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Does the Constitution keep its promises?

AchinVanaik

 

 

What makes India so distinct? Clearly no other country matches the scale of its religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity. India’s racial heterogeneity is exceeded by only a handful of West European and New World countries—the result of, among other factors, colonial-era experiences of conquest, the slave trade and resettlements, as well as post-colonial migrations from the south to the north. But while systems of exclusions predicated on notions of purity and impurity have been widespread across societies—solidified through kinship networks, status hierarchy and endogamy—nowhere else in the world does there exist a system of such extreme gradations of human worth as the caste system.

 

India was not the only former colonial country that opted for a liberal-democratic political set-up following independence. Even so, the enormity of its territorial expanse, population, social diversity and economic backwardness made it unique among democratic states. In the West, universal suffrage was extended to women and all races long after large-scale industrial and economic advancement had taken place. India, under vastly different circumstances, erected a political framework based on democratic principles—and barring the 21-month Emergency, it has sustained this framework so far. It is part of the reason why the Constitution, since its promulgation in 1950, commands such widespread admiration.

 

But now, almost seventy years later, the country is in the midst of a general election that threatens to return to power an organ of the Sangh Parivar—a group that has, in word and deed, demonstrated its antipathy to the progressive elements that exist in the Constitution. In light of this, it is time to open a more critical debate on the foundational charter of the republic.

 

Any evaluation of the Constitution cannot but be influenced by the political beliefs of the evaluator. Unlike liberals or social democrats, I believe that a more just, free, humane, egalitarian, democratic and ecologically sustainable country and world can only come about through the transcendence of capitalism and its associated political forms. I would contend thateven a liberal democracy, in the pursuit of such a country and world, soon runs up against insurmountable limits. The belief that today’s neoliberal capitalist order and the restricted freedoms and social benefits it allows can be substantially extended, or that its great inequalities of wealth and power can be dramatically reduced, is wishful thinking. The guiding vision for judging the Constitution should be one of a highly democratic and anti-bureaucratic socialism. But even those who do not share my vantage point, may be persuaded to find  that even by the best standards said to be contained in the document—social justice and welfarism, liberal democratic freedoms, secularism—the Constitution is wanting.

 

How well the Constitution measures up to its stated aspirations depends in large part on an evaluation of what it does to protect cultural and minority rights. This is a familiar standard for those of a liberal democratic worldview. But there is another criterion by which the Indian Constitution must also be judged: its commitment to the promotion and pursuit of social justice in a much wider sense, beyond just affirmative action for select groups. We need, then, to look at three things—the democratic content of the Constitution, its social-justice thrust, and its particular ways in which it addresses India’s distinctiveness.

 

Many claim that the Constitution is basically very good, but that its implementation has been flawed because of the ineptitude of politicians, bureaucrats and judges. The scholar Madhav Khosla, in his book The Indian Constitution, quotes Ambedkar saying “however good a constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those called to work it, happen to be a good lot.” But even while recognising the value of this admonition Khosla would not place so much emphasis on the power of individuals.

 

The political scientist Samir K Das in The Founding Moment: Social Justice in the Constitutional Mirror points to weaknesses in the document, mainly of omission. He cites the constitutional doyen, Granville Austin’s famous 1966 text The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation to argue that the document’s makers understandably could not foresee or account for future complexities and developments. But Das also sees the Constitution as having “multifarious concepts of justice” circulating within it, and argues that despite its weaknesses, proper interpretation and implementation of the Constitution would nonetheless constitute a bulwark against democratic degeneration.

 

This view flies in the face of how the Indian polity looks today. One cannot take refuge behind the argument that the Constitution—meant explicitly to shape all spheres of society—is blameless for the chasm between its good intentions and eventual societal outcomes. Around thirty percent of the population is in absolute poverty. If we account for the costs of basic needs such as education, health care and housing, another forty percent or so fall under the category of what the late economist and former chairman of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, Arjun Sengupta called the “vulnerable poor,” for whom the shock of a bad harvest, high inflation or an illness in the family can wreak havoc. Inequalities of income and wealth, and therefore of political power, are soaring. Hindu chauvinism, championed by the Sangh, has grown to be the single most dominant political ideal across the republic, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Sangh’s electoral arm, has achieved a truly national presence. Communal violence, previously episodic, in the last five years has become banal, with the police and courts doing little or nothing to stop or punish it. The one consistent bright spot in India’s trajectory over the last three decades is the political assertion of the oppressed castes, but even that is under constant assault.

 

The Constitution is widely said to be a “living document”—one that not only shapes the evolution of Indian society, but is itself influenced by evolving societal trends and patterns. If some countries replace old constitutions with new ones to keep them relevant, in India keeping the Constitution “alive” has required a steady accumulation of amendments. (The country has had 103 constitutional amendments in 69 years, where Australia has had eight in a hundred years, and the United States 27 in over two hundred.) It is then necessary to ask whether these changes, meant to address earlier flaws, have guided the Constitution in a more progressive direction, and by this helped to move society in the same way. Going by the current state of the polity, the answer is no.

 

 A chronological study of the complex interplay between the respective trajectories of the Constitution and Indian society is a worthy enterprise. I do not propose to take that ambitious course here, but this two-way interaction underlies all the questions I ask of the document. How much concern, past or present, is there in the Constitution for issues of social justice, or for generating stronger movement in that direction? What kind of democracy has the Constitution sought to promote? How much responsibility, if any, does it bear for sanctioning the undeniable authoritarian drift of the polity over time?

 

The asymmetries of class power are obscured in the Constitution by propping up a notion of the “people’s will,” as expressed through electoral democracy.  The Constitution is testament to the fact that the members of the original Constituent Assembly, incidentally not elected by universal suffrage, were overwhelmingly members of the Congress party—an organisation that headed an independence movement that sought not so much to overthrow colonial power, but to transfer it from British to Indian hands. It retains to this day, copious and detailed provisions for protecting the machinery of administration and governance. These were adopted almost intact from the Government of India Act of 1935, the colonial legislative instrument that preceded the Constitution.The senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, in his book The Constitution of India: Miracle, Surrender, Hope, gives a somewhat cynical but not inaccurate portrayal of how the Constitution acquired its shape. “We the People of India,” Dhavan writes, “who had little say in the making” of the document, “have been informed to accept this Constitution ... part of which is a British India clone,” and which “makes unreal promises.” Indians “have no choice but to accept this arrangement ... which our leaders have given to themselves to rule over us.”

 

From the beginning, the constitution has carried Hindu, upper-caste, patriarchal biases. (Not by coincidence—the members of the Constituent Assembly were overwhelmingly Hindu, upper-caste men.)  For instance, in Article 1, the name given to the Union is “India, that is Bharat,” invoking a pre-Islamic past of presumed glory—a Bharat Varsha when a legendary Hindu king is said to have ruled. Many of the Constitution’s admirers—including such figures as the jurists Fali Nariman and HM Seervai, and Justice VR Krishna Iyer—do not appear to have drawn serious, let alone repeated, attention to these biases. Very few have dared to argue that the text exhibits any bias at allthem, thereby weakening its claim to secularity. One of those few is the scholar Pritam Singh, and I am indebted to his writings, particularly his paper “Hindu Bias in India’s ‘Secular’ Constitution: probing flaws in the instruments of governance.”

 

Consider also the kinds of nationalism that is enabled by the Constitution. Successive governments have misused constitutional powers to erode the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, promised to the state under the terms of its accession to India. Even among those who are critical of this trend, no one has gone as far as to state that a truly democratic approach to nationalism demands that the right to self-determination, even up to secession, should be a constitutional clause. The territorial “unity and integrity” of the country is paramount, regardless of what the public in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley, or anywhere else, may want. The land is more important than the people.

 

These concerns are heightened today, as Indian progressives fear attempts by right-wing groups to expand its control over state apparatuses and civil society. The Sangh, as Hindutva’s fountainhead, is pushing a truly transformative project—the creation of a Hindu state in all but name—and has been unabashed about its desire to muster a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament so as to amend the Constitution in line with its ambitions.

 

A number of liberal and even left voices have, in resistance, raised the slogan: Defend the Constitution. I suggest that this, as it stands, is inadequate, and propose a more nuanced, admittedly more wordy,slogan: Defend and deepen the progressive values and principles of the Constitution. This recognises the deficiencies in parts of the Constitution, but should still be a fitting rallying cry even for those liberals and social democrats whose admiration of the document is much less qualified than mine. And, should the Sangh ever succeed in amending the Constitution to further its anti-democratic aspirations, this slogan will retain its validity in the long term.

 

The underestimation of the communal and undemocratic features of Indian society has its parallel in the overestimation of the virtues of the Constitution. Given where India has come to stand, and as we look ahead, we must be clear-eyed about both.

 

CONCEPTIONS OF JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY are contested, and there exists  disagreements even about the value and scope of notions such as social justice. In the past, religions provided the moral framework that regulated everyday life. This generally involved the subordination of women and the justification of existing social inequalities. A more universal sense of the common good and of justice emerged with modernity. This owed to the Enlightenment, whose main ideological legacies are Liberalism and Socialism—the most egalitarian version of which is Marxism.

 

The philosopher Brian Barry, in his book Why Social Justice Matters, argues that until the Industrial Revolution, notions of justice pertained to individuals, not to society. It involved giving each individual what was their “due”: not being cheated; getting a “fair” price in trade; getting ones’ deserts under prevailing ideas of merit; receiving punishment fitting the crime. This view encompassed a corrective, but not a seriously distributive, conception of justice. It has been superseded by the newer notion that inequality among humans is wrong—that all people equally are of worth. This is not the same as saying all people are of equal worth, but recognising a dignity in all individuals simply by virtue of their being humans. It follows that society must somehow be built on this new ideal which constitutes a very significant moral advance, and which requires reforming the basic institutions that shape the provision and distribution of rights, opportunities and resources—be they the factory, market or state, going right down to families, schools, political parties and other civil associations. The question that remains is how inequalities of power, wealth and opportunity should be tackled. The answer has divided Liberals and Socialists.

 

An undisputed starting point is the need to ensure that all people have an equal opportunity to prosper. This does not, however, mean that a uniformity of outcomes is necessarily desirable. That is to say, there should be equal opportunities to become unequal. But then should greatly unequal outcomes be allowed to emerge? What limits, if any, should there be on inequality? The much-admired American liberal theorist John Rawls provides no real guide on what should be done. He holds that only those inequalities should be allowed that benefit the “least advantaged”.This leads to the argument that many make, in all good conscience, that  the wealthy should be allowed to grow richer as a way to promote more investment and hence economic growth, so that some wealth can trickle down to the poorest making them better off than they otherwise would be.

 

For liberals and even for social democrats, the “right to property” even in the basic means of production is crucial for the pursuit of the common good. For Marxists, with their socialist vision of the common good, this is not the case. Having a right is one thing. Being able to exercise it is another. Having the opportunity to successfully exercise a right requires resources. Where liberals, in talking of justice, engage in a rights discourse, socialists, because they give greater importance to opportunities and resources, advocate a more substantial change of the sociopolitical status quo.

 

Unlike liberals, socialists see a strong connection between the individual and larger groups. This is not the same as in the case of multi-cultural enthusiasts, who are preoccupied with the link between the individual and groups that are defined by, and differentiated from others, predominantly by their cultural attributes. The communities of belonging or association prioritised by serious socialists are perceived more in social than cultural terms, and are numerically much broader—for instance, class. Individual flourishing is inseparable from having a society where all can flourish, and the measure of this flourishing is not “happiness,” but that each individual is able to fulfil their distinctive potentials.

 

Must justice, to some extent, be trans-historical? Must we take responsibility for social injustices before our time? To a large extent, the answer is yes. We are born into unequal positions of power, wealth and status. For most people, what determines their social position in life is—in order of importance—inheritance, luck of birth, and merit (understood as the distance between one’s starting and end point). Some groups such as lower castes have been so historically oppressed as to deserve special social, economic, political and educational support. Minority rights are not enough—opportunities and resources must come into the reckoning.

