Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

UAW-Ford workers in US tell the boss “No!”

Potential springboard to international industrial workers’ solidarity

Ron Lare

The United Auto Workers (UAW) in the US has resoundingly voted down this year’s second set of proposed modifications to their union contract at Ford.

This is the first time that a national UAW auto contract has been rejected. The national No vote was clear from early in the voting, ending in a 70% No vote among production workers and 75% No among skilled trades, for an overall 72% No vote. (UAW Solidarity House has not released the overall vote count, something that took an internal union appeal to extract in the 2005 vote.)

In the process, the national union leadership lost political control of the most important Ford plant in the US if not the world, the Dearborn Truck Plant at UAW Local 600 (Ford Rouge and other plants). That plant makes the F-150 pickup truck. Members there voted No by 93%. In Local 600 Ford plants as a whole the vote was No 3087, Yes 823.

This fault line in the Ford Empire should be an inspiration to workers everywhere.

The auto industry has long been a symbol of imperial industrial power and not without reason. In the US, autos and trucks consume rivers of basic manufactured materials from steel and other metals to glass to synthetic rubber. They move most people and goods over a sprawling highway system (US capital’s choice over more economical and environmentally sound mass transportation). Consumption of trucks and autos drives the expansion and contraction of the US economy, second only to housing. The vehicles have long been an emblem and lever of US competitive might abroad. Globalism and neoliberalism put some of these factors in question, but are embraced by US auto companies aiming to maintain imperial-industrial power on the backs of workers everywhere including in the US. Ford has traditionally been number two in size and prospects between General Motors and Chrysler. This lineup has been shuffled lately. In 2007 Ford was considered in the biggest trouble and was the only one of the three that the union did not strike. Just two years later, after bankruptcy and partial government takeover of GM and Chrysler, Ford looks strongest. Yet unlike the others it was not washed of its huge debt recently incurred. Profits announced the day after the contract voting further raised Ford’s competitive profile. Lust for true dominance fed demands for more worker concessions. Ford workers have now said “No,” shocking the entire ruling class. But the latest Reuters reports indicate more concessions talks with Ford are proceeding, despite the UAW president’s statement that the union will wait until the 2011 contract for more negotiations.

The Ford concessions just voted down included severe limitations on the right to strike, a six year freeze on new-hire pay that had already been cut in half, and the elimination of more skilled trades. At half pay, auto workers will not be able to buy the cars they build.

The proposed concessions to Ford in the US and in Canada have provoked a new layer of militant rank and file activism, including notably women on the shop floor who are in touch across borders.

A leaflet signed by 18 opponents of the concessions at UAW Local 600 UAW included:

“ The strike threat defends our money, benefits, rights--and UAW political clout…Power in Washington starts with our power right here (for true national health insurance, converting closed plants to greener jobs and alternative transportation for auto and other workers, and defending the gains of civil rights movements, etc.).

International solidarity:  CAW-Ford members like Lindsay Hinshelwood at Oakville assembly also organize against concessions. We need an independent Council of union reps and workers across borders, not Ford lobbying the International Metalworkers Federation Ford Network. Ford wants to lead the race to the bottom internationally. “

The national contract rejection sprang from factors ranging from a sense that Ford had come back for concessions a time too many, to rebellion by lower-level union officers in touch with the rank and file, to a socialist presence in some key union locals.

It remains to be seen whether unity against company attacks and rejection of timid union leadership can be converted into a sustained rank and file organization for action including strikes, union democracy, and international solidarity. This could feed social movement unionism to unite the working class and reverse the decades-long decline of the union movement in the US.

Some sobering notes should be struck. The vote was somewhat dependent on officers who have supported all the concessions up to this point. Some of these reached the conclusion that they could not be re-elected if they supported the latest concessions at a company returning to profitability. Such contradictions will be prominent until union officers have to take a more consistent side in national and international movements.

There is more coverage of this struggle at

Despite efforts at international solidarity against union concessions to Ford—see for example the petition below—the Canadian version of these concessions has been adopted by vote of the Canadian Auto Workers union. Today international union solidarity is required for any comprehensive fight for jobs, pay, and working conditions. In that spirit we would like to be in contact with Ford employees in India.


Stop international concessions!


We are active and retired Ford workers. We oppose any union concessions or give-backs to Ford.  We urge our fellow union members, including our union representatives, in all unions, across all borders, to speak, write and vote against concessions.



Name and union position if any



e-mail address

Gary Walkowicz,

Dearborn Truck Bargaining Committee

UAW Local 600


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Lindsay Hinshelwood


CAW Local 707, Oakville



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Judy Wraight, former Tool & Die Exec. Board


UAW Local 600


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Ron Lare, former Guide


UAW Local 600


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Steve Dreyer

CAW Local 1520,

St. Thomas Assembly Plant



Larry Wells, former Sgt. at Arms


CAW Local 707, Oakville


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Eric Truss


UAW Local 600,



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Doug Kowalske, former Alt. Cmte,   former Alt. Health & Safety,  Parts Unit


UAW Local 600, Parts


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Labor donated, October 2009

Contribution to the debate

Michael Löwy


Daniel Tanuro’s report on climate change is one of the most important documents produced by our movement in recent years. It is an invaluable contribution to the political arming of revolutionary Marxists and to making them capable of facing up to the challenges of the 21st century.

The notes which follow are divided into two parts: 1) some criticisms and reservations on certain points, conceived as a kind of amendment to the document; 2) some remarks on ecosocialism, starting from questions that are suggested but not developed in the report (which could not, obviously, cover everything without becoming too long). So this is simply a contribution to the debate.

I. Critical comments

1. It seems to me that the formula “2100” or “the end of the century” must be replaced by “over the next few decades”. The most recent forecasts of scientists - not yet taken on board by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which, as the report indicates, always gets there late - envisage large-scale disasters over the next few decades if we continue with “business as usual”. That has obvious political consequences: who is going to worry about what will happen in 2100? Admittedly, certain philosophers – such as Hans Jonas – have raised the question of “our duties towards the generations not yet born”, but that does not interest many people. The question is very different when it concerns our own generation… That also applies to the formula “quasi-total abandonment of the use of fossil fuels, to be effected in less than a century”: to be replaced by “over the next few decades”.

2. Carbon capture: the report mentions the limited character of storage capacities, but it seems to consider it as an “acceptable transitional measure”. I think that it is necessary to be more reserved on this subject. The process is far from being developed, there are very few convincing examples, we do not yet have real security guarantees (the assurance that CO2 will not escape again into the atmosphere). Moreover, on the pretext of a future “clean coal”, we continue to use coal-fired power stations and to build new ones, which is, according to James Hansen, the recipe for a disaster in the near future. I think that we must associate ourselves with what Hansen proposes: while waiting for the technique of carbon capture to be really established - in ten years? - it is necessary to stop building coal-fired power stations and gradually abolish the existing ones.

3. The movement against climate change must demand that governments respect “the most careful conclusions of the IPCC”. This formula is too vague: what does “careful” mean? It is better to speak about the higher range of the proposals of the IPCC, i.e. 40 per cent between now and 2020 and 85 per cent between now and 2050. It is necessary to avoid the formula, which appears sometimes in the report, “reduction of between 25 and 40 per cent” between now and 2020. An appeal of ecological NGOs (Greenpeace, etc.) to Sarkozy speaks of a minimum of 40 per cent between now and 2020. We cannot demand less! Personally, I think that 40 per cent is too little and that it should be strongly suggested that it is a minimum, in reality very insufficient… The same thing applies to 2050: we should no longer write “reduction of between 50 and 85 per cent”, but immediately insist on the higher level: 85 per cent.

4. Marx’s error: according to the report, he “did not understand that the transition from wood to coal meant the abandonment of a renewable energy of flux in favour of an exhaustible energy of stock”. First of all, I have some reservations about the term “renewable” being applied to wood used as a source of energy: that could quickly lead to the destruction of the last forests! As for fossil energies: admittedly, they are “exhaustible”, but this argument seems tome to be out of date. There is still coal for 200 years and well before that, global warming will have caused a catastrophe without precedent. The error of Marx and especially of Engels (cf. Antiduhring) was to believe that the revolution must simply “suppress the relations of production which have become obstacles (or chains) preventing the free development of the productive forces created by capitalism”, as if these forces were neutral. It seems to me that we could take as a starting point the observations made by Marx about the Paris Commune: the workers cannot take possession of the capitalist state apparatus and put it at their service. They are forced “to smash it” and to replace it by a form of political power that is radically different, democratic and non-state. The same idea applies, mutatis-mutandis, to the productive apparatus, which far from being “neutral” carries in its structure the stamp of a development which favours the accumulation of capital and the unlimited expansion of the market, thus leading to ecological catastrophe.

5. According to the report, we will be able to really begin the enormous changes necessary “only after the victory of the socialist revolution on a world level”. It seems to me that, according to the logic of the permanent revolution, it is necessary to begin the changes that are necessary on the level of one or several countries, knowing that we will be able to complete the process only on the scale of the entire planet.

6. The draft says this about the rise in ocean levels: “the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of human beings threatened by the rise in the level of the oceans live in China (30 million), India (30 million), Bangladesh (15-20 million)…” etc. I do not question these figures, but I ask myself the following question: won’t the sea level also go up in the seaboard cities of the West, i.e. in Amsterdam, Venice, Antwerp, Copenhagen, New York, etc? This is a question which has a political dimension: it is fine to ask for solidarity from the inhabitants of the countries of the North with the suffering of Bangladesh, but we should show them that they are threatened with the same dangers.

II. On ecosocialism: a contribution to the debate

The ecosocialist project implies the establishment of democratic planning of the economy which takes into account the preservation of the environment and, in particular, prevents a catastrophic disruption of the climate. It is thanks to such planning that we will be able to make a revolution in the energy system, leading to the replacement of the current resources (especially fossil energy), which are responsible for climate change and the poisoning of the environment, by renewable energy resources: water, wind and sun.

The necessary prerequisite for this democratic and ecological planning is public control of the means of production: decision-making on matters of public interest concerning technological investment and change must be removed from the banks and the capitalist companies, if we want these decisions to serve the common good of society and the safeguarding of the environment. The whole of society will be free to democratically choose what kinds of production should be prioritised - according to social and ecological criteria - and the level of the resources which must be invested in alternative energies, in education, health and culture. The prices of the goods themselves would no longer be determined by the laws of supply and demand, but would as far as possible be fixed according to social, political and ecological criteria. This planning will have among its objectives the guarantee of full employment, thanks to the reduction of the working day. This condition is essential not only to fulfil the requirements of social justice, but also to make sure of the support of the working class, without which the process of structural ecological transformation of the productive forces cannot be carried out.

Far from being “despotic” as such, democratic planning is the exercise of the freedom of decision of the whole of society. This is a necessary exercise for society to free itself from the alienating and reifying “economic laws” and “iron cages” within capitalist and bureaucratic structures. Democratic planning, associated with the reduction of working time, would be a considerable progress of humanity towards what Marx called “the realm of freedom”: the increase in free time is in fact a condition for the participation of workers in democratic discussion and the running of the economy and society.

The kind of system of democratic planning that is envisaged by ecosocialists relates to the principal economic choices - in particular those concerning the dangers of global warming - and not the administration of local restaurants, grocery shops, bakeries, small stores and artisanal enterprises and services. In the same way, it is important to stress that planning is not in contradiction with the self-management of workers in their units of production. Whereas the decision to transform, for example, a car factory into a unit for the production of engines for wind farms would be taken by the whole of society, the organization and the internal functioning of the factory would be managed democratically by the workers themselves.

We have had lengthy discussions about the “centralized” or “decentralized” character of planning, but the important things remains the democratic control of the plan on all levels, local, regional, national, continental and, let us hope, planetary, since ecological themes such as global warming are issues that concern the whole world and can only be dealt with on this level. This proposal could be called “global democratic planning”. It has nothing to do with what is generally designated as “central planning”, because the economic and social decisions are not made by an unspecified “centre” but democratically decided by the populations concerned.

Ecosocialist planning must be based on democratic and pluralist debate, at every level of decision. Organized in the form of parties, platforms or any other kind of political movement, the delegates of the planning organizations would be elected and the various proposals would be presented to all those whom they concern. In other words, representative democracy must be enriched - and improved - by the direct democracy which makes it possible for people to directly choose - at the local, national and, finally, international level - between various proposals. The whole population would then discuss questions such as free public transport, a special tax paid by car owners to subsidize public transport, the subsidizing of solar energy, the reduction of working time to 30, 25 or even fewer hours a week, even if that involves a reduction of production. The democratic character of planning does not make it incompatible with the participation of experts whose role is not to decide, but to present their arguments - often different, even opposing - during the democratic process of decision-making.

A question arises: what guarantee do we have that people will make the right choices, those which protect the environment, even if the price to be paid is to change some of their consumption habits? Such a “guarantee” does not exist, only the reasonable prospect that the rationality of democratic decisions will triumph once the fetishism of consumer goods has been abolished. It is certain that people will make mistakes by making bad choices, but don’t the experts themselves make mistakes? It is impossible to conceive of the construction of a new society without the majority of people attaining a high level of socialist and ecological consciousness as a result of their struggles, their self-education and their social experience. Some ecologists consider that the only alternative to productivism is to stop growth as a whole, or to replace it by negative growth - called in France “decreasing”. To do this, it would be necessary to drastically reduce the excessive level of consumption of the population and to give up individual houses, central heating and washing machines, among other things, in order to lower the consumption of energy by half.

The “decreasers” have the merit of having put forward a radical critique of productivism and consumerism. But the concept of “decreasing” is related to a purely quantitative conception of “growth” and of the development the productive forces. It would be better to think about a qualitative transformation of development. That means two different but complementary approaches:

1. Not only the reduction but the suppression of entire economic sectors, in order to put a stop to the monstrous waste of resources which is caused by capitalism - a system based on the large-scale production of useless and/or harmful products. The arms industry is a good example, as are all these “products” manufactured in the capitalist system (with their programmed obsolescence) which have no other use than to create profits for the big companies. The question is not “excessive consumption” in the abstract, but rather the type of consumption which is dominant at present, and whose principal characteristics are: conspicuous consumption, massive waste, obsessive accumulation of goods and the compulsive acquisition of pseudo innovations imposed by “fashion”. A new society would direct production towards the satisfaction of genuine needs, starting with those that we could describe as “biblical” - water, food, clothing and housing - but including essential services: health, education, culture and transport. We could thus speak about “selective decreasing”.

2. In addition, it would be necessary to ensure the “selective growth” of certain branches of production or services that are neglected by capitalism: solar energy, organic farming (family or co-operative), public transport, etc. It is obvious that the countries where essential needs are far from being satisfied, i.e. the countries of the southern hemisphere, will have to “develop” much more - to build railways, hospitals, sewers and other infrastructures – than the industrialized countries, but that should be compatible with a system of production based on renewable energies and thus not harmful to the environment. These countries will need to produce large quantities of food for their populations, which are already affected by famine. But, as the peasant movements organized on the international level by the Via Campesina network have been arguing for years, this is an objective that it is much easier to attain via peasant organic farming organized through family units, co-operatives or collective farms, than by the destructive and antisocial methods of the agribusiness industry whose the principle is the intensive use of pesticides, chemical substances and genetically modified organisms. The odious present system of debt and imperialist exploitation of the resources of the South by the industrialized capitalist countries would give way to an upsurge in the technical and economic support of the North to the South.

There would be no need at all - as certain puritan and ascetic ecologists seem to believe - to reduce, in absolute terms, the standard of living of the European and North American populations. It would simply be necessary for these populations to get rid of useless products, those which do not satisfy any real need and whose obsessive consumption is supported by the capitalist system. While reducing their consumption, they would redefine the concept of standard of living to make way for a lifestyle which would actually be much richer.

How to distinguish genuine needs from artificial, false or simulated needs? The advertising industry - which exerts its influence on needs by mental manipulation – has penetrated every sphere of human life in modern capitalist societies. Everything is fashioned according to its rules, not only food and clothing, but also fields as varied as sport, culture, religion and politics. Advertising has invaded our streets, our letter-boxes, our television screens, our newspapers and our landscapes in an insidious, permanent and aggressive way. This sector contributes directly to conspicuous and compulsive spending habits. Moreover, it involves a phenomenal waste of oil, electricity, working time, paper and chemical substances, among other raw materials – all of this paid for by the consumers. It is a branch of “production” which is not only useless from the human point of view, but which is also in contradiction with real social needs. Whereas advertising is an essential dimension of a capitalist market economy, there would be no place for it in a society of transition towards socialism. It would be replaced by information on products and services, provided by consumers’ associations. The criterion for distinguishing a genuine need from an artificial need would be its permanence after the suppression of advertising. It is clear that for a certain time old spending patterns will persist, because nobody has the right to tell people what they need. The change in models of consumption is a historical process and an educational challenge.

Certain products, such as the individual car, raise more complex problems. Individual cars are a public nuisance. On a world scale, they kill or mutilate hundreds of thousands of people every year. They pollute the air of the big cities - with very harmful consequences for the health of children and the elderly - and they contribute considerably to climate change. However, the car satisfies real needs under the present conditions of capitalism. In a process of transition towards ecosocialism, public transport would be readily available and free – above ground and underground -, while there would be protected lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. Consequently, the individual car would play a much less important role than it does in bourgeois society, where it has become a fetish product promoted by insistent and aggressive advertising. In this transition towards a new society, it will be much easier to reduce in a Draconian fashion the transport of goods by road – which is responsible for tragic accidents and the too high level of pollution – and to replace it by transporting goods by rail or by transporting lorries by rail: only the absurd logic of capitalist “competitiveness” explains the development of road transport.

To these proposals, the pessimists will answer: yes, but individuals are motivated by infinite aspirations and desires which must be controlled, analyzed, driven back and even repressed if necessary. Democracy could then undergo certain restrictions. However, ecosocialism is founded on a reasonable assumption, already supported by Marx: the predominance of “being” over “having” in a society without social classes or capitalist alienation, i.e. the primacy of free time over the desire to have innumerable objects: personal fulfilment by means of real activities - cultural, sporting, playful, scientific, erotic, artistic and political. Commodity fetishism encourages compulsive buying through the ideology and the advertising that are proper to the capitalist system. Nothing proves that this is part of “eternal human nature”.

