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On Indian elections

Wednesday 19 June 2019, by siawi3


India 2019 Parliamentary Poll Outcome: Drivers, Consequences - An Exploration

by Sukla Sen

17 June 2019


The 7-phase 17th Lok Sabha poll had commenced on this April 11th and concluded on May 19th, covering 542 of the total 543 constituencies. Polling in the remaining constituency, in Tamil Nadu, stands deferred. The counting commenced on May 23rd and concluded the next day.

The broad outlines of the outcomes were, however, available on the first day of the counting itself.

The incumbent regime came back to power with a bang.

Never before, in the recent past, India was so keenly awaiting the results, because never before in the recent past India stood so sharply divided.

So much so that the Time magazine described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India’s “divider in chief†on the cover of its May 20 issue1. Modi’s picture was on all international issues of the magazine except the United States edition.

The cover story2, written by novelist Aatish Taseer, has the headline: “Can the world’s largest democracy endure another five years of a Modi government?†A second one3, however, by Ian Bremmer, treats Modi far more positively, suggesting that Modi is “India’s best hope†for economic reform.

Even otherwise, much before that - on March 15, a parliamentarian from the ruling BJP, since 1996 with some gaps in between, Sakshi Maharaj - also a saffron-robed Hindu monk, had predicted that after 2019, there will be no election in 2024.4

Even before that, on Jan. 25th, “(i)n his customary address to the nation on the eve of the 70th Republic Day, President Ram Nath Kovind Friday [had] said5 that the 17th Lok Sabha election is not ‘once-in-a-generation’ but ‘once-in-a-century’ moment”.

All in all, the extraordinary salience of this poll, broadly mirroring that of the 1977, was widely acknowledged.6

The Poll Outcome

In a nutshell, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in a “landslide†victory, won 303 seats (out of total 242 for which polls were held), up from previous 282, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 353 seats. The Indian National Congress won 52 seats - up from 44, and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won 91. Other parties and their alliances won 98 seats.7

In as many as 16 states and UTs together, the BJP secured more than 50% of vote shares.8

Nationally, the BJP’s vote share was 37.36% - up from 31.34%, while the Congress secured 19.49% - down from 19.52%.

In terms of vote share, the next three largest parties are: AITC (4.07%); BSP (3.63%) and SP (2.55%).

However, in terms of number of seats, DMK - a Congress ally, is the third largest party with 23 seats - all from Tamil Nadu.9

One of the other notable aspects is that the Congress failed even to open its account in Rajasthan - with total 25 seats, won a lone seat in Madhya Pradesh - out of total 29, and only 2 out of 11 seats in Chhattisgarh.10

Congress had won the state assembly polls in these three states, under the same leadership, displacing the ruling BJP, led by Modi-Shah duo, just about six months back.11

It, however, did fairly well in Punjab - winning 8 out of total 13, where it had scored a convincing victory in the last assembly poll in early 2017. Its vote share rose marginally, as compared to the assembly poll - from 38.5% to 40.12%.12

It did rather spectacularly - more so, keeping its overall dismal performance in mind, in Kerala, winning 15 out total 20 seats and its alliance partners another 4, conceding only 1 to the CPI(M) - the leader of the ruling coalition in the state.

In Tamil Nadu, it won 8 out of total 38, as the second largest partner in the DMK-led alliance.

The CPI(M) is down from 9, last time, to 3 - 2 in Tamil Nadu, as a constituent of the DMK-led alliance, and 1 in Kerala, as the leader of the ruling LDF.

It could not secure even the second position in any of the seats in its erstwhile bastions - Tripura (2) and West Bengal (42).

The AAP is down from 4 (all in Punjab) to 1 (in Punjab).

Last time, it had come second in all the 7 Delhi seats and 1 in UP (Varanasi).

This time, it conceded the second position to Congress, in 5 out of the 7 seats in Delhi. Did not contest from Varanasi.

The AITC is down from 34 to 22 seats (all in West Bengal), with a small rise in vote share.

The BSP is up from 0 to 10 (all in UP, in alliance with the SP and RLD), with some fall in vote share.

The DMK is up from 0 to 23 (all in Tamil Nadu), with some rise in vote share.13, 14

The Landslide in Historical Perspective

The poll outcome, this time, has been dubbed by quite a few media outlets, very much in tandem with their roles all along, as TsuNaMo (= Tsunami + Na(rendra) Mo(di)) or its various variants.15

The label may be pretty well justified in terms of its (devastating) impact on the psyche of too many Indian citizens.16

And, it is also a fact, this is by far the best performance by the BJP ever.
This time, it has won 303 seats and secured 37.36% vote share as against 282 and 31.34%, last time, the best till then. Its previous best performance had been in 1998: 182 and 25.59%.17, 18

So much so that even “sober” analysts have now started terming it as the confirmation of India’s transit, commencing in 2014, from, the now extinct, “Congress system“- a term coined by an eminent social scientist, late Rajni Kothari19, to denote the dominance of India’s multi-party democratic polity by the Congress, to a new”BJP system".20

So, it won’t be quite out of place to have a relook into what was the “Congress system”.

In 1952, the very first general election, the Congress had won 74.2% of the total seats, as against 3.3% by the second largest party and 45.9% vote share as against 10.6% of vote share. (The second largest parties in terms of seats and vote share were different.)

In 1957, 75.1% of seats and 47.8% of votes, whereas the second largest, in terms of seats - 5.5%, and the one in terms of votes - 10.6%.

In 1962, 73.1% and 44.7%. The second largest in terms of seats - 5.9% and the one in terms of votes - 10.0%.17

In all these three polls the Congress mascot had been Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The “Congress system” did not only mean the dominance of the parliament by the Congress but the states as well.

Nehru would pass away in 1964.

The “Congress system” suffered a very major jolt in 1967, by losing a number of state assembly elections.

The INC suffered significant losses in 7 states which included: Gujarat where INC won 11 out of 24 seats while Swatantra Party won 12 seats. Madras where INC won 3 out of 39 seats and DMK won 25 seats. Orissa where INC won 6 out of 20 seats and Swatantra Party won 8 seats. Rajasthan where INC won 10 out of 20 seats Swatantra Party won 8 seats. West Bengal where INC won 14 out of 40. Kerala where INC won only 1 out of 19. Delhi where INC won 1 out of 7 while remaining 6 were won by Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The decline in support for Congress was also reflected by the fact it lost control of six state governments in the same year.21

That, essentially, signalled the end of the “Congress system”.

Nevertheless, even in 1967 parliamentary poll, the Congress had won 54.4% of seats and 40.8% of votes. The closest opponents: 5.9% and 10.0%.

In 1971, in the parliamentary poll, the Congress faction led by Mrs Indira Gandhi would, however, score a very convincing victory: 68.0% and 43.7%. The nearest opponents: 4.8% and 10.4%.
The number of seats won by the Congress, as compared to its vote share, came down because higher index of opposition unity.

Regardless, the era of unilateral dominance by the Congress party had ended in 1967 itself.

The Congress, under Indira Gandhi - post-Emergency, suffered an ignominious defeat in 1977, with its vote share plunging to 34.7% and seat share to 28.4% - this time as a result of across the board opposition unity coming on top of widespread popular revulsion against the Emergency. The party that replaced the Congress in the parliament was, for all practical purpose, a coalition of parties, which could not hold together for far too long.

The era of coalition, effectively, got inaugurated.

The Congress would, however, reach its peak parliamentary poll performance in 1984: 78.6% of seats and 49.1% of votes. The nearest opponents: 4.3% and 7.7%.

But, that would prove to be just a flash in the pan, which had been, understandably, triggered by an extraordinary situation marked by bloody Khalistani movement in Punjab, consequent Hindu exodus, capture of the famed Golden Temple by the armed militants, followed by the “Operation Blue Star” by the Indian Army causing a large number of deaths and severe damage to the temple, the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister by two of her Sikh bodyguards, sparking off massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and also elsewhere.

The “national security” card was used by the Congress, now led by the just deceased Prime Minister’s only surviving son, to the hilt.

To that extent, the just concluded poll bears an eerie resemblance with that one.

The fall of Congress, since ’84, has been fairly steep.
The “Congress system†, as it appears, had been born with Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of India and withered away with his death.

Regardless, this time, the BJP has won 51.93% of seats and secured 37.36% of votes. The Congress, the nearest opponent, in terms of both seats and vote share: 21.40% and 19.49%.13

Moreover, except for Kerala, the Congress had, till 1984, fought the general elections, by and large, without any ally. That’s far from the case with the BJP.

Even leaving aside the situations in the states, the present situation can hardly be bracketed with the Congress dominance till 1967, not even during the period from 1971-84, barring 1977-80.

There is, of course, a more salient dividing line separating the two — while the “Congress system†, despite some serious aberrations, operated broadly to strengthen the “Idea of India†, that underpinned the Indian Constitution, this time, that very notion is faced with a mortal threat.

More later.

Two Advance Signals

Even before the actual counting of votes began, two advance signals, as regards the likely outcome, became available. One, explicit, the other, implicit.

The obvious signal was, of course, the results of the various exit polls, released after the conclusion of the final phase of polling on May 19th.

The exit poll projections, however, widely diverged.

While the India Today-Axis predicted (around) 352 seats for the (BJP-led) NDA - with a clear and emphatic majority by a margin of (around) 80, and (around) 92 seats for the (Congress-led) UPA, the NewsX-Neta, at the opposite end of the spectrum, predicted 242 for the former and 164 for the latter, and, thereby a hung parliament with the NDA enjoying a clear advantage.13

It is specifically in this context, the second (implicit) signal became significant.

Reproduced below is an introductory comment22 to a mail posted by this analyst on May 21.

