Is ‘Modimania’ on the wane?

2016 opened in India with a wave of protest demonstrations sweeping the country over the ‘forced suicide’ of Dalit student, Rohit Vemula, and the calling of an all-India general strike in March over worsening social and economic conditions. The 2016 January/February issue of Dudiyora Horaata (Workers’ Struggle), the voice of New Socialist Alternative (CWI in India), carried an in-depth article by Anand Kumar reviewing developments in the past year under prime minister Narendra Modi.

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As 2015 draws to a close, the last one and half years of the right wing, communal BJP goverment at the centre, led by Narendra Modi, has managed to antagonise many sections of the Indian society and beyond. In what could be called the ‘year of the cow’, the reactionaries belonging to the Sangh Parivar and its supporters have been on a rampage of sorts with one new controversy every few days. And this spill over effect has been felt everywhere with even the international media taking notice.

The Beef Ban controversy is nothing but fanning the communal passions, and that way polarize the communities by keeping insecurity and fear levels always at a increased social temperatures. Similarly, cold blooded murder of rationalists and open death threats to others goes to show the absolute impunity of some of the members of Sangh Parivar. In response to the growing climate of intolerance, many writers, filmmakers, scientists etc, returned their awards (given to them under various governments in the past) in protest.

In one public educational institution after the other, from IIT, FTII to UGC students are up in arms. Army veterans continue their protests over pensions. The Nepalese, who were intrinsically linked and were going along with all the “big-brotherly-imperialist” attitude, are now incensed by the Indian blockade. Statements such as the one made by RSS/ BJP mouthpiece Ram Madhav about ‘Akhand Bharat’ or in plain language an undivided Indian sub-continent (under Indian hegemony of course) shows the contradiction inherent under Modi’s overtures cum surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas. RSS world-view translated into Indian foreign policy will only end up creating new hostilities in the neighborhood, despite efforts to prove otherwise.

On the intricate caste question, even the wealthy & influential Patel community agitation for reservation has jolted one of Modi’s main support base in Gujarat. This was also reflected in local elections held recently where BJP lost to Congress in rural areas. Cracks was felt even within the BJP itself led by none other than the once all important octogenarian leader LK Advani. The mouth of the much headed cobra, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat’s statements on Reservations to SC’s, ST’s and OBC’s has had a boomerang effect on BJP’s fortunes resulting in the Bihar debacle. It has not only greatly alienated the Dalits but has put a question mark in the minds of the OBC’s nationally, who were increasingly being swayed by the “Development” rhetoric of the Modi-led BJP.

On the economic front prices, particularly food commodities like pulses have hit the roof. The beleaguered marginal farmers/peasants “suicides” continues unabated even among the states like Punjab and Maharashtra, which are considered as agriculturally wealthy. Though the trader/wealthy middle class/ highly salaried sections which creates shrill opinion for Narendra Modi and BJP is maintaining a grave yard silence on the sky rocketing prices of the essential commodities, but the under belly, the down trodden are increasingly taking direct action through various strikes and agitations around the landmass of India.

The Moody Analytics warning in late October on the reform agenda is some pointer of “all is not well”. The biggest General Strike in the recent past involving 150 million workers took place in September … the list is longer and only continues to pile up. And the icing of the cake was the complete and resounding defeat of the BJP led alliance in the October-November Bihar state assembly elections, where Modi was the chief campaigner.

Hindutva Unleashed

Yet the madness continues with the BJP/ RSS and its affiliate organizations continuing with their communally polarizing agenda. The intolerance brigade, both online and on the street, has the covert backing of the Prime Minister himself and thus the question has already risen over the viability of this government and the future post 2019.

All the crazy characters that make up the Sangh Parivar have found an opening with the coming to power of Narendra Modi in 2014 and a license to operate without fear of much repercussions. All the talk of easily reining in these mad men & women by this government is just wishful thinking and the government itself is filled with these bigots starting from the very top. Combine this with the economic fundamentalism of naked capitalism that is being pursued, you have a deadly combination.

This does not mean to say that all is going well even from the corporate angle. Despite all the photo-ops with some of the leading CEO’s of the world and star power theatrics, the fears expressed sections of the capitalist class such as N R Narayan Murthy (ex-Infosys Chairman), Moody Analytics and Raghuram Rajan (Reserve Bank of India’s Chief) cannot be dismissed off lightly. In fact there is a growing concern on their part on whether the communal extremist politics of the BJP/ RSS would end up eclipsing their own anti-people reform agenda. The same in a way goes for the BJP veterans led by LK Advani who fear a complete breakdown of the old order. Another Babri Mosque demolition-Ram Janmabhoomi type movement or riots like in 2002 Gujarat could seriously end up damaging the long term stability of the Indian state.

