India Feeling Good

 
Farooq Sulehria

18-05-2020

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The Indian election results proved a surprise. A nice surprise anyway. Against all media prognosis and opinion polls, Hindu fundamentalists' BJP-led alliance lost election paving the way for Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It was 'Mass media vs. mass reality', says an analyst in leading Indian newspaper Hindu.' The intensity of these electoral quake rates 8 on the political Richter scale', he further says.

As late as May 12, a day before the election results were announced, media reports were putting BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of Congress-led alliance. May 13 had something else in fold: mass reality wins against mass media. The NDA fetch 187 mandates compared to 214 for Congress-led alliance. It was time for mass jubilation now. Mass jubilation vs. mass media frustration, to be exact

Ridiculing BJP election campaign 'India Shining' with 'Feel good' slogan, West Bengal 'communist' Chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya ridiculed: 'I'm feeling good - 100 per cent!' Bhattacharya had something more to 'feel good'. The four parties Left Democratic Alliance (LDA), led by Bhattacharya's Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM), showed best performance ever with 59 members reaching the parliament. Four more parliaments elect managed to win as a result of seat adjustment with LDA. In total, LDA score is 63 instead of 59.

The mass joy had no bounds. No boundaries either. Pakistanis were congratulating each other. Bangladesh was no exception. As this scribe opened email late May 13, dozens of friends had dashed off emails, with the subject: Mubarik (congratulations). Emails had reached the mailbox from friends across the South Asia.
Arundhoti Roy, writing for Guardian on May 14, summed up the mood:' For many of us who feel estranged from mainstream politics, there are rare, ephemeral moments of celebration. Today is one of them.'

Neo Liberalism Defeated Too

India of late, besides China, has been the darling of western imperialism. Its emerging middle class, no matter how small it is in the sea of poverty, is too big to be ignored by multinationals. Also, the cheap 'professional' labour market makes India Shining for the economic hawks. The loot sale of Indian public sector in the name of economic reforms and liberalisation offers a bounty too 'shining' to be ignored. Multinationals would not 'feel good' ignoring India.
Since its independence in 1947 from British imperialism, India had strictly been a country with protectionist policies. The protectionism had its plus and minus for Indian economy under a capitalist system. The protectionist economic model helped Indian capitalist class flourish that was vying for reaching international markets by early 1990s. A section of Indian bourgeoisie however was scared at the prospect of competing multinationals at home ground.
In 1991, the tragic murder of Rajiv Gandhi, swept Congress to power. The Congress government started a process of 'economic reforms'. India had been opened for loot in the name of privatisation. From a regional giant in manufacturing, it was soon to become a market of consumer goods manufactured abroad.

The Hindu fundamentalist BJP & Co. was crying hoarse against multinationals. They did not mere attack Babri Mosque, Coca-Cola was attacked too. However, on reaching the corridors of power, the Hindu fundamentalists found it more 'useful' to collaborate with multinationals. Of course, Banglore-like IT islands were created in the sea of poverty. However, the sea of poverty was too overwhelming to be harnessed. A day before the announcement of Lok Sabha results, Andhra Pardesh state elections had tipped what was in fold for NDA.

'The intensity of electoral quake' had rated 8 plus 'on the political Richter scale' in Andhra Pardesh. But also describes what went wrong with BJP and media pundits.

In Andhra Pardesh state elections, BJP and its chief ally Telgu Desham Party (TDP) had been sitting in government for last nine years. TDP leader Naidu had done his best to play the little Vajpayee in Andhra Pardesh. He attempted to turn Hyderabad, into Banglore while cutting subsidies for farmers and privatising the state public sector establishments. Bill Gates was wooed. IT industry started propping up by Bill Gates. But out on the countryside, farmers hard hit by drought and cut in subsidies were committing suicides. "Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Dollar Bill. Naidu has saddled us with a lot of Bills to pay," was one wisecrack making the rounds in Andhra Pardesh.

Suicides in India among farmers of late have become a routine than exception. Seventy per cent Indians live on countryside. Less than half a million benefit from IT sector. BJP was depending on this less than a million. Congress was luring the seventy percent. Result is obvious. In last three general elections, Congress for the first time managed to win more seats (145) than BJP (138). BJP allies did even pathetic. In the outgoing parliament, BJP and its allies had a presence with almost 300 seats.