 

From its beginning, the document betrayed its elitist character by placing some principles concerning socio-economic justice in the non-justiciable section of the Directive Principles, not in the binding Fundamental Rights. The Constitution’s claim to a progressive social vision resides in these principles, yet the Directive Principles as a whole are best described as a basket of mostly worthy sentiments that our rulers have had very little stimulus to put into practice. Under the constitution, the state has no obligation to fulfil social rights that are not included in the Fundamental Rights. Indian law and Supreme Court rulings only recognise a violation of such rights if the state announces a specific scheme to further them but fails to deliver the promised boon to identified beneficiaries.

 

This Constitution has often been an instrument for rationalising the status quo more than one for progressive change. Consider, for instance, the unfulfilled promise of universal education. Article 45 of the Directive Principles had called for free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 within ten years of the Constitution’s promulgation. It was only six decades later, with the Right To Education Act coming into force in 2010, that this promise was translated into a fundamental right, and the Centre and states were obliged to fulfil it. But even this has not meant that such education has become universal, let alone that it is everywhere of decent quality.

 

Nehru’s version of socialism called for a welfare state, albeit a capitalist one. The fact that the term “socialism” did not feature in the original preamble to the Constitution is indication enough that the consensus in the Constituent Assembly was against a serious commitment to socialist ideals. Indira Gandhi introduced the term into the preamble during the Emergency, but the less said about the sincerity of her commitment to socialism the better.

 

Bourgeois liberal democratic constitutions—and the Indian Constitution is certainly one—are always tolerant of serious class inequalities, usually defended as part and parcel of “basic liberties” that entail the right to private property and to accumulation in productive assets. In India, in the immediate aftermath of independence, given the widespread concern for social justice and therefore for land reform, an uneasy compromise took place. The right to “acquire, hold and dispose of property” was put into the fundamental rights but made subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. What pro-poor land reform measures took place was unevenly spread, limited and half-hearted. An Amendment in 1978 removed this right from Article 19 and made it a legal right only. Overall, there has been no real hindrance subsequently to the steady accumulation of private wealth. The expansion of the public sector and even the nationalisation of banks in earlier years has proven to be much more an aid to the growth of the capitalist class than a hindrance. Indeed, over the last three decades, the trend has been to de-nationalise and de-regulate productive assets. With respect to reducing class inequality, India has performed no better than other liberal democracies with explicit constitutional protections of private-property rights.

 

What does the Constitution have to say on caste inequality? Article 15 declares prohibition of discrimination on grounds that include caste. But this is with respect to state services and the domains of public control and administration. It does not extend to the sphere of ordinary and everyday social relations in Indian society as a whole. The Protection of Civil Rights Act focusses on untouchability. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act  has been in existence for over two decades, and was set up to check crimes against oppressed castes. These Acts are worthy measures but banning untouchability and merely condemning caste discrimination does not go far enough. There should, at the very least, be an unequivocal and comprehensive ban on caste discrimination, and the document should take a stand on eradicating the caste system itself, an imperative that should be included in the directive principles.  

 

The fact that there has been no move to do this is revealing. It speaks of the nature of Indian secularism as it prevails in the Indian Constitution and is practised on the ground. Originally sanctioned by the predominantly dominant-caste Constituent Assembly, the current framework suggests that untouchability and even discrimination may disappear, but the caste system will remain intact. We must begin the debate on what steps should be taken to legislate against the caste system within the bounds of a democratic framework.

 

The Constitution itself affirms positive discrimination, in the form of caste-based affirmative action—through reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.. With the entrenched character of the caste system, this will remain a necessary means to counteract the caste system for many generations to come. Given this framework, it might be argued that a total ban on caste discrimination may not make total sense.  But that does not hold water. A simple comparison with liberal constitutions in other countries indicates that it is possible to outlaw racial and gender discrimination even while governments pursue affirmative action along racial or gender lines as a means to ultimately ending such discrimination. India could very well do the same on caste.

 

On the issue of gender discrimination, the makers of the Constitution should have established a progressive Uniform Civil Code rather than the current mishmash of personal laws specific to—and conceding to—the traditional customs of each major religion. This would have been difficult given that the Congress’s political mobilisation during colonial times rested on inter-religious collation, mediated in the Muslim case via Islamic clerics. But the party’s immense prestige and authority as the undisputed leader of the freedom movement could have allowed it to impose uniform personal laws during negotiations in the Constitutional Assembly if its leadership really desired them. Of course, the non-secular and pro-Hindu character of much of this leadership at Independence also had its part in determining the party’s course. A few years later, Hindu Personal Law was substantially reformed to give women greater freedom and equality, but it is still a long way from granting women their rights in full. The directive principles includes a call for a UCC, but this is another worthy sentiment which has never been seriously pursued. A gender-just UCC would require the abandonment of many current Hindu laws and practices regarding marriage, divorce, succession and matrimonial property, but India’s political leaders have never had much appetite to challenge the prejudices of the country’s dominant religious constituency.

 

AS WITH THE MEANING OF SOCIAL JUSTICE, the meaning of democracy is also contested terrain. In the conventional and dominant discourse on liberal democracy, the liberalism is given greater importance than the democracy. Liberalism is about the restriction of state power for the presumed benefit of the individual, where human fulfilment is essentially understood as the freedom to live as one desires as long as it does not impinge unfairly on the ability of others to do likewise. For liberals, the key attributes of a democratic order include free and fair elections with universal adult suffrage, as well as protections against arbitrary arrest, with a presumption of innocence upheld by an independent judiciary. There must be basic civil liberties—such as those of speech, assembly, association, occupation and trade—subject only to reasonable restrictions as determined by the judiciary. A liberal democratic order must also allow minority rights of varying scope. In addition, there should be checks and balances on state authority through a division of powers and responsibilities between the three main arms of the state—the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

 

The liberal conception of democracy focusses on the proceduralist domain of legal and political rights. The legal commitments it insists on are all indeed important. But it can nevertheless be contrasted with the more substantive conception of democracy upheld by socialists. Democracy, in the classical understanding, entails popular empowerment in an ever-widening and deepening sense, making it always an unfinished business. This empowerment must go beyond the realms of political representation and civil liberty to encompass the social, economic and cultural domains of human existence. The political representation of the citizenry by some select group is unavoidable in any democratic set-up, but this should be seen as much as a problem as a solution. Democracy should be about the dis-alienation of state power, or the progressively greater capacity of people to influence the decisions that most affect one’s life within a collective framework of the pursuit of the common good. Here, human fulfilment or flourishing is not seen as a privatised affair. The aim is a levelling of power equations, and far more decentralised, participatory and direct forms of decision-making that can exist alongside the indirect structures and mechanisms of representative authority.

 

But hewing to the standards of liberal democracy, where do the Constitution’s democratic credentials stand? First, we must ask how effective its system of checks and balances between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary has been.

 

The Indian parliament does not exercise sufficient democratic control over the executive. This is due to powers constitutionally afforded to the latter—particularly the provisions for the executive to proclaim a state of emergency over the whole or part of the country, and thereby suspend fundamental rights.

 

The imbalance is further abetted by a host of laws in the Indian Penal Code and elsewhere, that were inspired by colonial forms of rule. Measures for preventive detention, like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, are used to restrict dissent, target political opponents and undermine progressive movements. So are laws against sedition. The central government, with the assent of the governor of a state—appointed by the central government—can declare President’s Rule and dismiss the state’s elected government. Laws such as these should simply be abolished.

 

Rather than function as a check on each other, the executive and parliament have all too often acted in cahoots. The task of making both organs accountable has fallen to the courts. The lower judiciary—magistrates and sessions’ courts—is mostly suborned by local or provincial powers. Even at higher levels—High Courts and the Supreme Court—justice is all too often greatly delayed, and therefore denied. The higher courts can hold the executive accountable by supervising its work as well as setting up investigations into its behaviour. Despite this, the higher judiciary has been very lax when it comes to curtailing repressive laws and state actions.

 

There has been an ongoing tussle between the legislature and the judiciary as to which is the final arbiter of the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the document has not been based solely on the text itself. Sometimes, it has aimed to give effect to the “intent” of the document’s framers. Other times, the court has leaned towards “creative adaptation” of the document in the light of what it understands to be “Constitutional morality.” The doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution, formulated by the Supreme Court in 1973, has given the court decisive and often controversial powers. The elected legislature, presumably representing the people, has the power to amend the Constitution, but the unelected Supreme Court, under the doctrine, has the power to annul any amendments that it deems to be violating the document’s basic features.

 

The court has used its powers of interpretation to uphold progressive causes—as with the Right to Information Act, or its judgment on privacy being a part of Fundamental Rights. But should benches of the apex court act as guardians of the Constitution with only the court’s own higher benches able to check them? And what is to discipline and direct their power if there has never been judicial consensus on what all the basic features of Constitution are, beyond certain generalities such as secularism, democracy, federalism, human rights, republicanism, rule of law and so on? It is also alarming that there is neither sufficient transparency in appointments to the highest levels of the judiciary, nor any public accountability in how they reach their decisions.

 

Supreme Court judges, including chief justices, have played a part in legitimising the political behaviour and ideology of the Hindu right. The court never demanded the removal of the Ram idols illegally installed in the Babri Masjid in 1949, and refused to authorise the use of security personnel under the central government to prevent the demolition of the mosque when petitioned to do so. In 1995, it ruled that Hindutva, far from being an anti-democratic ideology, was a religious “way of life.” The most that can be said of the judiciary on this count is that it has sometimes acted to slow Hindutva’s forward momentum—for matters would have been even worse in the absence of the basic-structure doctrine and the Supreme Court’s use of it to defend the Constitution..

 

Next, we must consider whether the parliamentary and party system defined by the Constitution fairly represent the popular will. Here too, there are weaknesses. Members of the Rajya Sabha do not need to be domiciled in the state they are supposed to represent. In parliament and state assemblies, members are not free to vote against their own party on any matter that the leadership claims is central to the party programme. It makes obvious sense to prohibit voting against one’s own party in the case of a motion of no confidence, but beyond that the practice belittles rationality and quality in legislative argument and debate. What need for them if legislators cannot be persuaded to change sides?

 

However, what shines the harshest light on the Constitution’s claim to democratic representation is the first-past-the-post electoral system. The justification so often peddled for it is that, in contrast to a system of proportional representation whether partial, mixed or full-blown, the first-past-the-post arrangement ensures a certain stability. The argument goes that it encourages a competitive two- or three-party system that lends itself to sturdy governments, rather than one with multiple contenders creating unstable coalitions that all too often do not last a full term in office. But stability is not a virtue in itself, and should not be allowed to trump proper representation of and fidelity to electoral choices. Moreover, ruling coalitions have lasted full terms both in individual states and at the Centre—in the case of the latter, on three consecutive occasions between 1999 and 2014.

 

Some kind of proportional representation would today provide an institutional bulwark against the undemocratic thrust of Hindutva. From independence up to the 2014 general election, whenever the country came under single-party majority rule, the winning side never had a majority support. Always, its share of the popular vote remained within the band of 40 to 49 percent. In 2014, the concentrated support in the Hindi-speaking states for the Bharatiya Janata Party saw it secure a majority in the LokSabha with only 31 percent of the vote. This made a huge mockery of any claim that the government represented the popular mandate.

 

The Indian public’s sheer political and social diversity is better reflected by the country’s cornucopia of smaller regional parties, along with ones such as the Nishad Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party that have their bases in very particular social groups. These parties might be expected, in their own interest, to call for proportional representation in the Lok Sabha, but the problem is that a similar system would then also have to be put in place for the state assemblies. This the stronger regional parties would not want, because it would dent their own hopes of securing state-level power—which rest, more often than not, on acquiring a disproportionately high number of seats in state assemblies vis-à-vis their actual vote share.

 

THE CONSTITUTION’S DEFICIENCIES when it comes to social justice and democratic governance have enabled Hindutva’s ascension within the republic. But the document also has two other defects that have been wind in the sails of Hindu nationalism.

 

One defect is shared with almost all constitutions everywhere. It is based on a flawed and self-serving understanding of the nation and nationalism. Like the Indian Constitution—which, as the legal scholar Upendra Baxi has observed, helps to “uphold the belief that almost all practices of power directed to maintaining the unity and integrity of the nation are inherently justice enhancing”—they allow for territorial expansion from the original national boundaries prevailing at their birth, but disallow any secession of territory.

