Draft Agenda on social-democracy: July 2018

NB: This comment on current developments in India was discussed at an extended meeting of concerned citizens early in July, 2018. It is part of a series of such non-partisan discussions taking place in various parts of the country. Readers are welcome to use it - and add to it - to debate issues that have disappeared from the mainstream media. DS

सोशल डेमोक्रैसी के एजेण्डे का मसौदा

Draft Agenda on social-democracy
Threat to democracy:
1/ The current situation in India exhibits an incremental breakdown of justice. The causes for this are complex, but it has serious consequences for ordinary citizens. At lower levels the poor do not even have access to lawyers. Honest public prosecutors are harassed and in some cases judges have been complicit in the harassment of the innocent. The crisis in the Supreme Court over the allocation of cases, the public protest by four senior judges; and the manner in which the suicide note of ex-CM Kalikho Pul and the mysterious death of Judge Loya have been dealt with are indications of this breakdown. The shortage of judges has nothing to do with the crisis of justice. A fair and functional justice system is crucial to the legitimacy of the Indian Union, which can be maintained only by proper functioning of justice, not vigilantism and state-sponsored violence. The erosion of justice will permanently damage the basis of the state. Educating public opinion about this is a crucial task for civil society activists.

2/ Communal politics will destroy justice and the rule of law – especially when communal ideologies receive official or semi-official encouragement. These politics are related to the events of 1947, 1984, 1992, 2002 – it is a controversial question which needs to be discussed frankly. Currently, hatred, impunity and suspension of all restraint are fast converging (with direct support by the NDA government and its extra-constitutional authority, the RSS); to destroy the distinction between legal and illegal violence. This is extremely dangerous for the fate of Indian democracy and our fundamental rights including Article 21, the right to life. The influence of communal ideologies on NGO’s and workers movements is also a matter of grave concern.

3/ Democratic institutions are far more important for the poor and victimised sections of the population including women, than to the elite. Understanding the link between communal violence, criminal justice and the decline of democratic institutions should be a prime concern for all democrats. Necessary steps should be taken to ensure fearlessness among judges. Jail reform also needs urgent attention. Police officials require basic training in constitutional norms and obligations of public servants.

Electoral Reforms
1/ Elections alone cannot strengthen democracy. However, elections are important means of expressing opinion. Indian elections have achieved stunning results, like in 1977 when Mrs Gandhi was defeated. But elections tend to be fought on emotional issues. Thus, in 1977, popular anger against the family planning atrocities cannot be underestimated.
2/ There are glaring lacunae in the first-past-the-post system.  It has distorted results. Popular vote share and seats won, do not often match. This needs to be seriously debated. There are many alternatives: proportional representation, list system or a second round of voting. The easiest seems to have another round of voting if the winning candidate has failed to win above 50% of the votes polled. In such a case, the second round should be to elect one of the two top -scorers to ensure that one of them gets at least 50% of votes.

3/ We have seen that political parties themselves sponsor independent candidates to cut into rival votes. But this also reduces the party’s votes. A second round of voting would motivate parties towards having a small number of contestants, so that clear results could be achieved at one go.

4/ NOTA in the present form is toothless. It only indicates that a voter exercised his/her right to vote. But NOTA is also an opinion which is not recorded. To make it effective it should be counted and proportionately deducted from the votes secured by the top two candidates. Every vote obtained by any independent or from No. 3 onward is a NOTA for the top two candidates. Should those votes of all losing candidates also be combined and deducted from the top two candidates?

Anti-people policies
1/ It is not a secret that this government works for the minority – minority of the rich – and against the majority of the poor and the marginalised sections of the society. Its religious majoritarian character also reflects the same tendency of serving the minority of the population. If Muslims and Dalits are being targeted today it is because they constitute majority among the majority of the poor.

2/ In any case capitalism has always compromised with, and tolerated regressive social values. This is why the African American constitute the majority of the American poor. If capitalism had worked to abolish feudal equations and bring about social equality, as it is claimed by its apologists, there would be no racism in America and no caste and community based exploitation in India. But this has not happened despite the unbridled growth of capitalism in India. In fact, antagonisms have worsened.

