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Ekbal's remark kicks up a debate

By T. Ramavarman

THRISSUR DEC. 27. The remark made by the Kerala University Vice-Chancellor, B. Ekbal, at the just-concluded Kerala Social Forum (KSF) in Thrissur, has kicked up a debate on the development issues of the State. Dr. Ekbal had called upon the Kerala society, particularly its political leadership including the Left, for an introspection on the internal weaknesses that have pushed the State into a crisis, instead of attacking globalisation.

Dr. Ekbal, a pro-Left thinker, had criticised the lack of accountability of public institutions in the State and said that laying the entire blame on globalisation for the crises in these institutions would not help the State to see the reality and take remedial measures.

Endorsing the views of Dr. Ekbal, K.K. George, economist, said that ``Kerala was able to adopt many of the programmes of the `welfare state' through the works of social and Left movements. Now we are facing the secondary problems of the `welfare state' like paucity of resources to sustain these social security schemes.''

``Three options are normally suggested for this: one is to raise taxes. But in a federal country like India, there is a limit to which a State could hike the tax rate, since it has to take into account the tax rates in the neighbouring States. Also, raising taxes enormously will be a risky proposition for any political leadership,'' Dr. George told The Hindu.

``The second option is to introduce a differential levy system for the poor and the rich, like the fee structure in self-financing educational institutions. This again is not generally welcomed in the State. The third option is the generation of surplus by increasing productivity and providing for the welfare measures for poorer sections. Unless somebody generates a surplus no state would be able to fund its welfare schemes.''

``In fact, what we should aim at is not just increasing the productivity in a conventional sense, but enhancing the quality of the administration as a whole. This would mean improving the quality of administration of justice, of law and order, health care delivery systems, of the educational sector, production units and the like,'' Dr. George said.

Interestingly, the CPI(M) has not officially responded to the `unconventional observations' of Dr. Ekbal. But the CITU State general secretary, P.K. Gurudasan, and some office-bearers of the Purogamana Kalasahithya Sanghom (Pu-ka-sa) have joined issue with him. On the other hand, the Marxist ideologue, P. Govinda Pillai, has reportedly more or less endorsed the views of Dr. Ekbal.

When contacted, the CPI(M) Central committee member, M.A. Baby, said there are positive and negative sides to the statement of Dr. Ekbal. Describing globalisation as part of an imperialist strategy to advance the interests of the capitalist class, Mr. Baby said there is no point in exploring the positive sides of such an exploitative process. However, along with the globalisation process, a number of technological developments are taking place. Actually, globalisation and technological growth are two independent developments, though the capitalist class is trying to link both. There has been some resistance on the part of the working class to accept the new technologies. On the other hand, it must be recognised that there cannot be a blind acceptance of the new technologies without assessing their impact on society.

Reacting to the criticism of Dr. Ekbal that even the Left had failed to evolve a development agenda for the State, Mr Baby said ``this is an issue that requires further debate. It cannot be forgotten that it is the Left which has tried to evolve some form of development initiatives in the State like the land reforms and People's Plan Campaign. We are now in the process of formulating a development package for the State for the next 20 years.''

Mr. Baby, however, conceded that the general degeneration in society would have affected the Left and its trade union movement also. But the CPI(M), the CITU and their service organisations have recognised the need for initiating a rectification campaign within, to arrest the degeneration and to infuse a new work culture.

Expressing almost a similar position, the CITU State president, K.N. Ravindranath, said there is no point in searching an alternative to globalisation within it. The alternative to globalisation is socialism and this can be achieved only through a fundamental change in the system. But he conceded the need for trade unions to get out of their traditional style of fighting for their narrow sectoral demands alone and to restructure their functioning by keeping in mind the larger interests of society.

Ninan Koshy, Left thinker, on the other hand, said the trade union movements and the Left as a whole in India have not yet critically faced the challenges of globalisation at a conceptual level. The technological changes that have happened along with globalisation have changed the nature of work, infusing more individualism. It is the lack of clarity on conceptual issues that is making the Left still unable to grapple with the problems of alliance with other formations opposed to globalisation. Alliance for them is still an electoral process, and they have not yet seriously addressed the question of working together with anti-establishment groups which have no interests in the electoral scene.

The AITUC leader, Amarjit Kaur, said the trade unions at the national and international level have understood the need for taking up the issues that affect society as a whole, and to infuse a new work culture for enhancing productivity. In fact, the trade unions in several sectors like banking, steel and coal mining and processing have been sending repeated circulars to their members that unless they increase productivity they would not be able to survive in the present situation.

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