Resisting the far right in India

July 5, 2024
Clifton D'Rozario in 2024
Clifton D'Rozario addressing the Ecosocialism 2024 conference in Boorloo/Perth on June 30. Photo: Isaac Nellist

Following India’s 2024 general elections, Green Left’s Isaac Nellist spoke with Clifton D’Rozario, a leading member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (CPIML), about the results. The CPIML, along with other left and democratic parties, ran under a broad democratic electoral front — the INDIA alliance — to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The CPIML ran four candidates as part of the alliance, winning two seats in the state of Bihar.

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Narendra Modi's BJP retained power in the 2024 general elections, despite losing its majority. What is your assessment of the results?

The BJP, the ruling party and political front of the nationalist, authoritarian Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were talking about winning 400 out of 543 seats ... so they could change the country’s constitution.

The constitution of our country is the legacy of the freedom struggle, something that has shaped the country in a very big way.

If you look at the regime over the past 10 years that they have been in power, what they have been trying all along is to alter the basic nature of the Indian state and the Indian social fabric.

From that point of view, democracy has, without a doubt, received a “shot-in-the-arm” in these elections.

The election took place over almost a month and a half [and] the kind of speeches made by Modi and other BJP leaders, engaging in Islamophobia and bigotry … [and trying] to communally polarise the entire election and the voting population [mean] the verdict has to be looked at in that context.

We also need to understand that these were the most unequal elections we have seen in a long time. The election commission of India, which controls the manner in which elections take place in this country, is extremely partisan and biased.

[There were] unprecedented attacks on the opposition parties. For example, the Chief Ministers of the State of Jharkhand and the Chief Minister of Delhi were sent to jail. These ministers were jailed under charges of corruption, the charges coming just after the elections were announced.

If you understand this context … you can see the results as an assertion of the people.

The BJP has come back to power, and there is no doubt about that, but they went from a goal of 400 seats to ending up with just 240 seats. They don’t even have a simple majority to form government on their own.

In a big way, the INDIA alliance, the coming together of opposition parties, played a very crucial role. These parties were very disparate, very different ideologically, but the understanding that democracy and the constitution were at stake was the binding force that brought them together.

This is a respite, a boost to democracy and provides a platform in parliament where there is now a credible opposition with sizable numbers that can hold the government to task.

Of course fascism does not get defeated by the ballot box, none of us are under any misconceptions about this, but the struggles we have waged over the past 10 years, the farmers struggles, the students struggles, the workers struggles, the peasant struggles and the anti-CA [Citizenship Amendment Act] struggles have paved the way to defeat the BJP to this extent.

This shows us that this is the only way forward.

Look at where the BJP lost, for instance in Uttar Pradesh, the hotbed of the farmers’ movement, but also the laboratory of the Hindutva [Hindu supremacist] movement.

There is much hope going forward.

How severe was the BJP's suppression of dissenting voices, including jailing activists and journalists?

It is not that repression or the quelling of dissent and voices of resistance is something new. It is inevitable in a battle for democracy, particularly in this kind of society where there are feudal remnants, where capitalism is starting to secure itself. But what we have seen in the past 10 years is really worrisome.

We have just come off these protests that we had on June 20 against the prosecution of writer Arundhati Roy and academic Sheikh Shaukat Hussain.

It is unimaginable how the Modi government has come to demonise, abuse and imprison opposition leaders, students, activists, academics, journalists, poets, cultural activists, young environmentalists, even stand up comedians. No one has been spared.

The use of draconian laws, the Sedition Law under the Indian penal code, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and security acts in various states has been vicious.

Thousands of people have been accused under these laws across the country. The numbers are startling.

Between 2016 and 2020, more than 24,000 people were accused in more than 5000 cases across the country, under the UAPA.

As of 2020, there were more than 6000 “under-trial” prisoners [awaiting trial] under UAPA in various jails in India... This is possibly the largest peacetime population of under-trial prisoners accused under anti-terror laws anywhere in the country.

The question of political prisoners in India is one of the most crucial questions for democracy.

How successful was the INDIA coalition? What connection does it have to the movements and what role did the CPIML play in it?

While we have seen this high level of repression in the past 10 years, we have also seen very brave assertions by the working class, peasants, farmers and students in this country. The Muslim community was at the forefront of the agitations against the communal CAA law.

Democracy was being defended on the streets. There was no question of parliament functioning properly because of how the regime was conducting itself. Members of parliament were suspended at will, the sittings of Parliament were reduced, bills were passed without allowing for discussion.

When we talk about fascism in India we talk about crony capitalism coupled with anti-Muslim rhetoric and a strong caste politics underpinning it.

A lot of the policies and laws that were brought in were to facilitate accumulation by these crony capitalists, and the farmers bore the brunt of these attacks. The other side was encoding Hindutva into law, like the CAA.

The Modi government introduced three laws that it bulldozed through the parliament, designed to hand over assets to the capitalists and place farmers at their mercy.

In response there were massive protests of farmers for over a year in Delhi and other parts of the country for the withdrawal of these laws.

More than 800 farmers lost their lives in these protests, but ultimately the Modi government had to back down and withdraw these three laws.

Similarly, there have been labour laws brought by the Modi government which seek to replace more than 44 labour laws that had been won by the working class over decades of struggle … [and] replace them with four labour codes that were pro-capital, pro-management and pro-industry.

