Workers Hammer No. 234

Spring 2016


Hindu-chauvinist witch hunt at JNU

India: students charged with sedition over Kashmir

The following article first appeared in Workers Vanguard no 1086 (25 March 2016).

For some months, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Narendra Modi has been on a campaign to purge India’s universities of all opponents of upper-caste Hindu chauvinism. In Hyderabad Central University in January, this witch hunt led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a PhD student from the dalit (untouchable) caste. Vemula and four other anti-caste student activists were hounded by the BJP’s student arm as “anti-national”, the byword of the Hindu-chauvinist hysteria. With the backing of the Modi government, Vemula was suspended by the university, thrown out of student housing, and his stipend was cancelled. In a searing indictment of the hideous caste system, his suicide note said: “My birth is my fatal accident.” Vemula’s death ignited widespread student protests against the BJP government.

Mass protests again erupted in February when leftist students in Delhi were slapped with sedition charges at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The pretext was a meeting held on campus on the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri nationalist. Guru was framed up and convicted under the last government led by the Congress party, the traditional organisation of the Indian bourgeoisie, for the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, in which five men shot and killed eight state security personnel before being killed themselves. Guru was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. The prosecution did not allege that he was responsible for any deaths, and he was acquitted of being a member of any terrorist organisation. But he was a Kashmiri and a Muslim, which in the eyes of India’s capitalist rulers amounts to the same thing. He was executed in 2013, with the Supreme Court declaring: “The collective conscience of the society will be satisfied only if the death penalty is awarded.”

It is to their credit that JNU students organised a meeting on Kashmir, which is a taboo subject on the Indian left. Among the speakers was Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, a supporter of the Communist Party of India (CPI). In a widely publicised speech, Kumar referenced the death of Rohith Vemula and denounced “the nexus of casteism and capitalism”. Perhaps not surprisingly, he said little on Kashmir, given his party’s line that Kashmir is an integral part of India. But Kumar dared to mention the name of Afzal Guru, which is a lightning rod to Hindu nationalists.

Following the meeting, the BJP’s student organisation filed a complaint with the Delhi police alleging that “anti-national” slogans had been chanted; video footage of the event was splashed on national television, some of it blatantly doctored to portray the organisers and speakers as terrorist sympathisers and agents of Pakistan. Kumar was arrested and charged with sedition. At his court appearance, he and his supporters were physically assaulted by a BJP mob which included lawyers.

Other JNU student leftists who took part in the meeting were hunted down by police. Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid went into hiding at first but gave themselves up. Khalid, an avowed atheist and a Communist, was maliciously depicted as a Muslim and, by implication, a terrorist. Both he and Bhattacharya are former supporters of the Democratic Students’ Union (DSU). In 2014, the Congress-dominated government set up the DSU for state repression, accusing it of providing “safe haven for Naxalites” (Maoist guerrillas) and placing it on a state “watch list”. Kumar, Khalid and Bhattacharya have been released on bail but still face sedition charges. It is imperative that students, workers and all opponents of BJP rule mobilise to defend these students. Drop all charges against JNU students!

The attack on students at JNU, one of India’s most prestigious universities and a stronghold of the left, was orchestrated at the highest levels of Narendra Modi’s BJP government. India’s home minister Rajnath Singh, who collaborated with the Delhi police, declared that anyone who shouts “anti-India” slogans “will not be tolerated or spared”. Modi’s election has emboldened Hindu-chauvinist mobs who pose a deadly threat to India’s dalits, as well as to the oppressed Muslim minority. Because of his involvement in the 2002 slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat, Modi has been aptly described as “a man with a massacre on his hands”. Muslim-Hindu couples are witch hunted for the crime of so-called “love jihad”. Last September in a village near Delhi, Mohammad Akhlaq, a 50-year-old Muslim man, was beaten to death and his son left for dead by a frenzied Hindu mob who accused them of eating beef. Dubbed “beef lynching”, such atrocities are spreading in this reactionary climate.

Down with India’s brutal occupation of Kashmir!

During his 2014 election campaign, Modi promised to revoke Article 370 of the constitution which grants (limited) autonomous status to Kashmir. India’s occupation of Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, is central to Hindu domination. Tens of thousands have died in the last two decades of brutal repression at the hands of some 700,000 Indian troops. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives the Indian troops, police and paramilitary thugs a licence to kill; torture, disappearances and rape by the armed forces are commonplace — including the heinous rape of nearly 100 women in the village of Kunan Poshpora in 1991. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars for control of Kashmir — in 1947-48, 1965 and again in 1999. The 1947-48 war, fought while both armies were still under British generals, resulted in the partition of Kashmir.