Considering the provisional figure of 67.11% of polling this time, it’s a rise of 0.71% points over the preceding poll in 2014 (66.40%, as reported by the wiki).
2014 itself had seen a jump of a rather phenomenal 8.50% points: 66.40% - 57.90% (as reported by the wiki).

The outcome was that since 1984, for the first time, a single party did win absolute majority, even if it had fought the poll in alliance with a few others and its vote share of 31.34% was the lowest ever for a party winning absolute majority.

The fact that the voting %age has further gone up, even if only marginally, would tend to indicate a wave, given the phenomenal jump in the preceding poll.

The only plausible candidates available to cause a wave are Pulwama/Balakot and anti-minority prejudices/anger.

The Nyaya (read: NYAY), in any case, meant for the bottom-most 20% of the populace, most difficult to be accessed, is hardly a competitor.

The other likely candidate could be strong disaffection with the present dispensation - the hoax of “Acche Din”.

But, that’d have, normally, had brought the polling percentage down, not pushed it up.

Btw, exit polls, almost unfailingly, miss the magnitude of a large swing.

But, all these are, admittedly, speculations.

One’ll have to wait for the 23rd, just two days away.

In the event, the NDA won 353 and the UPA - 91.13

That is pretty close to the projections made by one extreme of the spectrum of exit polls - by India Today-Axis.

The Drivers The last time, the BJP, as an opposition party, had polled 31.34%.
It may not be too irrational to assume that, by that time, it had accrued a rather stable/core support base of at least around 20% - 2/3rd of its total votes polled.

In 2009, it had polled 18.80%, in 2004 - 22.16%, in 1999 - 23.75%, 1998 - 25.59%, 1996 — 20.29 and 1991 — 20.04%.17, 23

Thus, around 20% may be taken to be rather steadfastly committed to the ideology of “Hindutva†— an Indian shorthand for Hindu nationalism/supremacism.

The last time, Modi could gather around additional 10% points over and above its (presumed) core support base.

The reasons were, as it appeared then, mainly the following:

I. Rampant corruptions indulged in by the outgoing UPA-II and, the preceding, UPA-I.

The public perception of the corruptions was triggered by the then CAG reports and court cases and, further, sharply aggravated by the agitation led by Anna Hazare — an ex-military man, paraded as a Gandhian, collaborating with a Hindu Yoga guru-cum-entrepreneur having a large fan base, Baba Ramdev, and aided by among others, his the then lieutenant Arvind Kejriwal.

II. The consequent “policy paralysis†on the part of the government, as trumpeted, especially, by the corporate media.

III. Modi being able to raise and communicate these issues from his campaign platform, with telling effect, and his promise to end corruption, bring back black money

— accompanied with the alluring assurance of depositing Rs 15 lakh in every poor/salaried person’s bank account.24

IV. This was further accentuated by his call of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas!†25 (With All, Development of All!). Also tersely captured in the slogan/promise of “Acche Din!†26 (Better Days!).

This had gained considerable credibility based on the, skilfully constructed and forcefully propagated, narrative of “Gujarat (the state of which Modi was the Chief Minister by then for well over a decade) model of development†.27

IV. The last, but not the least, was resort to (accentuated) communal polarisation, in a calibrated and targeted manner, aided by the Muzaffarnagar riot in western UP.28

While the collapse29 of the “Acche Din”— the enchanting promise of better days, should have had effected significant erosion in the floating votes gathered last time, Pulwama-Balakot, or rather the (concocted?) narrative30 built around it, aided by a conniving EC and blared ad nauseam by the obliging, and “patriotic†, media - the electronic even more so, made it a surefire game changer.

The ruling party, in a way, got merged with the (brave) armed forces of the country.

Modi claimed and got the full credit for the (presumed) resounding slap delivered by the Indian forces in the face of Pakistan.

He would thus urge the (first-time) voters: “can your first vote be dedicated to the veer jawans (valiant soldiers) who carried out the air strike in Pakistan. Can your first vote be dedicated to the veer shaheed (brave martyrs) of Pulwama (terror attack)?†31

“Ghar Me Ghus Ke Marunga”32 (I’d finish you off, by invading your holes!) - the shrill cry emanating from the Indian Prime Minister, was, arguably, the most emblematic campaign line of the Modi-BJP camp.

The main opposition in the field, the Congress, found itself utterly helpless.

It could neither challenge the narrative - that might have had proved even more disastrous, nor posit an alternative narrative with matching appeal, more so, given the biased nature of the media.

The “NYAY” - in any case, ostensibly directed at the bottom-most 20%, presumably, the most difficult to be accessed, was just no match, even if one sets aside the issue of credibility.

Despite the, apparently, spirited fight-back, the inevitable has happened.

A wave of nationalist jingoism unfailingly helps a right-wing party, particularly, if in power.

Thus Vajpayee had scored a clear victory in the 1999 poll, on the back of the Kargil War — facilitated by a monumental failure of the military intelligence on the Indian side, despite the far premature and ignominious collapse of the coalition government led by him. He would, however, suffer a defeat, next time (2004), unaided by any such surge, despite successfully running the coalition, this time round.

Moreover, no factor is a stand-alone entity.

The surge of jingoism emerged out of the latent, or even overt, feelings of animosity towards the (hated) “other†— the Muslims, persistently cultivated33 by the regime.

The surge only helped to cross the tipping point, to propel the voter vote for Modi/BJP, despite all his glaring fiascos — on the economic front, in particular.

Reproduced below is a rather longish, nevertheless worth citing, extract from a recent write-up34 carried by a South Asian journal:

Five years later, barring qualified progress in some areas — toilets, roads, renewable energy, cooking gas — Modi’s promise of vikas has turned out empty. Even governments we rate below-average have arguably delivered similarly spotty progress, as in the preceding UPA regime. Make in India, Skill India and Digital India mostly remain slogans. Demonetisation showed the gaping idiocy and dangerous autocracy in Modi’s decision-making, which callously overruled the advice from experts that only a miniscule amount of black money was in cash. Far from raising India’s prestige and soft power in the world, the press in Europe and North America mostly brackets him and his movement with dubious figures like Trump, Putin, Ergodan and Bolsonaro. Modi has said the climate is not changing, our tolerance for the weather is. He holds asinine views about ancient Hindu feats in genetic science and cosmetic surgery. Despite a historic windfall from low oil prices, he now presides over a deepening farm crisis, an economic slowdown and the highest unemployment in 45 years. Vikas?

In 2014, Modi ran on a platform of vikas but mostly delivered Hindutva. In 2019, he ran on a platform of Hindutva, with little talk of vikas, smart cities, beti bachao, black money, or Skill India. In 2019, Modi wore his religion on his sleeve. He and his party incited fear of the ‘other’ and made dog whistles and thinly veiled threats of violence and genocide. He gave Lok Sabha tickets to noted communal bigots of the RSS, including one who calls Godse a patriot. So what can we rationally expect from Modi this time? Even less vikas, I think, when the mandate is clearly for Hindutva, paving the way for the far right’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra, a state legally conceived not as secular but a Hindu polity and whose structures and institutions are based on the forms and priorities of Hindu culture and religion.

So how did Modi win this time? A big part of the answer is the powerful opium of Hindu nationalism. The BJP won because a great many Hindus are high on Hindutva. The Sangh Parivar has learned to exploit the well-known cultural inferiority complex of the Hindu middle class, which grew out of India’s colonial encounter with Europe. Alongside, they stoke fears that a billion-plus Hindus are under siege by Muslims, refugees, leftists, Pakistan and pesky “anti-nationals.†The well-funded propaganda arms of the BJP and Sangh Parivar spread a lurid and manufactured sense of historical hurt, key to sustaining Hindutva nationalism. Run by an army of paid trolls, they fan both hate and pride by peddling fantasies of past greatness, military might, superpower dreams, surgical strikes and fake news. The ordinary Hindu’s sense of history is now filled with malicious lies and manufactured resentments against pre-colonial Muslim rule and he wants to settle the score by punishing today’s Muslims.
. . .
During the voting season, I’d predicted that BJP’s decision to lead with Hindutva and its cynical post-Pulwama airstrikes would be a winning strategy. It more than offset their failures on the economy — a trick that countless demagogues have tried. Stated differently, the BJP’s actual performance on the economy became irrelevant against the joys and psychic highs of Hindu pride and nationalism, which the BJP stoked, playing the people like a fiddle. The BJP turned hate and anger into an animating, intoxicating and rallying force — risking the unleashing of even darker forces that, in time, they may not be able to control. Among other big contributors to the BJP victory were a brazenly partisan media that stumps for Modi and cultivates support for authoritarian rule; high octane propaganda on social media; and a hopelessly divided political opposition, who undercut each other’s votes in India’s first-past-the-post system.

That’s fairly comprehensive.

However, it does appear to severely underrate, though not outright overlook, the salience of the Pulwama/Balakot factor35 in the last poll.

In fact, with the Election Commission very much on his side36, Modi, further accentuated its effect, making a mincemeat of the Model Code of Conduct, via a nationally televised address to announce the successful firing of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile in the outer space — the first time for India37, when the poll process was already on.

(In fact, it looks rather miraculous that for the bulk of post-poll analyses — across the lines, Pulwama-Balakot — so very glaring, as if, just never happened!)

Consequent to the stirred up jingoist surge, Modi could further reinforce the strongman (56†) image — built up assiduously over the last five years using the official machinery to the hilt, of himself.38

Other than that, another analyst39 puts spotlight on three (presumably decisive) factors: Money — highly asymmetric access to financial resources (largely engineered via a controversial Act, legislated through stealth, for the specific purpose40), (Electronic Voting) Machine and Media — acting, by and large, as a partisan player.41

The point made regarding the EVM is, however, pretty much controversial42.

The social media, manipulated by a huge troll army, also, predictably, played some part43.

Apart from toilets (under Swacch Bharat), Ujjwala (cooking gas for poor households) — as mentioned in the extract reproduced above, regardless of patchy performance, the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi44 also appears to have played a role. So did rural housing scheme45.

