HRDA statement on the arrest of imminent social activist Teesta Setalvad

With the election of the new right wing government at the centre, there has been a renewed attack on activists and intellectuals in India. The most recent victim of the government’s persecution has been imminent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who was a key figure in exposing the crimes of Modi’s Government in Gujarat during the 2002 riots. We republish the statement in solidarity with Teesta Setalvad by the Human Rights Defenders Alert-India.

HRDA-India: Statement in Support of Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand

The Human Rights Defenders Alerts – India [HRDA], is shocked to hear about the denial of anticipatory bail to renowned human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand by the Gujarat High Court on February 12, 2015. The Gujarat High Court in this particular case of an allegation of misuse of funds further commented that ‘The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs’. “How can one seek materialistic pleasure and happiness at the expense of the poor and needy persons. How can one even use five paise which is meant for the poor and the needy. The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs…The donations are made with lot of trust and hope that ultimately the money would reach the poor and the needy. However, here is a case where, in the name of the poor, needy and unfortunate riot-affected victims, lakhs of rupees was received and embezzled,” said the court, adding that it was “shocking and disturbing”. The HRDA strongly condemns the comments of the Judge of the Gujarat High Court as they are completely uncalled for, based without any substantive evidence and seriously impinge on the right of all NGOs and civil society groups. These comments are even before the investigation in the FIR is complete totally damaging to a human rights defender of international repute. The Supreme Court of India, stayed the arrest of the activists and agreed to hear the anticipatory bail plea the next day on February 19, 2015. HRDA appreciates this speedy intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
This particular case in question is with regard to a trust that was formed in 2007 to build a memorial for the victims in Gulberg Society during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The Court has also failed to appreciate that ‘Memoralization’ is a human rights engagement that no one but Teesta and her colleagues had attempted to keep the memory of the Gujarat carnage alive in the minds of our Indian society so that the sanctity of our secular fabric is protected from further such attempts. Due to an increase in the land prices, the trust couldn’t afford the said plan and with the due consent of the grant donors utilized the funds for legal aid for the riot victims and petitions challenging the role of the State. An embezzlement case was filed in January 2014 and the Gujarat High Court was moved for an anticipatory bail. For more than a year, the anticipatory bail matter has been pending in court. It is also important to take note of the fact that the Supreme Court has found itself been repeatedly asked to intervene in cases related to the Gujarat Riots. HRDA is alarmed by the speed in which a petition for anticipatory bail has been handled by the Gujarat High Court – for more than one year!! .
This particular matter however is not directly related to the Gujarat Riots, both Teesta and Javed for now over 11 years have been working for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat Riots. Their role has been instrumental in obtaining life sentences for former Gujarat State Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal Leader Babu Bajrangi and more than a hundred others. This particular denial of anticipatory bail also comes in the light of several senior police officers accused in a series of cases relating to Gujarat Riots being granted bail by the courts and reinstated back in senior positions in the state police.
This is not the first time that Human Rights Defenders working for justice and truth with regard to Gujarat Riots have been targeted. Teesta herself has been targeted in several other false criminal cases for which she had to seek anticipatory bail from the Supreme Court. It is clearly a part of repeated attempts to discredit human rights defenders and attacks on them.
HRDA strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders in the state of Gujarat and this particular case of attack on Teesta, her husband Javed and their colleagues by the State. These repeated attempts by the state of Gujarat to push the activists on defensive line have constantly failed over 11 years. The response of the State is in contrary to the assurances of states in the UN Declaration of HRDs and in fact it emphasizes all the work that Teesta, Javed and their colleagues have been carrying on patiently and silently. HRDA also humbly requests the judiciary to be sensitive to the NGOs and civil society groups and refrain from passing generic statements having serious implication for people and their reputations, constantly working for human rights and development.
HRDA demands that the NHRC which is to organize a national workshop for Human Rights Defenders in New Delhi on the 19th February and to which it has also invited Teesta Setalvad to participate, will in effect ensure that it [the NHRC] intervenes before the Supreme Court of India in the anticipatory bail petition under Sec 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, because this is a matter which impinges on the human rights of human rights defenders. It is at times like this that an institutional protector of HRDs, like the NHRC has to take ‘extra-ordinary’ measures for extra-ordianry human rights defenders like Teesta.
HRDA reminds the higher Courts of this country that HRDs across the globe are now armed with a mandate from the U N Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 which mandates them to: individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. [Art 1]. HRDs also have the right to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. [Art 9[3][C]. It is this engagement that Teesta and her colleagues have been engaging in Gujarat since 2002.


