India: Angry mass protests shake the country

In the past ten days, since the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) was rushed through the Indian Parliament, there has been a massive eruption of anger and dismay. The agitation and mass protests across India are unprecedented and spreading like wild fire. The machinery of state is in disarray; the police in several states have no idea what to do and are resorting to brutal violence against the predominantly youthful protesters. Bans on demonstrations are being defied.

What started as an anti-discrimination protest in Guwahati, Assam protesting the National Register of Citizens(NRC) which had identified 19 lakh people (1.9 million) as illegal migrants/refugees migrating from Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) during the years of 1965 to 71, soon gained momentum to spread across the country involving predominantly the communities from North-Eastern states and Bengali speakers and Muslims in general.

One of the complicating factors that arose after the official counting in Assam was, of those identified as illegal migrants, nearly 1.2 million were Bengali Speaking Hindus, this led to the NRC in Assam getting shelved, to only favour the 12 million Hindus a new bill ‘Citizenship Amendment Bill’ (CAB) which was blatantly sectarian & communal was brought in 2016 itself, then the BJP did not have the numbers in both houses of the parliament to see it through.

The CAB (now known and goes as CAA as an Act) The controversial bill that excluded Muslims favoured only Hindus. Mischievously and sinisterly it included Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists and Jains, just to give it a “non-partisan” colour. But the proverbial “cat” went out of the bag, once the parliament debated the bill, but the BJP with its brutal majority in the parliament bulldozed the bill into an act on 9th December 19.

In the run-up to this divisive legislation being passed, the governing party – the right-wing BJP –pushed by its Hindu nationalist theoreticians of the RSS – had already been campaigning and instilling fear among Muslims that they are about to become “illegal” and second class citizens without any civil rights.

With the passing of this vicious and poisonous CAA legislation, more than 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population – all 200 million Muslims – feel betrayed and rightfully angry at the course of events. It comes 72 years after the victory of the independence struggle in which the ordinary Muslims played a heroic role alongside the Hindu, Sikh, Christian and other religious and linguistic communities, who all fought united together against British imperialism.

But the ruling BJP, which has perfected the art of twisting historical facts to suit its own communal, majoritarian agenda, has now unleashed poisonous misinformation about the theory of two nations used at the time of the partition of the country. It was fundamentally  flawed but vigorously pursued and demanded initially by the Hindu fundamentalists and later by the Muslim communalists of that time.

The BJP which has gained popularity and power over the last 30 years has been spreading misinformation in a systematic manner. The RSS has conducted a campaign for half a century in the name of “Hindu Culture” and with “their” government in power, have finally got through parliament this debilitating and divisive step towards fulfilling their despicable agenda of a theocratic ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu Nation).

Citizenship Amendment Act

The CAA makes some major and far-reaching changes to citizenship rights for people arriving from three specified countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It basically discriminates against Muslims, making it much harder for them to establish citizenship than for those professing other religions. It means Muslims especially run a huge risk of deportation from India if they cannot fulfil all the necessary criteria.

This completely violates India’s constitution as a Republic which has the declared objective in its preamble of being a ‘Socialist, secular and fraternal’ nation. These ideals have already been watered down to a point of no return in relation to the obnoxious realities of casteism in what is still a capitalist country. Even after 72 years of independence it is blatantly practiced and perpetuated in every social, economic, and political realm. Violence against women and gender discrimination have also been reduced to a matter of routine governmental data, with no real programme for eradicating them.

The current set of rulers, riding on their numerical majority, both in the legislatures and in the overall population, want to irrevocably divide the people into sectarian, warring factions while the rich, the powerful and the upper castes, who dominate socially and economically, continue to appropriate all the resources and privileges in what is nominally a democracy.

There is no doubt that this new legislative move is part of the agenda of the right-wing Hindutva brigade. They are prepared to blatantly violate the rights of all minorities, most particularly the 200 million Muslims, by instilling fear in their minds that unless they “behave” they will be rendered stateless and will become second class citizens, living at the mercy of the majority.

This act of the BJP is no doubt aimed at diverting attention from the difficulties in the slowing economy and turning the ordinary people to fight amongst themselves, identifying each other as “outsider” and “insider”. The move has already been labelled “Partition 2.0”.

But now, with the eruption of mass protests, it is very evident that the BJP administration has bitten off more than it can chew. The streets of India are filled with protesters in every major city from all of layers of the working class and oppressed castes, predominantly young and both  women and men. The BJP-controlled state machinery has resorted to violence of unprecedented levels, but there is no sign of protests abating, especially in those states where the BJP and its allies are in power, even with the country-wide curfew that has been imposed.

New period

Marxists under the banner of New Socialist Alternative see these spontaneous protests as a significant awakening of the people in general and youth in particular. We see this as a new period when most traditional avenues of getting grievances redressed have increasingly failed. The repeated shocks that India’s population has experienced under the Modi regime – demonetisation, increased Goods and Services Tax, the clamp-down in Kashmir with the abrogation of article 370, the treacherous verdict on the Baabri Mosque, destroyed by the Hindutva goons in 1992, have all boomeranged in the face of the BJP and its Hindutva fanatics.

In its enthusiasm for creating a “One Majoritarian Nation”, the government has stepped on the hitherto ignored national question. The CAA has opened up a Pandora’s box with various nationalities feeling threatened and coming out openly against it, disregarding their political, social or religious affiliations. After a very long time, the people of India – a prison house of nationalities – have found a common cause and a common enemy to fight against.

Mass protests are fundamentally necessary to achieve the desired results; we cannot just stand back and let the movement peter out. A strategy, programme and demands are needed to build a viable alternative and lead the resistance. For maximum participation and unity, slogans are needed that will take into account the needs of those who are going to be affected or threatened.

