As of today (21/08/2020) India has approximately 2.9 million cases of coronavirus infections, the third highest in the world just after Brazil. The death count from the pandemic has risen to 52,000, the fourth highest in the world just after Mexico. Normal life had grounded to a halt when India announced what would become the world’s largest total lockdown. In one stroke, One billion three hundred million people were forcibly isolated to their homes. The sudden and shocking disruption destroyed lives and livelihoods. Over a thousand migrant workers died, simply going back home, livelihoods were lost all over the country, millions were rendered jobless overnight!
By Adhiraj Bose – Mazdoor Inqilab / India
It did not have to be this way, the first case of the Corona virus in India was reported on the 30th of January with Kerala being the epicenter. Despite the danger this posed, the government failed to take necessary and timely actions to stop the spread at the very inception. Quite to the contrary, the Modi government, and Prime Minister Modi personally, saw to the conducting of a gala event welcoming President Trump to India. Thousands of people gathered for the event in his home state of Gujarat, while the virus was still spreading. Most initial cases arose from Indians in Europe, China, the Middle East and other Corona affected countries, returning to India. With the pandemic spreading through India, the government was caught with its pants down, none of the partial restrictions were working to contain it, and they decided that there was no other choice but to implement a harsh measure to contain the pandemic. On the 22nd of March, India embarked on a month long lock down, sealing the fate of over a billion people.
This debilitating and ham handed lockdown failed in its main objective of containing the pandemic as cases continued to rise throughout the country. The dead simply continued to pile up. India’s public health system was quickly feeling overwhelmed, its tracking and tracing system was utterly inadequate. Healthcare workers were not properly equipped nor were there enough of them to conduct the task necessary to contain the pandemic. India has one of the lowest expenditure on healthcare as a percentage of GDP and expenses for the health department figures even lower than transportation in the annual budget. All this contributed to the failure of India’s efforts to contain the pandemic. Yet, despite all of this, despite all the deaths caused by an unplanned lockdown, all the hardships it caused, and the failure to effectively contain the pandemic, the Modi government patted itself on the back on a job well done and announced a phased reopening.
The reopening was announced after two months. “Unlock 1” as it was called, came too soon, cases started to explode almost as soon as reopening began. No sooner than the reopening had commenced the government scrambled to contain the damage caused by hastily reopening the economy and promulgated new restrictions on travel and commuting. Thus, the reopening too failed, much like the lockdown before it. More efforts at such phased reopening had similiar results, with some heavily affected states continuing the lockdown in different ways, or going with a partial lockdown. The hasty reopening was decided by the government to minimize the harm done by the unfortunate effects of the unplanned lockdown. It did not work. The economy did not revive, companies refused to hire, public institutions remained closed, small businesses were particularly affected with many losing money every day. For the fifth time in it’s history, India is staring at a recession again, something that was unimaginable a year ago. Up to 20 million salaried Indians have become jobless, and millions more who survived on the informal sector are without work and starving in poverty.
The same pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the world, has come to India with an unforeseen and unexpected intensity. India trajectory of growth has been derailed, and the economic repercussions would be felt for years to come. In spite of this, the Modi government seems almost unshakable in its domination over the Indian people. It must be remembered, that Modi was not unchallenged. The Hindutva forces who have been the true powers behind the scenes, have been using his Prime Ministership to expand and entrench themselves over India in a most insidious manner. The result of this strategy has been an increase in communal hatred, social reaction and a weakening of the working class using the tried and tested tactic of Divide and Rule. Like all arch reactionary forces, the RSS and BJP have a specially reserved hatred for the working class and it’s organizations. Unsurprisingly, they had made a priority in attacking labour laws and using force to curtail strikes and protests by the working class, but the Indian working class are not so easily broken.