That does not mean, especially for the transitional period, that conflicts will be non-existent: between the needs of environmental protection and social needs, between the obligations concerning ecology and the need to develop basic infrastructures, in particular in the poor countries, between popular consumption habits and the lack of resources. A society without social classes is not a society without contradictions or conflicts. These are inevitable: it will be the role of democratic planning, in an ecosocialist perspective freed from the constraints of capital and profit, to resolve them thanks to open and pluralist discussions leading society itself to make the decisions. Such a democracy, common and participatory, is the only means, not to avoid making errors, but to correct them by the social community itself.

Michael Löwy, a philosopher and sociologist of Brazilian origin, is a member of the New Anti-capitalist Party in France and of the Fourth International. A Fellow of the IIRE in Amsterdam and former research director of the French National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), he has written many books, including The Marxism of Che Guevara, Marxism and Liberation Theology, Fatherland or Mother Earth? and The War of Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America. He is joint author (with Joel Kovel) of the International Ecosocialist Manifesto. He was also one of the organizers of the first International Ecosocialist Meeting, in Paris, in 2007.


1. Available on the site of International Viewpoint:

2. Here is what the document says: “According to the IPCC, the maintenance of the current trends as regards emissions would lead, between now and the year 2100, to a rise of the average surface temperature ranging between 1.1 and 6.4°C compared to 1990. The width of the range is explained by the double uncertainty which comes from the climatic models, on the one hand, and the scenarios of human development, on the other hand.”

3. “Given the urgency of the situation and for social reasons, the capture and sequestration of carbon could be acceptable as a transitional measure, in the framework of a strategy of a rapid abandonment of fossil fuels: it could, in particular, make it possible to plan the redeployment of miners. But it is not envisaged this way at the moment. It is, on the contrary, a new capitalist attempt to push back physical limits without caring about the consequences. Governments talk about “clean coal”, but it is a myth if we take into account the great difficulty of mining it, dust pollution, the consequences for health and the ecological impact of coal mines.”

4. “The goal of this movement is not to work out sophisticated platforms but to force governments to act at least in accordance with the most careful conclusions arising from the evaluation reports of the IPCC, to respect the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, social and democratic rights and the right of everyone to a human existence worthy of the name. We defend this goal against the currents which lower the objectives of reduction in emissions in the name of realism, but also against those who denounce them as insufficient (we try to bring the latter round by asking “as a minimum” for the respect of the “most careful” conclusions of the IPCC).”

Theories of Stalinism

— Paul Le Blanc

The Marxism of Leon Trotsky
By Kunal Chattopadhyay
Kolkata: Progress Publishers, 2006, 672 pages, including index, $25 paperback.

Western Marxism and the Soviet Union
By Marcel van der Linden
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009, 379 pages, including index,
$20 paperback.

KARL MARX AND his comrades deemed their own approach “scientific,” as compared to “utopian” intellectual efforts on behalf of socialism, because they believed that practical efforts to challenge and ultimately replace capitalism with something better must be grounded in a serious study of economic, political, social, historical realities and dynamics.

More, they believed that lessons learned from practical organizing and political experiences of the working class and popular social movements — sometimes glorious victories and often tragic defeats — must also guide practical efforts of the future. The combination of such study and experience has been called “Marxist theory.”

The massive crisis of capitalism has put the meaning of “socialism” back into public debate. Superficially equating state intervention in the economy with “socialism,” some are inclined to agree with Newsweek magazine that “we are all socialists now.”

Despite far-right hysteria, however, President Obama is no socialist. Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the last big decline in capitalism’s fortunes, he is insistent that bailing out capitalism is the purpose of his administration’s hands-on approach to the economy. But those who perceive that — from the standpoint of human rights, the dignity of labor, the preservation of our health and communities and environment — “capitalism fouls things up,” will certainly feel that we must go beyond the limitations of Obama’s policies.

One of the many differences between the present global capitalist downturn and that of the 1930s is that back then there were millions of people throughout the world who believed the 1917 Revolution that the Bolshevik/Communist vanguard led in Russia had actually opened the pathway to the socialist-communist future — despite the dictatorial emergency measures brought on by foreign invasion and civil war. Rule by democratic councils (soviets) of the workers and peasants seemed to have been established, and a global Communist movement took shape for the purpose of carrying out similar revolutions throughout the world.

After the revolution’s universally acknowledged leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, died in 1924, a sharp struggle erupted over future perspectives, between the intransigent revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the seemingly more patient and easy-going Joseph Stalin. Victory within the Russian Communist Party went to Stalin — who then guided the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) into what was called a “revolution from above,” involving the forced collectivization of land and a fiercely rapid industrialization. By the 1930s, the Stalin regime claimed that it had finally achieved “socialism,” a claim accepted with hope and rejoicing by many workers, peasants, students, intellectuals, and others throughout the world.

As time went on, increasing numbers of people came to the conclusion that what existed in the USSR had little to do with the socialism forecast by Marx — a “free association of the producers” in which the laboring masses had won the battle for democracy to create an abundant society of the free and the equal. Instead, it was a society which continued to be marked by a considerable degree of inequality, drudgery, scarcity, and extreme restrictions on freedom.

If this was not the socialism that the Stalinists said it was, then what was it? How could its emergence be explained? The answers to such questions have obvious implications for other questions: Is a socialist alternative to capitalism actually possible? What are the preconditions, the barriers, and the possibilities for such a transition?  Such questions as these have a greater edge than ever in the present period of capitalist crisis. Each in their own way, the books under review here have relevance for those facing this dilemma.

Trotsky’s Marxism

The life and thought of Leon Trotsky have guided many seeking to understand the grandeur of the Russian Revolution and the tragedy of its betrayal. Kunal Chattopadhyay’s The Marxism of Leon Trotsky is not the first book to deal with the topic indicated in the title. The more serious biographies — by Isaac Deutscher and Pierre Broué (the latter still calls out for English translation) — naturally deal at length with Trotsky’s revolutionary perspectives, as does Tony Cliff’s more activist-oriented four-volume study.

Important discussions of Trotsky’s political orientation have been offered by such activist scholars as Ernest Mandel, Michael Löwy, Duncan Hallas, and John Molyneux — the first two inclined to embrace Trotsky without reservation, the latter two (along with Cliff) taking issue with him particularly for not agreeing with them that the USSR was “state capitalist,” and also for founding the fragile revolutionary socialist network known as the Fourth International.

But until the present volume, the only study reaching for a thorough and in-depth exposition has been Baruch Knei-Paz’s 1978 work The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky. When all is said and done, however, Knei-Paz is unsympathetic, even dismissive of Trotsky’s revolutionary Marxism, despite his devoting 598 pages to it. Chattopadhyay’s book (30 pages longer) provides a more sympathetic, insightful, reliable account.

A Professor of History at Calcutta’s prestigious Jadavpur University, Chattopadhyay brings to this study a sensibility developed through his own family’s long-time involvement in the substantial Indian Communist movement. In his youth, he himself was swept up in Maoist currents before experience and reflection brought him into the Fourth International. Such background may contribute to his ability to see and explain the coherence in the complexity and sweep of Trotsky’s thought.

It is unfortunate that this splendid book is not easily available to U.S. readers. Its length and polemical edge raise questions as to whether a U.S. publisher will be inclined to rectify the situation. Yet the occasional reference to recent debates within the Fourth International, or between the Fourth International and other left-wing currents, cannot obscure the fact that we are presented here with a clear, rigorous, richly textured examination of an amazing political theorist and revolutionary leader. Those seriously concerned with Trotsky, Marxism, revolutionary history and activism must take this massive contribution into account.

The book's chapters are grouped into four parts. “The Foundations” makes a distinction between Classical Marxism (associated with Marx and Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky) and the more rigid, mechanistic, dogmatic “Orthodox” Marxism supposedly predominant in the mainstream of the socialist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part Two, “The Strategy of Revolution,” offers two chapters exploring the development of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution in Russia, and then his generalization of it on a global scale.

Part Three, “The Revolutionary Process,” consists of three chapters dealing with the interrelationship of the working class and the revolutionary party, the relation between democratic workers’ councils and working-class political rule (or “dictatorship of the proletariat”), and the transition to socialism. The three chapters of Part Four, “Proletarian Internationalism,” deal respectively with imperialism, the Communist International which Lenin and Trotsky helped to found and lead (and which Stalin helped to corrupt and dissolve), and the Fourth International.

Chattopadyay helps us see in Trotsky’s thought the dynamic interplay of democracy and class struggle, the self-activity of the masses of laboring and oppressed people reaching for their own liberation within, while at the same time straining beyond, the context of global capitalism.

The three elements of his theory of permanent revolution — (a) the possibility and necessity, under the right circumstances, of democratic and immediate struggles spilling over into the struggle for working-class political power, (b) culminating in a transitional period going in the direction of socialism, (c) which can be realized only through the advance of similar struggles around the world — permeate Trotsky’s orientation from his youth to his death.

His vision of workers’ democracy, and his appreciation of the radical sub-culture created by the embattled working class, comes through in his failed effort to mobilize a Communist-Socialist united front against Hitler in the early 1930s:

“In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy by utilizing it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds and bases of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sports clubs, the cooperatives, etc. The proletariat cannot attain power within the formal limits of bourgeois democracy but can do so only by taking the road to revolution … And these bulwarks of workers’ democracy [which Hitler’s Nazis were preparing to destroy] within the bourgeois state are absolutely essential for taking the revolutionary road.” (359)

The commitment to workers’ democracy also comes through in Trotsky’s effort to mobilize Communists in the Soviet Republic of the mid-1920s against the bureaucratic onslaught represented by Stalin:

“We must not build socialism by the bureaucratic road, we must not create a socialist society by administrative orders; only by way of the greatest initiative, individual activity, persistence and resilience of the opinion of the many-millioned masses, who sense and know that the matter is their own concern … socialist construction of possible only through the growth of genuine revolutionary democracy.” (398)

Chattopadhyay notes that in his 1936 classic analysis of the USSR, The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky rejected any “attempt to prettify the totalitarian regime.” Insisting “that statisation was not identical to the socialization of the means of production,” he “denied the claim that the USSR was in any sense a socialist society.” (537)

According to Chattopadhyay, “Stalinism (political counter-revolution within the workers’ state) and fascism (political counter-revolution in the bourgeois state) heralded a long black night. It was necessary to raise a new, ‘stainless banner,’ around which the revolutionary workers of a new generation could unite.” (515)

At the same time, running through Trotsky’s orientation is a thoroughgoing revolutionary internationalism which is rooted in a conception of “world economy and the class struggle as a totality subject to uneven and combined development,” as he put it, and an understanding that “today the entire globe — its dry land and water, its surface and interior — has become the arena of a worldwide economy; the dependence of each part on the other has become indissoluble.” (436)

The relevance of his perspectives for modern-day global justice movement seems striking:

“Imperialism represents the predatory capitalist expression of a progressive tendency in economic development — to construct a human economy on a world scale… Only socialism … which liberates the world economy … and thereby liberates national culture itself … offers a way out from the contradictions which have revealed themselves to us as a terrible threat to all of human culture.” (440)

And in sharp contrast to the ethnocentrism of many European socialists, he commented in 1919:

“We have up to now devoted too little attention to capitalism in Asia. However, the international situation is evidently shaping up in such a way that the [revolutionary] road to Paris and London lies via the towns of Afghanistan, the Punjab, and Bengal.” (447)

Critical Appreciation

While those inclined to take issue with key aspects of Trotsky’s thought will be dissatisfied with the author’s almost invariable defense, this is always accompanied by an informative and well-reasoned discussion that even the most severe critic would do well to consider. Nor is Chattopadhyay himself completely uncritical of Trotsky’s perspectives, and his contributions on this score are very much worth more attention and debate than will be possible here.

One of the sharpest criticisms seems to focus on what he views as Trotsky becoming, in a sense, too “Leninist.” While hardly rejecting Lenin’s fundamental orientation, Chattopadhyay approves of the young Trotsky’s conflict with what he portrays (wrongly, I think) as Lenin’s hyper-centralist deviations in What Is To Be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

He is also critical of Trotsky initially giving too much ground to Bolshevism when he joined Lenin’s party in 1917. (For an impressive challenge to the gist of Trotsky’s 1904 criticism of Lenin, and thus of Chattopadhyay’s characterization, see Lars Lih’s splendid Lenin Rediscovered [Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008].)

Chattopadhyay’s argument is intriguing. In Trotsky’s anti-Lenin polemic Our Political Tasks (1904), “Trotsky made a point to which we will find him returning all his life: ‘The problems of the new [revolutionary] regime are so intricate that they can be solved only through the rivalry of the various methods of economic and political reconstruction, by long ‘debates,’ by systematic struggle — not only between the socialist and capitalist worlds, but also between the various tendencies within socialism, tendencies that must inevitably develop as soon as the dictatorship of proletariat creates tens and hundreds of new unresolved problems” (220).

This clear recognition of the necessity of political pluralism as an integral part of creating socialism is not present in Lenin’s otherwise magnificent The State and Revolution (1917). The calamities of civil war, foreign intervention, economic blockade, and social chaos following the 1917 revolution caused Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolsheviks to establish a one-party dictatorship, curtail and ban various manifestations of political pluralism, and adopt other authoritarian measures on an “emergency” basis.

Some of Chattopadhyay’s sharpest criticisms of Trotsky center on this period of 1919-1922. In fact, the temporary expedients were never rescinded, contributing to the replacement of power of workers’ councils by the power of the state and party bureaucratic apparatus — and the crystallization of Stalinism. By 1923-24, Trotsky recognized the danger and began his leadership of the ill-fated Left Opposition.

In his final years, now living in exile before being murdered by a Stalinist agent in 1940, he had — Chattopadhyay shows us — explicitly reintegrated into his Bolshevik-Leninist orientation the pluralist insights of 1904, calling for a political revolution that would overthrow the bureaucratic dictatorship, and for a multi-party soviet democracy. Trotsky viewed this as a political revolution, which he believed could and must rescue the social and economic gains of the 1917 Revolution.

Making Sense of Stalin’s “Socialism”

The political revolution never happened, however. Trotsky himself spent more than 16 years seeking to make sense of Stalin’s “socialism,” a matter Chattopadhyay deals with capably, but not in great depth.* He never expected the bureaucratic dictatorship to last as long as it did.

In fact, several generations of Marxists labored to make sense of what the USSR represented and how it might be squared with Marxist perspectives. Marcel van der Linden, Research Director of Amsterdam’s prestigious International Institute of Social History, points out that “the ‘Russian Question’ was an absolutely central problem for Marxism in the twentieth century.”

In Western Marxism and the Soviet Union, van der Linden offers a survey of Marxist-influenced theorizations and debates. The discussion is not exhaustive but presents the thinking of over 100 people from 1917 to the dawn of the 21st century, whose works are listed here in 44 pages. The eyes and mind of even veteran Marxists may begin to blur after spending excessive stretches of time with this volume — but the author’s account is quite clear, coherent, fair-minded, and genuinely interesting.

The periodic crescendos of theory and debate (seven in all, van der Linden tells us, from 1917 to the end of the 1990s) have implications for the nature, but also the very possibility, of socialism. The nature of capitalism is also at issue, as are the capacities of the working class to improve its own situation and the world, and the adequacy of Marxism as a tool for understanding the world.

Marx’s materialist conception of history had posited a European historical development leading from a generalized primitive tribal communism, eventually giving way to the rise and fall of a succession of slave-based civilizations, then an extensive feudalism slowly evolving through the crystallization and expansion within it of a market economy, explosively giving way to a full-blown and dynamic capitalism, which would generate the possibility of immense productivity and abundance that would pave the way (after a working-class revolution) for a socialist future.

“It is necessary to reconsider the whole traditional structure of historical materialism,” according to dissident-Marxists György Bence and Janos Kis (under the pseudonym Marc Rakovskii) in Les Temps Modernes as they sought to comprehend Soviet-style societies. (247)

Indeed, how could such a society fit within the traditional Marxist schema? In 1980, Rumanian dissident Pavel Campeanu suggested a variety of contradictory elements that added up to “some kind of pre-capitalist socio-economic formation.” (284) Back in 1944 Czechoslovakian ex-Communist Josef Guttman, writing under the name Peter Meyer in the U.S. radical journal Politics, suggested what many others had concluded before him: “Perhaps there is neither capitalism nor socialism in Russia, but a third thing, something that is quite new in history.” (127)

As late as 1980, British economist Simon Mohun argued a point made by some other analysts, summarized by van der Linden in this way: “Just as the transition to capitalism could be understood only after capitalism was consolidated, the transition from capitalism to communism could only be fathomed once communism had become established.” (197-198) But others refused to assume that the USSR represented any such transition to socialism or communism.

In 1970s samizdat essays, Alexander Zimin, an old Bolshevik oppositionist who had somehow survived years in Stalin’s labor camps, suggested that the USSR represented “a mongrel and freakish social formation,” a stagnant evolutionary byway, a dead-end detour going away from both capitalism and socialism. (222) In the 1940s, German left-wing economist Fritz Sternberg had argued that the USSR was a hybrid form with progressive and reactionary tendencies (he increasingly saw the latter as predominant) and that one should resist labeling: “It is useless to attempt to cover with a name; it is misleading to mistake one side of the Russian development for the other.” (131)

This has not stopped many from seeking and applying one or another label. Van der Linden notes: “Numerous attempts were made to understand Soviet society, some with solid empirical foundations, but most lacking them; some consistent and carefully thought-out, others illogical and superficial.” (305)

The three “classical” theories predominating in critical-minded circles (each with some connection to the Trotskyist tradition) have been: (1) degenerated workers’ state, (2) bureaucratic collectivism, (3) state capitalism. Van der Linden argues that none of these matches up with what he calls “orthodox Marxism” — but we will see that some theorists have insisted that major aspects of Marxism itself have been thrown into question by the evolving realities.

Challenge to Marxist Theory

Among the early critics, some insisted that the existence of the authoritarianism and bureaucratic aspects of reality in the early Soviet Republic, and then the substantial concessions to market forces during the period of NEP (New Economic Policy, 1921-29), were far from the socialist goal. This meant, from the standpoint of the stages (primitive communal/slave civilization/feudalism/capitalism/socialism/communism) that have been associated with the Marxist schema, that what existed in Soviet Russia had to be some variety of capitalism, which the critics were inclined to dub “state capitalism.”

