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Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > India: A Vote of Despair

India: A Vote of Despair

Wednesday 21 May 2014, by Lal Khan

The landslide victory of the BJP and the meteoric rise of Narendra Modi as a populist leader have stunned a large number of secular and liberal analysts in India and elsewhere. They were in reality hoping against hope for the result to be different from the media predictions of the bourgeois pundits.

However, the predictions of a resounding and unprecedented majority for the BJP were proven correct as it romped home, leaving Congress so decimated that some of its most senior leaders had to bite the dust. Although the corruption, price hike and other incumbency factors led to the defeat of the Congress, these are not sufficient to explain the massive victory of the BJP.

In the first seven to eight of the last ten years that Congress has ruled India, it sustained a growth rate of about 8 to 10 percent. But after the crash of world capitalism the Indian economy along with the other so called emerging economies started to lose steam and the growth rate collapsed to 4.4 percent. India’s growth story has come off the rails. This fall particularly started to hit the middle class which is more than the total population of the USA, about 300 to 350 million. The pain of this contraction caused alarm and panic amongst this upstart petit bourgeoisie and the violent swings of its capricious moods also had an impact on the lower strata of the population. The rather belated subsidising schemes by the Congress government of providing food and meagre monetary handouts to the food insecure, downtrodden masses (which according to the official figures amounted to 810 million out of a total population of 1.24 billion) failed to give any respite to these wretched of the earth.

On the other hand the Congress, the left and so called secular parties desperately tried to use the card of ‘secularism’ and tried to use Modi’s past of communal murders to discredit him, but the voters were more concerned with their socio-economic woes. The wily Modi and the BJP cleverly used the economic issues and the corruption of the incumbents, hypocritically promising jobs, infrastructure and alleviation of poverty as the main election stunts. The masses went for the economic issues concerning their day to day lives rather that the ambiguous constitutional issues and the so called secularism which seem to be far off from the sufferings that the oppressed masses have to endure. Modi tried to use his humble beginnings and poor background in a pretentious campaign, claiming to be part of the poor people. Like Mohandas Ghandi this was nauseating gimmickry, glamourising his childhood poverty to deceive and fool the teeming millions with extreme hypocrisy.

But Modi’s main support bases were the rich, criminals and the powerful gangsters. As early as November last year out of the 100 richest corporate leaders polled 72 opted enthusiastically for Modi as the prime minister. No wonder this election was the most spendthrift and expensive election in the history of India. BJP spent more than any other party as the capitalists poured their wealth in the campaign and bought record media air time and space in the electronic and print media. The media bosses themselves part of the top elite used the press and television to prop up Modi as a charismatic and mesmerising leader of the people. Money was spent like water to buy votes, change loyalties and even force opposing candidates to withdraw from the contests. After all, this ruling class will use this Hindu bigot to step up the attacks on the working classes in this class war to amass huge profits and expand their businesses. No wonder this lower house of the parliament has more billionaires and criminals that any other ever elected in India.

A report in is unambiguous about the content of this new parliament.

“One-third of new MPs face criminal charges, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission. The 16th Lok Sabha will have the highest number of MPs with criminal cases against them. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission, 34 per cent of the new MPs face criminal charges. The percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24 respectively. Across parties, candidates facing criminal charges were more than twice as likely to win as compared to those with a clean record, the ADR data shows. As many as 82 per cent of the new MPs have assets worth over Rs. 1 crore each, making it the richest Lok Sabha as compared to 2009 (58 per cent) and 2004 (30 per cent).”

But the most crucial factor that led to the victory of this Hindu chauvinist party was the reactionary objective situation and of course the lack of a subjective factor showing a way out of this misery and oppression for the toiling classes. The Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a virtual stooge of Sonia Ghandi, tried to continue the neoliberal economic policies that Singh himself begun in the Congress Government of Prime Minister Narasima Rao in 1991 by ditching the previous Congress’s traditional Keynesian economic model, the so-called ‘Nehruvian Socialism’. These policies were intensified aggressively by the previous BJP government of Prime Minister Atal Vihari Vajpayee that faced a humiliating defeat in the 2004 elections. The rhetoric of BJP’s ‘Shining India’ with high rates of growth proved to be a cover up of the teeming poverty and deprivation in the urban slums and what novelist Aravind Adiga called ‘the Darkness’ of rural India.

In spite of the cosmetic measures the basic policies of the now decimated Congress government were no different. The Communist Parties and the Left front could have posed the only real alternative. But the CP leaders until the early 1990s were pursuing the disastrous Stalinist policy of ‘two stages’—first the bourgeois democratic revolution in alliance with the bourgeoisie, then in a distant future the Socialist revolution. In the garb of this ideology they were trying to find the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie and support it to complete the national democratic revolution. But the Indian national bourgeois have utterly failed to complete any of the tasks of that revolution and now have even chosen a reactionary Hindu fundamentalist leader and party as their representative. This fact alone is sufficient to expose their real lack of progressiveness and secular character. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Stalinism the CP leaders have in reality switched over to ‘one stage’—bourgeois revolution. They abandoned even the pretension of carrying out any socialist revolution and totally plunged into bourgeois parliamentary politics. That was a policy that Lenin termed as ‘Parliamentary Cretinism’. Now they have failed to give the masses a way-out of this harrowing crisis and capitalist coercion. They thought that by softening their policies and watering down their programme they will get a wider base amongst the masses in the elections. The outcome has been exactly the opposite. They have been almost wiped out in the present elections. From 64 seats in 2004 they have collapsed to about eight now.

