THE political and economic situation in Tamil Nadu remains in a state of crisis. The ruling government led by Edappadi Palanisamy has been completely indifferent to the serious problems that the people of the state are facing. Dependent on and subservient to the BJP government at the centre, the state government has failed to address the problems of slow economic growth, rising joblessness, serious setbacks to the informal sector, especially unorganised workers and small and medium industries, following the disaster of demonetisation and the new anti-people GST regime launched with little preparation. All sectors of the state’s economy – agriculture, industry including manufacturing and the services sector including IT and ITES, real estate and construction – are facing serious difficulties. The jobless count is increasing rapidly, with over 90 lakhs of unemployed persons on the live registers of the employment exchanges in the state. This includes not only those who have completed secondary or higher secondary education, but also lakhs of people with engineering and other professional diplomas and degrees. The state government has been fully implementing the anti-people neoliberal policies of the BJP led government at the centre. Corruption is rampant and pervasive. The havoc it has been causing in the higher education sector is now public knowledge. The state government is steeped in massive corruption and several of its ministers have been under the scanner of investigation agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI. People in the state are generally very unhappy with the state of affairs, and the sustained protests and struggles led by our Party and mass and class organisations led by us on the issues facing the people have met with positive response among a significant section of the people.
The 22nd state conference of our Party held in Thoothukkudi in February this year had discussed in depth the nature of the anti-people policies of the central and state governments and evolved our tactical line for the coming period. One of the key decisions of the state conference was that the Party should conduct a massive political campaign across the length and breadth of the state not only to expose the anti-people policies of both state and central governments but also to put before the people our Left and democratic programmatic alternative.
The state committee of the Party discussed in its meeting on May 2 and 3 in Madurai the modalities of implementing this call of the state conference. It was decided that the key slogan of the campaign will be ‘Arise people of Tamil Nadu and march ahead through struggles’. Six jathas, starting from different corners of the state, traversed the length and breadth of the state over a total of seven days, beginning June 8 and converging in Tiruchirapalli, a historic centre for the state and for the Left movement, on June 14. Leading comrades of the state committee and the state secretariat took part in the jathas. A massive rally and public meeting were held in Tiruchirapalli. The public meeting was addressed, among others, by our general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member, G Ramakrishnan, state secretary K Balakrishnan, and several Central Committee members and state secretariat members.
DECLINING INDUSTRIAL GROWTH
Having disrupted the economy with the disastrous demonetisation move and making a complete mess of GST, Modi sought to deflect the blame and fix responsibility on the state governments for economic growth in the Niti Aayog meeting earlier this week. Both demonetisation and GST have seriously weakened the small and medium industrial enterprises in the informal sector which accounts for close to half of all industrial output. In the recent discussion in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly on the demand for grants for the department of industry, the concerned minister admitted in his report that in the last ten months, around 50,000 medium, small and tiny units in the state had closed down and that 5 lakh workers lost their jobs because of such closures. Tiruppur, the leading district in terms of exports, suffered a decline of Rs 3000 crores of exports on account of the imposition of GST. Cashew and rubber industries in Kanyakumari, the firecracker industry in Virudhunagar, engineering units in Coimbatore, knitwear units in Tiruppur, textiles industry in Erode, Karur and Dindigul – in all these industries, tiny, small and medium enterprises have been very badly affected.
CRISIS IN AGRICULTURE
The agrarian crisis across the country which has intensified as a result of neoliberal policies is characterised by rising input costs, falling or volatile output prices, declining subsidies and institutional credit and weakening of public investment in irrigation, farm extension services, agricultural research. This picture is generally true for Tamil Nadu as well. There has been little public or private investment in irrigation. Farm input prices have been rising sharply while output prices have generally been falling or increasing far more slowly. Agriculture is stagnant in terms of both output and yields. The severe curtailment of NREGS allocations under BJP rule has worsened the plight of rural manual worker households. Poor peasants and agricultural labourers migrate to towns in search of employment, but unemployment is quite severe in the towns as well.
