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A Manifesto For Democratic India

By Harsh Mander

23 March , 2004

The parliamentary elections to be held in the summer of 2004, will
constitute a decisive moment in modern India history, and will impact on
the destinies of our nation and its people for long into the future.

At stake is the survival of the core principles of the Indian Constitution
itself as well as the values that illuminated the Indian freedom struggle
secularism, socialism, democracy and non-alignment. As a group of
concerned citizens gather at the eve of this landmark election, we will
reflect on certain key elements of what we describe as a Manifesto for
Democratic India.

These key elements are organized in the summary note below, under four
broad heads, of what we together believe are critical elements of what we
need to defend and reclaim, which indeed is the legacy of our freedom
struggle. These are (a) secularism; (b) socialism; (c) non-alignment and
(d) democracy.

Part I: Reclaiming Secularism

1. An unequivocal commitment to the secular principle as enshrined in
the Indian Constitution, that guarantees equal citizenship rights to all
citizens of India, regardless of their religion, caste, language or

2. An unequivocal opposition to all forms of religious intolerance,
fanaticism, irrationalism and fundamentalism.

3. A firm resolve to not permit political and social mobilisation
around ideologies that propagate hatred, distrust and divide among
communities, and to take firm legal action against speeches and writings
that promote communal hatred. Also a ban on the distribution of trishuls
and other pseudo-religious symbols that can be used for violence.

4. Promotion of gender-just laws for people of all faiths and

5. Stopping forthwith all state funding, as well as overseas funding,
for educational institutions established by the Sangh Parivar, and legal
restraints on all texts taught in these schools that promote hatred and
prejudice against certain communities.

6. Withdrawal of all text-books that promote communal, gender and
caste stereotypes and prejudices, and their replacement by text books that
promote genuine respect for difference and diversity, and values of
equity, justice, humanism, secularism, pluralism and rationalism.

7. Support by the state of village and urban youth peace groups,
secular village libraries, and secular schools, especially in regions
which have been adversely influenced by the distorted educational efforts
of Sangh Parivar organizations.

8. Ending tokenistic measures like the Haj subsidy and endowments to
temples from the public exchequer, which do not benefit the masses of
minorities, go against genuinely secular principles, and provide the
pretext for further communal propaganda by right-wing organizations. Its
replacement by a programme to promote modern education and employment
among minorities.

9. Drive to expand employment of minorities in the police,
paramilitary organizations, civil services and judiciary

10. Ensuring time-bound resolution of the Babri Masjid Ram Janmbhoomi
dispute, which has become a test-case of whether the rule of law applies
equally to all citizens of India, regardless of caste or creed. The
dispute should be resolved by recourse exclusively to the application of
the law of the land as is relevant to a title dispute, and without
reference to archaeological on historical investigation, which in fact
legitimizes the principle that real or alleged historical wrongs can and
should be corrected by penalizing contemporary adherents to particular
faiths. Therefore, the dispute should be treated only as one of title, and
not of history.

11. Strict enforcement of ban on construction of new places of worship
in public lands and government offices, and on altering the status quo
regarding all places of worship as they existed in 1947.

Part II: Reclaiming Socialism

1. Reiteration of the principle that the state has a central role to
ensure economic and social justice, basic rights and services of all
citizens, redistribution of wealth and the production and distribution of
public services.

2. Resolute refusal to join WTO, and to accept conditionalities of
the World Bank and IMF and restoring national sovereignty of economic

3. Resisting pressures of international capital and financial
institutions to weaken laws for protection and rights of workers

4. Ban on privatization of education, health, child care,
communications, transport and heavy industry.

5. Revival of land reforms, especially ceiling land redistribution,
tenancy reforms, ban on absentee landlordism and restoration of lands
expropriated from adivasi and dalit people.

6. Equal inheritance rights to women, and allocation of all
government land in the join name of spouses.

7. Rights of adivasis, dalits and landless workers of local
communities, to all natural resources of land, water, forest and minerals,
and a ban on privatization or corporatisation of these assets.

8. Ban on allocation of government lands, as well as compulsory
acquisition of private lands, for private corporate sector.

9. Campaign against all forms of untouchability practiced in the
public sphere and places of worship, with strong legal action against all
who continue to practice untouchability.

10. Enforcement of ban on manual scavenging, with strict action
against public functionaries within whose jurisdiction the practice of
manual scavenging persists.

