The victory of the Congress Party last week has been widely seen within India as a "second independence" for the country--a defeat for the forces of communalist hate and economic liberalization. The ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its NDA (National Democratic Alliance) coalition partners were decisively trounced, especially in the states of Andhra and Tamilnadu. But Congress prepared the way for the rise of the fascists and now promises to continue their policies "with a human face."
The BJP is the political wing of a Hindu fascist fraternity called the Sangha Parivar (Family of Organizations), which includes, besides the BJP, Bhajarang Dal (the military wing), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the ideological wing), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, the cultural wing), and Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, the student wing). The Sangha Parivar openly preaches hatred of non-Hindus. In practice it targets Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and tribals, but never the Jains or the Parsees who, along with the Hindu merchant caste of Marwaris, make up a large percentage of the Indian big bourgeoisie. And the Christians it goes after are untouchables and tribals who converted in the hope of escaping caste oppression, not the wealthy Syrian Christians of Kerala who are supposed to have been Brahmins before they took Christianity.
The Hindu fascists seek to artificially cohere a national Hindu identity from India's prison-house of nations. In power they pushed Hindu patriotism as they sold off the country's state-owned industry to foreign corporations, busted unions, dismantled what meager government-run healthcare there had been, and privatized education. Founded out of the fanatical movement to demolish the Babri mosque in 1992, the BJP's career has been one long incitement to murder and rape. Two thousand Muslims were massacred by Hindu gangs between December 1992 and January 1993 in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition. Again in March 2002 more than 2000 Muslims were killed in state-organized pogroms in Gujarat. In 1998 alone, twenty-five priests, pastors, and nuns were murdered, twenty-five nuns raped, and eleven churches or chapels destroyed by the Bhajarang Dal in their campaign of terror against Christians (Frontline magazine, January 1999). In 1999 they locked the Christian missionary Graham Stein and his two young sons in their jeep and set fire to it, roasting them alive in broad daylight. In 2002, in the name of the BJP's anti-untouchable and anti-Muslim "cow protection" campaign, a Hindu mob lynched five untouchables in the presence of police for skinning a dead cow scavenged from the roadside. And in Kashmir the BJP carried on the Indian government's policy of atrocities against the Muslim population: last year alone more than 2500 Kashmiris were killed by Indian security forces. In 1998 the BJP government provoked Pakistan by conducting nuclear tests, declaring, "India now has the Hindu bomb."
Until 1991 India relied on aid from the Soviet Union to maintain a large public sector. This is why some people thought of India as socialist. In truth there was as much socialism in India as there is butter in butternut squash. Since the capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, the Indian bourgeoisie has been forced to open the country to all-out imperialist exploitation.
In the forefront of the drive to privatize the Indian economy has been N. Chandra Babu Naidu, who until last week was chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh (although he preferred to be called its "CEO"). Naidu, an important coalition partner of the BJP, assiduously wooed the "three Bills" (Gates, Clinton, dollar). He prided himself as the "architect of the high-tech revolution" that has made Andhra a leading exporter of software. He renamed a portion of the capital city Hyderabad "Cyberabad" and gave a Rs. 20,000 government subsidy to foreign investors for each job created there. He set up a 9000-acre, duty-free commercial enclave called Andhra Pradesh Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) modeled on Shenzhen City in China. When Clinton came to Hyderabad in March 2000, spending a total of five hours there, the jails brimmed with beggars and street vendors rounded up for the duration of his visit. Naidu cleared the streets of stalls, pushcarts, and rickshaws, and had thirty grand old trees from different parts of the city chopped down and propped up along the route to be taken by Clinton's convoy from Air Force One.
The early news of Naidu's defeat in the recent elections was the first shock for the BJP, whose coalition government relied on the support of regional parties like Naidu's TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and Jayalalitha's AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) in Tamilnadu. The extravagantly corrupt Jayalalitha was notorious for policies leading to the immiseration of small peasants, driving them to mass suicides. In addition, she was known for putting in place anti-conversion laws designed to prevent untouchables and tribals from leaving Hinduism. Jayalalitha topped her own notoriety with her use of the BJP's PoTO (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance), India's equivalent of the Patriot Act, and her own TESMA (Tamilnadu Essential Services Maintenance Act). When 1.1 million government employees went on strike in June last year, her government did something unprecedented in the history of India. It summarily dismissed 200,000 strikers and arrested 2200. Midnight arrests and police raids on union offices and houses of striking workers continued for days. Now Jayalalitha is gone too.
Last week's elections results were a startling demonstration of the backlash among Indian workers and poor peasants to India's so-called economic reforms. Publicly owned industries, or PSUs (Public Sector units), in steel, electricity, petrochemicals, communications, railways, and the like are in the process of being sold off. Government-run healthcare and education has been cut. There are no more subsidies for small farmers, seeds are more and more expensive, and electricity for irrigation is unavailable. Naidu admitted his agenda was to make it so impossible for small farmers that they would voluntarily leave their land and go away, paving the way for big agribusiness. Since the beginning of reforms 2 million peasants have been displaced and in recent years it's been common to hear of whole peasant families drinking poison or hanging themselves from trees after they lose their land--in part due to their own feudal, uppercaste pride of land ownership which prevents them from thinking of seeking any other means of living.
