Elections In Assam

Conflict between Society and State

Arup Baisya

In Assam, the election is predominantly a bipolar one between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition of minor parties and Congress led Mohajot (Grand Alliance). There is a third force in the hustings and this third force is popularly called Assamese nationalist force. This third force consists of two political formations which were formed by Akhil Goigoi's Krishak Mukti Samiti and other by All Assam Students Union (AASU). These political formations have emerged in the background of anti-CAA movement. The political observers are of the opinion that they will eat into a small section of anti-BJP votes and are actually playing at the hands of BJP. This was inevitable and is ingrained in the history of Assamese nationalist movement which has always been resuscitated by subverting the peasants' bargaining power and by using tribal sectarianism and thus turned into chauvinism. This historical background led them to surrender before central power in Delhi and this time, the Assamese chauvinism has been under the overwhelming influence and hegemonic control of the Hindutva politics of the saffronites.

Only a month or two back, political observers were predicting that BJP will come back to power easily with a thumping majority. But when Congress formed the coalition with United Democratic Front (UDF) and other small left parties and launched electoral campaign, though belatedly, BJP is facing a tough challenge and the contest is becoming interesting with every passing day. The unity between Congress and UDF in Assam politics speaks volumes. In a communally charged polity, this unity would not have happened openly because of the psychological fear of the Congress party of losing Hindu votes in the event of an alliance with UDF. It implies there is a social churning going on beneath the surface of apparent social reality, and this social churning gave the Congress the necessary moral courage to unite with a party predominantly under Muslim leadership and Muslim following, though this party never resorted to Muslim communal politics.

The dimension of social churning has been set by two factors acting in two mutually opposing directions. The penetration of capital occurred in the colonial period post-1850s when British changed their strategy to start production for super-profit from cheap labour and to develop market for European goods, though British with their various policy decisions like permanent settlement could transform feudalism to neo-feudalism to stall the development of independent domestic capitalism. Then there was a long phase of dirigiste post-independent development model followed by neoliberal restructuring, and especially during the neo-liberal development phase, a new small capitalist class along with large-scale workers emerged in both rural and urban landscape even in this backward state of Assam. The influence of old feudal class in the functioning of state has receded and this class lost control over the state, but the new aspiring class finds no place in the functioning of the state. This sets the conflict between old state structure and the emergence of new classes, a conflict of the society versus the state. The aspiration of the new classes could have been resolved through democratisation of the state. But control of the corporate capital over the functioning of the state compelled the state to pursue a development model that accentuated this conflict further.

What is the impact of this development model? In Assam, two large public sector paper mills have been closed. The Panchgram Paper mill was the Asia's largest paper mill. It has been closed when it reached to breakeven point and started making profit. Lakhs of people whose livelihood was dependent on this mill became jobless. The employees died without treatment and few committed suicide because their monthly earning stopped and their PF was not paid. The Govt. pursued a citizenship policy to serve the interest of the corporate for creating the army of cheap labour who becomes stateless. An industrial belt has been cropped up in Kamrup district. These industries use cheap labour, who are uprooted from agricultural land, destroyed the ecology and land, contaminated local river water, created scarcity of drinking water and the life of rare water-dolphin has become in danger. The policy of constructing big dams endangers the lives of people in the vast swathe of land in river bank. The real wage in every sector including tea-wage has drastically plummeted; unemployment and price index are soaring. Now the corporatisation of agriculture will place the last nail on the lives of peasants who do not even get Minimum Support Price (MSP) and frequently face the situation of distress sale of their produces.

This two-fold affects from below and from above set the agenda for revolutionary transformation of social relations of productions and democratisation of state from a revolutionary perspective. In the absence of the united left revolutionary alternative, when the opposition led by Congress placed an inchoate version of an agenda focusing on working class especially the tea-workers vis-à-vis people's desire, the voters started responding to see whether a formidable challenge to the fascist forces can be thrown.

