The following write-up is a introductory contribution by B. Youvraj of New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) – Pune, post general elections 2014. We welcome comments and observations to the document which is under discussion.
Sweeping victory of Narendra Modi has deeply concerned Left and progressive forces. Thumping victory of a force that is not just capitalist but also communal presents unique dangers and we must ponder over how do we deal with this and chart out the way forward. It demands analysis of class and caste processes over a period, contradictions built into it and how that could develop over the coming years. It is based on this alone that we could develop perspective and tasks in front of us.
Qualitative Transformation of Indian Polity
Modi’s victory needs to be seen on the larger historical scale of not merely last few years (UPA-II regime) but over past 2 decades of post liberalization. Liberalization of economy in 1991 didn’t merely carry out restructuring of the economy but profoundly impacted the State and political framework of the nation. As I’ve argued at length in another article. Thus it has undergone qualitative transformation. Capitalism that has been more or less in a kind of perpetual crisis since rise of monopoly capitalism has only survived by metamorphosing itself.
One of such major paradigm shift in capitalism occurred in post WW2 era. End of devastating wars among the imperialist powers ushered in a era where these earlier belligerent powers realigned themselves, collaborated and came up with a global framework to steer capitalism. Institutions of IMF, WB, GATT that were products of such a framework now oversaw the expansion of imperialist capital. Rise of neo-liberalism in 1980s, collapse of USSR in 1991 marked another phase of capitalism where under the guise of SAP (Structural Adjustment Programs) the gates of hitherto closed (or mixed) economies were thrown open and capital invaded all over the globe like a triumphant hero reclaiming its territory. It wasn’t merely the spread of capitalism but through institutions of IMF, WB, GATT, integrated capital markets, through credit rating agencies, now Global Capital acted as a Global State.
Saying that States of individual countries act as a satellite to this Global state could be overstatement but is true with certain qualifications. Along with restructuring of economy, the political framework in individual countries significantly changed reflecting (and also influencing) the process of more and more spheres of production, distribution and consumption coming under the hegemony of capitalist forces. This was more so for countries like India where before 1991 as compared to other Asian, African or Latin American countries, pre-existed a strong capitalist class that had gained strong foothold and thrived under the State Intervention Model of mixed economy. Indian economy that saw ebbs and flows in 1990s flourished in 2000s to become second fastest growing economy and it further expedited the political transformation of the country. Thus a strong indigenous capitalist class and significant penetration of international capital has profoundly influenced Indian State carrying out its qualitative transformation.
One of the key implications of it has been redefining the role of State, its function and assessment of its performance. Keynesianism attributed a role to the State of infusing public investment to stimulate capitalist development. Through public investment, building of large projects it was supposed to overcome the demand constraints inherent in capitalist economy. Neo-liberalism on the other hand completely abhors any such thing and excludes State from productive sphere. This has significant impact on what can be termed as the ‘welfare’ of the society or its development. These are largely dependent on the sphere of production, distribution and consumption.
The exclusion or retreat of State from productive sphere has put the whole process of (capitalist) development completely at the mercy of private capital. Higher the investment of private capital into the economy, more the development is the mantra. The State is reduced to one that creates conducive environment for influx of (private) capital that in turn carries out development, creates jobs, enhances living standard of masses. Compare this with welfare state that carried out welfare of masses through distributive policies. Now welfare is no more direct function of the State, it is merely a facilitator. An editorial in Economic Times articulated it as “The most important anti-poverty measures do not target poverty directly. They focus on boosting investment and growth.”
Penetration of private capital in more and more sectors of economy and subsequent capitalist development in 2000s reinforced this logic treating State as facilitator of investment. And this facilitation of investment too follows the principles of market. How far a country receives private capital is now based on how smartly its leadership ‘markets’ it to entice investors. Thus political leadership turned into Salesman. They need to go around the globe escorted by senior babus and media persons to woo investors. And they won’t be alone there but would need to compete hard with heads of other polities. Almost each and every aspect of State functioning and its political leadership is now being assessed on this particular criteria.
