On Upcoming General Elections : Statement by Sanhati Collective

April 3, 2014

Lok Sabha Election 2014 is just around the corner. The UPA government, in the last ten years, has championed the cause of big capital with unbridled enthusiasm. The Manmohan-Chidambaram-Montek-led government has hastily taken forward the process of privatization and subordinating our national economy to global capital euphemistically called “liberalization” and “reform”–which they initiated in the early nineties. This has brought immiserization, debt-bondage and unemployment to the farmers and labourers.

Not only that, in order to open up the vast mineral wealth of the country to corporate plunder (as exemplified by the indiscriminate and illegal allocation of coal mining blocks to companies or granting of iron ore license to South Korean steel giant POSCO), it has waged a war against the poorest section of the population, the adivasi and dalits, in large parts of central and eastern India. Any dissent or resistance against this has been crushed by state repression and draconian laws like the Unlawful Atrocities Prevention Act (UAPA). People are fuming due to the increasing inequality, spiraling inflation, massive corruption, dismantling of public services and state repression. Irrespective of whether their anger results in a rout of Congress in the coming election as predicted by the media, would there be any real change in their lives? Let us see what alternatives are on offer in the coming election.

BJP and Congress: Two masks for hiding the same face?

Big media, run by various big corporate capital entities, have been projecting BJP’s Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister for quite some time. A well-orchestrated media campaign is trying to make us believe that a ‘Modi-wave’ is sweeping across India. Gujarat during the tenure of Modi is being projected as a model of ‘successful development’ and Modi is being held up as a ‘strong administrator’ that India needs for becoming a ‘world-power’. ‘World power’ or not, common people have far more pressing issues at hand such as survival with dignity. What exactly is Modi offering them?

Behind the glitz, gimmicks and rhetoric of his campaign lies a heinous deceit. In the name of ‘development’, Modi and BJP are offering a more accentuated variant of the same policies, which created the highly lopsided development and increasing inequality in our country over the last two decades. These are the same policies of “reform”- privatization and selling off our economy to global monopoly capital, that Congress followed in the last ten years. Let us not forget that during their earlier stint in power, BJP carried out pro-rich policies as zealously as Congress did in the last two terms. How about the hype about Modi’s Gujarat as a model of development? Has Gujarat really progressed as Modi and the media claims? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’ as many studies have revealed . Gujarat was one of the less underdeveloped states in India along with Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu back in the 1980s. Even today, by most development indicators –poverty alleviation, health, literacy, employment and earnings, Gujarat ranks below the above-mentioned states. The most striking aspect of the Gujarat model is the divergence between its growing economy and its declining rank on the Human Development Index (HDI) . Gujarat did not develop as miraculously under Modi as hyped by the media. It has improved at a snail’s pace, as did most of other states, irrespective of the party in power.

Then what is the famed ‘Gujarat model’ of development? ‘Gujarat model’ has two important components. First is the familiar aspect of liberalization and privatization. Foreign and domestic big capitalists were offered astronomical subsidies to invest in Gujarat. Adani, Ambani, Tata were offered dirt-cheap land, interest free loans and tax exemptions to set up SEZ and industrial parks. However, these industries– such as petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries – are heavily mechanized and did not create employment for common people (Gujarat also has textile and jewelry industries but these predate Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister). In this respect, ‘Gujarat model’ is no different from Congress’s economic policies. Both Modi in Gujarat and Manmohan at the centre flouted all kinds of regulations, land rights, forest rights, and environmental laws to facilitate resource grab by the corporations. Both doled out more as tax exemption to billionaire industrialists than they spent on education and food subsidies for the poor. Whereas grand legislations such as Right to Food, Right to Education etc. were promulgated to contain peoples’ anger, they either remained ornamental (like RTE) or were surreptitiously sabotaged (like NREGA). Modi has even promised to abolish taxes (though retracted it later) if he comes to power in the centre.