The BJP 'victory' in previous elections was more a product of Hindu chauvinist euphoria it managed to create. India went nuclear as soon as BJP took over Delhi. The BJP presented nuclear blasts as a giant leap towards making India a super power. In 1998, a limited war started by General Musharraf helped Vajpayee fan national chauvinism. The BJP that might have lost elections in 1998, was objectively helped by Musharraf to win elections.

The anti-Pakistan politics, however, led masses nowhere. They wanted an improvement in fast declining living standards.
'India shining' campaigns and 'feel good' slogan was bombard through media and election campaigns. It was an attempt to drive home one message: BJP is turning India to a super power at par, at least, with China.

But ordinary Indians both in towns and countryside rejected all what BJP had offered. They have rejected its 'economic reforms', its communal politics of divisiveness, and its chauvinistic aims of becoming regional imperialist power. The message is clear: nukes and computers lost against bread and butter.

Already Lost Victory

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is all set to take oath as next prime minister. The LDA support makes it pretty sure that Sonia will get 272 members support in a house of 543. The communists will not join the coalition government but will vote it to power to keep the Hindu radicals out of power. The 'common minimum programme' of forming secular government is all that Left wanted out of its alliance with Congress. The Congress-Left alliance is confusing multinationals and their Indian versions.

'India's stock market crashed today in one of the biggest falls in many years, prompting regulators to suspend trading as investors remained wary about the economic policies of the incoming communist-supported government in New Delhi ', reports Independent on May 17.

The break down was biggest in over 100 years. 'The market dived on fears that the Congress party, set to form a new government after ousting the ruling National Democratic Alliance in national elections last week, may slow down privatisation of state-run companies and undo market-friendly policies to appease the leftists, whose support is crucial for a parliamentary majority', Independent further describes.

The fear seems bit of unjustified. Sonia Gandhi has promised to carry out the 'economic reforms'. "The economic reforms," Gandhi told reporters on May 16, "were initiated by the Congress, by my husband, and later by Congress governments. They will be carried forward."
Congress is traditional party of Indian capitalist class. The stock exchange crash might be an attempt to warn, rather than showing distrust to Sonia against making any promises to LDA.

Also, in the background of LDA policies in West Bengal where communists are in power for last 27 years, winning six successive state elections, the fear seems misplaced.

Communists as well as BJP are trying to woo IT giants as well as any multinational to invest in West Bengal. From IBM to Mitsubishi all are doing business in West Bengal and Buddhadev is urging workers to desist from strike actions in order not to scare investors away. The CPI (M) government in West Bengal has itself embraced "liberalization," arguing that it is following the model of "socialist" China. To this end, it has established Special Economic Zones at Faalta and Salt Lake where labour laws that provide minimal job security and working conditions do not apply. Increasingly the Stalinist apparatus has forged relations with international capital. In recent months, both Jyoti Basu and his successor as West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, have attacked the trade unions, saying that workers must learn discipline and forego strikes if West Bengal is to be able to secure investment.

"Outsourcing is a must in this era of globalization, and we want to take advantage of this opportunity," Mr. Bhattacharya told the IBM executive. "We want you to help us." reports Washington Post (May 16) Mr. Bhattacharya has also hired a team of consultants from the American firm McKinsey & Company to help attract foreign investors. He has convinced local Marxist labour unions to end nearly constant strikes that paralysed the city. He has also encouraged investors to open glistening American-style malls, where young middle-class Indians buy Levi's jeans and Nike sneakers.
Head of Birla Group, an Indian industrial giant, has already shown his satisfaction of the West Bengal government declaring it 'pro reform'. Right now, expectations of Indian citizens are high. Soon disillusionment will be high too. Sonia Gandhi wants to start where Vajpayee has stopped. It might pave the way back for BJP. The BJP is out of power, not out of politics.