But, these sundry factors — including 10% reservation46 for “economically backward†members of the castes/groups not till then covered by the provisions of “reservation†, in themselves, cannot but be anything more than minor add-ons.

The main and, in fact, the only national opposition — relentlessly campaigning against the ruling Modi/BJP, the Congress, presented a fairly decent poll manifesto.47 But, with its limitations of resources — in terms of finance, as compared to the ruling party, organisational structure and, perhaps most importantly, the way it was treated by the mainstream media, it failed to reach out.
Apart from that, its masthead slogan — Ab Hoga NYAY48 (Now Justice Will Be Done), had, apparently, a basic design flaw. One, the NYAY scheme, meant to give out substantive cash doles to the (economically) bottom-most 20% households held no promise for the rest 80%. Two, it had the issue of credibility49 — whether it could be really implemented, given the financial constraints and structural limitations of government machinery. Three, it might have had even evoked adverse reactions, in various degrees, from the rest 80% - out of envy from those just falling beyond the limit and the better off ones, in particular, conceiving it as a forced waste of their “hard-earned†money. Fourth, the bottom-most 20% is, in any case, conceivably the most difficult to be accessed.

Its main attack line against the BJP was: Chowkidar Chor Hai!50 (The Guard Is A Thief!). It was, primarily, based on the visibly murky Rafale jet deal steered by none other than Modi himself. But, the roles played by the Supreme Court51, the CAG52 (ref.: <> ), the financial watchdog, and, most of all, the media53 turned out to be pretty much unhelpful. Consequently, it also failed to find a resonance.

The failure of the opposition parties to form a united national alliance - a la 1977, to confront the BJP — apparently, quite a non-feasible proposition - as it appears, eventually mattered rather little.54

Just stunned by the official outcome, some of the opponents — both party and non-party, of the regime have claimed that the BJP victory has been engineered by way EVM tampering by the ruling party.55

This, however, has been rather compellingly negated56 by one running a fact-checking website57 and enjoying considerable reputation for objectivity despite known leftist political inclinations58.

The same issue(s) had been dealt with in even greater details59 by an expert, associated with the opposition CPI(M)60, drawing similar conclusions:

It is not our argument that Indian EVMs are hack proof. No machine built by anybody, however competent they are, can be made free from hacking by skilled hackers. We have argued that it will require physical access to the machines — whether in the factory or outside — to carry out this hacking.

As we have described in detail while discussing the administrative procedures, the EVMs have to pass the various verification procedures that involve representatives of political parties. These checks require that political parties understand and have an informed participation in these processes. Apart from physically verifying the EVMs, there are also randomisation procedures that involve the presence and participation of political party representatives.

Therefore, hacking such a system can be done only with a massive conspiracy, and with either the wilful participation of the opposition parties in this conspiracy, or their complete ignorance of what is going on.

Nevertheless, the final conclusion drawn by this author needs be taken with all seriousness and implemented.

Finally, elections must not only be fair but also seen to be fair. Therefore, our argument is that the ECI must not use the VVPAT as just an ornament forced on it by the Supreme Court, and do a token verification. It should do a real verification by tallying the paper slips of the VVPATs with the electronic count in the EVM. Only then will the ECI be able to put to bed the suspicions people have of their votes being hijacked by a ghost in the machine.

Moreover, the process of filing complaints on observing discrepancy between the button pressed and the paper trail displayed needs be made more complainant-friendly than it is now.
There should also be mandatory counting of all paper trails where the winning margin is 1%, or below, of the total votes polled.

Lastly, a look at how the voters have voted.
The votes cast, as is well-known, are anonymous.

Even then, surveys by non-government institutions are carried out to explore the profiles of the support base for various contesting parties.

At least three noteworthy analyses61 are available in the public domain. These are not congruent.

Yet, the essential point that emerges is that the BJP has, this time, further consolidated Hindu support, across caste divides. But, it, nevertheless, still enjoys more support from the rich and upper castes, even though there has been a sharper rise in case of lower castes, including Dalits, and Adivasis. In stark contrast, little support from the non-Hindus - 10% or thereabout.

All in all, Hindutva in combination with Modi’s carefully constructed image as a strongman riding on the upsurge of jingoism triggered by the narrative built around Pulwama-Blalkot trumped his rather dismal failure on all other fronts and very much neutralised the opposition campaigns.
The roles played by the (supposedly neutral) Election Commission and the mainstream media were, apparently, of huge significance.
Also the grossly disproportionate access to financial resources.
Of course, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the two most glaring exceptions. There are a few others as well.
But, the BJP virtually swept the heartland, except in Punjab.

What Now?

As far as the opposition camp is concerned, the first response to the defeat is dismay and disarray.

The main opposition party Congress, with its President, Rahul Gandhi, announcing his decision to quit his post regardless of the urgings to the contrary by its highest decision-making body, Congress Working Committee (CWC), is still in turmoil.62

Others also appear to be rather nonplussed.

The case of the West Bengal Chief Minister is an illustrative example.63

The Muslims, the bete noire of the BJP (and its ideological anchor organisation, the RSS), are, apparently, dispirited.

Some eminent Muslims have, reportedly, written64 to the Prime Minister welcoming his address on May 26 to NDA MPs and offered “utmost cooperation†to him in reaching out to the community.

Another, known name from the community, has, on the contrary, in a reasoned and spirited appeal65, urged the community to make common cause with “(l)iberals, social democrats, socialists, communists, large sections of the underprivileged, the poor, and sections of scholars†in the fight for dignified survival.
Obviously, all these are indicative of the ongoing turbulence within.

The BJP — the Modi-Shah duo, in particular, is, obviously, only too elated.
Modi is taking this opportunity also to refashion the organisational power structure.66 What, however, is far more germane in anticipating the developments in the coming days is that the BJP/RSS has a project - to supplant the “secular” and “democratic” Indian state with a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu nation state) - the contours of which are, understandably, not etched in stone, but, even then, would mean complete negation of substantive democracy and pluralism. Of still greater salience, the journey towards it has got to be propelled by constant stirring up of hatred and violence against the constructed inimical “others”, in order to mobilise the Hindus as “Hindus”, drowning out all other competing identities.67

Taking off from that basic proposition, the new regime is likely to have two major focal points on the “political” front68:

I. Dismantling of all opposition - both party and non-party.

Towards that, dislodging, maybe even dismissal, of, at least a few, opposition-run state governments.
ED, IT, CBI raids on opposition politicians; also, in some cases, buying out.
Tightening the screw, in a myriad ways — including enhanced digital surveillance, also as regards the civil society organisations and dissenting individuals.

II. Sharply spiking communal polarisation by way of (phased?) nationwide roll-out of the NRC69, also scrapping of Art. 370 (and Art. 35A)70 and putting to good use the Mandir-Masjid issue(s)71, as per the demands of the situation.

Other expected developments are:

(i) Further intensification of non-state physical violence.72
(ii) Mega sale of PSUs.73
(iii) “Economic reforms†.74
(iv) Stepped up trashing of environmental norms and safeguards.75
(v) Tightening the grip over the education infrastructure and institutions.76
(vi) Further defanging of watchdog institutions.77
(vii) More repressive laws, if felt necessary.

While the actual (detailed) work plan will evolve and be calibrated, based on the perceived ground situations, and be punctuated with some measures to project a “people-friendly†image78 — to confuse and divide the potential opposition, there is little scope that the general direction would be anything significantly different from the one sketched out above.

It would no longer be business as usual, not even by the standards of the last five years.


Modi 2.0 very much presents us with the looming threat of the dismantling of the “India” - embodying the values of “democracy”, “pluralism” and “egalitarianism”, that had been wrought out in the crucible of the epic freedom struggle and, in the process, finally emerged on the 15th August 1947 - in pursuance of a project to supplant it with a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu nation state) - by mobilising the Hindus of India as “Hindus”, drowning out all other identities linked to language, culture, gender, caste, class etc., constantly stoking hatred and violence against the constructed inimical “others”.
Regardless of all the (innumerable) flaws and shortcomings that “India” — real and even notional, encapsulates, the success of the above project would prove to be an unmitigated disaster for the vast majority of the people inhabiting this land.

What could offer at least some chance to avert such a predicament is a broad front/fronts: consisting of political parties, as many as possible - including their associated mass organisations, and non-party civil society organisations - based on the common agenda of saving democracy/democratic rights and unity of the country. Backed, actively, by right-minded, otherwise diffused, individuals. On top of the, ongoing and to be taken up, myriad specific issue-based struggles, by various constituents in their own ways — unitedly or independently.

Determined and consistent resistance has got to be offered on all available terrains — including parliamentary, legal, media (both traditional and new) and the streets, and in spaces — political and civil.

It is, admittedly, a stupendous task given that (i) the regime has the levers of the state power under its control — providing it with a disproportionate advantage to set and control the narrative (Pulwama-Balakot being a graphic illustration), and (ii) coming on top of its not too inconsiderable success in vitiating the “Hindu†psyche, via persistent and diligent work, by the RSS and its myriad affiliates, over decades and decades.

Moreover, much of the “opposition†may start melting away even before the real fight starts.

However, one has no option but to hope against hope and fight back.

