Workers Hammer No. 227
India: Hindu far right sweeps elections
For a socialist federation of South Asia!
As the Indian election results poured in, David Cameron joined the rush of world leaders who lined up to congratulate Modi on his election and to invite him to visit. Britain had frozen its ties with Modi following the Gujarat pogroms of 2002. This feigned outrage was pure hypocrisy coming from the imperialist rulers who actively fomented communalism in India during the colonial period. London ended its boycott in 2012. Last year, Labour MP Barry Gardiner invited Modi to Britain, but the BJP leader declined. The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 1047, 30 May 2014, newspaper of the Spartacist League/US.
* * *
The overwhelming victor in India’s parliamentary elections that concluded on 12 May was the reactionary Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is responsible for one of the bloodiest anti-Muslim pogroms in the country’s recent history. The new prime minister, BJP head Narendra Modi, was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when his party spearheaded a communal massacre in that state that left over 2000 dead, most of them Muslims. Now, having won 282 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament, Modi’s BJP has a decisive majority, the first time in 30 years that any party has had such a mandate. In the words of one party veteran, the BJP is set to tackle “corruption, inflation and Muslims”.
Modi’s victory unseated the Congress party, which had governed India for all but 13 years since the country gained its independence from the British Empire in 1947. The Indian National Congress, commonly known as Congress, is the traditional organisation of the Indian bourgeoisie that was led by “Mahatma” Gandhi, and since independence by the family dynasty that began with Jawaharlal Nehru. Trading on having led mass struggles against the British colonial overlords, Congress cultivated an image of India as “the world’s largest democracy” and of itself as a secular party able to surmount the country’s bitter national, ethnic, religious and caste divisions. In reality, Congress has presided over the suppression of numerous regional-separatist and leftist insurgencies while offering up minorities as scapegoats for conditions in what is one of the most impoverished and oppressed areas of the world.
By repeatedly playing the Hindu communalist card, Congress put wind in the sails of the vile chauvinism pushed by the BJP. Congress itself has incited communal massacres, most notoriously in 1984 when prominent Congress politicians led lynch mobs in Delhi against the Sikh minority, killing more than 3000 people. Its role in instigating the massacre — and in covering up its guilt for 30 years — gives the lie to any notion that Congress provides an alternative to BJP communalism.
Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation whose founders were inspired by the fascist movements in Europe, believing that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest”. Madhav Golwalkar, an early leader of the RSS, expressed in a 1938 book the racist contempt for minorities in India that is inherent in Hindutva, the virulent nationalism based on Hindu fundamentalism:
“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.”
Modi’s well-funded PR machine has worked overtime to prettify his ideology and sweep his dirty deeds under the rug. Based on his promises to develop industry and create jobs on the model of his home state of Gujarat, Modi’s campaign attracted in particular a considerable number of votes from youth in a country where the median age is 27 years. Even though his electoral support went beyond his right-wing Hindu constituency, the victory of an openly communalist party will mean intensified communalist terror, particularly against Muslims, who make up nearly 15 per cent of the population. The BJP’s glorification of Hindutva will also fuel a reactionary backlash against women — both in the villages, where caste oppression legitimises rape of dalit (“untouchable”) women by higher-caste men, and in the cities, where women who work outside the home or wear Western clothes are considered fair game due to their lack of “modesty”.
Communal slaughter and capitalist rule
In India, where capitalist development is belated and constrained by imperialist subjugation, the weak national bourgeoisie is dependent on its imperialist masters — yesterday the British, today mainly the US — and above all fears its “own” working class. The communal bloodletting that is pervasive in India is not some inevitable condition of the country but a legacy of British colonialism. In keeping with their finely honed practice of “divide and conquer”, the British rulers instituted separate Hindu and Muslim electorates and recruited troops for their Indian Army primarily from among the Muslims and upper-caste Sikhs of the northwest.
Born in the all-sided communal slaughter that accompanied the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, the Indian capitalist state was founded on Hindu chauvinism as well as caste oppression. Indian security forces have long enjoyed a licence to kill, torture and rape in Kashmir, the country’s only majority Muslim state. In 2002, a BJP-led government brought India to the brink of war with Pakistan over Kashmir (see “All Indian, Pakistani troops out! Kashmir: flash point for war”, Workers Hammer no 181, Summer 2002). Indian Muslims live under suspicion of sympathies for Pakistan; some Muslims have been imprisoned for years without trial on the flimsiest accusations of “terrorism”.