Where we stand on the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections

In April of 2014, India will brace itself for another round of elections after five years. This would mark India’s 16th Loksabha election. Undoubtedly bourgeois media sources would make a huge deal over the simple act of elections in themselves repeating every time how “the world’s largest democracy” continues to remain a democracy. At the same time, the highly partisan media houses would waste no time in slandering the rival to their preferred political candidate. All the while, the poor and downtrodden majority in India who earn no more than $2 a day would continue to struggle for the most basic necessities. This election much like most of the previous elections, would give the working class the choice of voting for one crook in place of another, one carrying a saffron flag with a lotus and another carrying a tricolor with a hand (as if poised to give a slap) .

The revolutionary maxim “If voting could change the system, it would be illegal” comes to mind when talking about these elections. The fact is that the core of the problems facing the people of India, the overwhelming majority of whom are proletarians and poor peasantry, are embedded in the system of capitalism. The system which allows the rich to grow fabulously wealthy, while the poor remain wretchedly poor. To those who say otherwise, I tell them to see Mukesh Ambani’s billion dollar house towering over Mumbai shanties and then let them say otherwise !

India has seen almost 60 years of rule by the Congress and its Gandhi Dynasty and a full term of rule by the right wing opposition BJP with the full and active support of the communal RSS. Both proved only one thing, that both versions of bourgeois rule would bring nothing but miseries and impoverishment to the people. The bourgeoisie seeks to narrow our choices to only two alternatives, either a corrupt rule under the heir of the Gandhi Dynasty represented by Rahul Gandhi, or the scion of communally motivated Hindutva forces led by Narendra Modi. In such a situation it is imperative for revolutionaries to take a principled position which places the interest of the working class over all individualist narrow interest of the bourgeoisie and their pet political parties.

The social context :

Since 2009 India has witnessed an upswing of struggles and popular mobilizations. In particular there has been a revival of working class militancy. The two high points of this trend was the general strike of 2010 and the general strike of 2011. During this period the force of peasant struggles succeeded in winning concessions from the state in the form of a change in the law related to land acquisitions. The youth and urban petty bourgeois which was radicalized by peasant struggles and a resurgent working class, then mobilized under the leadership of the Anti-Corruption movement spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal and his NGO.

Ultimately, the results of the struggles were mixed. While some concessions were won and some battles succeeded, the rule of the bourgeoisie remained intact and the Indian bourgeois simply threw up alternatives. The first anti-corruption movement ended in compromise and the collapse of the original organization which lead the fight. The peasantry while successful in alleviating only one painful expression of their larger oppression, remain oppressed by crushing impoverishment and imposed isolation. All manner of pre-modern social ills continue to plague the countryside from casteism to sexism. And now, communalism has been added to the cauldron as seen in Muzaffarnagar. The working class through its recent struggles have achieved some concrete concessions in the form of partially defeating continued efforts at privatization of major companies, and pushing the fight for regularization of contract and casual workers, but the adversities faced since the introduction of liberal policies have yet to be alleviated. Yet, the mere presence of a working class resurgence would be enough to put fear in the hearts of the bourgeois. This was shown most clearly by the aborted railway strike where the management panicked at the mere thought of an indefinite strike and caved in to the charter demands made by the railway unions.

Overview of parties and classes they represent :

Two leading parties dominate the Indian political spectrum. One is the ‘liberal’ Congress Party, which is the incumbent ruling party ruling through the coalition of the United Progressive Alliance, the other is the staunchly right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (hindi for Indian people’s party) which leads the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of right wing and centre-right parties.