15 06 2019

Notes and References:

1. Ref: <> .
2. Ref.: <> .
3. Ref.: <> .
4. Ref.: <> .
5. Ref.: <> .
6. E.g.: <> .
7. Ref.: <> and <> .
8. Ref.: <> .
9. Ref.: <> .
10. Ref.: <> .
11. Ref.: <> .
12. Ref.: <> and <> .
13. Ref.:
14. Ref.:
15. Just two representative examples: <> and <> .
16. Ref., e.g.: <> .
17. Ref.: <>
18. Ref.: <> .
19. Ref.: <> .
20. Ref.: <> , to be read together with: <> and <> .
21. Ref.: <> .
22. Ref.: ’’Lok Sabha elections: At 67.1%, 2019 turnout’s a record, Election Commission says’: Likely Implications’ at <!t...> .
23. Ref.:
24. Ref.: <> .
25. Ref.: <> .
26. Ref.: <> .
27. Ref.: <> . Also look up: <> and <> .
28. Ref.: <> .
29. Ref., e.g.: <> , <> ,, <> and <> .
30. Ref.: ’Further Exposure on Balakot Bluff: ’IAF findings that India shot down own helicopter put on hold until after elections (Updated with IAF rebuttal and my response)’’ at
31. Ref: <> .
32. Ref.:
33. Ref., e.g.: <> and <> .
34. Ref.: ‘A collective madness’ by Namit Arora at <> .
Yet another noteworthy one: ’India has gone from false hopes in 2014 to false pride in 2019’ by Pranab Bardhan at <> .
35. Ref.: and
36. Ref.: <> .
37. Ref: <> and <> .
38. Ref.: <> and <> .
39. Ref.: ’The 2019 Elections Came Down to Money, EVM Machines and the Media: The fourth ’M’ – the model code of conduct – was reduced to waste paper.’ by M.G. Devasahayam at <> .
40. Ref., e.g.:, and
41. See also: and, for the role of the media: <> and <> .
42., <> and
43. Ref:, and <> .
44. Ref.:
45. Ref.: <> .
46. Ref.: <!t...> and <> .
47. Ref.: <> and <> .
48. Ref.: <> .
49. Ref.: <> and <> .
50. Ref.: <> .
51. Ref.: <!s...> .
52. Ref.: <> .
53. The mainstream media, by and large, underplayed the issue. It appears even more so if one keeps Bofors in mind. The Hindu was almost the sole exception, that too at a rather late stage:
54. Ref.:
55. Ref.:,, and <> .
56. Ref.:
57. Ref.: <> .
58. Ref.: <https://ahmedabadmirror.indiatimes....> .
59. Ref.: Also, the further update: <> .
As it appears, till now, only one defeated (Congress) candidate, contesting from North Mumbai, has filed formal complaint with the ECI as regards EVM discrepancy in one polling booth (ref.: <> ). She, however, is declared defeated by a margin of over 4.65 lakh votes (ref.: <> ).
60. Ref.: <> .
61. Ref.: <> , <> and <> .
62. Ref.:, <> and <> .
63. Ref.: <> .
Also, of relevance, as regards the Left: <> .
64. Ref.:, and <> .
65. Ref.: <> .
66. Ref.: <> and
67. For a brief comparative study of “Indian nationalism†vis-à-vis “Hindu nationalism†– including both congruence and discordance, may look up: ’Indian Nationalism, Hindutva and the Bomb’ - the sub-section ’Indian Nationalism vis-a-vis “Hindu†Nationalism’, in particular, by this analyst, at <> .
As regards the project, arguably, of some relevance: ‘BJP’s Real Agenda’, by this analyst, at <> . That was some two decades back.
68. Ref.: <!s...> .
69. Ref.: <!t...> .
70. Ref.: <> .
71. Ref.:
72. Ref.: <> and <> .
73. Ref.:
74. Ref.: <> .
75. Ref.: <> .
76. Ref.: “This mandate is significant for another reason. It has completed the rejection and decimation of what Modi himself described as the “Khan Market cacophony†of pseudo-secular/liberal cartels that held a disproportionate sway and stranglehold over the intellectual and policy establishment of the country. Under Modi-II, the remnants of that cartel need to be discarded from the country’s academic, cultural and intellectual landscape [emphasis added].â€
(See: ’This election result is a positive mandate in favour of Narendra Modi’ by Ram Madhav at <> .)
77. Ref.:
78. Ref.: <> .



India: In Statement, CPI(M) Distributes the Blame for Left Front’s Electoral Losses

Monday 10 June 2019,

by Ajoy Ashirwad MAHAPRASHASTA

The party also said that there is a need for “far reaching electoral reforms with the urgent need to reform the Election Commission†.

New Delhi: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) admitted on Monday that “a section of its traditional votes†shifted in West Bengal.

Although it stopped short of saying that a bulk of its traditional vote bank moved towards the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recently concluded parliamentary polls, it implicitly accepted what many political commentators and journalists had pointed out during the course of the campaign.

Multiple election reports had said that the Left Front cadre in Bengal were actively supporting the BJP on ground to defeat the Trinamool Congress’s dominance in the state. Most of its leaders too targeted the TMC much more than the BJP in their speeches.

However, at the time, the party leadership said that the reports were not true.

When the results came out, the Left Front could not even retain the two seats that it had won in 2014. It was clear that it had ceded most of its political space to the BJP.

Principally led by the CPI (M), the Left Front’s vote share took a fall of more than 20 percentage points – from 29.95% in 2014 to around 8% in 2019.

At the same time, BJP increased its share from 17.02% in 2014 to 40.25% – an increase of around 23 percentage points.

Since the ruling Trinamool Congress increased its vote share by around four percentage points – 39.79% in 2014 to 43.28% in 2019 – the BJP clearly benefited mostly from the fall of the Left Front and to a certain extent from the four percentage point decline in Congress’s vote share.

CPI(M)’s losses matched BJP’s gains in the state – a fact that the central committee of the CPI(M) which met for a post-poll review at New Delhi from June 7 to 9 refrained from admitting.

It blamed the Congress for employing “soft Hindutva†to counter BJP’s “hardcore Hindutva†for the saffron party’s unprecedented victory.

“The opposition parties, the Congress in particular, failed to put in place the unity of secular opposition parties that was being projected in the run-up to the elections… The ideological battle between Hindutva and secularism was not forcefully conducted,†the party’s press release stated.

The party also said that there is a need for “far reaching electoral reforms with the urgent need to reform the Election Commission†.

However, it pinned its own reverses in Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura partially to the BJP’s “new narrative of communal nationalist jingoism†and mostly to the use of money and muscle power by parties like the BJP and TMC.

In Kerala, the party said that people of Kerala felt that Congress would be a better “alternative secular government†to the BJP, and that “secular-minded people and minorities†voted for the grand old party.

It defended the Left-Democratic Front government in the state in trying to implement the Supreme Court judgement on Sabarimala and accused the BJP and Congress-led United Democratic Front of creating “misgivings amongst a section of believers†.

In Bengal and Tripura, it blamed its defeat to large-scale use of violence and rigging by the ruling parties, which the Election Commission of India could not prevent. “The Election Commission could not implement its assurance to conduct “free and fair polls†,†the party said in its statement.

The party also blamed the media for playing a “big role†in “building a binary narrative that aided such polarisation between the TMC and the BJP†.

“There was a high anti-incumbency against the TMC. The CPI(M) and the Left Front were not seen as the alternative and this led to a shift in a section of our traditional votes. The Congress’s refusal to accept the Left’s proposal for maximising the pooling of anti-BJP, anti-TMC votes bolstered this binary narrative,†the party statement said.

The party said that it is conducting a detailed review of booth-wise voting patterns.

“In both these states (Tripura and West Bengal)… the party committees are evaluating earnestly the erosion in our traditional support base and will draw up urgent steps to be undertaken to bring these sections back into our fold,†the central committee’s statement said, admitting that “the independent strength of the Party and its political intervention capacities continue to be weakened†.

For the CPI(M), the 2019 electoral results, in which it won two seats from Tamil Nadu where it was a part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance is quite a steep fall.

Led by the CPI(M), the Left Front government enjoyed a 34-year-old uninterrupted rule from 1977 until 2011 in Bengal until Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress displaced it from power.

As part of its “post-election challenges†and “tasks†ahead, the party said it would draw up a programme to foreground issues regarding livelihood concerns of people, constitutional rights, and civil liberties in Indian polity. According to the party, these issues have suffered a setback in face of BJP’s hyper-nationalist, anti-minority campaign.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta



India after the BJP-NDA electoral victory: Understanding the Catastrophic Victory of the Fascists and the Long Term Consequences

Saturday 8 June 2019,


The Indian parliamentary elections of 2019 ended with a huge victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What was significant was not just the huge increase in votes and seats of the BJP and the NDA, but the total shift of votes and discourse to the right. Any attempt to minimise this by mechanically referring to classical Marxist texts and quotations would be suicidal.

Before we go into left responses, though, we have to begin by looking at what happened and explain why.

A summary comparison between the 16th and the 17th Parliaments would be useful, as a starting point. In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with about 31% of the votes, and the NDA as a whole received 38.5% votes and 336 seats. Later, some of the NDA partners left, notably the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, which had won 16 seats. Given India’s first past the post system, opposition parties and intellectuals had often pointed out the voting percentages.

In 2019, the BJP obtained 303 sears and the NDA as a whole 353. This involved the BJP getting 37.4% votes and the NDA as a whole claimed about 48% votes, which means practically one in two Indian voters voted BJP and its allies. The two BJP allies who got badly mauled were the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu whose seats came down from 37 in 2014 to just 1 in 2019, and the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Punjab which got 2 seats.

The main opposition bloc, the former ruling bloc for a decade from 2004 to 2014, was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress. In 2014 the UPA had 60 seats, while in 2019 it has 91. But the Congress seats have gone up from its worst ever performance of 44 seats to only 52, its second worst. In terms of vote share it has actually lost 0.8% compared to 2014. The main gain for the UPA has come from the DMK in Tamil Nadu. It had no seats in 2014, and has secured 23 this time, making it the third largest party in parliament.