Insofar as the Kashmiri struggle is not decisively subordinated to a military conflict between the Pakistani ruling class and its Indian rival, we Leninists uphold the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri nation, which means the right to independence or — should they so choose — to merge with Pakistan (or India). In a war between these equally reactionary capitalist powers we call on the workers of India and Pakistan to turn the war into a struggle against their “own” capitalist rulers.

As part of their programme for proletarian socialist revolution, Lenin’s Bolsheviks forthrightly opposed Great Russian chauvinism and called for the right of self-determination for all nations in the tsarist empire. At the same time Lenin insisted, “Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the ‘most just’, ‘purest’, most refined and civilised brand” (“Critical Remarks on the National Question”, 1913). As we wrote in 2010:

“In supporting the right of self-determination for Kashmir we do not give an ounce of political support to any of the competing Kashmiri opposition forces — neither the ‘secular’ separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), nor the various Islamic-fundamentalist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. All of these forces are hostile to the class struggle of the workers and peasants against capitalist oppression and exploitation whether in India, Pakistan or Kashmir.”

— “Down with India’s bloody repression in Kashmir!”, Workers Hammer no 212, Autumn 2010

As long as power remains in the hands of the bloody capitalist rulers in Islamabad and New Delhi, backed by the imperialists, the prospects for Kashmiri national liberation are slim indeed. This is especially so given Kashmir’s strategic location and historical role in relations between India and Pakistan. The cause of national justice for the Kashmiri people is inseparably tied up with the revolutionary struggle of the working masses of both countries against their capitalist oppressors. There can be no genuine expression of the right of Kashmiri self-determination without the withdrawal of both occupying armies. In opposition to the chauvinism of the rulers in New Delhi and Islamabad, workers in both countries must demand: All Indian and Pakistani troops out now! The key to ending the national oppression of the Kashmiri people, as well as the poverty and misery that are endemic to capitalism, is the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisies of both India and Pakistan, opening the road to a socialist federation of South Asia.

The bankruptcy of Indian Stalinism

The JNU arrests throw a spotlight on the Indian left’s shameful record on Kashmir. Even those who defend the JNU students rarely mention the case of SAR Geelani. Geelani, a Kashmiri nationalist and university lecturer, was arrested around the same time as the JNU students, and for the same reason: taking part in a commemoration of Afzal Guru. Geelani had been framed up with Afzal Guru for the 2001 attack on parliament and also sentenced to death. Following a legal battle, Geelani was acquitted for lack of evidence. Scandalously, the CPI and the Communist Party India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) refused to defend Geelani. This time around, students and the left must demand: Drop the charges against SAR Geelani!

The CPI condemned the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, who is a member of their student group and who hails from a Communist family in an area of Bihar known as “little Leningrad”. But in their 13 February statement the CPI made clear that “since the Freedom Struggle” they have been “against all type of Secessionism” ( Indeed, the CPI cravenly opposed the freedom struggle from British colonial rule when Britain was in an alliance with the Soviet Union during World War II. Their position on Kashmir simply apes the Indian bourgeoisie’s view that Kashmir is inseparable from India and is consistent with the CPI’s deep-going Indian nationalism and decades-long support to the Congress party.

The DSU, the student organisation politically sympathetic to the Communist Party of India (Maoist), issued a 28 February statement. Unlike the CPI, the DSU opposed “the historical injustice perpetrated on the people of Kashmir” and upheld the right of self-determination, and defended SAR Geelani, noting that his case has been “conveniently buried”. The DSU noted that anyone who speaks out against “the atrocities perpetrated by the State on the most downtrodden sections of society” will be labelled Maoists and “internal security threats”. The Congress-led government deemed the CPI (Maoist) to be the country’s biggest internal security threat and banned them in 2009, as a prelude to launching “Operation Green Hunt”, a murderous armed operation intended to crush the Maoist insurgents (see “Down with government war on Maoists, tribal peoples!”, Workers Hammer no 212, Autumn 2010).

We have condemned the Indian government’s war against the CPI (Maoist) and adivasi (tribal) villagers, which is being waged at the behest of the venal Indian bourgeoisie and the international mining magnates. However, we have also made clear that the political strategy of the CPI (Maoist) provides no way forward for India’s oppressed masses. The Maoist (Naxalite) guerrillas can seem more militant because of their “armed struggle”. But their perspective boils down to seeking an alliance with a mythical “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie in the “first stage” of a “two-stage” revolution. As CPI (Maoist) general secretary Ganapathy said: “Our New Democratic United Front (UF) consists of four democratic classes, i.e. workers, peasants, urban petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie” (Sanhati, January 2010). This perspective of “two-stage” revolution ties workers to their class exploiters and has always led to defeat and betrayal of proletarian struggle. All wings of the Indian capitalist class are tied to and dependent on the imperialist powers of Europe, North America and Asia. They cannot be potential allies of the workers and oppressed peoples of India.