 

Constitutions do this partly on the assumption that all secessionism stems from some external attack or influence. They are generally blind to the notion that territorial unity is not an incontestable virtue in itself, but that its virtue is always subordinate to the voluntary and continuous assent to membership of a territorial unit from all of its constituent parts. That assent is never to be taken for granted. When substantial sections of people in a given province or region do not wish to be part of the Union—because of a pre-colonial history of separateness from the constituents of the new country, or because they suffer from disregard or even repression by the country’s rulers—then the call for respecting their right to self-determination, even up to secession, can arise. There are only a few governments that are prepared to consider or accept such a call by a section of their citizenry, even as their constitutions do not inscribe this highly democratic principle.

 

India practices an asymmetrical federalism, one where all the states in a Union do not have the same legislative powers. Put another way, some states have special ad hoc powers denied to the others. This kind of federalism often emerges from the dissolution of colonial empires whose masters did not administer their territorial units through uniform rules and procedures. In both Nagaland and Kashmir, the Indian government after independence has behaved atrociously in denying the aspirations of their respective populations. Longstanding repression has succeeded in ending the Naga quest for independence, now replaced by a search for some degree of autonomy. Kashmir is another story.

 

The exact circumstances under which the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Indian union, and whether the Indian state was involved in duplicity, are a matter of dispute. Not under dispute are the legal and formal commitments India made for the accession to take place. Jammu and Kashmir would have its own flag and premier, and its own constituent assembly to draw up its own constitution. The original arrangement was much more a “confederal” than a federal one—only the territory’s foreign affairs, defence and communications came under the control of the Centre. Jammu and Kashmir was not to be bound by any future Indian Constitution since it could have its own. But since Presidential orders can be used to bring in terms set by the Indian Constitution through “consultation” or “concurrence” with the state government, the key path for central efforts to undermine the original intent and spirit supposedly embodied in Article 370 lies in having obedient state governments in J&K.

 

What followed is a sorry tale of repression. In 1953, Sheikh Abdullah, the territory’s popular leader, was arrested and replaced as premier by the Centre’s toady, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. Manipulation of the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly diluted earlier commitments to maximum autonomy, and instead allowed the imposition of Union powers. Those articles of the Constitution were made applicable to Jammu and Kashmir that allowed the central government to dismiss an elected state government as well as assume its legislative functions. Both in the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and afterwards, Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy was systematically eroded as the region came under the jurisdictions of the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service, the Election Commission and the Supreme Court.

 

Jammu and Kashmir has suffered repeatedly from president’s rule and governor’s rule, approaching a total number of of 3,500 days in all, as it is still under such rule. Punjab, where the Khalistan agitation has long ended, was under president’s rule for 3,510 days. But even here, the single longest continuous stretch of this rule, well over six years, has happened in Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Between 1947 and 1964, all barring three of the 97 subjects in the Union list which allows the Parliament to make laws, 26 of the 47 in the Concurrent list which includes subjects that give power to both the state and central government, and 260 out of 395 articles from the Indian Constitution were extended to Jammu and Kashmir. Then and subsequently, repressive acts such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Public Safety Act and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act were brought into play. It has come to the point where, today, many leaders of the BJP and the Sangh openly declare their desire to finish off even the limited autonomy available to the state, under the much-diluted provisions of Article 370. No arm of the democratic Indian polity—whether the legislature, executive or judiciary—has seen fit to seek a reversal of this systematic erosion, let alone a restoration of earlier commitments.

 

ANOTHER AREA THAT WARRANTS DEEPER ANALYSIS is the Constitution’s claim to secularism and therefore to democracy. There are political scientists who argue that a democratic state need not be secular—a view that allows for Israel, an explicitly Jewish state with formally constituted second-class citizenship for non-Jews, to be called a democracy. But most others, including those of a liberal democratic persuasion, see a fundamental overlap between secularism and democracy.

 

There are some key principles then that make a state secular. First, it should not be the job or goal of the state to help promote or secure spiritual or religious salvation for anyone. Second, its institutions are free from the control of religious personnel and institutions. Third, there should be equality of citizenship rights irrespective of religious affiliation though these rights may not be democratic. This points to the fact that a state can be secular but not democratic, such as Kemalist Turkey, Mao’s China or Stalin’s USSR.

 

How far should the state intervene in religious practices that many would consider morally offensive? Some general principles can help guide us at least. There are certain basic individual rights of equality across caste, gender and racial lines that must take priority over group rights. There must also be the “right of exit” for individuals from groups or religious injunctions felt as demeaning or imposed. None of this is to be taken as meaning that the principle of minority rights is to be rejected. The principle remains fundamental to any democratic set-up. So the attack on “minorityism” by Sangh spokespersons is to be completely rejected even as we can of course oppose specific abuses by those enjoying such rights. Religious bodies must also be pushed to change older injunctions in the light of modern democratic and humane values.

 

But states believing themselves to be secular must also be careful in how they address the issues of religious freedoms and personal choices even when these are to some extent the result of socialisation processes. For example, India sensibly enough and unlike certain European democracies has not, in the name of upholding secular principles, gone to the absurd extent of outlawing certain forms of dress by Muslim women such as the hijab, burqa or niqab when worn in public. Apart from certain professions as in medicine or teaching where full face-to-face interaction with patients and students may be required, there is no justification for such bans. Rather, there should be a ban on the forcible imposition of such apparel. The basic and innocuous freedom to dress as one wishes should be respected.

 

Many a progressive has pointed out that there is a disturbing gap between the secular principles laid down in the Constitution and their practice on the ground. This serves as an exculpation of sorts for the Constitution, but an unconvincing one. The fact is that the text of the document is itself religiously biased.

 

The Constitution makes concessions to clerical Islam, such as the lack of a uniform civil code, as well as to Sikhism, with provisions for the public possession of a kirpan. Furthermore, in the name of freedom of religion, the Constitution allows educational institutions set up by any particular religious denomination, sect or body to provide religious instruction to students, even if the institution is partially—though not fully—funded by the state. Moreover, it says that if an educational institution set up by an endowment or trust that insists on imparting religious instruction is taken over by the state, such instruction can continue at the institution. A forthright secular stand would be for the state to refuse both these things: to not provide any funding to such institutions; and to refrain from taking over institutions that insist on specific religiou instructions.

 

The most prodigious biases are those in favour of Brahminical Hinduism.

 

I have already mentioned the Constitution’s effective sanction for the persistence of the caste system, with its untenable position that this is quite compatible with ending untouchability and caste discrimination. I have also mentioned its controversial choice of the name “Bharat.” There is more to add to this set of faults.

 

In the Constitutional Assembly debates, BR Ambedkar defined religious freedom as entailing only the freedom to worship, and excluding all practices outside of that act. Such a definition would have created grounds to oppose Hindu practices such as sati and child marriage. The final definition of religious freedom in Article 25 of the Constitution reflected a compromise. It enshrined the freedom to practice and propagate religion, “Subject to public order, morality and health.” Given the wide latitude in how this clause can be interpreted, it is no surprise that many an unsavoury religious practice persists without state intervention.

 

Brahminical diehards in the Constitutional Assembly could not get a complete ban on cow slaughter, but smuggled an emphasis on the need to protect cows into the Directive Principles under the cover of animal husbandry. The overwhelming majority of states have since banned cow slaughter, and a few have even banned the killing of bulls and bullocks.

 

Many states have banned conversions if done by force, fraud or allurement. These bans are aimed at Islam and Christianity, since there is much eye winking at Hindu conversions passed off dishonestly as “reconversions” to the ostensibly “original” faith. The ban on forcible conversion is justifiable, but the two other grounds for prohibition allow for unwarranted state interference on flimsy grounds. Many a Hindutva stalwart has said that Christian beliefs in heaven and hell constitute fraud. The prohibition on conversion via allurement is particularly directed at progressive missionary groups setting up civic institutions such as schools and hospitals in tribal and other underserved areas. This as a criterion for preventing conversions should simply be dismissed. There are numerous religious sects worldwide—including many Hindu ones—that win converts by providing for their material as much as mental and spiritual welfare.

 

Article 25, while establishing the freedom of religion, also states in a sub-clause that this freedom shall not prevent the state from making any law for “the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.” The document notes that, in the sub-clause, “the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion.” Here, the Constitution can almost be seen in line with Hindutva’s assimiliationist project, which sees these faiths as having a lineage that goes back to ancient India, and being given shape by Hinduism, which preceded it. Unlike Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Islam and Judaism these faiths are indigenous, not “foreign” and therefore acceptable, in the Hindutva view. Within the Sangh Parivar it is common to find references to Sikhs as protectors of Hindus against Mughal/Muslim oppression. Jains have been seen as a part of the wider Hindu fold. As Sikh and Jain identity has crystallized, this assimilationist attitude has caused some degree of resentment but this Hindutva position also ensures that Sikhs and Jains need have no or much less fear of a rising Hindutva. Ambedkar’s counter positioning of Buddhism to Hinduism has made little ground even as Dalit assertion has strengthened.

 

Article 26 allows every religious denomination to “establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, but clause 2(a)  of Article 25 saves the power of the state to regulate or restrict “any economic, financial, political or other secular activities which may be associated with religious practice.” It can oversee the construction of facilities and look into the spending of monies given by devotees, and even ratify the qualifications of priestly candidates. Article 26 is seemingly impartial towards all religious institutions, but in reality a huge and powerful nexus has emerged between the state, the corporate sector and the Hindu religious establishment. The writer Meera Nanda, in her book The God Market: How Globalization is Making India More Hindu, provides a devastating exposé of this nexus.

 

Sikh affairs are governed by the 1925 Sikh Gurudwaras Act, Muslim mosques and charities are largely unified under the 1954 Wakf Act, and Christian churches obey the National Council of Churches, set up in 1914. But the thousands of Hindu sects lack any single authority to watch over them. State governments have set up various regulatory bodies to oversee the affairs of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.

 

The Constitution designates Hindi the “official language of the Union,” to be used along with English in Centre-state exchanges. Though Hindi is spoken by more people than any other Indian language—even as we ignore that a Hindi nationalism has been at work, wherein other north Indian languages have been subsumed by Hindi and rendered as dialects—it is still spoken by a minority of the country’s entire population. Achieving this status had not a little to do with north Indian and upper caste dominance of the Constituent Assembly. The Constitution also grants official status to Sanskrit, spoken by a perhaps few hundred people, by including it in the Eighth Schedule. The tribal languages of Bhili and Lammi, each spoken by over a million people, are denied that honour. Article 351 promotes a Sanskritised Hindi that relies for its vocabulary “primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.” The promotion of Hindi comes at the expense of Hindustani, which affords greater importance to Urdu with its stronger Persian and Arabic borrowings.

 

The Indian state, at the central and state levels, promotes the propagation of Hindu priestcraft through gurukuls, rishikuls and pathshalas, and “vedic sciences” through astrology courses at the college level. Governments sell lands at throwaway prices, or outright gift them, to Hindu religious bodies, for the construction of schools, hospitals and other institutions, to which the state also provides patronage and accreditation. These are then built and maintained by private and corporate donations. The end result has been a growing trespass of Hindu institutions into such supposedly secular areas as public education and health.

 

AT ITS VERY CREATION, the Indian Constitution was never the remarkable document many have claimed it to be. Its commitment to secularism, liberal freedoms and social justice was never whole-hearted, and was more restricted than it needed to be. The end goal of its “transformative vision” was the establishment of a welfarist, capitalist democracy, and the society that has emerged over time under its aegis in no way repudiates this. And so we have arrived at a neoliberal capitalism, averse to serious welfare provisions for the general public, that allows large-scale poverty to persist and inequalities of wealth and power to reach obscene levels.

 

Indian democracy, though it long enjoyed a relative stability in its macro-level structures and institutions, has forever tolerated violence and a lack of democratic practices at its meso and micro levels. Over the last three decades, things have turned for the worse. The legislature, executive and judiciary and the media have been gradually hollowed out through partisan appointments and corruption, including by the government itself.

 

Worst of all, the country’s single most dominant political force is now the Sangh Parivar, a far-right force with undeniable fascist characteristics. Other such forces are resurgent across the world, but, unlike them, in the RSS, the Sangh has a wellspring with an unbroken life of almost a century. The Sangh’s hegemonising drive will continue as it always has, with greater or lesser success, irrespective of the ups and downs of electoral verdicts. Its cadres and institutions have implanted themselves in Indian society at a depth unmatched by any rival, and key components of the Sangh’s own transformative vision for the country have found resonance among a wide public—even among many opposition parties that otherwise oppose the idea of a Hindu India.

 

What are some of the key themes of this growing public ‘common sense’? One, that there is no alternative to a neoliberal economic order, and that the only question for economic debate is whether this should take a more disciplinary or compensatory direction depending on the prevailing balance of social forces. Another, more directly spawned by Sangh success, is that any party aspiring to electoral success must pander to the Hindu majority, distancing itself from even the suggestion that it appeases religious minorities and adopt to a greater or lesser extent various aspects of the Hindutva worldview. Furthermore, that there is no escape from playing on the same ground as the BJP and Sangh—we are all for a more belligerent and militaristic nationalism and for asserting our regional dominance as the path to achieving the status of a rising global power.

 

There are enough positive aspects of the Constitution for us to take selective recourse to it in the struggle against the Sangh. But, we must ask, how well does the document stand against the new common sense seeping into ever more sections of the public?

 

The centre of gravity of Indian politics has moved very much to the right. The Congress is not a far-right force, but long ago transmogrified into a rightwing force. It has no inspiring transformative vision of its own. Constructing a counter to the Sangh will require a search for new ways on all fronts—economic, political, social, cultural and ideological. That must precede the emergence of a Constitution that can deliver more to the people of India than it yet has.

Understanding the Catastrophic Victory of the Fascists and the Long Term Consequences

 

Kunal Chattopadhyay

The Indian parliamentary elections of 2019 ended with a huge victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What was significant was not just the huge increase in votes and seats of the BJP and the NDA, but the total shift of votes and discourse to the right. Any attempt to minimise this by mechanically referring to classical Marxist texts and quotations would be suicidal.

Before we go into left responses, though, we have to begin by looking at what happened and explain why.

A summary comparison between the 16th and the 17th Parliaments would be useful, as a starting point. In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with about 31% of the votes, and the NDA as a whole received 38.5% votes and 336 seats. Later, some of the NDA partners left, notably the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, which had won 16 seats. Given India’s first past the post system, opposition parties and intellectuals had often pointed out the voting percentages.

In 2019, the BJP obtained 303 sears and the NDA as a whole 353. This involved the BJP getting 37.4% votes and the NDA as a whole claimed about 48% votes, which means practically one in two Indian voters voted BJP and its allies. The two BJP allies who got badly mauled were the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu whose seats came down from 37 in 2014 to just 1 in 2019, and the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Punjab which got 2 seats.

The main opposition bloc, the former ruling bloc for a decade from 2004 to 2014, was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress. In 2014 the UPA had 60 seats, while in 2019 it has 91. But the Congress seats have gone up from its worst ever performance of 44 seats to only 52, its second worst. In terms of vote share it has actually lost 0.8% compared to 2014. The main gain for the UPA has come from the DMK in Tamil Nadu. It had no seats in 2014, and has secured 23 this time, making it the third largest party in parliament.

Parties outside the two blocs have fared worse than in 2014. In 2009 such parties had 122 seats, in 2014 147, while in 2019 this came down to 98. Among those most badly hit were, on the extreme right, the Trinamul Congress, which is the ruling party in West Bengal (34 in 2014, 22 in 2019), and on the left, the CPI and the CPI(M), the two major parliamentary fragments of the original Communist Party of India.[1] The left had  11 seats in 2014 and 6 in 2019, of which the CPI and the CPI(M) together had 10 seats in 2014 and 5 in 2019. The final seat in both cases was held by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, allied to the CPI and the CPIM in West Bengal, but opposing them, and allied to the Congress in Kerala, from where it won one seat. On terms of vote share the CPI(M) shrank to 3.28% in 2014 and 1.75% in 2019, while the CPI was 0.78% in 2014 and 0.58% in 2019.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which is the most powerful Dalit (the formerly untouchable castes who are still oppressed and marginalised despite the formal abolition of untouchability in the Indian constitution), had formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, the most powerful party of Other Backward Classes in the key province Uttar Pradesh. But the SP barely retained its 5 seats with a slight drop in votes, while the BSP won 10 seats, up from zero in 2014. However, it had polled over 4% votes across India in 2014, and it does not seem to have increased that.

So what were the factors that led to this rise of the BJP?

We need to make a distinction between the longer term narrative and the immediate background. The BJP, and its previous incarnation, the Jana Sangh, were electoral arms of an aggressive Hindutva nationalist political outfit, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. It was founded in 1925 to assert Hindu dominant caste (primarily Brahmin) supremacy. By the 1930s, its leaders were in touch with Mussolini and then with Hitler, and were among the most fervent supporters of the Nazis from the time of the Krystallnacht, arguing that such should also be the future of Muslims in India. At the same time, they were loyalists in Indian politics, refusing to take part in the freedom struggle, while explaining to their cadres that the real fight would be the one between Hindus and Muslims, not between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people.

The murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, who had formally resigned his RSS membership before the murder , resulted in a ban on the RSS. It finally came out of the ban by promising not to take part in politics, a promise it interpreted simply to mean that the RSS would not contest elections. Hence the electoral arms like Jan Sangh. A strategy of long term penetration in civil society by building up a wide range of institutions followed. They included schools, where through philosophy, history, and literature, Hindutva (political Hindu nationalism) was glorified. They also included specific organisations targeting different segments of the population, including Dalits and other subordinate castes.

The 1970s saw a change in the fortunes of the Hindutva right, as mainstream bourgeois and socialist/Stalinist left all displayed some degree of willingness to collaborate with them in order to defeat the congress, led by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. In the 1977 elections she did lose. But much of the cadre base was provided by the RSS in the fight against her. As a result , the united opposition that fought the Congress (I) during the elections of 1977 enabled them to get a considerable number of their members elected to parliament, and for the new government to carry out quite a bit of the RSS agenda.

By the late 1980s, the Congress, the traditional party of the Indian capitalist class, was facing a crisis. 1984 was the last time the Congress won a majority in parliament on its own, and it did so by a shift to Hindu communalism, with Sikhs as the target. Again, there was an attempt by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to create a balance of communalisms, including opening up a dormant  communal tension over a mosque in Ayodhya, supposedly built by destroying a temple back in the 1520s.

The elections of 1989 and 1991 saw new issues coming to the forefornt. The BJP, founded in 1980, initially attempted to present a more moderate face than the erstwhile Jan Sangh, talking about “Gandhian Socialism”. But it won only two seats in the parliament of 1984, and decided to shift to more aggressive Hindutva thereafter. Meanwhile, a dissident Congress minister, Viswanath Pratap Singh, pushed for the recognition of oppressed castes and social groups (collectively Other Backward Classes) who had never been “untouchables” but who were part of the socially marginalised. Aware that this posed a threat to its strategy of Hindu consolidation, the BJP, which had supported Singh during the 1989 elections and had propped him up in his coalition government, went for a very aggressive campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a so called Ram temple there.

Three issues would dominate thereafter – Indian capitalism and its march to globalisation, and the rival discursive strategies of Hindu nationalism versus Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-Muslim alliance building. The shift from a welfare state model to the neoliberal economy however took place initially under the Congress. The BJP was far from being the first choice of the ruling class during the 1990s. However, the weakening of the Congress led to a change in ruling class attitude as well. The various attempts at building “third fronts”, whether sponsored by the left or not, saw regional parties, concerned with local voter bases, making demands that often went against the core demands of the bourgeoisie. And anytime the parliamentary left was a partner, for all its limitations, it insisted on reforms that would provide (within capitalism, certainly) some benefits to its core constituencies. As a result, while the 199-2004 Vajpayee government was formed initially without any huge bourgeois support, the performance of that government changed the attitude of the ruling class. From 2004, the BJP has increasingly become the preferred party of the bourgeoisie. This also has links with the specific problems faced by Indian capitalism.

Globalisation, Indian Capitalism and the BJP:

Indian capitalism has developed an aggressive appetite. The Global Wealth Report 2018 published by the Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees, worth of wealth. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was Rs 33 lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month (just under US$ 4000). Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is currently put at 53200 million US$, Ratan Tata’s wealth is seemingly much less, but that is because much of it is concealed as company property which he fully controls. But the Tata group has under his stewardship acted aggressively to take over Tetley (by Tata Tea), Jaguar Land Rover (by Tata Motors) and Corus (by Tata Steel). However, Indian capitalism has been forced to compete with much more powerful US, European and Japanese capitalism, and recently with Chinese capital, from a weaker base. As a result, and lacking any historic colony, Indian capitalism has the need to impose super-exploitation on the Indian working class. This includes a huge burden on the adivasis (including evicting them from forests where they have dwelt, compelling them to work for abysmally low wages, etc) as well as destroying the organised working class altogether.

This is where the Congress has been unable to deliver the goods. The privatization of the finance sectors have been slowed down due to massive struggles by finance sector employees. The very existence of some of the older labour laws, however much they are flouted, create benchmarks against which workers can raise their demands. And this was something that became clear in 2004-2009, during the UPA-I government, when the left had 61 MPs, and Congress had to rely on the support of those MPs. Some reforms which from above appear very insignificant actually provided quite a bit of bargaining power to the rural poor. These included the MNREGA, which provided that one person per poor family would get 199 days guaranteed work per year.

The Gujarat Model of Narendra Modi consisted of ignoring labour laws, ignoring environment protection (since that increases the cost for the individual capitalist), and promoting big capital.[2] In 2002, after the Gujarat carnage, sections of the Indian capitalist class, members of the Confederation of Indian Industries,  had criticised the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Led by diamond merchant and businessman Gautam Adani, a group formed an alternative body, Resurgent Group of Gujarat, and even threatened to leave CII.

Adani pledged a sum of Rs 15,000  crore for the first Vibrant Gujarat summit (held in September-October 2003). Thereafter, Adani was one of the principal lobbyists for Modi consistently, including outside India. Other capitalists began to see the value of the Modi/Gujarat model. Unlike in the case of previous BJP leaders, the Modi for Prime Minister campaign was launched at Vibrant Gujarat summits, with prominent Indian capitalists sounding the tocsin.

The Modi government started repaying their friends. When it became a Modi government at the all India level, this repayment was even more fulsome. The BJP had a few campaign planks in 2014, one of which was its opposition to corruption. But from Anna Hazare down, all the “anti-corruption” crusaders who had targeted the Congress, remained silent as India’s big capital, and to a certain extent certain major international capitalist concerns including Monsanto, made huge inroads.

But it was not simply a matter of corrupt practices (the so-called crony capitalism). It was a matter of systematic inroads on the workers and poor peasants’ livelihoods for the profit of big capital. However, there were roadblocks. The Indian working class is much weaker now than it had been three decades back. Nevertheless, the call for changing the labour laws, the speeding up of the privatization of Public Sector Undertakings, got slowed down primarily because of labour resistance. While only about 5-7 per cent of the working class is organised by now, the twenty-first century did see attempts, including by some of the bureaucratic Central Trade Unions, to mobilise not just their immediate members but others as well. General strikes across India, and regular struggles in the financial sectors, meant that the plans could not always proceed.[3]

 

The ideological mobilisations:

But in 2004, Vajpayee had stumbled here. He too had sought, as BJP leader, to serve big capital. But the India Shining campaign had resulted in huge popular rejection. That was also the last occasion when, as we saw, the left votes had gone up along with seats. Though that was a matter of 59 seats of the four LF parties ( CPIM 5.66%, 43 seats, CPI 1.41%, 10 seats, RSP – 0.43%, 3 seats, All India Forward Bloc – 0.35%, 3 seats) along with 2 more by their allies , this was an indication that the masses of people were willing to vote for alternatives if these were posed before them.  Also, the BSP had won 19 seats (5.33%), the SP 36 seats (4.32%), and in Bihar the Rashtriya Janata Dal (the SPs rough equivalent in Bihar) had won 24 seats (2.41%). In 2009 too the UPA had trounced the NDA. But this was followed by the old guard of the BJP being pushed aside, and a firm, aggressive new leadership taking over. Between 2014 and 2019, this leadership consolidated itself.

