21st-Century India in the Making? 


In India, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) got a decisive victory in Parliamentary elections and came back to power after 10 years. Its re-entry into power was spectacular.

New Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his public career as an activist of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh-National Volunteers Corps). The RSS is the Hindu nationalist organization committed to the goal of Hindu rashtra (a Hindu-led theocratic state). He had been a hardcore Hindu nationalist leader since his early political career.

Rohan Kalyan in the Economic & Political Weekly of Mumbai made an interesting comparison between Narendra Modi’s’ victory and Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980. He stated that “both rode a wave of anti-incumbency and popular dissatisfaction to sweeping political victories.” Calling both “conservative leaders,” he further explained, ”Reagan benefited from the economic stagnation and foreign policy blunders associated with Jimmy Carter and the Democrats in the late1970s. Modi’s Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) profited from widespread resentment towards the beleaguered Congress Party.”

The corporate media portrayed Modi as the strong man who single-handedly spearheaded the election campaign for the BJP coalition after he was announced as the Prime Ministerial candidate. India’s big corporates rendered their whole-hearted support for Modi, hoping for better profit-making opportunities under his stewardship. Modi and the BJP used India’s extensive mobile-phone network of over 900 million connections, as well as Facebook, Twitter, live 3D “hologram” appearances and print and television media effectively. Tens of thousands of ideologically trained workers of the RSS did meticulous grassroot-level campaign, combining the religious appeal and the promise of economic prosperity.

On the other side, the campaign of the Congress party was directionless and faulty. Due to the ineffective campaign, Congress failed to capitalize on the 2002-Gujarat riots that claimed the lives of hundreds of minority Muslims when Modi was the Chief Minister of the state and the realities behind the so-called “Gujarat development model,” which actually helped the corporates in capital accumulation. The strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Congress-led coalition government eclipsed Modi-led BJP’s anti-minority religious nationalism and its past record of pro-big-business neoliberal policies. Ironically, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won a commanding majority in Parliament despite getting less than 40% of the vote. BJP obtained 282 seats, which was a majority on its own, with 31% of the vote share and the NDA coalition gained a total of 331seats out of 545 in the Parliament with only 38.2% of the vote share. So more than 60% of voters didn’t like BJP and its allies coming to power! India’s “first-past-the-post” election system is the reason for this irony. The Left has been insisting upon the introduction of proportional representation. Also, to correct distortions in the system of Indian elections, electoral reforms, such as banning corporate donations to political parties and restrictions on expenditures by political parties are necessary.

During the five years after 2009-elections, the Left parties were active in popular mobilizations against the neoliberal policies, price rises, and corruption while it projected alternative, pro-working-people policies. Raising demands to improve the livelihoods of workers, peasants, lower middle classes and poor, the Left conducted uninterrupted struggles during this period. However, the Left could not translate these into electoral gains. In West Bengal, where the Left is strongest, the ruling Trinamul Congress party unleashed intimidation on voters. With widespread complaints of rigging and violence targeting the Left parties, the results were distorted in West Bengal. The Left retained its position in Tripura with larger victory margins and registered major gains in Kerala. The Left parties are analyzing weaknesses and planning corrective measures.

Addressing his party workers after assuming power, Modi said: “The last government left India disappointed and disillusioned, but the voter was 10 steps ahead. I had said this is an election of expectations. And it is important that the expectations are met and India is not disappointed.” He asserted that, “The 2014 election results will change the 21st century.” Indian voters believed that Prime Minister Modi would keep his promises. During the election campaign, he promised to boost the economy and improve basic services. However, within a week after assuming office, the Modi government’s spokespersons and ministers have been talking of allowing Foreign Direct Investment in many sectors like defense, railway, media, etc. The privatization of public sectors and services and liberalizing them to serve the corporate interests had been the core of neoliberal practice for over a decade both under Congress party-led coalition and BJP-led coalitions. The present government, if it pursued its journey on such neoliberal course, would be the great betrayal of the people who overwhelmingly put faith on Modi.

India’s GDP growth rate is now growing at less than 5% each year. Inflation also remains high. Having one of the fastest growing workforces in the world with 12 million people entering as workforce each year, India needs adequate job-creation. But ruling elites never took serious efforts. To meet these challenges, pro-big business policies of the BJP would never help. So in what way Modi’s change in 21st century would take place is a moot question.

The BJP and RSS leaders are again raising the traditional Hindu-rights projects like rolling back of laws and programs that help India’s poor Muslims and abrogation of Article 370 in the Indian constitution, which gives special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. These issues will polarize Indian society along religious lines. The Indian people have to deal with these challenges in the coming days.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2014


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