The other important aspect of Modi rule was the centralization of power at the top. Whereas both Congress and BJP went beyond the legal boundaries to favour the big businesses resulting in corruption, Modi managed to maintain a relatively clean image because of the centralization of power . All the quid-pro-quo deals were controlled by the top, the rest of the party functionaries and administration had little opportunity to engage in such transactions. The consequential lack of petty corruption, unwittingly, gave Modi an image of clean and able administrator. Added to this is the clamping down on all kind of protests: be it by displaced farmers or by industrial workers. What the media does not mention is that no dissent is allowed in Gujarat, for example 14 trade unionists, forest rights activists, child rights activists and workers were arrested under an omnibus FIR in 2010, and most of them have not been released over the last four years. No wonder, big corporations and big media are strongly backing and funding Modi for the coming election. By no means have they forsaken Congress; indeed, these big capitalist entities utilize such variety of political parties to compete with each other—but Modi is their man at this moment. Big capitalists believe that authoritarian Modi can most effectively contain the social unrest, which is crucial for unhindered profiteering at the current juncture.

RSS-BJP and Modi have been making huge sound and fury about “nationalism”. Their proven brand of “nationalism” means workers would work silently for fifteen hours a day at low wages so that big corporates would make super profit and the “nation’s” wealth would go up; their brand of “nationalism” means that the poor peasants and tribals would be evicted from their homes so that big dams can provide water to the industrial plants of Tata, Suzuki etc.; their brand of “nationalism” means that the frequent massacres of the people of Kashmir by the Indian army should be clapped at and cheered as “patriotic heroism” of the soldiers. These features are recognized as classic indicators of Fascism.

Modi-Rahul-Chidambaram-Jaitley’s essential vision of future India is one and the same. It consists of opulent life for a small minority of elites – but the toiling millions would be exploited to the hilt – they have to endure loss of land and livelihoods, increasing work hours, insecurity in employment, high inflation and repression in case of protests. It seems that whoever comes to the power this time: the suave Rahul with sugar-coated words or the “iron-man” Modi with his band of seasoned hate-mongers and minority-killers, the agenda would be to bring further anti-poor economic “reforms” such as i) removal of residual barriers in the financial sector for foreign firms ii) elimination of government role in determining prices of agricultural commodities and corporatization of agriculture and iii) modification of labour laws to snatch away the last bit of workers’ rights .

What lies behind the ‘Third Front’?

While Congress and BJP have a common agenda, do regional parties, such as DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, TMC in West Bengal, TDP and YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP and BSP in UP, BJD in Odisha etc. provide a real alternative? Before every election there are talks about formation of a ‘third front’ by various combinations of regional parties but in most cases it falls apart. There are good political reasons why the third front is non-viable but even if such an alliance emerges would it be different from the Congress and BJP?

While in power at the state level, each of these regional parties has adopted the same economic policies as espoused by BJP or Congress at the centre. All the states have taken huge amount of loan from international financial organizations like the World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank for so called infrastructural development . These loans did not come for free – they were accepted with the condition of privatization of the public services in the name of “structural adjustments”. While state governments tried to outbid each other by offering freebies to big capital for investment, small savings, which could have been mobilized for investment in infrastructure, were left to be exploited by the chit funds and speculators. Let us not forget that some of the most outrageous favours to corporate sector were handed out by the regional parties in state governments as well as as an ally in the central government, for instance, Vedanta and POSCO deals by BJD in Odisha and involvement of DMK in 2G-scam. These regional parties are also closely integrated with and are often run by local landed and business elites. They have been involved in huge scams. Two types of loot – stealing of state funds meant for poverty alleviation and illegal extraction of natural resources have become the mainstay of many of these parties.

Regional parties do not have an alternative agenda for the common people, they simply aim to bargain for the maximum share of the spoil, say plum ministerial posts at the centre or special favour to their states, based on the electoral equations. Some of these parties represent the interest of regional elites such as DMK or TMC. Some others, like SP and RJD, claim to represent interests of specific castes which have garnered sufficient clout in the political landscape. Although BSP claim to represent the dalits, while in office, rather than breaking the backbone of the age-old system of caste exploitation it started to look after the interest of a handful of dalit elites and their upper caste associates. Many of these regional parties have hopped in and out of alliances with the Congress of BJP at various points of time, demonstrating the opportunism and bankruptcy of their positions.

Other proponents of the ‘Third Front’ include parliamentary “left”, namely CPI and CPI(M). CPI(M) led Left Front was in power in West Bengal for more than thirty years. Although parliamentary “Left” pays lip service against neoliberal policies, the Left Front government played a major role to bring about pro-rich reforms – West Bengal was one of the first states to pass an SEZ Act, and aggressively tried to acquire agricultural land to hand over to corporations. However, land acquisition at the behest of multinational corporations led to people’s revolt against their rule. The resistance and subsequent repression by the Left Front government uncovered the deceit of such parties.