The two parties are the most clear representatives of the national big bourgeois. The Congress being the most expressive representative of the well entrenched land owning and dirigiste monopoly interests *( including and especially, the three leading Indian capitalist families Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis ). Whilst the BJP represents a bold and ‘new’ alternative for the Indian bourgeoisie which seeks to outgrow its reliance on the Congress’ style of democratic reaction. The BJP at present as successfully secured an overwhelming support from the richest sections of the petty bourgeois as well as the neuvo riche bourgeois.

For most of India’s independent history, the Congress remained the preferred choice of the Indian bourgeois, as it was since the days of the independence struggle. This created a unique manner of bonapartism centered around the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the upper clique of the Congress Party. The party would position itself as the keystone of bourgeois democracy in india and be the carrier of the interests of the nascent bourgeoisie in India. This created a situation of one party rule in the country with the only real opposition being that of the Communist Party and other sundry petty bourgeois formations. The RSS in the meanwhile redeveloped itself from an obscurantist reactionary organization at the fringes of indian politics to becoming a leading force. The critical change occurred during and after the period of emergency rule (1975 – 1978) where the RSS emerged as a leading force of opposition and cast its influence on the Janata party government which arose in the aftermath of the emergency. In the decade which followed, the BJP was formed by combining the petty bourgeois Janata Party with elements of the a break away right wing liberal faction of the Congress Party the Congress (O) . The BJP would develop during the decade of the 80s when Indian capitalism launched its full reactionary arsenal and by the 90s had become a potent political force with a reactionary agenda of Hindutva.

In the crisis ridden years of the 90s Indian capitalism sought an alternative to shelter under when the Congress had failed. After numerous failed experiments with short lived and precarious bourgeois governments the BJP led NDA eventually became the ruling power. Thus, the Indian bourgeois finally found that it could rely on an alternative to the standard rule of the Congress. The right wing BJP would ever since then be used as an emergency choice of the indian bourgeois when threatened with crisis economic or political. When the Indian economy returned to normalcy, the Indian bourgeois too reverted back to the status quo of Congress party rule. Now that it finds itself threatened from within by the forces of the working class and peasantry, and from without by the world wide economic crisis, it is once again poised to unleash its reactionary Hindutvavadi dogs of war of the BJP. It is no surprise then, that almost all corporate houses are openly rooting for the BJP, at the same time, it has not given up entirely on its traditional choice of the Congress.

The third force comprises of various regional parties some formed exclusively along ethno-regional lines while others seek a broader audience and harbour national ambitions. Of these the TMC (Trin Mool Congress or Three principles Congress ) and the Samajwadi party (Socialist party) represent the secular forces with national ambitions while the MNS and Shiv Sena represent communally oriented forces. Some of these formations are the result of mass discontent with Indian capitalism after Indian independence. Leading petty bourgeois intellectuals such as Ram Manohar Lohia consummated mass movements against the Congress government of the day. The movements arose as strong expressions of mass popular democratic discontent, but they eventually failed owing to a non-revolutionary conciliatory approach. At present all the parties which arose from this tradition have become among the most corrupt and nepotistic bourgeois regional parties as can be seen from the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the various “Janata Dal” parties in Bihar.

Others are offshoots of the Congress party itself, like the TMC and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP ) which arose during the crisis period of the 90s which saw the Congress exploding into several splinter factions before its fall from power. The odd commonality between both these two leading splinter factions is their adherence to personality cults. No doubt reminiscent of the old Congress under Indira Gandhi’s leadership. The ‘great leader’ of the TMC is Mamta Bannerji whilst her equivalent in the NCP is Sharad pawar.

The TMC is the ruling party in West Bengal today, and its brief rule has been characterized by a state of anarchy where the party’s armed lumpen cadre rule the streets and take the law into their own hands. They pillage and plunder at will. The highlight of Mamta Bannerji’s chief ministership is the chit fund scam. The scam being a micro-financing scam which saw a massive loot of public wealth at the behest of the party leadership. The party was largely supported by the peasantry and petty bourgeois who had long since lost faith in the Communist Party. The decisive turn away from the party’s ‘pro-industrial’ policy which resulted in two vicious attempts at land acquisition for industrial investment, one being in Singur for the Tatas and another at NandiGram for an Indonesian petrochemical company. Now however, after five years of misrule and false promises, the people are poised to cast out the TMC with its band of corrupt marauders. The people of West Bengal had conducted a bold experiment in seeking a political alternative to the CPIM after more than three decades of their rule, and put their hopes in the TMC. However, the only thing that this party proved was that it was nothing more than a vehicle for the enrichment of its criminalized leadership.

