India’s holds first state elections since farmers’ protest movement

Protest by farmers in India, 5 December 2020 (Photo: Randeep Maddoke/Wikimedia Commons)

The five state assembly elections in the country were announced amid concerns over the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus. The ongoing elections – in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab – have caught the attention of the country. All eyes are on the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh elections because it is the largest state in size and is historically known as a state that can decisively turn the country’s political fate.

It is not surprising that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced he was withdrawing the draconian farm laws, even as the elections were nearing. For the past one and a half years, peasants and agricultural labourers have fought continuously against the Modi government’s agricultural laws – in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They valiantly fought back against all the measures inflicted by the regime in a long drawn out struggle last year.  

The Modi government used vicious levels of force against their permanent protest demonstration around the capital, Delhi – in the searing sun and biting cold wind. The farmers were treated like criminals and called “terrorists”, “anti-nationals” and “Pakistan agents”. Though daunting, nothing deterred the resolve of those who had thronged Delhi with a resolve to “do or die!”.  After no less than 700 farmers were martyred at the hands of the state.

Modi withdrew the proposed farm laws without any discussion as the farmers’ growing anger was coinciding with the upcoming elections.

Uttar Pradesh(UP)

Even before the election was announced, the ruling BJP in Uttar Pradesh was expected to come back to power. But with each passing day and week, there are clear signs that victory for the right-wing, communal BJP of Modi and Yogi Adityanath (the Chief Minister in UP) will not be easy. The anger of farmers in parts of western Uttar Pradesh was very strong. The Hindu-Muslim community of Muzaffarnagar, which was hit by communal violence in the Sangh Parivar just months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was where one of the large ‘raith panchayat’ (peasants’ protest meetings) took place and caused some shivers in the saffron (ruling) camp.

There has been a trail of bloodshed by the communal Modi-led government. Its utter mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic in India has led to the death of nearly 47 lakh (4.7 million) people in the country. The piles of corpses along the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh caught the world’s attention. The scenes of people whose dear ones were losing their lives in front of their eyes and without getting oxygen are a recurring nightmare for everyone and they are expressing outrage against the BJP and its Yogi Adityanath state government.  

People are angry with the anti-people policies of the Modi-Yogi governments. They have failed to eradicate price rises, unemployment, chronic housing shortages and disease, and are now facing a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment.  

Farmers are sick of the policy of banning cow slaughter and the problems caused by it; they have taken to the streets due to the shutdown of the leather industry it has caused. Farmers have also suffered great losses due to the menace of stray cattle on their small-holdings over the past five years. Nationally more than 18 million people have lost their jobs in the past year of the pandemic. Unemployment is at a 45 year high in the country.

Scandals

An additional grievance against the government is its role in what has come to be known as the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre. Four farmers were mowed down last October by someone called Ashish Mishra during one of the protests of farmers. This protest wa demanding a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) and the repeal of the Modi government’s draconian farm laws. Farmers have expressed outrage that this gory killing has taken another ugly turn. The “accused” is still strutting around royally today. Every street urchin knows that Modi stands behind this travesty of justice, shielding the accused’s father who is BJP Minister, Ajay Mishra. 

Atrocities against Dalits, rapes of women and attacks on minorities have been escalating for five years. The Modi and Yogi governments, which have degraded the living standards of the masses, are constantly engaged in spreading communal hatred. Though they have used all their energies to hide the facts, the facts have their own dynamic. 

Those who were expecting to win more than 300 seats before the election announcement are seeing their fortunes changing as the phases of the elections go by. BJP leaders are trying hard and using all their energy to keep power, knowing that victory will not be easy. 

Other parties

The people of Uttar Pradesh have also seen in the past the rule of the Samajawadi party locally. Led by the so-called ‘Socialist’ Akhilesh, it is challenging in this election supposedly as a major opponent. However, during the 2012-17 period, people saw the nature of the government of Akhilesh Yadav. This party, which adopted capitalist-landlord interests in spite of its name ʼSocialist’, is no different from others. The Akhilesh Yadav-led government in that period waived US$270 million (Rs.2000 Crores) interest payable by sugar cane mill owners to the cultivators. It clearly showed that his party’s policies are only for capitalists and not for poor peasants. 

The Bahujan Samaj Party – BSP or ‘Dalit Party’, which is notorious for its opportunist politics, is also not in a position to say it can form a government with an absolute majority in this election. It depends heavily on the ‘reserved’ seats (only Dalit can contest). But it has lost the confidence of the people of Uttar Pradesh due to its opportunist politics. 

The Congress Party ruled the country for 60 years; it is now struggling to maintain its existence. The party supposed to protect the interests of the capitalists and landlords has now fallen into a state of disrepair. The leaders of Congress are under the illusion that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (daughter of Rajiv Gandhi) will attract votes, but they are not even sure that the number of seats she will win will reach even double digits. 

Alternative

Whatever the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh elections, petrol-diesel prices will go up the next day. The central Modi government and other state governments are waiting to put on prices of essential commodities on the people who are already burdened by the high cost of living. They face rising unemployment, job cuts, starvation-level wages, long working hours and soaring prices of essential commodities. 

The inaction of the ‘left’ – so-called workers’ parties and the left-wing leadership of the unions – have left the working class without a choice. There is an urgent need to build a new mass workers’ party to fight for a genuine socialist alternative – for the abolition of capitalism and landlordism. 

 

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