Originally Published 2012-07-30 00:00:00 Published on Jul 30, 2012
The traditional Left in the country too has failed to 'grow' with the new-generation labour force, with the result that there is a vacuum that the Maoists possibly seem to be exploiting. This is not the first time traditional Left have failed the labour force.
Maoism: Lessons for traditional Left and Govt
Reports that Central agencies were looking at the possibilities of Maoist infiltration into the labour force as the cause for the killing of an executive at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar in Haryana should be an eye-opener for the Governments and the traditional Left alike. On the one hand, there seems to be a wilful under-play of such incidents in recent years, particularly by State Governments (as in Orissa and Tamil Nadu, where too, company executives were lynched in labour riots), to downplay the law and order situation. On the other hand, there seems to be a ’silent conspiracy’ between Central and State Governments not to put off prospective investors. The traditional Left in the country too has failed to ’grow’ with the new-generation labour force, with the result that there is a vacuum that the Maoists possibly seem to be exploiting.

This is not the first time that the traditional Left have failed the labour force. In pre-reforms Mumbai, the late Datta Samant took up cudgels, and literally so, on behalf of the local factory labour, replacing the traditional Left of all hues. The emergence of the Shiv Sena as a muscular force capable of labour militancy, against the Government of the day, the industries and other trade unions, should not be over-looked either. In other States, over the years, the emergence of trade unions owing allegiance to regional parties, particularly those that came to power, witnessed the slow but steady shrinking of the traditional Left in this arena as in main-stream politics. By the time, these regional parties adopted economic reforms to the hilt, in an attempt to encourage investments and jobs-creation in their backyard, the Left trade unions had weakened to such an extent that they were unable to fill the ideological and physical vacuum that was emerging. This led to the inevitable but foreseeable re-emergence of Naxalism, re-christened as ’Maoist militancy’.

The emergence of ’Naxalite militancy’ across the country in the late Sixties had its roots in the increasing irrelevance of the traditional Left, at times contributing to the expanding vacuum, after regional parties, expanding at a faster pace, could not address ideological and conceptual issues impacting on the Indian population, including the labour sector. The traditional Left (Socialists) in the country was either disintegrating in the aftermath of ’Nehruvian Socialism’ adding teeth to their imported ideology in more practical and administrative terms in the post-Independence era, or was still looking at the erstwhile Soviet Union and/or China for conceptual sustenance, which too was irrelevant to ground realities.

On the practical side again, the regional parties, targeting the traditional constituencies of the traditional Left at the grassroots-level after Gandhiji’s Congress had done enough damage in urban and semi-urban centres, had immediate solutions to the problems of the suffering lot, especially when they came into competitive populism, nurtured in turn by their electoral power. The traditional Left lacked the opportunity and occasion to adapt itself to ground realities, with the result, the generational gap since has created the vacuum that they are now not able to fill, when called upon to do so. So much so, Left trade unions through the era of economic reforms are happy if their affiliated units in public sector undertakings like banks and others go on ’mass casual leave’ and sit at home to press their own demands without taking to streets as in the Sixties and Seventies.

The advent of private sector counterparts, and large-scale migration of public sector bank employees, for instance, is only one cause - which, however, has been compounded by the Government’s willing backing for public sector managements to quell trouble from the labour quarters. The shifting sands of jobs-creation, now based on upscale white-collar levels, as in the IT and BPO sectors, with no job-guarantees, as in the West, is another factor. The Maruti Suzuki problem at Manesar owes to this as well. Neither are the trade unions able to ensure success for their legitimised ’collective bargaining’ tactics under the changed circumstances, nor are the new-generation employees, born into relative affluence than their previous generations, willing to risk their present and the future on trade union promises and actions with which they cannot identify or relate to.

The problem of the Left is also the problem of the Governments in this country, but the latter is wantonly pushing the problems under the carpet. It was so in the traditional sectors of agriculture and farm lands. Across the country today, awakened by ’international best practices’ on environment, and aided, if not abetted by a media that is more conscientious than most, selectively though, the Maoists have been able to expand their base and activities as they themselves might not have thought was possible when they drafted their ’Dandakaranya Plan’ in the Nineties. Today, there are set to be Maoist units across the country, which covers North-South and East-West axis fully. Where no ’Maoist action’ has been seen, one can only apprehend that they could emerge. In these cases, as in the case of Manesar, more than the rural farm sector, where labour practices are tradition-driven, urban industrial units could fall easy prey.

It is not that all land-related public protests in various parts of the country over the past few years are Maoists-induced. The Maoist ability to influence even unseen sections of the Indian society into launching localised mass movements on localised issues, drawing national attention and with nation-level consequences, cannot be under-estimated. Where they are more vocal and are actually present, violence has become their calling-card. Political parties have not helped matters by taking sides on issues, and seeking to exploit the discomfiture to the Government of the day, by promoting what is a justifiable cause. In the process, they have either attested to the unjustifiable methods, and at times have also adopted those methods - or, adapted the perpetrators as their own comrades-in-arms.

The traditional Left is clueless. Having finally come down to earth after finally acknowledging that the Soviet Communism is dead and gone, and China too had changed economic tacks - today, China’s strength is cheap labour, made possible by the methodological absence of ’collective bargaining’ -they are only into petty ’burgeoisis politicking’ for positions within the party structure, possibly owing to the shrinking electoral base, and consequent absence of positions of pelf and power of the governmental/ministerial kind. The Government at the Centre and in the States have not helped matters, as they continue to conclude at every turn that globalisation alone is the panacea for all the ills of the nation - and that the ’trickle-down’ effect of economic reforms would reach out to the last man, if he was willing to wait.

Globalisation comes with the price of ’high margins’ for the investor, who it is not acknowledged, is anyway investing only to make profits - now or later. The consequent rise in the cost and prices of commodities and services, whose expansion has been facilitated however by the ’reforms era pay-packages’, which however is IT-driven, not reforms-reforms driven, has made poor man poorer, leading to troubles that the Maoists readily exploit. What the Government needs to acknowledge and work on is the fact that ’market capitalism’ came to India at a time when the nationals, if not the nation, was at the take-off stage of socio-economic progress, made possible by the ’Socialist raj’.

In the US, they could start it on a clean-slate, after the extermination of the American-Indian community, which might not have been designed for the purpose, but whose poverty and blind attachment to their lands, would have been a problem, nonetheless. Europe, propounded it, as colonial powers had to find resources and markets for keeping their nationals in good humour. The two World Wars put an end to colonialism, and they had time, need and occasion to refine their methods. The case of India does not fit into either. The problems are peculiar to the land and its people - and solutions would have to be singular, too.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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