The BJP was catapulted to centre stage nationally in the late 1980s and early ’90s; it went from two parliamentary seats in 1984 to 120 seats in 1991. This period was marked by a resurgence of religious and social reaction not only in India but internationally. A key event was the war in Afghanistan waged by CIA-backed Islamic fundamentalists after Soviet military forces were invited into that country by its modernising left-nationalist government in December 1979. The withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan and the subsequent counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 encouraged the growth of reactionary forces everywhere.
In India, there was a marked rightward shift in bourgeois politics at that time. The Congress regime in 1991 began to privatise state-owned industry and consolidate free trade zones while easing restrictions on foreign investment and opening Indian markets to imported products. Meanwhile, the BJP achieved further prominence through its association with the violent attacks on Muslims that followed the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu-chauvinist mobs. From 1998 to 2004, the BJP led a governing coalition in New Delhi.
Congress nationalists paved way for BJP butchers
This election was a historic rejection of Congress, which won less than 20 per cent of the vote, giving it a mere 44 parliamentary seats. For the first time, a party other than Congress has majority control of the lower house of India’s parliament. At the same time, the election was something less than an unqualified mass endorsement of the BJP’s reactionary programme. The Indian electoral system, in which representatives are elected by district, discriminates against parties whose support is concentrated in particular regions. As a result of this system, the BJP was able to achieve a parliamentary majority despite winning less than 32 per cent of the vote nationwide.
The road to the BJP’s ascendancy was paved by decades of Congress rule that have left broad sectors of the population desperate for any change. The rate of malnutrition in India is higher than in sub-Saharan Africa: on the Global Hunger Index published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks below Sudan. Fully 48 per cent of Indian children suffer stunted growth and permanent mental impairment because they cannot get enough to eat. Half the population has no access to toilets. India spends proportionally less on health and education than deeply impoverished Malawi.
Over the past two decades, more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers, driven into hopeless debt and poverty, have committed suicide. Tens of millions of others driven off their land have migrated to the vast, fetid slums surrounding India’s cities, where they try to eke out an existence as street vendors, day labourers and such. Uncountable numbers live on the streets, sleeping in cardboard boxes or anything else they can find.
Meanwhile, the filthy rich rake in ever-greater riches. The combined worth of India’s 100 wealthiest people now stands at $300 billion. Under Congress rule, routine corruption scandals in recent years have involved the sale of everything from mineral rights to telecom frequency bands. The economy has also slowed down. As the Economist (24 May) noted: “India is meant to be industrialising but manufacturing contributes only 15% of GDP and 11% of jobs, and its share has been falling. A majority of India’s 50m manufacturing workers toil in facilities without electricity.”
Small wonder that Modi’s demagogic promises of economic growth, infrastructure development and job creation struck a chord with broad sections of the population. But the “Gujarat model” is a cruel joke. The growth rate of the state has slightly exceeded the national average. However, the jobs created in the “special economic zones” are overwhelmingly for casual labourers hired through non-union subcontractors who pay no heed to official labour laws, including minimum wage regulations. Migrant workers are often hired to fill these positions.
For the Indian bourgeoisie, Gujarat under Modi was an exemplary success story. India’s biggest capitalists, such as Ambani and Tata, were clamouring for him to be the next prime minister. Modi’s administration sold off public land dirt cheap to industrialists, provided companies with energy at below-market prices and gave them loans at an almost zero interest rate. Gujarat’s record on infant mortality, poverty and literacy lags behind the miserable rates of other major Indian states. In 2006, there were more undernourished children in Gujarat than there had been 13 years prior.
The BJP government of Gujarat claims that caste oppression no longer exists there. But a May 2014 article in Le Monde Diplomatique provided some revealing snapshots. In Gujarat’s Mehsana district, Hindu dalits, mostly women, are employed as “manual scavengers” cleaning up human excrement. Although this job was supposedly banned in 1993, they are hired by the state through private intermediaries. Dealing with human waste and dead animals is the traditional role for dalits under the caste system. A 2010 study of 1500 villages revealed many forms of discrimination, from beatings and rapes to dalit children being made to clean toilets at school.
