India Today: Looking Back, Looking Forward

(Seminar on the occasion of Putchalapalli Sundarayya’s birth centenary, May 2013)

A Concept Note


India Today is staring at a severe crisis. Twenty years back, to ward off an economic crisis, the government had introduced neo-liberal reforms. Till last year, the near 8 percent growth rate of the economy is projected as one of its important achievements. Successive governments, irrespective of their political affiliations have stuck to the implementation of the neo-liberal policies, giving the impression that indeed these reforms have a political consensus and were irreversible. The voices arguing against the reforms are suppressed. Even a fall in the growth rate is attributed to the failure to carry forward further reforms and liberalise the economy. The government is committed to further liberalise the economy.
The neo-liberal economic policies profoundly impacted all aspects of our country. Distribution of resources became even more uneven. Income inequalities grew. Crony capitalism got deep rooted and corruption institutionalised. Agrarian distress and peasant suicides ruined our rural economy. Huge waves of migrations from the villages to cities are taking place. In the cities, there is no major expansion of organised industrial activity, on the other hand, there is a huge growth in unorganised work force. Women constitute a large number of these unorganised workers. Contractorisation of work force is increasing. The growth in the service sector has not benefited all sections of the society.
It is not just economy alone that has been profoundly impacted. All the institutions of Indian State are affected. A most visible influence can be found in the realm of foreign policy, which saw a decisive turn from non-alignment to unashamed pro-US positions. Solidarity, which was dear to the people of India, like with the Palestinian cause, is fading. The role of India as a leader of the developing countries has given way to subservience to imperialist powers. Defence deals and joint military operations with imperialist countries deepened.
Depoliticisation of the society is encouraged. Political parties and politicians are blamed for all the ills plaguing the society, rather than the policies that are being implemented. NGOs are projected as the role models that can contribute to a 'real' change in the society. Parliamentary debates are gradually becoming rarer by the day. Executive decisions and orders, bereft of legislative scrutiny are becoming the norm. Democracy as a value is just confined to its narrower sense of 'right to vote'. Coalition politics and fragmented mandates have now become a feature that is to stay, at least for the time being. Regional parties are increasingly playing a key role in national politics, though their prime consideration is regional interests, at times even at the cost of the interests of the entire country.
Identity politics are on the rise. Various demands and movements based on identities – religion, caste, region and gender – are gaining ground. Identity based mobilisations are posing an immense challenge to class based politics.
We are witnessing judicial activism on various issues. On many issues, a confrontation between the judiciary, executive and the legislature are seen. The fine line of balance defined as the 'separation of powers' in our constitution is getting blurred. A general impression that non-representative institutions like the judiciary and bureaucracy are always to be trusted is gaining ground.
The ideals prescribed in the Preamble of the Constitution, 'democratic, secular, sovereign, socialist, republic' are increasingly confined to just rhetoric and not looked upon as guides for action. These ideals which were indeed a reflection of the aspirations of the people and a country that had just come out of a long struggle for independence are slowly pushed to the back burner. Communalism that had led to the partition of the country, still exists as a major threat to the country. Communalism combined with economic liberalism – the Gujarat model – is being projected as the alternative to the current problems faced by our country. Indeed, there was even a debate initiated by a certain section in the society demanding the removal of 'socialism' from the Preamble.
India today is also not silent. There is a lot of churning going on. People are coming out in protests.  There is an all round anger and discontent brewing. The protests against the gang rape in Delhi and throughout the country, protests against corruption are all indicators. Mobilisations on the basis of identity are on the rise. A trend, asking people to join 'apolitical protests' is being witnessed on a number of instances. NGOs, movements unconnected with politics are encouraged, while the political parties and their protests are deliberately ignored. Technology is effectively put to a great use in mobilising people. The changing demographic composition of our country, with a majority youth, their ease with the social media and other forms of communication and technology are some aspects that cannot be ignored by any progressive, Left force that wants to mobilise people and engage actively in social transformation.
In this context, the role of Left and progressive forces in intervening and shaping the destination of the country is pivotal. Right from the days of the freedom struggle, the Left always had a tradition of standing by the people, advocating their aspirations and leading the struggles. It also provided alternative ideological and policy prescriptions. Today, in the all round process of churning going on in the society, the need for an ideological counter to the dominant ideology of the State is all the more needed.
On the occasion of the birth centenary of P. Sundarayya, a freedom fighter, communist and above all an individual who had given utmost importance to collecting facts and understanding them for political praxis, we feel it prudent to organise a seminar in his memory to comprehensively discuss and debate all these issues.
The seminar is intended to look through all the factors that are at play in India today – both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic. It is an attempt to build a historical narrative to understand the present and plan strategies for a truly democratic and egalitarian future. Through this seminar, we also wish to bring out the impact of the global developments on the Indian society, right from the background in which we had achieved independence to this day where there is a perceptible shift towards imperialism. This seminar is also intended to understand the relevance of class as an identity, amidst not only the assertion of various other identities, but also in the background of changing class structures. The changes in the class structures since independence, both in the rural and urban regions, the emergence of the middle-classes and their impact on the State and civil society have to be analysed thoroughly. The role played by women in economic production too has evolved over times. The contradiction between feudal and capitalist social systems is glaringly getting reflected in the way women are treated – capitalism wants them to come out seeking employment, while feudalism, as represented by the Khap panchayats, wants to bind them into their traditional roles. This seminar intends to analyse all these changes, along with the impact it had on the synchretic culture and tradition of India. The seminar also wants to look into the various means through which ideas are disseminated in India today. Media, during its initial days, played an important role in disseminating ideas that helped in popularising the struggle for freedom. Media today has evolved in myriad forms and their role has to be understood in a proper perspective to comprehend and develop strategies for effectively using it and at times even countering its influence.
This seminar will be for three days, with the idea being, to give ample time for discussion among the participants. We want the paper presenters to trace the historical basis for the process of change. The ultimate aim of the seminar will of course be, to contribute in sharpening the understanding of the concrete conditions of our country and help in the praxis for a social change.
As organisers of the seminar, we of course will be more than glad to bring out a volume of all the presentations made in the seminar, in honour of P. Sundarayya.