India is staging its latest parliamentary election in seven phases. It started on 11 April and is scheduled to finish on 23 May. In this election, 900 million people are eligible to vote.
The country is gripped by election fever, with the bourgeois parties pitching for the favour of the electorate by making all sorts of fantastic promises, which they will not be able to keep – and they know it.
The thoroughly sectarian and Hindu fundamentalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) which in the general election of 2014 stormed to power gaining an absolute majority on its own (something which had not happened to any party for two decades) did so by promising to create millions of jobs each year, modernising India’s economy, to concentrate on development, to fight corruption and to assert India’s role in the international arena. During that election, the BJP played down its fundamentalist credentials, with Modi coming up with the slogan ‘Toilets before temples’, promising to clean up the dirt and filth which is such a shameful hallmark of bourgeois/landlord India. The electorate fell for these promises.
Five years on, it is clear to everyone except the blind that the Modi government has failed miserably on all these counts. Instead of reducing unemployment, Modi’s government has presided over its rise. Unemployment is now higher than at any time over the last four decades. Economic development is less than during the previous ten years of Congress-led government.
Instead, what this government has done is stoke communal divisions between communities on religious lines. It has enfranchised Hindu chauvinism as never before unleashed by its affiliates (the RSS and HWP) who have been attacking, beating, and in some cases killing, Muslims and lower-caste people suspected of slaughtering cows. It appears cow protection, not development, is the programme of the BJP.
India is one of the major beef exporting countries, exporting about $4bn worth annually. As a result of the violence and intimidation of the BJP zealots, these exports are down 10%, harming India’s economy in more than one way.
India’s cities and towns, rivers and coastline are as dirty as when the BJP came to office in 2014. The BJP can claim the distinction of presiding over India becoming the country with the ten most polluted cities in the world. Anyone who visits India cannot fail to notice that people avoid big Indian cities such as Delhi because the air is so toxic and harmful to health. Instead of cleaning up India, the BJP is busy propagating hate speech, re-writing history books, changing place names, and making pseudo-scientific claims at scientific conferences which make India a laughing stock among the international scientific community.
Modi’s Party chief, Amit Shah, has threatened to throw Muslim immigrants from Bangla Desh into the Bay of Bengal and deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Burma. All in all, the BJP has achieved notoriety by unconscionably polarising India along religious lines.
Even in the centres of imperialism, any party propagating what the BJP is saying and doing in India would be rightly condemned as xenophobic and racist.
The BJP had promised before the 2014 election to improve the lot of farmers. In practice there is far more economic distress among the farmers, with suicides among them registering a steep rise. It introduced the GST (Goods and Services Tax), the rollout of which was botched, in the process hurting millions of small businesses. On 8 November 2016, the BJP government, all of a sudden, demonetised 87% of the currency in circulation, destroying in its wake millions of livelihoods in a country whose economy is so reliant on cash transactions. Its ‘Make India’ programme has been a failure, with India’s share of global trade a miserable 1.7%.
And yet India is a country half of whose population is under 25, where 300 million people have bank accounts and more than 1bn have cell phones. The Modi government has failed abysmally to capitalise on this demographic dividend and the talents of its youth.
In the area of foreign policy, the Modi government is increasingly aligning itself with US imperialism in the latter’s crusade against Russia and China, especially the latter. Carried to its extreme, this alliance spells disaster for India. Instead of learning proper lessons from the 1962 war with China, the Modi government is allowing itself to be drawn into conflict on the side of US imperialism, with fearful consequences for everyone involved, especially India. The Modi government’s idea of extending influence on the world stage boils down to enlisting India into the war plans of the US, acting as the latter’s flunkey and providing cannon fodder in the service of imperialism.
In view of the above, the BJP is seeking re-election by doing what it does best – stoking fear among the Hindus of the danger posed by the Indian Muslim minorities. This is absurd for how can 170 million Muslims (15% of India’s population) pose a danger to India’s 965 million Hindus? The BJP has been doing this since 2002 when over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed under Modi’s watch in Gujarat, when he was the state’s Chief Minister. He and his Party, and the plethora of lunatic fundamentalist outfits which form its base and core, have mastered the art of linking the threat of terrorism to Muslims and Pakistan. Instead of economic issues, Modi is seeking re-election on a security platform.
It is not surprising, therefore, that he seized upon the 14 February suicide attack in Pulwana (in Indian administered Kashmir) that killed 44 Indian paramilitaries. The attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohamed (JEM), a Pakistani terrorist outfit with close ties to the Pakistani army. This was manna from heaven for Modi. He used the occasion to address rallies with jingoistic speeches in an attempt to arouse anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment.
On 26 February the Indian Air Force, on Modi’s instructions, carried out a ‘preventive’ missile strike on what it claimed was a terrorist training camp in the Bagakot area inside Pakistan, on the basis of ‘credible intelligence’ that fanatics from JEM were preparing an attack on India.
