'For whom the Bell Tolls?'

The verdict in assembly polls in three north Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh was on expected lines. The election results made it crystal-clear that the saffron brigade was ruling over a growing opposition. But for the Congres Party it was too close for comfort because they won more seats despite getting fewer votes. This time election in the Hindi heartland was more about economics than politics. But India is at a dangerous cross-roads with the far right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rooted in brahminical orthodoxy and hatred of minorities, is threatening whatever remains of democratic space to excercise constitutional rights. Barring Chattisgarh Congress posted narrow win in Rajasthan as also in Madhya Pradesh, while it was completely routed in North East. Margin is not that important at the moment. What matters most is 'winds of change' are blowing through the Hindi heartland that had helped Narendra Modi win the turf in 2014. No doubt Congress Party's return journey, at least in three states will brighten the prospects of opposition unity in the coming parliamentary polls in early 2019. For one thing what happens in the cow-belt today and tomorrow, will finally decide the shape of 17th parliament.

Man, Money, Modi—all failed to restart the stalled chariot of BJP. With the decline of BJP, at least in these three states, the peasant question returns. Results reflect agrarian distress of farmers and tribals. If the agrarian issue is put into proper perspective, it could be the game-changer in the forthcoming parliamentary election. The Malwa-Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh and Hadoti area of Rajasthan witnessed maximum number of farm suicides and became epicentre of farmers' agitation in recent months. Quite expectedly Congress Party won fabulously in the agrarian belt by offering subsidy to electricity and increase in support price for sugar cane, maze, gram and most importantly promise to write off farm loans.

The tribals of Chattisgarh have overwhelmeningly voted against the ruling BJP for more than one reason. Tribal people are being repressed by the state agencies for their soft corner for the naxalites. Any voice of dissent in this perennially violence-torn region is being equated with Maoist expression and police brutalities against ordinary innocent people follow. Also, alienation of tribal land is nowhere so pronounced as in the state of Chattisgarh—in terms of tribal land alienation a close parallel may be drawn with Jharkhand. What is more just on the eve of crucial polls, the BJP government of Chattisgarh came up with an obnoxious bill seeking empowerment of non-tribals to purchase tribal land. In other words it was a manipulative exercise to legalise illegally acquired land to help corporates, both domestic and foreign, and loot natural resources of this land.

The very existence of tribals in Chattisgarh is threatened. If they are asserting themselves as citizens of India it is because the naxalites have changed the political complexion of the region while giving the tribal people a sense of identity and dignity. It is unlikely for the new Congress government to talk differently when it is the question of tackling 'maoist menace'. That voters voted for a change cannot be disputed.

In their poll manifestos Congress highlighted jobs, farm distress and corruption as main issues. They were too eloquent to promise loan-waiver, increase in minimum support price for major crops. This might have caught the imagination of farmers who have been in a hopeless situation for long but Modi too promised reasonable return on farm produce before 2014 elections. And finally he failed miserably to deliver. That land question is at the core of the problem is a fact of life. Massive unemployment problem cannot be resolved without solving the agrarian crisis. Whether the official left is realising this basic truth against the backdrop of the recent poll mandate is open to question.

The official left doesn't matter much in the cow-belt, albeit once upon a time they used to make their presence felt in North Indian politics otherwise dangerously caste-ridden. They have always been happy to play the second fiddle to the Congress. The CPI contested in about 40 seats in the five states that went to polls and drew a blank while CPM somehow managed to wrest two seats from BJP in Rajasthan. They are deriving too much comfort from the fact that the voters in these states have shattered the myth that BJP under the stewardship Modi-Shah combine is invincible.

Modi's economic policies are a disaster for the country. They are fine-tuned to allow big business to flourish at the expense of toilers, wage-earners, farmers and middle class people in low income group, particularly in informal sector. But the left parties continue to put too much emphasis on BJP's communal agenda while failing to seriously attack the economic base that makes communal polarisation easier. Only sustained mass movements against Modi's notorious economic policies can create political space for all sectors of population. They have been talking about BJP's communal agenda for long without any success in uniting all anti-communal forces. Congress cannot oppose Modi's economic policies in principle—after all they were the prime mover of neo-liberal juggernaut. As they cannot disown their own past, the Gandhis are now trying to generate heat over the controversial Rafale deal to prove to the world that BJP is no less corrupt than Congress.

Modi will soon go down in history as an insignificant footnote if the corporates begin to back the Gandhi-family led Congress again. If mass organising against ever widening gap between haves and have-nots is to mean anything for today, then it must be in helping peasants, marginalised and unemployed confront the problem of how to make new beginnings even at a time when far right is ascendant. Faced with the prospects of eclipse in the next general election, the far right is now working overtime to divert public attention to minor issues and exploit mass discontent.


Vol. 51, No.25, Dec 23 - 29, 2018