Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Role of Workers and Peasants

Report of correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Committee

Mazdoor Ekta Committee (MEC) organised a meeting on this theme on April 21, 2024. Held right in the midst of the hectic election campaigning in different parts of the country, the meeting was attended by a large number of people from the different regions of the country as well as from abroad. Participants included activists of several political parties and organisations, trade unions, kisan organisations, women and youth organisations, etc. They included activists organising for the rights of workers in Britain, Canada and Australia.

Birju Nayak of MEC greeted all the participants. He welcomed the main speakers — Shri Santosh Kumar, MEC; Shri Hannan Mollah, General Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha; Shri Shailendra Dubey, Chairman, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF); Shri Kanwarjeet Singh, State President, Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan), Haryana; Shri Krishna Bhoyar, Deputy General Secretary, All India Federation of Electricity Employees; Shri Buta Singh Burjgill, President, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda); Shri S.P. Singh, General Secretary, South-East Zone, All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA); Dr A Mathew, Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC). He called on the speakers, one by one, to present their views on the issue.

Shri Hannan Mollah was critical of the government for betraying the promises made to the kisans when they had called off their year-long agitation at Delhi’s borders in October 2021. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) has continued to mobilise the kisans to keep up the struggle until the demand for a legal guarantee for MSP and other demands are met. He highlighted the unity of workers and kisans as witnessed in the massive kisan-mazdoor mahapanchayat at Ram Lila Maidan in Delhi on March 14. The SKM is working to mobilise the masses of kisans, to expose the present government and to punish it for its crimes by voting it out of power in the General Elections 2024, he said.

Shri Shailendra Dubey spoke of the repeated attempts of the government, to push through the Electricity Amendment Bill in parliament, which will pave the way for privatisation of electricity supply. He highlighted the resolute opposition of the electricity workers in every part of the country, and the support to the struggle given by the SKM, which has successfully foiled all these attempts. Shri Dubey gave examples to show that the government has been steadily handing over electricity distribution networks to private monopoly power distribution companies, leading to a steep increase in power tariffs in various parts of the country. This will have disastrous consequences for the working people in the cities as well as the kisans in the countryside, belying the BJP election manifesto that promises ‘low-cost electricity in every home’. He also exposed the scheme of enforcing pre-paid smart meters, as yet another scheme to loot the consumers and pave the way for privatisation of electricity distribution. Electricity supply should be fundamental right of every citizen and cannot be turned into a source of profit for the monopoly capitalists. We must fight for political power and greater participation of workers and kisans in making decisions, he said. He called on workers and kisans to wage a united struggle to defeat the present anti-worker, anti-kisan government in the Lok Sabha 2024 elections.

Shri Buta Singh Burjgill condemned the attempts of the government to intimidate all the opposition parties and crush all dissenting voices, through the use of ED and other state agencies. The manipulation of elections through the use of EVMs is also another attack on democracy, he said. The SKM has called on kisans to oppose all BJP candidates in Punjab. Workers and kisans must come together to defeat the BJP, he concluded.

Shri Kanwarjeet Singh questioned this “democracy”, in which the vast majority, the toiling people, are effectively marginalised in elections. The blatant use of money power and muscle power, the manipulation of votes, the monopoly over the means of propaganda by the ruling party, together with the use of state agencies such as the ED against political rivals — all this renders it impossible for representatives of the workers and kisans to even stand for elections, let alone be elected. The abysmally low voter turn-out is a reflection of the fact that the working masses have lost faith in this parliamentary system. The BJP government is advancing the agenda of the corporate houses, he said. No political party is raising the real issues of the workers and peasants. They try to divide people on the basis of religion and caste, in order to win elections. Shri Kanwarjeet Singh explained that elections in this system only offer people the choice between one set of robbers or another. Workers and kisans have to organise to take political power; only then can we hope to end this exploitation and injustice, he concluded.

Shri Krishna Bhoyar spoke of the marginalisation of workers and kisans in the present system. We must ask the candidates of the political parties that claim in their manifestoes to represent the interests of the workers and kisans – will you raise our issues in parliament, will you fight for MSP, for withdrawal of the 4 labour codes, etc., he said. Shri Bhoyar gave examples to show that when these parties are out of power, they promise all kinds of things, but once they come to power, they forget their promises. He also condemned the attempts of the Modi government to weaken and split the opposition parties. The media completely blacks out the news of our struggles. Refuting the claims of the government that India is going to become the world’s third largest economic power, he said that the living standards of the workers and kisans are not rising, but only the wealth of the big corporates is rising. He called for a joint struggle to defeat the Modi government at the Centre.

Shri SP Singh spoke of the militant history of the AILRSA, including its role in the historic railway strike of 1974, and its consistent struggle in defence of the rights of the railway workers. Along with workers and kisans, the millions of unemployed youth will have a very crucial role in deciding the future course of our society, he said. He gave the example of tens of thousands of vacancies in the railways, which if filled, could significantly reduce the number of unemployed youth. He was critical of those trade union leaders who are supporting the Modi-led government and called it a betrayal of the cause of the railway workers. He called upon the workers, kisans and youth to vote for those candidates who will raise their demands in parliament.

Shri Santosh Kumar pointed out that Lok Sabha elections held during the past 75 years have led many times to a change of party at the helm. However, they have never led to any change in the capitalist orientation of the economy and the class character of political power.  Year after year, super-rich monopoly capitalists have grown enormously richer. Workers and peasants have faced ever intensifying exploitation, growing indebtedness and misery. Sexual harassment of women, caste-based discrimination and oppression have persisted. While spokesmen of the ruling class boast about India’s economic growth, the gap between the rich and the poor has reached an unprecedented level. Unemployment among the youth is higher than ever before.