3/ Workers need jobs to survive and capitalism cannot and will not provide employment to the maximum number of people; preferring employment policies that can minimise wage bills. This antagonism is being aggravated with the incremental growth of capitalism.

4/ Nationalism is one ideological form which is being used by the BJP/RSS government to mobilise popular sentiment against so-called internal enemies. Victimhood and constant social tension are stoked up to ensure that public sentiment stays clear of issues related to social and material conditions.

5/ Every successive government since 1991 has been more ruthless than its predecessor. What we are experiencing since 2014 is government at its most brazen and divisive. The lack of debate on social and political issues suits both capitalism and the model of a command economy. We need a new model of development.

Employment policy
1/ The World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO): Trends 2018 shows that there were 18.3 million unemployed Indians in 2017, and this number was to rise to 18.6 million in 2018 and the projected unemployment in 2019 would be 18.9 million. In addition to this, the Labour Bureau quarterly reports consistently show that the most of the employment opportunities arise in vulnerable sectors. (where job stability is not assured. Construction, entertainment, Hospitality or small jobs, like Bidi-rolling, fixing buttons on clothes etc are all, according to WESO, vulnerable employment).

2/ Even in the pre-1991 era there was no employment plan. However, the inequality gap was narrowing modestly. Writing in The Hindu  Muthukumar says: “India’s income inequality is at its highest level since the Indian Income Tax Act was introduced in 1922, claims a recent paper by well-known economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty. The top one percent of income earners are garnering 22 per cent of total income in India, which is the highest ever, they have found. While the period 1951 to 1980 saw the poor narrowing the income gap with the well-to-do, the trend has reversed over the period 1980-2014, they say. The Gini Coefficient for the country is estimated to be close to 0.50, which would be an all-time high...(Gini Coefficient is a statistical measure to gauge the rich-poor income divide. It is necessary to reverse this trend which can be done only by direct public spending by the government in some of the most essential sectors of the economy, like Health and education.

3/ Employment in Health: India is among countries that spend the least on public health. Per capita expenditure on public health is only $15. (National Health Profile-2017, p 205). Even Ruanda spends $ 20. Even in the 10-nation South East Asia Regional Organisation India is ahead of only two - Myanmar and Bangladesh who spend per capita $ 9 only.

4/ Rural health networks are skeletal and there is a shortfall of about 20-22% of health centres even though prescribed norms are very low. Out of 1,56,000 Subcentres 78,000 have no male health workers, 6,300 centres do not have Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and 4200 centres have neither ANMS nor male health workers. Out of 25,000 Primary Health centres over 6,000 have no doctors, about 10,000 have no lab technicians. There is an 86.5 percent shortfall of surgeons, 74 percent of gynaecologists and obstetricians, 84.6 percent of physicians and 81 percent of pediatricians.

There is massive scope to improve public health and provide employment. But the emphasis is now on privatisation which means ‘out of pocket’ expenses of patients and their relatives will keep rising. Every Indian spends about Rs 65 out of every Rs. 100 per person per year on medical services.

5/ Employment in Education: Manpower shortfall in primary schools is18% and 15 % at the secondary level. Six posts out of 10 are vacant. India needs 10,00,000 teachers at primary and secondary level. This requires urgent action as 55% to 59% children attend government schools.  (indiaspend )

6/ Employment in Judiciary: There are 6000 vacancies in lower judiciary as on December 2017 and 2.60 crore pending cases.

Workers & contractual employment: Labour laws (including those that affect children) are being changed for the benefit of industrialists. Workers in the unorganised sector do not get minimum wages. Up to 30% of their wages are stolen by contractors.  This is the biggest source of black money and the central meaning of corruption for the working class. As a first step, the contract system should be abolished or strictly controlled in the government sector. There should be a uniform formula of minimum wage for all. The Seventh Central Pay Commission used the 15th tripartite Indian Labour Conference formula and fixed minimum wages at Rs 18,000. No worker should get less than this.

Social security: Poor, destitute, old and infirm, unorganised sector and informal sector workers should get pension and other social security benefits such as free health cards. The amount of pension should not be less then Rs. 4,500 per person per month with price-rise neutralization. 

