On 14th September, 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the following package of policy changes that his Cabinet has cleared for immediate implementation:
- Foreign direct investment to be permitted up to 51% in multi-brand retail trade, opening the doors to global giants like Wal-Mart to establish themselves in partnership with Indian companies;
- Foreign direct investment up to 49% in the aviation sector, enabling foreign airlines to enter into partnership with Indian airline companies;
- Limit on foreign ownership in broadcasting (television and radio) to be raised to 76%; and
- Disinvestment to the tune of Rs. 14,000 crore (about US$ 3 billion) in four Public Sector Undertakings — Oil India, Hindustan Copper, Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation and National Aluminum Company.
On the previous day, the government had announced a Rs 5 per litre hike in diesel price and a cap of 6 cylinders annually per household of subsidized cooking gas.
Each and every one of these executive decisions constitutes an attack on our people. Each of these decisions is aimed at intensifying the loot and plunder of our people and our wealth by the biggest Indian and foreign monopolies.
The big bourgeoisie and all its economic pundits, the stock market speculators, fund managers and other parasitic sections are rejoicing about the so-called bold reforms announced by the Manmohan Singh government on 13th and 14th September. On the other side, the organisations and parties of the working class, peasants and vast majority of people are protesting against these unbearable attacks on their standard of living, security of livelihood and the survival of local small businesses and shops. What an exploiting minority considers bold reforms is regarded by the vast majority of people as unbearable attacks!
The diesel price hike, which will raise transportation cost and further fuel the inflation in prices of food and other essential commodities, is widely opposed by the vast majority of people. Organisations of truckers and farmers, as well as the majority of political parties, have expressed their opposition to this move. Cut in subsidised cooking gas, on which crores of working families depend, is being opposed by all.
Increasing the weight of global capitalist monopolies in strategic sectors such as wholesale and retail trade, civil aviation and broadcasting media is a thoroughly anti-national course. It is in complete disregard for the principle of self-reliance, essential in a world dominated by rapacious imperialist powers. It is a course that spells the destruction of any semblance of a national economy, with production in our country losing all connection with the consumption needs of the people who live here.
The employees of Air India have been waging a bitter struggle over the past several years to expose and halt the privatisation of Air India and of civil aviation in the country. Workers in many other sectors have also been opposing privatisation. Today the scope of resistance and opposition to privatisation and rapid penetration of foreign capital has widened to include associations of traders, peasants, other small producers and several regional political parties.
The Manmohan Singh government and its ideologues claim that “there is no alternative” to these reforms because if they are not implemented the international credit rating agencies will further downgrade India and foreign capital will not rush into our country. This is a hoax because, firstly, the Indian economy is not so dependent on foreign capital for its survival. The labour of our people produces a large annual surplus, and the international foreign currency reserves of our country is over US$300 billion (equivalent to Rs. 15 lakh crores), enough to cover 7 months of imports.
Experience around the world has shown that downgrading threats are regularly used as a tactic by the financial oligopolies of the world to create a justification for governments to launch vicious attacks on the livelihood and rights of people in the name of “austerity”.
There IS an alternative to the course being dictated by the biggest capitalists of India and the world monopolies. The alternative is to change the orientation of the economy, to make social production guarantee the fulfillment of the rising material and cultural needs of the entire population. This requires the people to take charge of the social surplus created by their combined labour, to make sure it is deployed to fulfill their needs and invest in the further development of their productive and creative human capabilities.
Various components of the alternative economic orientation and program have already been put forward by the growing united working class opposition. For instance, the demand has been raised for the creation of a modern universal Public Distribution System, as being the solution to the problem of soaring prices. This requires that wholesale internal and foreign trade in agricultural products be brought under social control, instead of being handed over for increasing domination by private monopoly corporations, Indian and foreign.
Decision making must vest with the people
The imposition of a whole set of extremely unpopular and dangerous policy changes within two days, without a vote in Parliament, let alone a referendum amongst the people, shows that the existing parliamentary democracy is in reality a system and process of Cabinet Rule. A handful of ministers sit and decide the fate of over a billion people!
The Constitution permits the Executive power, the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, to take any policy decision it pleases as long as it is not voted out through a no-confidence vote.
Parliamentary approval is required only if a law passed by parliament has to be amended. It is not required for policy changes, even as big as the changes being notified at this time, which will affect millions of working people.
The entire course of globalization through privatization and liberalization unleashed 21 years ago, the dismantling of the public distribution system since the nineties, the signing of the strategic alliance with the US, have been pushed through by executive decisions of the government of the day, without a vote in parliament.
In fact, there is no need under the Constitution to seek the view of the people or the parliament over the orientation of the economy, or of the direction of foreign policy.
The power to decide is not even held equally by the highest elected institution called Parliament. It is held exclusively by those controlling the majority in the Cabinet or Council of Ministers.
Submitting the resignation of Trinamul Congress Ministers from the Union Cabinet, the leader of the TMC parliamentary party raised two important points.
One, that their party representatives in the Cabinet were never consulted while making these executive decisions.
Secondly, he dared the government to take a vote in parliament on permitting 51% FDI in retail trade.
The fact is that there is no need for the Prime Minister to consult his Cabinet members from the allied parties before taking important decisions. The fact is that the government does not have any constitutional obligation to take a vote on FDI in retail or on any of the other executive decisions.
Both these facts reveal the thoroughly anti democratic nature of the present system.
The spokesmen of the Central Government are pretending to be very democratic by pointing out that every State government can decide whether or not to permit the new FDI policy in retail trade to operate in its territory. This is nothing but a clever trick to push forward this anti-national and anti-people program.
The course that is being demanded by the Indian and foreign multinationals in respect of agricultural trade is that the state wash its hands completely off this sector and allow the multinationals complete freedom to buy from anywhere and sell anywhere. They have been persistently demanding the dismantling of the public procurement system, as well as the Agricultural Prices Marketing Committees, so that there is no restriction on inter-state and foreign trade in agricultural commodities. As this course fully unfolds, all agricultural commodities all over the country will become a fertile field for speculators.
It is the Union Government that is responsible for ensuring that surpluses in one region are channeled to meet shortages in other regions, as happens in the case of wheat, rice, onions, etc. With the introduction of majority foreign private ownership in multi-brand retail, the Central Government is in effect washing its hands off any responsibility to see that people’s basic needs are fulfilled by the economy.
There is a powerful clash between the working class and people on the one side, and the big bourgeoisie on the other, over the orientation of the economy. Should the economy be oriented as it is today with the sole motive of ensuring maximum profits for the Indian and foreign monopolies, through maximum exploitation and plunder? Or should it be reoriented so that it fulfills the growing needs of the people?
Side by side with this, a powerful clash is developing over the very question of democracy.
People are increasingly demanding that those who decide the fate of our country must be accountable to us, the voters. People, are demanding a say in major decisions that affect our lives, our livelihood and our rights. Those in positions of power are refusing to let go of their monopoly over the decision-making process.
The struggle against the anti-people and anti-national policy measures of the Manmohan Singh government must be stepped up, with the perspective of replacing the existing system of Cabinet Rule with a modern democracy in which the Executive is accountable to the elected Legislature, which in turn is accountable to the Electorate. Only then will the people be able to set the orientation of the economy in tune with the general interests of society.