Parties outside the two blocs have fared worse than in 2014. In 2009 such parties had 122 seats, in 2014 147, while in 2019 this came down to 98. Among those most badly hit were, on the extreme right, the Trinamul Congress, which is the ruling party in West Bengal (34 in 2014, 22 in 2019), and on the left, the CPI and the CPI(M), the two major parliamentary fragments of the original Communist Party of India. [1] The left had 11 seats in 2014 and 6 in 2019, of which the CPI and the CPI(M) together had 10 seats in 2014 and 5 in 2019. The final seat in both cases was held by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, allied to the CPI and the CPIM in West Bengal, but opposing them, and allied to the Congress in Kerala, from where it won one seat. On terms of vote share the CPI(M) shrank to 3.28% in 2014 and 1.75% in 2019, while the CPI was 0.78% in 2014 and 0.58% in 2019.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which is the most powerful Dalit (the formerly untouchable castes who are still oppressed and marginalised despite the formal abolition of untouchability in the Indian constitution), had formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, the most powerful party of Other Backward Classes in the key province Uttar Pradesh. But the SP barely retained its 5 seats with a slight drop in votes, while the BSP won 10 seats, up from zero in 2014. However, it had polled over 4% votes across India in 2014, and it does not seem to have increased that.

So what were the factors that led to this rise of the BJP?

We need to make a distinction between the longer term narrative and the immediate background. The BJP, and its previous incarnation, the Jana Sangh, were electoral arms of an aggressive Hindutva nationalist political outfit, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. It was founded in 1925 to assert Hindu dominant caste (primarily Brahmin) supremacy. By the 1930s, its leaders were in touch with Mussolini and then with Hitler, and were among the most fervent supporters of the Nazis from the time of the Krystallnacht, arguing that such should also be the future of Muslims in India. At the same time, they were loyalists in Indian politics, refusing to take part in the freedom struggle, while explaining to their cadres that the real fight would be the one between Hindus and Muslims, not between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people.

The murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, who had formally resigned his RSS membership before the murder , resulted in a ban on the RSS. It finally came out of the ban by promising not to take part in politics, a promise it interpreted simply to mean that the RSS would not contest elections. Hence the electoral arms like Jan Sangh. A strategy of long term penetration in civil society by building up a wide range of institutions followed. They included schools, where through philosophy, history, and literature, Hindutva (political Hindu nationalism) was glorified. They also included specific organisations targeting different segments of the population, including Dalits and other subordinate castes.

The 1970s saw a change in the fortunes of the Hindutva right, as mainstream bourgeois and socialist/Stalinist left all displayed some degree of willingness to collaborate with them in order to defeat the congress, led by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. In the 1977 elections she did lose. But much of the cadre base was provided by the RSS in the fight against her. As a result , the united opposition that fought the Congress (I) during the elections of 1977 enabled them to get a considerable number of their members elected to parliament, and for the new government to carry out quite a bit of the RSS agenda.

By the late 1980s, the Congress, the traditional party of the Indian capitalist class, was facing a crisis. 1984 was the last time the Congress won a majority in parliament on its own, and it did so by a shift to Hindu communalism, with Sikhs as the target. Again, there was an attempt by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to create a balance of communalisms, including opening up a dormant communal tension over a mosque in Ayodhya, supposedly built by destroying a temple back in the 1520s.

The elections of 1989 and 1991 saw new issues coming to the forefornt. The BJP, founded in 1980, initially attempted to present a more moderate face than the erstwhile Jan Sangh, talking about “Gandhian Socialism†. But it won only two seats in the parliament of 1984, and decided to shift to more aggressive Hindutva thereafter. Meanwhile, a dissident Congress minister, Viswanath Pratap Singh, pushed for the recognition of oppressed castes and social groups (collectively Other Backward Classes) who had never been “untouchables†but who were part of the socially marginalised. Aware that this posed a threat to its strategy of Hindu consolidation, the BJP, which had supported Singh during the 1989 elections and had propped him up in his coalition government, went for a very aggressive campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a so called Ram temple there.

Three issues would dominate thereafter – Indian capitalism and its march to globalisation, and the rival discursive strategies of Hindu nationalism versus Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-Muslim alliance building. The shift from a welfare state model to the neoliberal economy however took place initially under the Congress. The BJP was far from being the first choice of the ruling class during the 1990s. However, the weakening of the Congress led to a change in ruling class attitude as well. The various attempts at building “third fronts†, whether sponsored by the left or not, saw regional parties, concerned with local voter bases, making demands that often went against the core demands of the bourgeoisie. And anytime the parliamentary left was a partner, for all its limitations, it insisted on reforms that would provide (within capitalism, certainly) some benefits to its core constituencies. As a result, while the 199-2004 Vajpayee government was formed initially without any huge bourgeois support, the performance of that government changed the attitude of the ruling class. From 2004, the BJP has increasingly become the preferred party of the bourgeoisie. This also has links with the specific problems faced by Indian capitalism.

Globalisation, Indian Capitalism and the BJP

Indian capitalism has developed an aggressive appetite. The Global Wealth Report 2018 published by the Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees, worth of wealth. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was Rs 33 lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month (just under US$ 4000). Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is currently put at 53200 million US$, Ratan Tata’s wealth is seemingly much less, but that is because much of it is concealed as company property which he fully controls. But the Tata group has under his stewardship acted aggressively to take over Tetley (by Tata Tea), Jaguar Land Rover (by Tata Motors) and Corus (by Tata Steel). However, Indian capitalism has been forced to compete with much more powerful US, European and Japanese capitalism, and recently with Chinese capital, from a weaker base. As a result, and lacking any historic colony, Indian capitalism has the need to impose super-exploitation on the Indian working class. This includes a huge burden on the adivasis (including evicting them from forests where they have dwelt, compelling them to work for abysmally low wages, etc) as well as destroying the organised working class altogether.

This is where the Congress has been unable to deliver the goods. The privatization of the finance sectors have been slowed down due to massive struggles by finance sector employees. The very existence of some of the older labour laws, however much they are flouted, create benchmarks against which workers can raise their demands. And this was something that became clear in 2004-2009, during the UPA-I government, when the left had 61 MPs, and Congress had to rely on the support of those MPs. Some reforms which from above appear very insignificant actually provided quite a bit of bargaining power to the rural poor. These included the MNREGA, which provided that one person per poor family would get 199 days guaranteed work per year.

The Gujarat Model of Narendra Modi consisted of ignoring labour laws, ignoring environment protection (since that increases the cost for the individual capitalist), and promoting big capital. [2] In 2002, after the Gujarat carnage, sections of the Indian capitalist class, members of the Confederation of Indian Industries, had criticised the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Led by diamond merchant and businessman Gautam Adani, a group formed an alternative body, Resurgent Group of Gujarat, and even threatened to leave CII.

Adani pledged a sum of Rs 15,000 crore for the first Vibrant Gujarat summit (held in September-October 2003). Thereafter, Adani was one of the principal lobbyists for Modi consistently, including outside India. Other capitalists began to see the value of the Modi/Gujarat model. Unlike in the case of previous BJP leaders, the Modi for Prime Minister campaign was launched at Vibrant Gujarat summits, with prominent Indian capitalists sounding the tocsin.

The Modi government started repaying their friends. When it became a Modi government at the all India level, this repayment was even more fulsome. The BJP had a few campaign planks in 2014, one of which was its opposition to corruption. But from Anna Hazare down, all the “anti-corruption†crusaders who had targeted the Congress, remained silent as India’s big capital, and to a certain extent certain major international capitalist concerns including Monsanto, made huge inroads.

But it was not simply a matter of corrupt practices (the so-called crony capitalism). It was a matter of systematic inroads on the workers and poor peasants’ livelihoods for the profit of big capital. However, there were roadblocks. The Indian working class is much weaker now than it had been three decades back. Nevertheless, the call for changing the labour laws, the speeding up of the privatization of Public Sector Undertakings, got slowed down primarily because of labour resistance. While only about 5-7 per cent of the working class is organised by now, the twenty-first century did see attempts, including by some of the bureaucratic Central Trade Unions, to mobilise not just their immediate members but others as well. General strikes across India, and regular struggles in the financial sectors, meant that the plans could not always proceed. [3]

The ideological mobilisations:

But in 2004, Vajpayee had stumbled here. He too had sought, as BJP leader, to serve big capital. But the India Shining campaign had resulted in huge popular rejection. That was also the last occasion when, as we saw, the left votes had gone up along with seats. Though that was a matter of 59 seats of the four LF parties ( CPIM 5.66%, 43 seats, CPI 1.41%, 10 seats, RSP – 0.43%, 3 seats, All India Forward Bloc – 0.35%, 3 seats) along with 2 more by their allies , this was an indication that the masses of people were willing to vote for alternatives if these were posed before them. Also, the BSP had won 19 seats (5.33%), the SP 36 seats (4.32%), and in Bihar the Rashtriya Janata Dal (the SPs rough equivalent in Bihar) had won 24 seats (2.41%). In 2009 too the UPA had trounced the NDA. But this was followed by the old guard of the BJP being pushed aside, and a firm, aggressive new leadership taking over. Between 2014 and 2019, this leadership consolidated itself.

The Hindu nationalist rhetoric was modified, because it was clear that merely pushing for Hindu unity was not paying adequate dividend. At the same time, a series of policy measures by the government had created popular anger. This was eventually translated into votes in several state assembly elections in 2018. In May, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress tied up after the elections to form a JD(S) led government. The BJP tried to spend huge sums of money to buy up several MLAs but was foiled. In November-December, there were elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Telangana. The Congress lost Mizoram to the Mizo National Front, but gained Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh from the BJP. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept Telangana, defeating both BJP and Congress.