Many self-proclaimed economic experts, bourgeois intellectuals and capitalist media time and again reiterate this neo-liberal logic. The leadership that boosted investment is presented to masses as ‘Vikas Purush’ (Development Man). So overwhelming has been the ideological hegemony of this neo-liberal theory equating progress of a nation to capitalist development through facilitation of private capital investment that soon it became “common-sense” as in Gramscian sense. I would like to cite couple of examples to emphasize the point. Both of them are related to newly formed states of Telangana and (reshaped) Andhra-Pradesh. On 22nd June 2014, a high powered CII delegation met with Chandrababu Naide to discuss “Economic Growth Agenda for Andhra Pradesh” and ‘development strategy’ for the new State. The Chief Minister invited them to encourage investments in the State and expressed the support to new industries willing to setup projects.
As per another news item, Chandrababu Naide and KCR, Chief Minster of Telangana woo Hero MotoCorp to rev up investments. “After struggling to get investors for years due to bifurcation imbroglio, the Telengana and the residuary AP governments are fiercely competing with each other to woo an automobile major to set up shop in their respective states”. These examples are still more important as they indicate zealous beginning of newly formed states.
This has had the tremendous effect on the democratic framework on the country. For a country like India where growth rate hovering at around 4% in earlier decades crossed 9% in 2000s, the process of capitalist development encompassed a cross section of the society. It affected all classes – capitalist class scaled Himalayan peaks of prosperity while farmers committed suicide, tribals were displaced; a section of middle class got pieces of cakes while few others got just crumbs off the table. It in turn conditioned their interaction with the democratic process.
More political say was granted to a section of middle class that had experienced class mobility and was at the center of stimulation of consumption led growth. On the other hand displacement of tribals, looting of their means of livelihoods was seen as an inevitable price of the development. While crocodile tears were shed for farmers committing suicides, these were insensitively attributed to their drunkenness or habits of overspending on their daughter’s marriages or may be on oppressive money lenders with allegiance to local politicians, but not to severe agrarian crisis caused by neo-liberal policies. It must be noted that sections like tribal, subsistence farmers historically lacked political voice in the democratic process and in the country poised to become superpower fueled by private capital their death agonies were easily shrugged off without much political or social clamor. Similar manifestations could be seen along caste lines as well.
In Maharashtra a section of Maratha caste thrived as result of capitalist development with active support or patronage from Congress and notably Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leadership. Those owning lands in and around cities rode on real estate boom by venturing into construction businesses or profiteering from speculative land transactions while others set up educational institutions or agro businesses and their political ties only made all this easier to attain. A grand example of this is much touted Maragarpatta Township development. Those who prospered hailed mainly from the dominant 96 kuli Maratha sub-caste though marginal gains passed on to others as well. At the same time, larger section of Marathas notably Kunabis (lower sub-caste) were pushed into destitution and poverty by the agrarian crisis. In urban areas too commercialization of education, healthcare deeply impacted working masses including those from Maratha castes.
However as dominant section of Marathas had inextricably hinged itself to the process of capitalist development, it mobilized under leadership of Sharad Pawar, an ardent champion of neo-liberal cause and engineered a struggle for reservation quota citing social and economical backwardness of their caste brothers. In Maharashtra, Marathas constitutes 32% of the population and demand of caste reservation had major influence on overall democratic process. Among Dalits as well bourgeois intellectuals like Narendra Jadhav or rise of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI) influences how Dalits perceive neo-liberal capitalist growth story and respond to it on democratic arena. Relative weakness of left forces or their failure to respond to such transformation only accentuated it. Those who opposed it were easily termed as anti-development or worse as agents of foreign forces that didn’t want to see India growing. Thus dominant ideological hegemony of neoliberalism strongly influenced democratic and political framework.
Global capitalist crisis and Political upheavals
Though with a lag the global capitalist crisis hit India hard from 2011 throwing its economy in turmoil. Economy imploded sharply bringing down GDP growth rate from 9% to below 5%. In 2000s when Indian economy grew at remarkable pace, things appeared hunky dory and UPA-I government was lauded for its achievements. But no more. The process of transformation in Indian polity reached its qualitative stage visibly manifesting and strongly asserting itself on the political stage. Political responses of various classes and castes in Indian society to the economic crisis that in turn implied retardation of capitalist development if looked in isolation might appear distant because they were different but in reality were essentially either determined or influenced by the transformed democratic and political framework and the sum aggregate of these responses shaped up the political developments in this decade.
