India’s parliamentary election ends myth of invincibility of Modi

The results of one of the most important parliamentary elections in the history of India show a resounding setback for the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) regime. Given the numbers, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) coalition, led by Modi, was always likely to form the new government but that does not diminish the message of the mandate. In the run up to elections it was publicised that BJP would win more than 400 out of 544 seats. Exit polls too predicted big win. Notwithstanding such hype the BJP lost sixty-three seats, wining only 240 seats, thirty-two short of a majority. The NDA coalition, led by the BJP, still secured a majority but fell short of three hundred seats. For the opposition coalition, INDIA (The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance), the gains were significant. Far surpassing expectations, it won 233 seats. The myth of invincibility of Modi is broken. Beyond immediate factors, such a major mandate deserves broader analysis.

For past 10 years, Modi ran an authoritarian regime with complete centralization of power. Investigative agencies like the ED (Enforcement Directorate) and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) were weaponised to serve the political interests of the ruling party. Even the highest statutory bodies like the Election Commission and Reserve Bank of India were subjugated to align with the political agenda of the BJP. Armed with the complete subjugation of the state apparatus, the BJP ventured on a reckless campaign of annihilation any opposition to its rule – be it opposition parties or any mass protests.

 Political power and socio-economic realities

While electoral politics is not a mirror reflection of socio-economic condition in a mechanical manner, it nonetheless cannot be removed from it. It is very much conditioned and shaped by the underlying socio-economic realities and determined by it in the final instance. In the context of India, elections take place in the context of a mammoth country, if not a subcontinent, with its deep social divisions. Apart from acute class contradictions, various enigmas ranging from regional disparities to those of national questions still haunt India. These contradictions keep on asserting themselves more often than not, and the last ten years were no exception. Notwithstanding such upheavals, the BJP government continued to tighten its grip over power. The disjunct between politics and underlying conditions appeared too glaring.

Nationalist and religious chauvinism

In its previous tenure, the BJP constantly whipped up nationalist and religious chauvinism. Various fictitious narratives ranging from Islamophobia to the myth of India becoming a superpower were peddled relentlessly, evoking anything from acute hatred to jingoism. Barring few exceptions, major media houses would viciously propagate such narratives to be picked up by followers of Modi’s personality cult that was so assiduously created. The propaganda machinery of the BJP, churning out narratives laced with an acute sense of indignation, ran deep into society; often leading to heated, polarised discussions among not just group of friends but also within families.

Of course, the chauvinism wasn’t an inconsequential feature but was cunningly harnessed to quell down any social expressions of underlying issues. Those who pointed at the very flawed premise of ‘Demonetization’ would have to face a tirade of attacks by Modi supporters accusing them of being supporters of ‘black money’. Upholding the idea of religious harmony could earn one of the titles of ‘sickular’ (mocking the word secular) and so on. The farmers that staged the historic agitation against the government in 2000 were referred to as Khalistani (a kind of separatist). With an army of online trollers, as well as mobs that could unleash violence on streets, the regime could extremely polarise any public discourse.

The banding of most reckless social elements

The success of the regime lies in the fact that it had stitched together a band of the most vulgar, reckless elements in the socio-economic order. The Modi regime is very much the rule of capitalist class but the form of this rule is not the general form of a bourgeois regime. In fact, the Congress Party has been the classical party of bourgeoisie in India. The global meltdown of capitalism in 2008 and subsequent crisis of Indian capitalism, formed the basis of capitalist class switching over to the BJP to represent its interests. And while BJP continues to serve it, the driving power of the regime comes from the most reckless and vulgar elements of the capitalist order. Gautam Adani was the face of it. Those who would term it as crony capitalism ignore that this has been the feature of Indian capitalism (and, for that matter, of those other countries that entered late into capitalist arena) from beginning. Under the Modi regime, it was a specific feature aligned with changes in capitalist structure. The aftermath of the collapse of Soviet Union saw the global onslaught of neoliberal capitalism, seemingly defying national, regional or sectoral boundaries to penetrate deep and wide into each and every sector of economy. Such capital engendered those who would personify its characters and acts as its agents.

The media is perhaps a striking example of such a phenomenon. The influx of private capital into the media, especially electronic media, saw viewership and attention span becoming the key drivers of revenue models. Entertainment media has for long come up with such schemes but for news channels this was a new path. Subsequently the trend of sensationalising news reporting, announcing any trivial headlines as ‘breaking news’, became normalised, and the brigades of news anchors who could sensationalise the content grew. The chauvinist regime of the BJP was a boon for them. Thoroughly exhilarated, such elements in electronic media, riding high on a capital influx by Ambani and later Adani, transformed this media into what is popularly termed ‘Godi media’ (indicating its contrivance to serve the agenda of Modi regime). Of course, all this required expunging even a basic allegiance to democracy or integrity to the profession of journalism. But thanks to the neoliberal character of the big capital, many leading media figures were too willing to be bothered by such trivialities.