The BJP showed that it was prepared for these setbacks. While this also calls for a discussion of the errors and flaws of its opposition, we need to understand that right from 2014, the BJP had taken up a multi-pronged strategy. One was a shift from merely Hindu nationalism to a full-fledged appropriation of Indian nationalism in its ugliest form. The distinction lies in the past of the RSS. The RSS does not have, as we saw, the freedom struggle in its genes. So it has in the past stressed that it is fighting for the real rights of Hindus. But this time, Kashmir, Pakistan, these became important buzz words. In place of previous governments with their attempts at some degree of carrot and stick policies in Kashmir, under Modi there was simply a big stick with no attempt at either carrot or talking softly. From a very early stage, Modi projected himself as a strong man. Kashmir was a key component of this chest thumping nationalism. Violence in Kashmir was firmly justified. This was the way in which the Sangh worked itself into nationalism. Violence in Kashmir is not new. Between 1990 and 2017 about 41,000 persons have died due to the conflicts. They include 14000 civilians and 22,000 real or alleged militants. However, there was clearly an upward graph from 2014. And this has resulted, with the Pulwama incident, in the emergence of purely home-grown cases of militants, even though Pakistan had to be blamed for political (primarily electoral) reasons.

National security trumps civil liberties –this was the message. The failure of the RSS student wing, the ABVP, to win the JNU Students Union election, led to aggressive nationalism and fake propaganda, which however was dramatically effective. The JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar (a member of the CPI dominated AISF), along with students belonging to other left organisations, such as Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, were accused of having raised anti India slogans at a meeting which was held over the commemoration of the hanging of Afzal Guru. Guru was a Kashmiri who was hanged in a case that will remain one of the worst cases of legal violence, with ample evidence that he was framed by the police. Many lawyers, civil rights activists have protested his conviction and hanging. Kumar and others were charged with having shouted anti India slogans. They were arrested, Kanhaiya Kumar was assaulted in front of the Patiala House Court. While no legal case could stand, the bulk of the electronic and print media were used, with shouting brigade leaders like Arnab Goswami (then Times Now, currently Republic TV) leading the pack. The aim was manifold. First, Kashmir was made into a seat of evil. Modi was shown as the first muscular leader tackling Kashmir the way it should be, namely by massive and unrelenting violence. Second, leftists of all shades were depicted as “anti-national†for talking about civil rights in Kashmir. Of course their utterances were distorted so that they, including someone like Kanhaiya Kumar, belonging to the CPI (all moderate left parties take the position that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and differ only over how to conduct control there), was supposed to have advocated Kashmir’s right to self-determination to the point of secession. Third, as these were JNU students, and much of the left and liberal intellectuals of Delhi, and because it was a Delhi based incident, intellectuals and students all over India stood by them, it was argued that liberal intellectuals by definition were suspect, with a tendency to become anti nationals.

The focus on national security and nationalism was successful. The elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014 were all fought on primarily economic issues. In 2004 BJP went into the polls claiming India was shining. It had a fully articulated aggressive neoliberal policy, while the Congress, the original party that had ushered in neoliberalism in India, was talking about social security. The left won its highest ever number of seats. In 2009, the UPA-II government was formed because UPA successfully defended its economic record, including the MNREGA. In 2014 Modi and the BJP focused on corruption, economic failures. Hindutva was worked in, but with a distinct economic tinge in areas like West Bengal and Assam, where “infiltration†by Muslims was linked to outsiders (real or alleged immigrants) taking away jobs from locals. In 2019 by contrast, the economy was in a mess. So much so that the government of India stopped data from being published. As we write this the Government, now securely in place for five years, has acknowledged that the growth rate had plummeted to 5.8% and that India’s unemployment rate hit a 45 year high in 2017-18. But the success of the BJP lay in its ability to move the entire campaign away from the economy. The Congress did try raise issues relating to the economy as well as corruption (the Rafale deal), as did other parties. But the BJP stayed firmly on course for an ideology driven campaign that stressed national security, a strong leadership, and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Nor was this last something invented only after Pulwama and the Balakot strike. This chest thumping belligerent nationalism was ratcheted up immediately after the 2014 victory and stayed the entire course. And no party, not even the left, was in a position to take this on adequately (in most cases not at all).

Ideology, Institutional Subversion, Force:

There is a need to understand the different dimensions that were integrated in this success. The ideological triumph, while backed by force and fraud, cannot be discounted. The RSS-BJP has succeeded in becoming the hegemonic voice across much of India, spreading beyond the North and the West to Eastern India and to parts of the south. It has used local issues, but woven them into its core outlook.

Three decades of neoliberalism have shown that there is no trickle down. Wealth accumulates at the top, and simply stays there. This has created frustration. There is a tremendous sense of anger, insecurity and frustration among the youth, many of whom were the first time voters in the elections of 2019. The BJP government’s policies over the last five years certainly contributed strongly to their economic crisis. Yet, a disproportionately high fraction of them appear to have voted for the BJP. No mechanical understanding can explain this. For this, it is necessary to look at how their imagination has been captured, how their anger has been shifted in certain directions by astute politics.

This involves taking on and defeating the challenges from left and subaltern politics. Electorally, one of the challenges mounted from the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, was the attempt to create political identities called Dalit politics and OBC politics. While caste oppression is a living social reality in India, specific caste groups or jatis are linked to particular occupations. The change from pre-capitalism to capitalism has partially transformed that. That has also given the opportunity of cobbling together a discursive alternative based on shared experiences of oppression, humiliation and the desire to fight back and gain social identity and pride. B.R. Ambedkar started this process, but it was in independent India, with the adult suffrage, that a serious attempt was made to build table, cohesive political projects around this.

The Dalit assertion for greater dignity, and recognition as equal humans, as well as the struggle for material benefits, came up against the recognition that without political power these were not going to be possible. The Dalits, their aspiring political leaders and intellectuals, saw the left as non-serious about them at best, because of the repeated arguments that when all the exploited improved their social conditions Dalits would find themselves in a better situation. This seemed at best a failure to recognise the special oppression they faced, and at worst a reassertion of upper caste (in recent parlance, savarna) domination in the name of class leadership. So there was an attempt to build Dalit parties within bourgeois politics, the most successful being the Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Historically Dalits were the “outcastes†. The “shudras†were people who came to occupy places a little above Dalits but were also oppressed. This essay cannot trace fully the class-caste interfaces and linkages. However, a large part of them were the ones who came to be identified as the Other Backward Classes. Here too, social engineering and a political project based on that went together. But that political project fragmented into state level entities, like the Samajwadi Party in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, etc.

These were however political processes based on discursive identity politics. There was no easy road to unity based on the argument that Dalit-Bahujans constitute the majority and are oppressed. Both parts of the statement are true, but they could not easily be turned into lasting political vehicles. Apart from the interests of the elite, and certainly Brahminism is a component of the elite in India, this political process required a material basis that did not necessarily emerge. Thus, in UP, the core area of the BSP, the Jatavs formed its most enthusiastic supporters, and got disproportionate support and patronage from it, so that it has been argued by analysts that other Dalit castes have not remained as strongly loyal to the BSP as in the past. Equally, the RJD and the SP were backing mainly the most powerful OBC group, the Yadavs. In Bihar this led to the split between RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Kurmi leader Nitish Kumar. The BJP has taken note of these processes and has encouraged the formation of small parties based on one or two smaller but significant castes, or forged alliances when such parties existed, in order to ensure that the project of a Dalit unity or OBC unity does not materialise. Hindutva, allegedly very catholic and capable of embracing diversity, was pushed as the key to how these different castes could all be accommodated. At the same time, the BJP has shown greater flexibility in recent times. It has moved to acceptance of reservations while diluting them (e.g., through the so-called economic reservation) It has absorbed gods and goddesses traditionally worshipped by people outside the elite brahminical hierarchy, while ultimately ensuring that the cooption is on the terms of the Sangh. And through sustained scapegoating of Muslims, it has actually managed to make Dalits in many parts of India hostile to the Muslims, so that even real brahminical oppression has not led to Dalits siding with Muslims. One of the ugliest cases in the past was of course the successful mobilization of oppressed castes against the Muslims during the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat.

The scapegoating of Muslims has been done systematically, and taking into account local issues. Thus, in Bengal it is “infiltration†. In Assam it is linked to an older anti Bengali sentiment. So while it has variations, there has been generated a massive fear, hatred and anger against the Muslims within a considerable part of the Hindus. While leftists have often pointed out rationally that the Sachar Committee Report and other documents show that the majority of Muslims are actually socially and economically in a worse position than for example Dalits, the BJP-RSS way of handling popular religiosity and promoting the hatred against Muslims rides over such rational arguments.

At the same time, there have been massive institutional shifts. This needs to be understood to recognise the nature of the BJP victory. The BJP had sustained support from most newspapers and TV channels. This is not surprising. It is sometimes said by well-intentioned but totally erroneous commentators that the media has been purchased, the journalists have been purchased. The reality is simple. Most newspapers and television channels are owned by capitalists who are part of the hegemonic bloc that sees the BJP as the sole stabilizing force. So journalists are instructed to take pro BJP lines. The social media was also dominated by the BJP. There were large numbers of paid social media operators sending out messages, cartoons, memes, fake news to vast numbers of citizens. There was the tapping of the UID (Aadhaar) data and its use. There were the shifts in the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. There is no need to accept conspiracy theories like the EC creating EVMs where whatever button is pressed the BJP would get the votes. The EC did other things which were quite visible. This began with the EC waiting till Modi’s all India tour of inaugurating various projects was over before it announced the election dates. This continued with the EC giving clean chits to Modi’s numerous violations of the Poll code.

From the point of view of funding for the elections, this time there was simply no comparison. The BJP had about fifty times the funds all others had. It was like a super heavyweight fighting with a number of bantam weight boxers, and the media gleefully attacking the bantamweights for not being able to go the entire distance.