As for Muslims, in Ahmedabad — the largest city in Gujarat, boasting new shopping centres, modern roads and luxury housing — the residential pattern changed dramatically following the 2002 pogroms. Muslims are now segregated, living in desperately overcrowded ghettos lacking basic services.
Bloody footprints of the RSS
Between one and two million people died in the communal slaughter that accompanied the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent by the British imperialists into a mainly Hindu India and an Islamic-confessional Pakistan. Almost unthinkable acts of cruelty were inflicted upon entire village populations and refugees fleeing in both directions across the newly declared borders. The RSS — along with its counterparts, the Muslim- and Sikh-based paramilitaries — was prominent in carrying out that carnage.
The following year, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. But the RSS leaders were quick to offer their services to Nehru’s Congress, insisting that their organisation was “the only way to meet the challenge of Communism” and provided “the only ideology which can harmonise and integrate the interests of different groups and classes and thus successfully avoid any class war”. The RSS set about building trade unions with the stated goal of fostering harmony between employers and workers. Today, the RSS controls the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, sometimes claimed to be the country’s largest trade union federation.
The RSS leadership went on to form an electoral party called the Jana Sangh, which was renamed the BJP in 1980; most of the BJP’s senior figures also hold posts in the RSS. RSS volunteers campaigned for Congress leader Indira Gandhi (the daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru) during the elections of 1971 and 1984. The 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, after she had ordered the massacre of Sikhs at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, created new opportunities for the far-right Hindu communalists. Screaming “Blood for blood!”, they mobilised their base to massacre Sikhs in the streets of Delhi.
Another RSS crusade was against the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya, the mythical birthplace of the Hindu god-king Rama. The RSS mobilised marches and mass rallies calling for the construction of a Hindu temple on that site. The movement was given a major boost by Rajiv Gandhi, who became prime minister following his mother’s assassination. In 1985, his government ordered the gates of the mosque to be opened by force. He later launched his 1989 electoral campaign near Ayodhya, appealing to Hindutva by invoking Ram Rajya (Hindu rule). The culmination of the communalist mobilisation came in December 1992 with the destruction of the mosque by a gigantic mob mobilised by the RSS. That was followed by intercommunal slaughter between Hindus and Muslims that left some 2000 dead.
The 2002 Gujarat massacre was triggered when a train carrying Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya was torched, killing 58 people. However, Human Rights Watch charged that the Hindu communalists had planned the massacre of Muslims well in advance of the attack on the train. As recounted by columnist Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian (7 April):
“Within hours and without a shred of evidence, Modi declared that the Pakistani secret services had been to blame; he then had the charred bodies paraded in the main city of Ahmedabad; and let his own party support a state-wide strike for three days. What followed was mass bloodshed....
“Other allegations have been made about Modi’s direct involvement in the carnage, but the ones I have listed above aren’t contested by any serious observer.”
As the Guardian put it, the new Indian prime minister is “a man with a massacre on his hands”.
As the bourgeois media in India whipped up a cult of Modi as a master administrator, those journalists who dissented were removed or silenced. The BJP was given a pass regarding the bloody events of 2002, even though the names of the politicians, businessmen, officials and cops who colluded in the pogrom are widely known. Some of them have been caught on video proudly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims. One mass executioner crowed that he had slashed open the womb of a pregnant woman and ripped out her foetus. Modi himself has described the refugee camps where tens of thousands of dispossessed Muslims were driven as “child-breeding centres”.
Western imperialists cheer Modi
Capitalists in India and internationally are wildly enthusiastic over the prospect of a BJP government. The Indian stock market skyrocketed to record highs. The Financial Times’ chief foreign affairs columnist, Gideon Rachman, saw “something thrilling” in Modi’s electoral ascendance. The New York Times (16 May) editorial on the election outcome brushed aside the BJP’s role in the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom, declaring that Modi had “set a good tone” by promising to work for all Indians. The Economist (24 May) wished Modi “every success” and foresaw “an Indian growth miracle”.