Programme

At the heart of this CAA crisis is the unresolved and festering national question. From North toSouth and East to West, India is the land of national peoples whose fundamental problems have hardly been addressed, let alone resolved. Capitalism which is hand in glove with the surviving and overlapping elements of feudalism, has utterly failed to solve all the crucial issues that the working classes and people face in society. Citizenship or no citizenship, the majority of India’s population face acute poverty, get starvation wages and suffer the worst unemployment in the so-called developing world. Health facilities, sanitation, adequate nutrition, clean air and water are only available to certain privileged sections of society.

Disaffection is rife among students, sections of women, Muslims and other minorities against the various detrimental policies of the BJP administration. This is evident in the recent protests against the fees hike, against the rape of a Hyderabad veterany practitioner followed by the police encounter killings of four alleged culprits. There has been a furore of protests on all these issues. The social media is full of condemnations, denoting a radically new period. But what is conspicuously missing is a leadership to take charge and wage a sustained struggle against the regime.

The current wave of struggles is yet to find a voice that can articulate the needs of all working people; only a party based on the combative spirit of the working class can fulfil that task. The left forces in India – especially the Communist Parties – have the necessary wherewithal to step in and take the lead, but their programme and perspectives are stuck in a time-warp. They are woefully wrong in understanding the 21st century needs of the working class. Their mistaken theories and their habit of seeking progressive forces among the capitalists and landlords has shackled the working class and peasantry from being independent of the bourgeois politics. Their concept of ‘lesser evilism’ works in favour of the failed capitalist system and keeps it afloat.

Those purporting to be leaders of the working class cannot compartmentalise the concerns and challenges faced by the people as separate issues and just be engrossed in day-to-day economic issues of wages and conditions. The current agitations against the CAA and the NRC are in a way a small indication of the crucial national problems that exist in India, which in all likelihood will blow up into gigantic proportions.

While unequivocally standing for the unity of the working class, Marxists and revolutionary socialists must take into account the unresolved woes of the various nationalities across the vast expanse of India – linguistic, ethnic, religious and those of the indigenous peoples. Under crisis-ridden capitalist rule, the national question can never be resolved. Communists who pay allegiance to Marx and Lenin have a duty to put forward a class programme on the right of self-determination for the struggling nationalities to win their confidence for a united fight against capitalist rule. Only a voluntary union of the various nationalities into a socialist confederation of the sub-continent of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan can begin to solve the complex national question in the region.

India’s left and the general strike

The left in India, particularly the Communist Parties with a mass base in the trade unions, as well as peasant and student organisations and the many other working people’s fronts, should not place their faith only in the judiciary which has recently been shown to be totally unreliable. There is no direct evidence of the judiciary being biased in its decisions, but the verdict in the Baabri Mosque case gives a clear indication of which way the wind is blowing. Placing all the eggs in the Supreme Court’s basket is doing nothing but dampening down the struggle. Our apprehensions have been proved right: the Supreme Court has categorically stated that it will not stop the CAA from being implemented.

It is time the leaders of the CPs in India gave a lead from the front and assisted in building the struggle against the CAA-NRC-NPR measures and challenge them by demanding unequivocally a complete withdrawal.

This could be the main issue in a campaigning strategy to mobilise for the coming 8th January ‘20 General Strike called by the CP-dominated central Trade Union Federations. A massive participation from those affected and threatened by the CAA and NCR would not only ensure success, but also act as a spring-board for a future all-out political general strike against the hated Modi regime. Only this way can the juggernaut of the Modi-led BJP, backed by the fascistic RSS, be stopped.

Here is an opportunity for the working class and the left to challenge the current set of rulers who are out to break all norms and impose further poverty and penury, while their favoured capitalists are awarded multi-million dollar business opportunities. They will talk big on corruption, while corrupt capitalists flee the country to safe havens, stashing away their billions and owing the public sector banks billions of rupees which are written off as “non-performing assets”!

Of course, the current situation is the result of the previous so-called “secular” parties when the left, particularly the CPs’ leaderships, never challenged the disastrous economic policies in a decisive way. Unfortunately, the left has only used its mass strength to bargain for favours. They have every possibility of controlling the entire bakery instead of just begging for crumbs!

New Socialist Alternative argues and campaigns for decisive steps to organise a formidable working class opposition to the current regime defending capitalist rule in this country. We see the present course of tumultuous events as an opportunity to organise the class as a class. Other oppressed sections of society – Dalits and other oppressed people, particularly the national minorities – need to be drawn into a unified fighting force with a clear programme to challenge capitalism and landlordism, which has utterly failed to develop society.

Unfortunately, the left in India has missed many buses! The fiasco of demonetisation was a special opportunity to build a campaign against Modi and the whole capitalist class. To miss the present opportunity would be an act of political hara-kiri. The fight against the new CAA legislation, with a correct and all-encompassing programme of demands, can develop rapidly into a far-reaching struggle which can shake capitalism and landlordism in India to its roots. The question is whether those on the left, particularly with a mass base, are ready to take that course.

A mass organisation must be built of working people, peasants, youth and poor, democratically organised with socialist policies. Such a mass organisation must fight to defeat capitalism, establish a government of workers and poor people, and start building a socialist planned economy and society for the benefit of all.

  • Scrap the CAA/NRC/NPR!
  • Every migrant/refugee should have the right to citizenship.
  • Stand against all deportations! Defend constitutional rights and beyond.
  • For the freedom to practice any, or no, religion.
  • Stand against any oppression of the Muslim population and against islamophobia.
  • Condemn state violence on protesters; for freedom of speech and the right to protest.
  • For the right of self-determination for all struggling nationalities.
  • For a Socialist Confederation of the Indian sub-continent!

 

 

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