To this we need to add the matter of force and fraud. A vast number of Muslims and Dalits found their names deleted from the electoral rolls and therefore could not vote. During the election campaign there was massive show of force and threats. Thus, Muslims in many UP seats were subjected to threats of various kinds, like Maneka Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, openly threatening Muslim voters that if they did not vote for her, after the elections she would not help them. This is not an empty threat, because the EC’s use of EVMs mean that its Form 20 data, released after the polls, allows everyone to check how each booth, or each EVM, voted. This breakdown practically nullifies the secrecy of the vote.

The Opposition and the Strategy of the Congress

The possibility of defeating the BJP rested on forming a wide block of parties. Any such alliance would have been a bourgeois alliance, and there is no question of our supporting it. But an objective analysis would show that whereas in the first half of 2018 the Indian National Congress was keen on moving to some sort of alliance of that type, the victories it got in a few state assemblies changed its outlook.

In UP the major alliance was the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, which tried accommodating others. But the Congress made huge demands. For the SP-BSP alliance to accommodate a very weak Congress any further than they did (they did not put up candidates in the seats contested by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi), the Congress had to respond in places it was stronger (Madhya Pradesh, Punjab etc), which it simply did not. The Aam Aadmi Party, which controls the Delhi government, tried negotiations about the Delhi seats but the negotiations fell through. The Left front in West Bengal all but begged the Congress for at least a seat adjustment if not an alliance, but there too it was the Congress that showed disdain.

It was clear that the Congress was more interested in putting itself forward as the only legitimate alternative to the BJP than with winning elections and putting together a coalition government. Its pitch was successful among liberal and soft left intellectuals of certain types, who were urging votes for the Congress. One key element in the liberal arguments for the Congress was that all other parties had at certain times allied with the BJP and given it legitimacy (including the Left front), while the Congress had not. Of course – since the Congress was usually the party against which such alliances had been put together in the first place. Moreover, the Congress took a soft Hindutva policy over a series of issues. In Kerala, where the contest was primarily between the CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic front, there was a Supreme Court verdict that stopped the regressive practice of not permitting women who were of roughly the age when women would menstruate into a temple known as the Sabarimala temple. In order to win the Hindu conservative vote, it was the Congress which aggressively mobilized people, basically demanding that the provincial government should not help any woman trying to enter the temple. Certainly, in Kerala the UDF won 19 out of 20 seats, though not only for that reason. Finally, of course, if we look at the economic policies that the Indian capitalist class, or at least its dominant sections, want, it was the Congress that started pushing for them from the end of the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s onwards.

Why the Congress wanted this seemingly suicidal policy of going alone and ensuring its defeat has to do with its alliance experiences and a strategy it seems to have developed. Alliances, whether with the Left in 2004-2009, or even with regional parties (2004-2014) compel the Congress to give too much ground on core issues of interest to the Indian capitalists and international capitalism. So the Congress strategy, on looking back over what it did since November 2018, was to appear progressive, as the left of centre alternative to the BJP (a fake appearance) while concentrating on the collapse of regional and left parties. Just one example will clarify this. It was the left that was primarily responsible for the big kisan marches In Mumbai and Delhi. The Congress picked up the rhetoric. But after the November victories, the Congress did not hike the crop procurement prices in the provinces where it won, contrary to its pre-election promises. As a result, when the Congress made an electoral promise to give Rs 72,000 annually to 20% families in poorest of the poor category, benefiting around 25 crore people (the NYAY scheme) in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, it made evidently zero impact. The BJP swept those provinces, bouncing back from its defeat just six months back.

The Disaster of the Left:

For Marxists, discussing the rise of an ultra-right force, the key questions are, what is going to be the line of march in the coming period, and how do we fight it? To answer these questions however, we have to begin with examining the extent of the disaster of the left. [4]

The mainstream left, as it is often called, consists of four main parties – the Communist Party of India, the CPI(M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc. The CPI and the CPI(M) belong to the same current, and the historic reasons for the split are long over. The CPI has repeatedly called or a unification of the two parties. The CPI(M) has in the past rejected the appeal with arrogance, arguing that as it is a bigger party, the CPI should enter it instead. This is something that would also enable the CPI(M) to argue that it remain the “correct†legatee of the undivided CPI, even though in fact today the CPI(M) no less than the CPI is a fervent campaigner for an alliance with the Congress.

What is far more important is the experience of being in government and how it has transformed the mainstream left. The CPI and the CPI(M), emerging from the Stalinised milieu, had not been revolutionary parties at any time in independent India. But they did have militancy, and a degree of focus on extra-parliamentary mass action. Even the toppling of the Namboodiripad government of Kerala in 1959, and the toppling of the United Front governments of 1967 and 1969, did not mean a total rupture with that outlook. But between 1977 and 2011, the Left front was continuously ruling West Bengal at the provincial level, and it also had a long stint I Kerala, alternating with the Congress led alliance. In the small state of Tripura it ruled for a quarter century. These experiences, and above all the West Bengal experience, transformed the CPI(M), not only in West Bengal, but across India. CPI(M) cadres in West Bengal did not take part in any real mass movements since 1977, because only when the government had decided what to concede were fake controlled movements launched. This had an impact at the all India level too. While the left parties and their mass fronts continue to be important (the CITU and the AITUC among trade unions, the AIDWA and the NFIW among women’s organisations, the two Kisan Sabhas, etc), movements have become peculiar. Thus is most clear when we look at the working class. There has been unremitting assaultsin the name of globalisation and reforms since 1991. The left trade unions have responded by periodic general strikes. The massive support these general strikes have evoked show that there is huge popular anger at the government and ruling class policies. Since 1991 there have been 17 general strikes. Yet the grass root work of rebuilding unions, organising the contract workers, launching struggles or deepening existing struggles, these have been seldom done, either in the provinces where the Left ruled in the past, or elsewhere.

Instead, the central thrust became the question of the popular front, adapted to India. The popular front is the Dimitrov version of the United Front, which is not an attempt to unite the working class, and behind it the other oppressed, but an alliance between workers’ parties and so-called democratic or anti-imperialist bourgeois parties. Its Indian version, originally worked out by two British Stalinists, R. Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley, continues to be the dominant ideological guide for the CPI and the CPI(M). Finding bourgeois allies and contesting elections with them remains their key task.

These two dimensions – the transformation of the mass struggles and the crass electoral line have resulted in a deep transformation of their cadres. The fact that the Left Front in power was capable of distributing patronage, and that its very high votes represented that, not just its ideological strength, was ignored. So the decline in its vote shares from 2009 was not properly understood by its own cadres or even leaders in West Bengal. Once it was out of power, and unable to provide patronage, that mode of securing votes was gone. The Trinamul Congress saw to it that even when left leaders were MPs or when the left won municipalities etc, their funds could not be spent or they would not even get funds. A major example is the case of Siliguri. A Left Front-Congress bloc managed to get the majority and Ashok Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) became Mayor of the municipal corporation. The corporation has not been getting funds, and all road development and other work, along with patronage, in Siliguri, has been done through a bureaucratic agency created by the state government.

To top it, there was the massive violence on the left, unleashed during the last panchayat (rural local self-government bodies) elections in West Bengal. Conducted by the state election commission with the state police ‘ensuring’ law and order, it saw total mayhem by the TMC. And when that happened, while in some areas the BJP-RSS cadres stood up to resist, even at the cost of being beaten up, the Left leadership simply abdicated. Large numbers of left local supporters, candidates or would be candidates, were beaten up, forced to leave their villages for months, while the leaders confined themselves to statements, dharnas (sit down protests) in front of the state election commission office, etc. This made a large part of the electorate feel that the left was not serious about resisting the TMC and the violence it had unleashed. Meanwhile, as the BJP has never ruled in West Bengal, they did have illusions about the BJP as the alternative force that might resist the violence of the TMC.

In West Bengal, the TMC and the BJP succeeded in achieving a communal polarisation. It has been argued that the Left votes were transferred to the BJP (seemingly plausible because the decline of Left votes and the rise of BJP votes between 2016 and 2019 seem to match). In fact the case is more nuanced. Muslims earlier voting left have often switched to the TMC, as have Muslims voting Congress. Congress won in two seats in West Bengal, but it also saw a decline in its vote share. Many Hindus who had previously voted left voted the BJP this time. But while there have been cases where local CPI(M) leaders have been shown as urging people to vote BJP this is not a systematic case. Those accusing the left of doing so are firstly suffering from the same illusion that the left leaders themselves were — namely that these voters were inert people whose votes the left could transfer wherever they wanted at will. They are anything but that. Secondly, the left lost its deposits in 39 out of the 40 seats it contested in West Bengal. It is ridiculous to argue that there was a set up and a conscious transfer of votes. A covert alliance, or a tacit understanding, between the BJP and the left, would have had to involve the left also getting BJP votes switched in a couple of cases at the least. Finally, had the left not fought with whatever its real and not inflated cadre strength was, there would have been around 8 more seats where the anti-TMC vote would have gone to secure seats for the BJP.

One of the charges that have been levelled against the left, from post modernist intellectuals as well as people claiming to be on the radical left, is that the left parties were bhadralok parties, or parties of the upper caste elites, while it was the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee that represents the subaltern. We cannot discuss this at length here. But even if we look at the elections of 2019, something emerges clearly. In Kolkata, the seat that above all represents the bastion of the bhadralok is Kolkata South. From 1971 to the present, the CPI(M) has won this seat only twice (1980, 1989), while from 1991 to 2011 it was represented by Mamata Banerjee. It was not a subaltern (defined in caste terms) backlash that resulted in the collapse of the left, but its failure to be even a good reformist left (i.e., ensure that extra-parliamentary struggles continue).

What to expect and how to resist?:

The BJP government in the first few days has given clear indications of what we should expect. In brief, it will seek to retain its position as the preferred party of the Indian big bourgeoisie. This means an aggressive attempt to reform labour laws in favour of capital. [5] The draft for a new labour code will now be pushed rapidly, depending on the degree of resistance that can be generated.