In the very bastions of reaction, in the state of Gujarat (Modi’s home state) and Maharashtra (the headquarters of the RSS) , workers have struck work and protested. Major strikes have occurred in the textile industries which had been badly hit during the Demonetization of notes, and the implementation of GST. Gujarat has recorded one of the highest incidence of worker unrest in the country, and a good chunk of these workers are immigrant workers from other states, and a substantial number of them are from the scheduled tribes and scheduled caste community. All over the country, protest actions and struggles have broken out against the reactionary agenda of the BJP, the largest of these challenges have been the anti-CAA demonstrations, which have united both Hindus and Muslims together in challenging the unjust and unfair amendment to India’s citizenship law. The protests pitted a committed populace against an intransigent and reactionary government. In a vile attempt to thwart the protests in Delhi at Shaheen bagh, the BJP and RSS orchestrated the deadliest riots in delhi since independence. Even this carnage would not have ended the movement, which had electrified the country from North to South. What did ultimately end the movement, was a worldwide pandemic of proportions not seen since the Spanish flu of 1918.
The destruction of the Shaheen Bagh protest site and the sudden ending of the protests during lockdown was an ominous sign of things to come. The government was enabled by the emergency measures to curtail any protests and movement it found challenging it’s authority, and it could justify a harsh imposition of the lockdown by sighting public health needs. Even after the lockdown, the fear of the virus and restrictions on travel have made it much harder to organize a strong mobilization of the masses. The government naturally feels empowered to effectively do whatever it wants. With the courts partially shut or slowing it’s work load, the judiciary too has been effectively shut from the common masses. The apex court continues to turn in a reactionary direction appeasing the government while upholding every move to curtail the people’s rights and freedoms.
This situation of all around reaction is what defines the political situation in India today. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the problems with healthcare and the condition of labour exposed during this lockdown remain unresolved. The working class, though weakened by the crippling effects of a recession, the lockdown, and the Covid crisis, continue to fight back. This dynamic defines the situation in India at the present day.
The economic situation
India was hailed as one of the great success stories of capitalism. A poor ‘third world’ basket case at it’s inception, so hopeless that one American ambassador speculated that India would not exist past the mid 60s. It has now grown into one of the few multi trillion dollar economies of the world and one of the major military and political forces in the world today. What made India stand out however, was its rapid economic growth, which did not stop even with the great recession of 2008. Even as the world economy lagged on and slowed down by the middle of the 2010s, India continued to be one of the few major economies to continue to grow, aside from China. This growth, as we have said before, is driven by the sustained exploitation of India’s vast resource of unproletarianized population. The huge pool of manpower has allowed India to gain advantages in ‘competitive’ labour costs over other countries, and given it a huge internal market to develop. Today, Indian capitalists are among the richest and most powerful oligarchs in the world, Mukesh Ambani is on course to become the richest man in the world, and he is already the richest in Asia. Other new billionnaires like Adani have spread their business empires across the world. Older more established conglomerates like the Tatas have increased their power and influence manifold since the opening up of the Indian economy buying up prestigious western brands like Corus steel and Jaguar.
The euphoria of those days is gone now, India is in crisis, like every other major capitalist economy. Since 2011 the economy had been slowing down, with India registering an average of 6-7% GDP growth during the last three years of the previous Congress led government. The Modi government has been unable to bring about a successful recovery, no matter how viciously it attacks labour laws, the environment or the peasantry. Even before the Covid-19 crisis the Indian economy remained sluggish compared to the high growth rates of the pre-crisis period. The Corona crisis only hastened a collapse that had been in the making for some time now.
Despite claims of the government, the Indian GDP is contracting, and we are officially in recession. The International Monetary Fund has predicted a GDP contraction of -7.5% while the Industrial production index figures show a 30% contraction. The Indian economy was already pushed to crisis when the Modi government instituted it’s hasty GST scheme and initiated a sudden demonetization of Rs500 and Rs1000 notes from the economy. Hundreds of small businesses across the country were closing down hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost, and confidence in the Indian economy was declining, while these sectors still struggled to recover, the government was making haste creating conditions for the enrichment of the big monopoly capitalists, in particular Reliance and Adani. These two companies have garnered more favouritism than any other from the BJP government, and speaks to its social and historical roots (in contrast to the congress).
Even during this pandemic, the richest Indians live a comfortable life, and benefit from the government’s crony support. A recent example of it, has been Reliance proposing to buy out TikTok India for $5 billion. The company was sufficiently weakened after it was banned in the wake of tensions with China over Aksai Chin and Ladakh. Another glaring example has been the scheme to allow private investments in coal auctions and the privatization of Airports, both moves designed to benefit the leading monopoly companies in India.