11. Enforcement of fundamental right to food of all citizens,
including (a) full commitment to the right to food and right to work as
top priorities of public policy; (b) immediate implementation of all
Supreme Court orders relating to the right to food (PUCL vs Union of India
and others, Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001); (c) Provision of cooked,
nutritious mid-day meals in all primary schools, as per Supreme Court
orders. Immediate extension of mid-day meals to holidays, out-of-school
children, and upper-primary classes. Gradual extension up to Class 10; (d)
Universalisation of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), as
per Supreme Court orders. That is, provision of a functional anganwadi in
every settlement, and full coverage of the relevant groups, especially
children aged 0-6; (e) immediate introduction of a national Employment
Guarantee Act, building on Maharashtras experience in this respect. Legal
guarantee of at least 100 days of employment on public works programmes
every year, at the minimum wage, for every rural household; (f) a
universal public distribution system, with special entitlements for
underprivileged households. Antyodaya cards for all households at risk of
hunger. Abolition of the present targeting system, based on the flawed
BPL survey; (g) strengthening and implementation of right to information
laws, to help eradicate corruption from food- and employment-related
programmes; (h) universal social security arrangements, through cash
transfers and/or the public distribution system. Inclusion of all widows
and elderly persons in improved pension schemes, as a matter of right; (i)
special provisions to prevent urban destitution by extending health and
nutrition services to vulnerable categories such as homeless families,
migrant labourers and street children; (j) democratic control of natural
resources, informed by the constitutional right to livelihood, especially
in tribal areas.

12. Enactment and enforcement of fundamental right to work, including
(a) employment guarantee public works programme for both rural and urban
areas; (b) ban on labour-displacing technologies in agriculture,
veterinary services, fisheries, construction and mining sectors and a ban
on plastics and nylons; (c) special fiscal incentives to private industry
for employment of socially vulnerable groups: SC, ST, single woken,
disabled people, released convicts and released bonded workers; and (d)
training of youth from socially vulnerable groups for employment in modern
sectors, especially in IT and Communications.

13. Promotion of appropriate sustainable, low-cost, low-risk,
agricultural technologies for small farmers in rain fed areas, including
traditional seeds, and cropping patterns, organic fertilizers, integrated
watershed development, and micro-minor irrigation.

14. Promotion of community forest management, including full rights
over all non-timber forest produce for local communities and a nation-wide
ban on the harvesting of timber.

15. Award of bhumiswami or ownership rights to adivasi forest
encroachers on 1980

16. A statutory national minimum wages for eight hours of work per day
be fixed for all workers in the country male and female, below which no
worker shall be paid regardless of place or native of employment.

17. Comprehensive protective legislation be enacted for agricultural
workers, all unorganized, casual, contract, seasonal and migrant workers,
street vendors, construction workers, home-based workers, weavers and
artisans and domestic workers, to ensure job security, hours of work,
safety, health, child-care, and social security including maternity
benefits and old-age pension.

18. Enforcement and enactment of a fundamental right to shelter,
including (a) ownership rights for house-sites of all rural families,
including for encroachments on public land or house-sites occupied by them
on private lands owned by landlords; (b) house-building assistance to all
socially vulnerable groups in rural and urban areas, SC, ST, single women,
disabled people, released convicts and released bonded workers; (c)
night-shelters with basic facilities for all urban homeless people, with
special priority to all women, children, disabled and old people on the
streets; (d) abrogation of anti-beggary laws that criminalize destitution;
(e) a complete ban on slum demolitions, and instead the award of land
title to urban slum dwellers occupying government land and possessing no
other urban house-site (f) firm penal action against slumlords; (g)
involvement of residents in replanning the slum settlements to secure
basic needs; and (h) master plans, urban land laws and urban housing
credit schemes to be modified to enable urban poor people to secure
affordable house-sites close to their work sites.

19. Enforcement of the fundamental right to education in a way that
ensures and strengthens state accountability and responsibility, and also
ensures that education becomes an instrument to promote greater equity,
rationalism and peace. In particular, this would include (a) Ensuring that
6% GDP is spent on education; (b) a phased programme to upgrade rural and
municipal schools to the level of private schools; (c) mandatory inclusion
of disabled children in all schools both private and state-run; (d) direct
accountability of teachers to secure admission and retention of all
specially vulnerable children girls, SC, ST and disabled children; and
(e) guarantee of hostels for all children of migrant worker parents,
working children and children without adult protection.

20. Enactment and enforcement of fundamental right to health,
including (a) ensuring 6% GDP allocations for public health; (b) ban on
imposing user fees in public health facilities; (c) rapid and time-bound
upgradation of sub-health cetnres, PHCs and district hospitals; (d)
ensuring rational drug purchase and use; (e) substantial upgradation of
preventive and promotional health interventions; (f) engagement of
panchayats, urban bodies NGOs and public health professionals in preparing
and implementing local public health plans; (g) refusal to join WTO regime
in health; and (h) human resource development plan, for a massive
upgradation of public health personnel including village health workers,
disability workers, ANMS and intermediate-level para-medical health

21. Enactment of a National Rehabilitation Policy for people displaced
by large development projects, of which the main features are (a) the
public interest claimed in any acquisition can judicially challenged; (b)
full right to information for all affected persons; (c) no project can be
cleared unless it contains detailed plans prepared in consultation with
all affected populations, that ensures that all affected people are better
off than before the project; (d) every affected family, including landless
persons, must be ensured land for house-sites and house construction
assistance compatible with their traditional way of life, and they should
be direct beneficiaries of the project, such as being allocated irrigated
agricultural land in the command area itself (for irrigation projects),
employment etc.