In foreign policy, the pro US thrust will be retained, along with something that is distinct to the BJP, namely its extreme closeness to Israel. The anti-Muslim internal ideological politics will be supplemented by anti-Pakistan rhetorics. One especially significant aspect of this is to remember that Balakot was the first case of two nuclear armed states coming into direct military confrontation of the order where one country sends in its air force so deep into another. Much has been written in the Indian media and social media about how many actually died etc. Much more significant is the fact that this happened, and may embolden the BJP to try it again, with aggressive retaliation by Pakistan at some point.

In 2014-1019, the Modi government had already started a process of controlling all segments of the state apparatus. Institutions that previously had some autonomy by law have been gradually brought under control of the Prime Minister’s Office. This is likely to deepen.

This means that under a formal retention of “democracy†there will be a steady erosion of all democratic content. The institutional subversions will be backed by the deepening of communalism so that all non-Hindus are relegated to the status of second class citizens. Within a couple of years, it will be likely that the NDA will also have a clear majority in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha). The constitutional changes that the RSS has been pushing for can then be pushed through, making India formally a Hindu Rashtra. We are not predicting that these will all happen, but these will certainly be attempted, and only mass resistance can stop them.

We can expect greater state violence in Kashmir and the attempts to scrap Articles 370 and 35A. There will also be efforts to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill making it an Act, so that Muslims coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan are denied asylum or residency while non-Muslim migrants will find it easier to get naturalization and the right to stay permanently. Muslims across India may be forced to show their officially prescribed documentation or lose citizenship status. This will not only mean they lose their votes, but that they are likely to lose a whole series of basic rights as humans. Muslims are being clearly warned, that if they want to live in the new India they must accept ghettoization, they must not object to the RSS, they must not raise their heads and protest. Here too, what has happened to Muslims in Gujarat since the 2002 pogroms is a template for what will be attempted elsewhere.

The RSS has always had a deep interest in ideological control. This will now involve greater control over education and the media. Curriculum changes are already in the offing. Funding is being linked to loyalty, as well as to a competitive strategy that means that only a handful of institutions will be really high grade, while the rest will be far more easily amenable to control. The appointment of loyalists to key positions will be another way in which this control will be increased.

Finally, the last five years have also shown that there will be both state sponsored force – the wide use of laws like UAPA, etc, to arrest anyone who protests, the attack on NGOs who talk about issues like environment, health and safety, organic farming, farmers rights, etc.

The three major responses within left organisations and parties to all this are flawed. For the Maoists, the elections do not matter much. Certain Maoist inclined activists have even displayed greater happiness at the collapse of the reformist left than alarm at the growth of the BJP. But their strategy of a protracted Peoples’ War is at a dead-end. The focus on forests and extraction from there, along with the appointment of Amit Shah as Home Minister, presages a far more violent war in the core areas of Maoist influence. Unless there is a radical transformation of their outlook, doctrine, and tactics (which essentially means unless they stop being Maoists) there seems no prospect for serious widening of resistance by them.

For the mainstream left it is business as usual. Where even Rahul Gandhi of the Congress tendered his resignation after his party’s failure to gain many more seats, the left leaders, hiding under the cover of collective responsibility, actually do not acknowledge responsibility for the disaster to the left. Rebuilding the old left, with a few poultices here and there, one or two face lift operations, will not gain them anything. This is clearly seen by the fact that the CPI(M) daily in Kolkata has been printing news and op-ed articles that do not address this central issue, the devastating blow suffered by the left.

For many activists, the desire will be to say, we must focus on social movements. But unless all such fragments are brought into a coherent and focused politics, these efforts will all be targeted by the Congress and its liberal intellectual supporters each election time in the name of a rainbow coalition.

What we need to understand is that unlike in many other countries where also there has been a rise of radical right or fascistic forces, in India the opposition is divided, including the popular opposition. The struggle against Hindutva, with the RSS having some 36 organisations and over 800 NGOs working within all sectors of civil society, and having an existence of nearly a century, is different from a struggle against say, Bolsonaro. To damage the hegemony of the RSS-BJP calls for struggles beyond the electoral struggles.

This can however be done only by the building of a new, radical left. The forces for them will have to come from the existing far left, from the sections of the reformist left willing to challenge their leaderships and the drift to the right, the social movement oriented left activists, in particular caste activists. A separate discussion is needed to look further at why the Amedkarite movement in its various forms does not provide a full answer. But one key point is, as long as Dalit parties and leaderships try to fight for upward mobility within the caste system rather than its radical overthrow, they cannot get out of the ultimate trap of Hindutva. Also, as we saw, the political project of Dalit unity has often foundered on ambitions of particular Dalit castes. But a revitalized left has to be a left that takes caste oppression seriously.

Any such new radical left has to therefore reject the politics of Stalinism and Maoism, without going to a rejection of building revolutionary parties altogether. In this struggle, Radical Socialist will lay its role, reaching out to organisations and activists for collaboration and unity. Overcoming fragmentation is the call of the day in today’s India.



The new Indian election: Free but not fair

Sunday 12 May 2019,

by Mukulika BANERJEE


Bad tackles by one side, the favourites, have failed to be shown the red card whilst minor ones by other sides have been sent off the field.

This 2019 national election in India is nothing like the one before it in 2014. There is something fundamentally different about it, even though it is superficially familiar. The vocabulary is the same, but the grammar has changed. It is as if we are watching a game in Eden Gardens, wearing our team’s T-shirts, cheering as the players work hard — but the game we are watching is something altogether different from what we grew up with and are used to. Not just the wickets / goalposts have been moved, but the whole rules of the game have been changed. Let me show what I mean.

First, the referee is partisan. For the first time, the Election Commission of India, that much respected and celebrated public institution, has completely lost credibility in this election. News of discord among the three Election Commissioners has emerged and their repeated failure to create a level playing field for all players is evident. Utterances that lower standards of public discourse immeasurably, blatant violation of electoral rules such as the instrumental use of armed forces are nodded through while a retired soldier is disallowed from standing for election on the other. Bad tackles by one side, the favourites, have failed to be shown the red card whilst minor ones by other sides have been sent off the field.

Second, electoral finance has crossed all limits. Between 2014 and 2019, the new instrument of “electoral bonds†was introduced by the BJP government, without any parliamentary debate, to make funding of political parties and candidates utterly opaque. Unsurprisingly, 95 per cent of these bonds has gone to the ruling party, creating campaign wealth of an unprecedented order. Evidence of this is the capture of the public space by its ubiquitous and expensive advertising, and the easy availability of masks, flags, earrings, saris, brooches, pencil cases, umbrellas — all of one single party. Its marketing works on the same principle as that of a cement company whose strap line is “People Buy it, Because They Know it†(Shobai cheney, tai keney). And it works, especially in places where the message is new. For instance, in a state like West Bengal where the party organisation is relatively weak, people enthusiastically stated that the BJP would come back. When asked why, their reply is “you see their colours everywhere, so they must be winning†. It is like going to a sporting event where the merchandise of only one team is available.

Third, the chance to maintain the secrecy of the ballot — a key aspect of democratic elections — was explicitly rejected by the party in power. In 2015, the BJP and its allies blocked the introduction of the totaliser machine, which the Election Commission had commissioned and one that the Law Commission recommended be adopted, which would have electronically “mixed†votes from all polling booths in a constituency before counting. Earlier, with paper ballots, this used to be done physically in large drums. With the introduction of EVMs in 2004, counting has been done machine by machine, thereby allowing political parties to ascertain how each segment of 1,000 people, the average population covered by a polling booth, voted — for them or against. One can see why the BJP blocked the totaliser: as their candidate Maneka Gandhi said recently at a public meeting, her party would look at the booth level data after elections to punish those areas that had not voted for them. Thus the secret ballot, an essential reason why Indians vote in high numbers in elections and have faith in the electoral process in India, stands compromised, but many voters do not even realise it yet.

Fourth, this is the first time in recent memory that the country is voting in national elections not having seen or heard the Prime Minister face a single uncensored interview or press conference. Those who ask for accountability from an elected government are deemed to be spoilsports, or worse still, anti-national. In 2014, the majority of the print and electronic media had a modicum of neutrality and at least felt obliged to maintain the appearance of it. This is no longer the case in 2019.

Finally, WhatsApp did not exist in India in 2014. By 2019 however, the combination of cheap smart phones and affordable data plans — helpfully made available by at least one company owned by a single industrialist close to the ruling party who presciently stated “data is the new oil†— has made direct texts, video and audio messages to individual phones possible. This combined with a formidable grassroots organisation of the same party has meant that voters receive regular feeds that are literally at their fingertips, to be rehearsed, disseminated and chanted with others. It is as if spectators continually receive messages on their phones while the match is on, telling them that their team is the best, that the previous victories of their opponents are all hollow, that Eden Gardens did not exist before their team played, and that their team will triumph as the only champions.

For these reasons, the 2019 election is a radical rupture from any that came before it. This time we have witnessed a truly 21st century campaign where one party has combined the use of technology and organisation to disseminate the message it wants voters to consume, regardless of veracity, determined to win at all cost. And this desire to win elections as if they are an end in themselves, echoes a wider mood in the country. A recent survey conducted by CSDS-Azim Premji University, analysed by Suhas Palshikar, shows that commitment to democracy in India may be paper thin, and mainly an enthusiasm for elections with much less enthusiasm for broader democratic values, such as freedom of expression or the curbing of majoritarian disdain for accommodating and celebrating diversity. Elections are considered the only democratic game in town and winning them is the only goal to be scored. If this is indeed true, it has happened because a disdain for institutions, procedures, accountability, reason and evidence has been systematically encouraged — while maintaining the thinnest of veneers of democratic governance. Whoever wins the 17th Lok Sabha elections, the game that has been played is just not cricket!

This article was taken from the South Asia @ LSE blog.. It gives the views of the author and not the position of South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics.