India: Countrywide elections have begun

Workers and young people have no party fighting capitalism and landlordism

On 16 April, voting began in the first of five stages of the 15th general election to the Lok Sabha (National Parliament) in India. No less than 300 national and local parties are taking part. It is estimated that 1,368,430 electronic voting machines will be operated in 828,804 polling stations. Will the present Congress-led coalition government get back into power? What are the main issues and what do the major parties represent? New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) has issued the following statement.

Countrywide elections have begun

An Election without a choice!

Once again over 700 million people are having a chance to participate in the great Indian farce called a ‘General Election’ to determine which party or combination of parties will loot in their name and exploit their emotions for the next five years.

All the glitter and glamour of the Indian growth story lie shattered in the face of the growing economic crisis facing the country. The days of ‘Booming and Shining India’ are over. Now we are reminded of a land inhabited by slum dogs living in extreme poverty – the real face of India – and the West acknowledges this status-quo gleefully and awards Oscars!

With flags of all colours fluttering before our eyes; Red, Saffron, Green, tri-colour, multi-colour, we need to be asking ourselves: Do we really have a choice in these elections? Who do we choose from the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Third Front? How are they in any way different from each other?’

One thing is crystal clear, none of the mainstream political parties – be it the Gandhian Congress Party, the Hindu communalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or the so-called ’communist’ left or any of the regional parties with different brand names – has a political programme that directly addresses the immediate needs and concerns of the masses. The apathy in society against these parties runs so deep that all parties and alliances have declared in advance that none of them on their own can win these elections in spite of their grand pre-poll alliance arrangements. Hence all the bigwigs of different parties are seriously conflabbing over the post-poll alliance scenario. This in itself foretells the coming “khichdi” (hotch-potch) which is bound to be sour and foul-smelling.

None of the three major alliances differs substantially in their political or economic programmes which continue to be elitist, neo-liberal, capitalist – landlordist. The Indian people today stand totally disenfranchised in the sense that there is no political alternative or programme that differs radically from the past. How long can this political paralysis continue?

The Natianality Question bomb ticks- but who cares!

The entire region of South Asia is today being ravaged by imperialist exploitation of both human and natural resources (in connivance with the ruling classes of the region). This takes the form of the spreading of religious hatred by communalists and fundamentalists, alike, and being bloodied by terrorism and ‘war on terror’. These are huge problems concerning the nationalities question; it is a time bomb waiting to explode.

The whole of the South Asian region is today threatened with disintegration. The Indian ruling class has managed, with difficulty, the rising nationality issues, by using the state and the constitution. In recent times, it has played off one nationality against another to temporarily diffuse the tinder box. Such administrative measures, combined with the military oppression of Kashmir, Punjab and the North East, have only postponed the crisis and will erupt at a later stage.

The working class of India will have a heavy price to pay unless the issue is addressed along class lines, cutting across the divisions of caste, religion, ethnicity and race and also across national borders throughout South Asia. How can we place confidence in the so-called ‘netas’ (leaders) of India when none of them or their parties even has an idea of resolving the national question which is basically an issue of ’Dal and Roti’ or ’Rice and Sambar’.

A review of all the alliances in the fray is customary for any pre-election analysis to gauge the outcome. But the story is so sad that none of the contenders can talk of, let alone boast of, a track record of solutions which enthuse the objective voters who are genuinely looking for a way out from the existing unemployment, squalor, poverty and disease faced by millions of Indians. All the three main political fronts stand naked with their record of failing and betraying the people time and again, during the 62 years of independent India,

The three ’affronts’ faced by the people of India

1. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is (led by Congress).

After five years in office and with an economy in ruins, Congress has absolutely nothing to bank on and has placed all its faith on the ghost figures of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It is loud on rhetoric about ‘Aam Aadmi’(common man) programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and loan waiver schemes to debt-ridden peasants (after more than 200,000 suicides by peasants) . These are welcome as a relief to the masses, but the actual record of the Congress on real development issues concerning the masses is zero. This applies to areas ranging from electrification (400 million people have no access), housing (78 million are homeless), education (total privatisation of education and so-called universal education), health (80% controlled by the private sector and affordable to the upper classes only), infrastructure such as roads, transport facilities (heavily biased in favour of the upper classes).

The 1990s’ neo-liberal reform brought in by the Manmohan Singh (the present Prime Minister) has only managed to create billionaires and trillionaires. Meanwhile the masses continue to suffer from age-old poverty (836 million living on 20rupees – less than one third of a Euro- a day, unemployment (15 crores [150 million] are unemployed and 5 lakhs [half a million] have already lost jobs due to the recession), high prices (despite the government projecting a low inflation figure of 0.18%), lack of basic facilities and much more. India stands 132 among 179 nations in the UN Human Development Index.