A prominent theme in the BJP campaign was the need to undo “outdated” labour laws, especially the 1947 Industrial Disputes Act, which requires state approval for layoffs in companies with more than 100 workers. International finance capital also anticipates the slashing of “wasteful” subsidies on fertilisers, food, fuel and electricity. In addition, the capitalists look to the BJP to step up repression against adivasi (tribal) people in the forests of central India, who are resisting the takeover of their land and the granting of mineral rights to the corporate giants.
President Obama immediately called the prime minister-elect to invite him to the White House. For almost a decade, as a sop to Pakistan, Washington had denied Modi entry into the US on the grounds that, delicately put, the BJP didn’t allow religious freedom. But that was yesterday. If the BJP has bloody hands, what’s a massacre or two to the rulers of US imperialism, the greatest force for death and destruction in the world?
Washington was not always so well-disposed towards the Indian government. From its earliest years as an independent country, capitalist India had struck a “non-aligned” posture in the Cold War. Cultivating a progressive image, it obtained significant foreign aid from the USSR. With India considered a “Soviet surrogate” by Washington, Pakistan became the main US client state in South Asia. Capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union changed the geopolitical calculation on all sides. The US has since sought to bring India into its orbit, to which both Congress and the BJP responded favourably.
Washington’s “pivot towards Asia”, aiming to strengthen the military encirclement of China, is one big reason why the Obama government wants warmer relations with India. And the BJP is fully committed to taking a more aggressive stance towards China. When the BJP was last in power in Delhi beginning in 1998, it announced that China was the country’s “potential enemy number one”. The government then staged a series of nuclear tests, with the BJP prime minister writing a letter to President Bill Clinton citing China as the main motivation. A central theme of the BJP’s recent electoral campaign was the call for a tougher stance towards both China and Pakistan. Candidate Modi held an election rally near India’s disputed Himalayan border with China to denounce Beijing’s “expansionist mindset”. The BJP also threatened to reconsider India’s pledge not to launch a nuclear first strike.
This bellicosity did not prevent the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times (19 May) from publishing an article predicting that Modi would be “India’s ‘Nixon’ who will further propel the China-India relationship”. That is a reference to China’s alliance with the US imperialists, consummated during President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing as American bombs were raining on Vietnam. This anti-Soviet lash-up was one of the great crimes of Mao Zedong’s Stalinist regime. And with the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state, a historic defeat for the working class internationally, the US imperialist juggernaut turned towards China. We Trotskyists fight for the unconditional military defence of China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, and for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and establish a regime of proletarian democracy and internationalism.
For a socialist federation of South Asia!
India has a proportionally small but strategically placed proletariat with a history of militant struggle, most recently in the auto industry. The Indian capitalists and the imperialist powers to which they are beholden are well aware of the potential power of the working class. After a series of bitter strikes in 2012 at Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest automaker, near Delhi, the workers won the right to form a union but 147 of them are still jailed on frame-up charges. Indian workers have been on the defensive in the face of an unremitting capitalist offensive and strike levels are at record lows, but those strikes that do occur have been remarkably militant. Most consist of plant occupations and are often brutally attacked by security forces.
The Indian working class has been hamstrung by the existing political leadership. The Stalinist-derived Communist Party of India (CPI) and CPI (Marxist) (CPI[M]) helped prepare the present disastrous situation by supporting Congress for decades, including through formal alliances with its governments, such as the first “United Progressive Alliance” regime in Delhi from 2004 to 2008. In West Bengal, ruled by the CPI(M) for more than three decades, the party’s open alliance with Tata and other big capitalists led to the 2007 massacre of peasants by the state government (see “The Political Bankruptcy of Indian Stalinism”, Workers Vanguard no 993, 6 January 2012). In the recent elections, the discredited CPI(M)-led Left Front won only two seats in West Bengal. Nationally, it took ten seats, compared to five times that number in 2004.
The working class needs a revolutionary leadership, a Leninist-Trotskyist party with a programme to mobilise the proletariat at the head of all the oppressed — the vast peasantry, urban poor, national minorities, women, downtrodden castes. Not only in India but throughout the subcontinent, it will take nothing less than proletarian revolution to put an end to the capitalist order that breeds communal, national and ethnic conflicts. The perspective of workers revolution in India is integrally tied to the fight for social revolutions in the imperialist centres — Japan, North America and Western Europe. Only the creation of a world planned socialist economy will lay the basis for overcoming scarcity and with that, all forms of social oppression.