While the Ambanis, Adanis, Tatas and Birlas continue to grow their fortune, the average Indian suffers. It suffered before the crisis from rising unemployment and the constant increase of essentials like oil and gas, and now it suffers even more when companies are resorting to mass lay offs and some outright shutting down. Since the pandemic hit india, and the lockdown was instituted, nearly 20 million Indians have gone jobless, and this is not counting the tens of millions of people who are employed in the informal sector, either as migrant workers, daily wage earners, or in seasonal/part time employment. The government has scarcely any solution for them, save for a hopelessly inadequate bail out package, and useless appeals to become ‘Aatma Nirbhar’ (self-reliant).
While there are some among the capitalist class who are aware of the dire situation we face, there is an unrealistic optimism among them, that things may improve once the pandemic ends. The Indian economy as a whole might recover this economic carnage, and rebuild it’s way back to a growing trajectory. They cite the fundamentals of the Indian economy still being strong, primarily the advantage its proletarianizing economy offers to capitalism, and the opportunity to develop a vast internal market with room to grow and expand the capitalist market. Of course, what they will never openly admit, is that this expansion would come at the cost of the environment, and come at the cost of millions of livelihoods in the informal sector and in the realm of petty production. Put another way, the rich elite would grow more powerful, perhaps even go ahead of their western imperialist peers in how much wealth they accumulate, on the backs of the Indian working class and peasantry. Their impoverishment, feeds the billionnaire’s wealth.
The impoverishment of the peasantry and small producers isn’t a new phenomenon in India, but in the last forty years its pace has increased immensely. Most importantly, every peasant and petty bourgeois household that is thrown into poverty is left with no choice, nothing but to find a living working as a wage slave – or suicide. This is the effect of the process we call “proletarianization”.
The peasantry like their urban counterpart, the petty bourgeoisie, are owners of property, usually meagre and only enough to sustain themselves. In many cases, they rely on exploiting their own labour rather than that of a worker employed by them. A farming family relies primarily on themselves. The same goes for a petty bourgeois, owning a corner shop or a small workshop. The capitalist system works to suck out value (labour put into a product) from less productive labour-intensive sectors of production and transfer it to more efficient, capital-intensive areas of the economy. The effect of this blood-sucking system leaves the masses of small producers impoverished and broken and turned into proletarians, the working class, owning nothing but their labour power. Left to find a place in the slums of cities or wander from town to town finding work, or working on the farms or in the workshops and sweatshops of capitalist farmers and businessmen.
Globally, this has been visible in the rapid pace of urbanization throughout the developing world after the second world war. In India, the rapid pace of proletarianization went hand in hand with the greater penetration of capital into the countryside and its expansion into areas of business previously the exclusive reserve of the small producers. These processes have gone hand in hand with the change in economic policy from the 1980s, otherwise called ‘liberalization’.
Under the Modi government, this is set to grow even harsher. With the Land bill, the government had already announced it’s intention of aggressively pursuing a proletarianizing agenda in the countryside, though it failed to pass due to stiff opposition from the peasantry, the intent behind it has not disappeared. The aggressive attacks on state owned enterprises, the proposed draft of the Environmental Impact Assessment, even the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, can be explained through an understanding of the desperate need for Indian capitalism to expand it’s exploitative net. The vicious and sporadic attacks on the poor and marginalized like that of Demonetization, and now the unplanned lockdown, all aid in the process of destruction of petty capital for the service of big capital. In addition to this, the greater exploitation of natural resources and public assets, would bring further hardships to the masses.
These measures contribute to destabilizing Indian society. Poverty and insecurity fuel fanaticism and communal hatred. The weakening and destruction of the petty bourgeois, creates perfect conditions for the rise of fascism and other reactionary politics. At the same time, with the left largely fragmented and held hostage to Stalinist and Maoist leadership, which has historically led the working class (including very much so the Indian working class) to a dead end, we are staring at an exceptionally reactionary situation, the likes of which hasn’t existed since the Indian emergency. However, all is not bleak. Even under these dire situations the ASHA health workers have shown that the Indian working class can still fight back.
The social situation
India is a country of 1.3 billion people, accounting for more than 1/7th of the world’s population. Much of this population is young and restless. As it stands, India has the single largest pool of labour power in the world. Most importantly, it has the single largest pool of young labour in the world. With a population bigger than the entire continent of Africa, and with an economy that still has room to grow, India had been for long, and not without reason, the most promising capitalist country in the world. Unfortunately for them, reality would burst a bubble on their flights of fancy.
Even before the Covid crisis hit, the indian economy was reeling through its own problems caused in the aftermath of the worldwide recession of 2008. Asian economies like India and China were more resilient to the crash, as they had a vast internal market to resort to. However, with crisis destroying the potential for powerful export markets in the West and far east (Japan, Korea etc) , the economy of India would be starved of much needed foreign trade and investment, Indian capitalists saw an opportunity early on, in their ability to buy out weak and vulnerable enterprises in declining centres of imperialism, in order to strengthen their own enterprises. However, this wealth and ability was powered entirely by the sustained destruction of Indian agriculture and further impoverization of petty production. Much of this was already put into motion under the bonapartist Congress party. When their government fell, in the aftermath of largescale Democratic protests across the nation, the ruling classes flocked to the BJP and gave it all manner of assistance for them to secure a mandate which would establish a government that could effectively crush dissent and allow for the more thorough exploitation of the masses.
The capitalists needed a reactionary regime of the most brazen kind, the Congress Party with its bonapartist streak and tendency to appear above class contradictions, simply did not serve the purpose. In the process, they have unleashed an unmitigable force of reaction upon the country, one which they are more than willing to nurture and fuel, to serve their material interests. The BJP’s interests and indeed the interest of the RSS as a whole are subordinate to those of the ruling class of Indian bourgeoisie. This fact of course, escapes the vast majority of the petty bourgeoisie and ranks of peasantry who support the BJP and Modi, they are more than willing to put on blinders when it comes to judging the reactionary government, for a simple reason, while they do exploit them for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, they also satisfy a reactionary social agenda.
The crisis has only deepened social divisions and added several levels of toxicity to an already dire social situation in India.
Heightened class tensions
While it is beyond doubt that the Modi government has ushered in a new wave of reaction in the country, it would be wrong to conclude that this has sapped out the fighting ability of the Indian working class. From the very outset the masses organized to protest against the attacks launched by the BJP, the first trigger was the land bill. Over the course of the first term, several important struggles took place, largely among the students and youth, but also among important sections of the working class. The fight against proposed labour law amendments continues, and a general strike was organized on the 8th of January. This is on record the largest general strike ever conducted in the history of India, involving nearly 250 million workers, led by Central trade unions.
Even under the dire situation we face now with the Pandemic and the state of semi-lockdown that India is in, sections of the working class continue to mobilize in struggle, especially among healthcare workers. What this shows us, is that despite the crushing weight of reaction, the Indian working class, peasantry and youth, continue to have a fighting energy among them. It was no cakewalk for the Modi government to impose it’s will over the people. In addition to the struggles of the working class, we have witnessed a pitched battle between this government and students across India. While Modi and his government was not unique in its disdain against radicalized students, the government’s attack on certain insitutions, especially universities like JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Aligarh Muslim University, is undeniably acute. The appointment of party cronies to head prestigious institutes like the Film and Television institute of India in Pune sparked protests in the first half of his government and made its mark on the political situation in India.
The students and youth were in the lead during the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act , and as a consequence they had to bear the brunt of police atrocities. The storming of Aligarh Muslim University and attacks against students in JNU were televised for all to see. Had the pandemic not struck India one could have only imagined where these agitations would have led us. Perhaps we could have seen a pre-revolutionary outburst across the country, and a uniting of various different struggles going in in India.
Alas! That was not to be. The pandemic struck India on the 30th of January, with the first cases being traced in Kerala and Maharashtra. After dilly-dallying for almost two months, the Modi government responded to the crisis by imposing the harshest of lockdown measures in the world on the 22nd of march. The imposition of the lockdown was practically like imposing an emergency in the country, but unlike the actual emergency declared in 1975, there was no opposition to the lockdown. Political protests and mass organizing came to a near halt. Even as millions of lives and livelihoods were destroyed by the debilitating effect of the lock down, there was no way to protest. The fear of the virus kept many in their homes, and continue to do so.