Following neo-liberal logic capitalist class attributed the crisis to the failure of State rather than to the inner contradictions of capitalism in general and Indian capitalism in particular. Relative isolation of Indian economy from global crisis in 2009 and 2010 was upheld as the evidence of the strong fundamentals of Indian economy and how it was decoupled from the global crisis. But ‘policy paralysis’ and ‘governance deficit’ of UPA-II had failed an economy that was capable of achieving double digit growth, they concluded. The process of capital accumulation was obstructed and dream run of a decade of capitalist accumulation had come to end. Capitalist class leans heavily on State in times of economic crisis and wants it to serve in its interest by recklessly carrying out its agenda. It gets extremely agitated if State fails to do so. It increasingly became clearer that Congress could not push forward neo-liberal agenda and capitalist class looked for alternatives.
Narendra Modi was the most fitting candidate with proven record in Gujarat and was the obvious choice. Subsequently capitalist class mobilized all the resources at its disposal to vehemently attack the State and its political leadership. It booed its once blue-eyed boy Manmohan Singh as ‘Underachiever’ while industry tycoons like Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani openly certified Modi as the most capable of leading the country. Economic crisis greatly disillusioned neo-middle class that had closely associated itself with Indian superpower dream. Consumerist boom had turned them into customers and they looked at delivery of public or government services as commodities. They greatly despised inefficient public services and favored their privatization. Along with capitalist class, they too had experienced the dream run for a decade and hence were agitated by the economic crisis as things began falling apart.
Companies stopped recruiting fresh graduate students. In fact over past couple of years, even students from the top engineering colleges in major cities were not placed indicating the severity of the crisis. This class looked upon capitalist as the hero and architect of the prosperity and State merely as facilitator. It readily bought into the verdict declared by capitalist class against UPA and in favor of Modi and acted as foot soldiers in the war against the failed State. In fact the period after 2010 could only be termed as an era of great political discontent. In 2013 when BJP nominated Modi as PM candidate at Goa brushing aside opposition of a section of the party led by its most veteran leader, patriarch figure L K Advani, it was only prudently responding to Modi mania that was already set into action and had gained huge appeal. Rise of Aam Adami Party too is closely associated with the transformed democratic framework and larger political weightage granted to middle class.
How did working class politically respond to the crisis? Though the prosperity created by a decade of capitalist boom never trickled down to it, it was still among the first and worst victim of the economic crisis. Working class had to undergo severe repression at workplaces and in response there was sudden spike in industrial workers’ agitations, strikes and struggles over past few years. Right from heroic struggle of young workers at Maruti’s Manesar plant to Hero workers at Gurgaon to Bajaj workers at Pune, industrial proletariat raised the flag of protest against workplace repression that stepped up in the aftermath of recession. However in transformed democratic framework the class had already lost its political voice and their struggles in the absence of any mass support soon waned down.
As per statistics, in Maharashtra alone five thousand small scale industries were closed making lakhs of workers unemployed. Inflation has been at record high for past several years. While bourgeoisie and upper middle class was discontent with previous government for it having failed to push forward neo-liberal agenda, the masses too were deeply disenchanted with it but for different reason as rising prices and unemployment. Left forces failed to offer any alternative explanation or perspective to this class and in the absence of its very own organic intellectuals, a large section of the working class turned orphan and succumbed to the ideological hegemony of the neo-liberalism.
BJP and capitalist class exploited the disenchantment of masses showcasing ’Gujarat model of development’ as panacea with extraordinary grandeur spending billions through media. The aspirations of masses for real jobs, for livable conditions were definitely the factor that brought down UPA government. Modi’s development model promised to do away with corruption, generate jobs, bring down inflation and in a well crafted move projecting Modi as ‘Chaiwala’ struck chord with many among toiling masses as well. In fact tag line of the campaign ‘Acche din aayenge’ acknowledged tough times that masses have been going through and marketed illusion of good times to follow.
Commenting on Modi’s victory, few among left point out at excessive use of money power, communal polarization (like in UP following Muzzafaranagar riots), use of OBC card by Modi and other similar factors. These factors did play a role as they would always. They used money power to buy out opposition candidates or opportunist leaders defected to BJP in the last minute. That is true however it was more than just usual horse trading.
