Between 2010 and 2012, India experienced a heightened phase of class struggle. 2010 saw the largest working class mobilization till that point with the general strike called by trade unions. The same period saw intense struggles in Northern India around the automotive industrial belt around Gurgaon and Noida. Students and youth protests rocked the country around the most important democratic questions of the day, self determination for Kashmir, gender equality and against political corruption.
By Adhiraj Bose
The collective weight of all these brought down the behemoth that was the Congress party, a political party that had ruled India for most of its history and constructed the capitalist system in India as we know it. Unfortunately, these movements were neither unified nor led by a conscious revolutionary leadership which could lead it towards something beyond mere electoral change. As a result, the much more organized reactionary forces of the BJP and RSS benefitted from the loss of the Congress. The same period saw the fall of Indian Stalinism with the Left Front losing their largest constituency in West Bengal. The void in left leadership created by this, did not get filled by a revolutionary force, on the contrary a regional semi-fascistic force emerged in the form of the TMC. (Trinamool Congress) . The youth and peasants protests which brought down the Stalinist government in the state, presented a mobilization which could have created the grounds for revolutionary organization, yet again, the failure to build revolutionary leadership led to the triumph of reaction.
Thus, with this background we come to the period of BJP rule in India. In the year 2014, the people still remembered the corruption and oppression of the Congress government that preceded it. The hatred for the Congress outweighed any fear of the BJP.. Bourgeois liberals could cry themselves hoarse and promote the Congress as the lesser evil, but this failed to resonate with the vast majority of working masses who suffered from the Congress rule.
Reaction and resistance :
Almost as soon as they came the power the BJP made clear their reactionary agenda before the country when they targetted the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. It was also the first major defeat of this government when peasants across the country protested against the move. In the parliament, opposition parties united to block the government’s ordinance, eventually the ordinance lapsed. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/land-ordinance-allowed-to-lapse/article7592054.ece) . Despite this defeat the BJP did not give up on its pro-business and reactionary social agenda.
The government’s move to lower interest rates on provident fund met a similar fate, being defeated in the face of protests across the country and the threat of strike. Ultimately, the government could not move forward with its proposed austerity. Though, this has not deterred them from attempting to amend labour laws all with the aim of making it easier for capitalists to more thoroughly exploit the working class. (https://thewire.in/labour/indias-labour-laws-are-being-amended-for-companies-not-workers) (https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article28757774.ece)
The BJP being a party rooted in the Hindutva agenda, wasted no time in pursuing it. The greatest beneficiary of BJP rule has been its mother organization, the RSS (National Self volunteer organization). Minorities, especially muslim and christians all over the country came under attack from vigilante ‘cow protectors’ . Standing against this was a secular movement. While not unified under one political formation, the campaign for preserving the secular nature of the Indian state, which sees equal status to all religious groups. While the secular movement has brought together both leftists and centrist forces, leftist forces do not hold sway over it, consequently the narrative for a secular state becomes watered down, and calls to defend secularism never go beyond the confines of the constitution and the Indian legal system. Revolutionary forces have failed to get hold of the movement and shape the narrative around secularism.
At the same time, the secular movement suffers from its isolation from the struggles of the working class, and important democratic struggles of the lower castes. Though there are efforts to overcome this. Increasingly, as Dalits find themselves threatened as well under the BJP rule, there has been an increasing confluence of these movements.
The opposition to the BJP resulted in several key early electoral defeats for the party in some important by-elections and they lost a few key state elections, notably Karnataka. The electorate had started to look through the illusory promises of the BJP and the reactionary agenda was failing to win over the broad majority of the people. However, they remained emboldened by the electoral victory in 2014 and the dominance of bourgeois and Stalinist parties in the sphere of opposition stifled the radicalization of the masses. This has stunted the strength of mass opposition against BJP rule.
A weakened working class and an absent revolutionary force, is what has allowed important mobilizations to either fizzle out or end up hijacked by reactionary forces. This is what has allowed the present government to largely leave unscathed with attacks on public sector companies, educational institutions and the peasantry. Despite mass mobilizations by the peasantry across the country, including such huge shows of strength like the farmer’s march on Bombay, there has been no serious attempt to stem the dire crisis of Indian agriculture, and no real long term solution. The present government, unsurprisingly, cares much more for their largest capitalist benefactors, (the Tatas, Adanis and Ambanis) than the working class, peasantry and youth.
Thus far the most radical sections of the masses and the most politically active sections have been the students and the youth who have led important agitations against the Modi government and its attacks on the autonomy and quality of educational institutes. In 2015 the protests in FTII are indicative of a much wider trend across the country. These protests have seen mixed and limited successes, but remain an important center of opposition, one which is growing in strength and numbers as we come to 2020.