The Bolshevik leaders — Lenin and Trotsky most of all — never asserted that socialism had been established. Only Stalin and his followers would claim this, beginning in the 1930s. Lenin argued in 1921 that the 1917 working-class revolution had established a workers’ state (political rule by the workers’ councils, or soviets), but that under pressures of scarcity and war it was “a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations.” The transition to socialism could only be completed on the basis of further economic development, the deepening of workers’ experience and power, and the triumph of the revolution in other parts of the world.

Bolsheviks could also point to Marx’s comments that the future communist (or socialist) society must be seen “not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth-marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” (264)

Some socialists who had opposed the Bolshevik regime, such as the Menshevik Olga Domanevskaya, insisted that central dynamics of capitalism, such as economic competition and the insatiable quest for profit, were absent from the economy of Soviet Russia. Similarly, the famous Austrian Social-Democratic economist Rudolf Hilferding argued that “wages and prices still exist, but their function is no longer the same,” and that “while maintaining the form, a complete transformation of the function has occurred” in this emerging totalitarian order. (92)

This partly dovetails with the analysis of another Austrian Social-Democrat, Friedrich Adler, that (according to van der Linden’s summary) “Stalin’s ‘experiment’ should be judged as an attempt to realize, through the sacrifice of a whole generation of workers, the primitive accumulation process which in developed capitalism had occurred earlier, and in this way lay the foundation for a socialist Soviet Union.” (53) Hilferding, on the other hand, stressed that the bureaucratic-authoritarian state in Soviet Russia had fractured the classical Marxist dictum that the economic system determines the class nature of the state. Under Stalin it had converted itself into “an independent power” ruling over the Soviet people. (90)

Other challenges to traditional Marxist perspectives would crop up. For example, Simone Weil developed a 1933 analysis which argued that under modern capitalist production the growing division of labor and specialization increasingly resulted in the mass of individuals losing their ability to “see society in its totality,” which meant that they were “imprisoned in a social constellation” which prevented them from grasping the logic and history of social-economic reality. On the other hand, growing managerial and bureaucratic apparatuses were becoming essential for coordinating the “numerous fragmented activities.” If a revolution removed the capitalists, more likely than working-class rule would be the rising administrative forces becoming a new bureaucratic caste ruling over the economy, as in Stalin’s Russia. (74-75)

In fact, the division between intellectual and manual labor had been emphasized by many theorists, and had identified as a source of bureaucratization within the workers’ movement before World War I, and — by logical extension — in the first effort to create a workers’ state. This logic dovetailed with the perception of what actually manifested itself in the USSR, lucidly described in 1970 by U.S. Marxist economist and Monthly Review editor Paul Sweezy:

“The Party established a dictatorship which accomplished epic feats of industrialization and preparation for the inevitable onslaught of the imperialist powers [which took place during World War II], but the price was the proliferation of political and economic bureaucracies which repressed rather than represented the new Soviet working class; and gradually entrenched themselves in power as a new ruling class.” (209)

Some would come to perceive this inability to sustain workers’ power as involving a fatal shortcoming in the working class itself. As another left-wing economist, the Greek/French political theorist Cornelius Castoriadis put it in the late 1940s:

“Having overthrown the bourgeois government, having expropriated the capitalists (often against the wishes of the Bolsheviks), having occupied the factories, the workers thought that all that was necessary was to hand over management to the government, to the Bolshevik party, and to the trade union leaders. By doing so, the proletariat was abdicating its own essential role in the society it was striving to create.” (118)

Such perceptions contributed to some theorists — such as the 1970s East German Communist dissident Rudolf Bahro — concluding that since “the immediate needs of the subaltern strata and classes are always conservative, and never positively anticipate a new form of life,” the hope in bureaucratized “workers’ states” was with the more intellectual middle strata of specialists and administrators pushing aside the privileged bureaucratic elites in order to guide society to genuine socialism. (235-235)

For others, such as James Burnham — the most prominent Trotskyist intellectual in the United States before his rapid swing rightward to the Central Intelligence Agency and the editorial board of conservative journal National Review — a different conclusion became obvious: socialism is impossible.

Dismantling his previous Marxist convictions in the 1941 classic The Managerial Revolution, Burnham asserted that the inevitable wave of the future, already well under way and destined to be completed within half a century, was a global transition to variations of “managerial society” (already evident in the USSR, Nazi Germany, and the extensive social-liberalism of the New Deal in the United States). These different entities would enter into “direct competition in the days to come” for global empire. (83)

Varieties of Socialist Affirmation

While van der Linden feels “it is perfectly clear that the Soviet society can hardly be explained in orthodox Marxist terms at all,” his own sympathies bend toward those who refuse to abandon the Marxist method and the socialist goal. He gives greatest attention to those operating within the general revolutionary socialist framework personified by Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky himself followed the logic of Lenin (workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations) by terming the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state requiring a political revolution by the working class to replace the tyranny of the Stalinist bureaucracy with genuine workers’ rule. “Democracy,” he insisted, “is the one and only conceivable mechanism for preparing the socialist system of economy and realizing it in life.” He forecast in 1938:

“That which was “bureaucratic deformation” is at the present moment preparing to devour the workers’ state, without leaving any remains. . . . If the proletariat drives out the Soviet bureaucracy in time, then it will still find the nationalized means of production and the basic elements of the planned economy after its victory.” (66-67)

Some of Trotsky’s U.S. followers, led by Max Shachtman (and fleetingly Burnham), agreeing with Trotsky’s revolutionary-democratic thrust, concluded that by 1939 the bloated bureaucracy had indeed left “no remains” of the workers’ state. They held that a qualitatively new form of class society had crystallized — what they termed bureaucratic-collectivism. Its effective overthrow would require a much deeper break with the USSR than Trotsky was prepared to accept.

Van der Linden notes that for Trotsky “planned economy and bureaucratic dictatorship were fundamentally incompatible,” and that — as his French comrade Pierre Frank put it — “Stalinism was an accident, not a durable creation of history.” (67) He envisioned either the working class once again taking control of its own workers’ state, clearing away the bureaucratic deformations, and (within the context of working-class revolutions spreading to other lands) moving forward to socialism, or to continued bureaucratic decay ultimately resulting in a collapse that would pave the way for capitalist restoration — which is, of course, what took place 50 years after his death.

The weak point in Trotsky’s conceptualization was pinpointed by his one-time follower in Britain, Tony Cliff: “If the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class, then you cannot have a workers’ state without the workers having power to dictate what happens in society.” (119)

This was exactly the point made by Shachtman and other proponents of the bureaucratic-collectivist analysis — although the barely half-century survival of this purportedly “new stage of class society” does suggest the possibility that it was an optical illusion.

What Cliff and his co-thinkers came up with seems to avoid that problem. They asserted that the USSR under Stalin had evolved into a new variety of capitalism: state capitalism. The Cliff current has been one of the most influential proponents of the “state capitalism” analysis (though van der Linden also treats other proponents — the council communists, as well as C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya).

The “state capitalist” theorists have defended this conception from the types of criticisms noted earlier — for example, the absence of the dynamics of economic competition and of profit maximization as driving the capital accumulation process that defines capitalism — by claiming (as van der Linden summarizes Cliff’s thesis) “that the USSR should be defined as one big capital [or capitalist firm], which operated within the world market, and in so doing competed with the West, above all through the arms race.” (160)

One might question the analytical value of expanding the meaning of “capitalism” in this way. But, as was also the case with the bureaucratic collectivism concept, it served the function of drawing the sharpest line of demarcation between revolutionary socialism and the bogus “socialism” of Stalin and his successors. It also helped prevent, among its adherents, the demoralization and disorientation brought on by the collapse of Communism that afflicted so much of the Left in the 1990s.

On the other hand, van der Linden points out that Cliff and his supporters “had originally assumed that state capitalism represented a higher stage of development than Western capitalism” (258) and — ill-prepared for the crisis and impending collapse that became evident in the 1980s — were compelled to make dramatic if unacknowledged analytical shifts in their later theorizations. For that matter, even more “mainstream” Trotskyists — including such capable and brilliant figures as Ernest Mandel — were inclined to credit the USSR’s “nationalized, planned economy” with much greater efficiency than later proved justified.

It was maverick theorist Hillel Ticktin who in the 1970s broke important new ground by noting that bureaucratic “planning” — by denying democracy — was increasingly inefficient and wasteful, a point that Trotsky himself had made more than once. This allegedly planned economy was “really no more than a bargaining process at best, and a police process at worst.” Ticktin added that “the more intensive and more complex is the economy, the longer the chain of command, and the less intelligible is industry to the administrators, and so the greater the distortions and their proportionate importance.” (242, 243)

Ticktin’s view was that this represented neither a variety of capitalism nor a phase transitional to socialism nor a durable new form of society. Its insights, in fact, influenced competing views, as van der Linden observes:

“Increasingly dominant in all currents of thought became the idea that the Soviet Union embodied a model of economic growth which, although it had initially been successful using extensive methods of industrialization and extra economic coercion, could not maintain its economic and military position in the competition with globalizing world capitalism, because of growing inefficiencies and the absence of a transition to intensive growth.” (303)

Open Questions

In his conclusions to this rich volume, van der Linden emphasizes that while he does “not mean to imply that the old theories are of no use whatever in further theoretical developments,” his conviction is that a fully adequate analysis of the USSR has yet to be developed. (318)

It may be that if we are able to build mass movements and struggles — in various parts of the world, as the 21st century unfolds — that add to our experience of bringing about transitions from capitalism to socialism, a more fully adequate analysis will come more within our grasp.

Marxist theory and history have often been dismissed with shrugs and giggles and eye-rolling, even on the Left, with a few superficial comments being deemed sufficient to sweep away such “ideological cobwebs.” For those embracing that approach, the two volumes reviewed will seem explorations in irrelevancy. For serious activists, however, these books offer not only historical knowledge but insights on our struggle for a survivable future.

ATC 143, November-December 2009

Report on V. Geetha's Talk on the Sri Lankan Situation

V. Geetha, well known Tamil feminist, activist in the Dalit rights movement and author of several books, was in Calcutta as a visiting faculty at the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University. At the invitation of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha, she delivered a talk on the Sri Lankan Situation and Women on 27th October, 2009.

About 21 people were present at the talk, including members of the NNPM, other women’s rights activists, students of Jadavpur University, activists from various left wing organisations and people involved in alternative media.

The programme began with a song, led by Ruchira Goswami. This was followed by a self-introduction session.

Geetha in her speech began with a very short presentation of the history of Tamils as a minority in Sri Lanka, and how the nation-building project by the Sri Lankan elite had systematically sought to exclude the Tamils, beginning with the disenfranchisement of the large numbers of so-called Indian Tamils. She noted how the rise of the LTTE took place, and identified the Indian Peace Keeping Force and its brutalities, including rape and sexual assault of women, as a crucial turning point. The failure of peaceful nationalist oppositions as well as the ideological collapse of the multi-national (Sinhala and Tamil) Left, like the LSSP, resulted in the LTTE emerging as an attractive option. That it degenerated subsequently does not take away the reality of its role at a certain juncture of history.

She explained how the LTTE had lost its ideology a long time back, and had become a militaristic organisation, semi-fascist in its structure and function, and argued that what nevertheless propelled many people towards it was the violence and utter hostility of the Sri Lankan elite. Her talk also examined the role of women inside the LTTE structures, and the issue of how far they had autonomy.

Another complexity of Sri Lankan society that Geetha mentioned was the identity and role of Muslims. They were also Tamil speaking, but had an uneasy relationship with a purely Tamil identity. The LTTE at one stage compelled Muslims to leave Jaffna with an 8-hour notice, and this certainly embittered many of them. In the Eastern province, where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalas live close to each other, the Muslims are aware of being a minority within the minority, and tend to negotiate with both the Tamil and the State leadership.

Another dimension of her talk was the dispersal of Tamils over the years. 45 % of the Tamils now live in Diasporas, with major concentrations in France and Canada, especially Toronto. LTTE penetration of the Diasporas had been crucial for its fund raising and arms collecting. But she also argued that the Diaspora contained many voices, and even the supporters of the LTTE were not homogenous. For many the LTTE provided a link with home, while others supported it out of guilt, as they had left home, while others, yet, accepted it out of fear.

In the period after the defeat and destruction of the LTTE, Geetha argued, the Sri Lankan regime has not taken any steps towards reconciliation. Instead, a Zionist-type solution of permanent camps cannot be ruled out. There are currently about 430,000 people in the camps – 190,000 held over the last 15 years and 240000 held in 2009. Families have been torn apart. Camp life is terribly wretched. And along with a consciously stoked up inter-ethnic hostility, used by the Buddhist clergy and the ruling class to mobilize the Sinhala people, there is another dimension. Areas have been declared as high security zones, from which people have been evicted, in the name of combating the LTTE. But now, such areas are being turned over for making SEZs. The Government of India has been complicit in all this. Indian naval assurance that the LTTE would not be allowed to escape was crucial in the final offensive. And India’s own National Thermal Power Corporation wants its finger in the SEZ pie. Geetha suggested that this was not too far off from what is being done in a large number of places from Chhattisgarh to West Bengal.

In the camps, women face tremendous hardship. And unless they are removed soon, once the monsoon comes, their position will become worse. Given India’s engagement, she felt there should be a huge campaign to put pressure on the Government of India.

A spirited discussion followed her talk, and the meeting went on for nearly three hours. Questions were raised about how far a semi-fascist organization could talk of autonomy for women, what kind of reflection of the situation we find in literature, what role the rights groups and civil society organizations are playing in the current situation, and whether one can equate state-violence with non-state violence? A substantial discussion took place over the polarities created on one hand by pro-LTTE activists and on the other hand by forces like the Sri Lanka Democratic Forum, with the former talking in terms of either traitors or martyrs, while the latter insisted that till the LTTE was destroyed there could be no talk of reacting strongly to state violence.

Indian Nationalism, Hindutva and the Bomb


Sukla Sen

The survival of humanity inhabiting the South Asian subcontinent critically depends on the demystification of the nuclear myths, that invest the Bomb with magical powers of immense proportions, and consequent denuclearisation of the region as an integral and crucial component of global disarmament.

"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One... I am become Death, The shatterer of Worlds."
The Bhagavad-Gita (quoted by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer after the first experimental overground explosion of an atomic bomb)

"I heard the earth thundering below our feet and rising ahead of us in terror. It was a beautiful sight. It was a triumph of Indian science and technology."
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam describes the Pokhran II nuclear explosions, The Times of India, June 28, 1998.

The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bombs even as violence cannot be by counter-violence. Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love.
M K Gandhi quoted in ‘Atom Bomb and Ahimsa’


Gandhian Legacy and Its Decline

The frail, slightly stooping and ageing figure of Gandhi leaning on a long uneven stick firmly held in his emaciated hand, clad only in bare loincloth with an old round watch hanging alongside his waist - marching down the dusty Indian roads with transparent grit and determination to demonstratively defy the diktats of the all-powerful imperialist rulers is perhaps one of the most abiding pictures that almost reflexively rises to mind’s surface whenever one thinks of India’s epic struggle against colonial bondage.

True, the new rulers of independent India did little to show any real respect for the Gandhian values and principles, most of all “truth and non-violence”. Even at the very dawn of independence, which was ushered in amidst almost unimaginable sectarian violence and gory bloodshed leading to the vivisection of the country, he stood a tragic and forlorn figure.

And yet it is the image of Gandhi as the indomitable marcher, or working patiently at his spinning wheel, symbolising peace and non-violence, and quiet yet determined opposition to oppression and injustice - that the Indian state took great pains to associate itself with.

Over the decades, however, even this purely formal obeisance got diluted almost to the point of nullity.

The Big Bang and Rupture

But it is perhaps only in the fitness of things that the real break came when the BJP, the mass political/parliamentary wing of the hydra-headed RSS, came to power at the Centre - albeit aided by two dozen sundry political formations, in March 1998. In less than two months’ time the new government deliberately and publicly launched India’s nuclear weaponisation programme through a series of five nuclear explosions. This not only completely overturned India’s official position on the nuclear issue -acknowledging nuclear weapons as an unmitigated evil, being maintained - even if rather tenuously, till then; it also evidently signified a clear and categorical rupture with the Gandhian legacy - anti-colonial nationalism imbibed with the spirit of universalism, or whatever of it had remained.

11th May 1998 was the day the Government of India, constituted of a motley crowd of about two dozen political parties led by the “Hindu” nationalist BJP, carried out, as per its official declaration, three nuclear explosions as a deliberate act of military exhibitionism in the western desert of Rajasthan at a place called Pokhran. Two days after followed another two in the midst of world-wide shock and condemnation.

Just after a fortnight the neighbouring Pakistan, which became the prime target of vulgar taunts and boastful threats of the BJP/NDA leaders occupying senior government posts, retaliated with a series of six explosions.

Since then the South Asian region has virtually turned into a live volcano just waiting to erupt and decimate the lives and dreams of more than one billion human beings along with their habitat.

Indian Nationalism vis-a-vis “Hindu” Nationalism

The very magnitude of the success of BJP’s masterstroke, which appeared quite stunning at that point of time - with rapturous crowds bursting crackers and distributing sweets on the city streets appropriately captured on the TV-screens and banner headlines of the mainstream and venerable newspapers on the morning after screaming full-throated support to India’s “Explosion of Self-Esteem”, regardless of Buddha - whose birthday coincided with the first instalment of explosions, and Gandhi, pointed to a rather complex and problematic relationship between Indian nationalism - or its changing profile, and the politics of Hindutva - which, not too long ago, appeared to belong only to the lunatic fringe.

This relationship we will try to explore, albeit in very brief within the scope of the present monograph, at two distinct, even if interconnected, levels. One, in terms of the (compositional and) attitudinal change of the Indian elite. Then we will also try to map the policy shifts of the principal, or ‘natural’, party of Indian nationalism - the Indian National Congress. Both having profound impact on the appeal of Hindutva, and the fortunes of the RSS/BJP. And consequently the destiny of India.

