India slides deeper into reaction as BJP wins landslide

Narendra Modi, the charismatic far-right leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has won another term as India’s president. Confounding predictions that his vote share would drop after a term of broken promises, Modi secured a landslide victory winning 303 seats – the largest margin of victory in decades. With his coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the government will control 353 out of 542 seats. The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), managed only 52 seats, showing the dwindling relevance of its once-dominant brand of secular social democracy. The election has been seen as a decisive moment in India’s history, with voters once again choosing the BJP, pushing the country deeper into reaction.

Crucial to Modi’s landslide was his order for airstrikes to target alleged Kashmiri militant camps in Pakistan on 26 February – the first such strikes since 1971. This complemented a campaign supported by mass Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) organisations Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Sangh Parivar, which whipped up racist, communal violence, and targeted left-wing activists. The election was effectively a referendum on the BJP-led government’s last five years in power, characterised by the assault on minorities, workers, peasants, oppressed castes and indigenous populations – groups which actually make up the majority of Indian population. However, without an organised political challenge to Indian capitalism and caste system this majority could not turn the tide of reaction.

The elections – the largest bourgeois democratic election process in the world – began on 11 April. With over 900 million eligible voters, the election process was divided into several rounds, which ended on 19 May. The election itself was a massive logistical operation, with 11 million people working to ensure that all Indians could vote within 2km of their homes – even those in national parks or in the Himalayas. 542 seats in India’s lower parliamentary house – the Lok Sabha – were contested, with the party or alliance achieving a majority of seats winning federal power over 29 states and 1.3 billion people.

Hindu nationalism

The BJP focused its election campaign on consolidating votes from oppressor castes, the urban middle-class, and unorganized castes. In the process the BJP intensified its ideological offensive against minorities. BJP president Amit Shah called for a Nationwide Review of Citizenship in order to filter out and prosecute ‘infiltrators’ and ‘illegal immigrants’. The BJP also promised refugee status for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian undocumented immigrants, leaving only Muslims to be prosecuted as ‘illegal immigrants’. One BJP candidate, Pragya Singh, praised Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as a ‘patriot’, and is still facing trial for her alleged involvement in a 2008 terrorist attack which killed 6 Muslims.

Modi was elected for his first term in 2014, with the NDA securing a majority of 336 seats, including 282 BJP seats. The BJP’s 2014 election campaign focused on the corruption of the INC and promised national security, economic development and growth. These promises have all been broken, and the country is in a deep economic crisis. During the five years of Modi’s first term, fascistic violence intensified across India with impunity.

The rise of the BJP has been accompanied by the growth of the RSS, which at an estimated 6 million cadres is the largest volunteer organisation in the world, and Sangh Parivar – a wider umbrella organisation for Hindutva groups. Both have focused on reviving stronger adherence to Hindu identity and fascistic rhetoric of the ‘threat of the other’ in the figure of the Muslim and radical leftists. These figures are targeted as the supposed cause of both ‘socio-economic ills’ and the ‘decline of Hindu-Indian culture’. RSS and Sangh Parivar have been responsible for instigating violence against Muslims. This includes the Gujarat Riots of 2002, which killed over 1,000 Muslims under the documented negligence of the then Chief Minister of the State – Narendra Modi.

Where’s the opposition?

Owing to its involvement in high profile corruption cases and its inability to offer any actual political programme, the main opposition party, the INC led by Rahul Gandhi, has lost much of its voting base over the last decade and won only eight more seats than it did in its worst ever result in 2014. Gandhi lost his own seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, a historical INC and Gandhi family stronghold. None of the major opposition parties offered any real challenge to the BJP or showed any real solidarity with its primary victims. Even the parliamentary communist parties have been unwilling to offer minimal solidarity with the victims of the brutal occupation of Kashmir. Instead, opposition parties copied the BJP’s 2014 campaign, focusing on corruption and welfarist promises. This has been proven a failure, as both major national and regional opposition parties have been decimated by BJP’s consolidation. The only real challenge to BJPs hegemony came from South India, especially through Tamil Nadu’s (DMK) inspired alliance of leftists, minorities, and oppressed castes.

State violence and mass incarceration policies targeting minorities, state-sponsored primitive accumulation campaigns against Adivasi (indigenous) and Dalit communities, the violent military occupations of Kashmir and the North East, and the prosecution of radical activists, have all been constant themes of modern India – whoever has been in government. The difference with the BJP in power is the growth and impunity of violence orchestrated by paramilitary groups like RSS, undermining the state monopoly on violence.

The Indian parliamentary left argues that the rising threat of fascism is a reaction to neoliberalism. The underlying politics of this analysis is a call to return to a social democratic protectionist economy. Indian capital-ism, in both its protectionist and neoliberal phases, has failed, unable to offer a secure life for the majority. Instead we have seen the stagnation of a once thriving agriculture, the large-scale creation of surplus populations, masses being forced to live in ghettos and slums, and violent assaults against non-capitalist modes of production. These processes are not marginal, but affect the vast majority of the Indian population.

To completely destroy fascist tendencies, Indian politics requires a programme of cultural revolution that is able to create concrete solidarities and bonds between the struggles of minorities, Adivasis, Dalits, Kashmiris, workers and peasants to create a new vision of the commons and communes against the exclusivist and eliminationist drives of Hindutva racism and capitalism. None of the mainstream political parties offer anything close. The threat of fascism will persist as long as the existing conditions continue.

Abdul Vajid

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 270 June/July 2019