The situation after 2019 :
Despite its defeats and setbacks, the BJP managed a surprise landslide victory in the 2019 general elections. One of the key reasons behind this was the shock move of Demonetization. One midnight in November of 2018, the Prime Minister announced that all five hundred and one thousand rupee notes, which accounted for 80% of cash value in circulation, would be demonetized. Meaning, they would no longer serve as legal tender, after that one night. The whole country was sent into a panic as Indian citizens lined up to banks and hastily called up money changers to get their now redundant notes.
Most affected by this move were the poor, who had to waste a precious day’s work to stand in queue to get their money changed. Protests had broken out by petty bourgeoisie sections in some parts of the country, however there was no nationwide protest against the move and the government could ride roughshod over the people, driving many to poverty and some were literally driven to their deaths (https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/12/08/indias-demonetisation-kills-100-people-apparently-this-is-not-an-important-number/) . Not long after, the emboldened government pushed forward the regressive Goods and Service tax act. The hasty implementation of this new tax regime caused confusion and chaos across the country even harming India’s external trade. The dual impact of these moves ruined the economy, and their cascading effects caused the Indian economy to slow down to abysmal levels. However, they also deprived the established political parties of much needed cash funding.
Thanks to dual maneuvers of Demonetization and GST, the BJP had managed to deprive their most important parliamentary rivals of the means to fight as effectively in the general elections. The BJP outspent and outnumbered their opposition to securing a landslide in the elections in 2019, achieving a frighteningly dominant position. Add to this, the continued doubts that the people of India have towards the established bourgeois and counter-revolutionary ‘left’ parties, the BJP could be said to have won a race without any challengers.
A second BJP victory was demoralizing for many who had fought against the government, but far from dying down, protests and opposition against the party increased. The government took its strength for granted, and the losses of important state elections like Maharashtra and Rajasthan did not deter them from attempting to push forward with its reactionary agenda. Key in this was the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution which granted Kashmir some degree of autonomy in internal matters, and an amendment to the citizenship law keeping in mind their commitment to creating a National Citizenship Register.
Ever since the partition of the Indian sub-continent, Kashmir has been a thorny issue for both India and Pakistan. For the Kashmiri people, both powers have been playing their part in denying the people of the region their right to self-determination. Neither state has their best interests at heart and only really want the resources of the state, chiefly its water and key agricultural resources, and the strategic advantage that it provides vis a vis each other, and for India, against China. However, till last year, there was a veneer, a pretense on part of the Indian establishment, that they indeed had the best interests of Kashmir, and could show the greater autonomy and development Indian Occupied Kashmir enjoyed to contrast with the poorer Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and more restricted rights. Under the BJP, that mask has been completely stripped off.
Not only did the BJP abrogate article 370, which has been one of its longstanding electoral promises, but it has also demoted the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a union territory, which means it would be denied even the limited privileges accrued to a state within the indian quasi-federal structure. In addition to this, the state has been bifurcated between Ladakh in the East and Jammu and Kashmir in the West. Accompanying this, was a prolonged lockdown where communications were shut down, and troops were deployed in large numbers to enforce a curfew. Political leaders were jailed and many still remain imprisoned and dissent is being clamped down. Communications are still restricted and internet access remains limited, the move has brought international condemnation, but the government remains unfazed by any of this. For all practical purposes, Kashmir today is a prison, under military occupation. In the long run, the integration of kashmir will only benefit the Indian capitalist class, as restrictions to purchase property would be done away with, and settlement from india would create a new market for the crisis ridden indian capitalist system to expand. This is nothing but brazen colonialism on display. Whether this also represents the end of the struggle for self determination or not, remains to be seen. As of now, the move to abrogate Kashmir’s status has only met with limited protests in the rest of India and within Kashmir, there is hardly any room to organize and agitate, the government appears to have won the day.
This is not the case with the Citizenship Amendment Act. The amendment the BJP proposed would allow members of five religious communities who face persecution in three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, an easy route to citizenship in India, but left out the muslim community. Thus, the new citizenship act made Indian citizenship conditional upon religion. However, there is another dimension to this.
The National Citizenship Register was an attempt to mark out who are genuine Indian citizens and leave out those who would have migrated illegally. Assam was the first state this policy was implemented in. The costs were huge, and many had to face untold difficulties throughout the cumbersome and unfair process, many ending up in detention camps till their citizenship could be proven. At the end of the process, 2 million people were driven off the citizenship roster. Ultimately, only a few thousand so called ‘illegal immigrants’ were unearthed from the process, and their citizenship is now in doubt. Assamese society was polarized and broken at the end, and the economic effects of this disruption would be felt for years to come.
Many believe the BJP pushed the Citizenship’ Amendment Act to correct an awkward political situation for the BJP in Assam, where most of those who were left out of the citizenship list were in fact Hindus, puncturing the false narrative of so-called ‘infiltrators’ coming from Bangladesh as illegal immigrants to change the religious make up of the state to make it muslim majority. The people of the state felt cheated by the BJP and naturally began a huge protest. The protests in Assam however, were opposed to granting citizenship to anyone found to have come in illegally, and believe that it was against the Assam Accords signed in 1985 which allowed certain concessions to the autonomy of indigenous groups over their own land. Part of the accord was to prevent illegal immigration. The protests in Assam were among the largest and most impactful against the new citizenship Act, the government responded with heavy handed measures including widespread censorship. Indians still have no idea what is truly happening within Assam. Reporters who have gone in cannot communicate freely from Assam. The whole state remains on lockdown, the situation has not yet changed.
