Day 3: Demanding 'Pro-poor Govt Policies', & announcing 'Alliance for Retail Democracy in India' Print E-mail
 Sunday November 12, 2006

"Multinationals dispossessing people"

Gargi Parsai

Civil society groups to join hands to resist anti-people government policies

The coming together of many leading non-government organisations is "magical" "Pressure the government to come up with pro-poor development policies"

NEW DELHI: Amid criticism that the India Social Forum agenda was leading "nowhere," prominent civil society groups came on a common platform on Saturday and agreed on the urgent need to form alliances to resist government policies that were threatening the sovereign rights of people on their lives and livelihoods through dispossession of small traders, hawkers, rehri-patriwalas, textile workers, tribals and farmers.

The policy for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail that favoured big industrialists and multinational companies were dispossessing people and creating livelihood crises forming a situation waiting to explode they warned, before announcing the formation of an "Alliance for Retail Democracy in India."

At a public discussion on the impact of FDI and SEZs on agriculture at the forum, socialist leader Surendra Mohan, Revolutionary Socialist Party leader Abani Roy, convenor of the National Alliance of People's Movements Medha Patkar, Director of Navdanya Vandana Shiva, Shaktiman Ghosh of the National Hawkers Federation and Indrani Majumdar of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) were unanimous in their demand for unity to face the challenge.

Lending his voice and imploring civil society groups to "learn lessons from their experience against Walmart food chain in the United States'' was Wade Rathke of the Association of Community Organisations for Reforms Now in the United States.

Back off WTO call
Although Vandana Shiva described the coming together of so many leading non-government organisations as "magical," Medha Patkar was more guarded. In answer to a question she said coming together of civil society groups would require a "deeper dialogue" which should necessarily be followed by "action." Blaming it on the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank she said soon the Indian Government would lead the country into a situation when it would privatise governance and seek private and multi-lateral funds to fulfil their social sector obligations. For starters she called for WTO to back off. "WTO peeche hato," is the slogan she coined.

Mr. Mohan said the garibi hatao slogan of the Congress had become an empty one in the prevailing situation. "If the United Progressive Alliance wants to empty the country of the poor people then it has no future. It would be rejected just as the National Democratic Alliance was for its `India Shining' slogan." He extolled all movements and like-minded parties to come together to form a new party and "be heard."

Mr. Roy said the RSP was against FDI in retail as whatever the foreign investment would be in, "even in a paan shop," the profits would go to the MNC in its country. By sealing small traders and others, the government wanted to favour MNCs and big mall owners.

The India Social Forum platform should be used to unite the struggle against such policies. "We have to raise our voice, not for politicising but for real development."

Ms. Majumdar said the responsibility for what was happening could not be placed at the door of Left parties that were supporting the UPA government from outside.

Pro-poor policies
"It is for movements to bring pressure upon the government to come up with pro-poor development policies."

Mr. Rathke said when Walmart opens people lose jobs, are not paid living wages, it increases traffic, degrades environment and controls the supply and distribution of goods including agriculture. "Right regulations and laws can prevent Walmart from entering India which is the last giant new market to build MNCs."

The four hour-long discussions was marked by sloganeering and reaffirmation of people's resolve to "sacrifice." Clearly the Social Forum gave a platform to the suffering masses to vent out their anguish and catch the government's attention.