A document of promise

Print edition : June 23, 2001

The People's Front, which has positioned itself as an alternative to the BJP and the Congress(I), and which exudes a positive outlook, releases its programme of action.

THE convincing victory of the Left parties in the West Bengal Assembly elections and the disarray in the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh have given cause for cheer to the People's Front. Unlike in the case of the United Front, which had devised a common minimum programme of action in no time after dislodging the 13-day-old A.B. Vajpayee government in 1996, it is after a more thoroughgoing exercise that the People's Front has chalked out its programme, which reflects the major concerns of society today. The programme, which was released in New Delhi on June 2, also reflects the optimism exuded by the Front's constituents. Over three years of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule seems to have provided enough cause to its leaders to draw up a vibrant programme.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at a press conference in New Delhi after releasing the programme of the People's Front.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Obviously the policy document has been drafted also with an eye on the elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Hence the pragmatic focus on the concerns of farmers and workers, especially those of public sector undertakings (PSUs). The rest of the programme is, however, not much different from the United Front's Common Minimum Programme. Farmers, who form a substantial section of society in Uttar Pradesh, have received the maximum attention in the Front's scheme of things. As farmers are badly hit by some of the policy decisions the government took in order to meet its obligations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime, the Front assures them protection against imports by restoring quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports and promises higher import tariffs.

In view of the fact that debt burden has driven to suicide farmers in different parts of the country, the Front promises to waive their loans. It also promises to increase government spending on agriculture, improve irrigation facilities, continue with the minimum support price mechanism for agricultural produce and strengthen the storage and distribution network for foodgrains. Setting self-sufficiency in food as a major aim, the Front promises "easy loans" for small farmers, land reforms and protection against the patenting of seed and plant varieties by foreign agencies.

Workers of PSU constitute another major section that is affected by economic liberalisation. The present government's policy of selling off profit-making PSUs in order to bridge the budgetary deficit is nothing short of blasphemy, the programme says, and it promises adequate public investment in infrastructure sectors such as power and telecommunications and a more prominent role for the public sector in education, transport and health. Protecting indigenous industries from the onslaught of foreign companies, encouraging private participation in areas such as Information Technology and the services sector and promoting small-scale industries by making loans available to them through banks and by supplying materials at controlled prices are some of the other priorities.

The Front opposes the privatisation of the banking sector and advocates the strengthening of the public sector in the field of insurance. The entry of foreign companies in the insurance sector and the activities of non-banking finance companies will be restricted, the programme says. Big industrial houses will be forced to repay their bank loans, it says.

The collapse of the public distribution system, which has led to a general discontent among the people, is another major area of concern identified by the People's Front. This is an area where the government has been criticised even by the BJP's allies such as the Telugu Desam Party and the Akali Dal. The People's Front promises the strengthening of the PDS and the establishment of proper storage and distribution facilities for foodgrains.

The programme promises a new sports policy. The policy, it says, will clearly identify the sources of funding for sports activities and seek to ensure adequate facilities and ample encouragement for sportsmen. Access to education, employment and housing would be made fundamental rights, it says and promises to end the saffronisation of education.

Although the policy document dwells on the threat to secularism, unlike the United Front's programme it does not refer to Ayodhya. It promises that the People's Front, if voted to power, would enact a law seeking to stop the misuse of religion for political ends, implement the Protection of Places of Worship Act, which seeks to maintain the status of a religious place as on August 15, 1947, and the constitutional provisions that are aimed at protecting the minorities.

Expressing concern over the NDA government's move to review the Constitution, the programme says that the People's Front is opposed to any change that would endanger parliamentary democracy, secularism and the principle of equality before the law. The Official Secrets Act will be amended to facilitate the right to information, it says. In order to ensure greater decentralisation, the Front promises to hold regular elections to local bodies and involve the people in the process of planning and implementation.

With a view to cleansing politics, the Front says, the Representation of the People Act will be amended. Electoral expenses would be realistically estimated and the state would provide assistance (by way of materials) to recognised political parties. The anti-defection law will be amended in such a way that any defector would lose his or her seat in an elected body.

In order to ensure probity in public life, the programme says, the Lok Pal Bill will be passed and the office of the Prime Minister, besides other public servants, will be brought under its purview.

In the area of foreign policy, the People's Front promises to restore the policy of non-alignment.

In a deviation from the programme of the United Front, which promised to reserve for women one-third of the seats in legislatures and Parliament, the People's Front says it will strive to bring about a consensus on this issue. This non-committal stand is owing to the opposition of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the convener of the People's Front, to the Women's Reservation Bill.

The People's Front seeks to position itself as an alternative to both the BJP and the Congress(I). It says that the communal and sectarian policies of the BJP have endangered the country's unity and that the party has lost the moral authority to rule following the corruption charges that have come up against its top leaders. While blaming the BJP-led government for having ruined the country's economy, the People's Front does not spare the Congress(I). Most of these policies were initiated by the Congress(I) government, it says. Besides, it says, the people have seen the level of corruption during Congress regimes and will never repose faith in it again.

WHILE releasing the policy document, People's Front leaders said that the Assembly elections in U.P. would be a litmus test of the Front's prospects at the national level. They hope that a defeat for the BJP in U.P. will force the Vajpayee government to resign.

Meanwhile, the visit of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha to the Communist Party of India office in New Delhi was seen as a significant development. She met CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and expressed her solidarity with the People's Front's programme. "She was in full agreement with our views on the government's economic policies, farmers' issues, the PDS, the PSUs and workers," said a CPI leader. According to him, Jayalalitha, who is also the general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), hinted at her party joining the Front. "This is an indication that we have already started getting recognition and acceptance," he said.

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