For example in Maharashtra Vijaykumar Gaveet, senior leader and minister of NCP left the party in March and his young daughter Heena Gaveet contested on BJP ticket securing a victory in Nandurbar constituency. The adivasi constituency has been loyal to Congress for decades and veteran leader Manikrao Gaveet represented it for 9 consecutive terms. BJP hardly had any base here and it is clear that BJP could gain victory only by buying out Vijaykumar Gaveet. But was it just opportunism and money power? No, by end of 2013 itself, the stage was set for the defeat of UPA and victory of Modi and opportunists merely reacted to it as they always do. On communal polarization, it is true that BJP used the weapon in cases like Muzzafaranagar riots or Praveen Togadia’s vandalism in Gujarat and it has had effect in certain constituencies but it was marginal on national scale and communal polarization not a decisive rallying point of Modi’s election campaign. In fact he conspicuously avoided Hindutva overtures and instead focused on development agenda.
UPA has been in power for 10 years straight and Modi capitalized on anti-incumbency, few argue. Yeah, but general anti-incumbency would not explain the scale of Congress’s defeat or debacle of Mayawati or pathetic performance of Mulayam Singh and absolute majority gained by BJP, bonanza results of weaker Shiv Sena and other allies. The factors mentioned above like use of money power, communal polarization, anti-incumbency were incidental and they have their own significance. Point is not to undermine them but they in themselves fail to present the real picture. Modi’s victory could be grasped only on larger historical scale of qualitative transformation in democratic political framework and play of class forces in UPA-II regime following economic crisis. Maneuvers of various political parties in this period too could also be better understood in this context.
For example, NCP over past two years or so has been continuously expressing its discontent with Congress, its ruling ally in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar met Narendra Modi before elections giving rise to speculation of NCP severing its ties with Congress and joining BJP. Many commentators saw it as either opportunism or tactics to pressurize Congress to bargain for higher number of seats and considering shrewdness of Pawar there is element of truth. At the same time, NCP consistently and openly expressing its frustration with ‘policy paralysis’ of chief minister ‘Praithviraj Chauhan’ is representative of the frustration of petty-bourgeoisie and a section of bourgeoisie that NCP represents. Sharad Pawar has been perhaps the strongest champion of neo-liberal cause in Maharashtra and apart from his obvious business interests in real estate in Maharashtra, various educational empires, agro businesses; his close ties with leading industrialists in the State along with his close association with Cricket industry are too well known. Thus political maneuvers of NCP are not just political opportunism by reactions of class interests it represents. Chandrabubu Naidu’s alliance with BJP and subsequent victory too has class forces behind it. Telangana movement greatly outraged a section of AP capitalists with massive investment into Hyderabad and Chandrababu apty represented them. His association with Narendra Modi was only obvious choice.
Analyzing Modi’s victory as the culmination of neo-liberal hegemony on the democratic framework of the country and the play of class forces within it is key not only in responding to the newly developed situation but also to develop the perspective of the coming period. In the absence of such analysis we could see confused, bewildered or defensive responses among left to Modi’s victory. Few attempt to belittle his victory by pointing out mere 31% share of votes BJP received without realizing such statistics never represent the real picture. We must admit it was a huge victory wherein BJP literally swept through in most of the states wherever it had sizable numbers. Few others argue it as a rightward shift in Indian polity which is not true. Modi’s thumping victory is along side the abysmal performance of Left parties. Left miserably failed to stop the victory march of Modi. CPI, CPM as usual attempted toying the idea of ‘Third Front’ so as ‘to stop communal forces from coming to power’. In a desperate bid it even supported AAP despite Kejariwal’s pro-capitalist stance. But all that has failed. Capitalist media has been quick in attempting to push left forces to the sphere of irrelevance and that is very much expected. But how left is reacting to it? Here by Left I don’t just mean CPI, CPM but various left forces across the nation. Obviously Left is ideologically not so weak to capitulate to such propaganda and treat itself as irrelevant. However in the absence of correct analysis of Modi’s victory and perspectives for the coming period we could loose the confidence in aggressively pushing forward the class struggle. In fact one could see few on left greatly disillusioned and dejected with such massive victory of Modi and unsure of how to deal with it.
Class implications of furthering neo-liberal agenda
Developing such perspective requires us to project how things could develop from here and how that impacts class and caste contradictions built into it. BJP is a right wing force both as capitalist and as Hindu nationalist party. Let us try to project how it would go about implementing on both of these agendas.
Modi has a clear neo-liberal agenda set forth by capitalist class. How he delivers on this agenda is going to set the tone of assessment of the new regime by capitalist media. One could have a glimpse of it in the way media reacted to Union budget presented by Jaitley. At the same time, State though an instrument of oppression of the working class is not independent of the question of legitimacy. It needs to gain legitimacy for its actions from the very class it exploits. In bourgeoisie liberal democracy the institutions of parliament, exercising universal franchise through elections acquire significance from this perspective. As stated above, the working class is reeling heavily under effects of recession and skyrocketing inflation and the promise of ‘Achhe din’ presented by Modi’s grand campaign made the class voted in his favor. The agent of capitalist class dawned upon them as the messiah of working class. But how long? That’s the real contradiction.
Will he be able to push forward capitalist development that could bring super profits to the capital investment and at the same time stimulate real economy creating more jobs, bringing down inflation and offering better livable conditions? Though under capitalism, capitalist class thrives by exploiting working class and their class interests are inherently antagonistic, it does not preclude such periods of capitalist growth that see super profitability of capital along side the economic mobility of a section of the society and few crumbs off the table for others while majority is left destitute and such period do create an illusion of growth. Such was the period in 2000s. Will Modi be able to orchestrate such another phase of development?
For past 4 years bourgeois media launched savage attacks on UPA govt for its ‘policy paralysis’ and ‘governance deficit’ and on this account they could definitely expect better performance from NDA. Modi has given all the indications of relying heavily on bureaucrats and with firm command over administrative apparatus he could make government machinery run faster. That would surely help clear investment proposal faster. Considering dire situation of Indian economy at present this in itself could bring some cheers to disgruntled bourgeoisie. Investors could be looking to grab assets at cheaper rates in this period of economic slump e.g. proposals to acquire land though they may not actually start projects. Mere grab of resources could be enticing enough to attract capital.
Another factor is speculative capital flows from capital markets of developed countries still battling with global recession. Earlier, carry trade of dollar following massive injection of liquidity in 2009 by Fed staged rally at Indian share markets creating an illusion of its economy having recovered faster. Now speculative capital is flowing from Europe soaring up share market index higher. Soon Japan’s cheap money might be flooding into Indian capital markets. These things put together could help Indian economy fare better – though for a period only.
Unless there is any improvement in global scenario, such measures would not be adequate to boost the economy and stimulate further capitalist growth. The country is still largely exposed to BoP (Balance of Payment) crisis and any unforeseen developments could (such as reversal of capital flows) threaten the economy. The GDP growth rally in past decade was concurrent with similar rally in global economy and it had considerably stimulated stagnant Indian economy with sectors like IT, real estate growing at promising rates. In cities service sector created new jobs with IT sector in particular creating many high-paid jobs offering a kind of ‘never-before’ opportunity to engineering graduates. Sectors like real estate thrived with injection of speculative capital and flourished in and around urban centers. Higher incomes of a section of society, lower interest rates could see quick sales of flats, apartments. Things are far different today. While IT sector has returned to profitability, it is still far from creating jobs as it did earlier decade. Real Estate too has already built massive overcapacity with millions of newly built houses lying vacant. Any improvement in economy might ease out pressure on real estate but may not be enough to sustain its growth. It is quite a different thing for share market sensex to bounce back and for real economy to grow.
Capitalist class is aware of these facts and is continuously pressing for big ticket reforms. It is only by aggressively implementing neo-liberal agenda carrying out major reforms that capitalist class could expect things to improve. So all it requires for government is to further open up more sectors to private capital, isn’t it? Not really. Manmohan Singh government opened up retail to FDI. So did it attract lot of investment? So far it has not. It would need government to actively create conditions that could assure super-profitability to the investment.
