Assessment and Accountability

Winds of Change?


Among the five states that recently went to the assembly polls, Mizoram is a very small one. Delhi is not a large state but it being the national capital, polls in this state are important in national politics. Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are medium-sized states in terms of population. These three states, taken together, have 72 parliamentary seats.

From the poll results, it is clear that the Congress will not be able to retain its present number of seats in the next parliament. Some are arguing that the poll results point to the popularity of Narendra Modi and that Modi is going to be the next Prime Minister of India. It should, however, be kept in mind that before the Lok Sabha polls of 2004, the BJP won the assembly polls of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and it also won the majority of the pariamentary seats of these three provinces in 2004. Yet it could not win the Lok Sabha polls of 2004. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, communal politics has a strong presence and Narendra Modi has acquired a personal popularity. Narendra Modi participated in the electoral campaign in the Delhi assembly polls held recently, and many national dailies and electronic media did whatever possible to project Modi as Mr Clean. Yet the percentage of votes polled by the BJP has gone down. The more realistic thinkers have understood that there is going to arise a situation of political uncertainty in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha polls of 2014.

The UPA rule that began in 2004 is going to complete its tenth year, and this period has witnessed debates among the ruling classes themselves about the methods of managing the economy, and these debates have been reflected in the official policies adopted during this period. The Manmohan Singh-led government has taken various steps, e.g. privatization of state owned enterprises, privatization of pensions, foreign investment in retail trade etc, to carry forward the reform programme. Again, this very period has seen the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act, the Right to Forest Act and the Food Security Bill. A new law has been promulgated instead of the law of acquisition of land enforced first in 1894. A proper implementation of the acts and laws would have benefited the toiling masses and enhanced their bargaining power in the labour market. But neither the central government nor the state governments have paid proper attention to it. Workers that come under the purview of the NREGP have not got employment for more than 20-25 days a year instead of the promised 100 days. In some states this situation is extremely pitiable. Similarly, in respect of the Right to Forest Act, not more than 10 % of the adivasis or other forest-dwellers who had applied for the legal patta have got it. The task of implementing the Right to Education Act has not yet begun, although the mid-day meal programme has been implemented in a fair measure.

In general, it can be said that although the various social security programmes have led to some changes in the life of the people, they are by no means remarkable. On the other hand, particularly during the second term of the UPA government, the issue of corruption by the leaders and ministers of the government have come into the open. Besides, the burden of inflation has aggravated the crisis in the life of the people. All the new jobs that have been created are in the unorganized and the informal sectors, where there is no limit to the working hours and the wages too are below the subsistence level. These reasons have led a large section of the electorte to characterize the UPA and the Congress as anti-people.

A parallel trend has emerged. Large capitalist groups and their advocates, i.e. theoreticians of liberal economics, have jumped into the field arguing that the people have rejected the programme of 'gratis '. They demand, along with the rejection of the Congress, the cancellation of the NREGA and the Food Security Bill. They also demand complete privatization of education and health care and reduction of budget deficit at any cost. In India, only 2% of national income is spent on education, and the share of health care is 1.5 % only. In any advanced country, this share is at least 5 % for each of these two sectors. It is curious that the market fundamentalist theoreticians are in favour of reducing budget deficits by leaving the basic necessities like food, education and healthcare to the market.

For considerable length of time, the big bourgeoisie, the large newspapers and other propaganda media have been working overtime to project Narendra Modi as the future Prime Minister of India. They have been trying to paint this person who masterminded the genocide of Gujarat as the symbol of development and presenting the Gujarat model to the whole of the country. After 2004, official efforts to acquire land for the capitalists have faced resistance and the land-grabbers have been forced to retreat in many cases. But Narendra Modi is acquiring land smoothly, because this 'iron man'' rules with an iron hand, leaving no room for protests. He can kill anybody by dubbing him/her a "terrorist' or keep a lady under constant police surveillance if he so desires. He sent Amit Shah, his right hand in engineering communal riots, to Uttar Pradesh and the latter too proved equal to the task by masterminding a large-scale riot in Mujaffarnagar. Regarding the human development index, Gujarat lies somewhere in the middle among the states of India, and at least six states are above it in this respect Yet the corporate tycoons have adopted Gujarat as the model because acquisition of land is easy there and labour may be exploited heavily because the normal democratic atmosphere is suppressed. In a word, they fancy the notion that with a person like Modi at the helm of affairs, they will be able to grab a greater share of the national product.

Recently, The Times of India, in an editorial, expressed dissent on the scheme of food security, arguing that it will raise the budget deficit disproportionately, intensify inflation and open up sources of corruption.