The phenomenon permeated all spheres of public life. From Bollywood (the famous film-making industry), from literary circles to state bureaucracy and the judiciary, we saw such elements being harnessed to serve the BJP and, of course, gaining privileges in return. Such links ran deep at national, provincial and local levels. In the capitalist order that characterises Indian society, there are an array of such vested interests ranging from contractors to professionals or elements of the petty bourgeoisie. An alignment with such an authoritarian regime always fascinates the most ambitious, reckless elements from these social layers. The ‘Modi-Shah’ regime was meant for them. Many regional political parties and leaders serving the interests of such regional, sectoral bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie were only too happy to join the BJP. This formed the basis of the rapid expansion of the BJP in provinces outside its core zone of northern Hindi-speaking states. Maharashtra offers a testimony to this phenomenon, where the BJP came from being just one of the smaller of four major parties in the state in 2014 to soon becoming the most dominant party in the state. The gang of such elements ruled over the country for past ten years. Modi was both the co-mastermind, along with Shah, and also its fake version of a selfless messiah.

Structural crisis of capitalism

As mentioned above, it appeared the iron grip of the Modi regime could crush down or defuse any underlying contradictions and crisis ailing Indian society. This unfettered and incremental control over not just the state apparatus but also over social forces is something that led many left-progressive forces characterising it as a fascist regime. For many, including those on the left, such characterization was premised on liberal outlook of bourgeois democracy. For some left forces such a characterization was based on mechanically comparing and generalising the interplay of class forces in Germany with that of India.

While duly acknowledging the authoritarian character of the regime, we argued against such abstract generalizations. We pointed out how the rise of BJP over the last three decades was a result of a long historical process and that the Modi regime was the product of an onslaught of neoliberal capitalism and class struggles following global meltdown. More importantly, we pointed out that this regime though vicious towards many, is not the master of the objective situation. The structural crisis of capitalism meant that Modi who could conjure up the (so-called) boom in Gujarat state, when he was chief minister in the 2000s but he would not be able to go anywhere similar in the period of global downturn after 2014. Sooner rather than later such contradictions would assert themselves causing political upheavals.

While the Indian economy was slipping into recession even before Covid, things worsened significantly after it. Not just the working class but even well-to-do layers of the middle classes found their fortunes tumbling. Unemployed reached its peak.  The share of unemployed youth was a high as 82.9% in some estimates. The share of educated youths among all unemployed people also increased to 65.7% in 2022, up from 54.2% in 2000. Inflation too had soared significantly, eroding whatever meagre incoming the working masses could generate. The ethnic conflict in Manipur fuelled by none other than BJP government in the state, leading to large scale violence, rioting and rapes, which went unabated for months, thoroughly shocked the nation. Modi, with his adamant and smug attitude, refused to make even a single visit to the state. The agitation by Olympic winning women wrestlers against sexual harassment was trampled upon by this government in its stereotypical style.  But the spectacle of Modi regime supporting the president of the women wrestler’s federation just because he happened to be BJP MP, was an act that the masses were at a loss to comprehend. The electoral bond scam that came to the light after Supreme Court overturned the government decision not to make election donations public, was perhaps the last straw. While the Godi media tried its best to suppress the scam, whatever details came out were strong enough to point out the nexus between the ruling party and black money.

When coming to power in 2014, one of the planks that attracted many was Modi’s promise of a ‘New India’ free from corruption, dynastism and the associated evils of India’s political system. Youths and a section of the working class believed in it, only to be betrayed later. Some left dismayed stayed away from elections and voter turnout dwindled. Some others infuriated by such betrayals of Modi rallied behind opposition forces.

The opposition alliance, led by Congress, started late and did not appear well prepared initially to catch up in the recent election. The manifesto of Congress was based on the theme of social justice and could strike a chord with at least a section of working masses.

Challenges ahead

Of course, this regime is not yet defeated and BJP again coming to the power, albeit with a reduced majority, may resume its attacks on the working class and democratic frameworks. But the challenges for left forces and the working class are acute and need to be addressed.

The opposition alliance, though not as brutal as the ruling clique, is nonetheless another wing of the bourgeoise. Capitalist development in India is characterised by the law of uneven and combined development which led to a complex mesh of bourgeois interests. The historic peasants’ struggle represented the struggle of rich capitalist peasants against the onslaught of corporate capital in agriculture. Many of regional parties, like the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) in Maharashtra which played a key role in halting a BJP rally in the state, is a party of a section of regional bourgeoise. The opposition to the BJP and for the expansion of ‘democratic space’, while important, in itself is not the solution. So even if in the next elections the opposition parties come to power that would not free millions from capitalist and caste exploitation. The underlying class disparities and divisions are too acute to be overcome by any reformist measures within the capitalist framework.  Right wing forces can always acquire the centre stage under the current order. The CPI and CPM – the communist parties of India – have utterly failed to wage any revolutionary struggle against capitalism, confining themselves to parliamentary politics. Yet again in these elections they tailed behind the Congress party to “stop the march of fascist forces”, as they have been claiming for past few decades. The right-wing forces, an inevitable part of capitalism, can only be overthrown by the revolutionary struggle of the working classes.

The New Socialist Alternative (CWI in India) organized a ‘Youth for an Alternative’ campaign, which highlighted the need for building a mass working-class alternative. While arguing to vote against the Modi regime and its anti-working-class policies, Youth for an Alternative exposed the bogus claims of the opposition. The communist parties and many others who wanted to oppose the Modi regime took the wrong position of collaborating with the main capitalist opposition party, the Congress Party. Instead of choosing ‘lesser evils’ the struggles of farmers, workers, and all oppressed sections, should be brought together to fight back against all capitalist policies. Such a united position can also aid the process of building a real political alternative to the capitalist parties.