With a Left contend with its 'Common Minimum Programme' and vying for 'outsourcing', BJP remains the only alternative in the given scenario. Arondhuti correctly points out: 'None of the pundits and psychologists predicted the results. The right wing BJP-led coalition has not just been voted out of power, it has been humiliated. It cannot but be seen as a decisive vote against communalism, and neo-liberalism's economic "reforms". The Congress has become the largest party. The left parties, the only parties to be overtly (but ineffectively) critical of the reforms, have been given an unprecedented mandate. But even as we celebrate, we know that on every major issue besides overt Hindu nationalism (nuclear bombs, big dams and privatisation), the Congress and the BJP have no major ideological differences. We know the legacy of the Congress led us to the horror of the BJP. Still, we celebrate because surely darkness has passed. Or has it? '

The 'Feel Good' Left

The LDA has emerged as third largest party in the parliament. The CPM-led LDA comprises of All India Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM). The CPI is the traditional party of Indian communists formed in 1925 while CPM is its off shoot in 1964 when likes elsewhere Moscow-Beijing differences led to splits. The CPM was a pro-Beijing faction. AIFB is an ultra Stalinist party while RSP represents non-Stalinist, non-Maoist left. Often RSP is wrongly refereed to as Trotskyite party as well.
The LDA has its electoral bases in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. In these states LDA won 54 of the available 64 seats. It won a remarkable 18 of Kerala's 20 seats. The world's first democratically elected Communist administration was formed in Kerala in 1957. The LDA secured 34 of the 42 seats in West Bengal and both seats in Tripura. The LDA has governed West Bengal continuously since 1977. In stark contrast the Left Front won just 8 of the remaining 479 seats throughout the rest of India.

Inside LDA, it is CPM that dominates. This time, the CPM share in 59 seats is 43 while 10 members belong to CPI. The AIFB and RSP have three members each elected to Lok Sabha.
The CPM had fielded 69 candidates while CPI had 34 candidates in the run. AIFB and RSP had 10 and 17 candidates respectively contesting elections mainly from states mentioned above but also in states of Andhara pardesh, Assam, Punjab, Jammu kashmir, Bihar and so on.

The success of 59 LDA candidates out of 130 is much better compared to Congress and BJP. Both have fielded 364 and 417 candidates respectively. The vote share for LDA was a little over seven percent, as was in pervious elections. Right now, the LDA leadership is also 'feeling good' as it has an excuse to pacify its voters by saying: 'look! We have managed to keep Hindu radicals out of power. We have succeeded in putting a secular government.'
The secular credentials of Congress though remain questionable, but LDA for time being has this lullaby to lull its supporters to sleep. The unfolding events may likely bring BJP back on agenda. The BJP, now in opposition, will try to be more radical on all issues in order to woo its estranged voter's back. On the other hand, the LDA is not ready to go for extra-parliamentary actions. Its militancy remains restricted to trade union militancy through which it can exhaust as well as satisfy (pacify) its support base. This impotence stems from its ideological handicap. Through the bankrupt Stalinist thought of supporting the national bourgeoisie has LDA chained and shackled itself. Also, obsessed with parliamentary politics, LDA has made a compromise with Congress. Compromise is: do not interfere in our 'red forts' of West Bengal and Kerala, we will not poke nose in your constituencies.

The Indian left is continuously avoiding a policy of avoiding the historical task. The election success speaks volumes for the opportunities India offering for Left.

Another hurdle that India needs to overcome is left unity. The Communist Party of India (Marxist Linenist) Liberation had fielded 65 candidates though none of them managed to win. The party however has mass bases in pockets of Bihar and Assam. Couple of other Maoist groups has support bases in different regions. Another ML faction managed to win a seat in Andhra Pardesh state elections. But past factional fights and bitter memories keep left disunited. Left unity is war cry today. A united left offering itself as an alternative to Congress and BJP not just in elections but in day to day struggles has all the possibilities to lead Indian working classes to victory over capitalism's treachery.

Last but not least: Indian democracy deserves a word of praise. With no illusions in capitalist democracy, one must however recognise the strength of Indian democracy, a product of hard fought working class battles, that has not only survived a neo -fascist government of Hindu radicals but also is ready for a non-Indian prime minister. A woman too. One wonders: will western democracies one day manage to afford an immigrant prime minister.

 
 

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