Exposed and hated, such parliamentary “Left” has now chosen the pretension of opposing the communal forces by forming coalitions with so-called ‘secular parties’ in the parliament, most of whom have less than exemplary records about upholding secularism. CPI(M) had no qualms in forming alliance with Congress, perpetrator of anti-Sikh massacre in Delhi or Samajwadi Party, collaborator in the recent Muzaffarnagar riot, in the past. None of these so called secular parties, who are always quick to criminalize mass movements, have ever taken action against Sangh affiliated organizations for spreading the venom of communalism. Thus parliamentary Left is not even sincere about upholding secularism, they are using it as their last straw for survival. They cannot be trusted to deliver on the promise of a secular coalition government, let alone a pro-poor programme.

New incarnation of aam aadmi

As a response to rampant corruption in public life a new formation has evolved in the past couple of years. Agitations against corruption and subsequent emergence of ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ in Delhi state election have certainly brought new electoral equations to the fore. But has AAP, which claims to champion the cause of the “aam aadmi”, really brought new hope to the working class in India (in any case, for the rural oppressed classes their impact seems non-existent)?

To understand AAP better, we need to look at the composition of AAP in its early days and the earlier ‘India Against Corruption’ agitation, both of which consisted of mainly middle class professionals. This section burgeoned after nineties and was one of the main beneficiaries of economic reforms. However, the channel through which economic reforms brought benefits to these professionals was different from the one that benefitted the bureaucrats and political elites. While the latter shared the spoils from disinvestment and kickbacks from corporations, the professionals got their share indirectly through sale of technical and managerial skills (which, by the way, were only available to privileged sections) to the corporate sector. Hence their view on economic reforms and the new economic reality was twofold – privatization and globalization brought new opportunities for them and thus were desirable but politicians and bureaucrats were unjust beneficiaries of the system and hence were detrimental to their interests.

Therefore middle class professionals were not against anti-poor economic reforms or privatization of public resources at the behest of corporate sector per se, they were only against the political parties which they considered to be unjust beneficiaries of the process. It is therefore no wonder that AAP sees everything through the lenses of ‘corruption’. In their understanding ‘corruption’ is not a by-product of economic reforms, and a reflection of a deeper lack of democracy, but a barrier to its success. AAP refuses to see the fact that it is not corruption, but the entire economic-political structure that is responsible for the growing crisis of genuine development. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that AAP could not make any real change in the life of common people when they were governing Delhi. Actually it was impossible for them to deliver any meaningful change.

Starting from the Operation Green Hunt to caste atrocities to Kashmir, they are silent about almost all major issues of repression and human rights violations inherent in the socio-political system. Even if they were serious about bringing relief to the common people, it would have met staunch opposition from the business elites. Since AAP is not antagonistic to corporate interest, this would have forced them to compromise with the business class. It actually betrayed its compromising character, when pressed by big business, by openly accepting the neo-liberal mantra of “government has no business doing business” in front of industry bigwigs. Actually AAP’s posture as representative of “aam aadmi” is nothing but middle class professionals seeking allegiance of working class in their bid for a better share of economic and political power from the established elites. It is true that many well meaning intellectuals and mass movement leaders (perhaps out of desperation) have joined AAP in recent times. But it is impossible to change the basic class orientation of AAP and they may in all possibility strike a deal with the erstwhile political and business elites to sacrifice the working class interests.

Beyond elections

It is evident that there is no hope for the common people—the coalition of exploited classes–to elect a pro-poor entity to governmental power in the next election. Elections in a parliamentary democracy are supposed to pick candidates who represent common people but in India, the parliamentary political parties have become a vehicle of corporate/mafia/landed elites’ interest. In fact, the MPs themselves, predominantly, are not common people – workers, small farmers, artisans who constitute the vast majority of the population but are usually from incredibly wealthy backgrounds. Some are big industrialists, some are erstwhile feudal lords and princes, whereas some are film actors and sports persons.

