For A New Democracy, July-Sept 2009
The corporate press is beside itself in its celebration of the Congress victory. With Biman Basu and other CPI(M) stalwarts playing the drone to hide their own dismal performance, the corporate press has played the sweet melody of a Congress wave. Having established the melodic line, the modulations begin. It is a vote for more so-called reforms, i.e., more capitalism by dispossession, more cuts in welfare spending and a general withdrawal of social safety nets and more of the rest of the prescription from the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. It is also a vote, the media tell us, that stabilizes the launching pad for India to become the local gendarme of the US imperialists.
Was there a Congress wave? There was no doubt an increase of 2 percent in this party’s vote share nationally. Compared to Indira Gandhi’s triumph after the Bangladesh war or her ignominious defeat five years later, 2 percent is not something to crow about. The vagaries of the first past the post election system has allowed the Congress to win a greater percentage of seats than their mandate of less than 29 percent of votes polled. Consider the Andhra Pradesh results. The vote share of the Congress there actually declined by 2.6 percent but its share of the seats went up from 28 in 2004 to 33. It is that familiar story of adversial vote division, thanks largely to the rise of another thespian on the Southern parliamentary firmament. Among major States, Congress gained in vote share significantly in the so-called BIMARU (4) States and Punjab, while shedding vote share in Orissa, Chhatishgarh and Jharkhand, along with Andhra Pradesh. Without going into the details of vote divisions and causes that account for the Congress vote, it is safe to say that the results show a mixed bag for the Congress and it is certainly not a wave of any kind.
This notion of the wave brings the corporate media to another fond idea pushed by their mentors in Washington and Tel Aviv: the result of the general election shows that the country is on the edge of a bipolar electorate, with the Congress and the BJP at the two poles. Two neo-liberal parties ruling India alternatively from a strong national integrationist (read soft and hard Hindutva) centre and serving the US imperialists single-mindedly must be the panacea favoured by the captains of industry and commerce to quell the millions of insurgencies engulfing India today. But is the idea true when we know that the BJP has dug itself into a hole and the combined vote share of the two big parties has declined in this election? In spite of a strategic ¬weakening vis-à-vis the present composition of the Lok Sabha, the centrifugal forces representing various compositions of caste, tribe, religion, language and region (which includes the three regional satrapies of the CPI(M)-led front) still command a vote share equal to or more than the two so-called national parties. It is easy for the casteists of the media, for instance, to mock Mayavati’s ambition to become the first Dalit Prime Minister, but it is somewhat inconvenient to ignore the fact that her vote share did not change significantly from what she had received during her assembly triumph. It was rational of her to expect many more parliament seats, but that did not happen due to various factors, mainly adverse vote division, one of the lesser gainers being the Congress. That Congress has just about emerged from the doldrums with some mild wind on its sails in UP, but there is no wave in sight. The Congress gained in vote share and seats in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan, places precisely where there were no significant local forces and the fight was between it and the BJP. In Maharashtra, it gained some seats because the Shiv Sena votes got divided. The so-called Congress wave did not carry the party very far in Orissa. As long as Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva, in the softer or the harder version prevails as the mechanism of integrating the country, new centrifugal forces will rise over and over again until a federal polity with multi-layered autonomies is established. Only a twenty-first century socialism that builds upon the positive experiences and eschews the blunders of twentieth century socialism can deliver such decentralization. Until that day, the corporate media and the leaders of the ruling classes can crow to their hearts’ delight, but the democratic consciousness that has embedded itself in the Indian people will not allow centripetal forces to grow without decentralization to the grassroots and federalism.
Whatever the corporate media might conjecture about the future of economic policy, the Indian ruling classes, like the ruling classes all over the capitalist world, have been shaken to the core by the collapse of the neo-liberal verities. Already, a section of the Congress is crowing about their sagacity in not going the whole hog in opening up the economy more fully when in fact their sagacity would have taken us much further if not restrained by the mass movement. Some are even brushing up on their paens to Indira Gandhi’s policy of nationalisations and a strong public sector when only the mass movement stopped them from privatising everything in sight. But such dishonest posturing shows that some powerful sections of the ruling classes are already trying to confront the policies pursued by the World Bank dream team of Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The fundamentals of economic policies are vital to a ruling class and that class tends often to split on them. The people must keep a close watch and utilise even the mildest contradictions that emerge from differences on such policies.
