A comment on the Indian General Election
After five short-lived governments and three general elections in as many years, the Indian electorate (350 million of whom, representing 50% of the total eligible, went to the polls) have returned to office the 25-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with an increased majority. Although the BJP’s own strength in the 13th Lok Sabha (the lower house) is the same as in the last parliament, that of its allies has registered significant improvement. On the other hand, the Congress Party, which has ruled India for two-thirds of the time since independence of the country from British colonial rule, turned in its worst-ever performance as regards the number of seats it won, while increasing marginally its share of the vote.
The latest election was occasioned by the collapse of the previous government, also headed by BJP’s Vajpayee, consequent upon the defection of one of the BJP’s regional allies, the AIADMK from the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The Congress Party, des-perately seeking to get back into power, offered to form an alternative government. In this, the Congress Party received the full support of the CPI(M) and the CPI, two of the largest communist parties of India. It was claimed at the time by those associated with this initiative that it was imperative to defeat the BJP and save India from the BJP’s communal onslaught; and, further, that there was no viable alternative to the Congress forming the government. Far from installing the Congress in office, this miserable scheme ended in splitting the left front, with the Forward Block (FB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) refusing to support a Congress government. In addition, the CPI and CPI(M)’s support for Congress drove a wedge between these two parties and the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Mulayam Singh Yadav, a major force in the largest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) – thus effectively killing the idea of a third front in opposition to both the BJP and the Congress.
In an article which appeared in the
of 22 October 1999, Mr Yadav says:
“… I hold the Congress and its supporting parties squarely responsible for giving Mr Vajpayee another term virtually on a platter.” He goes on to relate that on April 21 (the day the Vajpayee government fell) there was a meeting at his place attended by, among others, H K S Surjeet and A B Bardhan, the General Secretaries of the CPI(M) and the CPI respectively.
“This meeting unanimously wanted Mr Jyoti Basu
[Chief Minister of West Bengal and a politburo member of the CPI(M)]
to be the prime minister … The move fell through because Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not prepared to let any other name than her own to be considered.”
Thus it was that, while the Vajpayee government lost the no-confidence motion, the Congress Party was unable to gain sufficient support to enable it to form the government, necessitating fresh elections, thanks to the correct refusal of the RSP, FB and the Samajwadi Party to support the Congress. After all, it was the Congress Party which, by withdrawing its support, had brought about the downfall of the Deve Gowda and I K Gujral ‘third front’ (called National Front at the time) government in 1997 and thus paved the way for the election of the BJP-led 15-party coalition following the general election in early 1998.
The attempts by the CPI(M) and the CPI to portray the Congress as a secular alternative to the communal BJP fell flat for, in the words of Mr Yadav,
“who can forget that the most vicious riots in recent years, in which hundreds have been killed and property worth crores destroyed – be they the Meerut and Maliana carnages or the ones in Varanasi or Aligharh or anywhere else – all of them took place when the Congress was in power? The foundation for the Ram
in Ayodhya was also laid when the Congress was at the helm. Rajiv Gandhi also began his 1989 election campaign from Faizabad. It is also an open secret that when the Babri
was demolished and a fresh structure erected at the site, the Congress was in power at the Centre. This is the real face of the Congress brand of secularism.” (ibid.)
Mr Yadav, in the concluding paragraph of his article, reiterates that the
“main culprit in helping the BJP return to power at the centre is the Congress. All those who aligned themselves with the Congress have suffered badly, be it the CPI(M), the CPI, the AIADMK or the RJD”,
“no stability or unity is possible unless a concerted attempt is made to forge a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative.”
It is doubtless the case that those who, in an attempt to project a sham alternative in the Congress Party, sold their souls to the devil and debased the politics to which they profess adherence, have been made to look ridiculous.
The most urgent task facing the communists in India, especially the CPI(M), is the need to make an analysis of not just the events leading to the last general election, but of the last decade at least, and of their own policy. Instead of attending to this, in an article in his party’s weekly organ, Cde H K S Surjeet, the General Secretary of the CPI(M) comes up with the same old chestnuts everyone rightly associates with him.
Entitled ‘NDA Government – A majority but no stability’, this article accuses the BJP of opening
“the floodgates to multinational corporations”,
“a complete reversal”
in India’s foreign policy, with
“a definite tilt towards US imperialism,”
and of causing a deterioration of India’s
The article charges the BJP with having made
“unprecedented use of the electronic media to its advantage.”
Last, he castigates the BJP for having entered into an unholy alliance with parties
“which had fought against and campaigned against their
[i.e., the BJP’s]
with parties and groups
“that it had been opposed to and had been fighting all along.”