Where there was protest or agitation against the government it was sporadic and took the form of riots. Riots by migrant workers were recorded across Western india, their main grievance was against the government’s inability to provide transports to the workers to allow them to go back home. In their desperation thousands of workers resorted to walking home, up to a thousand of them died along the way, either being run over by a train, or run over by a truck, or dying of exhaustion, or simply committing suicide unable to bear the shame. These riots were in essence an act of rebellion against a government that made clear its hatred for the working class and poor of the country. If not the total and shameless apathy by the government, then surely the batons of the state police and volunteer police, made it clear. The police were especially cruel to migrant workers, often resorting to public humiliations to punish any violation of lock down rules.
One of the few exceptions to this was the state of Kerala, led by the Stalinist Communist Party of India (Marxist) . To the credit of the Stalinist led government there, it has handled the crisis much better than any other state in the country, and to no one’s surprise, it is also the state with the best overall medical care in the country. The government approached the crisis with a sensitivity and scientific temperament that was utterly lacking in the Central government and any other major state in India. Migrant workers were provided shelters and the government provided for migrant workers who were working in the Arabian gulf states. The incidents of police abuse were almost nil. Till now, it is the one state with the least amount of deaths and the lowest rise in covid cases in India, achieved entirely with the limited resources available to them, and without any mobile apps or resorting to technocracy, like the Modi government did. Consequently, tensions in the state have been limited.
The Kerala model however, is an exception, and the results of what can be achieved when the workers and peasant struggle. Even under flawed leadership like that of the Stalinist party, the fruits of successful class struggle are for all to see. Our aim however, must be to go beyond the Kerala model and overthrow capitalism as a whole, not merely reform it.
Heightened communal tensions
The Indian capitalist class cannot help but take the help of reactionaries to defend it’s rule. From the beginning, it has resorted to undemocratic means to enforce it’s rule. For the first sixty years, the chief political instrument of the bourgeoisie was the Congress Party. It incorporated within itself every aspect of capitalist reaction, while also appearing to serve the interests of the working class. During the first fifty years of independence, the Congress Party performed a critical role establishing the economic foundations for the growth of the Indian bourgeoisie as an independent capitalist force in the world. At the same time, it continued to perpetuate Democratic reaction in India. A key facet of this was its approach to handling the religious divide between Hindus and Muslims, and the social divide under the caste system.
The Congress Party, especially under Indira Gandhi, acquired a bonapartist character, appearing to rise above class divisions, while still being a vessel of bourgeois rule. The leading sections of the indian capitalist class invested in the party to manage the capitalist state on their behalf, contain the ascendant working class, and resist against foreign capitalist powers. From time to time, successive Congress governments would impose undemocratic emergency rule, mostly in states which defied Congress Party rule. Bihar got the worst of it. For the first fifty years, the provisions for state emergency in the constitution were invoked, almost every year, when the state governor or the head of state (President) would assume direct rule, disregarding any democratic mandate.
At the same time, the Congress Party also presided over a slew of leftist policies, be it the nationalization of the banking sector, the nationalization of the coal mines, or more recent schemes like the National rural job guarantee. The Congress Party also needed to be nominally secular, so it could win over the muslim populace of India and ensure the bourgeoisie rules over a united India, with a much larger more stable market to exploit. All the while, willingly indulging in reaction where necessary to oppress the workers. This dialectic of oppression and concession defined not just the politics of the Congress Party, but Indian politics as a whole for several decades after independence.
The most extreme examples of Congress Party bonapartism was the emergency and the anti-Sikh riots, which exposed it’s most reactionary qualities. At the same time, the welfarist policies showed this party needed to rely on concessions to pacify the working class while also preparing to oppress it. The duality worked well during the period of capitalist expansion, when the world was still in the midst of what Michael Roberts calls ‘the neo liberal recovery’. That period can be said to end in 2012, with the beginning of the slow down in the Indian economy and in the aftermath of the Great Indian general strike of 2011 and Democratic mobilizations against corruption. The Congress Party’s variant of bonapartism no longer suited the needs of the Indian capitalist class, and they needed a force that was more openly reactionary, that could not merely contain the working class, but brazenly attack and cow the working class into submission. For this, it could no longer resort on the hypocritical secularism of the Congress party but would need the open communalism of the RSS and the BJP.