The politics of ‘Hindutva’ - a term first coined and popularised by V D Savarkar in 1923, and later identified with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - an organisation launched in 1925 on the Vijayaa Dashami Day by one Keshav Baliram Hedgewar to champion its cause, has a rather fascinating history. But before trying to plot the trajectory of Hindutva, it is imperative to keep in mind that the project of ’Hindutva’ is, in its essence, one of building up mass mobilisation, geared to the task of forging a new “Hindu” nation-state - out of the extant one through its appropriation and negation, around a core ’majority’, propelled by whipped up feelings of ’insecurity, paranoia, hatred and aggression’ against an array of ’adversarial and menacing others’, both internal and external, by making extensive and manipulative use of real and imaginary, past and contemporary ’history’ of fissures and conflicts. While religion is put to extensive and intensive instrumentalist use in this task of militant, exclusionist, majoritarian mobilisation, elements of (ultra)nationalism are also put to good use by borrowing and (mis)appropriating the idioms and icons of (widely accepted) mainstream (secular) nationalism, particularly (though not exclusively) of its rightwing variety.

Mainstream Indian nationalism, on the other, came into being through the process and as the culmination of India’s long drawn out struggle for emancipation from the British colonial rule. At its core lies the widely cherished dream of a democratic, pluralist and egalitarian India - at peace with itself and the world without. Consequently the ’idea of India’ that emerged and evolved over the last 150 years or so during the course of this epic struggle (and also in its aftermath) essentially recognises the legitimacy of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural character of the Indian society and consequently pluralist, secular, integrative democracy as the only viable basis for the independent Indian state. It bears reiteration that Hindutva calls for nothing short of deliberate negation of this ideological basis and undermining of the post-independence Indian state, along with its rather elaborate legal-constitutional and institutional framework, while masquerading itself as the greatest defender of the Indian nation state.

Before proceeding further with our investigation an important caveat needs be entered here for any meaningful journey down the line. Indian nationalism from its very inception assumed an ‘omnibus’ character. This deliberate ‘all-inclusiveness’ constituted its key characteristic and made it eminently suitable as the foundational ideology for the ‘India in the making’, given the size and vast diversities amongst the peoples of the subcontinent - in terms of culture, language, ethnicity, social-economic station and, of course, religious belief/practice. As a result we could find the call for ‘Ram Rajya’ and activist support for the Khilafat movement to go hand in hand. This tendency to (uncritically) accept all and reject nothing, overlook otherwise evident differences and contradictions, in so far as they meet the basic criteria of anti-colonialism, however, made it highly incapable of clearly demarcating itself from and consequently taking head on various aberrant tendencies within the broad spectrum. Moreover, the demography and history of the subcontinent saw to it that Indian nationalism, and its principal agency - the Indian National Congress, assumed a distinct (upper caste) Hindu flavour notwithstanding its pluralist and egalitarian commitments, particularly of its most visible symbols - Gandhi, Bose, Nehru, and also Tagore. The quest for and invention of a “golden past” as a critical element and the psychological ballast in the struggle against the commonly perceived civilisational superiority of the colonial rulers further blurred the dividing line between ‘secular’ liberal nationalism and “Hindu” communalism.

It is against this backdrop that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS - National Volunteers’ Federation) opened its shop in 1925, apparently borrowing the basic organisational model from the Anushilan Samity - a militant nationalist organisation in Bengal, to propagate its distinctive brand of “nationalism” under the cover of “character building”. It placed itself outside of the arena of “political” activities, unlike its ideological ancestor the Hindu Mahasabha (Hindus’ Grand Assembly). This made it easier to avoid any direct confrontation with the Congress, the principal vehicle of Indian nationalism, and also adverse attention of the colonial rulers. The strategy was essentially two-pronged : to critique and discredit the mainstream nationalism (in the eyes of its actual and prospective adherents); and (rather surreptitiously) supplant its broad pluralist vision with its own hate-filled sectarian one. In other words : delegitmise/subvert Indian nationalism; and (mis)appropriate it. It is quite significant that this basic duality till this day continues unabated. Praise Gandhi to the sky - claim him as one of your own; celebrate the memory of Nathuram Godse - his unrepentant killer. Demand forced respect for the national flag; spread disaffection against it for containing colours other than saffron. Ditto for the national anthem and the Indian constitution. Even as regards the nuclear explosions : project it as a bold departure from the pusillanimity of the nationalist/Congress traditions; claim it as the continuation and culmination of the earlier policy backed by broad national consensus.

While it definitely goes to the credit of the RSS that it could follow this strategy of duality with high degree of persistence and fiendish finesse, it could hardly have been possible without the intrinsic fuzziness of Indian nationalism, more noticeable on its fringes.

Transmutation of Indian Elite

Break with the Past

The imposition of the British rule, in the mid-eighteenth century, through the agency of the East India Company over vast stretches of the Indian sub-continent as the culmination of a series of persuasive and aggressive overtures to secure exclusive and unfettered trading rights for about two centuries and a half by the colonisers from the West across the seas - which would be, about a century later, converted into the direct rule of the British Crown, created more than a ripple in the life of the landmass called India. While the object was unmistakably to reap huge commercial benefits by buying cheap, mainly raw materials, and selling finished products from its mechanised factories at large margins, once the formal rule was established over the native population it had to be legitimised also in terms of a supposedly civilising mission. This was considered necessary to make the alien rule established on the strength of guns and cannons, aided by diplomatic manœuvres, a less disagreeable, if not outright welcome, development in the eyes of the colonised and thereby minimise the cost of maintaining such rule in a faraway land. But this also served an useful purpose in selling the blood-soaked venture to the domestic constituencies - another necessity, given the political structure at home.

While Marx had noted, with good justification, the revolutionary potentials of introduction of the railways on the Indian soil, it is the introduction of Western education, through the medium of English, with the express purpose of creating layers of subordinate state officials with unquestionable loyalty to the Crown from amongst the ranks of the natives to carry out the colonial rule which, at least on the face of it, turned out to be the most proximate factor in causing a ferment.

The Indian society, given its sub-continental dimensions and extremely wide diversities in terms of class, caste, language ethnicity, religion etc responded to this fundamentally novel experience in a highly complex and variegated manner.

A middle class, a new social category, arose - mainly in the newly emerging metropolises of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. And it is from the ranks of this English educated middle class, coming mainly from the various layers of upper caste Hindu gentry and purported to serve as the loyal agents of the colonial rulers, arose the future vanguards of the anti-colonial independence movement.

The “Sepoy Mutiny” of 1857 was the last attempt of the “traditional” India under the nominal and symbolic, even if rather reluctant, leadership of the then Mughal Emperor of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to overthrow the ever-expanding alien rule and restore the “old” order. The incipient “middle class’, the offspring of the”new order" stood aside.

Genesis and Growth

The introduction of the English education with the express and explicit goal, as enunciated by Lord Macaulay as far back as1835, of creating “a class [from amongst the native Indians] who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” produced a profoundly contradictory set of results beyond the wildest dreams, or nightmares, of its initiators. While on the face of it, it did achieve its intended goals with a stunning degree of success, it also caused a new ferment in the intellectual life of the subcontinent. With English education came the ideals of liberalism, rooted in the legacy of the Renaissance, and the traditions of the French Revolution succeeded by the Italian and Irish liberation movements. The rising middle class could not be kept hermetically sealed off from the stirring influence of the Bolshevik Revolution either.

But to be sure the social spread of the English educated middle class, engaged in various layers of government jobs, also in slowly proliferating private mercantile and industrial enterprises, and in professions in the fields of law, education, media and modern medicine, remained fairly confined to the upper strata of the traditional Indian society. Then again, the Muslim aristocracy, perhaps as a consequence of the crushed Mutiny, remained by and large outside of this new ferment.

Indian Freedom Movement had its roots in the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 - composed exclusively of prominent and illustrious members from the uppermost strata of the English educated class. The distinction from the leadership of the failed Mutiny, about three decades back, could have not been any starker. But the Movement came into its own only with the advent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a barrister who had studied law in London, on the Indian shores in 1915 back from his stay at South Africa for just over two decades. Under the leadership of Gandhi, who took over in about five years, the Congress not only adopted more radical stance, it also, for the first time, assumed mass character. Nevertheless the leadership remained firmly in the hands of the middle class - a class while mindful of its own specific interests and consequently by and large jettisoned any revolutionary forms of movement seeking radical rupture with the past and adopted an entirely novel and gradualist strategy based on non-violent non-cooperation with the colonial rulers, was also at the same time fairly awake and sensitive to the needs of the subaltern masses. Numerous members of the class, within and outside the Congress, showed highest forms of self-less idealism and inspired the masses. The protection of self-interests was consciously attempted to be organically integrated with the concerns of the common people. As a result, the middle class leadership of the Freedom Movement earned a very high degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the entire ‘nation in the making’.

The middle class also, even if rather tentatively, worked out a new value system by synthesising elements of Western liberalism and Protestant work ethics e.g. rationalism, punctuality, objectivity, integrity with austerity and abstinence from the Brahminical traditions. However, it is the electrifying ambience of death-defying and self-sacrificing anti-colonial anti-imperialist independence struggle that had the most decisive impact on the moral world of the Indian middle class.


With Independence attained things changed, and changed rather radically - in more ways than one. With Independence the morally uplifting influence of the epic struggle started fading out. And the Nehruvian vision of nation building and his call for “tryst with destiny” failed to adequately fill the vacuum in spite of some initial success under rather trying conditions of abject economic backwardness in a highly diverse society riven by the extremely traumatic experience of the Partition. It did not take too long to start loosing its moral halo. Things had in fact started changing even before Independence, when Congress ministries took reins of power in their hands in the provinces under British rule. In time Khadi Kurta and Gandhi cap came to be recognised as the trademark for corruption and depravity rather than symbol of self-less patriotism as had been the case earlier.

With the launching of the massive industrialisation drive propelled by direct interventions of the ‘welfarist’ state rapidly proliferated the salaried middle class which included patronage dispensing state functionaries. The implementation of the land reforms, even if formulated and implemented in a rather scrappy fashion, together with other measures to promote food and agricultural productions caused the rise of a new strata of rich and middle peasants, mainly from amongst the ranks of the middle castes - the bulk of which have since come to be labelled as ‘Other backward Castes’ (OBC). The massive expansion of economic activities together with land reforms and job reservations in government/public sectors under a parliamentary democratic regime based on adult franchise thus triggered off irreversible changes in the social composition of the burgeoning middle class. The value system, earlier evolved, somewhat tentatively, by a class engaged in an intense anti-establishment struggle infused with egalitarian ideals, based on the synthesis of Western liberalism and elements of Brahminical traditions could not sustain the resultant strains. The new middle class, much larger in proportion than it had hitherto been, arose virtually as a junior partner of their much less numerous but decidedly more weighty cousins - the vastly expanded and expanding class of commercial, industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie, a community of self-seeking “rational fools” bereft of broader social commitments - driven by unenlightened, narrow and consumerist self-interests - for whom “greed is great”. It, however, took some time to decipher this new and momentous development.

Even the international scenario took a turn towards deradicalisation, ironically with the successful conclusion of the struggle for Vietnamese liberation in the early seventies as the befitting climax of a long drawn out process of decolonisation of the Third World - interspersed with Chinese liberation, Korean War, Cuban revolution and so and so forth. After a big spurt of radicalism in the sixties, both nationally and internationally, the manifestations of the ongoing profound changes and the consequent shift to the Right of the whole political spectrum across the board became unmistakably evident since the early/mid seventies. The trend picked up further momentum with the inauguration of the frankly neo-liberal new economic policies in the early nineties, with which the upcoming middle class developed a symbiotic relationship. The gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” widened. The phenomenon of the “secession of the successful” came into being. And yet even the subaltern classes could not escape the morally corrosive influence of this hedonistic “new” middle class.

Degeneration of Congress and Rise of Hindutva

In order to make sense of the complex web of developments since Independence, observers had to perforce resort to periodisation. In the following we also do likewise, albeit in our own way and with necessary approximations .

1947 - 1965 : Predominance, Stability and Transformation

During this period, since 15th August 1947 when (truncated) India attained freedom through a negotiated transfer of power to the Indian National Congress (INC) - as the sole recognised representative of the Indian people, the INC was spectacularly successful in consolidating its hold. While the legacy of the long drawn out and gigantic freedom struggle played a very crucial role, the Nehruvian vision of New India - incorporating the agendas of (a) ‘national integration’, (b) ‘economic development’, (c ) ‘social equality’ and (d) consolidation of multiparty parliamentary democracy - also played no mean part. India declared itself a Republic on the 26th January of 1950 and the Constitution as worked out by the Constituent Assembly came into operation. With the demise of Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, since the early fifties Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, became the unassailable leader, both at the government and party level.

In the first three general elections, in 1952, ’57 and ’62, the Congress polled 45.0, 47.8, and 44.7% votes and gained 76.0, 77.0 and 73.5% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. The degree of predominance of the Congress becomes even clearer if we consider that the sum of votes polled by the top 2 parties were 56, 58 and 55%. And the sum for the top three were 61, 67 and 63%. So as compared to the second largest party the vote share of the Congress was around 4.5 times, and in comparison to the third largest it was between 5.5 and 9 times. The predominance appeared so overwhelming that Indian democracy came to be dubbed by the Western scholars as ‘One Party System’ or ‘Congress System’.

From the party of struggle the Congress transformed itself into the party of governance - governance not through mass mobilisation with the help of the extensive network of party organisation that was built bit by bit during the years of struggle - particularly since 1920, but an elaborate state machinery - the basic structure of which was inherited from the repressive colonial state, networked with the party caucuses at various appropriate levels. The concept of “planned economy”, worked out much before the actual attainment of Independence was operationalised in the form of Five Year Plans commencing in 1951. The planning process, however, came into its own with the inauguration of the Second Five Year Plan in 1956 with its explicit and elaborate emphasis on massive and direct state investment in building infrastructure and heavy industries requiring huge investments with long gestation periods, and thereby beyond the reach of private capitals. This was to serve as the foundation for further industrialisation, apart from opening up large job opportunities and facilitating growth of private capital in the consumer goods sector. The entry of foreign capital and goods was strictly regulated to protect the indigenous capital. The Third Five Year Plan continued on the same note.

The one area in which the rupture with the past was most noticeable was the coercive method of dealing with popular discontent in general - be it Tebhaga or Telengana movement led by the communists or movements for linguistic states. But it was by far at its brutal worst in the case of Naga and Mizo movements for independence in the North-East.

By the end of this period, in October 1962, came the Sino-Indian border war in which the Indian Army was badly humiliated. For the first time since Independence Nehru’s authority was seriously challenged. The then Defence Minister, V K Krishna Menon, a protégé of Nehru without independent political base had to resign. The hitherto highly acclaimed foreign policy was ferociously assailed. Right wing politics, both within and outside Congress, received a big boost and the RSS gained new respectability. Nehru himself died broken-hearted in the summer of ’64. Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded as the Prime Minister.

1965 - 1977 : Turbulence, Instability and Repression

After ’62 the defence budget had been substantially augmented. Then came ’65. The war with Pakistan. It again took its toll on the economy. Relation with the West was seriously impaired. Flow of aids throttled. Crisis of foreign exchange erupted. A large devaluation of the Indian rupee was resorted to. Agricultural productions failed for two consecutive years : ‘65-‘66 and ‘66-’67. Economy suffered severe recession. The planning process collapsed. For three years, ‘66-’69, there was ‘Plan Holiday’.

However, in ‘67-’68 the agricultural production, and food production in particular, rose significantly on a sustained basis as a result of use of hybrid seeds, better irrigation, increased use of fertilisers and pesticides, and mechanisation of agriculture. The rich and middle peasants, mainly from the ‘middle castes’ became the main vehicle and beneficiaries of this technology driven “Green Revolution”. The increased economic clout, in due course, sought and found reflection in social and political spheres as well. Aspirations spurted. Tensions in rural society further aggravated.

Indira Gandhi was installed by the Congress High Command, known as the Syndicate at that time, as Shastri’s successor, who died in January ’66. At the state levels Congress started facing large scale desertions of the local satraps, mainly representing the upcoming rural bourgeoisie.

The year 1965 saw food riots in Kerala. In 1966 severe food shortage triggered off organised mass protests under the leadership of the Left in West Bengal on an unprecedented scale. India was beset with widespread mass discontent and political agitation.

The Congress received a serious jolt in the 1967 elections. Its vote share in the Lok Sabha elections came down by about 4% points. Its number of seats fell more dramatically. From about three fourth it was reduced just over half. But even more significantly it lost power in as many as nine states. Something undreamt of even a couple of years back. Political instability at the state levels became the rule rather than exception. On top of that militant student and agrarian movements emanating from West Bengal started spreading to various other parts of India. Two decades after Independence India all of a sudden appeared to start wobbling.

After initial years of fumbling Indira struck out on her own. By the end of 1969 she split the Congress in pursuance of a populist politico-economic agenda. In the process humbled the ageing Congress bosses, adopted confrontationist politics, rejected the concept of Nehruvian/Gandhian consensus of the earlier years, virtually destroyed the complex hierarchical organisation structure of the Congress and crippled the independent support base of almost every other leader in the organisation - whether at the Centre or at the states. The Congress was in due course renamed after her as Congress (Indira).

The Lok Sabha was prematurely dissolved. Early election was called. She notched up a stunning victory, with 43.7% of the votes and 68.1% of the seats, on the strength of her call of garibi hatao (expel poverty). And yet the Congress under her leadership fell short of its 1962 performance. By the end of 1971 Pakistan was mutilated. Bangladesh came into being in place of the erstwhile East Pakistan. Indira played a decisive role in the whole process. She was hailed as goddess Durga even by her opponents. Her popularity reached the peak. In 1974 India carried out its first underground nuclear explosion, dubbed as ‘implosion’ in those days - ostensibly for peaceful purposes. No one took the claim too seriously. The move was widely hailed within the country, by the Right in particular.

And yet the political instability and mass discontent could not be squashed. Particularly since 1974 the anti-government agitation under the leadership of Jaya Prakash Narayan became more and more virulent. In the night of 25th June 1975 Emergency was proclaimed. All democratic rights were suspended. A reign of brutal repression was let loose. Thousands were sent to jails. The media was completely gagged.