Referring to the state assembly elections in the state of Maharashtra, which took place at the same time as the election for the Indian Parliament, and alluding to the 124 seats won by the BJP and the 77 and 57 won by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress respectively, Cde Surjeet, with a tinge of sadness, observes:
“Had it been a united Congress, the Assembly results … would have been different.”
The whole thrust of the article, even AFTER the debacle of the election, is to portray the Congress Party as a secular, anti-imperialist party, which not only improved India’s relations with neighbouring countries but also bolstered India’s defences against the invasion of multinational corporations – and thus to persist in the justification of his wrong policy – that of support for Congress – which Cde Surjeet has pursued with a zeal worthy of a better cause ever since the Chandigarh Congress of the CPI(M) where he first propagated this policy, causing an uproar.
We have no need to add a single word to what Mr Yadav has said in his observation, quoted above, by way of exposing the Congress brand of secularism. As to improving relations, India is only now beginning to recover from the deterioration of our relations, following the 1962 border war with her most important neighbour, to wit, the People’s Republic of China. This needless war was fought by the ‘progressive’ Nehru government at the instigation of US imperialism. It was fought by the same Nehru government which gave quarter to the reactionary Dalai Lama and his entourage after the People’s Liberation Army had suppressed the reactionary rebellion organised by this theocracy, liberated the masses of the Tibetan serf population from its clutches and opened for them a new era of economic and cultural advance and material prosperity.
The door to the imperialist penetration of the Indian economy was unlocked by the previous Congress administrations, just as was the door to the Babri Masjid. Undoubtedly the trickle has over the years, during which there have been Congress and non-Congress governments, including the National Front government supported by the CPI(M), turned into a flood. All the bourgeois governments, including the BJP-led, must shoulder responsibility for that. One thing, however, that can neither be ignored, nor forgotten, is the fact that it is the Congress Party which provided governance to India for two-thirds of India’s existence since Independence. The legacy of the Congress governments is grotesque. Here are a few facts.
Nearly 60 million people in India are unemployed, while there are 45 million child labourers. In the countryside, among the 160 million cultivators and labourers, there is a very high incidence of unemployment and under-employment, with people not getting the minimum work opportunity of 270 days a year – but only of 180 days. The conclusion thus suggests itself that only 100 million people are needed to carry all the necessary agricultural operations, leaving 60 million people with no work in agriculture.
400 million people live below the government’s own poverty line, which anywhere is a euphemism for destitution.
“Some 450 million Indians live on less than a dollar a day (at international purchasing power parity). This means that close to 40 per cent of the world’s poorest people are Indians.” (Financial Times,
13 October 1999). According to UNICEF, half the Indian population can neither read nor write. Again, India is home to nearly half of the world’s illiterate population.
One has only to compare India since Independence with the accomplishments of the former Soviet Union or that of the People’s Republic of China during the five decades following the Russian and Chinese revolutions to realise the wide chasm that divides the rule of the landlord and bourgeois classes, with its inevitable misery, filth and oppression and exploitation, and the rule of the proletariat which puts an end to exploitation, poverty and opens for the masses for the first time an era of progress and freedom.
It is laughable to think that Cde Surjeet considers that the BJP has made an
“unprecedented use of the electronic media to its advantage”
during the elections, knowing as all Indians do of the misuse of the media by all Congress administrations. During the days of the late Mrs Indira Gandhi, the All India Radio was, with great justification, referred to as the All Indira Radio. In fact, the bourgeoisie and their governments all over the world practise a media blackout on all proletarian politics and political activity. In the capitalistically less-developed nations, however, the parties in power also deprive their bourgeois opponents of an equal opportunity in various fields – from media publicity to the bourgeois right to indulge in corruption. India is no exception.
Even more laughter provoking is Cde Surjeet’s accusation that the BJP has entered into an alliance with parties that it had opposed. So did the CPI(M)! Or are we to believe that the CPI(M) is in complete agreement with the Congress Party, the RJD, the AIADMK, etc.? Why should one work oneself into a lather at the bourgeois parties doing that which is being done by what after all is a party of the proletariat – after all, it is far less shameful for the former to indulge in unprincipled horsetrading in order to get into office at any price that for the latter.
Cde Surjeet expresses the worry that the BJP-led alliance would not be able to provide a stable government. Why? For while the BJP has been unable to improve on its strength in the previous parliament, that of its allies has been increased. The BJP, he says, will be
“much more precariously placed, with the added strength that is allies have gained.
The increased strength of its allies gives them more bargaining power and … leverage. Many of these parties will be forced to oppose the pursuit of Hindutva agenda by the BJP in government. Most of them represent regional aspirations and their outlook and perceptions come in conflict and contradict position of the BJP.”
In the event of the BJP succumbing to the RSS-Shivsena’s push for a communalist agenda, the BJP’s allies, he argues,
“will find it difficult to remain with them.”
