India: Left faces tough challenges following Modi's re-election

Issue 

The Indian left is facing tough challenges following the reelection of Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation (CPIML) said in an editorial in Liberation magazine that the election outcome had defied the groundswell of disillusionment, anger and desire for change that had been reflected in state election outcomes in traditional BJP strongholds in December.

There was an expectation that the Modi regime would be punished for its “utter betrayal” of 2014 election promises and for “its disastrous performance” on the economic front, said the CPIML, and against the regime’s “wholesale subversion of democratic institutions and principles” and “the violence, hate and lies that became [its] everyday identity”.

The Pulwama suicide bombing attack in Kashmir and the Indian airstrike on the city of Balakot in Pakistan that followed, took place on the eve of the elections. These incidents enabled the Modi regime “to launch a jingoistic narrative of teaching a lesson to Pakistan in its own territory”, said the CPIML.

“Much of the mainstream media, already reduced to a propaganda machine for the regime, went on a hyper-nationalistic overdrive.”

Rather than a reality check for a non-performing and disastrous regime, the elections therefore became “a demonstration of how much the grammar of India’s electoral politics has already changed under the Modi regime”.

The CPIML likened the Modi period to “a regime of undeclared Emergency” — a reference to the period from 1975 to 1977 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency across the country.

However, while the 1977 election resulted in a “spectacular defeat” for the authoritarian Gandhi regime and the Congress party — except in the southern states — in 2019 the Modi regime has held onto power. The CPIML attributes this to the fact that, “while the 1977 elections were held after the Emergency [was] lifted, the 2019 elections took place right in the shadow of a growing state of tyranny”.

Irregularities

The conduct of the Indian Election Commission (EC) was a “daily reminder” of this, according to the CPIML.

“The model code of conduct was torn to shreds by Modi and other senior leaders of the BJP and the EC kept supplying clean chits for every violation. Several complaints were ignored for days and weeks and ‘show cause’ notices were issued to erring leaders only after the elections were over. One of the three Electoral Commissioners had to publicly recuse himself from attending EC meetings [to] insist on his basic democratic right to have his dissent recorded.”

Serious questions have been raised about the transparency and integrity of the election process, beginning with the “dubious system” of electoral bonds, which provide a means for a person or corporation to make political donations in excess of 2000 Indian rupees — the upper limit for cash donations.

There are “growing doubts” about the reliability and accuracy of electronic voting machines and authorities refused to count paper records of votes, according to CPIML.

Above all, the CPIML said that the EC had failed “to assure the people convincingly that the elections were being held in a free, fair and impartial manner”.

Crony capitalism

In the 2014 election campaign Modi marketed himself “as a development guru”, said the CPIML. Modi promised to repatriate Indian funds held in foreign banks to avoid tax “and usher in ‘achchhe din’ (good days) by reducing prices and creating jobs”.

In the name of curbing tax avoidance, Modi unleashed his “disastrous” demonetisation policy, which “turned out to be one of India’s most ill-advised arbitrary economic decisions, wreaking havoc on the economy and destroying jobs and livelihood across the board”, said CPIML.

“Crony capitalism assumed unprecedented proportions and the Ambani brothers and the Adani group pocketed one lucrative contract after another.

State violence

The Modi government’s aggressive neoliberal policy was accompanied by acts of state violence and repression. But the people have responded with protest.

 “Agrarian distress spread deep and wide and, as BJP governments opened fire on protesting peasants, farmers’ organisations came together to forge a countrywide united platform and build a powerful agitation for debt cancellation and remunerative crop prices.

“With unemployment reaching the highest level in five decades, the jobless youth as well as insecure and ill-paid workers came out on the streets to fight for decent jobs and living wages.”

But the 2019 Modi election campaign “remained conspicuously silent” on these issues, according to the CPIML, and revolved “almost exclusively around communal hate-mongering and jingoistic hyper-nationalism”.

The BJP fielded an accused terrorist as a candidate in Bhopal. Pragya Singh Thakur, a Hindu nationalist nun, who was facing charges over a deadly 2008 mosque bombing, has since been elected. Thakur made public comments praising Nathuram Godse, the right wing Hindu nationalist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, said CPIML, more evidence of “an unashamedly hate-driven campaign”.

The CPIML regards the return of Modi with a larger vote share and increased majority as “an unprecedented challenge to the future of India’s democracy”.

During its first term, said the CPIML, the Modi regime “unleashed a systematic assault on the Constitution and the entire range of constitutional institutions and democratic principles underpinning the Indian Republic”.

“From the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] and RBI [Reserve Bank of India] to the Supreme Court and Election Commission of India, every institution has been subjected to systematic stifling of dissent and subversion of collective and democratic functioning.

“Checking this fascist reshaping of the state will be a key challenge.

“A second term for the Modi government is bound to embolden these forces no end.”

Build the grassroots opposition

The parliamentary opposition will now be under pressure to fall in line with the Modi government’s regressive policies and tyrannical measures, said the CPIML. Several opposition-led state governments are also likely to face an immediate threat of destabilisation. Right now, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are “relatively free” from BJP influence, according to the CPIML, “But we cannot certainly be oblivious to the growing penetration of BJP ideology in these states.”

“The left and other anti-fascist forces must focus on building opposition at the grassroots.”

The CPIML emphasised the need for unity, solidarity and resistance to Modi’s politics of hate in the coming period:

“The ominous spread and penetration of fascist ideology calls for a steady simultaneous focus on both uniting the people around their basic issues and rights, promoting progressive, rational thinking to take on the regressive influence of fascist ideas and developing people’s resistance to counter fascist violence.

“Minorities, marginalised communities and citizens championing progressive ideas — who have been facing systematic persecution and violence since the advent of the Modi era — need all our support and solidarity.”

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