The Hindu nationalist rhetoric was modified, because it was clear that merely pushing for Hindu unity was not paying adequate dividend. At the same time, a series of policy measures by the government had created popular anger. This was eventually translated into votes in several state assembly elections in 2018. In May, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress tied up after the elections to form a JD(S) led government. The BJP tried to spend huge sums of money to buy up several MLAs but was foiled. In November-December, there were elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Telangana. The Congress lost Mizoram to the Mizo National Front, but gained Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh from the BJP. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept Telangana, defeating both BJP and Congress.

The BJP showed that it was prepared for these setbacks. While this also calls for a discussion of the errors and flaws of its opposition, we need to understand that right from 2014, the BJP had taken up a multi-pronged strategy. One was a shift from merely Hindu nationalism to a full-fledged appropriation of Indian nationalism in its ugliest form. The distinction lies in the past of the RSS. The RSS does not have, as we saw, the freedom struggle in its genes. So it has in the past stressed that it is fighting for the real rights of Hindus. But this time, Kashmir, Pakistan, these became important buzz words. In place of previous governments with their attempts at some degree of carrot and stick policies in Kashmir, under Modi there was simply a big stick with no attempt at either carrot or talking softly. From a very early stage, Modi projected himself as a strong man. Kashmir was a key component of this chest thumping nationalism. Violence in Kashmir was firmly justified. This was the way in which the Sangh worked itself into nationalism. Violence in Kashmir is not new. Between 1990 and 2017 about 41,000 persons have died due to the conflicts. They include 14000 civilians and 22,000 real or alleged militants. However, there was clearly an upward graph from 2014. And this has resulted, with the Pulwama incident, in the emergence of purely home-grown cases of militants, even though Pakistan had to be blamed for political (primarily electoral) reasons.

National security trumps civil liberties –this was the message. The failure of the RSS student wing, the ABVP, to win the JNU Students Union election, led to aggressive nationalism and fake propaganda, which however was dramatically effective. The JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar (a member of the CPI dominated AISF), along with students belonging to other left organisations, such as Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, were accused of having raised anti India slogans at a meeting  which was held over the commemoration of the hanging of Afzal Guru. Guru was a Kashmiri who was hanged in a case that will remain one of the worst cases of legal violence, with ample evidence that he was framed by the police. Many lawyers, civil rights activists have protested his conviction and hanging. Kumar and others were charged with having shouted anti India slogans. They were arrested, Kanhaiya Kumar was assaulted in front of the Patiala House  Court.  While no legal case could stand, the bulk of the electronic and print media were used, with shouting brigade leaders like Arnab  Goswami (then Times Now, currently Republic TV) leading the pack. The aim was manifold. First, Kashmir was made into a seat of evil. Modi was shown as the first muscular leader tackling Kashmir the way it should be, namely by massive and unrelenting violence. Second, leftists of all shades were depicted as “anti-national” for talking about civil rights in Kashmir. Of course their utterances were distorted so that they, including someone like Kanhaiya Kumar, belonging to the CPI (all moderate left parties take the position that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and differ only over how to conduct control there), was supposed to have advocated Kashmir’s right to self-determination to the point of secession. Third, as these were JNU students, and much of the left and liberal intellectuals of Delhi, and because it was a Delhi based incident, intellectuals and students all over India stood by them, it was argued that liberal intellectuals by definition were suspect, with a tendency to become anti nationals.


The focus on national security and nationalism was successful. The elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014 were all fought on primarily economic issues. In 2004 BJP went into the polls claiming India was shining. It had a fully articulated aggressive neoliberal policy, while the Congress, the original party that had ushered in neoliberalism in India, was talking about social security. The left won its highest ever number of seats. In 2009, the UPA-II government was formed because UPA successfully defended its economic record, including the MNREGA. In 2014 Modi and the BJP focused on corruption, economic failures. Hindutva was worked in, but with a distinct economic tinge in areas like West Bengal and Assam, where “infiltration” by Muslims was linked to outsiders (real or alleged immigrants) taking away jobs from locals. In 2019 by contrast, the economy was in a mess. So much so that the government of India stopped data from being published. As we write this the Government, now securely in place for five years, has acknowledged that the growth rate had plummeted to 5.8% and that India’s unemployment rate hit a 45 year high in 2017-18. But the success of the BJP lay in its ability to move the entire campaign away from the economy. The Congress did try raise issues relating to the economy as well as corruption (the Rafale deal), as did other parties. But the BJP stayed firmly on course for an ideology driven campaign that stressed national security, a strong leadership, and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Nor was this last something invented only after Pulwama and the Balakot strike. This chest thumping belligerent nationalism was ratcheted up immediately after the 2014 victory and stayed the entire course. And no party, not even the left, was in a position to take this on adequately (in most cases not at all).

 

Ideology, Institutional Subversion, Force:

There is a need to understand the different dimensions that were integrated in this success. The ideological triumph, while backed by force and fraud, cannot be discounted. The RSS-BJP has succeeded in becoming the hegemonic voice across much of India, spreading beyond the North and the West to Eastern India and to parts of the south. It has used local issues, but woven them into its core outlook.

Three decades of neoliberalism have shown that there is no trickle down. Wealth accumulates at the top, and simply stays there. This has created frustration. There is a tremendous  sense of anger, insecurity and frustration among the youth, many of whom were the first time voters in the elections of 2019. The BJP government's policies over the last five years certainly contributed strongly to their economic crisis. Yet, a disproportionately high fraction of them appear to have voted for the BJP. No mechanical understanding can explain this. For this, it is necessary to look at how their imagination has been captured, how their anger has been shifted in certain directions by astute politics.

This involves taking on and defeating the challenges from left and subaltern politics. Electorally, one of the challenges mounted from the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, was the attempt to create political identities called Dalit politics and OBC politics. While caste oppression is a living social reality in India, specific caste groups or jatis are linked to particular occupations. The change from pre-capitalism to capitalism has partially transformed that. That has also given the opportunity of cobbling together a discursive alternative based on shared experiences of oppression, humiliation and the desire to fight back and gain social identity and pride. B.R. Ambedkar started this process, but it was in independent India, with the adult suffrage, that a serious attempt was made to build table, cohesive political projects around this.

The Dalit assertion for greater dignity, and recognition as equal humans, as well as the struggle for material benefits, came up against the recognition that without political power these were not going to be possible. The Dalits, their aspiring political leaders and intellectuals, saw the left as non-serious about them at best, because of the repeated arguments that when all the exploited improved their social conditions Dalits would find themselves in a better situation. This seemed at best a failure to recognise the special oppression they faced, and at worst a reassertion of upper caste (in recent parlance, savarna) domination in the name of class leadership. So there was an attempt to build Dalit parties within bourgeois politics, the most successful being the Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Historically Dalits were the “outcastes”. The “shudras” were people who came to occupy places a little above Dalits but were also oppressed. This essay cannot trace fully the class-caste interfaces and linkages. However, a large part of them were the ones who came to be identified as the Other Backward Classes. Here too, social engineering and a political project based on that went together. But that political project fragmented into state level entities, like the Samajwadi Party in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, etc.

These were however political processes based on discursive identity politics. There was no easy road to unity based on the argument that Dalit-Bahujans constitute the majority and are oppressed. Both parts of the statement are true, but they could not easily be turned into lasting political vehicles. Apart from the interests of the elite, and certainly Brahminism is a component of the elite in India, this political process required a material basis that did not necessarily emerge. Thus, in UP, the core area of the BSP, the Jatavs formed its most enthusiastic supporters, and got disproportionate support and patronage from it, so that it has been argued by analysts that other Dalit castes have not remained as strongly loyal to the BSP as in the past. Equally, the RJD and the SP were backing mainly the most powerful OBC group, the Yadavs. In Bihar this led to the split between RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Kurmi leader Nitish Kumar.  The BJP has taken note of these processes and has encouraged the formation of small parties based on one or two smaller but significant castes, or forged alliances when such parties existed, in order to ensure that the project of a Dalit unity or OBC unity does not materialise.  Hindutva, allegedly very catholic and capable of embracing diversity, was pushed as the key to how these different castes could all be accommodated. At the same time, the BJP has shown greater flexibility in recent times. It has moved to acceptance of reservations while diluting them ( e.g., through the so-called economic  reservation) It has absorbed gods and goddesses traditionally worshipped by people outside the elite brahminical hierarchy, while ultimately ensuring that the cooption is on the terms of the Sangh. And through sustained scapegoating of Muslims, it has actually managed to make Dalits in many parts of India hostile to the Muslims, so that even real brahminical oppression has not led to Dalits siding with Muslims. One of the ugliest cases in the past was of course the successful mobilization of oppressed castes against the Muslims during the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat.

The scapegoating of Muslims has been done systematically, and taking into account local issues. Thus, in Bengal it is “infiltration”. In Assam it is linked to an older anti Bengali sentiment. So while it has variations, there has been generated a massive fear, hatred and anger against the Muslims within a considerable part of the Hindus. While leftists have often pointed out rationally that the Sachar Committee Report and other documents show that the majority of Muslims are actually socially and economically in a worse position than for example Dalits, the BJP-RSS way of handling popular religiosity and promoting the hatred against Muslims rides over such rational arguments.

At the same time, there have been massive institutional shifts. This needs to be understood to recognise the nature of the BJP victory. The BJP had sustained support from most newspapers and TV channels. This is not surprising. It is sometimes said by well-intentioned but totally erroneous commentators that the media has been purchased, the journalists have been purchased. The reality is simple. Most newspapers and television channels are owned by capitalists who are part of the hegemonic bloc that sees the BJP as the sole stabilizing force. So journalists are instructed to take pro BJP lines. The social media was also dominated by the BJP. There were large numbers of paid social media operators sending out messages, cartoons, memes, fake news to vast numbers of citizens. There was the tapping of the UID (Aadhaar) data and its use. There were the shifts in the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. There is no need to accept conspiracy theories like the EC creating EVMs where whatever button is pressed the BJP would get the votes. The EC did other things which were quite visible. This began with the EC waiting till Modi’s all India tour of inaugurating various projects was over before it announced the election dates. This continued with the EC giving clean chits to Modi’s numerous violations of the Poll code.

From the point of view of funding for the elections, this time there was simply no comparison. The BJP had about fifty times the funds all others had. It was like a super heavyweight fighting with a number of bantam weight boxers, and the media gleefully attacking the bantamweights for not being able to go the entire distance.

To this we need to add the matter of force and fraud. A vast number of Muslims and Dalits found their names deleted from the electoral rolls and therefore could not vote. During the election campaign there was massive show of force and threats. Thus, Muslims in many UP seats were subjected to threats of various kinds, like Maneka Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, openly threatening Muslim voters that if they did not vote for her, after the elections she would not help them. This is not an empty threat, because the EC’s use of EVMs mean that its Form 20 data, released after the polls, allows everyone to check how each booth, or each EVM, voted. This breakdown practically nullifies the secrecy of the vote.

The Opposition and the Strategy of the Congress:

The possibility of defeating the BJP rested on forming a wide block of parties. Any such alliance would have been a bourgeois alliance, and there is no question of our supporting it. But an objective analysis would show that whereas in the first half of 2018 the Indian National Congress was keen on moving to some sort of alliance of that type, the victories it got in a few state assemblies changed its outlook.

In UP the major alliance was the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, which tried accommodating others. But the Congress made huge demands. For the SP-BSP alliance to accommodate a very weak Congress any further than they did (they did not put up candidates in the seats contested by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi), the Congress had to respond in places it was stronger (Madhya Pradesh, Punjab etc), which it simply did not. The Aam Aadmi Party, which controls the Delhi government, tried negotiations about the Delhi seats but the negotiations fell through. The Left front in West Bengal all but begged the Congress for at least a seat adjustment if not an alliance, but there too it was the Congress that showed disdain.

