whole gamut will be the foreign multinationals and the Indian capitalist class. Whether be it FDI in retail or FDI in aviations, the Indian corporates have been on the lookout for bailouts, in what have mainly been loss making ventures in both aviations and organized retail. Whether the money will actually come in is another question depending on other factors like the global recession etc., but they will definitely have an impact in the long term. The entry of FDI in aviations will mean the end of the national carrier – Air India, which can certainly not withstand further competition and systematic destruction that has been wrought through bureaucratic meddling and open skies policies of the last two decades.

Similarly, in the name of doing away with the exploitative middlemen in the retail sector, all sorts of myths have been created around FDI in retail which is supposed to bring in jobs, benefit the farmers and decrease prices for the consumer. All the facts available have proven on the contrary that big retailers like Walmart have systematically destroyed jobs and livelihoods among local communities in the US, follow highly exploitative labour practices, are bad for the environment, increasing prices in the long term, monopolization of retail sector and much more. (See: Oppose FDI in retail – Don’t Let the Fox in!)

As we have analysed in our earlier article on petrol price hike – Real culprits behind Fuel Price Hike, the whole argument of fuel subsidies is a total fraud being perpetuated on the people of India with consumers ending up paying far higher prices than the standard price in the International market. The LPG limit of just 6 cylinders per year, in the name of doing away with unauthorized usage of subsidized cylinders for commercial purposes, is another outrage that is being perpetuated by the government.

The losers, as usual, will be the working people of India who have nothing to benefit from any of these reforms. It is another story whether these set of reforms will spur growth once again in the Indian economy. Even if we buy this argument, this growth will only come at the expense of the working people as the previous growth story that has completely destroyed Indian agriculture resulting in over 250,000 farm suicides in the last 20 years or the 836 million people still living on Rs. 20 a day (according to official statistics).

BJP’s hypocritical opposition to FDI in retail. Photo: India Today

The bluff thy name is Opposition Parties of India!

The Bandh being called by the opposition BJP and other parties, as always, will be state sponsored holiday in most of the opposition ruled states. It will be more to do with showing off opposition’s political muscle rather than any systematic build up of opposition among the working class and the peasantry against the government.

It is high time that all the so called opposition political parties are called by their real name, they are no different to the aggressive neo-liberal Congress. None of them can or will stand against the neo-liberal onslaught, there is not a single political party in the so called main stream politics that will oppose neo-liberal policies. It is one thing to sound and act differently when it comes to the crunch.

Can the Modi’s BJP which boasts of high growth trajectory in Gujarat can claim to be anti neo-liberal? Is Akhilesh Yadav of Samajavadi Party (it is a parody that this capitalist party takes this name, Ram Manohar Lohia and Kripalani must be turning in their graves) genuinely opposed to being pro big business? Will the corrupt DMK & equally dishonest AIADMK with all their pretensions of being competitive in “helping” the poor declare that they are opposed to capitalist policies which governs and guides the running of their governments.

Did the left led by CPI(M) even for a moment think before shooting to kill the peasants of Singur and Nandigram in the service of neo-liberal policies which they pursued aggressively to the extent of earning encomiums from none other than their now turned foe Dr. Manmohan Singh. Why is that the national CPI has not taken a firm opposition to the POSCO in Orissa, even though its cadres are in the forefront of a historic struggle against the project which threatens the life of Adivasis, Betel leaf farmers and will endanger the ecological balance of the area.

The bitter truth that our class has to face-up is that, we do not have a viable political force which stands against all that is capitalist with out any compromise what so ever., which is fundamentally the root cause of such profound irregularities. If these political opportunists are opposed to neo-liberalism and the FDI per say, then they will be dead against the Nuclear energy insanity in this country. The 123 agreement with America came with the strings attached, the MNC’s like Walmart, Boeing and General Electric went to the extent of setting up a fund for lobbying the senators who were opposing the treaty on the question of non-compliance of NPT. Now those Shylocks are demanding their pound of flesh.

It is no doubt that the Congress Party’s days of governance are numbered now, their masters; the Indian big-buisiness and the Multi National Corporations want their dirty work to be finished quickly. 12 more nuclear plants, FDI in multi brand retailing, brutal cuts in subsidies, aggressive privatisation are some of the promises that the Manmohan Singh is duty bound to fulfil. If the Bandh is in any way going to effective it has to start by questioning the very basis of Capitalism. To that effect the working class must prepare for future battles by creating a genuine mass working peoples party to challenge the system of capitalism.

Neo-liberalism is a part and parcel of Capitalism, one can not be sectional in opposing it, the whole package has to be overthrown lock stock and barrel.

What is to be done?

The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) calls for the complete revocation of FDI in all sectors and believes only a systematic building of the opposition by the working class based on a genuine socialist platform will it be possible to build an alternative against the system based on capitalism and landlordism.

New Socialist Alternative calls for:

# For a 24 hour industrial strike against both fuel price increase and FDI

# Immediate 50% Tax on cash pile and corporate wealth to bring down the prices and to pay for fiscal deficit

# For full nationalisation of banks and key industries; for a democratic workers control and management of all the resources.

# For a new mass workers party that would genuinely represent the interest of the working masses

Anand Kumar & Jagadish G Chandra

Bangalore