During the course of Emergency Sanjay Gandhi, the second and youngest son of Indira, holding no official post emerged as the second most powerful person in India - exercising power in the most arbitrary and profligate manner. Under his leadership a highly coercive population control drive was launched - treating human beings, and the poor in particular, as no better than cattle. In the name of beautification of cities extreme cruelties were perpetrated against the homeless poor. Both these campaigns had noticeably anti-Muslim edge. In 1977, with the political opposition completely crushed and the terrorised media singing hallelujah to her, Indira Gandhi called for parliamentary elections, presumably to legitimise her reign of terror. But the eventual outcome was beyond the wildest dreams of her opponents. The Congress was swept aside in a massive avalanche of mass disapproval. Indira herself had to bite dust. The Congress vote rather dramatically fell to 34.5% and seats to 28.5%.

1977 - 1998 : Years of Drift

From ’77 to March ’98, in twenty one years, there were seven elections and eleven governments at the Centre. Out of these, three served full term or nearly full term. And all these three were Congress governments, two with comfortable majority. But the last one was actually a minority government led by Narasimha Rao, which survived with the (tacit) support of the BJP. It was somewhat a mirror image of what Indira did between ’69 and ’71 - indicative of the underlying shift in the balance and equation of political forces. Of the short-lived ones, the first one was a Janata Party government, which assumed power in 1977 with a comfortable majority. The now-dissolved Jana Sangh constituted an important component of the Janata Party which was formed out of the merger of the Cong(O), BLD, Jana Sangh and CFD. Another one was a National Front Government led by V P Singh supported by the BJP and the Left. In the fall of both these governments the JS/BJP played a major role.

In ’96 an United Front government came to power with the backing of the Left, some of the regional parties and also rather reluctant support from the Congress. The Congress caused the fall of the government in less than two years after effecting a change of leader in between.

In March 1998 eventually the BJP occupied the coveted seat of power at the Centre heading a coalition of about two dozen parties.

Over this period the actual distance between the Congress and BJP, or rather Saffron politics, considerably narrowed, and the dividing line blurred. While Rajiv Gandhi’s role in reopening the doors of the Babri Mosque to allow worship by the Hindus have been widely noted, the (spine-chilling) significance of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, in which Congress polled 48.1% votes and 76.7% seats - an all-time record, with highest ever voter turn out, has not been adequately discussed and comprehended. This was an election which was almost literally fought over the dead bodies of hundreds of Sikhs - painted as anti-nationals and mercilessly slaughtered by the Congress goons led by some of its prominent leaders duly aided by the RSS. Consequently even during the elections the RSS support was mobilised behind the Congress to further reinforce the ambience of siege and fighting the election capitalising on the resultant paranoia. In a way, 1984 LS elections prefigured the Gujarat assembly election in 2002.

It is during this period, in 1996, the Congress vote share dipped below 30%. And that of the JS/BJP rose dramatically from around 10% ( 9.4 in ’67, 7.4 in ’71 and 11.5 in ’89) to over 20%.

In the two subsequent elections, in ’98 and ’99, Congress vote share further plummeted to 26-29% range. And the BJP improved its tally further - hovering around 25%. Then again, as the Congress remained a prisoner of its imperial hangover, the BJP managed to capture power by deftly indulging in coalition politics.

But before going over to this next and last period, i.e. ’98 March onwards, it is necessary to note that it is the period from ’77 to ’98 March which saw the most dramatic upsurge of the Saffron politics. And this did not simply mean the emergence of the BJP as the major player in the political arena. The Congress, which was and is still occupying the large middle ground in Indian politics, itself got more and more saffronised. This was both the cause and effect of the saffronisation of the civil society itself - which eventually led to the emergence of the BJP as the ruling power.

The steady switch over, endorsed by the successive Congress governments, from the time-honoured, even if somewhat cliched, slogan of “Unity in Diversity” to the strident exhortation “Join the National Mainstream” was only indicative of this profound subterranean shift. And this could have not but only gladdened the adherents of the Saffron camp as the legitimisation of their frank and unashamed, and till recently highly despised, drive for cultural homogenisation encapsulated in the call for “One Nation, One Culture, One People” or “Hindi, Hindu, Hindusthan”. Similarly the slogan coined during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime : Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is Great) was also indicative of the Indian elite’s desire to emerge as the regional bully, in the image of the international super-bully - reflected graphically in India’s disastrous intervention in neighbouring Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, and meshed well with the Hindutva vision of India’s role as a militarist superpower on the global stage - shorn of the ‘baggage’ of moral and ethical principles and considerations. (The total unconcern for ethics, or rather strong unconcealed contempt for it, is one of the defining characteristics of Hindutva - (identity) politics explicitly linked to Hindu religion. Quite in sharp contrast, Gandhi - a deeply religious Hindu but not given to performing traditional/customary religious rites, was elevated to the status of a Mahatma (a great soul) by the vast multitude of common Indians - predominantly Hindu, far overshadowing their established religious gurus and the likes, precisely because of his perceived adherence to the highest ethical principles - ‘Truth and Non-Violence’, in an unfaltering manner.)

At a more tangible level, however, the complicity of the Congress governments, led by Rajiv Gandhi and Narsimha Rao, in promoting the Ram Mandir Movement spearheaded by the Hindutva Brigade leading to the eventual demolition of the Babri Mosque turned out to be the most proximate cause in their phenomenal electoral success. The other major factors facilitating the rise of Hindutva include the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report by V P Singh-led National Front government and insurgency in Kasmir valley, since early nineties, preceded by the rise (and fall) of Sikh separatism in Punjab, in turn, coming on top of ongoing turbulence and insurgency in the North-East - contributing to the ambience of siege.

1998 March Onwards : ‘Hindutva’ On Top

After an extremely brief stint as the Prime Minister of India at the conclusion of the 1996 general election, when he lost the confidence vote just after twelve days of being sworn in, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP leader in the parliament, occupied the highly coveted chair after the 1998 election at the head of a coalition comprising around two dozen parties of widely varying size and influence. This time his government lasted for about thirteen months and collapsed after withdrawal of support by AIDMK, a key supporting partner, led by Jayalalitha. These thirteen months turned out to be quite eventful. ‘The party with a difference’ did not quite disappoint its traditional constituencies. If compulsions of coalition politics brought about a semblance of moderation - particularly on the temple front, then the tension between their age old commitments and the new imperatives were attempted to be resolved in a rather spectacular manner with a big bang or to be more precise, a series of five nuclear explosions in the first half of May barely seven weeks after assuming power. The causes and consequences of these we will examine in the following sections. Here it will suffice to note that these blasts were followed, quite ironically, by Vajpayee’s trip to Lahore in the following February, soon after the visit of Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State of the US, to the region, ostensibly in search of peace with neighbouring Pakistan, the traditional bugbear of the Hindutva politicians, which had gone nuclear in about a fortnight of blasts on the Indian side of the border. Soon after in the month of April ‘Kargil War’ erupted on the Line of Control (LoC) running through the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The (undeclared) limited war came to an end only by the end of July after active intervention of the US President, Bill Clinton. In the meanwhile Vajpayee had already lost majority in the parliament and became the head of a caretaker government. In the ensuing election the ‘Kargil War’, which was made possible because of gross intelligence failure on the Indian part, quite paradoxically came to his rescue. And on 13th October 1999 he resumed charge as the head of the BJP-led coalition, NDA, with a significantly increased majority.

Apart from the ebb and flow of tensions between the two nuclear neighbours, India and Pakistan, largely mediated by the sole global superpower, the US, the other most important event during this period is the genocide of ‘minority’ Muslims in Gujarat, understandably planned and executed by the BJP government in power led by Narendra Modi, as the central piece of an unfolding agenda, with somewhat ambiguous backing of the Vajpayee-led Central government. The Congress in Gujarat abjectly failed to offer even any semblance of resistance.

Summing Up

To sum up, the rise of the Hindutva politics, constituting just not of ‘minority’/Muslim bashing but encompassing a changed conception of “nationalism” itself, since early eighties in particular, has a strong and clearly discernible correlation with the steady drift, decline and vicissitudes of the Congress, which had till then been not only the ruling power at the centre, albeit with a brief interlude, but also regarded as the very core of Indian nationalism.

Conversely, in the early days after Independence, despite the traumatic experience of the Partition, Hindutva was kept well under check by the Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru in spite of many of its Chief Ministers in the states, and also quite a few other senior leaders, having been closet communalists. Nehru was, however, rather providentially aided in his task by the shocking assassination of Gandhi by a self-proclaimed “Hindu” militant - with RSS background and a close associate of V D Savarkar - the Hindutva mascot, and the consequent eclipse and premature demise of his main challenger - Vallabhbhai Patel, the first, and the then, Home Minister, and also Deputy Prime Minister, of Independent India.

India Goes Nuclear : Tracing the Trajectory

Nuclearisation of a state has essentially two dimensions : technological and doctrinal/ideological. It requires a certain level of scientific/technological development in a certain specific direction. More so, as unlike other armaments nuclear weapons and related technologies are not tradable commodities in the international markets. But then that by itself is not enough. It also calls for a conscious and deliberate political decision making based on an ideology/doctrine favouring a decisive move in the required direction. These are two distinctly different aspects, but not wholly unconnected and autonomous. The ‘technological development’ while by itself is not ‘sufficient’, even if ‘necessary’, it tends to generate its own momentum/pressure to reorient the ideological sphere. Similarly, the ideological orientation may very well precede the ‘technological development’ and in fact guide and steer it along a route, at least broadly, charted out in advance. Then again, quite significantly, there is no clear fault line demarcating the ‘technology’ required for ‘peaceful’ use of nuclear energy, or to be more precise nuclear power generation, and that for production of nuclear explosive devices meant for mass destruction. So, while the shift from peaceful use of nuclear energy to nuclear weaponisation involves a big leap in the realm of political decision making, in the domain of technology the transition is virtually seamless.

In order to make sense of the emergence of India as a declared Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) from the status of a founding and leading member of the Non Alignment Movement championing the cause of decolonisation, pacifism and nuclear disarmament over a period of just over half a century it is imperative to keep the broad clues offered above in close focus. But before we go into the specifics of the Indian case, we will have a cursory look at the international scenario to have a better appreciation of the proposition enunciated above. The terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 1996 provide that the treaty will come into force after being ratified by 44 states who were participants in the 1996 session of the Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva and possess nuclear power or research reactors.

Evidently the underlying assumption is that possession of nuclear power, or even research, reactor amounts to nuclear weapons (production) capability or thereabout. That is why, as the official argument would go, it was necessary to obtain their ratification as the precondition for the treaty coming into force. Now out of these 44 countries only five were recognised, as per the terms of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). Another two, India and Pakistan, subsequently became declared, even if unrecognised, NWS. Apart from these, Israel is held to be (clandestinely) in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran enjoy somewhat ambiguous status. All the rest do not have the Bomb. Not only that, quite a few of them - e.g. Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Ukraine, renounced their nuclear weapons programme/capability at some stage or the other. This does clearly illustrate that mere technological wherewithal for producing nuclear weapons, or nuclear capability, does not automatically and axiomatically lead to nuclear weaponisation. Nuclearisation, in the ultimate analysis, is a political act - albeit overlying a base of technological capability.

Coming back to India, the distinction between ‘technology’ and ‘ideology’ becomes all the more relevant and important if one is not to lose sight of the fact that Independent India started off its journey with no blueprint whatsoever for its eventual nuclearisation even as the endeavour for building up the requisite scientific/technological base had commenced even before the actual independence. With independence attained, the drive for technology in general, and nuclear in particular, gained further momentum. But that was more reflective of Independent India’s supreme leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s telling faith in science and technology, in stark contrast with his mentor Gandhi, not just as a great developmental tool but also as a liberating force of immense proportions. (Only with the benefit of actual historical experience and the hindsight of more than half a century one can now proceed to pronounce such visionary faith and optimism on his part somewhat naïve and misplaced). The other important aspect of India’s drive for nuclearisation, which would start off much later, is that quite contrary to the claims of its apologists this had only a tenuous correlation with any external threat perception. This has been rather brilliantly captured by a perceptive Indian observer in the following words : “Speaking after the nuclear tests that he had ordered [in May 1998], with a clear sense of being vindicated, Prime Minister Vajpayee declared ‘I have been advocating the cause of India going nuclear for well over four decades.’ In triumph were forgotten the careful, laboured explanations of the need for the bomb; there was no problem with the fact that four decades earlier China was seen as a special ally not threat, that China then had no nuclear weapons, that Pakistan was struggling to find its feet as a state.” A foreign observer, of great diligence and distinction, has also arrived at a broadly similar, even if rather prosaic and more detailed, conclusion : “Domestic factors, including moral and political norms, have been more significant in determining India’s nuclear policy… Often, tensions between domestic interests have made this policy appear ambivalent and ambiguous. India has been torn between a moral antagonism toward the production of weapons of mass destruction, on one hand, and on the other hand, an ambition to be regarded as a major power”.

Stages of Development

India’s journey towards eventual nuclearisation in May 1998 (and further development onwards) since Independence has passed through a couple of distinct phases.

1947 to 1964 : The first phase covers from 1947 to November 1964. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, with funding from the Tata Trust, had been launched in 1945 in the then Bombay. It was the brainchild of Dr Homi Bhabha, an extremely gifted world class physicist. Bhabha was its first Director and would often refer to this institute as the cradle of Indian atomic energy programme. In 1946 the Atomic Energy Research Committee was instituted, again Bhabha as its Chairman, to promote studies in nuclear physics in Indian colleges and universities. Within a year of attainment of Independence, at the initiative of Nehru, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) came into being, under an appropriate act passed by the parliament, led by Dr Bhabha reporting directly to the Prime Minister. Through the establishment of the AEC India’s atomic/nuclear energy programme was formally launched. The programme from the very beginning received highest indulgence from the PM and its progenitor highest degree of autonomy and institutionalised protection from parliamentary and other forms of enquiry/intervention. While the large overlap between the programmes for peaceful use of nuclear energy and weapon producing capability was clearly recognised, the Indian state at the doctrinal and policy level remained firmly wedded to the ideal of abjuring nuclear weapons. And this was very much in keeping with the overall foreign policy and its status as a pioneering and leading member of the Non Aligned Movement.

India’s foreign policy for the first time, however, came under serious assault, as had been noted in the foregoing, in the wake of October 1962 - as a consequence of terrible humiliation of the Indian Army at the hands of its Chinese counterpart. The Jana Sangh, the earlier incarnation of the BJP, took the opportunity to repeatedly put forward its decade old demand that India at least now must go nuclear. But Nehru, however, was able to weather the storms in spite of losing much of his moral/political stature.

On 16th October 1964 China carried out an overground nuclear explosion pursuant to the state policy adopted as far back as in 1958. On November 27, as the culmination of an ongoing outcry for an Indian Bomb - encouraged and reinforced by none other than Homi Bhabha’s public pronouncement promising cheap and quick nuclear deterrence capability if backed up by the Indian state, the Jana Sangh introduced a motion in the Lok sabha calling for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. While Lal Bahadur Shastri, the successor of Nehru, could manage to save the day, in the teeth of dissenting voices from influential quarters even within his own party, and even reiterated his earlier position of renouncing the Bomb, he nevertheless had to make two important concessions. From “No Bomb Ever”, the position shifted to “No Bomb Now”. And then, along with energy, the goal of developing technological capability for Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) was adopted. At that time it went by and large unnoticed, given the rather meagre presence of the JS in the parliament, that the politics of Hindutva had scored a significant victory with far-reaching consequences, with backing from the Samyukta Socialist Party and a section of the Congress itself. As would happen about thirty three and a half years later there was a complete convergence of interests between the scientocrats/technocrats representing India’s nuclear establishment and the rabidly chauvinist/jingoist “Hindu” nationalist party.

1965 to 1974 : During this period India fought an intense ten day war with Pakistan in August-September 1965. Faced economic/military sanctions from the US on that account. Both Shastri and Bhabha died premature death in January 1966. Indira Gandhi was installed as Shastri’s successor. And Mrs Gandhi chose Dr. Vikram Sarabhai as Bhabha’s successor. Sarabhai was unique in that he was the only head of India’s nuclear establishment who did not exhibit any marked enthusiasm to develop technological capability for manufacturing nuclear weapons or even (peaceful?) explosion. India in 1968 reiterated its resolve not to go in for nuclear weapons on practical considerations and refused to sign the [Nuclear] Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the ground of it being discriminatory. In 1971 facilitated by India’s direct military intervention Pakistan was dismembered and the new state of Bangladesh came into being in place of the erstwhile East Pakistan. Dr Sarabhai died prematurely on 30thDecember 1971. On May 18, 1974 India carried out its first (underground) nuclear explosion, dubbed as ‘implosion’ for peaceful purpose, in Pokhran in the bordering state of Rajasthan. As per available accounts, which are at any rate rather scanty, the explosion was carried out at the initiative of India’s nuclear establishment and was endorsed by Mrs Gandhi to counteract the raging mass discontent against her rule. Nevertheless she took special care to emphasise the ‘peaceful’ nature and intent of the blast and even wrote a letter singing the same tune to Pakistani Prime Minister to dispel his misgivings four days after the blast. The blast was perceived as a great feat for Indian science and technology and India’s de facto entry into the big league. With few exceptions, the media and the political parties, the “nationalist” Jana Sangh in particular, welcomed the development with rapturous applause. But in so far as the official position was concerned, the attainment of nuclear weapon capability, which the ‘implosion’ demonstrated, however, remained only a powerful subtext - carefully and emphatically denied in all formal enunciation. While the nuclear establishment scored a landmark victory, Indira gained a political dividend which appeared quite impressive for a while but would soon prove to be rather transient and dubious.

As regards the external consequences, “[i]t increased US and international pressure on India to conform to the nonproliferation regime. It appeared to have no effect on China, and it had the negative impact of hardening Pakistan’s resolve to develop nuclear weapons.” As regards the process, “[t]here was no systematic analysis of costs and benefits. India’s foreign affairs establishment was not asked to assess likely international reactions and repercussions. The military services were not consulted…” The ‘process’, more than the ’consequences’, clearly points out that the motivation underlying the blast flowed essentially from domestic compulsions - and definitely not from any external threat perceptions.