The dictatorial style of functioning led by the duo Modi-Shah has not gone down well within the BJP too. This is evidenced in the way campaigning was conducted during polls in Bihar. The complete takeover of the campaign by the coterie around Amit Shah and Modi acting as the chief campaigner alienated local BJP workers. Not to mention the direction of the campaign itself that veered from development to reservation politics and plain communal politics over beef made them look very insecure and cut no ice with the voter. The last straw was when Amit Shah, Modi’s points man raised the Pakistan bogey and said “there will be Crackers in Pakistan if BJP loses Bihar”. In his over enthusiasm RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat injected ‘reservation review’ into the debate, which boomeranged against Modi Magic, that innuendo of a comment which was loaded with Casteist bias, was fully exploited by the opposition especially in a state with about 70% population comprising of OBC and Dalits.

The recent controversy, involving corruption charges leveled by a BJP member against the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, was another slap on the face of the govt. Although Jaitley is a skilled political manipulator (a lawyer at that) and can wriggle himself out of such situations, nevertheless if Jaitley is somehow implicated then he would be forced to resign. This would be a body blow to the government both from a political and an economic angle. Not only is he regarded as close to the Modi coterie and also the party’s liberal face, he wields significant political influence among the elites of the country.

With the slowing down of the global economy expected in the coming period, the much hyped ‘Make in India’ campaign by Modi is beginning to look more hollow with each passing day. The prices of essential commodities continuing to rise and 7.5% GDP growth rate is not being reflected on the ground for the majority of the working people, and this growth rate is difficult to sustain in the long term with the Chinese economy slowing down and affecting the global economy in the process. The much hyped Make-In-India slogan of Modi is totally exposed as the statistics show the manufacturing slackening further and the money flow in the retail market severely curtailed. For all the salesman pitch and the much derided extravagant foreign tours of Modi, people are seeing no difference between this government and the previous Congress government that was crisis ridden to the core.

The bigger danger with this government is its close association with the RSS and a long list of rabid organizations that it has spawned. On the one hand the government is just simply unable to control them and on the other hand the government is directly supporting them as was seen in the #awardwapsi episode. It openly backed the so called tolerance march in November led by the pro-BJP actor Anupam Kher with the protesters openly hurling abuses and threatening journalists, shouting reactionary slogans etc.

In just about a year and half in office, this communal government led by Modi has managed to divide the people of India like no other. The ghettoization of the Muslim minority community in Gujarat is a classic example how under Modi the very fabric of a society that shared many commonalities like language, culture etc., was divided on the basis of religion. The protests, such as return of awards or the FTII student protests that have erupted spontaneously are signs and symptoms of things to come.

But added is the danger of another bout of communal violence or even another 26/11 could take the country in another direction altogether. The RSS and its mercenary fronts who feel emboldened by the presence of their “own’” variety at the helm of affairs are tirelessly contemplating one or the other such socially and communally divisive plots to maintain their grip over the very superficially termed “Hindu majority”.

Bankrupt Opposition Parties

The only succor for the government is a divided opposition that is unlikely to pose a serious threat to the stability of the government. The Congress is still stuck as a dynastic entity, is seen as corrupt and Rahul Gandhi is not at all seen by the youth of the country as an agent of change. True Congress is an old player that the capitalist class can always rely on, but it has its limitations on how far it can go ahead on implementing anti-people reforms as is being demanded of them. The other opposition parties are just a set of regional parties, no more differing from the main two parties as far as neo-liberal reforms are concerned. Their regional compulsions and caste arithmetics make them profoundly unstable coalitions and is only looked upon as a force of last resort.

As far as the mainstream left parties are concerned, the elevation of Sitaram Yechury as the General Secretary of CPI(M) this April is not going to bring about any radical change in the party’s outlook. He is a well-known deal maker with mainstream political parties and was one of the main factors that lead to the derailing of the Nepalese revolution in 2006. While the CPI(M) led LDF has made a resurgence of sorts in Kerala by winning the highest number of seats in the local body election in November, the question remains of whether it can win back its lost citadel in West Bengal.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was seen as a fresh face by many in the middle class and there were great expectations after its victory in the Delhi Election earlier this year. But it is starting to look more and more like any other party and is yet to taste success beyond Delhi. Even if it manages to spread its tentacles, its programme is neo-liberal and is in no way a threat to capitalism.

The 150 million general strike in September this year was one of the largest strikes by the working class of this country since independence. It goes to show the seething anger of the working class that is reeling under price rise, bad working and living conditions. But given the pathetic leadership of the left parties, particularly the CPI(M), all the anger from below is being contained like a pressure cooker value by the party and trade union leadership. A decisive leadership for the working people of this country on the basis of a transitional programme to Socialism can go a long way in challenging not only Modi, but also the RSS and other far-right organizations that is only getting increasingly dangerous with each passing day.

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