By bailing out the rich capitalist class (by more than Rs. 65,000 crores) who are primarily responsible for the economic crisis and increasing defence spending by crores and cores of rupees (Rs. 36,000 crores) to showcase India as the regional ‘superpower’, the Congress has proved that it neither cares for the welfare of the Indian workers and peasants nor provides them with even the most basic facilities (health, education, public distribution of food. Without even the basic norms of social security for its workers and peasants (most of them belonging to the unorganised sector constituting 93% of the Indian workforce), how can the ruling classes even talk of national security? It is frightening to think all this is even before the global economic crisis hits India in a severe way. It is sickening to hear the Congress claiming that because of their deft management they have cushioned the Indian economy from the rest of the world’s crisis.

With such a dismal record of Congress governments since independence and particularly in the last five years, is it possible to imagine another five years of Congress misrule?

2. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

Ever since its historic defeat in the 2004 General Election, the BJP has been beset by one problem after another. It is once again harking back on emotive issues such as tradition (Rama Janma Bhoomi), internal security/terrorism, minority-baiting and anti-Pakistan rhetoric, but is making absolutely no headway among the mass of the working and poor people.

Utterly bankrupt (among all the three alliances) in both policies and ideas, the BJP is projecting as Prime Minister, the main instigator of the Babri Masjid (mosque) demolition, L K Advani. They are even going to the extent of projecting him as an agent of change (taking their cue from the Obama campaign). But he is someone who is decisively stuck in the past era of a golden ‘Hindu’ age.

Five years of BJP-led NDA rule (1999-2004) and various BJP-led state governments in many parts of the country, have thoroughly exposed the party’s Hinduthva as being nothing more than an alliance between the upper class-caste, capitalist-landlordist elite, jointly in collaboration with imperialism to collectively exploit and oppress the working class and peasants, irrespective of their religions. The last August’s, The last August’s, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh orchestrated anti-Christianpogroms dwarf the Gujarat anto –muslim riots which killed, raped and made homeless thousands of Muslims.

Can voters continue to be attracted by with BJP/ RSS obscurantist ultra nationalist notions of past glory, of the Hindu religion, identity, culture, tradition, borne out of ignorance and a convenient reading of history? Is it not time for the voters to decisively reject the BJP/RSS communal agenda and wipe society clean of all the ills and vices of the feudal-medieval past?

Left Parties

After supporting the Congress-led UPA government for more than four years, the Indian Communist Party (Marxist) CPI (M) is desperately seeking to extricate itself from its complicity with Congress’s neo-liberal capitalist-landlordist policies. The Indo–US nuclear deal provided them the opportunity, though not based on a principled opposition to nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and its environmental impact, but on the question of India’s sovereignty!

Whose sovereignty are we talking of here? The sovereignty of the Indian capitalist–landlordist ruling classes to conduct nuclear tests! This an entirely un-Marxist approach to the state and who controls it. It has led the left parties to fall into the trap of rejecting the deal, not on the basis of a class approach but in the name of nationalist ’sovereignty’ on a par with the BJP variety.

Despite making loud and hollow noises against the UPA government before the nuclear deal was signed, what is the CPI(M)’s stand today on the issue? Will they scrap the deal if their ’Third Front’ comes to power? Why do they not come out openly on that? Because they cannot as there are many chinks in their armour! None of their “non-BJP and non-Congress” secular democratic friends would toe that line. You scratch a Deve Gowda in Bangalore, a Naidu or Amma of Tamil Nadu and they are all fully bathed in nuclear deterrence ideology and will “defend the nation” if need be by ’going nuclear’ the American way.

On the other hand, the CPI (M) did not even once think of withdrawing support on the grounds of Congress’s neo-liberal economic policies . It tried to project them as an American agenda while being supportive to engaging with just as anti-working class regional powers such as China, Russia. Now the CPI (M) is talking of a third alternative.

Oppurtunism of the left

Just who are the main constituents of this ‘third alternative’ – the parties of Chandra Babu Naidu, Jayalalitha, Deve Gowda and possibly Naveen Patnaik and Mayawathi? It was the Chandra Babu Naidu’s state government in Andhra Pradesh (1999 – 2004) that was responsible for an aggressive neo-liberal policy that saw thousands of peasants committing suicide. Jayalalitha is well known for her communal, anti-worker policy (can one really forget her dismissal of 150,000 striking government employees in a single day!) and her infamous stance against the Tamil liberation struggle in Sri Lanka (“Prabhakaran wants to kill me so I do not support the struggle of the Tamils”). Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) party is nothing more than a feudal – capitalist party led by father and sons virtually unopposed to capitalism–landlordism. (A joke goes around that it should be renamed ’Janata Dal and Sons!). It also cannot be forgotten for its role in bringing the communal BJP to power in Karnataka by aligning with them, that much for the ’secular’ tag that the CPI(M) wants them togive to Janata Dal.

Mayawathi’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has no alternate programme for neo-liberalism or capitalism; it is another party which says that capitalism could be humane if managed by the right individuals, preferably herself! In Uttar Pradesh where it is enjoying power, the BSP has no alternative to privatisation which has pushed lakhs of workers, including Daliths, out of jobs in public sector industries and services. As for the inclusion of the BSP as a secular party, the CPI (M) does not even recall recent history, when Mayawathi had no compunction about sharing power with the BJP.