The corrosive fluids of our mass poverty and our inhuman deprivations took the shine off the BJP’s Shining India five years ago. The shine was in the malls, the superhighways and the vicious ideology of individual selfishness propagated as the trickle down theory whereby the poor will also get to play in the long run, but right now let the Ambanis present their spouses with fifty-floor town houses. The BJP has not recovered from that debacle. It did not put up any serious economic issues because it was unsure about its own roots in the ruling classes. Its top leaders knew that shrill Hindutva had become counter-productive, although well into the campaign some of its leaders, apprehensive about the outcome, tried to revive it through the vicious and vulgar Varun Gandhi and his mother. Without a sharp edge to policies and barely concealed in-fighting for leadership, the BJP did perhaps better than expected. Now the daggers are out and it is not certain that these saffronites will not fight each other until a return back to the insignificance of the Jan Sangh days is assured.
The electoral fate of the CPI(M)-led Left Front has surprised many people. In Tripura its vote share has gone down very significantly. In Kerala it was nearly decimated. And in West Bengal it has received a body blow from which it will not recover very soon, if ever.
The causes for the loss of vote share in Tripura and West Bengal were similar. The Tripura bhadraloks followed their West Bengal kin in corruption, arrogance and the use or threat of violence against all civil society assertions in order to establish a monolithic party raj. Opposed to this party raj, the people of Tripura, especially the tribals who are drifting away from unproductive terrorism and rising in mass movements, are now ready to follow in the wake of the anti-CPI(M) tsunami in West Bengal. That mass movement has to develop much further before a debacle overtakes the Tripura CPI(M). We carry on another page an analysis of the West Bengal elections.
In Kerala, the party would appear to be vertically split with many elements, pro- and anti-people, leaving the party. The violence there is a little muted compared to West Bengal and Tripura, but the corruption is rampant. Nevertheless it would appear that, unlike West Bengal, there are in Kerala substantial groups of people in the CPI(M) who have not totally jettisoned communist ways among the people in their struggles. The immediate causes of the Kerala debacle is the corruption case against the state secretary and the ensuing faction fights, his pursuit of anti-people neoliberal policies and, radiating out of the party’s factionalism, mistreatment of allies. Those who left the party also contributed to heavy losses in areas where the party establishment was always strong. Parliamentary cretins that they are, powerful sections of the CPI(M)’s leadership wish to put down their debacle to the withdrawal of support from the UPA over a perfectly legitimate, anti-imperialist issue. They say that they could not explain the nuclear power issue, so Karat is to be blamed. Why couldn’t they explain? Because the babus of Alimuddin Street had already issued eviction notices under the grotesque Land Acquisition Act of 1894 to thousands of villagers in East Medinipur in order precisely to set up a nuclear reactor as and when the US accepts India’s capitulation through the nuclear deal. More generally, how could Alimuddin speak of and explain any anti-imperialist stance when it has ecstatically swallowed every economic prescription by Washington.
The fact is that the withdrawal of support from the UPA caused the debacle in West Bengal is just a bit of a fancy confidence trick. After the fascist massacre at Nandigram, after Singur, after millions of violent acts since coming to power over three decades ago, after their final exposure as revisionist renegades who cause and preside over hunger, malnutrition, lack of healthcare for the poor, national and linguistic suppression, blatant caste, tribal and religious discrimination, etc. the poor people of West Bengal, especially the workers and peasants, have decided to give them the boot. The parliamentary results were inevitable after the mass movement grew to explosive proportions,
Parliamentary cretinism is so ingrained and powerful in this party that all the grand anti-imperialist analyses that emerge from the Gopalan Bhavan and the curious enclaves in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) cannot move this party beyond some parliamentary pressure on the government.
The Lok Sabha polls have dealt a stunning blow on Indian revisionism. It will take them a long time to recover, if at all there is a recovery. This opens up interesting prospects for a correct process of uniting and coalescing the millions of revolts, big and small, that have already covered the whole map of India. This will not be easy. The working class in the manufacturing sectors and the vast employee sector in the industrial and capitalist service sectors are still not out of the clutches of mainly revisionist leaderships. The largest working women’s organisation is led by the CPI(M). The revisionist debacle at the polls and the mass movement against revisionism is still a peasant movement mainly. These other vital sections could be galvanised into revolutionary action if hard work among them on the basis of policies that eschew sectarianism and adventurism can be put in place.
Imperialism is in great crisis because of the economic meltdown. Many different forces are rising up to lead the people’s discontent. Policies and action should be the judges of these forces and exposure shall follow with the development of the movement. But there should not be any policy of exclusion based on the idea of single party hegemony of old communist history.