He adds, with great profundity, that
“it is a very tricky situation.”
That the BJP government would not put an end to instability is not cause for mourning. On the contrary, it is an occasion for joy. This on two grounds: First, if the BJP’s allies, having emerged relatively more powerful in relation to the BJP, are able to thwart the latter’s communalist agenda, that is to be welcomed, even if it makes the BJP administration less stable than it would be with a solid majority of its own. Secondly, why should it worry the leader of a party of the working class that a particular bourgeois party would be unable to remove instability in government? The less stable the bourgeois government, the more chance do proletarian parties stand of getting rid of them and the entire bourgeois state machinery with them.
The reality, as shown by successive elections in India, is that the masses are losing their faith in bourgeois parties, which are falling apart at the seams. No bourgeois party has moral authority or appeal on an all-India level. Consequently, as the
correctly observed, apropos the general election just held in India:
“There has been a leakage of electoral power away from national parties towards regional and caste-based parties formed often at state level. The results of this election suggest the leakage is becoming a haemorrhage.
In broad terms, Indians voted state by state, and in some areas constituency by constituency. They left the overall arithmetical position of the two main national parties more or less the same, while changing nearly half the total of MPs and greatly increasing the representation of regional parties.”
(10 October 1999).
says that this election result has
“indisputably shown .. that elections in India have become not so much a national affair, much less a contest between two dominant parties or blocs, but the national aggregate of state by state contests determined by local concerns … there is clearly the danger that the states’ tail will wag the central government dog.”
In other words, bourgeois parties are disintegrating and unable to inspire the masses. In fact, during the last election, no national issue dominated the campaign,
“which was decided as never before at state and local level” (ibid.).
Far from bemoaning this disintegration, the party of the working class ought to give it a helping hand by mobilising the masses in their millions and sweep the entire unpleasant and degenerate crowd of bourgeois parties off the face of India.
Cde Surjeet too concludes his article by stressing the desirability for the
“Left … to play a much bigger role in mobilising the broader sections of the people”,
but only to foil the communal forces, defend the minorities, and
“the interests of the people.”
Important though these tasks are, taken in isolation from the struggle of the Indian masses for a democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class, which alone is the guarantee of its transformation into a socialist revolution, their accomplishment is at best transient, and at worst degenerates into the most horrible kind of bourgeois-liberal reformism. Sadly, there is not a word these days in the literature of the CPI(M), let alone in the article of Cde Surjeet, to suggest that it is serious about mobilising the Indian people for the overthrow of the state power of the Indian big landlord and bourgeois classes. The leadership of the CPI(M) devotes most of its time and energy to stitching together a succession of alliances of a variety of bourgeois outfits – each one worse than the previous.
Those who claim to be communists, to be adherents of the philosophy and ideology of Marxism-Leninism, have a duty to learn from their experience, both good and bad. They have a duty to mercilessly criticise their own mistakes. It is a matter of shame that a bourgeois paper like
has to remind, and rebuke, the communists in India of their duties towards the workers and peasants, the poor and the destitute, young and old, men and women, the unemployed, the hungry and the homeless, in the following terms:
“The message [of the election result]
should be clear to the Left front: if it wants to survive at even the present level of parliamentary strength, it should immediately begin work to build its base in states other than West Bengal and Kerala; and if it wants to grow it will have to go back to mass movement through which it can directly, and not through proxy, address the needs of the people. The advantages of the Left front are its cadres and its clear ideology. It has allowed the latter to be compromised with its misplaced faith in the capability of the centrist parties to counter the communal menace in the country. The regional parties who were once with the anti-communal third front and hesitated to sit on the same platform as the BJP, are now amongst the first to join hands with the same party to get a share of the cake in the government. The Congress has not been accepted as a secular alternative by even the voters of Uttar Pradesh who have preferred to remain with the Samajwadi Party. This over reliance on parties other than itself to challenge communal forces has done considerable damage to the Left front and to the issues which have moved away from the centre-state of Indian polity to the fringe. The Congress and opportunistic regional groups cannot bring these back into the mainstream. The Left must rely on itself to do this and use the help of others as and when necessary. This will mark a major reversal in its policy. If the Left parties are at all serious about their ideology and future, there is no other option. The comrades have tried out all possible alternatives. Now it is time for genuine mass movements and a direct rapport with the poor, oppressed people of India; because, the problems have not changed, the issues remain the same. Only the Left has lost its moorings.”
(‘Right in, Left out’, leading article in the
12 October 1999).
In other words: Back to the basics of Marxism-Leninism or perish. This is the choice that stares the Indian communists in the face. May they be bold and sagacious enough to make the right choice.