Liberalisation, deprivation and sectarian conflicts in South Asia
South Asia is on the brink of disaster in more ways than one. Gujarat genocide of minorities is only the most extreme manifestation to date of the nexus between liberalization policies and religious fundamentalism in South Asia. Apprehensions of war, and possible use of nuclear weapons could mean millions of dead and deprivation and suffering unimaginable-a suffering that is not easily comprehensible as dominant political leaderships and media churn out jingoistic propaganda in a relentless fashion. Even as more than a lakh and a half Muslims remain unattended by the government in relief camps all over Gujarat there are reports of a similar number of people having to evacuate from their homes and sources of livelihood on both sides of the border in India and Pakistan, and a billion armed soldiers stationed eyeball to eyeball even as water riots break out in districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and the economy goes haywire in Pakistan.
Privatization of national assets and cuts in subsidies on health and education and other welfare expenditure all over south Asia have eroded subsistence levels, which contribute in no small measure to the creation of fertile ground for sectarian propaganda and manufacture of storm troopers for sectarian killings. Right wing, fascistic politics is poised to overshadow legitimate struggles of the working people in this deliberately created atmosphere of hate, prejudice and jingoism which serves the purpose of creating divisions among the people in each country and works against solidarity of the peoples of South Asia against the renewed Imperialist onslaught on our countries. The arming of mercenary groups of jehadis in Pakistan, Hindutva brigades in India, and armed militancy in Srilanka despite peace agreements and the spurt of fundamentalist revival in Bangladesh is a direct consequence of the politics of the ruling classes in the region.
Bowing to American intervention rather than democratic pressure the two governments seem to have cooled their ardour for war somewhat, but jingoism as strategy for retaining and consolidating political power remains in force on both sides of the border, people in areas mined continue to be deprived of their lands for cultivation, increase in defence expenditure continues to be in force, speeches continue to be threatening and an atmosphere where anything may spark on any given occasion continues to be maintained by both governments in order to divert attention from internal dissatisfaction that economic policies are leading to.
Narendra Modi's government, held guilty by every independent report/inquiry into the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, remains ensconced in power, and Modi has not only been publicly felicitated by the BJP in its recent conclave in Goa, with full participation of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister of India, and Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, the Home Minister of India, the two venerable leaders have gone on to blame the victims for the happenings in Gujarat and for the state of social conflict and tensions of civil society in the entire country. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal have virtually turned Ayodhya into a camp of privately armed mercenaries of Hindutva. It is no exaggeration to say that the Sangh Parivar first used the Bush sponsored hysteria against the Muslims to both reinforce its ties with American Imperialism and to hitch its own anti Muslim private agenda to the so called war against terrorism; then it went on to successfully carry forward this private agenda in Gujarat; then it used Gujarat to create grounds for its anti Pakistan tirade, and war hysteria; and is now using the war to again 'teach the Muslims' a lesson. The identity between a jingoistic nationalism, Pakistan and a terror against the Muslims has become a part of its strategy of creating a spiraling fascist political temper that spells disaster for the country and for the region-a temper in which it becomes easy to suppress all democratic protests and secular expression. Anand Patwardhan's film against nuclear war and films documenting the Gujarat genocide are now being banned for 'promoting' communal and religious disharmony' in this scheme!
The intimidation of minorities continues, and it has become part of government policy to ensure that the effected Muslims are neither rehabilitated nor allowed to resume normal lives. If not mass killings then starve them to death seems to be the strategy for now.
General-President Musharraf in a bind
The support for Musharraf by the US government in the wake of September 11 not only emboldened the general in his actions against fundamentalist outfits but also the strengthened the military regime and its crackdown on demonstrations by political parties, civil liberties groups and women protesting against discriminatory laws. In early May, for example, Pakistani authorities arrested women gathering to oppose the Hudood
Ordinances, which end up punishing female victims of rape.
In addition, having got himself elected as 'civilian' leader through a self-sponsored referendum, the General- President is now also encountering the hazards of 'democracy' and meeting them in the now, for south Asia, common strategies of competitive populism, competitive demagogy and competitive jingoism. In response to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rallying cry of an all out war, Pakistan, in a show of strength, fired three missiles capable of launching a nuclear attack on India. And as western governments evacuate their citizens from India and Pakistan, both governments vie with each other in competitive subservience to and attention from the US rather than concern for the common interests of the region.
Twenty-five Years of Left Front Government in West Bengal
Amidst all that is happening in South Asia, there is one thing to cheer. The Left Front government in West Bengal, comprising nine parties led by the Communist party of India (Marxist), completes its continuous twenty-five years in west Bengal--a feat of no small significance. Beginning with a baseline in 1977, when West Bengal was characterized by poverty and violence that was unrivalled in India, its policies include such achievements as considerable reduction of poverty levels, land reform that has benefited the poorest sections of rural population, a primary school in every village, apart from the fact that it is the only state where one does not have communal riots or mobilizations in the name of religion, and a state from where no starvation deaths have been reported in last two decades.
In political terms it has meant an alliance that has acquired stability on the basis of a minimum programme for the people, and one which has survived not merely the corruption of electoral opportunism, but also the debacles all over the world in the wake of the collapse of Soviet Union and the setbacks to socialism ensuing this collapse. West Bengal, with a population much higher than most countries of Europe has consistently and continuously voted to power the Left Front government which poses a significant challenge to the policies of liberalization and religious fundamentalism unleashed by the BJP led and Sangh Parivar affiliated National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre in India.
In order to demarcate itself from the bourgeois political formations that have chosen to tail the BJP in its choice of APJ Abul Kalam as Presidential candidate, the Left Front has sponsored the candidature of Dr. Lakshmi Sehgal. Kalam, known as the 'missile man' of India for his role in the Pokharan nuclear blasts, has not made his views known on any of the major issues of the day-Gujarat, economic liberalization or the BJP government's education policy. Lakhsmi Sehgal, in contrast, is a legendary heroine of the freedom struggle, a consistent upholder of the rights of workers, peasants and women, fighter for the protection of minority and minority rights, a critic of the Pokharan tests and war hysteria. She is the first woman candidate for Presidentship and is a leader of AIDWA, the largest women's organisation in the country. The President's election represents an important political contest in the critical situation the country is today facing with no party enjoying a clear majority and the barrage of anti-people policies being pushed through by the BJP government.
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