The official assertion that India is the largest democracy in the world was challenged 30 years ago by those who raised their voices against the powerless condition of the majority of the people. On 11 April, 1993, communists and other political activists, including leaders of workers’ unions, women’s organisations, human rights activists, judges, lawyers, academics and cultural personalities came together at the Constitution Club in Delhi. They established a Preparatory Committee for People’s Empowerment.
The decade of the 1980s had witnessed an exorbitant rise in state terrorism, including state-organised communal violence. The insecurity of the people had reached an unprecedented level by the beginning of 1993. The demolition of Babri Masjid had been followed by the unleashing of communal killings in many parts of the country. Both the major parties in the parliament, Congress and BJP, were guilty of these monstrous crimes. Broad masses of people were disgusted and angry with these developments, which were completely beyond their control.
In the midst of this chaos and tension, a historic rally took place on 22 February, 1993, at Ferozeshah Kotla, at the very spot where Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades had held the founding meeting of the Hindustani Socialist Republican Association. It was organised in defiance of a blanket ban on all mass gatherings imposed by the Congress-led central government in Delhi.
The rally at Ferozeshah Kotla was organised jointly by the Communist Ghadar Party of India, Mazdoor Ekta Committee, Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Saheli and Punjab Human Rights Organisation. The participants in the rally issued an Appeal to all women and men of conscience. They called for a fundamental change in the political process, so as to empower the people and prevent any party from acting as if it is a law unto itself. Their appeal received a tremendous positive response from a wide cross section of political and cultural personalities from all over the country.
These events took place at a time when the Indian bourgeoisie had launched the anti-people program of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation. After having organised the demolition of Babri Masjid and unleashing of communal violence, the Congress Party and BJP were preparing for the budget session of parliament. It was in such conditions that the protest rally at Ferozeshah Kotla took place.
The Ferozeshah Kotla rally and the formation of the Preparatory Committee for People’s Empowerment have relevance today precisely because they opened the discussion to find an alternative to the existing party system of governance. They did so at a time when people were being told that there is no alternative.
On the world scale, it was a time when the Soviet Union had disintegrated and the world bourgeoisie had declared that socialism had failed. The leading imperialist powers maligned socialism as a system that violated democratic rights. They demanded that all countries must follow the prescriptions of a market-oriented economy and multi-party representative democracy, which to them was the litmus test for democracy.
In spite of the imperialist propaganda that there is no alternative, masses of people in Britain, the USA and other capitalist countries, including India, were angry with political parties which ruled in their name but acted against their interests. They were expressing their discontent with multi-party representative democracy. People wanted decision making power in their own hands.
The Communist Ghadar Party of India worked closely with numerous scholars and political activists to develop the critical analysis of the present system of democracy and political process, so as to derive the fundamental changes needed in order to empower the people. This work led to the following key conclusions:
- The present party system of governance, called multi-party representative democracy, is designed to impose the dictate of the bourgeoisie and exclude the working class and vast majority of people from power.
- The entire system is based on the notion that people are not capable of governing themselves; and that they allegedly need to hand over decision-making power to one or another party.
- The Constitution does not vest sovereignty in the people. The party in charge of the government is not accountable to the members of parliament. The members of parliament are not accountable to the people they are supposed to represent.
- The most powerful monopoly capitalists use their money power and media power to organise the victory of their preferred party in every round of elections.
- The role of the people begins and ends on polling day. Those who vote have no say in the laws enacted by parliament and the policy decisions of the government.
- The existing system is a legacy of British colonial rule. While a transfer of power took place in 1947 to the Indian ruling class, people remained as powerless as before. (See Box on Extracts from Comrade Lal Singh’s speech)
Extracts from Comrade Lal Singh’s Speech *
The bourgeoisie has legitimised its rule over the people through the party system of governance. The struggle for people’s empowerment is a struggle to change the basic character of state power from an instrument of the bourgeoisie to rule over the people, into an instrument of the people to govern themselves.
The past 30 years have witnessed a clash between the movement for people’s empowerment, on one side, and the diversionary and divisive politics of the ruling bourgeois class on the other side. The ruling class has been spreading one harmful illusion after another to keep the people chained to the party system of governance.
One of the illusions that were spread following the events of 1992-93 is that a coalition government will allegedly reflect the concerns of the broad masses of people more than a government formed by a single party. There was even a non-Congress and non-BJP coalition government that was formed in 1996. This was followed by coalition governments led by the BJP and by the Congress Party, one after another. However, these developments did not lead to any qualitative change.
While parties replaced one another, the program of globalisation, through privatisation and liberalisation, remained unchanged. The country’s land, labour and natural resources continued to be deployed in the service of enriching the Indian and foreign monopoly capitalists. The gap between the rich and the poor has kept on growing ever wider. Exploitation of workers has intensified and crores of peasants have been ruined.
Irrespective of which party or coalition formed the government, the criminalisation of politics has been growing from bad to worse. Unbridled use of state terror and communal violence has remained a striking feature of the past 30 years.
In response to the growing discontent of the people with their exclusion from political power, the ruling class decided in the year 2000 to create a National Commission to review the working of the Constitution. The terms of reference of this Commission explicitly stated that it cannot propose any change in the “basic structure” of the existing system of parliamentary democracy. This meant that decision-making power would remain concentrated in the hands of a ruling clique, to the exclusion of the vast majority of people.
The entire exercise of reviewing the working of the Constitution was meant to hide the fact that this Constitution does not vest sovereignty in the people. It was meant to spread the illusion that the source of the problem lies only in some particular individuals and parties who are corrupt, communal and criminal.
Various recommendations of the National Commission have been implemented. They have not made any dent in the powerless condition of the vast majority of people. Many reforms, such as the introduction of electoral bonds and discouragement of non-party candidates, have further strengthened the domination over the political process by the preferred parties of the bourgeoisie, while the political process remains as criminal, corrupt and communal as ever.
Starting in 2004, the ruling class spread the illusion that it is possible to give monopoly capitalism a “human face”. Illusions were spread that it is possible to get rid of communalism and corruption within the existing system of bourgeois rule. Life experience has shattered all these illusions.
Congress Party replaced BJP in 2004 and BJP replaced Congress Party in 2014. Neither corruption nor communalism has been eliminated. The parliament has enacted one draconian law after another, including the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act, all in the name of fighting against “Islamic terrorism”. The people have been prevented from playing any role in the day to day affairs of the country.
The past thirty years have confirmed that none of the problems of the people will be solved as long as the party system of governance, the domination of the parties of the ruling class over the political process, remains in place.
Replacing BJP by the Congress Party or some other party through the existing electoral process will not change anything in favour of the working people. Monopoly capitalists will continue to set the agenda for society. The masses of people will remain powerless.
There is a need to bring about change in the basic character of the political process and state power to end the powerlessness of the people. It is in the interests of the working class to lead the broad masses of people in carrying out such a change. The working class must champion the struggle for people’s empowerment.
A major roadblock in the struggle for people’s empowerment are the illusions spread by various parties in the communist movement about the existing state, its constitution, and the party system of governance. It is the duty of all communists to put forth before the workers and peasants and broad masses of people, the absolute necessity to fight for a new political system and process in which people will govern themselves. We must fight for a system in which the role of a political party is to make sure that decision-making power is exercised by the working people. This is the lesson which emerges from the experience of three decades since the historic initiative which began in 1993.