The left parties want to ’cosy up’ to parties like the BSP because they have not been able to attract downtrodden castes to their fold du to their historically incorrect (and un-dialectical) approach on the issue of caste. For years they parroted “Class only” jargon and now they have swung to the other extreme of not having any critical view on such issues as ‘reservation’ (quotas) and how it serves the ruling classes in maintaining the status-quo.

Reservation & Quotas – a class approach is needed

Socialists/Marxists have always stood in the forefront of struggles which bring even the smallest improvement in the lives of the dispossessed under capitalism; we would defend all the gains of the Daliths and other downtrodden sections in the context of India. We unequivocally defend the right of Daliths for ’reservations’ in jobs and education.

But ‘reservation’ has remained a hollow slogan under the present capitalist regime for the vast majority of Daliths and other dispossessed people. The reservation of jobs and educational opportunities as a reform has some meaning when the assets of the society are under the control of the state, even if capitalist. Through the struggle of the masses some gains can be made in the areas of education and state sector jobs. But privatisation being the mantra of all governments, increasingly reservation has turned out to be a mockery of justice and fairness for the disadvantaged.

Now it is only a reservation of poverty and misery according to the proportion of your caste and might. Without linking the struggle of the Daliths and other minorities on a class basis, demanding the re-apportionment of the wealth of the rich, the demand for reservation will become a convenient tool for the capitalist parties to play one disadvantaged section of society off against the other, especially when such a huge gulf exists between the obscenely rich and the appallingly poor, There is a competition of sorts to use the plight of the Daliths as an electoral opportunity.

This utterly shameless alliance of rival neo-liberal capitalist-landlordist and even communal parties, which the CPI (M) proclaims as an alternative to Congress and BJP rule, reveals the level of degeneration within the CPI (M). With no programme (political or economic) whatsoever and an alliance based on mutual convenience as to which party candidate shall be the next prime minister, the CPI(M) stands thoroughly exposed for its bankrupt, anti-worker/anti-peasant policy.

Having abandoned the struggle for socialism for a capitalism-based social democracy, its search for even a ’progressive’ bourgeoisie has ended. They have become experts in managing capitalism better than the capitalists! Nandigram, Singur in West Bengal and the Chengara land struggle by landless Daliths in Kerala have exposed the true nature of land reforms in these left-ruled states and the role of the CPI (M) as a strike-breaking force on behalf of the ruling classes.

The coming period will witness split after split within the left front in both West Bengal and Kerala and more so within the CPI (M), particularly amongst its worker and peasant base. The days of the left’s virtual monopoly of workers’ organisations are likely to be numbered in the coming period.

Yet there is a significant rank and file in these so-called left parties who are disgusted with the class collaborationist and opportunist policies of the leadership, and they are searching for genuine alternative.

India needs not just another political party but a new political alternative that attracts among its layers youth, workers’ and peasants – a party which not only opposes and challenges capitalism, but at the same time prepares and fights for a democratic socialist society. None of the three alliances represents such a force; they are negative, cynical relics of the past.

Radical socialist alternative is the needed

There is no doubt that the worst affected by the capitalist economic crisis are the youth who can only envisage a future full of hopelessness and despair on the basis of the present system. Where is the fair deal for the youth in these general elections? The so-called omnipotent national mentors like Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji the IT Zaars and others of their class, after reaping huge profits when the the going was good, have now abandoned the youth to fend for themselves on the streets Why is the government today not reviving the public sector industries to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed youth? (In the last election only 10% of young eligible voters in the cities actually voted.)

The outcome of the election is bound to lead to a fractious and unwieldy coalition. The previous UPA and the earlier NDA regimes enjoyed a period of stability and growth for a decade, but the coming period will be one of short-lived coalition governments resulting in chaos. It looks, based on the aura of the Nuclear “deal” and a five year period of economic growth, as if Congress has the edge over the BJP. However, the very divided political entity that is India and the regional forces that play a crucial role could spring some nasty surprises in these elections.

Against the background of the ongoing world recession and its increasing impact on India, unbearable hardships are on the cards for the working people of India. With all the parties and their programmes proving shallow, there will be a search for a genuine alternative by the working people of India. Socialists under the banner of the New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) have begun to get a toehold in the southern regions. Bold and creative initiatives would surely attract genuine class fighters to the ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism on an all-India scale in the coming period.

The youth of India need a new alternative that promises hope and change from the past. The workers of India need an organisation that fights for its rights and welfare in their workplaces and breaks the grip of capitalist exploitation. The peasants of India need a programme of land reforms and land redistribution and to break the nexus of landlord–moneylender and multinational corporations. The need of the hour is a mass organisation of youth, workers and peasants based on the rock-solid foundation of socialism.

We say

  • The choice between Congress, BJP and the Third Front is no choice at all!
  • Nationalise the banks, the land and monopolies like Tata, Ashok, Mittal under democratic workers’ control and management!
  • Education and jobs for all!
  • ’Reserve’ the wealth which solely remains with the rich, not the poverty and unemployment!
  • Build a new alternative for youth, workers, peasants and other oppressed masses on a socialist platform!
  • The choice before humanity – socialism or barbarism

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April 2009