June 6, 2014
The general elections to the 16th Lok Sabha marks a watershed in post-independence Indian history. For the first time, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been voted to power with an absolute majority of 282 parliamentary seats. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the alliance of political parties led by the BJP, has won 336 seats. With the BJP in power now, therefore, India is going to be governed with absolute parliamentary majority, for the first time in its history, by the political affiliate of the RSS, the Hindu-fascist political-cultural organization that draws its inspiration from Adolf Hitler, and that wants to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra.
It is no less important to remember that the BJP was swept to power in the 16th Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat under whose watch a state-sponsored pogrom of Muslims was organized in 2002 that killed more than 1000 women, men and children. In his regime, the Muslim community in Gujarat was systematically marginalized, intimidated in numerous ways, and brutalized through several fake encounters. While systematically terrorizing the Muslim community, Modi has also developed close connections with the emerging capitalist class of Gujarat. It is well known the billionaire Adani has prospered under Modi, with largesse in the form of dirt cheap land and the bending of vexing regulations.
The victory of the Modi-led BJP in the Lok Sabha elections is the expression of a further rightward shift of the Indian state. The adoption of neoliberal reforms since the early 1990s has exacerbated inequalities in all dimensions: income, wealth, caste, region, state. While a tiny section of the population has become fabulously wealthy, the vast majority has not seen significant improvements in its living standards. Behind stagnant living standards lies the failure of employment generation. Growth of GDP at extremely high – by historical and contemporary standards – has not translated into growth of stable employment. The overwhelming majority of the increase in the workforce over the past two decades has joined the informal economy, where employment is marked by extremely low wages (and income), lack of social security, virtually no job security, and no collective bargaining rights as a worker. With India undergoing a demographic transition, anemic employment growth has meant precarious lives for a large and growing youth working class population. Lacking real control over their lives and livelihood, this precarious, young, uncertain working class population is open to the promise of Modi to set things right.
The blazing growth in the Indian economy between 2002 and 2008 had added an additional element in the heady mix: a mad rush for natural resources. With the rise of global commodity prices, Indian (and foreign) capital saw the opportunity to make huge profits from incorporating many natural resources into the circuits of capital. In its bid to facilitate this process, the Indian state started forcibly acquiring agricultural and pasture land, forests, and rights over water bodies, for big capital. But the neoliberal juggernaut hit a massive roadblock: the people refused to move, to give up their land, their right to forests and rivers. They were ready to take up arms, if need be, to defend their lives and livelihoods, which the state resorted to suppress militarily. In conjunction with the global economic and financial crisis of 2008, peoples’ resistance to state-assisted resource grab punctured the animal spirits of the Indian corporate sector. Investments fell sharply, and the growth rate of the economy slowed down significantly. Indian big capital started looking for a strongman to set things right.
The authoritarian Modi started attracting attention of the capitalist class beyond Gujarat from late 2008. Unable to steamroll people’s opposition to land acquisition in Singur, Ratan Tata announced on October 3, 2008 that he would start looking for an alternative site. Modi contacted him, offered him land in Sanand and other largesse as was his wont, and an agreement was signed in a record 10 days. After the inauguration of the Nano plant in Sanand in June 2010, international capital came knocking on Modi’s doors: both Ford and Peugeot wanted land to set up their factories in Gujarat. With such deals, Modi’s stock rose among big capital, so that once it was clear that he managed to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate – by a skillful palace coup – they decided to bankroll his election campaign.
The strongman Modi, the authoritarian ruler who could get things done, who could ride roughshod over environmental and labour regulations, became corporate India’s choice. Using the uncertainty of life in the informal sector and the aspirations created by, but not fulfilled in, the brave new world of extreme inequalities, Modi mobilized an unprecedented amount of votes for his party. Playing the Hindutva card carefully wherever needed, especially in Uttar Pradesh, and helped by the discrediting of a venal Congress government, persistently high inflation, and a lack of credible alternatives, the BJP managed to win a majority of seats in the 16th Lok Sabha.
This does not augur well for the vast majority of the Indian population: the peasantry, the working people, the religious minorities, the women, the dalits and the tribals and the LGBT community. If history can be any guide, Modi’s regime will be a brutal march of capital. It will mean a more virulent form of neoliberal capitalism, marked by further exacerbating of inequalities. It will mean the suppression of hard won democratic rights and civil liberties – to the limited extent that it still exists – of the working people of India. It would mean the tearing apart of the secular fabric, however fragile, of the country. It will mean an all out attack on cultural plurality, rewriting textbooks. It will mean unbridled loot and plunder of India’s natural resources for the profit and income of a tiny section of the population at the expense of environmental degradation. It will imply a value system, in which systemic exclusion of minority groups or complete disregard of their concerns would be deemed as a worthy enough a sacrifice to be made at the altar of development. It will mean taking away the little power and security that labour have over their working lives through labour laws in the name of labour reforms.
Left and democratic forces need to carefully assess the emerging situation. It needs to realize that there is a very real danger of a fascist take-over of the Indian state. Against this fascist threat to Indian democracy, the Left needs to urgently build a united front of progressive and democratic forces. The thrust of this united front politics will necessarily have to be extra-parliamentary; more so now with the current elections having further closed the parliamentary space. Based on militant mass mobilization, this united front should work towards defending and furthering the peoples’ rights over jal, jangal and jamin, the rights and interests of the workers, peasants, religious minorities, dalits and tribals, other minorities and the marginalized, defending the freedom of expression, cultural and education freedom and LGBT and women’s rights, and working towards re-building a mass movement for radical, progressive and democratic transformation of Indian society. Only such a consolidated struggle, spanning every sector and across the country, can confront the looming neoliberal onslaught.
The idea of a broad Left consolidation around the defense of democratic rights is not an empty speculation. While Left has always been alert to defend right to unionize or to defend public control over key resources (such as water, education and transport) against privatization, in recent years a consensus of sorts is also emerging among the various Left streams in India for the defence of rights-based redistributive programmes. A large swathe of progressive grassroots movements have been working for the implementation and deepening of redistributive rights for the last decade, recent years have seen voices across the Left spectrum, from the parliamentary to the underground, highlighting the necessity to defend these rights. Mobilizing the vast majority of the working people around such political agenda can be an important step, at this juncture, in a larger continuing programme of radical, progressive social transformation.