The protests which started in Assam, soon spread throughout the country. Universities and colleges had become epicenters of protests. The most radical protests took place in Northern India, around the Jawahar Lal Nehru University and Jamia University. The government of course responded to these protests in a heavy handed manner, allowing the police to go on a rampage in Jamia and use force to curb the protests. The scenes of police raiding class rooms and injuring students protesting peacefully, rocked the country and charged much of the youth into action. There was near universal condemnation from every section of society. It was not long before there were protests in universities and colleges across India, all this while Assam remained shut down by a panicking reactionary government.
Many of the initial protests were led by the mainstream bourgeois parties, however spontaneous protests broke out which did not carry any party banner. In many ways, the two epicenters of this movement are around Delhi and Assam. Shaheen Bagh in Delhi has become the most iconic of these for here the protestors are on an indefinite sit in protest led largely by women. Other metropolitan cities in Eastern and Western India too have seen similar protests. Calcutta and Bombay have their own protests modelled on Shaheen Bagh in delhi.
On the 8th of January, the protests expanded with a general strike called by trade unions which saw up to two hundred and fifty million workers go on strike in solidarity with the protestors, and opposing the privatizations and attempted attacks against worker’s social security.
In 2011 I had written that India is in a pre-revolutionary situation, after 9 years, India is still caught in a pre-revolutionary situation. Political dynamics are fluid and extreme, and established forces continue to lose ground while reactionaries’ victory remains on shaky ground. While electoral dynamics continue to be plagued by money and establishment politicking, the struggle of the working masses continues on its own pace unabated.
Despite reactionary attacks against the working class, their power has not yet been completely broken. Trade unions, though trapped within their own limitations, remain an organ of struggle for the working class. The political leadership, particularly the Stalinist parties, remain a party of the working class, but hobbled by their own bureaucracy and counter-revolutionary identity, the best one can expect from them is to wage limited defensive struggles and trail the mainstream bourgeois parties.
The rise of the BJP has put the Hindutva agenda on the centre stage, while removing the Congress Party as the preferred choice of the Indian bourgeoisie. There is no clearer indicator of this fact than the Tatas emerging as the largest contributor to the BJP’s electoral bonds. Those building a revolutionary movement must be mindful of these political changes. With the end of the Congress era, we are entering a reactionary period of Indian history, where even the token concession to secularism is being whittled away.
As we have seen in the preceding term of the BJP, their reactionary attacks do not go unanswered, however no amount of electoral defeat at the local level seems to end them. The BJP has quite possibly done irreversible damage to the social and legal structure of the Indian republic. Even with a Congress re-election in 2024, it is unlikely there will be much serious reversal. The questions put forward now, need us to peer into the very core of social contradictions present in India and bring out a solution, which can only be found in a Socialist revolution. The need for a revolutionary struggle is felt more strongly than ever. Yet, a revolutionary leadership remains conspicuous by its absence.
DOWN WITH MODI ! DOWN WITH BJP !
LONG LIVE THE INDIAN WORKING CLASS ! DOWN WITH THE TATAS, BIRLAS, AMBANIS!
FOR A SECULAR SOCIALIST INDIA AND A SECULAR SOCIALIST SOUTH ASIA!
REPEAL THE CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT ! NO TO NATIONAL CITIZENS REGISTER- CAA !
BUILD THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY ! INQUILAB ZINDABAD !
Explanatory note : –
1) FTII – Film and television institute of India : It is one of the premier institutes for learning mass media, and film making in India and it is located in Pune. The protests in 2015 were part of a wave of student protests throughout the country, and marks a point of radicalization of the students of india.
2) BJP – Bharatiya Janata Party : The name literally translates to Indian People’s Party and is the largest right wing party in India and presently one of the largest political parties in the world.
3) RSS – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh : The name translates to national volunteer’s organization. It is a large non-governmental organization which pursues a Hindutva agenda and is the mother organization behind the BJP . It leads what is known as the ‘Sangh parivar’ an umbrella group for many other right wing Hindutva organizations. The organization has an armed wing and trains its cadre in combat which has led some to characterize it as a paramilitary force.
4) PF – Provident Fund : In india, the Provident Fund is a retirement fund created by contributions from employees and employers, separate from pensions, throughout their employment. Provident Fund enables employees to contribute a part of their savings each month towards their pension fund. Over time, this amount gets accrued and can be accessed as a lump sum amount, at the end of their employment or at retirement. The Provident Fund money is a huge amount that helps you grow your retirement corpus.