Mon May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024

The 2024 Indian elections: An Historic Election 

By Adhiraj

The dates for the Indian national elections have been announced. The voting for the elections will take place in seven phases beginning with the first phase on April 19. The voting will end on June 6 with the counting over by July.

The organization of the election has come under question, especially its long duration and the spread of voting constituencies. It is no surprise that the election commission, a body that the BJP has virtually taken control of, is arranging the elections to give the maximum benefit to the ruling party.

The last two national elections have yielded an absolute majority for the BJP, allowing them to steamroll the parliamentary opposition and impose laws once thought impossible to implement. These include laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Labour Codes, and the New Criminal Codes, which fundamentally change the Indian administration of labour, criminal justice and citizenship. As things stand with the BJP occupying 290 seats, it can form a majority government on its own. While by comparison, the entire opposition combined accounts for only 173 seats out of 543 seats. The BJP will seek to maintain this hegemony over the parliament once again in the 2024 elections, but this is a task that is easier said than done.

The victory of the BJP in 2014 was not surprising, what was surprising was the scale of the victory. It was not expected that the Congress which had ruled India for most of its post-independent history would collapse so dramatically. It was not expected that the leading Indian capitalists would so decisively turn their backs on the party that had been its preferred choice for representation since the British age. Yet, that is where we stand today, the leading sections of the Indian capitalist class have thrown their weight behind the BJP and have held it up as the new chosen representative of Indian capitalism. The BJP has thus far proven to be up to the task, for the most part. It has established a reactionary regime which is anti-labour, anti-farmer, and ruthlessly pro-capitalist. It is not above populist concessions, but manages them with a cunning to mask its exploitation.

The 2019 election was won, despite rising discontent against the party. The initial euphoria of overthrowing the Congress party rule had long since disappeared. The BJP could no longer rely on the mass sentiment against the Congress party to keep winning. Its election-winning machinery consists first and foremost in its enormous economic power. The BJP has succeeded in amassing enormous financial power through a combination of large scale organization, extortion using state enforcement institutions, and securing patronage of the largest corporations of India.

 To ensure it retains its core petty bourgeois upper caste constituency, the BJP has maintained and in some ways, even enhanced their reactionary hate speech against Muslims. Divide and rule has been the order of the day. Whether it is defending upper caste interests and oppressing Dalits more intensely, or propping up the fear of Muslims, the BJP has ensured the working class can be divided, and its core base is satisfied in continuing to support it. In this way, the BJP satisfies the larger goals of its mother organization the RSS and its dream of Hindu Rashtra.

As we head towards the next election, the BJP is both powerful and vulnerable. It has been over ten years since the anti-corruption agitations in India, the rule of the Congress party is fast fading into memory, and many younger voters who have not experienced any other party but the BJP in power, will not be swayed by an anti-congress rhetoric. While the BJP retains its hegemonic position in the parliament, it remains weaker at the state/provincial level where the opposition bourgeois parties have been able to defeat them in key elections, particularly the 2021 West Bengal elections, one of the worst state-level defeats of the BJP.

How we got to this point

Most young Indians might have the faintest memory of the era of Congress hegemony. It might be hard to imagine the party with barely over 50 seats in parliament today, once wielded the kind of dominance we see the BJP having in present day India, but it did. It is be worthwhile to understand how we got to a point here today, where a party of Hindutva trumped the party that claimed to have led India’s independence.

Since India’s independence until 1991, the Congress party wielded hegemony. The hegemony acquired the most acute and dictatorial form in the emergency of 1975, which also saw the most intense challenge to its rule until then.

The Congress party was a party of the big bourgeoisie and land-owning bourgeoise. These classes wielded political and economic monopoly over India through the Congress party. The period of dirigisme and state capitalism was at its heyday when the Congress dominated the parliament at the center and most states in their legislatures. That hegemony started to weaken from the crisis period of the 1960s.

By the 1970s, the contradictions of the Congress system reached its conclusion and culminated in the emergency. One can argue, that the movement against the emergency of 1975 was the birth of contemporary Indian politics. Many of the regional bourgeois parties found their strength in these mobilizations, and the RSS found new legitimacy.