From the national perspective especially in the developed states, this conflict is much more intense than the backward states like Assam. Due to the intense conflict between the state controlled by the corporate capital and the new classes that emerged in the society, the existing institutions of the state are losing its credibility. To establish the writ of the state over the society, at this present juncture, the ruling class has no option but to go for fascistisation of state and resorted to repressive measures and on that count, they have discovered their new reliable ally of Hindutva Political force which is keen on establishing a centralised Hindu-Rashtra dismantling the constitutional democracy of federal structure.

It is the weakness of capitalism as a system which is in deep crisis and have not yet found an way out to revive capitalism. That does not mean that capitalism as a dynamic system cannot ever restructure itself to assuage the social unrest by accommodating the classes into a system to establish their hegemony. But for now, the systemic hegemony of capitalism is facing challenge from ever-growing social unrest.

One must understand that fascism is a passive revolution as delineated by Gramsci. When economic crisis transforms into political crisis, ruling class moves towards changing the form of the state from bourgeois liberal democracy to a fascist one. The principal contradiction is corporate, foreign and domestic, versus Indian masses. This passive revolution becomes successful in absence of the subjective force that can lead to an alternative for active revolutionary transformation for new democracy. This is fundamentally directed against the toiling masses for enslavement of the masses for super-exploitation. But to achieve this, the ruling class and their political ally need to dismantle the exiting constitutional bourgeois democratic institutions based on federalism of centre-state relation. The BJP Government has already dismantled many institutions. But to dismantle it completely, they must come to power in Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Due to the long history of left democratic movement and class-struggle, Bengal still retains their spirit of regional entity banking on which Mamata and her party is trying to keep their existence in national politics. The state like Tamil Nadu retains their strength, even more than Bengal, from their history of Dravidian movement which has reduced the mental distance between the Tamil middle class and the lower class and the party like DMK is trying to bank on it. So in this electoral politics, revolutionary task can not be anything but to ensure that BJP fails to grab the power and is defeated in all the states, especially Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Also, some aspects of the vibrant under-current of class-struggle need to be given a revolutionary direction and for that programmatic unity of left revolutionary forces is urgently needed and that process may be started with a joint campaign in the election to enlighten the masses about fascism and revolution. Then the on-going peasant movement that has completed four months demands serious attention.

Concerned people are aware of the implications of the farm act and corporatisation of agriculture. It will dismantle the food security system of India, uproot millions of small peasants from their land to become landless and reserve army of labour who cannot be absorbed in industries, deflate the income level of vast section of masses. Only 6% of the peasant community who now can avail MSP won't get it if laws are implemented . Due to income deflation, the people will consume less and the export of cheap agro-produces will be promoted in internationally competitive market when the Indian masses will be suffering from malnutrition and starvation, the commodity price will be linked to the vicissitudes of global market and Walmart. The flight of capital and value to imperialist centre is thus ensured.

But for the victory of this peasant movement, one must also take a cue from the history of the Indian peasant movement. In India, barring few instances of peasant movements organised by the left and within the limited domain of ethnicity and religiosity, in the history of the peasant movement, right from the Mughal period to colonial period, the Zaminders initiated the movement and peasants joined the struggle as their own interest converged with the Zaminders, be it against heightening of taxes or the oppression of planters in the cash-crop production like indigo in Bengal. But unlike the peasant uprisings in Germany, France etc, the Indian peasant uprising did not achieve any systemic, political or legal change. There may be many reasons behind it and these needs to be explored and strategy must be formulated based on it. But one factor is common to all such episodic event and this is the leadership of Zaminder class with their class-compromising attitude. This time the caste barrier is somewhat mitigated due to the prevalence of capitalism as dominant social relations of production, but so long as the class leadership of agricultural workers, small peasants and the working class in general is not established, the question of systemic change will not be the part of the agenda of struggle. For that, class struggle is to be oriented towards establishing the association of village community and the rural peasant-workers in the decision making process like the Soviets of pre-revolutionary Russia. This class struggle within the struggle for MSP and abolition of farm law can be easily developed in the backward states like Assam where capitalist Zaminders and rich farmers are weak as a class.

There are many hindrances and complicacies in achieving the goal of the unity of the communist revolutionaries even on the question of joint campaign during election. But they must sincerely strive for achieving a programmatic unity of CRs at this juncture.

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Vol. 53, No. 43, Apr 25 - May 1, 2021