He pointed out that those in power repeatedly organise violence on a mass scale, targeted against people of a particular religion, caste or tribal community, so as to destroy the unity of the people against their oppressors. But the organisers of communal violence and terror are not punished, while the victims are persecuted. Those who raise their voices against injustice are locked up in jail indefinitely. Draconian laws such as the UAPA and AFSPA permit the brutal violation of people’s rights in this ‘world’s largest democracy’.

Santosh clarified that the outcome of elections in the existing system is not decided by the masses of people who vote.  It is decided by the bourgeois class. Capitalists use their money power, control over the media, influence over the courts and various forms of manipulation of voter lists, EVMs and the counting of votes. They organise the victory of that party which can most effectively fool the people while implementing their self-serving program. Thus, we see that in 2004, the ruling class organised the replacement of the BJP by the Congress Party. In 2014, the Congress Party was replaced by the BJP. Throughout this period, the program of globalisation, through liberalisation and privatisation, has remained unchanged.

Referring to the fact that most TV news channels are predicting another resounding victory for the BJP, Santosh said that there is an influential section of the bourgeoisie which wants to continue with the present arrangement, with Prime Minister Modi at the head. On the other hand, the decision of the Supreme Court to declare the Electoral Bonds scheme unconstitutional shows that there is also an influential section of the bourgeoisie which wants to replace the BJP with an alternative arrangement, in order to prevent further discrediting of Indian democracy.

However, whether the NDA or the INDIA alliance forms the next government, the rule of the bourgeoisie will remain intact. The gap between a super-rich minority and the vast majority of working people will continue to widen, he emphasised.

Going into our history, Santosh said that our people’s hopes for an end to exploitation and oppression when British colonial rule came to an end in 1947, were dashed to the ground, because political power was transferred into the hands of the Indian bourgeoisie. He clarified that the Constitution that was adopted in 1950 is designed to perpetuate the system of exploitation and oppression that the British rulers left behind. It is designed to maintain the Indian bourgeoisie in power, while the toiling majority of people remain powerless in the face of ever intensifying exploitation and oppression.

The times are calling for a clean break with the existing system, he declared. The workers and peasants who produce the wealth of India can and must become her master. We must develop a new system of workers’ and peasants’ rule, in which the rights of all human beings are protected, without exception. We must establish a new Constitution which vests sovereignty in the people. The ministers must be accountable to the elected legislative body and all elected representatives must be accountable to the electorate.

It is essential to put an end to all forms of capitalist funding of election campaigns. In the new system, the electorate must have the decisive say in selecting the list of candidates standing for election in each constituency. The State must finance the entire process of selection of candidates and the election campaigns of the selected candidates. People must have the right to hold elected representatives to account and to recall them at any time if they do not serve our interests. We must have the right to propose or reject laws and policies.

Irrespective of the results of the ongoing elections, we must step up our struggle for our rights. We must wage the struggle with the aim of becoming the rulers of India.

With political power in our hands, workers and peasants will be able to take control of the means of production and reorient the economy to ensure secure livelihood and prosperity for all. Only then will the longstanding aspirations of the Indian people be fulfilled, for complete liberation from all forms of exploitation and oppression, he concluded.

Dr A Mathew explained that the government is the manager chosen by the rulers, the big corporate houses, to rule the country on their behalf. The big corporate houses decide which party or coalition will best carry out their agenda while best fooling the people. If this agenda of the capitalist class continues, then we can well imagine what the future holds in store for us – greater concentration of wealth in fewer hands, increasing poverty, unemployment, more attacks on the livelihood and rights of the workers and kisans, greater poverty, exploitation and starvation, more attacks on our right to protest, etc. Our rulers claim that we are the fifth largest economy in the world. The wealthiest 1% of our country, who hold more than 40% of the wealth of the country, are counted among the world’s richest, whereas the vast majority of the toiling people are counted among the poorest in the world. Public assets and services are being handed over to the biggest monopoly capitalists to help them to maximise their profits. The capitalists who became the rulers of the country after the British left, adopted the same state structure and the same method of rule that was used by the British to plunder and exploit our people. This system which serves the interests of the capitalist exploiters cannot be used to serve the interests of the workers and kisans. We workers and kisans have to replace this with a new system in which the economy will be oriented towards fulfilling the needs of the people, and people will be the decision makers. We have to advance our struggle with this objective and mobilise all those who are oppressed under this system around our program.

Following this, there were interventions from several participants. They included Shri Sanjay Pandhi, Central Working President of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), Shri Salvinder Dhillon from Ghadar International, Shri Dalvinder Atwal from Indian Workers Association (Great Britain), Shri Hanuman Prasad Sharma, Vice President, Lok Raj Sangathan; Prof Manbhanjan from Punjab; Ms Sujata Madhok, journalist; Shri Subhash Bhatnagar, Secretary, Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam; and women’s rights activist Reena Tripathi. Several youth came forward boldly to express their views on elections and the challenge facing workers, peasants, women and youth.

Bringing the discussion to a close, Shri Birju Nayak thanked the speakers and all the participants. He gave the call to expose the existing “democracy” in which the richest corporate houses set the agenda and organise to bring to power that government which will best implement their agenda. Workers and kisans are fed the illusion that they are choosing their government, hiding the reality that we have absolutely no power to make any decisions that affect our lives. We have to organise to become the maliks of the country and build a new system which will serve the interests of the vast toiling majority, he concluded.

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