Modi and his supporters went lurid with ecstasy. But their joy did not last very long for a day later, on 27 February, Pakistan downed an Indian MIG-21 which landed on Pakistani territory, capturing its pilot – Abhinandan Varthaman.
On 28 February, in an act of statesmanship, Pakistani Premier, Imran Khan, announced that Pakistan would return Wing Commander Abhinandan to India immediately, saying “In our desire for peace and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody”.
The Indian government’s response was to say that “If they [the Pakistanis] are serious about improving relations, we expect concrete, credible action against terrorists and terror infrastructure in Pakistan”.
The fact of the matter is that the Pakistani army does not want improved relations between India and Pakistan, for such an improvement spells death for the Pakistani army which has ruled Pakistan directly or indirectly for nearly the entire existence of the country. Lack of tension on the India-Pakistan border would deprive the Pakistani army of their huge military budget and opportunities for corruption and lucrative businesses. So every time a civilian Pakistani government takes steps to improve relations with India, the Pakistani army stages a provocation through its proxy terrorist outfits to queer the pitch. This time was no different. On becoming prime minister, Imran Khan wrote to Modi proposing comprehensive talks, saying that they owed it to “our people, especially future generations, to peacefully resolve all outstanding issues … bridge differences and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.”
Five months later, in February this year, the JEM terror group struck, killing 44 Indian paramilitaries.
Earlier, too, in 2014, Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration. Apparently they got on well with each other. And, on Christmas day 2015, Modi surprised both countries with an unplanned and unexpected visit to Mr Sharif’s home to celebrate the wedding of the latter’s grand-daughter. Just a week later, eight Indian security personnel and a civilian were killed at an air force base in Pathankot, in Indian Punjab. In 2017, the Pakistani army deposed Nawaz Sharif.
There are several other incidents in this pattern. An intelligent Indian administration should have little difficulty in understanding that the actions of the Pakistani top brass are not just aimed at India More importantly, they are targeted at Pakistani civilian governments if they dare depart from the army’s anti-India stance. It is a problem that the Pakistani people alone can solve. Instead of adopting a jingoistic stance, as has the Modi government and its lunatic zealots in the BJP and the hydra-headed Hindu Privar (Hindu Family), the need is to exercise patience and to explain to the Indian and Pakistani masses alike the method behind the madness of the Pakistani armed top military establishment and isolate it in the eyes of the Pakistani masses. Such a course is admittedly difficult requiring patient strategic thinking, which the BJP government is obviously incapable of adopting.
When in 2008 the Pakistani-based terror group Lashkare Toiba (LT) staged a terror attack in Mumbai, hitting the main railway station and two luxury hotels, killing 166 people, Manmohan Singh’s government was under extreme pressure to hit targets in Pakistan. Wisely it refused to go along that path. For that, Manmohan Singh was accused by the BJP of lacking courage. Well, this time the Modi government has launched a missile attack on Pakistani soil. Contrary to the government’s claims, these missiles, instead of hitting terrorist training camps, fell on some barren land, according to military experts. The ensuing dogfight between Pakistani and Indian fighter planes, resulted in the downing and capture of an Indian airforce officer. The whole scenario might have pleased the unthinking devotees of the BJP, and might even have worked, though this is doubtful, to the electoral advantage of the BJP, but beyond that it has achieved nothing. Besides, this kind of brinkmanship carries the risk of triggering a far more serious conflict between two countries, with fearful consequences.
Instead of branding all dissent and disagreements as a bid to weaken India, it should jettison its own brand of toxic politics of dividing the Indian people along religious lines. Instead of characterising Indian Muslims as anti-India, Modi and his followers need to get it into their thick skulls that India belongs to Muslims and other minorities as much as it does to the Hindus. Anyone targeting the Muslims is in essence working against the interests of India.
It is a reflection of the weakness of the communist movement that the BJP gets such space to practise its fundamentalist brand of divisive and poisonous politics. All the same, the BJP has, through its actions, aroused a great deal of hostility on the part of minorities, the farmers and the small traders. Even big business houses who backed it in 2014 are unhappy because the government has failed to privatise public assets and has not reformed the labour legislation to suit the needs of the exploiting classes. In view of this, it is unlikely that the BJP will be returned to parliament with an overall majority. If it manages to stay in office, it will be at the head of a coalition of disparate parties. It must be the hope of every progressive Indian that this nasty outfit will be booted out of office.
Looking far ahead, the problems between India and Pakistan, and within each of these countries, will only be resolved through the overthrow of the exploiting classes, and the coming to power of the proletariat. Only then will the subcontinent begin an era of fraternal cooperation, peace and prosperity. May that day soon dawn. Let the communists in both countries devote themselves wholeheartedly to this, the most urgent task, no matter what difficulties and obstacles lie in their way.