The general elections in India are ongoing and the results will be announced on 23 May. Across India, 900 million voters will elect the National Assembly (or the lower house of the parliament, called the Lok Sabha) for a five-year term. The tragedy is that, at a moment when Modi is losing popular support, the left remains weak because of its past – and present – policies.
In the last elections, held in 2014, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the right-wing BJP, came to power by raising the slogan of “Development for All” (Sab ka Vikas). The BJP, led by Narendra Modi, entered office after the 10-year rule of the UPA, led by Congress, during which anti-working class policies were imposed, while huge corruption in important deals eventually surfaced (the 2G Spectrum and mining scams) and resulted in the worst-ever defeat of Congress in its long history. Narendra Modi, as he took office, promised employment for all and development. But in the last five years, it is clear that this was all a mockery and fraud. Modi's government has been the worst nightmare for the working class across India.
The economy under Modi
Narendra Modi, other than making loud speeches about development and bringing employment, has done nothing for the masses living in extreme poverty and hunger. During his election campaign five years ago, Modi promised to create 20 million jobs every year and to give Rs1.5 million to every Indian by recovering black money stashed away in Swiss Banks. But, as was reported by the Center for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), five million jobs were destroyed between 2016 and 2018. It has been the worst period of job losses for 45 years, resulting in nearly 7 percent unemployment. Unemployment has been high among the highly educated and also less-skilled workers. Modi’s promise to deposit Rs1.5 million in every citizen's account has now been called an election stunt, even by the Minister of Transport, Nitiesh Gadkari.
Job losses have been increasing in India since 2011, but accelerated after the demonetisation policy by the Modi government. On 8 November 2016, Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes were suddenly declared to be invalid and it was announced that these would be immediately withdrawn from the market and replaced with new notes. The cash circulation of these notes consisted of 86 percent of the Indian economy. After this sudden decision, which shocked the whole country and created panic in every household, there was a complete credit squeeze in the economy and the masses had to stand in long queues at ATMs to exchange old notes for new ones. In the process, nearly 150 people died standing in the long queues.
In a country like India, where 90 percent of the economy runs on cash transactions, this action led to economic chaos. Many households, small businesses, employee salaries and rural activities, which are based on cash, were seriously affected. Ordinary people were standing in long queues instead of going to work. Due to this, there were many job losses in unorganised sectors. In fact, demonetisation was nothing but a credit squeeze imposed on the masses to remonetise the Indian banks, which were facing a liquidity crunch because of the unprecedented growth of non-performing loans, which had by then swelled to a huge $150 billion. Demonetisation followed by GST (goods services taxes) and an increase of indirect taxes led to a further slowing of the economy and squeezing of the masses. Meanwhile, there has been no increase in wealth taxes for the rich. In India, according to an Oxfam study published in the World Economic Forum (WEF), the wealth of the nine richest people is equivalent to that of the bottom 50 percent.
Inflation of all essential commodities, high prices of oil and gas cylinders, loss of purchasing power and unemployment, have become the norm under the Modi government.
Education, health and crony capitalism
No major public investment is taking place in the education and health sectors. In the annual budget, the percentage of allocation for education and health is very small. The progressive elements of education have been destroyed and it has become more centralised to suit the Hindutva ideology (one culture), in a multicultural country like India. The introduction of the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) would make medical education unequal, and poor students will not be able to become doctors. The rights of states under the constitution are also being violated by the Modi government, which is appointing right-wing BJP supporters as governors.
The Modi government has been consistently formulating policies that increase the profits of corporations like Adani and Ambani. The non-performing assets of corporations worth billions of dollars were written off by the Indian government. Also, tax exemptions of billions of rupees have been given to corporations in state budgets. The corporations have been given a free run to violate environmental laws and people’s rights.
One of the most scandalous projects is that of the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, where fighter planes are being bought at much higher prices by the Indian government from a French company named Dassault Aviation. In the previous UPA government, the same deal was much cheaper. The project was initially allotted to Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd, which is a public sector company, but later it was given to Anil Ambani, who has no experience in defence manufacturing. There are reports that affirm the deal was given to the Reliance Anil Ambani Group at the behest of the prime minister’s office.
Communal violence under the BJP
The BJP had only two seats in the 1980s, but now is the largest party in India. Its main agenda and programme has always been to spread hatred against minorities. The BJP originated from a cadre-based fascist organisation, which was founded in 1925, inspired by Mussolini. After the BJP came to power in 2014, there were over 2,920 incidents of ‘communal’ (religiously motivated) violence reported in India over four years (2014-17) in which 389 people were killed and 8,890 injured, according to the Home Ministry’s reply in the Lok Sabha on 6 February, 2018; and 7 February, 2017, as reported on firstpost.com. In 2016, communal riots were highest in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana (250) followed by Jharkhand (176) and Bihar (139).
An important event came in 2015, at Dadri in UP, where Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by a mob of villagers under suspicion of slaughtering a cow. The armed mob, consisting of local leaders, mostly from the BJP, attacked Akhlaq’s house, saying they suspected him of stealing and slaughtering a cow. His son was also injured in the incident.