The protests that have been happening since 2014 forced the government to not implement these laws.

In a big way, the opposition which the BJP tried to quell within parliament spilled out into the streets and the people became the opposition to the BJP.

The CPIML (Liberation) has been a central part of these protests.

We have also said there is a need for unity among the opposition parties. At our last party congress in Patna in the state of Bihar in February last year we organised an anti-fascism convention and invited the other opposition parties to attend.

Recognising the threat, almost all the opposition parties came to our congress, spoke at the forum and agreed that there is a need to come together.

This led to a series of meetings that culminated in the INDIA formation, which has played an important role in defeating the BJP.

Our party played an important role in that and has been a fighting force. In this election we contested four seats as part of the broader strategy, three in the state of Bihar and one in the state of Jharkhand. We won two seats in Bihar and in the other two seats we came second.

Two of our farmer leaders — comrade Raja Ram Singh and comrade Sudama Prasad — have been elected.

In defining the discourse and debate around the elections we have played a crucial role.

What were the key issues heading into the elections?

Two of the key issues were price rises and unemployment.

Price rises have devastated the lives of the common people in India, particularly because of the economic inequality that has grown over the past ten years.

There have been many reports that have shown that the level of economic inequality has grown to levels even worse than it was pre-independence.

That is the impact of the policies of the Modi government that have filled the coffers of a handful of capitalists at the cost of the lives of the common people.

Unemployment has reached 40 year highs.

The other key issues were democracy and the constitution.

Ten years of the BJP made it very clear that they want to implement the agenda of the RSS, and democracy and the constitution are big burdens in their project of establishing the Hindu Rashtra — a religious majoritarian state — in this country.

[The BJP] started off by saying that they wanted to make India a strong nation by 2047, but by the end of the first phase [of the election] they realised that this was not cutting through [as] people were more concerned with their day-to-day issues.

Then they shifted to a bigoted election campaign which continuously attacked the Muslim community, and at times the Christian community, and came out with outlandish statements that the INDIA alliance was going to hand over the property and wealth of Hindus to Muslims.

Meanwhile, we stuck to the basic issues of defending democracy and ensuring the constitution is not repealed. We also talked about economic inequality.

For example in Uttar Pradesh, which has had a “double-engine” BJP government in both the state and the centre, the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has implemented anti-Muslim, pro-corporate policies and devastated the farmers and the workers, and has paid the price.

He was responsible for the “Bulldozer Raj”, when bulldozers demolished thousands of houses, in particular targeting Muslim populations.

Uttar Pradesh has returned a verdict that it rejects the Bulldozer Raj, police state, Islamophobia and pro-capitalist policies.

This is the state where the BJP built the Temple of Ram, which was their trump card. They thought if they built the temple then people would vote for them. But they even lost in the very constituency where the temple was constructed.

[Reportedly], Hindus in that area are very angry with the BJP over daily issues such as price rises, unemployment and the devastation they have faced at the hands of the government.

So then, how does one explain the BJP still winning 243 seats?

That’s the challenge we face, we have reduced the power of the BJP, it has suffered telling defeats in three major states in India — though it has made up for it in some of the other states. However, they, and their communal agenda, enjoy the support of sections of society. That is the battle we need to fight on the ground in the coming days.

What opportunities are there to build resistance to the BJP?

Coming out of the election, we see that a relatively united, strengthened opposition within parliament will have a role to play.

It is easy to decry parliamentary democracy for whatever reasons, but I think that kind of phrase-mongering will not get us anywhere today.

The fact is that there is this parliament and we have seen how parliamentary democracy can be utilised to bulldoze through the kind of policies and laws that this ultranationalist party wants to implement. To that extent, at least in parliament there will be some pushback, which is essential. Not at the cost of the struggle on the streets.

It is important for the opposition parties to understand that what the BJP contemplates and talks about is an opposition-free India.

If you look at what they have done, they have decimated parties, [even] their own alliance parties … they have motivated splits in these parties and forced them to join the BJP. We have seen in Operation Kamala … where in state after state where [BJP] have lost the state elections they have mobilised to encourage MPs from Congress to leave their party and join the BJP [so that it can form government].

So it is now in the interest of those parties to stay together and ensure the BJP does not achieve the kind of political hegemony that it wants.

I think to a large extent, the coming together of the parties creates a space for that to happen.

Importantly, there are several issues that some parties want to take up that others will do so minimally or not take up at all. For instance, our party wants an aggressive push back against the heightened attacks on Muslims that have taken place after the election results came out, including the lynching to death of two Muslims in the State of Chhattisgarh [and] the bulldozing of more than thousand Muslim houses in the State of Uttar Pradesh. There are some protests but it is not enough.

We will also have to ensure the other opposition parties take up these issues, including the issue of political prisoners, the draconian labour laws and new criminal codes coming into force in July. Within the INDIA alliance these issues need to be taken up.

Lastly, this result has sent a message that people fighting on the ground for the past 10 years have made their voices heard. It is only through struggle, organisation and defeating the fascist forces on the streets that we will achieve any kind of success.

Our party has outlined what we understand is the path to defeat fascism: [taking up] anti-caste struggles, anti-communalism struggles, struggles for social and economic equality and struggles to ensure the democratisation of Indian society — these will have to continue without a doubt.

We need to continue the battle to defeat fascism on the ground.

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