Then what’s a big deal? Let us take an example. Utilities i.e. water, electricity, gas is a major sector of economy that is still not fully dominated by private capital. The sector offers massive, truly massive avenue of investment; investment that could turn into billions of profits. Power sector already has dominant presence of Adani Power, Ambani power and they are more than keen to spread their wings by pumping in more capital. However all it requires government to do is to ensure utilities costs are kept higher and higher. And that’s a big deal indeed! It means State will have slap stead utility price hikes on working class making them shell out more and more money. Yet another example could be infrastructure sector like Transport where more and more projects could be carried out on PPP (Private, Public Partnership) basis and citizens would be turned into consumers required to pay massive charges for its usage. Implementing other reforms such as ‘easier labour laws’ too is not an easy affair.
As mentioned earlier, masses were in the state of despair and deeply disenchanted with rising unemployment, sky rocketing inflation and overall deterioration of living conditions and voted Modi in anticipation of betterment. Very nature of neo-liberal agenda at this stage requires State to launch savage attacks on working class and thus exposes Modi to the risk of exposing his class face as an agent of the capitalist class. It’s a tough situation that any State would like to avoid. Unfortunately it can’t. As a matter of fact, both capitalist class and working class are in desperate situation and their agenda is deeply antagonistic. Objective situation has left hardly any room for their reconciliation. This is the real contradiction that is going to chart out coming period.
So are we headed towards an era of intense class struggle? Let us be clear about it. Current situation does not leave any room for the State to carry out neo-liberal agenda without savagely attacking working class. Antagonistic nature of working and capitalist class interests would become even more apparent. That is the very objective reality. However that in itself will not determine the way ahead. Lot depends on how subjective factors play out.
Caste implications of implementing Hindutva agenda
With BJP gaining absolute majority RSS realizes this is a lifetime opportunity and is all prepared to seize the moment. RSS that appeared humbled in last decade is all rejuvenated and successfully mobilized all its strength to ensure landslide victory. Its cadres are charged and host of splinter groups under its umbrella are spread across the nation. Even before elections, like an octopus its tentacles penetrated into State apparatus; into police, military, RAW. Under various names, Hindu extremists run armed groups and have successfully demonstrated their muscle power on multiple occasions. All this is very dangerous indeed and the period of economic crisis provides fertile ground for it. RSS equates Indian nationalism to Hindu nationalism and over past century has tacitly infused this notion in masses. For many, hatred for Pakistan is an integral part of patriotism irrespective of their political affiliations. And even though majority of Hindus are not communal, the notion of they being ‘natural’ citizens of this country unlike Muslims is too common. RSS and its umbrella organizations have the ability to flare up communal hatred and carry out communal polarization of the society. Such periods see even Bahujan sections of society mobilizing under Hindutva flag.
Having said it, caste contradictions in Indian society are too sharp to be reconciled. The crux of Hindutva is Brahminism. As long as caste persists, Hindutva forces can not be wiped out. At the same time, it is very core of Brahminism that imposes limits on how far it could spread. Thanks to the rich legacy of caste eradication movement led by Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar and others, there is significant non-Brahminist consciousness in Bajujan masses and replacing this cultural multilateralism with hegemony of monolithic Brahminical values has its limits. Its orthodox agenda of Go-Rakshan (cow-protection), Ram-Mandir while still retains some appeal; an attempt to mobilize mass support among Hindus for the agenda has not borne fruits. Perhaps RSS too has learnt lessons and while retaining its orthodox Brahminical core intact, it has over past few decades co-adopted Bahujan symbols to widen its base and to an extent it has succeeded. It must be extremely disgusting for Brahminical core of RSS to even think of uttering Ambedkar’s name; still out of political compulsion BJP has to pay respect to him and it does.
By such tactics it has even penetrated among Dalit castes or Adivasis and through it, RSS attempts to bring these castes under Brahminical hegemony. However it must be borne in mind that though it has spread through such marginalized sections, it lacks any organic link with them as they do among upper caste Brahmin-Baniyas. For example, in Maharashtra Maratha and Mahar are large caste populations and anti-Brahaminism among them is strong. Though this non-Brahminism isn’t essentially progressive, it does not identify itself with RSS’s Brahminism. Today BJP is in power then that is neither due to its own nor that of RSS’s strength.
