India: Political crisis in Maharashtra

Maharashtra state, India (Image: Wikimedia/CC)

The sharp political crisis in Maharashtra seems to have come to an end with yet another coalition being put together to get a majority in the legislative assembly on 3 November. Maharashtra is in the mid-western part of India and one of the economically most developed regions. It has important industries and big capitalist financial institutions are based in its capital, Mumbai.

The fragility of Indian democracy is illustrated by the instability of political alliances in this state. The recently concluded Assembly elections saw the incumbent alliance of the country’s ruling Barathiya Janatha Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena collapsing. The former opposition parties of the Indian National Congress and the National Congress increased the number of seats they won (to 44 and 54 respectively) but still did not have enough to form a state government. Shiv Sena – a right wing party that used to be part of the BJP – had gone down to 56 seats but, for the first time, broke with the BJP to join in a local Maharashtra alliance.

After this, the National Congress Party locally came together with the BJP to form a so-called ‘grant’ coalition. The national leadership of the NCP opposed the deal and denounced the local leadership whose leader then resigned and the coalition collapsed. After this, Shiv Sena came together with the NCP and the INC to form a coalition government with some other small parties. The leader of the new coalition is Uddhav Thackeray – a well known right-wing Hindu nationalist who is now chief minister of Maharashtra.

While the working class has no reason to celebrate any change of rule by one set of bourgeois parties replacing another, these developments mark a significant change in the situation.

The BJP came to power in Maharashtra in 2014 riding on the so-called “Modi wave”. Its share of seats jumped almost three-fold from 46 in the previous election to 122. It formed a government with its alliance partner, Shiv Sena. The well-crafted image of Modi as a crusader against corruption and dynasticism and holding out hope for jobs and better conditions was one of the major reasons why working class voters supported him.

Subsequent years, however, saw that this was just a pretence. There was hardly any palpable action against previous corruption scandals. Instead, the government sought to protect some officials and contractors in an irrigation corruption scandal. Later, in the lead-up to the elections, the BJP recruited many prominent leaders from opposition parties in a bid to hollow them out and strengthen its position. This shocked working class voters as these were the same leaders from established political families that the party had vowed to fight against.

The real shock, however, came when, after the election, in a desperate move, the BJP managed to get one of the most prominent leaders of the NCP to defect and formed a government making this leader deputy chief-minister. However, this did not succeed and that government collapsed on the fourth day. This thoroughly exposed the BJP as it was the same leader who the BJP had previously made out to be an incarnation of corruption.


While the BJP is criticised by some commentators as power-hungry, they fail to grasp the politics involved. The BJP under the leadership of Modi ousted Congress from central government and established itself as the party of a section of the big bourgeoisie. It used nationalist, religious chauvinism to bring complete state power into the hands of the party and further to recklessly push the interests of business. The big capitalists’ closeness to the party has seen a manifold increase in their industrial empires. To maintain power at the centre, they also needed to control many state governments.

India is a huge landmass comprising 29 states and 7 union territories, each with its unique historical trajectory of capitalist development. Trotsky’s theory – the ‘Law of combined and uneven development’ – offers a rich insight into explaining this. Maharashtra’s regional bourgeois structure developed in the first half of the 20th century, firstly around agriculture and later around trade and industry. A few powerful families from dominant peasant castes, with ownership and control of land and water, flourished under the post-independence economic regime of a so-called “mixed economy” which was nothing more than an attempt to carry through completely capitalist development.

Neo-liberal policies in the 1990s saw an influx of capital into the country and a subsequent process of integrating regional capitalist structures with national and global ones. Real estate in Maharashtra, for example, received a major boost with an injection of massive finance capital. However, a construction programme involved access to resources like land, water, sand, labour which were regulated by the regional bourgeoisie. Their local structures were largely associated with Congress and the NCP. The BJP historically had a stronger presence in the northern states. Maharashtra was certainly not one of its strongholds until the 1990s.

This was the predicament of the BJP in 2014 when it came to power but didn’t have deep roots in regional bourgeois structures. But, with its complete domination over the political spectrum in the past five years, it sought to bring them under its control. Its attempt to gloss over the corruption scandals of earlier regimes and later recruiting prominent leaders from opposition parties were an attempt in that direction and the BJP had no qualms about moving recklessly in that direction. The Enforcement Department (ED) was used to threaten and intimidate opposition members and get them to cross over the political dividing lines.

Class discontent

Notwithstanding the loud cheers for the ‘huge progress made by India in the past 5 years’ that the BJP and its followers keep on shouting, the real situation on the ground continues to get worse. The capitalist crisis that has gripped India since 2010 has worsened under the BJP regime. Major sectors of the economy like cars and construction have nose-dived and many associated industrial units have closed making millions of workers redundant. There is massive unemployment especially among educated youth and they do not see the situation improving any time soon.

The agrarian crisis is claiming more and more lives daily. In national parliamentary elections earlier this year, the BJP managed to retain power by whipping up nationalist fervour. This, along with its indiscriminate use of money muscle power, saw it gaining a majority. This led many including liberals and a section of the left to write an obituary to class struggle. Many came out with a theory about it has turned into a fascist state. While New Socialist Alternative (CWI India) acknowledged fascistic tendencies, we strongly argued against such loose usage of the term and instead pointed to the class contradictions that were soon to assert themselves. The recent assembly election results in Maharashtra bear testimony to the fact that politics in India is extremely fluid. A workers’ party worthy of the name is woefully lacking.

Way forward

The working class is restless and its discontent has come to the surface in various forms in the past five years of Modi’s rule. However, class anger is yet to be expressed on a mass scale. Workers do not have a rounded out idea of what confronts them and how to fight the bosses in a concerted way. The union confederations are calling for general strike action in January without explaining how to use the strength of the working class to paralyse the economy and government and proceed to take control into their own hands. The main parties of the left, especially the still large ‘Communist’ parties, have failed on that account. Advocates of such ideas and the need for a mass workers’ party must engage in continuous dialogue with workers and oppressed layers of society.

The mainstream parliamentary left –the communist parties – with their characterisation of the current state regime as fascist, has been aligning itself with Congress and other liberal forces but to no avail. An agenda of building an independent working class movement could mobilise workers, young people and poor farmers under the banner of socialism paving the way for a revolutionary transformation of society.

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December 2019