EVERYONE, except the Congress party, accepts that the July 5 all India hartal was a big success. The hartal affected all parts of the country – from Manipur in the North East to Jammu in the North West and from Kerala in the South to Himachal Pradesh in the North. This response came from the people who are fed up with the ever increasing price rise of food and essential commodities. Ever since the UPA-II government came into office, there has been no respite from price rise.
The last straw was the second successive hike in petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices within three months. This time, kerosene was also not spared. On top of this has come the deregulation of petrol pricing which will mainly benefit the private oil companies and put consumers at the mercy of the market.
All the justifications by the government for increasing the prices of petroleum products and deregulating them have been exposed as untrue. India has the highest petrol price in the region which is due to high taxation. The government revenue keeps increasing exponentially with every price hike. The public sector oil companies are making profits and the so-called under recoveries are only notional. The price hikes will fuel inflation which is already in double digit figures and erode any possibility of providing food security.
The success of the hartal has led to the usual criticism – that the economy has suffered a loss of thousands of crores of rupees. This cry is being raised by the very quarters who have received tax concessions worth thousands of crores in the last budget and who are being promised more in the Direct Taxes Code to be promulgated shortly. Taxes foregone through various exemptions to the corporate sector alone amounted to Rs. 80 thousand crore in 2009-10.
The other attack is on the Left. The Congress has accused the Left of joining hands with the BJP. The corporate media is amusingly concerned about the ideological purity of the CPI(M). They are railing against the opportunism of the Left for combining with the Right.
The politics of the CPI(M) and its stand against communalism is well-known. The role played by the CPI(M) and the Left in countering the communal politics represented by the BJP and defending secularism is consistent. It does not suffer from the vacillations and compromises which the Congress is prone to.
The bogey of the Left joining hands with the communal forces is being raised to divert attention from the main issue. The CPI(M) has opposed the petroleum pricing policies of successive governments. During the United Front government when a policy announcement was made regarding deregulation, the CPI(M) had strongly objected to it. The Party had pointed out what steps should be taken to reduce the oil pool deficit. The United Front government could not implement this policy as it did not last long after the notification. However, deregulation was implemented by the NDA government in 2002 by dismantling the Administered Price Mechanism (APM). The CPI(M) opposed the policy and conducted agitations against the price hikes of petroleum products. The deregulation policy was discontinued in 2004.
Now too, the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to deregulate petroleum prices will be met with strong opposition from the CPI(M).
After the announcement in the Union Budget of increase in excise and customs duties on petrol and diesel, the Left parties took the initiative and 13 parties met and gave a call for an all India hartal on April 27. This was the first major all India protest action against price rise after the UPA-II government came into office.
Disregarding the protests of the entire opposition inside Parliament and outside, the Congress-led government has now callously taken further steps to increase the burdens on the people through another round of price hikes. This is accompanied by its refusal to make policy changes which will help curb price rise. This is the issue on which the Left parties along with seven other parties – the Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, TDP, BJD, JD(S), INLD and AGP – decided to give a call for the July 5 hartal. Faced with such a big attack on the people’s livelihood, no opposition party could keep away from an all India protest. Other opposition parties, mainly the NDA, also gave a call for a bandh.
Even the RJD and the LJP, which support the UPA government, have given a call for a bandh on July 10 in Bihar.
Faced with this massive opposition and protest, the Congress party and its supporters in the corporate media are now raising in chorus the spectre of a “Left-BJP unity”. They conveniently ignore the fact that almost all the secular opposition parties have conducted the hartal.
The people are not going to be confused by the talk of a “Left-BJP” combination. They are going to judge each political party by how sincerely they protect their interests in the face of this onslaught through price hikes. The Trinamul Congress has been stripped off all its pretensions of defending the people’s interests by being part of the Central government and going along with these anti-people measures.
As far as the CPI(M) and the Left parties are concerned, such politically motivated propaganda will not deter them. The struggle against price rise and the government’s harmful petroleum pricing policies will have to be intensified further. The Convention held by the Left parties has already called for a campaign on food security and price rise in the month of August. This campaign should lay the basis for next phase of the struggle. In the meantime, the Left parties will, in coordination with the secular opposition parties, take up the price hikes of petroleum products in Parliament in the forthcoming monsoon session. Along with that, all these parties will consult on how to widen and develop the movement outside.