CRISIS IN EDUCATION
Corruption and malpractices dominate the higher education sector in the state. The High Court has declared the appointment of the vice chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University some time ago as null and void. Earlier, the vice chancellor of Bharathiar University in Coimbatore was arrested on charges of corruption to the tune of Rs 30 lakhs, having been allegedly caught red handed in the act by law enforcement agencies. Recently, a college professor has been accused of trying to involve women students in dubious activities by offering them lucrative career prospects if they would cater to the needs of some higher-ups in the university system. Even the name of the governor of the state has cropped up in this scandal. Vice chancellor appointments in most of the state universities have been controversial, with the RSS/BJP seen as playing an important role behind the scenes in some cases.
The state government is taking action to implement the Niti Aayog directive to the state governments that government schools with enrolment less than 50 students should be closed down. According to reliable information, the state government is planning to close down 892 schools. This will seriously damage the prospects of school education for children of poor households.
People of Tamil Nadu facing the impact of the neoliberal policies of state and central governments on their lives and livelihoods have been responding positively to movements and agitations against these policies. The response of the state government, acting also at the behest of the central government, has been to repress protests by force instead of responding to people’s concerns and demands through reasonable negotiations. In the recent period, the state government unleashed brutal violence on the people protesting against and demanding the closure of the environmentally disastrous Sterlite factory in Thoothukkudi, killing many people (the official count of 13 killed in completely unwarranted police firing is widely considered to be an underestimate) and badly injuring hundreds of people. Evidence suggests that the police firing was deliberate and targeted, with snipers and precision weapons used in the process. The thirteen persons officially admitted to have died from police firing have been shot in the face, head, chest and back. Since the orgy of police violence resulting in many deaths and many more injuries to peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, the police have been engaged in serious repression and intimidation, visiting people’s houses in the wee hours of the night and late night/early morning hours and rounding up innocent people. Many of those rounded up have been severely beaten and tortured. Several persons are missing. The state government is foisting false cases on those opposing its anti-democratic and repressive measures.
STEEPED IN CORRUPTION
Corruption is all pervasive in the state, with payment demanded for government and quasi government appointments in the state from vice chancellorships to jobs such as helper or cook in the noon meal scheme. ‘Commission’ is the key word not only in public work contracts but right across the board. There is an ongoing CBI inquiry against a minister accused of taking bribes and allowing the sale of the banned substance gutka. The Chennai High Court has ordered an inquiry by the Department of Vigilance and Anti Corruption into the allegation of possession of assets disproportional to income pertaining to another minister. If the Department of Vigilance and Anti Corruption carries out a truthful inquiry, not a single minister will be able to escape the Law.
ATTACKS ON DALITS
As in other parts of the country under the BJP’s central rule, attacks on dalits have been on the rise in Tamil Nadu. Recently, three dalits were murdered by dominant casteist forces in the district of Sivaganga. A branch secretary of the CPI(M) in Krishnagiri district who had led a struggle for the entry of dalits into a temple in that district a year ago was killed last month by casteist elements. Crimes against children and women, including sexual violence, have also been on the rise in the state.
MOVEMENTS AND STRUGGLES
It is amidst the socio economic scenario described above that our Party and class and mass organiSations led by it have been organising and successfully carrying out struggles in defense of the well being and livelihoods of the people, in defense of human rights, against social oppression, against the barbaric attacks of the police, to save government schools and so on. In the prevailing political climate in the state, our Party can legitimately claim that our week long six-jatha campaign to take our Left and democratic alternative to the people exhorting them to join the struggle for alternative policies instead of placing faith in this or that ‘leader’ struck a sympathetic chord among the people. In the coming days, weeks and months, the Party plans to consolidate the gains from the jatha campaigns carried out to implement the call of the 22nd state conference and retain and build on its political initiatives.