Yet in the name of this anti-revolutionary perspective, all of the numerous Indian Stalinist/Maoist formations act as overt supporters of Indian capitalism. A case in point is the CPI(M), which spent decades administering capitalist rule in West Bengal, where it is now despised for its role in the 2006 Nandigram massacre of impoverished people who were resisting land seizures by capitalist developers. Today, the CPI(M) has formed an electoral bloc with the Congress party which was trounced by the BJP in the 2014 election. It is preposterous to proffer Congress as a solution to Modi’s BJP. The road to Modi’s electoral victory was prepared by decades of Congress party rule, based on Hindu upper-caste supremacy and the oppression of India’s Muslim minority. In addition to presiding over the brutal occupation of Kashmir, in 1984 prominent Congress politicians led lynch mobs in Delhi against the Sikh minority, killing more than 3000 people.

In keeping with their fealty to capitalist rule, the CPI(M) and CPI promote fatuous illusions in the Indian constitution. In his widely publicised 9 February JNU speech, Kanhaiya Kumar declared: “we have full faith in our country’s constitution”. For all the good it does, women’s equality is enshrined in the Indian constitution, while the original constitution drafted by BR Ambedkar at the time of independence banned untouchability. Today, almost seven decades after independence, around 70 per cent of the country still lives in rural villages, mired in poverty and caste oppression. The rape of dalit women by upper caste men is commonplace.

India combines rural and caste backwardness with modern capitalist production. Both features of Indian life were shown recently in the state of Haryana, near Delhi. For three days in February, Haryana was shaken by violent protests by the Jat caste which blocked transport routes, torched the finance minister’s home and disrupted the water supply to much of the city of Delhi until the army and police quelled the protests. The Jats were demanding quotas in education and jobs for their caste, along the lines granted to the impoverished “scheduled castes” (dalits), “scheduled tribes” as well as to “other backward castes”. The Jats, however, are by no means among the country’s poorest. While they are not a homogeneous group, in Haryana they tend to be landowning farmers. Many Jats have been the target of protests by dalit labourers whom they exploit.

The Jat protests are part of a growing agitation among relatively higher castes — many of whom voted for the BJP but who are losing out in India’s new “globalised” economy. With low profitability in agriculture and rising debt among farmers, land is being sold for development and there are fewer farms left in Haryana. In demanding reservations in education and government jobs, the Jats are trying to ensure that the next generation will get jobs in the city while maintaining their privileged caste status.

Haryana is also home to the city of Gurgaon, known as the “outsourcing capital of the world” with hundreds of multinational software and telecoms companies. It is also the centre of a massive concentration of industrial workers. Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest car manufacturer, produces some 5000 vehicles per day in the Gurgaon-Manesar area. Maruti Suzuki workers have a history of militant struggle, including for trade union rights, in the face of brutal suppression by the employers. Following bitter strikes, the workers won the right to form a union, but 147 of them were jailed on frame-up charges in 2012. Some 34 workers remain incarcerated.

More recently, around 4000 workers at the Honda motorcycle plant in Rajasthan went on strike in a situation with strong parallels to the struggles in Maruti Suzuki. In early February some 500 contract workers and the union president had been dismissed for organising a union. Both permanent and contract workers walked out on strike on 6 February when a supervisor physically attacked a contract worker. Facing brutal attacks by the police, strikers camped out at the Honda company HQ in Gurgaon. But using the curfew imposed on the Jats as a pretext, the cops dispersed the Honda strikers on 21 February. Reportedly some of the striking Honda workers went to JNU to show solidarity with the students.

Social liberation in India and the whole subcontinent will only come through the revolutionary mobilisation of the urban working class, a perspective which poses the question of proletarian leadership. The fighting power of India’s working class — already divided by caste, religion and ethnicity — is greatly undercut by the fact that the unions are divided politically among Congress, the BJP and various Stalinist-derived parties. An authentic proletarian leadership would fight for industrial unions which include all workers in an industry as an elementary defence of the working class.

What is needed is the forging of a revolutionary Marxist leadership that fights for proletarian unity and class independence. The class-conscious proletariat must take up the struggle for the emancipation of women and place itself at the head of all the oppressed, leading the rural masses in a struggle to overthrow the landlords and capitalists. Proletarian socialist revolution — spread throughout South Asia and extended to the imperialist centres — will address the task of eliminating scarcity through a qualitative development of the productive forces. Only this can lay the material basis for eradicating the oppression of women and the caste system and for liberating the toiling masses. Our aim is to build Leninist-Trotskyist parties, part of a reforged Fourth International, committed to mobilising the proletariat of India and of the neighbouring countries to sweep away the capitalist system and establish a socialist federation of South Asia.