The victory of Congress has been welcomed with great enthusiasm and its leader Sonia Gandhi is seen as a savior of peasants, workers, and minorities. Congress says it wants to put a "human face" on the economic reforms and it immediately promised free electricity to peasants. Novelist and activist Arundhati Roy (currently a favorite among American left-liberals) spoke for many on the Indian left when, in an article titled "Let Us Hope the Darkness Has Passed," she wrote, "For many of us who feel estranged from mainstream politics, there are rare, ephemeral moments of celebration. Today is one of them" (Guardian, May 14).
But Congress, as its history shows, is no alternative. Though not as openly chauvinist as the BJP, Congress has always served the interests of the Hindu majority. Ever since Independence the party has been led by the despicable dynasty of the high Brahmin Nehru-Gandhi family. M. K. Gandhi (no relation to Indira and Rajiv, who descend from Nehru) was recorded by Mahadev Desai as saying that his opposition to separate electorates for the hideously oppressed untouchables was based on the fear that "'[u]ntouchable' hooligans will make common cause with Muslim hooligans and kill caste-Hindus" (cited in From Untouchable to Dalit, Eleanor Zelliot, page 167). In no small measure Gandhi and Congress were responsible for the bloodbath following the India-Pakistan partition. Before the BJP, it was Congress who used communal tensions to divide and rule, leading to frequent pogroms against Muslims. During the Congress regime in Andhra, there was not a single year without communal riots in Hyderabad. Congress has been praised for putting forward a Sikh prime minister, but it was Indira Gandhi's Congress who ordered Operation Blue Star in which 600 Sikhs were killed inside the Golden Temple, and 3000 more were massacred after Indira Gandhi was assassinated, in retaliation, by her own Sikh bodyguards. In Kashmir the BJP was only carrying on the policy established by Congress. In Sri Lanka Rajiv Gandhi's IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) was so notorious for its atrocities against ethnic Tamils that it led to his getting blown to very small pieces by a suicide bomber. When it comes to political repression, one has only to remember the dark days of Emergency in the mid-1970s. In 1985 Congress introduced the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities) Act, which allowed the police to arrest and detain a person without charge merely for suspicion of having knowledge of an alleged terrorist group. These suspects were usually killed in "encounters" with police, making the act essentially a license to kill. Sonia's right-hand man and new PM Manmohan Singh was the architect of the economic reforms that Congress is now promising the national and international bourgeoisie to continue (but with a human face).
Congress now has to depend, as did the BJP, on other parties to form a coalition government. Their biggest allies are the Stalinists--the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist), who are now the third-largest parliamentary party, and the CPI (Communist Party of India).
Historically, the Stalinists in India supported sending Indian troops to fight for Britain during World War Two in the "anti-fascist people's war," and before 1947 they rallied workers and poor peasants behind the bourgeois Congress Party, calling it an "anti-feudal, anti-imperialist, nationalist" formation. Immediately after Independence, major peasant revolts broke out against the zamindars (a class of feudal lords created by the British to collect taxes for the raj) and princely states in Andhra, West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura. Even though these heroic struggles mobilized poor peasants and other oppressed sections in the countryside, including Muslims, untouchables, and tribals, their Stalinist leaders all came from uppercaste rich and middle peasantry and served the interests of that class. The popularity of these revolts eventually allowed the Stalinists to form bourgeois state governments in all those states except Andhra.
In these three strongholds they introduced limited land reforms, suppressed communalism, and expanded free education--in Kerala, as a result, there is now almost 100 percent literacy. In other states and in the center, the Stalinists supported whichever bourgeois party appeared to be the lesser evil at the moment. In Andhra, for example, the same Stalinists now supporting Congress had previously supported Naidu's TDP--whose leadership has a social composition very similar to their own--against Congress. Their own leader Pucchalapalli Sundarayya admitted at that time that he couldn't tell his own party's publication Prajasakthi (People's Power) from TDP propaganda. There is a widespread hatred among workers for the leaders of the CPI-M-affiliated CITU (Center for Indian Trade Unions), which not infrequently boils over into physical reprisals. In 2001, 200 Dunlop tire factory workers and their families, feeling betrayed when the factory closed and their long-due wages were withheld, attacked the president of the Dunlop unit of CITU and beat him up.
Although the Stalinists have made some noises that their support of Congress will be conditional on its stopping disinvestment in the public sector, their opposition to liberalization is fast dwindling in the heat. The CPI-M declared that they "welcome foreign investment and realize that no country could quarantine itself from globalization" (Daily Times, May 21). Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the CM of West Bengal's CPI-M government, is openly promising foreign investors (with a portrait of Lenin hanging behind him) that he will cut regulations, rein in labor unions, rid Calcutta of the plague of constant strikes, and shut down "sick" state-run industries. Even before the drafting of the common minimum program for the new coalition, the CPI-M party spokesman announced that partial disinvestment "could be discussed" (Outlook India, May 15). The common minimum program itself calls for encouraging foreign investment, slowing down--not stopping--privatization, and deeper ties with the United States.
At most, these Stalinists want a return to pre-BJP times. But what India needs is a socialist revolution. To make one it will take a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party that will organize workers across communal, national, and caste lines--rallying the poor peasants behind them--and link their struggle to those of workers in the imperialist countries.
(May 21, 2004)