These should become the public demand and political agenda. With the help of experts we should prepare a people’s manifesto in the coming six months.

Directive principles The Directive Principles of State Policy, embodied in Part IV (art.36 to 51) of the Constitution, were meant as guidelines for the establishment of a just society. The Constitution requires the government to keep them in mind while framing laws, though they are non-justiciable. Directive Principles are classified under the following categories: Gandhian, social, economic, political, administrative, legal, environmental, protection of monuments, peace and security.

Article 37: “It shall be the duty of the State to apply these Directive Principles while formulating policies or making laws for the governance of the State.”

Article 38 : enjoins upon the government to… endeavour to formulate such social system which will secure social, economic and political justice to all in all the spheres of life. 

What is the social reality today?  Economic policies favour the rich. This has led to gross inequality but cannot be challenged in court. The very idea of writing a constitution is to ensure justice to all and  treat all as equal. All actions by the state have to abide by this principle, but iniquitous economic policies are still treated as legitimate. It is noteworthy that the term Gandhian is marked as separate from social, economic, political, administrative, legal, and environmental - as if Gandhi’s ideals embodied something other than these categories. The non-justiciability of Directive principles needs to be debated.

Agriculture:  Despite the post-47 growth of industry, the basic character of the Indian economy has not changed.  It is necessary to recognise that India is primarily an agrarian economy. Yet, there is no national agriculture policy. Problems with farmers’ debt or their MSPs are aggravating by the day as the government treats agriculture as a burden though it provides 65% of the employment.

Agriculture has undergone a sea-change. Slogans like ‘land to the tiller’ have lost meaning as big farmers use machines. They do not need farm-hands but technicians and tractor drivers who are not concerned with knowledge of farming. The commercialisation of agriculture is being undertaken by means beneficial to multinational corporations rather than the rural population. Contract farming is a new tool which will render the land owners subservient to the Contracting companies.

The industrial corridors being thrust upon the country will ruin fertile areas and deprive peasants and agricultural labourers of sustainable incomes. The government has proposed the so-called Sagarmala
- a port-led development project along the coastal line. This will pollute sea water near the shores which is a source of livelihood for fish workers who have a stake in protecting the environment to ensure a healthy environment for fish. Foreign fishing vessels mop up fish from near-shore waters spreading pollution from the shore to mid-sea. Sagarmala is the death knell of the coastline and a threat to the livelihood of lakhs of fishers. The project must be scrapped.

Industry: The functioning of large corporations has led to the unhealthy concentration of economic power. One example of this power is the vast size of bad loans owed to public sector banks - a case of ‘socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor’.

Natural resources: Rivers, lakes and ponds, forests and coast line, ocean-life, tribal lands should be treated as legal persons –as in New Zealand, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with Maori tribes and granted the status of a person  to an 821 sq Mile Te Uruvera national park which now enjoys legal rights against violation. In 2012 the NZ government granted the same rights to the Whanganui river - polluters are punished and forests reserved for use by Maoris. We should follow these examples so that unhindered exploitation of nature – minerals, wood, wild life - becomes a question of violation of right of nature. Tribal communities should be made custodians of nature. Ecuador's new constitution declared ‘nature’ a person in legal terms. Bolivia granted status to the rights of Mother Earth.

Violence against women: Female foeticide in the name of tradition; and discrimination in wages and harassment at the workplace and/or educational institutions are outstanding issues which relate to criminal justice as well as communal and caste-based violence. Violence against women ought to be taken as a case of ongoing and unnamed civil war against half the population. A mass civic campaign civil is required to pressurise social and official institutions for justice for women and girls - at the level of society as well as in the realm of the proper implementation of criminal law.


Trump could ‘blunder into re-election’ unless Democrats target working class disaffection
He warned that Democrats would continue to lose ground to Trumpism unless the party connected with working Americans not on culture war issues, but with a comprehensive economic program that spoke to their interests. He said this was what parties of the left around the world should be doing to contend with the political backlash in the wake of the global financial crisis. “All over the world left parties forgot why they existed and became parties of the professional class and the innovation economy,” Frank said. “They lost their reason for being, and they got whooped, and all around the world you have these quasi-fascist movements springing up, which is quite alarming”.

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