In fact one of the key factors in Modi’s victory has been kind of social engineering where along with its proven vote base among upper castes, it gained wide support among OBCs and Dalits. In Maharashtra it forged alliance with RPI(A) faction led by Ramdas Athavale to dig into Dalit vote bank while in Bihar it was Ramvilas Paswan. Though opportunists, these Dalit leaders could not continue their alliance if BJP goes about implementing RSS agenda. And that way, Modi’s victory could not be termed as ‘rightward shift’ among masses. Brahminism inherent in RSS agenda puts it in perpetual conflict with irreconcilable and antagonistic caste contradictions in the Indian society.
The threat of Fascism
How successfully State manages to implement anti-working class neo-liberal agenda is largely determined by how effectively it manages to garner legitimacy for it. As I’ve argued at length in another article, failure of Congress to push forward the neo-liberal reforms was not because of any lack of commitment on its part or ‘policy paralysis’ but it was failure to conjure up kind of politics that could get legitimacy to do so. And this is where BJP in general and Modi in particular have advantage. Be it fascism of Hitler in crisis ridden Germany in 1930s or Margaret Thatcher waging folkland war, right wing forces have often resorted to chauvinist, nationalist agenda to get legitimacy for anti-working class policies. Hindu nationalism of BJP/RSS has similar potential. It has a long heritage and extensive experience in conjuring up chauvinist politics. Such chauvinist politics is absolutely indispensible in these times.
Centralization of power is going to be one of the key weapons of Modi in dealing with the situation. His landslide victory and desperate economic situation would further facilitate such phenomenon. This has been evident from day one. Appointment of Amit Shah as party president allegedly defying few of RSS stalwarts’ opposition reiterated his ability to dictate things and get them done his way. More serious is however subjugation of the institutions of democracy and arms of the State to the central authority of Prime Minister. The matter of segregating Gopal Subramaniam from the list recommended by SC collegium is prelude to the coming period.
While it is too early to comment, at this point looks like Modi is going little slow and avoiding big bang approach on many aspects including neo-liberal reforms. His budget was that way disappointing for the market. It is not difficult to see he is tacitly consolidating his position by concentrating more power and placing his trustworthy henchmen at right places before unleashing his real agenda. And he could go to any extent to get them there. A case of government introducing a bill in Loksabha to legalize appointment of Nripendra Misra speaks for itself. Appointment of Prof. Y Sudershan Rao as the Chairperson of ICHR (Indian Council for Historical Research) is another example of such a strategy adopted by Modi.
Does it mean we are headed towards fascist regime? Fascism appeared at a very specific historical stage under specific domestic and global conditions. Things are qualitatively different now. Obviously many realize it and use the term more in rhetorical sense than actual. But rather than plainly terming so, more important is to reveal the nature, nuances and the content of the ‘fascism’ so as to combat it. While certain Hindu fanatic groups are all prepared to go full throttle and unleash a rein of terror, it is not given that Modi government would allow them to go on rampage. Likely not. Any state-sponsored mass carnage like that of Godhra would attract severe criticism not just from within country but even internationally.
At this stage, clearly Modi’s priority is to stimulate capitalist growth and giving free hand to extremists could obstruct it. Doesn’t mean Hindu-nationalist agenda would take back stage but that it would be tuned to and aligned with the agenda of furthering the neo-liberal growth. For example, government could successfully arrest the most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim whipping up jingoism and next day raise petroleum prices to even Rs. 100 and that may work. But this is different from carrying out carnage of Muslim like in Godhra to teach them a lesson. Similarly repression of left forces is most likely to step up but it would be naïve to believe it wasn’t there in earlier UPA era. Even in ‘progressive’ Maharashtra numerous activists, students were suppressed for their alleged involvement in Naxalite movement.
