Kavita Krishnan has become a well-known international spokesperson for the movement against sexual violence in India that grew after a horrific, internationally-publicised, gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012.
She is the national secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association and a leader of the Communist Party of India―Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) Liberation. The party won more than 1 million votes, but failed to win any seats in the elections in India. The right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, won in a landslide.
Krishnan will soon embark on a speaking tour of Australia. She will also be one of several international guest speakers at the Socialist Alliance 10th national conference in Sydney, June 7-9 where she will present a keynote speech on “Capitalism, Misogyny and Sexual Violence”. You can find details of the conference and national tour at www.socialist-alliance.org.
Green Left Weekly's Peter Boyle spoke with Krishnan about the elections.
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You spent a lot of time criss-crossing India during the election campaign. Were there any particular experiences you had in the course of this that might explain the Narendra Modi landslide?
Modi's campaign drew upon people's sense of anger against the corruption, price rises and unemployment that had been the hallmarks of a decade of rule by the Congress-led coalition. He promised to bring in “good times” and “development”.
His campaign also involved deliberate “dog-whistle” signals intended to sow hatred against the Muslim minorities. This aimed to craft a Hindu consolidation of votes in his favour, over and above castes.
Modi's model of governance in the state of Gujarat ― where he has been Chief Minister since 2001 ― is marked by his personality cult, authoritarianism, stifling and even the physical elimination of dissent through custodial killings disguised as “encounter” killings of “terrorists intending to kill Modi”.
It has also included the abuse of the state machinery to conduct illegal surveillance on a woman and the state-sponsored massacre of thousands of Muslim minorities.
Immediately after the elections, there have been reports of BJP supporters “celebrating” the victory by vandalising mosques and terrorising Muslims.
The corporate houses that lavishly funded the Modi campaign will now look for quick paybacks. They'll seek greater control over the country’s natural and financial resources, as they have enjoyed in Modi’s Gujarat.
But it is important to resist the attempts by communal and corporate forces to interpret Modi's victory as an endorsement and legitimisation of their agenda.
Most of those who voted for Modi did so expecting a solution to their dire economic problems and transparent, accountable governance ― hopes and aspirations that are at odds with the communal and corporate agenda.
Most of the international media is going on about what a great democracy India is, but to what extent are the poor and oppressed effectively excluded from participation in elections? Can you give us a few examples?
Eighty-two per cent of those elected to parliament have assets of more than 10 million rupees (about $185,000). Out of 542 MPs, 131 listed assets of more than 100 million rupees.
The huge amount of money spent in campaigning and advertising is a deterrent to poor candidates. There is a direct correlation between money spent and coverage in the print and electronic media.
Apart from this, there are also many attempts to intimidate poor voters, especially those from the oppressed caste, to prevent them exercising their franchise.
In Koderma constituency for example ― where my party's candidate Raj Kumar Yadav came second to the BJP's state unit president Ravindra Kumar Rai ― dalit [the so-called “untouchables” caste] voters were attacked to prevent them voting for the CPI-ML.
What discussions have the elections prompted among the Indian left about perspectives? Are we likely to see significant re-alignments or change in directions in the left?
The Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist attempts at winning seats and intervening in national politics through the “third front” route have reached a dead end. Many of the parties they sought to include in the “secular third front” instead chose to keep the doors open for a possible alignment with the Modi government.
The conventional script of a left revival in West Bengal, banking on the Congress-Trinamool Congress (TMC) split and the assumption that a rising BJP would eat into the TMC vote, has not come good. The Left Front lost sizable chunks of votes to both TMC and even the BJP.
Whether this will prompt a correction in course in the CPI and CPI-M, admitting that their decline has to do with their embrace of neoliberal policies like corporate land grabs, and their cosying up to the Congress, remains to be seen.
The CPI-ML are also faced with the challenge of raising our electoral presence by expanding our pockets of work and influence and backing them up with more vigorous intervention in the wider democratic arena.
Is there an “age” factor in the election results? Is there any particular pattern with the younger voters? And were youth active in campaigning?
In many instances, youth have voted independently of their traditional caste loyalties. Modi has been a significant beneficiary of the youth vote. This is because youth were most exposed to his aggressive campaign through the corporate media.
But another reason for this could be the fact that young voters have probably never seen a majority government in India, only minority governments dependent on the whims of regional coalition partners. So Modi's appeal for a stable majority government struck a chord with them. They wanted to elect a government strong enough to have no excuse not to act.
But youth have also been a significant segment in the active support base of other parties ― including the CPI-ML and the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ― “Common Man Party” ― formed in 2012 by ant-corruption movement activists.
So what happens now?
There was such a lot of anger against the Congress regime ― even among the very poor and young ― and Modi promised them the moon. The real challenge is to expose his real agenda to them, and mobilise these layers in support of their own demands, which the government is more or less sure to disappoint, eventually.