It is in this background that we must see the present rise of communalism and social reaction brought in by the BJP. The BJP in it’s origins may have been a standard conservative political force, with communal leanings, and pretenses of socialism, in its present form however, it is a much more thoroughly reactionary force, under the grips of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh – National self service organization). The party is intolerant towards working class opposition, it is intolerant towards dissent, and has a clear agenda of imposing social apartheid against india’s muslims. It’s approach to the Dalits, is not much better. Though the RSS would never openly admit it, the truth is that the Hindutva movement as a whole is steeped in caste based reaction. The imposition of caste hierarchies and upper caste hegemony is an undeclared goal of the party. It is not for no reason, that the organizers of the Bhima Koregaon rally were attacked. Nor is it mere coincidence that a major Dalit intellectual like Anand Teltumbde is in jail. It is no secret that the Hindutva forces in their idea of ‘nationalism’ has nothing but disdain for Ambedkar and his struggle to abolish the caste system.
Armed with such a reactionary agenda, the RSS and BJP have set out to outright destroy the secular state and build a Hindu Supremacist state in it’s place. The signs of this agenda were in place from the very beginning of the Modi government’s reign, as communally motivated mob lynchings occurred frequently throughout the country. So far, there have been 79 incidents of mob lynchings over cattle traders throughout the country, between 2014 and 2020. Twenty four people have been killed and a Hundred and twenty four have been injured in these incidents. This is only one barometer of communal tensions, it gets worse when we consider the discrimination muslims and minorities face when it comes to housing and the daily harassment of muslims which has only increased under this government.
So-called ‘independent’ private media in India is nothing but the propagandist mouthpiece of the ruling party now. There is not one privately owned news channel that does not pander to the government’s point of view, to some degree or the other. It’s role in fanning the flames of communalism cannot be underestimated. This was especially clear during the anti-CAA protests and even during the Covid Pandemic, when the whole media hounded the muslim institutions over being ‘anti-national’. One news anchor even coined the term ‘Corona jihad’, alluding to a conspiracy by the Tablighi jamaat to spread the virus in india. Not one of these channels raised so much as a whimper when the Tirupati temple administration allowed for mass worship, which led to the infection of hundreds and even a death.
Communal tensions in India are coming to a head. One of the worst riots in the post independence history of Delhi took place this year, which led to the deaths of over 50 people and hundreds more injured. It was in fact a pogrom designed to break the solidarity around the Anti-CAA protests which had racked the city. While playing their communal game the BJP has also maintained the old systems of oppression where needed. In particular, Kashmir and the North Eastern states of india, have seen a continuation of undermocratic laws like AFSPA, and in case of Kashmir, the mass arrest of every political leader in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. Kashmir had been under lockdown since before the Covid pandemic, with internet and press access still heavily restricted.
The Congress Party had already destroyed the Stalinists electorally, much of the left is fragmented and marginalized now. This was a direct legacy of the Congress Party, the BJP is now hard at work to mop up the remains. It’s chief target however, remains the old party of the bourgeoisie, in doing so the BJP will not only consolidate itself as the only viable national bourgeois party, but also destroy a pillar of the superficial secularism that the Congress had erected. The mask would be ripped off the real character of the Indian state, that of being a Hindu state where non-hindu minorities and dalits would have to live like second class citizens.
To an ordinary Indian, the flaws of Indian democracy is an obvious fact. To outsiders however, India is often presented by the capitalist media as a great example of democracy functioning despite all odds. The Indian elite like to pat itself in the back and bask in the halo of this supposed moral high ground. The truth however, is that India’s so-called democracy, is deeply flawed and hides the authoritarian character of successive regimes since the first day of the Indian republic.
The most clear evidence of this, has been the provisions for the imposition of emergencies in the constitution. Indira Gandhi showed how these provisions could be used and abused by any government to dismantle the democratic rights of citizens, and centralize power around one person. That India can slide into a dictatorship should come as no surprise, nor be dismissed as a fanciful notion. It was only the collective action of the masses that forced India Gandhi to revoke the emergency and initiate elections. Yet, the signs of an authoritarian nature embedded in the Indian state did not begin and end with Indira Gandhi’s regime.
