Thursday, September 17, 2015

Interview with Swadeshi Jagran Manch leader Ashwani Mahajan

"Indian Communists hardly speak for small-scale industries".

Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convener of the Sangh Parivar’s Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), has a mild exterior but is surprisingly firm and assertive. The SJM is making news these days for more reasons than one. It had opposed the Land Ordinance of the Narendra Modi government and also made a presentation against it before the parliamentary panel looking into the land Bill. Its opposition to GM crops field trials seems to have worked with the BJP regimes in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Mahajan spoke to me on a variety of issues.

The Congress is taking all the credit for the Modi government’s U-turn on the land Bill. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch had also opposed it. Now that the government has allowed the Ordinance to lapse, what is your take?
It is for Congress to decide what credit they want or for the BJP to decide how to discredit Congress. We are not into politics. We are happy that the government has decided to allow the Ordinance to lapse. We had opposed the new land Ordinance brought by the Modi government on merit. Swadeshi Jagran Manch has been opposing the amendments to the land acquisition law of 2013 ever since the first ordinance was promulgated. The Ordinance diluted the provisions of mandatory consent of farmers, social impact assessment and food security. That has been our stand very clearly.

Now the government has introduced new clauses clubbing 13 Acts under which compensation could be given to farmers or land owners. Have you examined that?
Ashwani Mahajan

Certainly, we have looked into it. Look here, the government has been telling us from the beginning that for any land acquisition under the 13 Acts like National Highways, Coal mines and Railways Acts the benefits would be passed on to the farmers. These clauses were not present in the 2013 Law, so we welcome the new move as this guarantees farmers’ interest. Ultimately, we feel the farmers and the land owners will be benefited. 

But Congress has called the government’s new executive order illegal?
I do not think legally such a move can be challenged. The government feels the interests of families affected by land acquisition under the 13 Acts would be protected. So we should welcome it. Congress as an Opposition political party will have their reasons to oppose it. But we do not find it illegal. Moreover, we will not be fighting or opposing a government just for the sake of it. Political parties may do that. Fight is always against a system wherein agriculture is neglected and farmers suffer. We are consistent about it.

So, what else is happening in the Sangh Parivar on economic issues vis-à-vis the reform roadmap of the Modi government. Apparently the SJM and RSS are not happy with the stress on garnering FDI.
I have told you earlier too, the foreign direct investment (FDI) roadmap is not the panacea to all economic problems in a country like ours. At Swadeshi Jagran Manch we are consistent about our stand. The NDA government is taking up their economic agenda. It’s fine. But as a pressure group, we have told the government that crucial economic decisions require transparency. The government has to place its economic programmes vis-à-vis foreign investments on the table. Only then we can examine matters and form our opinion.

So, Swadeshi Jagran Manch could be a hurdle for the Modi regime’s attempted second generation economic reforms?
I never said we will be hurdles. It will be wrong to paint us as an anti-reforms body. Since 1991, we have seen there is a trend to push a specific agenda of the multinationals. Please examine things minutely at the global level also. Countries like Brazil have paid a price. The FDI methodology most often cripples some sectors. In India, the insurance sector, for instance, suffered. Opening FDI has resulted in sharp decline in claims and increase in forfeiture ratios because premiums are often higher. But it is not highlighted adequately even in the media.

It is reported that the late Chandra Shekhar once cautioned then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that outfits like Swadeshi Jagran Manch are ‘desi and Hindu’ communists who, like the Marxists, will oppose anything and everything foreign?

(Laughs) I have a very high opinion of both Chandra Shekhar and Atal Behari Vajpayee. But there’s a big difference between Indian communists and Chinese communists. There are also differences between us in the SJM and the Left parties. Indian Communists will hardly speak for small-scale industries. Here is the difference I am talking about. We see small-scale industries as proletariat, communists do not agree.

You mean unlike the Communists in India, Swadeshi Jagran Manch is all for small-scale industries. So are you batting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan of Make-in-India?
Yes, you can say so. But we want to a go a step beyond. More than Make in India, why not  have Make-by-Indians…what’s the use otherwise if global manufacturers set up manufacturing units in India. Therefore, we have always tried to uphold the interest of small-scale industries. 

Communists may not agree but we are for a level playing field for desi small-scale industries and also foreign companies. Our focus should be on improving indigenous manufacturing. See, you look around, no country has been built by foreigners. So to think of promoting Indian manufacturing by bringing in foreign companies is not the best of ideas.

What about GM crops, especially cotton? What has the SJM stand been on field trials?
I cannot tell you about the government perspective. But we are against field trials of GM crops. There have been a number of meetings by key BJP leaders, including Union ministers and government scientists and experts. They could not convince us about the merits of field trials. We have kept up sustained pressure against GM crops. Today, even BJP-ruled states like Gujarat and Maharashtra have not given consent for field trials for GM crops. On GM Cotton also studies even by European agencies have found a direct link between suicides by cotton growers and allowing of GM cotton. Again media has not been highlighting this factor.


(Interview published originally in The Statesman, Sept 12, 2015)

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