Tasks of Left Forces
Point is not to completely rule out the possibility of the situation developing into fascism; it might happen. It probably qualifies a debate weather further worsening of economic crisis would pave the way for fascism where in desperate bourgeoisie requires fascist regime as the ultimate resort of further capitalist agenda or Modi successfully staging spectacular growth and from that vantage point carrying out mass suppression of Muslims, Left and progressive forces. Without going into the debate, yes fascism is a possibility. While the fear of many within Left about such a fascist force is not totally unfounded, the fear is such a fear could blind us of the class and caste contradictions that could further sharpen in the coming period and offer potentials of reclaiming the ground for left forces. In fact specter of fascism could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let us compare it with erroneous strategies adopted by CPI, CPM to stop communal forces. Time and again they postponed the task of raising the banner of an independent Left alternative as an Alternative to the capitalist and communal parties and instead supported Congress at some point, aligned with Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik at other and in recent elections backed AAP; all this to stop communal forces. Unfortunately such strategies greatly weakened Left and in turn facilitated ascent of communal forces to power.
Analysis of objective situation indicates the severity of capitalist crisis. It is not going to be an easy deal for Modi to revive Indian economy to pre-crisis level when growth rates for consecutive years hovered above 8%. Implementing neo-liberal agenda is going to sharpen the class contradictions by bringing it in acute conflict with antagonistic working class interests. We must see these class contradictions developing and act to offer political alternative to the working class. The victory of Modi is closely related to the failure of left forces in offering political voice to the working class reeling under the economic crisis, unemployment and sky-rocketing inflation. One has an option of believing in theory but not practicing it. Marxists don’t have that option. We can’t simply believe in the theory of class struggle but in practice overlook its potentials when they are actually developing. Unfortunately many on the left don’t see it and as they don’t see it they don’t act on it. In the coming period, State will have to mount attacks on working class in terms of fuel price hikes, higher utility prices, deterioration of work conditions, further escalation of inflation and despite all of this, the capitalist development may not reach to a stage of harboring an illusion of growth. Eventually it will as on the global arena in the absence of strong Left forces capitalism may survive this crisis but only after a protracted period of slump or at the best anemic recovery. Few on the left argue that considering the retreat of left forces, lack of mass support we should focus on discreetly building the mass support in long term. While there is no second opinion about building for long term, we must see the space that is already open and could further expand in short term of next few years. We can’t build on long term by missing on significant struggles that could build up in short term.
Obviously it is easier said than done and we must account for the qualitative transformation of the political framework. On the eve of elections we vehemently argued about the hollowness of Gujarat model of development and its darker side. Many on the left even uttered the fear of fascism equating Modi with Hitler but all this didn’t help. And it didn’t help because by that time the political responses of various classes and castes were already conditioned. We didn’t intervene strongly while these transformations were taking place and hence however our desperate attempts at its peak only turned futile.
Challenging this hegemony of neoliberalism on the democratic framework while certainly is a long term task it could only begin by our interventions in the short term. As such we intervene all the times taking out protest marches or organizing rallies. We need to continue doing so but from a different standpoint. These interventions must be of counter-hegemonic nature attacking the capitalist institutions, forces and at the same time offering alternate perspective of development, growth by juxtaposing prevalent model with the socialist model of development. In practice this could be best achieved by putting forward transitional demands.
Various left organization have protested the deregulation of petroleum production and subsequent fuel price hikes. Often these protests took the form of protests against increasing inflation caused by fuel price hikes. Well, that is definitely a starting point but we must go further and question the very ownership of natural resources in the hands of private capital. We definitely do so in our scholarly articles and polemics but hesitate to build mass movements around these issues. We hesitate to demand the nationalization of petroleum industry by taking over private petroleum companies including that of Reliance, Essar. One could easily draw wrong conclusions from the victory of BJP and debacle of Left and further hesitate to raise the transitional demands such as nationalization. Our interventions unless they offer transitional program of restructuring could at the most draw sympathy of working class but would fail to raise their consciousness and mobilize their support.
We must counter policies of SEZ aimed at the development of industrialists but not the industry by demanding setting up such industrial zones where workers would be provided with houses to live, public hospitals to take care of sick and public schools, colleges to educate their children. Our program would elaborate on why it is not just a day dream but could be achieved even if tiny share of profit is invested for the purpose. We should participate in civic elections of cities and present the alternate agenda of how the city could be reorganized along the lines of a strong public transportation system, higher taxes on wasteful consumption of resources like water, higher taxes on cars and cross subsidizing the amount to ensure cheaper public transportation, supply of clean drinking water and so on.