It was clear that the Congress was more interested in putting itself forward as the only legitimate alternative to the BJP than with winning elections and putting together a coalition government. Its pitch was successful among liberal and soft left intellectuals of certain types, who were urging votes for the Congress. One key element in the liberal arguments for the Congress was that all other parties had at certain times allied with the BJP and given it legitimacy (including the Left front), while the Congress had not. Of course – since the Congress was usually the party against which such alliances had been put together in the first place. Moreover, the Congress took a soft Hindutva policy over a series of issues. In Kerala, where the contest was primarily between the CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic front, there was a Supreme Court verdict that stopped the regressive practice of not permitting women who were of roughly the age when women would menstruate into a temple known as the Sabarimala temple. In order to win the Hindu conservative vote, it was the Congress which aggressively mobilized people, basically demanding that the provincial government should not help any woman trying to enter the temple. Certainly, in Kerala the UDF won 19 out of 20 seats, though not only for that reason. Finally, of course, if we look at the economic policies that the Indian capitalist class, or at least its dominant sections, want, it was the Congress that started pushing for them from the end of the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s onwards.

Why the Congress wanted this seemingly suicidal policy of going alone and ensuring its defeat has to do with its alliance experiences and a strategy it seems to have developed. Alliances, whether with the Left in 2004-2009, or even with regional parties (2004-2014) compel the Congress to give too much ground on core issues of interest to the Indian capitalists and international capitalism. So the Congress strategy, on looking back over what it did since November 2018, was to appear progressive, as the left of centre alternative to the BJP (a fake appearance) while concentrating on the collapse of regional and left parties. Just one example will clarify this. It was the left that was primarily responsible for the big kisan marches  In Mumbai and Delhi. The Congress picked up the rhetoric. But after the November victories, the Congress did not hike the crop procurement prices in the provinces where it won, contrary to its pre-election promises. As a result, when the Congress made an electoral promise to give Rs 72,000 annually to 20% families in poorest of the poor category, benefiting around 25 crore people (the NYAY scheme) in  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, it made evidently zero impact. The BJP swept those provinces, bouncing back from its defeat just six months back.

The Disaster of the Left:

For Marxists, discussing the rise of an ultra-right force, the key questions are, what is going to be the line of march in the coming period, and how do we fight it? To answer these questions however, we have to begin with examining the extent of the disaster of the left.[4]

The mainstream left, as it is often called, consists of four main parties – the Communist Party of India, the CPI(M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc. The CPI and the CPI(M) belong to the same current, and the historic reasons for the split are long over. The CPI has repeatedly called or a unification of the two parties. The CPI(M) has in the past rejected the appeal with arrogance, arguing that as it is a bigger party, the CPI should enter it instead. This is something that would also enable the CPI(M) to argue that it remain the “correct” legatee of the undivided CPI, even though in fact today the CPI(M) no less than the CPI is a fervent campaigner for an alliance with the Congress.

What is far more important is the experience of being in government and how it has transformed the mainstream left. The CPI and the CPI(M), emerging from the Stalinised milieu, had not been revolutionary parties at any time in independent India. But they did have militancy, and a degree of focus on extra-parliamentary mass action. Even the toppling of the Namboodiripad government of Kerala in 1959, and the toppling of the United Front governments of 1967 and 1969, did not mean a total rupture with that outlook. But between 1977 and 2011, the Left front was continuously ruling West Bengal at the provincial level, and it also had a long stint I Kerala, alternating with the Congress led alliance. In the small state of Tripura it ruled for a quarter century. These experiences, and above all the West Bengal experience, transformed the CPI(M), not only in West Bengal, but across India. CPI(M) cadres in West Bengal did not take part in any real mass movements since 1977, because only when the government had decided what to concede were fake controlled movements launched. This had an impact at the all India level too. While the left parties and their mass fronts continue to be important (the CITU and the AITUC among trade unions, the AIDWA and the NFIW among women’s organisations, the two Kisan Sabhas, etc), movements have become peculiar. Thus is most clear when we look at the working class. There has been unremitting assaultsin the name of globalisation and reforms since 1991. The left trade unions have responded by periodic general strikes. The massive support these general strikes have evoked show that there is huge popular anger at the government and ruling class policies. Since 1991 there have been 17 general strikes. Yet the grass root work of rebuilding unions, organising the contract workers, launching struggles or deepening existing struggles, these have been seldom done, either in the provinces where the Left ruled in the past, or elsewhere.

Instead, the central thrust became the question of the popular front, adapted to India. The popular front is the Dimitrov version of the United Front, which is not an attempt to unite the working class, and behind it the other oppressed, but an alliance between workers’ parties and so-called democratic or anti-imperialist bourgeois parties. Its Indian version, originally worked out by two British Stalinists, R. Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley, continues to be the dominant ideological guide for the CPI and the CPI(M).  Finding bourgeois allies and contesting elections with them remains their key task.

These two dimensions – the transformation of the mass struggles and the crass electoral line have resulted in a deep transformation of their cadres. The fact that the Left Front in power was capable of distributing patronage, and that its very high votes represented that, not just its ideological strength, was ignored. So the decline in its vote shares from 2009 was not properly understood by its own cadres or even leaders in West Bengal. Once it was out of power, and unable to provide patronage, that mode of securing votes was gone. The Trinamul Congress saw to it that even when left leaders were MPs or when the left won municipalities etc, their funds could not be spent or they would not even get funds. A major example is the case of Siliguri. A Left Front-Congress bloc managed to get the majority and Ashok Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) became Mayor of the municipal corporation. The corporation has not been getting funds, and all road development and other work, along with patronage, in Siliguri, has been done through a bureaucratic agency created by the state government. 

To top it, there was the massive violence on the left, unleashed during the last panchayat (rural local self-government bodies) elections in West Bengal. Conducted by the state election commission with the state police ‘ensuring’ law and order, it saw  total mayhem by the TMC. And when that happened, while in some areas the BJP-RSS cadres stood up to resist, even at the cost of being beaten up, the Left leadership simply abdicated. Large numbers of left local supporters, candidates or would be candidates, were beaten up, forced to leave their villages for months, while the leaders confined themselves to statements, dharnas (sit down protests) in front of the state election commission office, etc. This made a large part of the electorate feel that the left was not serious about resisting the TMC and the violence it had unleashed. Meanwhile, as the BJP has never ruled in West Bengal, they did have illusions about the BJP as the alternative force that might resist the violence of the TMC.

In West Bengal, the TMC and the BJP succeeded in achieving a communal polarisation. It has been argued that the Left votes were transferred to the BJP (seemingly plausible because the decline of Left votes and the rise of BJP votes between 2016 and 2019 seem to match). In fact the case is more nuanced. Muslims earlier voting left have often switched to the TMC, as have Muslims voting Congress. Congress won in two seats in West Bengal, but it also saw a decline in its vote share. Many Hindus who had previously voted left voted the BJP this time. But while there have been cases where local CPI(M) leaders have been shown as urging people to vote BJP this is not a systematic case. Those accusing the left of doing so are firstly suffering from the same illusion that the left leaders themselves were  -- namely that these voters were inert people whose votes the left could transfer wherever they wanted at will. They are anything but that. Secondly, the left lost its deposits in 39 out of the 40 seats it contested in West Bengal. It is ridiculous to argue that there was a set up and a conscious transfer of votes. A covert alliance, or a tacit understanding, between the BJP and the left, would have had to involve the left also getting BJP votes switched in a couple of cases at the least. Finally, had the left not fought with whatever its real and not inflated cadre strength was, there would ha e been around 8 more seats where the anti-TMC vote would have gone to secure seats for the BJP.

One of the charges that have been levelled against the left, from post modernist intellectuals as well as people claiming to be on the radical left, is that the left parties were bhadralok parties, or parties of the upper caste elites, while it was the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee that represents the subaltern. We cannot discuss this at length here. But even if we look at the elections of 2019, something emerges clearly. In Kolkata, the seat that above all represents the bastion of the bhadralok is Kolkata South. From 1971 to the present, the CPI(M) has won this seat only twice (1980, 1989), while from  1991 to 2011 it was represented by Mamata Banerjee. It was not a subaltern (defined in caste terms) backlash that resulted in the collapse of the left, but its failure to be even a good reformist left (i.e., ensure that extra-parliamentary struggles continue).

What to expect and how to resist?:

The BJP government in the first few days has given clear indications of what we should expect. In brief, it will seek to retain its position as the preferred party of the Indian big bourgeoisie. This means an aggressive attempt  to reform labour laws in favour of capital.[5] The draft for a new labour code will now be pushed rapidly, depending on the degree of resistance that can be generated.

In foreign policy, the pro US thrust will be retained, along with something that is distinct to the BJP, namely its extreme closeness to Israel. The anti-Muslim internal ideological politics will be supplemented by anti-Pakistan rhetorics. One especially significant aspect of this is to remember that Balakot was the first case of two nuclear armed states coming into direct military confrontation of the order where one country sends in its air force so deep into another. Much has been written in the Indian media and social media about how many actually died etc. Much more significant is the fact that this happened, and may embolden the BJP to try it again, with aggressive retaliation by Pakistan at some point.

In 2014-1019, the Modi government had already started a process of controlling all segments of the state apparatus. Institutions that previously had some autonomy by law have been gradually brought under control of the Prime Minister’s Office. This is likely to deepen.

This means that under a formal retention of “democracy” there will be a steady erosion of all democratic content. The institutional subversions will be backed by the deepening of communalism so that all non-Hindus are relegated to the status of second class citizens. Within a couple of years, it will be likely that the NDA will also have a clear majority in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha). The constitutional changes that the RSS has been pushing for can then be pushed through, making India formally a Hindu Rashtra. We are not predicting that these will all happen, but these will certainly be attempted, and only mass resistance can stop them.

We can expect greater state violence in Kashmir and the attempts to scrap Articles 370 and 35A. There will also be efforts to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill making it an Act, so that Muslims coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan are denied asylum or residency while non-Muslim migrants will find it easier to get naturalization and the right to stay permanently. Muslims across India may be forced to show their officially prescribed documentation or lose citizenship status. This will not only mean they lose their votes, but that they are likely to lose a whole series of basic rights as humans. Muslims are being clearly warned, that if they want to live in the new India they must accept ghettoization, they must not object to the RSS, they must not raise their heads and protest. Here too, what has happened to Muslims in Gujarat since the 2002 pogroms is a template for what will be attempted elsewhere.

The RSS has always had a deep interest in ideological control. This will now involve greater control over education and the media. Curriculum changes are already in the offing. Funding is being linked to loyalty, as well as to a competitive strategy that means that only a handful of institutions will be really high grade, while the rest will be far more easily amenable to control. The appointment of loyalists to key positions will be another way in which this control will be increased.

Finally, the last five years have also shown that there will be both state sponsored force – the wide use of laws like UAPA, etc, to arrest anyone who protests, the attack on NGOs who talk about issues like environment, health and safety, organic farming, farmers rights, etc.

The three major responses within left organisations and parties to all this are flawed. For the Maoists, the elections do not matter much. Certain Maoist inclined activists have even displayed greater happiness at the collapse of the reformist left than alarm at the growth of the BJP. But their strategy of a protracted Peoples’ War is at a dead-end. The focus on forests and extraction from there, along with the appointment of Amit Shah as Home Minister, presages a far more violent war in the core areas of Maoist influence. Unless there is a radical transformation of their outlook, doctrine, and tactics (which essentially means unless they stop being Maoists) there seems no prospect for serious widening of resistance by them.

For the mainstream left it is business as usual. Where even Rahul Gandhi of the Congress tendered his resignation after his party’s failure to gain many more seats, the left leaders, hiding under the cover of collective responsibility, actually do not acknowledge responsibility for the disaster to the left. Rebuilding the old left, with a few poultices here and there, one or two face lift operations, will not gain them anything. This is clearly seen by the fact that the CPI(M) daily in Kolkata has been printing news and op-ed articles that do not address this central issue, the devastating blow suffered by the left.

For many activists, the desire will be to say, we must focus on social movements. But unless all such fragments are brought into a coherent and focused politics, these efforts will all be targeted by the Congress and its liberal intellectual supporters each election time in the name of a rainbow coalition.

What we need to understand is that unlike in many other countries where also there has been a rise of radical right or fascistic forces, in India the opposition is divided, including the popular opposition. The struggle against Hindutva, with the RSS having some 36 organisations and over 800 NGOs working within all sectors of civil society, and having an existence of nearly a century, is different from a struggle against say, Bolsonaro. To damage the hegemony of the RSS-BJP calls for struggles beyond the electoral struggles.

