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Mumbai: Tale of Two Forums Retold

18. March 2004

from People`s March, Vol 5, No. 2-3, Feb-Mar 2004

Tale of Two Forums Retold
One, A Serious Step Forward; The Other, A Carnival

(The third week of January this year witnessed two major events in Mumbai …— first was the MR-2004; the other, the WSF. Given its importance People´s March specifically went and covered both the events. The reports printed in this issue are based on extensive interviews with participants and first hand observations made at the events. Based on these reports we here give an overall view of the two events….. Editor.)

The dividing line between the two was the Western Express Highway to Gujarat. On the right lay the grounds of the Mumbai Resistance-2004, Against Imperialist Globalisation & War; on the left lay the sprawling venue of the World Social Forum. But, the dividing line lay deeper than the mere Highway. The first was led by a fusion of revolutionary and progressive organisations; the latter was led by a fusion of ruling-class social democrats and imperialist-funded NGOs. The first appeared serious; the latter appeared frivolous. The first appeared focussed towards some specific goal; the latter appeared directionless. The first had a clear-cut agenda; the other no apparent agenda. The first was propagated throughout the city through the massive wall-writing of hundreds of dedicated volunteers camping in Mumbai´s slums; the other was propagated through sponsorships in the bourgeois media and five-star press hand-outs. The first saw people attending at their own expense or through funds raised by them (or travelling ticketless when in a big group), the other saw the masses turning up on sponsorship (NGO) monies. The first released the Mumbai Declaration at the end; the other dissipated into nothingness at the end (except the resolve to repeat the jamboree once again next year at Porto Alegre).

While the content of the MR stood for a clear-cut anti-imperialist struggle, around which all the forces attending were united; the WSF, with no specific programme, witnessed the predominance of pro-globalisation …‘reformers´, hob-knobbing with a host of parliamentarians from 25 countries. MR resolved to continue the anti-imperialist struggle and, as a first step, joined the call to rally against the US invasion of Iraq …— the March 20th Call. It had already declared that in struggles it was willing to unite with all forces, even those attending the WSF, and was reported to have invited all to join the Ad Hoc Committee formed for the March 20 actions. The WSF gave no call to action.

In spite of the money-power of the WSF constituents and the vociferous campaign against the MR by some leading NGOs and the CPM, the MR was able to attract all sections of the oppressed masses and progressive intellectuals to its programme. Workers, peasants, student/youth, dalits, Muslims, oppressed nationalities …— all were seen attending the relevant workshops. The closing Plenary session was a rousing account of peoples´ struggles of all sections and classes, ranging from the mild resistance put up by various peoples´ struggles, to the revolutionary storms emanating from the Maoist movements in India, Nepal, Philippines and Turkey. The New Power in Nepal, led by the Maoists, was a living example of the “Other Possible World”. Though differing in their ideologies, all stood firm against the policies of imperialist globalisation and war. Roughly 2,000 registered from India and another 450 from abroad, representing 51 countries. While taking the anti-imperialist message amongst the people, MR teams had not only to face the attacks of the fascist Shiv Sena and police in Mumbai, but also of the CPM in West Bengal. While the WSF got full cooperation from the government and permission was given to their rally; the MR was reported to have faced numerous governmental/bureaucratic hurdles and the police disallowed permission for their rally. Even visas were denyed to the ILPS secretary and a senior ILPS functionary from the Philippines.

The WSF was dominated by Gandhian-type NGOs, big-name intellectuals for reforming globalisation …— both rabidly anti-communist …— and ruling class-social democrats. Though kept at low-key, present were the likes of Bardhan (CPI secretary), Yechuri (CPM PB member), Brazil Cultural Minister, and some 200 Members of Parliament from Europe and elsewhere. Mary Robinson, ex president of Ireland and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, promised to carry the WSF message to the WEF (World Economic Forum at Davos). The World Bank Chief, James Wolfensohn, sent his message saying “the dialogue in Mumbai can help restore a development oriented agenda………. Let´s make 2004 a year of hope, of common engagement, a year in which we move ahead together to join forces and resources behind the shared vision of a balanced world”. Even the chief guest at the rally was a pillar of the Indian reactionary system, the ex president of India, K.R.Narayan, who, during his entire term, took not a single step against the establishment, except for mouthing nice-sounding platitudes in general terms. In all this cacophony the so-called revolutionaries who sought to “impact the WSF by participation” were a mere voice in the wilderness; barely seen, let alone heard. Of the 2,400 workshops/seminars, the …‘big-tent´ events were dominated by the organisers and their sponsors; while in the tiny workshops (accommodating upto 200) of the over 2,000, a handful were granted to these …‘revolutionaries´. Besides, most of the discussions were sparsely attended, with the bulk of the delegates involved in the carnival outside. Drum-beating, sloganeering, dancing, singing, demonstrating (against who was not clear), etc, were the main attraction. Ironically, a few days later, the one-time hero of the WSF, the current Prime Minister of Brazil, Lula, was a chief guest of the BJP fascists at the Republic Day function.

With imperialist capital on a major offensive today, an important task is to develop the anti-imperialist forces in the country and around the world. This can only be done by the forging of the broadest possible alliance of the revolutionary forces with the other progressive forces, and by simultaneously widening the revolutionary mass base in the county and worldwide. The WSF (with its NGO/CPI/CPM content) seeks to break this alliance by keeping away the revolutionary forces (through its Charter and organisational methods) and wooing the other progressive forces. Having done so, they then seek to diffuse the discontent, through such amorphous gatherings without any direction …— and tying these progressive forces to the apron strings of the ruling classes; whether social-democrats or imperialist-funded NGOs.

It is now clear, that those who became a part of the WSF had hardly any impact on those present there, reducing revolutionaries within it to insignificance, and, in a way, legitimising the reactionary forces that are leading the WSF. Those that boycotted the event led to the further distancing of the revolutionary forces from the progressive elements and the rank-and-file that attended the WSF. The present experience has proved this.

Also, the other two isolated events taken by some so-called revolutionary groups too had little impact on the thousands assembled in Mumbai and could have been just any other programme taken at any time of the year, through a mobilisation of their own mass base. On the contrary it was MR that had a political impact not only on many of the progressive forces in India, but also internationally. MR effectively drew a sharp line of demarcation between what is really anti-imperialist and what is pseudo anti-globalisation …— not in splendid isolation, but amongst a wide section of the masses …— i.e. trade unionists, peasants, dalits, peasants, women, Muslims and others.

In addition, it was also observed that there was widespread distribution of a call given by the CCOMPOSA (Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties of South Asia) to those attending both MR and the WSF on their revolutionary programme of people´s war. Also a handbill signed by the three Maoist parties of the Philippines, Turkey and India was distributed at both events with a similar message. Other revolutionary forces, like the WPRM and the CPN(M), TKP/ML etc., too distributed their views at both venues. Revolutionary literature too was also being widely sold at both venues.

So, while MR drew a clear-cut line on the question of anti-imperialism, the propaganda by the Maoist organisations was able, to some extent, carry the politics of people´s war in the two forums.