For the most part, parties like the RJD, the Samajwadi Party, or LJP and even the Jan Sangh were petty bourgeois formations, either left wing or right wing. After the end of the emergency, India saw the first non-Congress national government. Like most petty bourgeois efforts, it broke up due to internal infighting. The coalition of disparate left and right wing formations was impossible to keep together. Meanwhile, the state of West Bengal became a bastion of oppositional politics as the CPIM won power in the 1978 elections.

In the decades that followed, the Congress system became weaker, their hegemony loosened while new capitalist families rose under the shadow of the old monopolists. The 80s saw the rise of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party and the flowering of Hindutva politics in post-independence India.

The decade of the 80s saw the waning of the Soviet Union, and global reaction unleashed by Reagan and Thatcher. The revolutionary upsurge after the Second World War appeared to subside, and the material conditions that created the Congress’ hegemony over Indian politics also appeared to change.

While it still maintained hegemony for most of the period of the 80s, with their share of seats peaking in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, by the end of the decade their hegemony seemed to be at an end. The Congress party lost the 1990 elections, again to a coalition of petty bourgeois parties led by Chandra Shekhar. In 1991 India’s state capitalist system entered it’s final crisis in the balance of payments crisis of 1991, which forced India to accept IMF loans and open up the economy, a task that it was already well on it’s way to doing. The Congress would have opened the economy at a slower pace, ensuring it could keep political hegemony, but it came as a shock.

The first half of the 90s saw a period of chaos as no Prime Minister could complete a term, caught between vulnerable coalitions and the Congress party wielding influence to manipulate whoever came to power. The chaos ended only with the BJP victory in 1998. At last, the new emerging industrial capitalists of post-independence India had their representative in power. The price to pay was sacrificing secular politics, the BJP unleashed a tide of anti-Muslim communal hatred following the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992. The rise of Hindutva went hand in hand with neo-liberal economics.

The chaotic transition from state capitalist to a relatively open capitalist economy modelled on neo-liberal lines was not easy and it wasn’t without political consequences. We are now at a point where the Indian capitalist class is no longer content with solely focussing on expanding in India but with aggressive ambitions of global power.

The five year term of the BJP ended in 2003, to the shock of many in the mainstream capitalist media who were celebrating the victory of a right wing bourgeois party. The Congress came in with a populist agenda and in alliance with the left-front parties. In 2004, the party had secured the largest share of the national parliament in its entire history. Riding on the discontent of farmers and workers who had enough of the neo-liberal aggression of the BJP, the Congress led United Progressive Alliance came to power with the promise of populism. What we got, however, was a continuation of the neo-liberal economic policies of the BJP, but without the venom of communal hatred.

For a time it seemed as though Congress hegemony was well on its way to returning with both the BJP and the RSS in decline throughout India but the Congress rule gave enough fuel for them to revive. Institutionalized corruption, the increased exploitation of rural India, continuing privatization, and the creeping return of the old style of hegemonic politics the Congress was infamous for, contributed to rising discontent against it. The people were not going to be swayed by false promises of welfare while getting exploitation. The hypocritical rule of the Congress was brought down by mass mobilizations. First came the general strike of 2011, then the very next year the anti-corruption mobilization, farmers protests in Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala, and ultimately the protests against rape in Delhi. These contributed to the rising discontent against the Congress.

With the Stalinists completely discredited following the massacre of peasants in Nandigram and the Singur agitation against land acquisition, there was no other leftist alternative. The Communist Party led left-front alliance had thrown its support behind the Congress Party and its coalition with the idea of countering the BJP. All it gained in return was the Congress Party working to bring it down in alliance with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) which currently rules the state of West Bengal. The parties have not yet recovered from the crisis it found itself in after the 2009 elections. The whole alliance holds not more than 5 seats, from a high of 54 in 2003. This is the lowest share of seats in parliament for the CPIM in its post-independence history. From being the main opposition against the Congress for the first two decades, it has sunk to near irrelevance in electoral politics.

The road was open for the BJP and its mother organization to take the fullest advantage of the anti-corruption mobilization, and the protests against rising inflation. The BJP had the backing of sections of mass media, and a strong organizational backing from the RSS. Funds were never a problem, as a major oppositional bourgeois party the BJP could always rely on support from the capitalist class. From being a right wing opposition, it could be primed into becoming the new hegemonic ruling capitalist party. In 2014, the BJP with Narendra Modi at the helm, became the new ruling party of India by an absolute majority in parliament. The Congress Party, which had ruled India for most of the six decades of independent India, was reduced to a mere 44 seats in the 543 seat parliament.