Compared to the TMC, the NCP have developed their cult of personality far less, but have more than made up for it in terms of exploiting the masses. Sharad pawar himself is considered the “Sugar Baron” of India and controls a huge chunk of the nation’s sugar production through his political control of the sugar cooperatives of Maharashtra. The NCP party as such, is nothing more but the vehicle of enrichment of its party bosses but chiefly of its supremo Sharad Pawar. At present they are in a ruling coalition in Maharashtra aligned with their mother party, the Congress. Hardly anyone today has any illusions in either the NCP or the Congress, yet a defeatist mood prevails where the only alternatives are corrupt and criminalized. Two brief periods where alternatives were chosen, saw the Shiv Sena and the NCP ruling Maharashtra. Both proved they were as corrupt and incapable as the Congress.

The fourth force is that of the political representatives of the working class lead by their bureaucratic misleaders in the various Stalinist and semi-Stalinist parties united in the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) . With their dismal performance in the last national elections following their defeat in the state level elections in West Bengal ( a state they ruled for over 30 years ! ) they have finally begun to turn some of their energies towards mass mobilizations. Despite this, the party continues to adhere to its rotten Stalinism and this shows in its policies. From defense of AFSPA to compromises with capitalists when in power, the CPIM remains steadfastly in defense of Indian capitalism. The latter in particular was the leading reason for their defeat in West Bengal, when peasant mobilizations swept across the state in defiance of arbitrary land acquisitions for corporate houses.

At present, with the TMC having proven itself as any other corrupt bourgeois party, the peasant youth and petty bourgeois which fought to place it in power is now turning back towards the Stalinist parties of the Left Front. The working class which is caught between a bad and a worse alternative would sooner chose their bad leadership than one committed against them. In other parts of the country, the CPIM has been struggling with a legacy of defeats and compromises and only now has it shown some signs of revival. The defeat they faced in their bastion of West Bengal had unwittingly forced the Stalinists into re-orienting themselves more towards mass mobilizations and grassroots organization. However, their core concern remains seeking power through parliamentary means and using the parliament to push for reforms. To this extent they have mooted the idea of a third front more than once and quite unsuccessfully at that.

The parallel to this has been the various regional parties aiming for a fourth front. Like the idea of a third front this too remains an illusion and quite unachievable in the short term. The bitter truth is, that the Indian parliament remains a closed monopoly of one or the other major bourgeois party under the control of the leading capitalist families. The Stalinists remain ignorant of the fact that the working class won’t be emancipated from the parliament of the capitalists, but through class struggle and socialist revolution. Bourgeois democracy can give us space to put forth our demands openly and further organized struggle but it can never truly fulfill our needs and aspirations. The appeal of trying to find immediate solutions within the system however is not unique to the Stalinists but have been replicated by the petty bourgeois Aam Admi Party.

The petty bourgeois and the AAP phenomenon :

The anti-corruption mobilizations were a high point in petty bourgeois-democratic mass mobilizations. The energy of this mobilization succeeded in overwhelming the political establishment and rattled the stability of Indian capitalism, but only briefly. The limited scope and vision of the leadership of the movement, as well as the fickle nature of its petty bourgeois base meant that like previous such political movements, this one too would start off with a lot of spontaneous energy, but before long it would fizzle out. The failure of the movement to reach out to the working class and peasantry also limited the scope of its impact to urban centres appealing to only a section of the youth. One of the outcomes of the failure of the first movement was a split with the leadership of Anna Hazare and Kejriwal’s entry into electoral politics through the formation of the Aam Admi Party.

The Delhi elections were to be the testing ground of this new party and in many ways one can consider it a preview for the coming national elections. In this election, neither the Aam Admi party nor the BJP, nor the Congress was able to win enough seats on their own leaving a situation of confusion. The BJP however, garnered the largest share of seats in Delhi but not enough to give it a majority. The Aam Admi Party would have to make a choice, whether to make an alliance with the Congress and assume leadership, or forsake delhi to a continuum of uncertainty. The choice was ultimately made in favor of the former, but this meant going against the very ethos which propelled it to power. The AAP would have to make a deal with the devil and align with the Congress party.