Leaders such as Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, who like to trumpet their underprivileged background are also, needless to say, hand-in-glove with corporate-mafia interests: the fraternal symbiosis between the Trinamool Congress and the mega-swindler Saradha group or the industrialist K D Singh being one recent example. Parliamentary political parties are also destroying any remnants of representative democracy by widely fielding filmstars and singers in the elections, who are expected to win the elections on the basis of glamour and not on the basis of their political programme on performance in representing the interests of the people. Therefore, increasingly policies are getting formulated not by the legislators but by business chambers, industry leaders and technocrats which neither represent, nor is answerable, to the electorate .

Therefore, unsurprisingly, in India today parliamentary elections have become a tool for legitimizing the control of a handful of rich and powerful: a coalition of exploiting classes. Such elections are devoid of genuine democratic content for the common people, something that the state and the corporate media attempt to lull us into forgetting. Indeed, what the corporate media do not highlight is that a substantial part of India today is under military occupation, in fact, state machineries are heavily clamping down on all forms of dissent. Apart from the continuing Indian military occupation of Kashmir and many North-Eastern states for decades, armed forces have been let loose in large parts of central India to crush peoples’ struggle against national and multinational corporations. Killing, fake encounters, rape by the police and armed forces have become daily occurrence in these areas. Thousands of people are languishing in jail under false cases. Not only armed resistance, even completely unarmed struggles are being crushed by the state. Anti land-acquisition movements, anti-nuclear movements, resistance against slum eviction, trade union activities, movements for environment protection, movements for women’s rights, anti-caste atrocities movements –all kinds of possible democratic challenge to the current state power have met the same fate.

In spite of the continual stifling of democratic spaces and the futility of such parliamentary elections in India today, a real change is still achievable. Only a united struggle of all the working people across caste, religion and gender can pull India out of this terrible situation. It is not sufficient to vent our anger by voting against the incumbent in the next election – it will change nothing – let us get united in a struggle for a real change of the system.

1 Comment »

One Response to “On Upcoming General Elections : Statement by Sanhati Collective”

  1. hemen parekh Says:
    April 29th, 2014 at 01:17

    Bribing The Voters

    Retired Chief Election Commissioner , S Y Quraishi , is all set to release his book ,

    ” The Undocumented Wonder : The Making of the Great Indian Election ”

    Talking to DNA ( 15 April 2014 ) he listed some 40 different ways in which , Political Parties try to bribe voters

    Some of these are :

    > Cash
    > Depositing money in voter’s bank account
    > Liquor Bottles
    > LPG Cylinders
    > Free Rice / Food Packets
    > Payments of Electricity / Water Bills
    > Mass Feasts
    > Screening of films
    > Laptops / Tablets
    > Bicycles
    > Mangal Sutras
    > Gold Coins
    > Buffalos
    > Colour TV
    > Mixer – Grinder
    > Unemployment Allowance
    > Waiver of loans
    > Free Houses ……etc

    Political Parties are happy that Mr Quarishi , being an honest / straight forward person , could imagine only 10 % of the ways of bribing voters !

    And who cares that the EC has managed to seize a meager Rs 300 crores worth of cash so far during the current season , when all of the Rs 40,000 Crores worth of black money ( @ Rs 5 crores per candidate * 8,000 candidates ) , has escaped un-noticed ( looking other way ? ) by ,

    > Income Tax Department
    > Enforcement Directorate
    > CAG / CVC
    > Election Commission…..etc

    Even the almighty Supreme Court seemed helpless , when it held recently :

    ” Although promises of distribution of freebies may not technically constitute corrupt practice , under the Representation of People Act , they vitiate the electoral process by influencing voters and disturbing the level playing between contesting parties ”

    And since there is no difference of opinion between the political parties when it comes to exploiting the poverty of 400 million BPL ( Below the Poverty Line ) voters , I would not be surprised if the next government at the Centre , introduces a ,

    ” Bribe ( given ) Politically ( is ) Legal Bill ” ( for BPL people ! )

    in the very first session of 16th Lok Sabha !

    Expect it to be passed unanimously – and without a debate !

    Political parties are firm believer of what Kaushik Basu ( onetime advisor to PM ) once said ( – although in a different context ) ,

    ” Giving bribe must not be treated as crime

    Ordinary citizens are forced to give bribes when they are denied , service that is legitimately due to them

    If they are held innocent , they will come forward and report all instances when they were forced to bribe bureaucrats

    Only bribe-takers must be punished ”

    * hemen parekh ( 28 April 2014 / Mumbai )

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