The BJP rode the wave of discontent against the Congress, becoming the main force to channel discontent. The collapse of the Congress was dramatic, not only did it lose the national parliament, they also lost key states that it ruled. The BJP seemed unstoppable, that was until it attempted to push through a new land acquisition law. Mass protests across the nation put an end to these schemes giving the BJP it’s first major defeat and setting the tone for the dynamic of politics heading into 2019.

The first five years of the BJP saw it riding the wave of discontent that gave it power. Soon enough, it became clear that the leading capitalists of India put their full backing behind the BJP. Money and media became the two biggest tools in their arsenal to influence public opinion. It took little time to corner the bourgeois opposition, whose only real claim to legitimacy came from their nominally secular politics against the rabidly communal BJP. That too was never followed consistently.

The party that had protested on the streets against rising prices now turned a blind eye as the price of essentials sky rocketed, the rupee devalued to it’s lowest point in decades, and the poor were faced with hunger and unemployment. The drug of religion and communal hatred was administered in ever larger doses to pacify the people. Where the Congress would have attempted to balance between class interests of workers and the bourgeoisie, the BJP remains brazenly on the side of the big bourgeois, with their populist concessions being a kneejerk reaction to any protest or the need to win the next election.

Neither rising prices nor the debacle of the demonetization of 1000 and 500 rupee notes, could beat the BJP, which increased it’s seat share from 282 in 2014 to 303 in 2019. By this time however, the wave of discontent against the Congress had subsided. For many the protests against the Congress party, the anti-corruption mobilization, are all distant memories. The only clear legacy from the protests being the rise of the Aam Admi Party and its victory in Delhi and Punjab. The Aam Admi Party has become but another regional bourgeois party with that revolves around the cult of its leader Arvind Kejriwal, much like most undemocratically run regional bourgeois parties.

However, the people are not so easily cowed. The BJP has proven to be a harder opponent than the Congress of 2004, it is less willing to concede, and it has a far larger more stable organizational structure which can more effectively enforce the demands of the ruling class. Yet, the BJP is at its limits. It has thus far succeeded in monopolizing political funding, it has entrenched its influence over the bureaucracy, especially the management of elections, and it has succeeded in controlling the news media and most critically the judiciary.

It has taken control of the state machinery, but it cannot control the workers and farmers of India. Soon after winning the 2019 elections, the BJP stepped up it’s reactionary agenda, pushing forward with the abrogation of article 370 and pushing forward with new farm laws and labour codes. These were aimed at the benefitting big agro trading corporations and agricultural corporations at the expense of middle and poor farmers. The Labour codes were designed specifically to help the cause of capitalists to curb worker’s protests and make it easier to exploit. Arguably the worst measure that the BJP government took in this period, was the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Almost as soon as these laws were passed, protests broke out across the country. The protests against the CAA were among the largest spontaneous protests since the anti-corruption agitations. These shook the government to its core, and prompted a large scale crackdown on activists. Dozens of political activists and youth leaders were arrested, some social activists like Father Stan Swamy were arrested as well, who worked their lives for the welfare of tribal populations in Central India. Political activists like Umar Khalid are still languishing in jail, among India’s many political prisoners.

The protests only ended in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, it was both a blessing and a curse for the BJP. The pandemic gave them the excuse to impose harsh lockdowns which made political protests impossible. The sudden imposition of the lockdown also caused at least a 1,000 fatalities as millions of migrant labourers were given no respite, suddenly found themselves jobless, and had to walk back on foot, unable to find any train or public transport to take them back. This debacle was inescapable for the Modi government. The farmer’s protest which started together with a general strike by trade unions in 2020 would prove to be the biggest challenge for the Modi government.

In the aftermath of the total debacle of handling the pandemic, where officially at least half a million Indians died (unofficially perhaps as many as 3 million), proved to be the Modi’s undoing.

One by one, the BJP started losing their power over key states, and only narrowly holding on to some states. Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Maharashtra were lost in quick succession between 2021 and 2023.  The bourgeois opposition had only to place themselves in the right place at the right time to take advantage of what seemed to be like a wave against the BJP. This hope would prove to be premature.