From the very beginning, India’s approach to incorporating the princely states relied on a mix of coercion and sof power projection. The military annexation of Hyderabad saw the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the aftermath of Operation polo, the consequences of the botched integration of Kashmir is still being played out till this day. In Assam, the imposition of special protection for the military presentr there has resulted in the deaths and wrongful imprisonment of hundreds. Coercive actions to deal with insurgencies have always seen the worse qualities of the Indian state out in full. Even in peace time, the often violent and brutal ways in which the leading capitalist parties enforced their political hegemony made non-sense of any ideal of democracy. Even Nehru, whom Indian liberals swear by, did not shy away from imprisoning 22,000 Chinese Indians in a concentration camp, for the crime of simply being Chinese. This was done in the aftermath of the Indo-China war of 1962.
The Modi government is simply inheriting a fraudulent bourgeois democracy which fails to serve the people, unless they rise up and fight for it. Like their predecessor the Congress Party, the BJP has imposed a crushing hegemony over India, in a manner similar to the early Congress party under Nehru. There is however, a marked difference between the two regimes. Nehru was leading Indian capitalism in an ascendant phase, it had secured three quarters of the former British Raj, it was building new industries, and enriching itself, building its military power, and political standing in the world. Modi inherits an Indian state in crisis, staring at an economic contraction, an actual decline ! The Congress government inherited the contradictions of the Indian independence struggle, where a reactionary bourgeois party contained and diverted the power of class struggle to the attainment of it’s own power. The BJP backed (and controlled) by the RSS, emerges during a time when the Indian working class is in a state of crisis, and seeks to serve the Indian bourgeoisie by crushing its class enemy. The first precondition of this of course, is that it consolidates itself as the only viable representative of the bourgeoisie, in that task it has advanced greatly. It’s second agenda, and one most reactionary of all, is a project at social engineering which seeks to impose a Hindu state over India. On this count, it presents itself as an exceptional danger.
The BJP has shown that it will use the authoritarian powers of the Indian state freely and willingly to crush dissent. The imprisonment of political prisoners in India is a clear sign of re-emerging authoritarianism in India. Unlike the past governments, the degeneration of the Indian judiciary has reached a near complete level, and for the first time, we are faced with a government that has a largely pliant Supreme Court, unwilling to take a stance that would go against the wishes of the ruling party. The verdict of the Supreme Court over the Prashant Bhushan contempt case is quite telling in this regard, when even a small tweet criticizing a Supreme Court judge for accepting a gift from a BJP MLA could get him a charge of contempt of court.
In Kashmir, the government instituted a harsh and unprecedented lock down with suspension of internet and communications. For a long time even press access was blocked. This was done in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 which granted special status to Kashmir. With the abrogation of this article, the state would be opened up to far greater penetration by Indian capital, a trend that had already taken off under the Congress government before. Though touted as a game changer which would supposedly bring prosperity to the Kashmiris, it will also rob them of autonomy , and will likely destroy the vulnerable eco system of the Himalayan state, spelling disaster for the region. For now, the BJP has shown, it is willing to use unprecedented levels of force and gleefully subvert our (flawed) democracy to get it’s ends. While no different from the Congress Party in practice, it is undoubtedly more dangerous in substance, as the end this force has in mind will ensure millions of Indians suffer in a form of apartheid and social reaction under a Hindu Rashtra (A Hindu state).
The political situation as it stands, with the BJP gaining a super majority in Parliament, means it can push through any bill into law that it wants. The only opposition in parliament is the enfeebled and deeply divided bourgeois parties, led by the Congress which now struggles for relevance, and an assortment of bourgeois regional parties. In the state level, the BJP’s rule is far less secure, with many major states having overthrown BJP governments. Thus, we have a situation where the BJP has not yet consolidated it’s power enough to push through a constitutional amendment, though it is perilously close. Much will depend on the outcome of the elections in West Bengal next year, to see if the BJP can take over the state that has been the bastion of oppositional politics in India, and one of the main foils of any authoritarian project that has been attempted on india.
It is a state that had some of the most militant working class legacies, but one which has also seen some of the worst defeats of the working class. Here, Stalinist reaction came full circle, when they lost to the TMC, an offshoot of the Congress Party that broke off in the late 1990s during the crisis period of the Congress Party (and of Indian capitalism as a whole) . The TMC initiated a wave of reaction against the people of West Bengal, with its highly criminalized cabal of leaders instituting terror against any supporter of the CPI(M). During the violent and volatile period between 2009 and 2011, hundreds of Communist Party cadres were murdered. The wave of anti-communist violence and discrimination spilled out into the party’s rule after 2011, when several intellectuals and students were attacked on the suspicion of being ‘Maoist’. The only saving grace of the TMC, is that it is not openly communal, and has some pretence of commitment towards secularlsm, the same hollow superficial secularism, which failed to stem the rise of Hindutva fanaticism.