The coming months showed the AAP being patently incapable of managing the affairs of the state and the inability of the parliamentary framework on bringing about the sweeping changes which the AAP promised before the elections, including an abolition of contract labor. Slowness on the latter provoked protest actions by Delhi Metro workers. However, what truly destroyed the progressive image of the party was the actions of its law minister when he took to vigilante justice as a remedy for Delhi’s policing problems. In the course of this vigilante justice, migrant African students were harassed in an uncouth manner. Eventually, the Chief Minister resigned from his seat when he couldn’t fulfill his promise of pushing through the Lokpall bill in assembly. They retired without a single concrete result. The only thing achieved by the AAP and its style of petty bourgeois anarchy, was to disturb the status quo Indian politics and emerge as a hitherto uncorrupted fresh progressive force in Indian politics.

However, the failings of the party can’t be overlooked. Like most utopian petty bourgeois populist parties, the AAP, tried in vain to unite wildly contradicting forces into one party. Thus, the AAP attempted to follow a populist pro-poor policy whilst fielding candidates who were through and through capitalists, like Rajiv Bajaj who is a CEO of Bajaj. Ultimately, the AAP only reiterated the sorry history of the Janata Party and in doing so, reaffirmed the duopoly of the big bourgeois parties of Indian capitalism in the negative.

Where we stand on these elections (No to Gandhi! No to Modi!)

When we say that elections will not change the system, in no way do we deny the usefulness or importance of the bourgeois-democratic process. What we do say, and say so emphatically, is that we must never allow the proletarian struggle to be subdued to an electoral agenda.

What this means is that we must struggle to present an independent programme of the working class and strengthen class struggle by letting them see clearly what is in their interests and that the bourgeoisie is resolutely opposed to it. The various bourgeois political organizations are nothing but different tools of democratic reaction. Our task must be to prepare the working class against it. For this we put forward slogans to help mobilize the working class on an independent basis.

No to Gandhi! No to Modi!

We steadfastly reject both alternatives projected by the bourgeois in the form of the Congress Dynasty represented by Rahul Gandhi and of Hindutva nationalism represented by Modi. These are only two forms of bonapartism, two masks for Indian capitalism to put on. Both mean only more suffering for the poor exploited classes. For us, neither alternatives are desirable. We reject any notion of lesser evils which would let us support the candidature of the Congress against that of the BJP. The truth of it is, the Congress and all such supposedly secular pretenders only give a secular cover for their own communalism. The Congress and its sister parties have proven themselves patently incapable of fighting communalism in defense of secularism. Rather, they would play to caste and communal divisions using communal sentiments to its advantage. The Congress in fact should thank the RSS and the BJP, having successfully alienated the muslims of India, and let them be sucked into the dead end of the Congress. That does not mean we deny the threat posed by a right wing government led by Modi.

Should Modi come to power, the forces of communalism will receive a tremendous boost as would the continuing attacks on the working class and poor. Modi presents himself as a ‘hard’ leader who is not afraid of taking unpopular moves, in that sense he is the Indian Thatcher. Like Thatcher in Britain, Modi would target the welfare state and public corporations. Unlike Thatcher, he would defend this politically using the RSS and its divisive agenda. Divide and rule is his mantra, just as Pacify and Dominate is the mantra of the Congress.

For an independent programme of the working class !

Surrounded by bad and worse alternatives from the bourgeois, and only erratic failures from the urban intellectual petty bourgeois, the working class and their allies have no choice but to forge their own alternative political force.
Revolutionary Bolsheviks must focus their strength on organizing the working class around such a programme that can best represent the most fundamental interests of the working class. This we must base ourselves on the understanding that the struggle for the socialist revolution is the basis of all struggles of the working class. For us elections, and bourgeois democracies are only a means to an end, and not an end in itself. In the end we fight for the socialist revolution which places the working class in power and puts them in control of their destiny.