Expectedly, the bourgeois opposition was blind to its own shortcomings. The victory in Maharashtra which saw the Shiv Sena and the Congress align to win against the BJP was short lived. Soon the Shiv Sena split with one faction joining the BJP in a coalition while another remained with the Congress. In Chattisgarh, a state the Congress had for near a decade, complacency, and discontent from farmers eventually drove the Congress out of power. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar who had aligned with the BJP only to switch sides to the Congress and RJD once more switched, this time back to the BJP. Rajasthan, where the government routinely changes every election, saw the revolving door turn in favour of the BJP. The party had proved that as far as bourgeois elections were concerned, the party could always muscle its way into power, either by its control over the state machinery, or simply buy out support from the ever-fickle bourgeois opposition.

The forces in this election

So, as we head into the next elections, the alignment of forces become clear. On the one hand we have a hegemonic and reactionary bourgeois party in the helm, which has control over the state machinery, the news media, has an immense organization behind it and the unequivocal backing of the big bourgeoisie. The BJP uses this power in the service of the big bourgeoisie and pursues the grander objective of building a Hindu state. On the other hand we have the former hegemonic bourgeois party, which has mostly lost patronage, stands discredited for its history of corruption, but one that can still present itself as the lesser evil, by counting on the collective historical amnesia of Indians. The Congress can at best promise a return to the past, where despite the brutal exploitation of India’s workers and peasants, they could at least count on not being discriminated on the grounds of religion. By contrast, the BJP would discriminate against minorities, attack them, marginalize them, and in extreme cases conduct pogroms against them.

Between these two hegemonic parties, are a plethora of smaller regional parties. The regional bourgeois parties by and large replicate the Congress system within their states or regions to one degree or another. Those petty bourgeois parties which emerged in the fight against the emergency of 1975, against the hegemonic tendencies of the Congress Party, have now become mirror images of the very forces they fought. Dynastic politics, institutional corruption, and the typical cynical disregard of the people that characterizes most bourgeois politics, all exist in these parties.

The largest and most corrupt of these is undoubtedly the TMC which appears to be the most influential of the regional parties and was itself an offshoot of the Congress Party.

While the regional parties make their electoral manoeuvres the Stalinists struggle to maintain relevance. It is perhaps the least surprising development that the CPIM has led a leftist alliance with the congress party. Once more, they repeat the very mistake that led them to their disastrous situation. Once more, they sow illusions in the masses that any real change can be achieved from the bourgeois Congress Party.

On the other side are the farmers protesting in Delhi, the workers struggling against their exploitation at the workplace, and the youth itching for rebellion against a system that has given them neither jobs for a secure future nor a stable present.

Indian capital grows by the intensified exploitation of the countryside, this has been a fact since independence. That exploitation has increased manifold and is about to peak under the BJP. The protests of the farmers in 2020 is but the most acute expression of this crisis. The resistance against exploitation has defined the farmer’s movement across the country over the decades. Meanwhile, the working class resistance assumes a new pitch as the old big Stalinist led trade unions decline and new militant unions rise in their place.

The strike actions of the Anganwadi workers are a great example of this new rising militancy, as well as showcasing the bankruptcy of the old trade unions leadership.

Over the last ten years of its existence the BJP government’s greatest contribution has been to show every Indian the limits of bourgeois democracy. It has shown that true power in a bourgeois democracy lies with those who control capital, for they can manipulate the masses with news media, and distort any election result by deciding who gets more money. More funding translates to better organization and better reach, there is simply no equality between the largest parties and smaller parties in a bourgeois democracy. Neither is there any equality of opportunity in growth of new parties.

The best challenge to the BJP has thus far come from mass mobilizations. Be they protests, strike actions, or marches, they have had more success in pushing back against the BJP than the ramshackle and cynical opposition from the various bourgeois parties. Nevertheless, the elections are still seen by many as a means of challenging the ruling party, and it remains as a means for the masses to express their dissatisfaction, but a tool that is distorted a myriad ways by the power of news media, and BJP’s overwhelming money power.

What makes this election decisive?

On the face of it, this might just be another bourgeois election in India, just like the five years before it, and the five years before that. The problems of communal violence, caste violence, and neo-liberal economic politics, exist now as they have existed before under the Congress. Once more the masses are given a raw deal, having to choose between two or more corrupt and exploitative bourgeois alternatives, or a Stalinist alternative which will simply use it’s mandate to support one of the two main bourgeois forces.