1974 to 1984 : The ten years from ’74 to ‘84’ proved to be rather uneventful in terms of development on the nuclear front. Of the two Prime Ministers, who ruled for significant periods, Morarji Desai was implacably set against any nuclear programme. Even Indira seemed to have regained, at least partly, the strong moral aversion of her father, Independent India’s first Prime Minister. Despite persistent efforts the nuclear establishment failed to obtain any authorisation for any further test, peaceful or otherwise. Genera Sundarji, an advocate of nuclear weaponisation, later bitterly lamented, “Between the mid-Seventies and mid-Eighties, India’s [nuclear] decision-making … appear to have enjoyed something between a drugged sleep and a deep postprandial siesta.”

1984 to 1995 : After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi took over the reins. In March 1985 an American documentary on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme drew attention of the Indian press. In 1986 border tension between the two neighbours rose to a new pitch. Nevertheless commitment to restrict India’s nuclear programme to peaceful use only was repeatedly reiterated. India also took some initiative in the direction of global nuclear disarmament but steadfastly rejected any overture for regional disarmament. Concurrently the programme for developing nuclear weapon capability and also ballistic missiles went apace without resorting to any further test explosion.

1995 to May 1998 : The Final Push

In 1995 May the NPT was indefinitely extended without any commitment from the NWSs for a time-bound programme for deweaponisation. This in India was perceived as a perpetuation of the ‘nuclear apartheid’ regime and consequently a setback. Parallelly the negotiation to finalise the CTBT draft had already been under way since January 1994. This added to the nervousness of the nuclear lobby in India, comprising top functionaries of the DAE, BARC and DRDO, the so-called ‘strategic enclave’ on the one hand, backed up by a loose group of ‘strategic analysts’, and a section of the political milieu - the BJP in particular, on the other. They foresaw in the forthcoming CTBT a permanent closure of India’s nuclear weapon development programme in absence of the facility to carry out explosive testing, as the Treaty was meant to ban all explosive testing save the sub-critical ones. The objection, to be sure, was not because these developments would allow the P5 countries to maintain their nuclear arsenal indefinitely, as had been publicly claimed, but because it would stop India from joining this big league as a new member. At any rate, pressure was built up for authorising test explosions before the CTBT coming into force. Narasimha Rao led Congress government grappling with serious corruption charges and due to face election in the next year apparently gave green signal to the scientists to carry out test explosion in the month of December. However, the US intelligence got wind of it and under pressure the attempt was abandoned. Though at that time for evident reasons such report was vehemently denied. The Rao government somewhat compensated for the abandonment by flight-testing a 250 kilometre range Prthvi missile on January 27 next.

The Congress lost its majority in the election for the eleventh Lok Sabha. Vajpayee was sworn in as the PM on May 16 and on May 28 he lost the vote of confidence. Even within this short span the nuclear establishment and the BJP toyed with the idea of going ahead with nuclear explosion. For whatever reasons the attempt did not fructify.

H D Deve Gowda, the chosen leader of the United Front, with Congress support from outside took over. Inder Kumar Gujral became the External Affairs Minister. While the UF government reportedly turned down the nuclear lobby’s ardent plea to carry out further tests, it nevertheless came under tremendous pressure of BJP’s hawkish posture on the issue of CTBT to which it had to succumb. Rather ironically the position of the Left, an important prop for the UF government, on this issue remarkably converged with that of the BJP.

It was only since October 1995 the Indian government started making a clear linkage between the CTBT and a time-bound programme for disarmament by the P5 as a precondition for its accession. But as the negotiation inched towards the final phase Indian objection became more and more shrill and high-pitched reflecting the general mood amongst the debating ‘experts’ within the country.

On June 20, India’s representative at the Geneva talks, Arundhati Ghosh rejected the CTBT draft not only on the ground of discrimination, between the NWSs and non-NWSs, (quite unjustifiably, as the CTBT draft did not recognise different classes of state parties as regards its implementation) but also on the ground of “national security considerations”. This was a crucial departure from India’s traditional position on nuclear weapons. Even as recently as in March 1996, India’s the then Foreign Secretary, Salman Haider, had submitted to the same august body, Conference on Disarmament (CD) : “We do not believe that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is essential for national security, and we have followed a conscious decision in this regard. We are also convinced that the existence of nuclear weapons diminishes international security. We, therefore, seek their complete elimination. These are fundamental precepts that have been an integral basis of India’s foreign and national security policy.” On July 15 Gujral, the External Affairs Minister, reiterated in the parliament India’s resolve to scuttle the treaty by blocking the required consensus. On August 14 India carried out its threat in Geneva. The Treaty, however, eventually taken to the UN General Assembly and, on September 10, was voted for by a margin of 158 to 3. India was in the august company of only Bhutan and Libya.

The next day the Times of India noted : “India has hardly ever been so united internally, or so isolated internationally, as on the issue of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty”. In fact, it is the CTBT ‘debate’ - a virtually one-sided misleading campaign replete with deliberate disinformation, that had gone on furiously for the last one year or so in the domestic circles subsequently proved to be a major facilitator for India, under the “Hindu” Nationalist rule, to come out openly as a Nuclear Weapon State throwing all moral inhibitions of the yesteryears, so to say, to the dustbin of History. And the whole political class, without any significant exception, including the mainstream Left became willing participants in this grand extravaganza of political/moral degeneration.

The United Front government which became instrumental in rejecting the CTBT died a premature, and yet not wholly unexpected, death by the end of ’97. In between, I K Gujral, who had by then become the Prime Minister, made a public declaration on May 31, 1997 that India would not sign a prospective treaty banning fissile material production - in keeping with the hardened and belligerent posture adopted at the time of CTBT negotiations. This, however, went hand in hand with intermittent reassertion of India’s resolve not to go in for nuclear weapons.

On March 19, 1998 Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Indian Prime Minister. This time he could survive the confidence vote, even if rather narrowly, held on March 28. On 11th May, the Government of India claimed, before the stunned nation and the international community, to have carried out three underground nuclear explosions in Pokhran, to be followed by another two - two days later.

The Dynamics and The Propellants

The propulsion for ’nuclearism’ is often derived form a quest for raw power and potency, ’power’ shorn of any ’moral’ or ’ethical’ principles, ’power’ to dominate and subjugate, and ’potency’ coupled with grossest exhibitionism. While the ’elite’, or a section of it, functions as the main driving force; in order to gain legitimacy and momentum the ’quest’ must also infect and intoxicate the ’masses’, who would then join the ’quest’, even if in a vicarious manner. So, in the process , ’nuclearism’ has to and does actually set off a whole chain of motions transforming the individual and collective mind-set. Peace and non-violence is projected, and eventually comes to be regarded, as ’effeminate’, and ’machismo’ as the ’ultimate’ virtue.

In the specific Indian context, the leading support for the drive towards nuclear weaponisation, as has been narrated above, comes mainly from three distinct and yet somewhat overlapping segments. These are :

1.The scientific and technical establishments associated with the development of nuclear weapons. Their prestige and power are directly at stake. The scientocrats and technocrats connected with the BARC, AEC and the DRDO fall in this category.

The top echelons of the ’defence’ forces and the current breed of defence analysts played supportive roles, even if, as late entrants and junior collaborators.

These are the people who have most consistently and with single-minded fiendish determination pushed India towards nuclearisaition.

2. The new Indian elite, a product of the post-independence economic development, who gradually sidelined the ’old’ middle and lower middle classes - whose ideals and value systems were by and large rooted in the experiences of the epic anti-colonial liberation struggles of the past decades, and emerged as the most vocal section of the society.

Particularly since the mid-seventies the mainstream political parties more and more transformed themselves into the vehicle and mouthpiece of their hopes and aspirations. Fiercely narrow-minded and self-centred, they started viewing acquisition of nuclear weapons as the shortest path to enduring glory.

3.The triggering force behind the Pokhran-II blasts was, however, unarguably the forces and politics of ’Hindutva’.

For these sickeningly evil forces the nuclear explosion was to provide a grand opportunity to stir up bestial passions and trigger off an avalanche of murderous mass-hysteria, which would, at one go, radically consolidate and crystallise the exclusionist and majoritarian ’national’ identity sought to be built by them. And that is precisely why the explosions were engineered, in less than two months of their coming to power, as a part of a predetermined agenda, without the least pretence of carrying out any systematic and comprehensive review of India’s current security concerns and strategic needs. Even the Defence Minister and the three Service Chiefs, it came to light subsequently, had been informed, so to say, only at the last moment; even though the publisher of the RSS organ Organiser had been made privy to this schedule so that they could advance and coincide the publication of their special issue to commemorate the first nuclear blast (ostensibly for peaceful purpose) eighteen years back on 18th May 1974. This ‘leak’ alone is sufficient to blow the lid off the claim that the concern for ‘National Security’ was the motivating force for undertaking these explosions, even if ‘security’ is interpreted in the most narrow-minded right wing fashion - completely disconnected from the issues of food, shelter, health, education and such other basic necessities for sustaining human life.

Here it would be pertinent to mention, at least in passing, that in the immediate aftermath of the blasts two major strands of explanation emerged from its critics, particularly from the Left. One, the nuclearisation of India actually constituted a critical and essential component of the grand US imperialist strategy to encircle and contain the People’s Republic of China. The other, it was only a ploy on the part of the BJP-led government to sign and join the CTBT regime, which in any case is nothing but an imperialist trap, under the cover of the euphoria manufactured through these blasts. It goes without saying that both these lines of argument are actually complementary and built upon a common set of premises.

The major underlying assumptions are that the explosions were not an independent act on the part of India’s incumbent rulers. These were carried out at the behest of the US imperialism and hence enjoyed their covert, even if not overt, support. This explains the apparent failure of the omnipresent and omniscient US spy satellites to detect the preparations in advance and block further activities.

It would, at any rate, not be superfluous to reiterate that the subsequent developments completely rubbished these projections. For one, China itself discovered no hidden US hand and pinpointed compulsions of India’s domestic politics as the underlying cause. Then, the US under Bill Clinton took active and leading initiative in blackballing India, however, without closing the channels of communication altogether. Moreover, China was in those days dubbed as the strategic partner of the US. Bill Clinton once even suggested that China as the major regional power should mediate between the two feuding nuclear neighbours - India and Pakistan. A highly publicised trip was undertaken by the US President to China soon afterwards to cement the bonds of partnership.

As regards the CTBT, one must remember that the BJP had always been earnest in the extreme to scuttle it by making India withhold its assent. The point is not that the option of signing the CTBT, in the aftermath of the blasts, was never considered - but only as a fallback option and by no means as the preferred one. Notwithstanding all sorts of confusing and ambivalent statements from time to time, evidently to dodge American pressure, this they could eventually evade. (Of course, the transfer of the baton from Clinton to Bush, a die-hard opponent of the CTBT, in January 2001 came as a great providential help). In fact, to do anything otherwise would have gone against the very grain of their politics. It would be well to recall that Vajpayee, on a subsequent visit to America to attend the General Assembly session of the UN in New York, took special pains to meet Republican Senator Jesse Helms, the then head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate - a known nuclear hawk and a leading opponent of the CTBT, through the good offices of an NRI businessman. It is the same Helms, it would be of interest to note, who had pronounced, immediately after the Pokhran blasts, that the “Indian government has not shot itself in the foot - it has most likely shot itself in the head.” .Helms would subsequently play the decisive role in blocking the Senate’s ratification of America’s endorsement of the CTBT - a statutory requirement.

These deeply flawed analyses and projections must, however, not be taken as indicative of any ineptitude on the part of the individual analysts. They rather reflected the utter inadequacy, or profound irrelevance, of the analytical frameworks used - rooted in the long outmoded experiences and the imperatives of the Cold War days.

But what is most relevant and crucial from our point of view is the fact that these arguments tend to deny an autonomous role to the politics of Hindutva and thereby severely underrate the grave danger that it signifies by itself - irrespective of its equation with the US at any given point of time.

The Consequences

The strong international censure, which erupted almost instantaneously, and the attendant punitive measures, which would follow soon thereafter, apart - the most obvious and enduring outcome of Pokhran-II was evidently Chagai. Just in a fortnight’s time Pakistan retaliated with (the claim of) six blasts - in response to India’s five now and another one eighteen years back to square off the account. Those who had gone euphoric proclaiming India’s “strategic” superiority over Pakistan attained through the recent blasts and hailed it as the “Explosion of Self-Esteem” went livid with frustration and gave vent to their deep sense of bitterness by calling it a “Copycat” reaction. These descriptions, however, even if rather unwittingly, brought out a crucial element of the subcontinental reality. While Indian nuclearisation did not stem from any threat perception from Pakistan - having been rooted in its quest for Big Power status and the ascendancy of Hindutva politics, Pakistan’s was a purely reactive one. Be that as it may, at one single stroke India’s massive superiority in terms of extant military strength, estimated at around 2.5 (or 3) to 1, got virtually wiped out. Pakistan attained a ‘parity" of sorts, through Chagai triggered off by Pokhran - to the great dismay of the Indian elite, through their own monumental folly.

What, however, rather dramatically laid bare the depth of Indian ineptitude, amidst all sorts of fanciful and clamorous claims in the wake of Pokhran-II, is the utter lack of political anticipation and ground level intelligence on Pakistan’s reaction. On the 28th of May, 1998 an MP in the Lok Sabha rose to seek confirmation during the ongoing session from the treasury benches regarding the Pakistani blasts by then already reported in the electronic media. It caused a veritable flutter among the cabinet members. The Prime Minister himself was present. The Defence Minister rushed out of the hall. After a while the news was confirmed. Subsequently, in response to the queries made by the journalists, the Prime Minister solemnly observed that it was quite unfair to expect him to keep track of the Pakistani moves while he was sitting in the Lok Sabha.

Even a cursory look at the chain of events since 11th May ’98 , which evidently constitutes a watershed in the history of this subcontinent , up to the present would clearly demonstrate that every bit of the claims and projections made by the proponents and apologists of Pokhran-II in its defence have been thoroughly falsified by the subsequent developments. It is not only the Kargil episode in the summer of 1999, when Pakistan indulged in military adventurism - albeit on a limited scale and in a clandestine manner, after a lapse of about thirty four years, even the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft, IC 814, in the following December, which obliged the Indian External Affairs Minister - a former army man himself, to personally escort the three Kashmiri militants released from Indian jails to Kandahar in exchange of civilian hostages, made nonsense of India’s claim to greater glory and military strength - in relation to Pakistan in particular. The pathetic fizzling out of the Operation Parakram (Show of Might), the biggest peacetime military mobilisation on the international border as a demonstrative act of “coercive diplomacy”, launched with much drum beating in the wake of terrorist attack on the Indian Parliment on Decmber 13, 2002, further underscored this predicament.

By including Farooq Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in the entourage of the Prime Minister on his ceremonial visit to the blast site after the explosions a deliberate linkage was made between Kashmir and the Bomb, evidently to intimidate Pakistan. In the process, the Kashmir issue got internationalised, as never before since 1949, and identified as the most inflammable nuclear flash point in the present day world.

Instead of raising the level of India’s autonomy, India since May 1998 has become, along with Pakistan, far more vulnerable to American pressure and interference than ever before. The US has emerged as the de facto, even if not yet de jure, arbiter between the two perennially feuding nuclear neighbours.

The defence expenditure, even on conventional arms, has since sharply escalated - again contrary to the earlier claims.

Most importantly, Pokhran-II has triggered off an open-ended nuclear, and non-nuclear, arms race between India and Pakistan - as the cause as well as effect of perpetually mounting tensions and hardening postures on both the sides. This has seriously degraded the security environment of South Asia, instead of bringing about any ‘stability’ as had been projected. A nuclear holocaust now is no longer a distant possibility. During the Kargil War itself threats of nuclear strike and retaliation were exchanged with frightening frequency.

As recently as on September 1 2003, at its first meeting chaired by the Indian Prime Minister, the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) - eight months after its creation consequent upon finalisation and formal adoption of the triadic Nuclear Doctrine, has decided to further “consolidate India’s nuclear deterrent”. And, Pakistan’s President in turn chaired a meeting of its National Command Authority only two days after, reminding very much the way Chagai had followed Pokhran in a prompt and almost reflexive tit for tat response, and announced that Pakistan would “keep upgrading its arsenal in order to maintain its minimum deterrent capability”. It is quite self-evident that the term ‘minimum’ in the present context is only an euphemism for ‘maximum possible’. This mutually reinforcing mindless drive for the weapons of mass destruction can only have spine-chilling consequences for the region. It is even more so, given the abysmally poor safety records of both the countries in all walks of life. Even an innocuous accident can very well lead to a catastrophic nuclear exchange.

Last but not the least, the nuclearisation of South Asia has also significantly contributed to the weakening of the process of global denuclearisation that was set in motion, howsoever tentatively, at the end of the Cold War.


Pokhran-II together with the demolition of the Babri Mosque, about five and half years earlier, constitute the two darkest spots in post-colonial Indian history - far more ominous than Gandhi assassination as it, in any case, had elicited massive and visceral disapproval on the part of the Indian masses. Both the cataclysmic events are symptomatic of a considerable closing of the gap, especially over the past quarter century or so, between Indian Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism - a rather unanticipated spin-off of India’s grand project for modernisation, and symbolise grave threats to the very concept of ‘India’ as had evolved through the epic freedom struggle. In spite of all the dismal consequences and, waiting to be realised, mind-numbing possibilities, Indian elite is yet to get over its phase of denial. It continues to most obstinately refuse, like a thoroughly spoilt brat, to acknowledge the stark reality staring in the face.

The survival of humanity inhabiting the South Asian subcontinent, nevertheless, critically depends on the demystification of the nuclear myths, that invest the Bomb with magical powers of immense proportions, and consequent denuclearisation of the region as an integral and crucial component of global disarmament.