There have been many instances of cattle traders killed by cow vigilante groups, and also Dalits (lower-caste people or untouchables) being beaten for removing the skin of dead cows in Gujarat. There has been a consistent increase of attacks against Muslims and Dalits.
In 2018, Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl, was brutally gangraped for days and killed in Indian-administered Kashmir in Kathua. Lawyers affiliated to the BJP stopped the entry of the police into the court to file a charge sheet and two state ministers of the BJP attended the rally in support of the accused. According to the investigators, Asifa was confined in a local temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleges she was raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered. She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone. Attacks against women and children by fringe Hindutva groups have increased all over India under the Modi government. The prime minister has not responded to these incidents.
The Modi government has also brought a new bill into the Assembly called the National Citizenship Bill, which has led to huge opposition from North-Eastern states. This bill has been brought in to discriminate against the Muslim migrants living in these states. According to this bill, Hindu migrants from other nations will be given citizenship, whereas non-Hindus will be sent back to their home states, and the government-published National Citizens’ Register has omitted nearly four million migrants who have been residing in India for the past 50 years.
There are many instances of communal violence where minorities, Dalits and women are attacked on a daily basis and all kinds of protection are provided by the state police for the perpetrators. There is utter lawlessness, where democratic rights are violated every day.
Five years of Modi rule have been disastrous for the Indian workers and peasants. Warmongering against neighbouring countries like Pakistan, hyper-nationalism, inflation, unemployment, poverty, communal riots, violation of democratic rights, anti-labour laws, the assassination of progressive writers like Narendra Dablakar, Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare; and the arrest of social activists have all become the norm under the Modi government. The independence of key institutions, like the judiciary, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Election Commission and all central institutions is under threat.
The emergence of Modi and the rise of the BJP are products of the crisis of capitalism, in addition to the vacuum that has been left by the betrayal of the left-wing parties. The present crisis of capitalism has exacerbated this process.
There has been a spreading of hatred against Muslims and migrants under the Modi government. Privatisation, austerity and liberalisation have increased under this regime, thus creating huge inequality. Although the official figures for the growth rate and other macro-economic indicators are showing huge progress, the situation on the ground is quite the opposite. Poverty, misery, hunger and disease have increased, and many farmers have resorted to suicide due to overburdening debt. Attacks on the working class have intensified. There is large-scale casualisation of labour. There are huge tax exemptions for corporations, while the government has been consistently supporting corporate interests against the people. The Sterlite shooting massacre in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu could be carried out only due to Modi’s support for the capitalists.
This situation has forced the working class to come out against these attacks and overcome all the hurdles created by the ruling class, and the betrayals of their own leaders. There have been huge protests against the Modi regime by the working class and peasants. On 8 and 9 January this year, there was a general strike in which 200 million workers participated across the country and brought everything to a grinding halt. This was the biggest general strike in history. See India: 200 million strike against “anti-labour” policies for more on this.
Every year, under Modi’s rule, there have been huge strikes by unions, and protests by peasants in Maharashtra and other states all over India against the government's anti-people policies. The working class has started to act through general strikes, and is ready to give a fitting message in these general elections. They want to defeat Modi, but Congress cannot be the alternative for the working class. Thus, while Modi is losing popularity among wide layers of the working people of India, he could still win because of lack of any concrete alternative. Responsibility for this lies at the feet of the left leaders.
Past betrayals of left leaders
The tragedy of India is that its Communist Parties, the two main ones being the CPI and CPI-M, have in different ways betrayed the confidence placed in them by the workers and peasants in the past. See Indian independence (part 3) – Role of the Communist Party of India during Partition, Liberalisation and the Indian left, and India: For a Workers Front against Capitalism.
The past betrayals explain the sorry state of the Indian left, in particular if its two main Communist parties. Back in 2011, we saw what this meant, when the Left Front led by the CPI (M), after uninterruptedly governing the state of West Bengal for 34-years, was routed, winning just 61 seats. Previously, in 2007, around 100 peasants in Nandigram, West Bengal, were killed as the police opened fire on protests against land-grabbing operations. The CPI-M leadership back then justified the police operation as part of their so-called “development model”. That event marked an important turning point in the fortunes of the CPI-M and the contradictions could not have been posed more sharply. These emerged even more clearly in the 2014 elections, when the left went from its previous 24 seats in the 2009 elections to a mere 10 seats in the Lok Sabha. The CPI-M's votes went from 5.33 percent to 3.2 percent, while the CPI's went from 1.43 percent to 0.8 percent. If one recalls that, in 2004, the left had 60 seats overall, and in 1989 the CPI-M had won 6.55 percent, while the CPI was close to 10 percent in the 1960s, one gets a clear view of the long-term decline of the Communist parties.
This is a tragedy for the Indian working class. It is time for the left forces to draw a balance sheet of the past, learn the lessons of its former class collaborationist stance, and adopt a genuine fighting socialist programme. To this, the rotten elements within its leadership need to be removed and genuine class fighters put in their place. This is the only way the left can recover its past strength and offer an alternative to the Indian workers and peasants.
The people of India will be able to resolve their problems only through class struggle, which is destined to sharpen in the coming years. Capitalism cannot be a solution for the ills of the people. Only a socialist transformation of India can resolve all the problems faced by the masses today.