This can however be done only by the building of a new, radical left. The forces for them will have to come from the existing far left, from the sections of the reformist left willing to challenge their leaderships and the drift to the right, the social movement oriented left activists, in particular caste activists. A separate discussion is needed to look further at why the Amedkarite movement in its various forms does not provide a full answer. But one key point is, as long as Dalit parties and leaderships try to fight for upward mobility within the caste system rather than its radical overthrow, they cannot get out of the ultimate trap of Hindutva. Also, as we saw, the political project of Dalit unity has often foundered on ambitions of particular Dalit castes. But a revitalized left has to be a left that takes caste oppression seriously.

Any such new radical left has to therefore reject the politics of Stalinism and Maoism, without going to a rejection of building revolutionary parties altogether. In this struggle, Radical Socialist will lay its role, reaching out to organisations and activists for collaboration and unity. Overcoming fragmentation is the call of the day in today’s India.



[1] The CPI was founded in Tashkent by M. N. Roy in 1920, and in India in 1925. It was to be deeply influenced by Stalinism in both the ultraleft sectarian and the popular frontist ways. It split in 1964 between the CPI and the CPI (Marxist). In 1967-69, Maoists came out of the CPI(M) and in 1969 majority of them founded the CPI (Marxist-Leninist). Followers of S.A. Dange left the CPI after he was expelled in 1981, and set up the All India Communist Party, later merging with other similar forces to create the United Communist Party of India. The CPI(ML) fragmented after 1972. At present there are many Maoist or partially Maoist parties and groups. The most important party sticking to the original Maoist line is the CPI(Maoist), a party created by the unification of the CP(ML) Peoples War Group, the CPI(ML) Party Unity, and the Maoist Communist Centre. The most important CPI(ML) fragment taking part in elections is the CPI(ML) Liberation, which was at one time in a kind of loose alliance with the DSP Australia. Following the results the CPI has renewed its call for a CPI(CPI(M) unity, which the CPI(M) has once again turned down.

[2] See Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah – Laboratory of Fascism: Capital, Labour and Environment in Modi’s Gujarat,  http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/579-laboratory-of-fascism-capital-labour-and-environment-in-modi-s-gujarat

[3] See Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, India On Strike, http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/786-india-on-strike

 

[4] For past assessments of the trajectory of the left see Soma Marik and Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Defeat of the Left front and the Search for Alternative Leftism, http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/614-the-defeat-of-the-left-front-and-the-search-for-alternative-leftism; Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, The Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance (2004), http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/62-the-left-front-and-the-united-progressive-alliance-2004; Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, Elections and the Left in India, International Socialist Review, Issue 66, https://isreview.org/issue/66/elections-and-left-india ..

[5] Labour law reforms have been discussed from our perspective in Labour Law Reforms, Indian Capitalism and the Modi Government, in http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/739-labour-law-reforms-indian-capitalism-and-the-modi-government

Videos on the movement of Tiananmen Square, and on LIU Xiabo


Documents broadcast on ARTE

Tuesday, June 4, 2019, by AUBRY Émilie , Pierre HASKI , LEGRAS Gaël , MAC MILLAN Ian

 Tiananmen: the people against the party

Thirty years ago, Chinese students rose up to demand democracy and were victims of bloody repression. Nourished by the "Tiananmen Papers", a captivating dive into the heart of the events of the spring of 1989. 
On April 15, 1989, Hu Yaobang, former secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party, who was dismissed two years earlier, following the student protests of 1986, he had supported in their democratic demands, dies of a heart attack.
Wanting to pay tribute to him, thousands of students converge on Tian'anmen, the largest square in the world, symbol of communist power, confronted, for a decade, the wind of freedom that blows over China and weakens the dictatorship of the single party . The slogans claim the freedom of expression and the transparency of the government.

First installment 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hLCozo3p3I

This first episode traces the beginning of the biggest movement for the democratization of China's history and the showdown between some 200,000 demonstrators - soon supported by the workers, Pekingese and big cities - and the government led with an iron fist by Deng Xiaoping, party secretary-general Zhao Ziyang and prime minister Li Peng. 
On May 20, after a masquerade of dialogue with student leaders, martial law is proclaimed.

Handful archive footage How, thirty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party came to commit a mass crime whose exact number of victims is still unknown?

Twelve years after the events in 2001, the leak of thousands of secret documents retracing the internal struggles of Chinese power, the "Tiananmen Papers", revealed the chain of events. Based on these exceptional documents, the film retains the thread of the days from April to June 1989 thanks to poignant archival images commented by specialists from China and by the former leaders of the movement themselves, for the majority in exile. 
The ghosts of the "Beijing Spring" continue to haunt them, while a totalitarian regime still governs the country.

Documentary by Ian MacMillan (France / United States, 2019, 52mn)

Second installment: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXcrXHs7p-0

on May 20, martial law is proclaimed. Two hundred thousand soldiers penetrate to Beijing ... 
Two hundred thousand soldiers penetrate in the capital, but are quickly stopped by Pekingese who fraternize with them. 
At the same time, dissension arises among the students, between the advocates of non-violence and the most radical. On May 27, Wang Dan, one of the leaders, sensing the imminence of the drama, unsuccessfully urges his comrades to evacuate the place. 
On June 3, soldiers more subject to the regime, and who were ordered to shoot, assail the students. In a few hours, the dead are in the thousands. 
The day after the massacre, the image of a man alone in front of a tank goes around the world, while a huge apparatus of repression unfolds throughout the country.

Handful archive footage How, thirty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party came to commit a mass crime whose exact number of victims is still unknown? 
Twelve years after the events in 2001, the leak of thousands of secret documents retracing the internal struggles of Chinese power, the "Tiananmen Papers", revealed the chain of events. 
Based on these exceptional documents, the film retains the thread of the days from April to June 1989 thanks to poignant archival images commented by specialists from China and by the former leaders of the movement themselves, for the majority in exile. The ghosts of the "Beijing Spring" continue to haunt them, while a totalitarian regime still governs the country.

Documentary by Ian MacMillan (France / United States, 2019, 52mn)

 Pierre Haski and Lun Zhang

The journalist and president of Reporters Without Borders Pierre Haski and Lun Zhang, former protester in Tiananmen in 1989. Their portrait is signed Gael Legras. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucvbei6DQHA

 Pierre Haski on the Tiananmen movement

Émilie Aubry reflects on the events of 1989 and their commemoration 
prohibited in 2019, with Pierre Haski, journalist, president of Reporters Without Borders 
https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/089842-001-A/tiananmen-entretien- with-stone-haski-1-2 /

 Presentations of the documentary "Liu Xiaobo, the man who challenged Beijing"

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese dissident, Nobel Peace Prize winner.

https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/089842-003-A/tiananmen-maintenance-with-pierre-haski-2-2/ 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnmrSfFQ0fI

  Documentary: LIU Xiabo, the man who challenged Beijing

https://youtu.be/ghw3YrOZWHY

ALGERIA “The West prefers a regime subject to its interests”

 

INTERVIEW WITH HOCINE BELALLOUFI

Wednesday 5 June 2019, by Hocine Belalloufi

Hocine Belalloufi is a journalist and a member of the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PST – Socialist Workers’ Party, Algerian section of the Fourth International). This interview with fellow journalist Kamel Lakhdar-Chaouche was published in the Algerian daily newspaper l’Expression on April 17, 2019.

The world is discovering with great fascination these Algerians who go onto the street by millions, not to advance social demands, but for their dignity and freedom ...

I think it’s a very ideological reading, neoliberal and purely factual, which stops at what is observable to the naked eye without bothering to get to the bottom of things and understand the deep springs of this popular explosion. Dignity and freedom have a material basis that resides in the economic independence of the individual. Economic and social demands are not yet sufficiently emphasized in the popular movement and I regret it. Everything must be changed so that the trade union and workers’ movement becomes the backbone of the movement, because while workers, the unemployed, pensioners and young people struggle. the partisans of the market economy who ask them to be “above all these low social demands”, fight for their part to preserve and increase the immense subsidies granted to them by the regime for decades. They also struggle to seize power and share the “Algerian cake” directly while imposing “necessary sacrifices” on the people. Understand by this austerity, unemployment, the end of social housing, health and free education, the legal challenge to the right to strike and other joys of the market economy.

Does this Algerian Hirak fit in for you with the dynamics of the Arab revolutions of 2011?

There are two questions here. Algeria is part of several geostrategic zones: the Arab world, the wider Middle East, the Sahel and the Mediterranean basin. These geostrategic zones have in common that they are dominated by the imperialist powers (G7, IMF, NATO and so on). From this point of view, what is happening in Algeria undoubtedly has to do with the process that began in 2011 in the Arab world. All the peoples of this region are subject to political and military domination by the United States and its European, Israeli and Arab allies. They are naturally rebelling against this imperialist order.

I do not think that we are, in Algeria today, in a revolutionary process. Rather, we are in a pre-revolutionary situation where the people exert pressure on the regime to carry out reform. Most Algerians no longer accept the current political order, but it is not, for the moment, at least, in a strategy of direct confrontation aimed at overthrowing the regime. And the latter, which has been on the defensive since February 22, still has forces in reserve and tries to take the initiative with the application of Article 102 and the implementation of a strategy of tension. We are still in a situation of unstable equilibrium.

The chief of staff accuses a “foreign hand”, which he does not name, of wanting to destabilize the country.

This conspiracy view has become a universal constant of authoritarian regimes. The Western “great democracies” which are increasingly authoritarian (United States, France and so on) incessantly accuse Russia or China of wanting to destabilize them. In the countries of the Arab world, it is the foreign hand that is emphasized as an explanatory factor by authoritarian regimes, by sycophants or by imperialist thinkers and politicians fighting against competitors. Three recent examples are particularly striking. [1]

Let us first remark that these texts can be applied to any crisis. It is more of a standard form than a concrete analysis providing a little detail of the present Algerian reality. In these texts, the main actors are neither the regime, nor the people, nor the oligarchs, nor the workers, the magistrates, the doctors or the students, nor even these millions of people who have gone out onto the streets of the country every Friday since February 22nd. The many contradictions of Algerian society are not mentioned at all. They clearly do not represent the main factor of the crisis. The actors are Western services.

These authors proceed by analogies. They completely decontextualize the political dynamics whose bases they do not seek at any time to bring out. They magnify under the microscope an element of the conjuncture, that of the actions of great powers, actions that are in any case permanent and that no analyst can ignore, and they make them “the” main factor, even almost the sole explanation of the crisis. As if a movement of the millions and millions of individuals who make up the people could be activated remotely or by local relays. Now, no movement of this magnitude can be chemically pure. It necessarily contains within itself contradictory forces, national and foreign. But to orient so ostentatiously the gaze on this single aspect is as caricatural as it is miserable.

These texts finally turn out to be tragically poor. We do not find there any historical analysis, even the briefest, of the Algerian social formation nor the least analysis of the political sequence that we live through, of the economic, social, political and ideological crisis of the country. The real Algeria – in the complexity of its social classes and their struggles, its political regime, its ideological currents – apparently does not exist. Our people are presented in the most contemptuous way as an object without soul or spine. A people devoid of conscience, an object reduced to the name of the “street”.

The existence of more or less brutal or subtle pressure and interference from Western foreign powers, but also from certain Gulf monarchies, is beyond doubt. The opposite would have surprised us as it is, in reality, a truism. But these external actions must imperatively be placed in the general context of the foreign policy of these powers and their precise role explained through internal contradictions in the country. Is it certain, for example, that French interests are not already served through the exceptional partnership signed between the Algerian government and Paris? And what about the “excellent relations between Algeria and the United States” highlighted by former Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel just days before the 4th session of the Algerian-American Strategic Dialogue held in early February 2019 in Washington? It is obvious that France and the United States would prefer to deal with a regime totally subject to their interests and desiderata. Are they ready to set Algeria on fire to get there, knowing that most of the people and opponents – with the exception of a handful of ultra-liberals defending the interests of the comprador fraction of the Algerian bourgeoisie is viscerally attached to the national independence of the country of the revolution of November 1st? This is theoretically possible, but neither General Delawarde, nor Ahmed Saâda, nor the author of the Lebanese article has provided any proof.