It is true that the Food Security Bill passed by the parliament will not solve the food problem for all. Yet it cannot be gainsaid that a somewhat greater portion of the Gross National Product will reach the labouring masses. This is what India's corporate lobby resents. Those farmers and non-cultivating landowners, who employ wage labour, are also opposed to NREGA or the Food Security Bill, because they have learnt through experience that implementation of them would raise the bargaining power of rural labourers and would make it difficult to compel the latter to work at low wages. So Modi is their bet.

Yet it is not that all the national and regional bourgeois elements have gone over to the side of the BJP. Till now, the Congress is the very party having a real presence at the national level, although they are now largely in a marginal position in states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu etc. Although it may be said that the BJP has gained in strength, this situation has not changed much even after the assembly polls in five states.

Then the rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi is a new phenomenon. This new outfit grew mainly through the anti-corruption movement. The per cpita monthly income of the citizens of Delhi is now about Rs 15,000 and a large section of them is now literate, and capable of receiving the propaganda of modern media. In such a special situation, the Aam Admi Party has grown up and been able to reach the people who, having learnt through their experience that the two major political parties are parties of self-seekers, have chosen the Aam Admi Party as the alternative. Some are drawing the conclusion that the victory of the AAP has put an end to the politics based on caste, religion and other identities. This is, however, an erroneous notion.

For one thing contesting the polls and becoming MLAs are increasingly becoming the preserve of the rich. The majority of the elected candidates in all the five states have assets worth more than Rs 10 million.

There is no guarantee that in the Indian parliamentary system, the state would be guided by the interests of the toiling masses if persons from the poor or the middle classes were elected to the parliament or assemblies. Rather what has been found is that the state consituted by the parliament, administration, judiciary and army protects the interests of the capitalists and landed gentry. It is true not only of the Indian reality, but also of those countries where the bourgeois-democratic system has been functioning for a long time. On the other hand, it is also true that in particular situations, when the ability of imperialism to intervene is weakened or domestic reactionaries cannot sabotage the democratic process, a government elected by the votes of the majority can take many steps in people's interest. This trend has been observed in the Latin American countries in the last two decades. Whether these countries can be called examples of ‘twentieth century socialism’ is debatable, but there can be no doubt that these countries, including Venezuela, have successfully smashed the hegemony of US and introduced a pro-people economic system to some extent.

In this perspective, the trend of the rich increasingly taking hold of the space of the Indian electoral system is extremely dangerous. All-India parties like the Congress and the BJP receive tens of billions of rupees from the corporate groups as donations, and the candidates obtain money from the central fund. Currently, it is observed that not only these two parties, but other regional outfits too, are fielding candidates who are economically rich. Two decades of the neo-liberal regime have given birth to a class of rich at the regional level too, and this class, in order to preserve and multiply its wealth, is investing this money in electoral battles. Incidents are not uncommon that persons aspiring to be candidates of some potentially strong parties are paying money to the leaders. In the last assembly polls in West Bengal, many won their candidatures by paying large amounts of money.

One exception has been there, namely the case of the candidates of the AAP in the Delhi assembly polls.

In Rajasthan, the CPI(M) has lost all the three seats that they had won in 2008, although in two of them it has occupied the second position. It is curious that the votes against the Congress cast by the electorate in order to bring a change of government have not gone to the leftists; they have instead been pocketed by another rightist and communal force. It signifies the weakness of the left.

The leftists who, after the Naxalbari uprising, formed the CPI (ML) are now divided into many parties and groups. Among them, the Maoists are active in many states, but they do not participate in the elections. Those who do so do it only as a tactics, as a platform for propagating their own political views among the people. Their manifestoes do not contain the promise of forming governments after electoral victory, nor do they present any minimum programme for it. In consequence the people do not take their electoral fight seriously. On the other hand, those who have formed governments have adopted cabinet formation as their sole aim and in the upshot, have accepted the neo-liberal package. Both types of deviations are inimical to the growth of leftist movements.

Everybody, however, understands that even after so much toil and trouble, the BJP and his allies will not go anywhere near the capture of 270 seats. Hence efforts are there to set up close contacts with the regional outfits. The Trinamul Congress of West Bengal is their tested ally.

The Lok Sabha polls are still a few months away and many more events will take place during the intervening period. It remains to be seen how the people use the polls of 2014.
[Translated from Bengali,
Courtesy : Deshkal Bhabna]

Vol. 46, No. 33, Feb 23 - Mar 1, 2014