Originally online on 11 May 2008. Reproduced with thanks to Rurope Solidaire Sans Frontieres

Statement in Support of the Demand for the Repeal of the Blasphemy law in Pakistan

We are deeply concerned by the recent blasphemy(?) related incidents in Gojra, Pakistan and other places where many innocent people were subjected to unabashed brutality and devastation.  The laws have specifically made minorities vulnerable but have also been used against people of the Muslim majority and several cases of public lynching and mob violence are incited on the premise of blasphemy
The recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan, whose members were accused of desecrating the Qur'an has raised an urgent demand for the abrogation of the law. Members of a banned Islamist group, Sipah-i-Sahaba, took the law into their own hands and it is reported that policeperson present did not try to control the mob and protect the citizens.
This violence was precipitated by an event at a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009, when a few Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. Muslim and Christian community leaders stepped in to resolve this conflict and requested that the accused apologise. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages began spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burnt Christians’ houses. As the rumour of this blasphemy proliferated, the hostility towards Christians escalated in the district.
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men, attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings were taken and two churches were ransacked.
This draconian law is an outcome of the Islamicisation process of the Pakistan Penal Code by General Zia ul Haq under the the pretext of defending the honour of the holy Quran, the holy prophet, his wives and other holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blashpemy Laws, has become a convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate.
Due to the elusiveness of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims suffer. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. People are victims of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.
The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with.” Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.
We are in solidarity and support the Pakistani human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities calling Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.
We are deeply concerned by the recent blasphemy(?) related incidents in Gojra, Pakistan and other places where many innocent people were subjected to unabashed brutality and devastation.  The laws have specifically made minorities vulnerable but have also been used against people of the Muslim majority and several cases of public lynching and mob violence are incited on the premise of blasphemy
The recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan, whose members were accused of desecrating the Qur'an has raised an urgent demand for the abrogation of the law. Members of a banned Islamist group, Sipah-i-Sahaba, took the law into their own hands and it is reported that policeperson present did not try to control the mob and protect the citizens.
This violence was precipitated by an event at a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009, when a few Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. Muslim and Christian community leaders stepped in to resolve this conflict and requested that the accused apologise. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages began spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burnt Christians’ houses. As the rumour of this blasphemy proliferated, the hostility towards Christians escalated in the district.
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men, attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings were taken and two churches were ransacked.
This draconian law is an outcome of the Islamicisation process of the Pakistan Penal Code by General Zia ul Haq under the the pretext of defending the honour of the holy Quran, the holy prophet, his wives and other holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blashpemy Laws, has become a convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate.
Due to the elusiveness of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims suffer. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. People are victims of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.
The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with.” Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.
We are in solidarity and support the Pakistani human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities calling Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.

Globalization, and its impact in India: Some dimensions

Kunal Chattopadhyay


Reading the English language press in India, as well as writings in the international media, one would have to believe that till 1991, there was a socialist economy in the country. This is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject. Not that it is the most serious academic resource, but for millions of people checking the internet, this is the first thing that they will see on the subject. “ The economy of India was under socialism-based policies for an entire generation from the 1950s until the 1980s. The economy was characterized by extensive regulation, protectionism, and public ownership, leading to pervasive corruption and slow growth. Since 1991, the ongoing economic liberalization has moved India towards a capitalist market economy. It has created millions of better paying jobs and a fast-growing middle class” .

This is an ideological posturing, in order to attack all state control in favour of all out privatization with no controls. In order to cut through the myth, let me briefly discuss the nature of the Indian economy between independence and 1991.

The nationalist movement in India had won hegemony in the struggles by arguing that with the exception of a few small layers, like the big landlords and the bureaucrats, who were the collaborators of the British rulers, all classes stood to benefit by first uniting to remove British rule from India. So independence, from an early stage, meant a socio-economic agenda, not just the substitution of a particular set of rulers. As a part of this promise, there was much talk of planning. However, this was not entirely something that Indian capitalists opposed. In 1944, with India on the verge of independence, a group of industrialists that included Tata, Birla and other notables such as Purshottamdas Thakurdas, A.D. Shroff and Kasturbhai Lalbhai came up with a document called A Brief Memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India—also known, famously, as the Bombay Plan. In this, instead of arguing for free markets, they made a case for massive state involvement in the economy.  In 1948, immediately after Independence, Government introduced the Industrial Policy Resolution. This outlined the approach to industrial growth and development. It emphasized the importance to the economy of securing a continuous increase in production and ensuring its equitable distribution. The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1948 was followed by the Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956 which had as its objective the acceleration of the rate of economic growth and the speeding up of industrialization. In 1956, capital was scarce and the base of entrepreneurship not strong enough. Hence, the 1956 Industrial Policy Resolution gave primacy to the role of the State to assume a predominant and direct responsibility for industrial development.

In other words, the growth of the public sector was designed to ensure that wherever private capital did not have the resources, the state would step in. During the 1970s, the nationalization of private Indian banks resulted in deeper penetration of banking capital into the countryside, leading to tapping hitherto untouched rural wealth.  The state sector built infrastructure, low profit heavy industry, at a time when private capital did not have the ability, and kept out foreign capital by its protectionist wall. At the same time, the development of a Public Distribution System meant some amount of subsidies on one hand for peasants, from whom food grain was purchased at a relatively higher procurement price, as well as for the urban poor and middle classes, who got the food grain at a lower price. State subsidized fertilizer, pesticide, and transport also played an important role, so that by the late 1980s, per capita food grain production had gone up to about 180 kilogrammes. This did not mean that poverty had disappeared from India, but famines, that had stalked rural India throughout the colonial era, did disappear for some time.

However, by the early 1980s, Indian capitalism had become stronger, thanks to the policies that had been pursued. The Indian big bourgeoisie now wanted privatization, the opening up of the economy to international trade, and at the same time, in order to compete with powerful international capital, the gutting of the limited laws that protected labour and the environment. The existence of powerful trade unions in both blue collar and white collar sectors made this a difficult project, as did, at the political level, the existence of sizeable left wing parties and a federal structure that meant provincial governments had a degree of autonomy. The Rajiv Gandhi government in the mid-1980s began the process of economic liberalization , but despite the vast majority won by the Congress party in the elections, the early years, which also saw a variety of movements by intermediate castes, regional aspirations, as well as the most oppressed castes, all demanding more state action, were not very good for rapid liberalization. However, a number of changes had begun earlier. The defeat of the railway general strike, crushed by brute power in 1974, defeats of jute mill general strikes in West Bengal in the 1970s and 1980s, and the defeat of the Bombay textile strike of 1980-81, considerably weakened the blue collar workers movements and organizations. In textiles, the shift away from Bombay’s traditional mills to new mills in smaller towns, to mills in Ahmedabad, meant a restructuring of the workforce. The white collar unions did remain strong, which is a major factor behind the slow privatization of the finance sectors.

The period 1989-1991 saw a sudden swing and the onset of a rapid transition to globalization. There were three factors involved. First, an increased pressure from the Indian capitalist class. In a seminar organized by the Centre for European Studies, Jadavpur University, in 2001, where I debated Tapan Bhowmick, the then spokesperson of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Mr. Bhowmick strongly argued that in the case of India, it would be wrong to speak of globalization being imposed from outside. The industrialists were keen to change the nature of the Indian economy. Secondly, the crisis of 1989-91, involving the Tien an Men Square massacre, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in East Europe, and the crisis of the USSR, massively disoriented the Indian left and weakened its ability to fight for a period. This coincided with a massive balance of payments crisis, enabling governments, working in tandem with the IMF, to push through Structural Adjustment Programme. Finally, while a number of trade unions, peasant organizations, youth organizations, women’s organizations did unite to resist the onset of neoliberalism, this was brought to a halt by the end of 1992 using a line of political argument that is often called popular frontism. From 1987, a strongly Hindu sectarian rightwing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the ultra-right current of which it is the electoral front (which is often called the Sangh family, after the ultimate authority, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) had been carrying out a strongly communal fanatic campaign.  The central slogan through which it was carrying out its mobilizations was the call to build a temple by destroying a historic mosque, claiming that the mosque had been built by destroying a temple that marked the birth place of the mythical Hindu hero Rama.  In 1992, this radical right mobilization did succeed in destroying the mosque. At this point, the left parties, the Communist party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and their smaller allies, who led those 56 mass organizations, declared that in the face of this fascist threat, the campaign against globalization must be suspended and an anti-fascist block built.  In other words, they saw the RSS as fascist, a designation that is widely accepted in India. But from this designation, they went on to draw the cfonclusion that the struggle against fascism had to be waged by blunting the struggle against neoliberalism.

As a result, the next years saw first, the Congress government, though in a minority, pushing through the first stages of the IMF-world Bank WTO programmes. Then came a United Front government, in which the CPI actually participated, while the CPI(M) lent support from outside. This government’s finance minister was P. Chidambaram, whose first budget was describerd by Indian industrialists as a “dream budget”. Among his measures were abolishing the top tier of the graded income tax (the 40%) level, reducing other direct taxes, and carrying out privatization, but at a slightly slower pace. In less than two years this government collapsed, as the Congress withdrew its support from outside. This was followed by the victory of the national Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. In other words, the chosen strategy of the left to halt the forward march of the BJP had failed, while its acceptance of  liberalization with small sops to the workers and peasants saw the logic of liberalization brush aside the “social policies”, and a disappointed worker and peasant mass voting in a disjointed manner. The NDA regime lasted till 2004. During this period, it adopted a bellicose foreign policy, testing nuclear weapons, and surviving the economic sanctions that followed by a greater opening of the markets.

In 2004, the NDA had a very aggressive neoliberal electoral campaign, entitled India Shining. It assumed that the upper and comfortably placed middle classes alone mattered. As a result, the popular verdict went against it. Interestingly, in those provinces, like Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress had been in power and had followed a neoliberal policy, it too suffered set backs. The left, not so much for what it did but for what it said – that it would oppose neoliberalism – received its highest ever number of seats in the parliament: 61 out of 542. After the elections, however, once more in the name of stopping fascism, the left agreed to support a Congress led government, the United Progressive Alliance, and it finally broke with the UPA not over its economic policies, but over the Indo-US nuclear deal.  

A. The Impact of Globalization
This background history shows that regardless of which party or group of parties have been in power in India, the main contours of economic policy have not changed. It is necessary to look at the general consequences of that, before I turn specifically to the SEZs.
The first point to note is that the neoliberal agenda called for cutting down subsidies. The drastic reduction of agricultural subsidies contrasts remarkably with the US paying farmers not to cultivate land, or with tax cuts, tax holidays, and other hand outs for the rich. Credit to agriculture declined. The state procurement was no longer as supportive as in the past. At the same time, the more prosperous farmers were encouraged to move away from foodgrain production, and go for cash crop production. This meant that food grain production dropped rapidly, till in 2008, the per capita production was around 155 kilogrammes, or barely what it was in 1947.

From the beginning, it was argued that free market capitalism would mean a trickle down effect so that as growth rates went up the poor too would enjoy prosperity. The reality has been very different. The Indian parliament committed the country to a reduction of the fiscal deficit to under 3% by 2009. Since tax rates have been lowered, and military expenditure has gone up, the plainest way to cut fiscal deficit was, from the start, cutting subsidies for the workers and peasants. An immediate action was to shift from general public distribution to targeted public distribution. The poor were divided into two arbitrary groups, those Below Poverty Line, (BPL) and those above the poverty line. The result is, 70% of the Indian population currently lives in food insecurity. As the wealthy have no wish to buy from PDS shops, sub standard food is being distributed to the poor. This has led to food riots of a minor type.

The crisis of 1997 had not affected India as much as it affected other countries, since the Indian economy had been less open to foreign capital. It is different now. In 1989, export and import accounted for about 10% of the GDP, while currently it is over 40%. This has not meant wealth trickling down below. But this has meant making India more dependent on international trade and the impact of the crisis in more powerful economies. It has meant the loss of 700,000 jobs in textiles and 200,000 in the diamond, gem and jewelry industry. Minister of Commerce and industry, Kamal Nath has warned that by the end of June, 1.5 million jobs could be lost in export oriented industries. Meanwhile the acting finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was advocating cutting wages and working hours as a “humane” alternative to cutting jobs. In recent years, the stock market has been taken as the best indicator of the economy. In that case, the collapse from a high of 20863 to the current 10,000 plus, after a recovery from its low of a little over 8000, shows the effect of over-reliance on foreign institutional investors, and the impact of their dollars being pulled out when the US economic crisis became acute. In the same way, the fact that exports and imports now account for over 40% of the GDP means that international crises affect India to a far greater extent.

The growth of the economy, the booming sales figures and profits, had been based on a minority of the population. As I remarked, there had been no significant trickle down. Because the Indian population is huge, even 10-15 percent of it looks like a massive market. They drove the housing market, for example. They drove the market in cars, though in the case of India, the market in cars means adding to the oil import bill, adding to pollution, and creating a terrific congestion. Calcutta, for example, has just about 7 percent of its land for roads. Going for a model of development that depends on selling private cars instead of improving public transport, as has been done in recent years, means a serious environmental as well as long term economic crisis. A Jadavpur University team found out that in busy Gariahat junction in Calcutta, standing out one day for 8 hours is equivalent to smoking 30 cigarettes.

Generally, then, the growth that is talked about has been based on a minority. Its wealth has increased. But for the working class that has certainly not been the case. The liberalisation of 1991 was accompanied by a vigorous employer campaign for an 'Exit Policy', i.e. the right to hire and fire workers freely. This was resisted just as fiercely by trade unions, and temporarily withdrawn. However, dismissals and closures continued unabated throughout the decade. In Bombay alone, plants belonging to Ciba Geigy, Abbott Laboratories, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Hoechst, Boots, Boehringer-Mannheim and Parke-Davis were closed, demolishing some of the best jobs available anywhere in India, especially for women. Most of these were achieved by means of so-called Voluntary Retirement Schemes, which, however, contained a large element of intimidation and coercion combined with disinformation designed to create what workers called 'a fear psychosis’.

Employers thus demonstrated that they could get rid of their workforces even without any change in the law. Nonetheless, Indian employers in particular found it cumbersome to be obliged to negotiate a retirement compensation scheme with the union, or to obtain permission for closure or downsizing from the state government. They therefore mounted a systematic campaign to revise (a) the Contract Labour Act, especially Section 10, in order to remove all restrictions on the use of contract labour, and (b) the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Provision V B of the latter, introduced in 1976, specified that all units employing 300 or more workers would have to obtain permission from the state government before carrying out dismissals or closures, and this was made applicable to all units employing 100 workers or more in 1982.

Looking at the proportion of informal labour, one estimate puts it at 90.5 per cent in 1972-73, 90.1 per cent in 1987-88, and 91.1 per cent in 1993-94  . The total labour force was 314.13 million in the 1991 census while the Economic Survey 1997-98 estimated the labour force as being 397.2 million in 1997. According to the Statistical Outline of India 1998-99, employment in the organised sector, in millions, rose from 26.73 in 1991 to 28.25 in 1997, so the proportion of (permanent) employees in the organised sector declined from 8.5 per cent to 7.1 per cent in the period 1991-97. Finally, it was estimated that organised sector employment fell from 8 per cent of total employment in 1994 to 7 per cent in 1999-2000 (Economic Times 2000).  

As a result, it is fair to say that globalization has not improved the conditions of the bulk of the labour force, just as it has actually worsened the conditions of the bulk of the rural poor. However, it is at this point that I want to look at the most recent thrust – the call to build special Economic zones. This represents, on one hand, a response to what little legal protection any sector of the working class has, and on the other hand, as response to all environment protection laws and regulations that put the slightest barrier to the accumulation of capital.

B. The Development of SEZs
The name and the concept were borrowed directly from the Chinese. The policy prescription is simple – set up a development zone with the entire infrastructure, offer fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, (income tax concessions, exemption from custom and import duties, and so on), ensure that bureaucratic hassles do not come in the way (no custom clearance required, automatic foreign direct investment or FDI approval, ignore environment and labour laws), and see the rising tide of investment create an export led growth impulse which would attract fresh rounds of investment and provide more employment – a multiplier effect would thus take the economy forward.

SEZ has its origin, in India, in the Export Promotion Zones which had first come up very tentatively in 1965. Till 1985 the EPZs were few and did not really amount to much. In 1981, the Tandon Committee argued that excessive protectionism had imparted a significant bias against exports and the high cost of production structure created by heavy protection reduced the competitiveness of Indian exports. It suggested that free trade zones could be a useful instrument of export promotion. A few EPZs were set up. But there were no major law changes. From 1991 to 2000, there was greater interest, and zone authorities were granted greater powers to provide additional fiscal initiatives, simplifying policy provisions and greater facilities. Moreover, agriculture, horticulture and aqua culture were brought within the purview of EPZs. In 1994, trading, re-engineering and re-conditioning units were also permitted to be set up.  

The real change came from the end of the 20th century. The export import policy 1997-2002 introduced a new wscheme for big SEZs. SEZs will be permitted to be set up in the public, private or joint sectors with a minimum size of 1000 hectares.
So let me first summarize the laws and proposals involved:
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a specifically delineated duty free enclave and shall be deemed to be foreign territory for the purposes of trade operations and duties and tariffs.
If an application is made by a company or a group to set up an SEZ,
The State Government shall, forward it along with their commitment to the following to the Department of Commerce, Government of India:
•    That area incorporated in the proposed Special Economic Zone is free from environmental restrictions;
•    That water, electricity and other services would be provided as required;
•    That the units would be given full exemption in electricity duty and tax on sale of electricity for self generated and purchased power;
•    To allow generation, transmission and distribution of power within SEZ;
•    To exempt from State sales tax, octroi, mandi tax, turnover tax and any other duty/cess or levies on the supply of goods from Domestic Tariff Area to SEZ units;
•    That for units inside the Zone, the powers under the Industrial Disputes Act and other related labour Acts would be delegated to the Development Commissioner and that the units will be declared as a Public Utility Service under Industrial Disputes Act.
•    That single point clearances system and minimum inspections requirement under State Laws/Rules would be provided.
The proposal incorporating the commitments of the State Government will be considered by an Inter-Ministerial Committee in the Department of Commerce. On acceptance of the proposal, a letter of permission will be issued to the applicant

C. What are the facilities Incentive/ Facilities to SEZ Developer?
•    100% FDI allowed for: (a) townships with residential, educational and recreational facilities on a case to case basis, (b)franchise for basic telephone service in SEZ.
•    Income Tax benefit under ( 80 IA ) to developers for any block of 10 years in 15 years
•    Duty free import/domestic procurement of goods for development, operation and maintenance of SEZs.
•    Exemption from Service Tax /CST.
•    Income of infrastructure capital fund/co. from investment in SEZ exempt from Income Tax
•    Investment made by individuals etc in a SEZ co also eligible for exemption u/s 88 of IT Act
•    Developer permitted to transfer infrastructure facility for operation and maintenance.
•    Generation, transmission and distribution of power in SEZs allowed
•    Full freedom in allocation of space and built up area to approved SEZ units on commercial basis.
•    Authorised to provide and maintain service like water, electricity, security, restaurants and recreation centres on commercial lines.
•    SEZs in India functioned from 1.11.2000 to 09.02.2006 under the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy and fiscal incentives were made effective through the provisions of relevant statutes.
•    To instill confidence in investors and signal the Government’s commitment to a stable SEZ policy regime and with a view to impart stability to the SEZ regime thereby generating greater economic activity and employment through the establishment of SEZs, a comprehensive draft SEZ Bill prepared after extensive discussions with the stakeholders. A number of meetings were held in various parts of the country both by the Minister for Commerce and Industry as well as senior officials for this purpose.  The Special Economic Zones Act, 2005, was passed by Parliament in May, 2005 which received Presidential assent on the 23rd of June, 2005. The draft SEZ Rules were widely discussed and put on the website of the Department of Commerce offering suggestions/comments. Around 800 suggestions were received on the draft rules.  After extensive consultations, the SEZ Act, 2005, supported by SEZ Rules, came into effect on 10th February, 2006, providing for drastic simplification of procedures and for single window clearance on matters relating to central as well as state governments.   The main objectives of the SEZ Act are:
(a) generation of additional economic activity
(b) promotion of exports of goods and services;
(c) promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources;
(d) creation of employment opportunities;
(e) development of infrastructure facilities;

•    It is expected that this will trigger a large flow of foreign and domestic investment in SEZs, in infrastructure and productive capacity, leading to generation of additional economic activity and creation of employment opportunities.
We now need to look at the actual impact of SEZs, the aim of Indian and international capital regarding SEZs and similar units, and the growth of popular resistance.

