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Democratic rights under attack
By Devinder Sharma



The schizophrenia displayed by industry organisations over nation wide protests against price rise indicates their rising intolerance for people's movements. If the suffering people are not even allowed to raise their voice what options they will have other than taking recourse to violence?

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People's anger against government's failure in controlling prices
is on the rise

It was expected. As people observed a successful nation wide Bandh against rising prices of essential items, the industry and its mouthpieces went into a tizzy. The Economic Times shrieks: "Bharat is left badly bruised as age-old bandh politics over fuel price hike hits industrial activity and disrupts normal life." Its sister publication The Times of India is a little restrained when it says: "Opposition parties on Monday joined forces to enforce a countrywide strike against rising prices, in an effective protest that marked the return of a hot-button political issue and is being seen as a wake-up call for the UPA regime."

The opposition parties had given a call for a nationwide protest in the form of a 'Bharat Bandh' against high inflation and a sharp increase in fuel prices. The Bandh as a newspaper headline says: put India on hold.

All through on Monday, most of the TV channels went on chanting the Corporate mantra: "Monday's Bharat bandh, which disrupted life, stopped work, created loss and damaged property, not so much articulated democratic rights as abused them." All of them quoted imaginary figures of collateral damage that the three industry lobbying groups put up. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimated a loss of Rs 3,000 crore; the Assocham raised it to Rs 10,000 crore; and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) put both the figures together and came out with a magical estimate of Rs 13,000 crore.

The other argument against bandh is that it is the people who bear the brunt of such protests. But what about the sufferings of people who have been reeling under the stupendous rise in prices for over a year now?

If a day's protest has cost the country Rs 13,000 crore, industry lobbyists should demand making it compulsory to work for seven days a week. Why should we have a five-day week? In fact, FIICI should even consider seeking an extension in work hours. If we believe such bogus industry claims for a day of protests, the amount nation loses every year on account of a 5 day week should be phenomenal!

Nevertheless, the media's reaction is a reflection of what India Inc thinks. And India Inc is willing to go to any absurd length to defend the decisions of the incumbent UPA government, which actually is a government of the industry, by the industry and for the industry. So let us not unnecessarily worry about what the media says or be carried away by the 'pro-people' cliches on TV by our impotent netas.

During the day, I was asked by a TV channel whether bandh is the right form of protest. My response was that there are only two ways of expressing your anger and protesting against the high-handedness of the government: using the democratic form of protest or by picking up the gun like the naxals have done in 230 districts of the country.

The other argument against bandh is that it is the people who bear the brunt of such protests. But what about the sufferings of people who have been reeling under the stupendous rise in prices for over a year now? They have been bearing the brunt silently. How long do you want the poor to go to bed hungry unable to buy two square meals a day? What about those millions who cannot afford to buy their daily quota of dal and chapati?

Anyway, the media decries bandh. The media also slams the opposition for disrupting the proceeding in Parliament if ever the Opposition parties come together on popular issues. What is the choice then? Should the people be left to adopt militant means? Or the media expects people to write letters to the editor? Even that space has disappeared in most newspapers, with hardly few inches of space left for public feedback.

It is not only the newspapers which have drastically curtailed space for public opinion, increasing privatisation is actually taking away the right of expression. Let me illustrate this. Some years back, I was in Manila to attend a conference. In the afternoon, we heard slogans outside the hotel. There were groups of farmers and activists who were protesting against the corporatisation of agriculture. Within minutes the police arrived telling the protesters that they can't demonstrate inside the hotel's boundary walls.

The protesters moved to the road outside. Again, they were told that the road was also a private property. They then went back to the small park in front of the hotel. They were then told that the park was also a private property.

In reality, India Inc is trying to take away all democratic spaces. They do not want any finger to be raised at the usurping of resources that the business and industry is engaged in. The economic loot that goes on with the support of the government is something they don't want to stop. Obviously the share prices go up, and that keeps the middle class happy. Those who suffer are not allowed to raise their voice. With the dominant media on their side, Corporates are trying to muffle all democratic options and voices. In other words, it is actually an assault on the fundamental right of expression.

We are therefore at a very crucial stage in history. If we let the debate over democratic norms be defined by the Corporates and their agents (and I am including the economists in this list), it is time to say goodbye to democracy.

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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Feedback /Comments on this article
 
Who would implement welfare programs?

Well, it may be good idea to charge higher taxes for luxuries and launch welfare programs but who would be implementing these programs? Leaders who are falling head over heels to become poster boys for privatisation and globalisation; leaders whose very survival depends on the schizoid nature of the economy.....

Posted By: Sainath Sunil
Dated: Thursday, July 08, 2010

there should be two different tax slabs

I guess it's high time there should be two different tax slabs for those who spend their days and nights in extreme luxury and those who sleep wit a writhing stomach... so that the extra money from the former is passed on for the developmntal programs ... like providing jobs, good food production so that the demand is at par with supply and also for education of the hapless.

Posted By: Moumita
Dated: Thursday, July 08, 2010

What about loss due to corruption, failed schemes

Very different thought when he says five-day work leads to severe loss owing to the weekend... I wish there were organisations like ficci cii blah blah who could calculate the mammoth loss due to corruption by the ministries, failed PDS and fake schemes...

Posted By: Moumita
Dated: Thursday, July 08, 2010

 
 
 Other Articles in Political Development
 
 
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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