The differences emerge when one looks a bit deeper, and sees the insidious nature of the BJP and it’s ten year misrule. The BJP itself is a bourgeois party, one that emerged by uniting the right-wing faction of the Congress Party which split from the main party, and the Jana Sangh which was a party built by the Hindutva RSS. Over time, the BJP progressively pushed the bourgeois liberal faction to the margins, a process that sped up under Modi.

Today, it is the RSS that holds the most influence over the present day BJP. The influence especially shows when the BJP turns it’s sights on issues at the core of the Hindutva agenda. The ‘integration’ of Kashmir, the creation of a National Register of Citizens, making citizenship contingent on religion through the new citizenship laws, curbing progressive political actions, higher education, and marginalizing Dalits, the BJP has shown itself to be a torch bearer of Hindutva.

The Indian capitalist class feels the need to put their weight behind the BJP at this time, to help charge its economic growth, at the core of it is the freer exploitation of the countryside and of the working class. The BJP has showed it is more capable of doing this than the Congress, whose old tricks of pacifying the populace with welfare measures and dominating them through the state machinery, no longer worked.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the capitalist class would rather see India become a Hindu Rashtra where non-Hindu minorities and Dalits become second class citizens, than see a threat to their profits and ambitions. The fickle nature of bourgeois opposition leaders who change parties and sides at the drop of a hat, shows this even more brazenly.

Should the BJP win these elections, it is quite likely that they may be able to secure a super majority in parliament at both the lower and upper house. It has already shown what it will do with the existing majority in parliament. Two million Indians who have had their citizenship revoked in Assam remain in the doldrums. Over a hundred thousand languish in detention camps. This is a preview of what to expect should the BJP and the forces of Hindutva roll out the NRC across the nation. Following the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir and Ladakh have had their statehood revoked and turned into union territories. The suspension of democracy there seems near permanent, and is a dire warning for states in India.

The BJP’s attacks on workers and farmers are intense already, and will only increase in intensity should they win.

What must be done

The last ten years have made it abundantly clear, that bourgeois parties and bourgeois politicians will betray the masses. The capitalist class of India is perfectly at ease with India becoming a Hindu state. Any commitment to secularism was purely superficial, and opportunistic. The façade is broken now.

Despite all the about turns, switches, and betrayals, the Stalinist CPIM led left front have given their support to the so-called I.N.D.I.A alliance led by the Congress Party. The mainstream parliamentary Stalinists have clearly learned nothing from the failure of the last time they aligned with the Congress and the disastrous situation it led to. Once more, the second largest ‘Communist’ party in the world will use it’s enormous resources, vast trade union networks, and youth organizations, to lead India’s workers and peasants into the arms of the bourgeois Congress.

We stand opposed to this politics! The Congress had six decades worth of an electoral mandate to fight and destroy Hindutva reaction and build a secular society. Far from doing any of that, it supported reactionary parties for it’s own ends. The Shiv Sena was a creation of the Congress party, and they presided over the worst communal riots in Bombay’s history. The Sikh reactionary movement for Khalistan was the result of Congress’ policy of supporting reaction to fight a rising Communist movement. Today, these people have put on the mask of secular populists to fool everyone into thinking, that should they get another 5 years that might put an end Hindutva.

Returning to supposedly better days before the BJP means little for the masses of workers and peasants in India for whom little if anything has changed for the better.

In the least, we must promise a better world than the one we live in currently. For a party that calls itself Communist, at least this much should be expected. Instead, we get a regurgitation of old rotten Stalinist politics of popular fronts with some imagined progressive bourgeois.

The surrender of the largest leftist party to bourgeois forces is indeed a debacle for the working class of India, for it leaves virtually no viable political alternative in the sphere of electoral politics. The challenge against the BJP must be fought out in the streets, factories, and fields. Here, lay the real challenge to the BJP, as shown so clearly by the farmer’s protests.

However, the mass actions are not united nor do they have a single political leadership. Consequently, their agendas are limited to their immediate issues. This is not to say, the people are not politically conscious. The fact that the farmer’s protests have started anew now when the elections are around the corner shows they have an innate sense of strategy and political understanding.

To unite and channelize this energy, requires a revolutionary party armed with a programme of socialist revolution, and transitional demands. To build this must be our ultimate goal.

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