A POLITICAL earthquake has rocked south Asia following India’s general election. Millions of workers, the dispossessed and rural poor decisively rejected the ‘neo-liberal’ policies of the ruling Hindu nationalist coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The BJP and its allies (who, historically, have practised a virulent form of Hindu chauvinism combined with a Thatcherite economic programme which has enriched India’s urban elite but impoverished millions), was swept from power. Allies of the BJP like Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, an advocate of neo-liberalism and globalisation, was dumped from office.
The ‘boom’ in India has by-passed the workers and rural poor. According to the United Nations, 35% live on less than a dollar a day. In Bihar, the poorest state in India, only one household in ten have electricity. Less than 5% have access to a telephone. One child in five receives no education.
THE MAIN beneficiaries of the collapse in support for the government parties was the opposition Congress and also the Left Front parties, who in Kerala state won almost every seat.
The victorious Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi is now forming a minority government with the support of smaller parties. The ‘business-friendly’ Communist Party of India (CPI-M), which with its 43 seats is the largest left-wing party in the four party Left Front bloc, has finally decided not to join the government but to ‘support it from the outside’. This position emerged only after sharp divisions within its leadership.
Nonetheless, India’s capitalists showed their disdain both for the electorate and their fear of the CPI-M blocking further privatisations of state assets by pulling their money out of the country’s stock markets. Foreign capitalists also pulled the plug on their investments, selling an eighth of their stock holdings. The most heavily affected stocks were those of state enterprises next in line to be privatised. This led to near riots by middle class shareholders outside Mumbai’s stock exchange.
However, the decision of Sonia Gandhi to turn down the position of Prime Minister has coincided with a sharp rise in share prices.
Congress, the unexpected winners of the election, is generally committed to continuing the economic programme of the former BJP-led government. This was reiterated by Congress leader Manmohan Singh who said: “We believe that profit-making enterprises… should be given all possible opportunities to grow.” Adding, “We welcome foreign direct investment.”
Moreover, the track record of the CPI-M especially in West Bengal, which it has ruled for 24 years, shows that it will support the interests of big business and foreign multinational companies. For example, in the free trade economic zones, established to attract multinationals, the West Bengal Left Front government has introduced no-strike agreements.
Even at this early stage in the new administration very little is likely to change for the better as far as India’s majority are concerned. Their verdict on the BJPs capitalist policies is likely to be ignored by Congress and its ‘left’ allies.
Continued capitalist globalisation and new attacks from the state, including privatisations, will lead to new struggles. The Indian working class has not silently accepted capitalist globalisation. 50 million workers participated in one-day general strikes, in May last year and on 24 February 2004.
There is a crying need for a genuine socialist party to give an alternative to the impoverished masses who are being crushed by neo-liberal policies and the drive for profits. This was the main demand raised by the New Socialist Alternative, the Indian affiliate of the Committee for a Workers’ International, during the election campaign.
From The Socialist 22 May 2004 Edition (CWI)