22. In all districts with low and declining sex ratios, a national
emergency be declared to ensure survival of girls and women. The steps
would include (a) stringent legal action against medical professional who
illegally are assisting sex selective abortions; (b) campaign and
programmes for womens literacy and education; (c) campaign and programmes for womens health and nutrition; (d) public education campaign targeting both men and women; (e) formation of womens organizations to fight genderdiscrimination and violence.

23. Stronger laws and their implementation, to prevent violence
against women, and their legal redress to the survivors of such violence,
including within their own families.

24. Recognizing persons with disabilities as a social group suffering
profound human rights, and a conscious shift from a piecemeal welfare
approach to one that acknowledges and enforces their rights. In
particular, stringent legal action against discrimination, denial and
neglect; promotion of inclusive education and inclusive livelihoods;
prevention and universal guarantee for all required medical interventions,
aids and appliances; and ensuring mobility and access in all public
buildings and spaces.

25. Legal reforms that end the custodialisation or locking away of
very vulnerable people, such as persons with mental illness, neglected
children and children in conflict with the law, vulnerable people, and
people in begging, in jail like sub-human custodial institutions, and
their replacement by humane, community-based alternatives.
26. Immediate release of all jail undertrials who have already been
incarcerated for a ppriod longer than half the maximum penalty if they
were proved guilty; strengthening legal aid; and implementation of
recommendation of human rights and official jail commissions to prevent
the lengthy incarceration of poor people, especially those charged with
petty offences.

Part III: Reclaiming Non-alignment

1. Returning to the ethical and proudly independent foreign policy
framework of non-alignment, that is equally relevant to the post Cold War
era of unipolar US hegemony in world affairs.

2. Removal of the recent sharp tilt in our foreign relations in
favour the governments of the US and Israel.

3. Unequivocal condemnation of the unprovoked US aggression in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and the misuse of the so-called international war on
terror to strengthen its military and economic global domination, as well
as the global demonisation of Islam.

4. Withdrawal from the informal joint military alliance with the US,
reflected for instance in joint military exercises and the offer to permit
Indian soil to be used for refueling facilities for American military

5. High priority to sustainably improving relations with our
neighbours, based on peaceful resolution of disputes, free movement of
people across borders, cultural exchanges and collaborations, and economic
collaborations to promote equitable growth in the sub continent.

6. Cultivating good relations with countries of the global South, in
Asia, Africa and Latin America, including economic collaborations and
cultural exchanges

Part IV: Reclaiming Democracy

1. Enactment of a strong law guaranteeing the statutory right to
information to all citizens, in relation to not just government but also
to the corporate sector and funded NGOs, and with strong penal clauses and
an independent appeal mechanism.

2. Placing details of all government contracts, allocations,
expenditures and appointments on web-sites, to promote transparency.

3. Making peoples social audits mandatory for all government
programmes, from local to natural; and making it legally binding for
government authorities to act on the findings of social audits.

4. Legal amendments to invest directives of the National Human Rights
Commission with statutory binding on all public authorities.

5. Implementation of progressive recommendations of National Police
Commissions and Jail Commissions for long-delayed reforms to the criminal
justice system, under the broad supervision of the NHRC.

6. 33% reservation for women as a sub-category within every other
reserved category, of elected representatives at all levels from local to
national, and in all government services.

7. Electoral reforms, including legalizing and making transparent
donations to political parties; debarment from elections all persons
convicted in the original courts for heinous offences under the IPC or
offences under Atrocities Act, gender violence, communal violence,
inciting communal hatred or corrupt practices; and the right of voters to
reject all contesting candidates.

8. Establishment of a Lokayukt as a constitutional authority, with
powers to examine charges of corruption in all public offices, including
that of the Prime Minister and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court,
and also the corporate sector and funded NGOs.

9. Strengthening public accountability of funded NGOs by making
statutory the publication of disaggregated accounts and annual reports
with details of programme objectives and achievements and making social
audits in the communities where the NGOs work mandatory. However, both
state partronage, funding and control of NGOs should be reduced,
especially through the widely and openly misused instrument of the FCRA.

10. An explicit reiteration of the right of organized, non-violent
dissent by peoples organizations and movements, and commitment by the
government not to use force to suppress democratic peaceful social

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