These conditions have resulted in more despair, disillusionment and certain hopelessness in the exploited classes. It has led to a certain regression of the consciousness and political thought amongst large swathes of the workers and the poor in India. This reminds one of the situations of the consciousness that prevailed in Russia in the first decade of the last century. Leon Trotsky wrote in 1909:

“When the curve of historical development rises, public thinking becomes more penetrating, braver and more ingenious, it grasps facts on the wing, and on the wing links them with the thread of generalization…when the political curve indicates a drop, public thinking succumbs to stupidity, the priceless gift of political generalization vanishes without leaving even a trace. Stupidity grows in insolence, and baring its teeth, heaps insulting mockery on every attempt at a serious generalization. Feeling that it is in command of the field, it begins to resort to its own means…The leaders who blame the masses for being too inept, too incapable, and too lethargic to launch a revolutionary movement also use the excuse of the low level of consciousness of the masses for the delay of the movements. This is due to their inability to understand the dialectics of the historical process and the dynamics of mass struggle.”

However this landslide Modi victory will prove to be a pyrrhic one. The BJP is already riddled with crisis, internal strife, squabbling, factional disputes, bickering, conspiracies, palace intrigues and personal vendettas of the leaders in their lust for power, lucrative ministries and amassing wealth. In an article in the Khaleej Times, Rahul Singh wrote, “It remains to be seen if the now victorious Bhartiya Janata Party, which is sweeping to power on its own, without the need of any allies like Shiv Sena, also fritters away its advantage as the Janata Party did (after 1977 elections).”

There will be clashes on policy issues from economic austerity to cuts in social spending to the matters of foreign policy especially regarding Pakistan and China. There will be more splinter groups emerging from the RSS, the Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad and other Hindu fundamentalist outfits on issues of jobs, perks, postings, contracts and other political benefits and privileges.

On the economic front the appearance of what has been dubbed as the Gujarat model of trickle down economics is far from what it is in reality. The high growth rates that are being trumpeted as a recipe to retrieve India’s growth rates and invigorate its crumbling economy has proved to be a disaster for the ordinary people of Gujarat. The reality of Gujarat being a shining example of economic success was recently challenged in an article by Kavita Krishnan run by Countercurrents:

"What, if anything, is special about the development model of Gujarat under Modi? […] Gujarat’s neoliberal development model has displayed all the distressing effects on people’s lives and the economy that have been felt in the rest of the country. […] Jobless growth has been the norm. […] In education, health and nutrition, indicators are dismal, especially for women and children. In the Global Hunger index, Gujarat is part of the bottom five states in India, and globally, performs worse even than states like Haiti. 80 percent of children below four years and 60 percent of pregnant women are anaemic in Gujarat (a virtual anaemia epidemic that Modi laughs off as a case of ’beauty conscious girls’ starving themselves!).”

“What about corruption and corporate plunder? […] The ’Modi model’ is no different in its economic essentials than the Manmohan model. Why, then, is Gujarat a preferred destination for the corporations?” (Towards Lok Sabha 2014)

The same article also highlights a comment by Atul Sood, in a recent collection of essays on Gujarat, where he notes that it “witnessed not merely jobless growth but also the lowest share of wage income, highest use of contract workers in industry. Not surprisingly, Gujarat witnessed the maximum incidences of strikes, lockouts and other forms of unrest on various financial and disciplinary grounds (wage and allowances, bonus, personnel, discipline and violence) at a time when these were actually declining in the rest of the country.”

Modi has been ferociously attacking the trade unions and the workers’ struggles. It is not an accident or for sentimental reasons that Modi is so much of a darling for the bourgeois bosses in India and internationally. He had imposed severe conditions for the workers and carried out brutal neoliberal policies of privatisation, downsizing, liberalisation, restructuring and reductions in corporation tax with added benefits to the capitalists. His aggressive economic policies have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of children, women and the elderly from hunger and curable diseases. Modi becoming prime minister will further exasperate the terrible misery, disease, poverty, price hikes and unemployment the Indian masses are currently going through.

But it is one thing to impose austerity and control bureaucracy by bullying and other tactics in one state, but a totally different thing in a country as diverse and fractured as India. The expectations are too high, the crisis too deep, intense, convoluted and rapid. To begin with India is gripped by stagflation – with growth at 4.4 percent, consumer inflation is at a wage-eroding 8.6 percent, the highest among the ‘emerging economies’. The economic experts on India at J.P. Morgan, one of the world’s top financial investment companies, have warned in a report against overly high expectations, noting that under India’s federal system “75 to 80 per cent of problems on the ground are outside the direct jurisdiction of the central government. Some shovel-ready projects could be implemented which could produce a growth pop for a quarter or two… But a more sustained recovery would be far more challenging and time consuming.”

The infrastructure needed to underpin the industrialization process is poor in large parts of the country, and a new land acquisition law has further complicated the process of buying space for new factories. An AFP report says, “Arun Jaitley, who is tipped to be the finance minister, told a group of small reporters that there was little prospect of early reforms of the labour market or any major rollback of pro-poor welfare programmes. For all his reform talk and first parliamentary majority for a single party since 1984, Modi will have to contend with entrenched resistance to radical change in many quarters which could disappoint foreign companies eyeing new opportunities.” Hence the euphoria and intoxication of the corporate bosses may be very short lived and they could end up in a terrible hangover.

But if Modi doesn’t deliver fast enough in a situation of world capitalism reeling in recession, the flight of foreign and even domestic capital could rapidly speed up devastating even the neo liberal model of higher rates of growth. But what is being concealed in the mainstream press is the reaction that can come from the Indian proletariat and the poor. The support of the impatient and jittery middle classes can evaporate rapidly and the Modi regime could be in all sorts of crisis lurching from one blunder to another, both in domestic and foreign policies. But what can surprise many would be a revolt of the Indian youth and the workers against a reaction that has peaked and a regime in an onslaught against the toilers. Modi could turn out to be a provocation that could ignite a revolutionary upheaval.