Jyoti Basu's letter to Prime Minister

Dear Shri Man Mohan Singhji,

Thank you for your letter of 7 October 2008 asking me to attend the next meeting of the National integration Council enclosing the agenda. I regret that it would not be possible for me, for reasons of disadvantageous physical conditions that I am in, to be personally present in the meeting. I shall take this opportunity to make a few suggestions on the agenda for discussion.

We have long been sending out concrete suggestions to the successive governments of India on the sensitive and important issue of national integration. We have failed to see yet the impact of propositions in matters of policy of the Government of India. There must be a change made from the present policy being pursued in order to make the issue of national integration a vibrant reality and to keep the nation from falling apart. For this political will is necessary.

The crux of the Constitution is the set of principles known as the directive principles of state policy.

These principles include adequate means of livelihood for every citizen and the right to work; an economic system, which does not result in the concentration of wealth; right to education and provision for free, and compulsory education for children; living wage for workers and equal work for equal pay for men and women.

None of these principles could be implemented thanks to the bias to the rich of the socio-economic system that prevails in the country. The gap between the virtuous intentions and the actuality of practice stares us in the face 58 years since the adoption of the Constitution.

The period since the independence has been marked by a continuing crisis because of the above-noted factors in the nation’s economy. This has served to stress and accelerate not only the problem but has harmed the national integration process itself. India has been principally an agrarian country with a superstructure of industries. After we gained freedom from British colonial rule, despite the land reforms act of the mid-1950s and scores of pious declarations and promises, the successive central governments led by the Congress and other parties refused to go in for land reforms. Concentration of land and rural inequalities, and a severe persecution of the peasant masses continue unabated. A central legislation on minimum wages in the rural stretches is yet to be implanted properly.

The policy of liberalisation and the imperialism-driven globalisation have opened up the economy to the marauding forays of multi-national corporations. The bureaucracy, the education system, the media, and the realm of culture are now subject to the unbridled penetration of foreign capital. No wonder regional imbalance has grown and national integration has stood to suffer.

The absence of nationwide implementation of redistributive land reforms and a lack of economic development have contributed to the plight of caste groups and has intensified caste divisions which is being utilised by the vested interests. Without political, social, and economic equality, the castes especially the scheduled castes and the dalits have fallen prey to the forces of casteism.

We need to recall that even communalisation has its roots in the economic and social backwardness. Mere reservations, necessary as they are, cannot prevent such a phenomenon from taking place without economic empowerment in particular. Because of what can be called the class-caste correspondence, those at the bottom of the economic structure are also thus at the bottom of the social structure.

The imposition of neoliberal economic policy, lack of public investment in agriculture, and the increasing debt burden of the peasantry have all contributed to the plight of the downtrodden. The factors have come together to accentuate regional imbalance and worsen the caste and identity divisions.

We have conducted a wide campaign on restructuring of the centre-state relationship a matter of crucial importance. As a result, the H S Sarkaria Commission was set up by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Its recommendations were not fully satisfactory. Nevertheless, its views with regard to certain financial relations have not been implemented.

To take but two of many examples, the credit-deposit ratio is weighed heavily against the states, and the tax share of the states have been reduced to less than 30% from the stipulated 50%. The centre-state relationships have been used as a political weapon depriving some states, and working to the advantage of others. Subversive forces and the forces of status quo have taken full advantage of the situation, weakening national integration as a whole.

The various reports on minority communities and their plights have been gathering dust. We must fight the communal menace through political will and administrative courage and commitment to secular values. There is widespread compromise with communalism for narrow electoral gains. Majoritarian communalism has in turn given rise to minority communalism and things are taking a more and more violent turn.

We have offered suggestions for the improvement of the state of the national integration, or the present weaknesses it faces, several times earlier. To strengthen the parliamentary democracy, electoral reforms are essential. A basic move to check money and muscle power must be put in place. The nine-member Constitution bench in 1994 said that secularism must be defined as the basic feature of the Constitution and this should find clear expression in the Constitution. The harmful direction of the centre-state relationship should be reversed.

The basic thrust of the political outlook must comprise land reforms, higher wages, more state intervention in agrarian, economic, and financial sectors, increased employment, defence of the public sector, turning away from the imperialist-run labialisation, the equality of women, the emancipation of the dalits and the adivasis, and finally a strong defence of the rights of the socially and economically oppressed, and the minorities. An important component of the move towards national integration would be a move away from a US-dominated foreign policy. For all this to be reality the central government must exert the correct political will in abundance or the nation’s existence itself will in the long run be imperilled.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Jyoti Basu)