By: Tikender Singh Panwar
The Mandi parliamentary segment is the largest constituency in the country with respect to the area dimensions. It has 17 Assembly seats, one from Shimla district, the lone Kinnaur Assembly seat, all four Assembly segments from Kullu, all but one (Dharampur) from Mandi district, Bharmaur in Chamba district and the entire district of Lahaul and Spiti that contains only one Assembly segment. So geographically this Parliamentary seat covers almost half of the entire state. In the present Vidhan Sabha, this Parliamentary segment has a wide majority of BJP legislators with all the three tribal constituencies with them. The social composition of the area is also quite varying. The entire tribal belt from Pangi – Kilar to Kinnaur falls in this constituency. The Kullu has semi tribal relations and a strong presence of caste differentiation. The district of Mandi has a predominantly feudal relationship prevalent in almost all the regions.
It is because of this that there has been a widespread movement in the past, called the ‘Mujaara’ movement. The Communist Party was the forefront leader of this movement. It is because of it that this region had several elected representatives of the Left in the state Assembly. The regions of Balh, Jogendernagar and such other places had quite a strong movement. As a result of this movement, land was distributed in this area after the 70s and Dalits were the beneficiaries. The Congress was able to maneuver the people instead of the Communist Party, which in fact led the struggle, and thus became a champion of land distribution, etc., despite the fact that it also helped the landlords through the leakage in ceilings and privy purses and so on. The Congress in a nutshell was able to befool the people.
The welfare state concept continued till the 80s and when the switchover to capitalism happened, led by the Congress, the hard gains made by the working people and the peasantry through their innumerable struggles also became target. The people were made bereft of their rights. The whole concept of welfare state was hit. The philosophy that the market would govern everything, ruled the roost. The IMF-World Bank dictated policies and asked the governments to cut down their developmental budgets and bring down the fiscal deficit to 2%, which both the Congress and BJP vehemently and merrily agreed.
Effect of fallout
1 Agriculture became the most thrashed out or severely-hit sector. Whatever subsidies were being provided were cut substantially. The government’s intervention in the market support system also was withdrawn. This led to such a situation where the cost of production increased enormously and the prices fell drastically. It is because of this reason that half the number of peasants has been coerced to such a situation where if they are offered some other option, other than agriculture, they are prepared to accept. Not a big surprise that primarily because of this reason one suicide takes place in half an hour and the total number of suicides has almost reached 2 lakh in the country. Price fluctuation has also severely affected the peasantry in the hortiticulture-growing regions.
2 The other important sector being affected is the social services sector. This sector mainly comprising education and health has virtually being converted into a commercial enterprising area. Not only rampant privatization of the educational institutions was allowed, even the government-run educational institutions like the degree colleges, medical colleges, universities, etc were being targeted for resource mobilization, and under this garb, generating money from a category called non–subsidized seats became the easiest way of mobilization. Apart from this, an increase of more than 600% in respective fees structure has also taken place . This has eventually led to a situation where the pocket of the general people is robbed in a clandestine manner.Similarly, the health sector in the previous years, especially under the BJP rule, has become the most profitable money generating enterprise. Initially the government-run health centers were turned into ‘Rogi Kalian Samitis’ and then through these Samitis fleecing the poor patients became the methodology. Now such Samitis would work at all the health centres. Continuingly the drive, the government has abdicated from the responsibility of providing health services to the people and instead has flooded the state with private medical institutions and centres. Under the guise of Greenfield projects, the government has even planned to attach government hospitals with private medical colleges.
3 Employment generation is amongst the biggest fears of neo-liberalism! Unemployment is soaring in the state. Because of these policies, the registered figure of unemployed people has reached 9 lakh. Talking into account marginal workers and those who do not get work round-the-year, the figure soars to nearly 15 lakhs. This is 25% of the population and nearly 45% of the workforce. This means that every second person in the age group of working population is unemployed. The government has virtually declared a complete moratorium over the services. More than 35,000 posts were scrapped up in one stroke by the government. The private sector also does not provide employment for the people of the state as major industries are situated in the periphery where people from neighboring states get employment.
4 The mystery of missing people from the offices! A new mystery, it seems, has gripped government schools and hospitals. This mystery is about the missing employees. Especially in the tribal and backward areas, there are innumerable schools and colleges where there are no employees or just one teacher manning a school and just one para-med or even a Group D employee taking care of the entire health centre. Systematically, this has been done by successive governments. The vacancies in both these sectors are not being filled up. The employment being provided is on contract basis. Both the Congress and the BJP have blatantly supported contractual form of employment.
5 Diminishing land and restricted rights! Over 70% of the state’s population is dependent on agriculture and other related activities. More than 90% live in rural areas. The land holdings have increased to over 12 lakhs (12,21,589),in the state. This has further put pressure and burden on the existing land structure. To add to the woes, more than 66% area is forest land in the state. Plus the total land that can be used for agricultural purposes is just 6 lakh hectare, of which nearly 1 lakh hectare has either submerged in dams or used for cement plants and other industrial purposes. It is in this background that when the then Dhumal government in 2002 asked the peasantry to file their claims for encroachments done on either government or forest land, nearly 1 lakh turned up exhibiting their encroachments. Then came the Congress government in 2003, and the Virbhadra Singh ministry asked for eviction of encroachers. A strong drive was carried out in Nirmand, Arsu, Anni in Kullu district, Bhaturi, Sapni in Kinnaur district and at several other places in Shimla district. It was, however, stopped because of the powerful resistance laid out by the peasants under the banner of Himachal Kisan Sabha. Now, after the Forest Tribal and Forest Dwellers Act 2006, the same encroachments can be regularized and hence it becomes a foremost issue of the tribal and other contiguous regions. Both the Congress and the BJP are trying to evade this question.
The financial meltdown
Then came the financial meltdown in the world. The pillars or the outposts of financial liberalization started melting down. The main purpose of the philosophy of neo-liberalism today stands defeated. They are on the defensive. It is here that the Left, and particularly the CPIM, has to play an offensive role in the contemporary politics. Despite the fact that the neo-liberal order, or simply speaking the outlook that the market would decide everything or privatization is the panacea for all the ills, stands on the back foot and grounded. Still the BJP government is pursuing this neo-liberal agenda with crony capitalism. No surprise one of the main crony is JayPee industries. From a mere contract of Rs 10 crore for example, in the Swan channelisation to mega projects like the Wangtoo Karcham hydel projects, Bagha cement plant, further extending to the opening of medical colleges, universities, even medical trusts, JP as it is called, is the prime beneficiary. The Congress is no different than the BJP on this front. No surprise that it was the Congress government headed by Virbhadra Singh that fired at the tribals in the Wangtoo Karcham agitation.
It is with this background that a strong force that can provide an alternate to the ongoing policies must be developed and it can be none other than Dr Onkar Shad, the Left candidate from Mandi Parliamentary segment.