Will Algeria finally emancipate itself from the regime set up in 1962?

The reduction of the history of independent Algeria to a regime of dictatorship seems to me as reductive as it is dangerous. Independent Algeria has certainly seen the introduction of a single party regime. But this regime, during the first two decades, worked to build a state and an economy independent of the former metropolis and any other imperialist power. It has undoubtedly democratized education and health, opened the doors of the university to the people, substantially improved the condition of the urban and rural popular classes, slowed the development of social inequalities contrary to what we have seen in Tunisia and, above all, in Morocco. It has prevented the development of a comprador bourgeoisie that serves as a relay for international capitalism to plunder the natural and human resources of our country. It industrialized the country and fought against capitalist and imperialist international domination and united with the struggling peoples of the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Fight the authoritarian regime with a democratic façade yes, but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our project must combine democracy, social justice and national sovereignty and therefore fight against authoritarianism, economic liberalism and imperialist interference and looting.

There are a multitude of proposals for ending the crisis. How do you see them?

The first, that of the regime, is to retain the current liberal-authoritarian regime with a democratic façade. It is massively rejected by the people. The second is that of the ultra-neoliberals of the opposition (democrats, Islamists and nationalists) who use the democratic demand to apply an even more anti-national economic policy and an even harsher social policy (the “necessary sacrifices”). Such an outcome implies the election, as soon as possible, of a President who can, with the vote of the citizens, apply his ultra-neoliberal potion. The third is the one defended by the leftist forces who propose the establishment of a Constituent Assembly so that the people decide not only to elect their representatives, but also and above all, first, on the institutional architecture of the country. Do we need a president of the Republic or not, a Senate or not?

How many times can a deputy, a mayor ... be re-elected? What should they be paid? Can they be recalled by citizens if they betray their commitments? The more the citizens participate massively in the definition of the political regime the more the latter will be solid because based on the trust of the constituents. The argument of urgency does not stand up to the need to give the people the real, not the theoretical, means to really exercise their sovereignty.

Sudan at the Crossroads

 

Sunday 2 June 2019, by Revolutionary Socialists of Eygpt

The great Sudanese revolution has arrived at the crossroads reached by every revolution in the modern era. Are the masses simply removing the head of the regime, or tearing it up by its roots?

The Sudanese people have fought a heroic battle since last December, losing dozens of martyrs in clashes on the streets with the militias of the dictator, Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese revolutionaries have organised huge marches, strikes and sit-ins. At the time of writing, these are continuing in front of the headquarters of the Sudanese Army in Khartoum, and outside army barracks in other provinces. Having forced the downfall of Omar al-Bashir on 11 April, the Sudanese people immediately brought down the head of the Transitional Military Council, Awad Ibn Auf, the next day.

Since Abdelfattah al-Burhan took over the presidency of the military council with his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Al-Bashir’s generals are trying to divert the Sudanese revolution and empty it of any content in order to buy time to recover from the first blow that the revolutionaries have struck against the regime. The generals have not lost any time. They have been in constant contact with the counter-revolution forces in Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Manama. Gulf cash has begun to flow towards the military junta, and Egyptian dictator Abdelfattah al-Sisi is working hard to support the military council with intelligence and diplomacy.

The Gulf media are burnishing Hemideti’s image on their screens, sending reassuring messages that the Sudanese army is continuing to take part in the aggression in Yemen.

Things are different in the streets. Sudanese revolutionaries organised two protests to the Egyptian embassy to denounce interference by al-Sisi and Egyptian intelligence services in Sudanese affairs. Banners opposing the Gulf states and their “aid” have proliferated, along with demands for the withdrawal of Sudanese troops from a war in Yemen which they have no interest in fighting.

What about the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change which have spearheaded the mobilisation? The leaders of the Sudanese opposition responded to the invitation by the military council to “negotiate” after the fall of al-Bashir and Ibn Auf. Conflicting accounts and leaks about differences with the military council emerged. Then came a call to escalate the sit-ins along with accusations that the military council was manoeuvring in order to try and retain sovereign powers. The opposition went back to the negotiating table again and revealed on 28 April the details of the dispute with the military council.

While the opposition is calling for a “civilian sovereign council”, which would include all the current members of the military council (seven generals), alongside eight civilian members, this was rejected by the military council, which instead called for the addition of only three civilians.

In both cases, the civilian sovereign council would have a military president.

The low bar set by the opposition leaders in their demands sparked anger among many Sudanese revolutionaries, who expressed disappointment in the performance of the negotiators. There was widespread debate on social media, for example asking whether the reason for this complacency was the weakness of the negotiators.

However, the problem is not so much the personalities of the negotiators as the overall strategy of the opposition. By agreeing to negotiate with Al-Bashir’s generals, and allowing them to participate in the transition period, the leaders of the opposition are trying to reconcile the demands of the revolutionary street on the one hand, and the counter-revolutionary generals on the other. This strategy is suicidal for the revolution. Regardless of who the negotiators are, they will betray the hopes of the revolutionaries.

Sit-ins in the streets do not bring down regimes on their own, and the Sudanese Professionals Association has not seriously used general strikes as a weapon since the fall of al-Bashir. Meanwhile the wheel of exploitation continues to turn as revolutionaries gather in the squares to protest after the working day is done. A general strike is necessary to confront the military council while preserving the peaceful character of the movement. In some places, and without waiting for the invitation of the SPA, workers and civil servants are mobilising in their factories and offices to demand permanent contracts, independent unions and to kick their managers from the old regime out of their workplaces. We saw this happen in Egypt in 2011, when Islamists and liberals went on the attack saying “strikes are selfish, now is not the time for them!”

Yet these strikes are the beating heart of the revolution: escalating them into a general strike is a matter of life or death.

There is another challenge. With whom exactly in the military should revolutionaries negotiate? Who from the military should be allowed to take part in the transitional period? Al-Bashir’s generals? Or the junior officers and the soldiers who rebelled against their commanders and fraternised in the streets with the revolutionaries?

The rebellion growing in the lower ranks of the officers and among soldiers was one of the main reasons for the junta’s rush to get rid of Al Bashir, fearing the collapse of the army and the regime. These are the parts of the army that the revolutionaries should be seeking to negotiate and ally with, and whose participation they should be seeking.

Some may accuse the revolutionaries of trying to drag the country into a bloodbath. But the real bloodbath will be the inevitable blow by the generals against the revolution. Maintaining a peaceful revolution requires a quick move towards a general strike and an appeal to the lower ranks of the army to join it.

May 17 2019

Joint Statement of Solidarity with PTM by Feminist Groups across Pakistan

We, as feminists who uphold the peaceful resolution of conflict, stand in solidarity with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) in their struggle for fundamental rights. We condemn the violence that took place on May 26th in the Khar Qamar area of North Waziristan in which 13 civilians were allegedly killed and 46 were injured as a result of army firing. According to the testimonies of eyewitnesses and video footage released on social media, the protesters were unarmed and were peacefully protesting the illegal detention of local residents.

Following this event, Ali Wazir, an elected MNA, was arrested under charges of terrorism. There are also rumours that he has been tortured while in detention. Furthermore, Mohsin Dawar was arrested on May 30th and also charged with terrorism.

Since this time, a curfew has been imposed in Waziristan, which has led to food and medicine shortages, thus putting local residents’ lives at risk. This is a form of collective punishment. Before this, prominent human rights activist Gulalai Ismail’s home was raided and an FIR was lodged against her also on terrorism charges on May 23rd.

We believe all three are innocent and have only been exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest in accordance with the Constitution.

Following this wave of violence and repression, we as feminists demand that:

1. A Senate commission is constituted to investigate the massacre at the Khar Qamar checkpoint so that those responsible can be held accountable and punished.

2. Lift the curfew in Waziristan so that people can have access to food and medicines.

3. Hand all control of all administration, including law enforcement, in former-FATA to civilians in accordance with the 25th amendment.

4. Release Ali Wazir and all protestors arrested with him and drop all charges against them.

5. Release Mohsin Dawar and drop all charges against him.

6. Drop the FIRs lodged against Gulalai Ismail.

7. Hold free and fair trials of all persons arrested in the former-FATA before civilian courts.

8. Allow the media and human rights observers access in Waziristan in order for events to be covered impartially.

9. Lift the unofficial media blackout on the PTM at the national level.

As feminists, we support the PTM’s democratic right to non-violent protest, and we oppose all forms of violence and repression against them and the residents of Waziristan.

Saturday 1 June 2019,

Women’s Action Forum (Lahore) Women’s Action Forum (Peshawar) Women’s Action Forum (Islamabad) Women’s Action Forum (Quetta) Women’s Action Forum (Hyderabad) Women’s Action Forum (Karachi)

Statement by Left Voice (Vame Handa) of Sri Lanka on the Easter Bombings

Press Statement of Vame Handa („Left Voice‟)

 

Colombo, 26 April 2019

“President and Government should be held responsible for Easter Sunday carnage”

At least 253 people were killed and 500 were wounded due to the suicide attacks carried out by religious extremists on Easter Sunday on three churches and three luxury tourist hotels in Sri Lanka. The Left Voice, an organisation of socialist activists in the trade unions and peoples’ struggles, unconditionally condemns this barbaric attack.

We express our sorrow to the families of the affected. It is disclosed that this attack was carried out by National Thowheed Jamath, an organisation based in Sri Lanka. In the meantime, Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for this atrocity.

Full responsibility for all the damages to lives and property in this tragic violence should be taken by the Government of Sri Lanka. Even though intelligence information including the identity of some of the individuals who exploded the bombs were received by the police around 4 April. The government did not inform the public of this credible threat nor take any preventive steps to stop this disaster. The Secretary to the Ministry of Defense (who has since resigned following public outrage) confirmed that he was aware of this intelligence but didn't act on it, believing it to be exaggerated.

While the public is rightly criticizing the entire government for its criminal irresponsibility, the President and Prime Minister are passing the buck onto others including each other. The opportunity for Sri Lanka to become a bombing ground has been created by the unstable political situation for which both leaders are responsible.

It is necessary to understand the socio-economic roots of this type of extremism among young Muslims. Sinhala chauvinist forces which strengthened after the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, considered the local Muslim community as its next antagonist.

The Muslim community, especially in the Eastern province, is economically disadvantaged. The post-war campaigns against halal food certification and the slaughter of cows as carried out by Sinhala racist forces were actually campaigns against Muslim commercial interests. The war-time Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (and brother to the former president), Gotabhaya Rajapakse protected the Bodu Bala Sena (‘Buddhist Army Force’) movement who led those racist campaigns. He aspires to be the next President of the country with the backing of those same forces.

The Muslim businessmen of Colombo city have been under threat from Sinhala racists who organize boycotts of their stores as well as attack them, with no protection from previous and present Governments. It appears that some of the suicide bombers were well-educated children of rich businessmen. The context of anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia has clearly helped ISIS and other reactionary groups to penetrate into the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

The present opposition leader and ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse has stated that he too was aware of the possibility of terror attacks. He complains that the present government enabled this situation through arrests of a few intelligence personnel implicated in abductions and disappearances during his regime. Now all three parties, the President, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are committed to strengthening the security forces and police by introducing new oppressive laws. The President has declared a state of emergency which threatens democratic rights. Other authoritarian steps include blocking access to social media platforms and the cancellation of May Day rallies next week.

The crisis in the present Sri Lankan Government (Ranil-Sirisena) which developed since 26th October 2018, has now shattered the Sri Lankan state. It is now an opportune moment to rally round all the forces to push this Government out of existence which is strongly echoing in the peoples' sentiments demanding the Govt. to resign. If we delay in the task of defeating this Government, a right wing coup will be hatched in the very near future.

A dangerous turn is that the government has requested the support of imperialist countries such as the United States, labeling them as international terrorist activity. At this moment operatives from FBI & Scotland Yard are active in Sri Lanka. We should not exclude the possibility of imperialist intervention in the name of crushing terrorism.

The most dangerous situation is the possibility of attacks against Muslims all over the island by racist forces. The Left forces should take the leadership to avoid this type of situation. One important step towards such activity is to hold the May Day despite the state ban. Further, progressive forces should come forward to defeat the government’s open invitation to foreign intervention.

Linus Jayatilake Leader – Left Voice Organization

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