The TMC is perhaps the most powerful regional political entity today, and Mamta Bannerji (it’s leader and Chief Minister of West Bengal) is it’s most vocal leader. It is not hard to see why many consider her a leader of the bourgeois opposition to the BJP. However, between the highly criminalized and reactionary BJP , that seeks to engineer riots to divide the population and lay the groundwork for institutionalized discrimination, and the TMC, which functions around an authoritarian cult of personality and uses violent criminal gangs to enforce its rule, it is a very poor choice. The Stalinists have almost disappeared from the scene entirely, leaving the once proud and class conscious workers of West Bengal with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
In terms of parliament and electoral politics, the working class has only a plethora of bad options to choose from. However, in the field of struggle on the streets, we have many positive examples to build on. Despite it’s inability to push this government and secure concessions, the strike actions in January and the protest actions of the ASHA workers, and even the riots by the migrant workers, which did succeed in forcing the government’s hand, we have an idea of what really works. The mobilized power of the working class, armed and ready to take action ! We are indeed in a crisis of leadership, and we need a political force that can harness this power of the mobilized working class in action, towards clear political ends. The Communist Parties have shown, that they are a failure in this regard. We therefore, need something new.
In 1940 (80 years ago!) Leon Trotsky had said, that the greatest crisis of our times, is the crisis of revolutionary leadership. This is as true today as it was back then, if not more so. Everywhere we see, the potential of the working class (and its allies) right before our eyes, but one squandered by either absence of leadership, or through bad leadership.
In the beginning of the year, the working class mobilized and struck work. We saw the largest general strike in history ! Yet, the government is still pushing ahead with privatization, labour law amendment, and the privatization of coal mines. What went wrong with this strike, and as was wrong with the general strikes before it, was the token nature, and lack of militancy, which allowed the mainstream media, already in the lap of the government, (hence why we call them ‘Godi’ media) completely ignored it in favour of more ‘spicy’ news. Without attention, it could easily be brushed aside, the government with it’s super majority, and the tools of oppression like the police, and paramilitaries under it’s control, could easily weather the storm, as long as it lasted only 2 days.
The unions are able to mobilize the workers, they are able to organize them, but not educate them, nor build up their political consciousness. Trade unions in India are trapped in a perspective of economism that hampers any mass militant action. The Stalinist Parties, have not remedied this either, settling in for having some degree of influence over the unions without arming the working class with theory and a revolutionary strategy. Without this, no matter how many general strikes take place, and no matter how big it is, the Indian capitalists will always end the winner, especially with the BJP government in power.
At the same time, we are being educated day in and day out, of the fallacies of non-socialist alternatives. The pogrom in Delhi revealed the failure of the Aam Admi Party, which had risen with so much hope, and with so much expectations for change. Ultimately the party that was caught in a petty bourgeois frame of thought and petty bourgeois. Neither can we rely on bourgeois alternatives as a sort of tactical or quick fix solution to our most pressing problems. Simply removing the BJP will not fix the rot embedded in Indian capitalism, it will not end the greed of the Indian billionaires who are presently fuelling the rise of reaction in the country. The best it will achieve is to put the mask of superficial secularism back on the state, while still perpetuating the communal divide throughout the country.
The reality of the present situation is however, undeniable. The pandemic and the lockdown has only made a bad situation intolerably bad. The latent authoritarianism came out to the surface, and the murderous apathy of the government has already caused over fifty thousand Indians their lives from this pandemic. Opportunities for mobilization and organizing the masses in actoin and building political actions is limited. This is a time to persevere under the weight of reaction, and lay the groundwork for future political work. We have to think in the long term, as in the short term, that is the present and forseeable future, we have nothing but reaction.
Our ultimate goal must be to build a revolutionary party in India, one that is Socialist, Internationalist and revolutionary in thought and action. This will not be made in a day, and we have a long struggle ahead of us, one which we must wage under very difficult circumstances.