According to government propaganda,
“Out of the 531 formal approvals given till date, 174 approvals are for sector specific and multi product SEZs for manufacture of Textiles & Apparels, Leather Footwear, Automobile components, Engineering etc.. which would involve labour intensive manufacturing. SEZs are going to lead to creation of employment for large number of unemployed rural youth. Nokia and Flextronics electronics hardware SEZs in Sriperumbudur are already providing employment to 14577 and 1058 persons. Hyderabad Gems SEZ for Jewellery manufacturing in Hyderabad has already employed 2145 persons, majority of whom are from landless families, after providing training to them. They have a projected direct employment for about 2267 persons. Apache SEZ being set up in Andhra Pradesh will employ 20, 000 persons to manufacture 10,00,000 pairs of shoes every month. Current employment in Apache SEZ is 5536 persons. Brandix Apparels, a Sri Lankan FDI project would provide employment to 60,000 workers over a period of 3 years. Even in the services sector, 12.5 million sq meters space is expected in the IT/ITES SEZs which as per the NASSCOM standards translates into 12.5 lakh jobs. It is, therefore, expected that establishment of SEZs would lead to fast growth of labour intensive manufacturing and services in the country.”

The actual picture is quite different. In most cases, the so called new jobs created in SEZs are jobs shifted from the previously existing industries.  Relatively better paid workers have lost jobs and worse pay or worse working conditions have been imposed. Nirmala Banerjee’s studies show that the SEZs have a higher proportion of women workers, who are willing to put up with worse conditions, because many of them feel they will not be working all their lives. They are trying to save up money for a dowry, and are therefore willing to put up with the additional burden. Employers’ unwritten conditions for hiring women workers include the terms that they have to be young and unmarried. Marriage or pregnancy often leads to immediate sacking, since employers are not interested in paying additional amount as maternity benefit, including paid leave. In the organized sector, workers get 4 months paid leave, and in some sectors there is a pressure to make it six months.

D. SEZs and Peasant Resistance
But the immediate victims of SEZs are peasants. Special Economic Zones were first conceptualised during the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government. The government began giving away land across the country at throwaway prices to big industrial houses. Critics were silenced by the refrain: China had done the same in the 1980s, look at it now. Continuing with the NDA government's policy, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government notified 63 places in various states to set up SEZs. In all, it is planning to set up 235 such zones. The UPA government believes these SEZs will lead to investments to the tune of Rs 300,000 crore (Rs 3,000 billion) and also create 4 million jobs.
The reality is different. Land for SEZs cannot be land in deserts or inaccessible places. In the end, it is agricultural land that is targeted, with the argument that development will benefit everyone. This is a rhetoric common to Narendra Modi, BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat, and Buddhadev Bhattacharya, CPIM chief minister of West Bengal. It was in West Bengal, that large scale popular resistance developed. Land take over is of course not restricted to acquisition for SEZs alone. In Kalinganagar, in Jajpur district of Orissa, the government was trying to take over land from indigenous peoples for the Tata steel plant expansion. On 2nd January, 2006 the State police opened fire on a protest by local tribals against the takeover and seizure of their land. Sixteen people died on the spot, four more died in the hospital, and a police constable was also killed in the clash. The firing was indiscriminate and in all directions, and continued for over an hour. Even people who were 200-300 meters away were injured. Many people who were trying to escape have bullet injuries in the back, whereas others who stood and tried to fight back, have been injured in neck and torso in front. The tribal woman who died was inside her house when see came out to see what the noise was and was struck by a bullet. The whole massacre seems pre-planned and organized, with certain key persons in the Government and bureaucracy collaborating with Tata Steel to crush the tribal resistance to industrialization and displacement. It seems that a clear signal was to be sent to the opponents of the forced "industrialization" through private capital that no obstacles shall be tolerated.

It was not very different in West Bengal, except that the peasants were not indigenous people (adivasis, or “tribals”). The first attack was in Singur, a part of Hooghly district. According to the government, this area has poor land, identified as capable of producing only one or at best two crops a year. In fact, development of irrigation, road networks, and land reforms have combined to produce a multi-crop area here.  There have been many investigations. A women’s team from Calcutta visited the area several times. What they saw was clear. The government is using a 19th century colonial era act that has remained in the statute books. It allows the government to take away agricultural land for a compensation in cash, and for public need. In Singur, the public need was to give land at throwaway price to the Tatas, once again, so that they could manufacture their Nano, the promised $2000 car, The agreement between the government and the Tatas remained a secret deal, despite attempts to get the details out through the right to information Act. What has been leaked out indicates that the Tatas would pay a paltry sum, over 60 years. The motor car factory is not a labour intensive factory. It was to come up by displacing not only peasants who, willingly or unwillingly, were going to be given cash compensation, but also share-croppers, agricultural labourers, transporters who moved agricultural products, and a range of people who were not going to be compensated at all. In addition, as some of the peasants said clearly, they were peasants, and they wanted development to mean improvement in rural conditions, not their displacement. The process of selection of the site is quite unprecedented and queer. From the statements of the Chief Minister, only this much could be ascertained that the Tatas opted for it and the government accepted readily. Presently a small plot of land of as little as 5 cottas can encourage a sharecropper to send his kids to school nourishing an aspiration for a better future. This was what was brutally destroyed on 2 Decmeber 2006 when a massive violence was unleashed and the land marked out was taken over, even though despite all government and CPI(M) efforts, peasants in half the area had refused to even take the compensation cheques. Resistance continued. So did state and party violence. On 8 December, Tapasi Malik, a young woman (18) leader of the resistance struggle, was strangled, and then burnt to death. The CPI(M) in India, and some intellectuals in the US, like Vijay Prashad, claimed that Tapasi’s father and brother had killed her  . After a protracted fight, including a campaign to have not the state criminal investigation department but a central body, the Central Bureau of investigation, look into the murder case, a CPI(M) leader and a CPI(M) activist were arrested. A lower court has found them guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment, but the case is going on in a higher court. Peasant resistance also created a major upset. In the rural self government bodies’ elections, the district was won by the rightwing opposition Trinamul Congress, as its leader Mamata Banerjee had supported the peasants. Banerjee had been a partner in the BJP led coalition that had initiated the SEZ projects in India, so her role is purely opportunistic. But that she changed positions shows the degree of popular anger at the land acquisition policy.

Singur was followed by bigger plans. The government was upbeat about acquiring land and setting up various SEZs. The first one was to be in Nandigram, in East Medinipur district. A traditionally strong left base, Nandigram also has a record of militant fighting. In January 2007, a notice was circulated that land would be acquired to set up a Chemical Hub. Peasants opposed this. Lakshman Seth, the CPI(M) strong man of Haldia, a nearby town, threatened to use force. There were clashes, and some local CPI(M) leaders, attempting to fire on peasants, were counter attacked. One of them was killed and his house was burnt. A large number of CPI(M) supporters left the area, claiming they were unsafe. After two months, in March, they gathered arms, and backed by the police, attacked in force.

On December 29, 2006, Seth held a public meeting where he announced that land would be taken for the chemical hub, to be set up by the Salim group of Indonesia. For this, 10,000 hectares of land would be acquired from 15 Mouzas (villages). 4500 acres of land was to be acquired in 14 mouzas for a ship building and repairing industry. A number of other villages were to be totally acquired. The total area to be acquired was to be just under 18547 acres. Over 15,000 families would have to be evicted. 137 schools (mostly primary, but also some secondary), and 3 health care units were to be shut down. 16,652 water bodies would be filled up.

To resist this, Nandigram peasants did not allow government personnel into the areas between January and March. The CPI(M) retaliated by organizing an economic blockade of Nandigram. CPI(M) camps on the road to Nandigram searched vehicles. Peasants set up a committee, the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee(land eviction resistance committee). Between 11 and 14 march they were sending telegrams and appeals saying they feared an attack. On the 14th, police and CPI(M) goons attacked, killing at least 14. Hundreds were injured. Some of us went there in a relief team. We saw attempts at resistance, but no trace of Maoist guerillas, who, according to the government, were fomenting trouble.

The peasant resistance continued even after the killings. Finally, in April the government stated that an SEZ would not be built in Nandigram, but they refused to pay any compensation for those killed, injured and raped on March 14. No attempts were made to arrest and punish the guilty. So called peace talks were held, but the BUPC was never called for peace talks at the state level. The CPI(M) claimed that the BUPC had ejected 3500 of its supporters from Nandigram area. But civil liberties groups trying to meet those people were not allowed to do so. The APDR estimated that the real number of people ejected were around 300. From late October the CPI(M) again stepped up armed threats, culminating in a mass attack in early November. On 6 november, several villages were torched. Two days prior to this, CPI(M) all India leader Brinda Karat had called for public violence on the people of Nandigram. By 7 November 25000 people had been rendered homeless. Medha Patkar, travelling in a car that also had one of my colleagues, Prof. Amit Bhattacharya, was not allowed to proceed to Nandigram.

Nandigram was taken back by the CPI(M), but at a high price. In East Medinipur too, the party lost in the rural elections. More important, the left political culture in the state received a severe jolt.
Finally there was the struggle in Lalgarh. The Jindal group wanted to set up an SEZ. The focus was to be a steel mill. The area chosen was near Shalboni in West Midnapur district. Inhabited by adivasis or tribals, who have, even six decades after independence, been treated virtually in the same way that the colonial rulers sued to treat them, this was seen as a “soft” area. On 2 November 2008, some Maoists exploded bombs close to the car of the Chief Minister. Immediately, the police swung into action against ordinary people. The police, supposedly there to ensure the safety and security of people, was identified as the main element contributing to people’s insecurity. The organization that came up was named Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities)– a telling commentary on how people see the police. Their charter of demands was the consequence of state violence, including violence on women. On 4th November, an armed police party arrested Dipak Pratihar of Kantapahari village while he was buying medicine from a chemist’s shop in Lalgarh for his pregnant wife Lakshmi. In the process the police brutally beat up Lakshmi and threw her to the ground. She had to be subsequently hospitalized. The police and CRPF, led by the officer in charge of Lalgarh police station, Sandeep Sinha Roy and the superintendent of police of West Midnapore district, Rajesh Singh, unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. In raids throughout the night of November 6th, women were brutally kicked and beaten up with lathis and butts of guns. Among the injured, Chintamani Murmu, one of whose eyes was hit by a gun butt, and Panamani Hansda, who was kicked on her chest and suffered multiple fractures, had to hospitalized. Chintamani’s lost her eye because of the injury. Eight other women were badly wounded. These police brutalities soon reached a point where the adivasis had no other option but to rise up in revolt. The 13 point charter of demands expressed the demands perhaps a little crudely, but very firmly. Demand 1 called for the oppressive Superintendent of Police apologizing in public, using a form that was a form of punishment, and thereby attempting an inversion of existing power relations. Not surprisingly, any talk of an apology by the Superintendent of Police was unacceptable for the state, since how could it lower its head to people it really considers inferiors and subjects rather than citizens. For months, there was a peaceful and democratic struggle by the adivasis both for their land and for their dignity. Eventually, using some violence carried out by Maoists, the state swung into action, making the “Operation Lalgarh” out to be virtually a military operation against a foreign enemy, where police and paramilitary forces, backed by the Indian Air force, march only a few kilometers a day, “reconquering” territory, and beast up locals after they do that reconquest.  
There have been battles elsewhere too. In Gujarat, the Reliance Company, owned by Mukesh Ambani, is setting up an SEZ to producer organic farm products. Peasants are questioning why the government does not punish polluting industries who dump waste on agricultural land, or whose waste is carried by water so that irrigation becomes impossible, while subsidizing farming by one of India’s richest industrialists.

D. SEZs and the Environment
The environmental dimensions of SEZs are less discussed, because the position of all mainstream political parties is a contemptuous one towards environment. In the entire din surrounding the impacts of the Special Economic Zones there is not much information on the impact of these zones on the water situation in the areas around these zones. Broadly, there are three kinds of impacts that SEZ can have on access to water for the people in the SEZ area. First would be due to the diversion of water for use within the SEZ. Second impact would be the impact of release of effluents from the SEZ. Here the situation at locations like Ankleshwar in Gujarat and Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh, among scores of other places is illustrative. At these places, the release of untreated effluents from the industrial estates has created a hell for the residents of the area. Thirdly, the conversion of land to SEZ would mean destruction of groundwater recharge systems. Moreover, it should be remembered here that in India, right to extract groundwater continues to be connected with the ownership of land. Hence SEZs even in relatively small area can pump out huge quantity of water, drying up the wells of the surrounding area.

The Government of India SEZ Act of 2005 has no mention of the sources of water for the proposed zones, leave aside the question of restrictions or impact assessment. In fact, the only time the Act mentions water, it is in the context of territorial waters of India. The SEZ acts or orders or notifications of various states give a blank cheque to the water requirement for the zones. For example, the Gujarat Act says, “The SEZ developer will be granted approval for development of water supply and distribution system to ensure the provision of adequate water supply for SEZ units.” Similar is the situation for other states.

Protests in Maharashtra: The Govt of Maharashtra has issued a land acquisition notice to acquire 10 000 ha land of 45 villages in Pen, Uran and Panvel talukas of Raigarh district for the proposed Mahamumbai SEZ by Reliance. But farmers here have been strongly agitating against this proposal, refusing to give any land for the project. In Pen taluka there are people displaced by the Koyna dam, still without potable water, living in miserable conditions, punching holes in govt’s claim of rehabilitation. Adjacent to this land, the company, in joint venture with the Maharashtra City and Industrial Development Corporation, is acquiring 5000 ha for Navi Mumbai SEZ. At Maan near Pune, where the govt plans to acquire 800 ha of land for industrial zone, a strong protest by the farmers, fisherfolk, salt pan workers and other affected persons demanded scrapping of the SEZ on April 5.

Large scale Mangrove destruction in Gujarat: In the 13 000 ha Mundra SEZ in Kutch in Gujarat, 3000 ha area is covered by Mangroves, which are already being destroyed for the SEZ. Gujarat Forest Dept has raised an alarm over this destruction. Mangroves are also facing destruction at a number of other locations in Gujarat due to industrial expansion along the coast in Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Potentially the largest SEZ in the country, the Mundra SEZ will destroy fisheries and livelihood of large number of fisherfolk and they are protesting against the SEZ. On Feb 14, ’07, five members of the community have filed a petition before the Gujarat High Court. Nine villages have also lost their grazing land to the SEZ.

So by now, across India, over a hundred have died resisting the SEZs. And they harm peasants, workers and the environment. The ideology of free market, and the attack on any state aided protection – social security, education, health, are being branded “socialist”, because it was hoped that this would weaken resistance. In recent times, the bogey does not appear so threatening. What is harmful, though, is the dual role of the CPI(M), which has been a major factor in the fortunes of the left dipping in the elections of 2009.

Notes and References:

  1. ‘The Indian Economy’, article in Wikipedia, accessed on 4 April 2009. The recent version is heavily edited. See ‘Economy of India’, , accessed on 1. 7. 2009.
  2. Chibber, Vivek. Locked in Place: State-building and Late Industrialization in India, Princeton: Princeton UP (2003).
  3. See Dutt, Ruddar and K.P.M. Sundaram. Indian Economy, Delhi, S Chand & Co (2008) for details of these policy documents. See also Tomlinson, B. R. and Gordon Johnson, The Economy of Modern India 1860-1970, Cambridge University Press (1996), for a discussion on how limited the resolutions really were.
  4. See Vanaik, Achin The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India, Verso, London (1990).
  5. For the Hindutva forces see Chattopadhyay, Kunal (Ed): The Genocidal Pogrom in Gujarat – Anatomy of Indian Fascism. Vadodara, Inquilabi Communist Sangathan (2002).
  6. See Chattopadhyay, Kunal and Soma Marik, ‘The Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance’, in (accessed June 15, 2007)
  7. Mahendra Dev, S., 'Economic Liberalisation and Employment in South Asia -I', Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXV Nos.1&2, 8 January, 2000, p.48.
  8. Ibid, pp. 40-51.
  9. Shalti Research Group SEZ in West Bengal, Kolkata, (2008).
  10. Special economic zones in India, (accessed on 30.6.2009)
  11. See Mitra, Pinaki and others, Marxbad Amader Bhitti, Punjibad amader Bhabishyat, Kolkata, no date.
  12. Peoples’ Democracy 7 May 2007; Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad: Communism in Bengal-- The Political Economy of a Crisis, Counterpunch, May 23, 2007.  (accessed 25 November 2007).
  13. For Lalgarh, I have relied mainly on television coverage, since it forms part of the government’s strategy. See for detailed accounts the website as it has been providing a consistent coverage since early November 2008.