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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 28 New Delhi July 4, 2015

Hindutva-Capitalism takes power / Attacks on Activists speak of Pathological Intolerance / Challenges before Yechury / Bengal Local Poll Results . . .

Monday 6 July 2015

Reproduction of Praful Bidwai’s Recently Published Articles

A Nightmare Materialises in India: Hindutva-Capitalism takes power

The Lok Sabha election has produced what was easily the worst conceivable outcome by giving an outright majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party under a man who is widely believed to have been complicit in mass killings of Indian citizens belonging to one faith, and who even 12 years on has not been fully exonerated by the country’s legal system despite its compro-mised, semi-functional nature, and vulnerability to diabolical manipulation.

Make no mistake. Despite a limited (31 per cent) national vote, Narendra Modi’s victory is the result of a Rightward shift in society, and the triumph of Hindutva combined with neoliberal capitalism.

It’s an ugly scar on the face of Indian democracy, and the combined outcome of many long-festering social pathologies, including Islamophobic religious-communal prejudice, belligerent nationalism, rising influence of corporate power, growing social intolerance, gullibility of people to paranoid propaganda, and intense craving among the middle class elite for authoritarian rule.

Contrary to claims, Modi’s “presiden-tialised” election campaign, in which billions of business dollars and the corporate media played as crucial a part as “56-inch-chest” aggression, had nothing to do with “development” or “governance”. It was India’s most communalised campaign ever.

Modi symbolises, personifies and radiates “alpha-male”, militarised Hindutva—even when he doesn’t openly indulge in hate-speech. This time, his canvassing was actually lubricated by blood: from an early stage in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, and later to Kokrajhar in Assam.

Modi wickedly deployed toxic rhetoric about driving out Bangladeshi “infiltrators” (read, Muslims) while welcoming “refugees” (read, Hindus), and about the “Pink Revolution” (beef exports). He brazenly used religious symbols. Six lakh Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh men ran his military-style campaign and cynically used slogans like “love jehad” and “bahu bachao, beti bachao” (protect Hindu women from Muslim predators) to polarise opinion communally.

The polarisation helped the BJP exploit widespread discontent, often disgust, with the Congress, rooted in high prices, corruption, economic elitism (especially growth that pampers Big Business, but creates no jobs), and the Gandhi family’s hubris. It the laid the ground for venally shrewd caste calculations and the micro-level “booth management” strategy per-fected by Modi’s henchman Amit Shah in Gujarat, in which 20-25 RSS men “cover” each polling station and lead the voters there.

Communal-caste-class polarisation paid off handsomely. The BJP performed spectacularly well in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka, won “saturation-level” seat-scores in its “home States” (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh), and secured unprecedentedly high vote-shares in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and even Kerala.

The BJP’s 73 out-of-80 seats victory in UP is the highest score by any party there since the 1984 election, which had delivered 83-of-85 seats to the Congress. The sheer size of the BJP’s UP vote (42.3 per cent), and the nose-diving of the Congress’s vote (from 18.3 to 7.5 per cent) meant that its main opponents would be decimated in a three-cornered contest.

The Bahujan Samaj Party couldn’t win a single seat despite bagging a 19.6-per cent vote, and increasing its vote-share in 46 consti-tuencies. The Samajwadi Party too shrank from 23 to five seats despite winning 22.2 per cent, only one percentage-point lower than in 2009. There were clear signs of a weakening of its core Yadav-Muslim coalition because of Muslim disillusionment with the SP’s handling of Muzaffarnagar.

 The BJP succeeded in winning over sections of Jats, lower OBCs and Most Backward Classes groups and non-Jatav Dalits by communalising them and promising them jobs which they desperately crave. Another factor that helped it decimate the well-organised BSP and SP is the relative consolidation of the votes of large numbers of Muslims, which normally get badly divided.

This again is attributable to the “Modi factor”: the fear and loathing he naturally provokes among Muslims. Yet, in a sour irony of history, this ended up helping Modi: Muslims voted constituency-wise, rationally choosing the candidate best-placed to defeat him, but they thus scattered their votes mainly between the SP and BSP, weakening both.

The Lok Sabha now has its lowest-ever Muslim representation: just four per cent of MPs, way below the Muslims’ 13.4 per cent population share. For the first time, there isn’t a single Muslim MP from UP, India’s largest (and the world’s sixth most populous) State, where Muslims form almost a fifth of the 200-million-strong population. Also absent from the Lok Sabha is the BSP, a Dalit party—despite retaining its status as India’s third largest party, with 4.1 per cent of the national vote.

 Such severe exclusion speaks of highly skewed parliamentary representation—a sign of India’s flawed democracy. Under it, a 12 percentage-point national vote-difference between the BJP and Congress resulted in a grossly dispropor-tionate 640-percentage-point gap in seats.

This strengthens the argument for the replace-ment of the British first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system that India blindly follows, by the more widely prevalent (and fairer) propor-tional representation (PR) system, which allots quotas to parties based on the total votes they poll, in addition to constituency-based candidates.

The FPTP system has unduly benefited the BJP, just as it did the Congress in the past. If the PR system were adopted for the present Lok Sabha, the BJP would fall to 169 seats, the Trinamul to 21 (from 34), and the Congress, BSP and SP would respectively rise to 105, 23 and 19 seats (from the present 44, 0 and 5).

At any rate, the election has not just put an RSS pracharak and a Hindutva fanatic in power, but established the ascendancy of the ideology of Hindu-supremacism, for which the Sangh has fought for nine decades using repugnant methods, including assassination, communal riots, vile forms of brainwashing and regimen-tation, and propaganda about imaginary threats to the “Hindu nation”.

Today, the RSS can hide behind “democracy”, just as Hitler did in 1933. But this is a degraded, communalised/racist distortion of democracy, without equal rights for all citizens, but charged with a bellicose ethno-religious identity. Hindutva militates against the Indian Constitution, which defines citizenship in universalterms, independently of such identities. No party other than the BJP and Shiv Sena shares this communal ideology.

The Congress and the Left have been mauled and reduced to their lowest-ever seat-tallies (44 and 12 respectively,). But no heads have rolled in these parties. They will be hard put to reverse the setbacks without drastic corrective measures. The Aam Aadmi Party, which made a dramatic debut in Delhi, won only four seats, all in Punjab. All its big leaders lost. It too faces a grave crisis.

Now that the BJP has achieved an absolute Lok Sabha majority, we can expect four things. First, the BJP will be under pressure to revive the core Hindutva agenda, including the Ram temple, Article 370 on Kashmir, and a Uniform Civil Code. The RSS’ M.G. Vaidya has explicitly demanded this.

Of the three issues, the temple is seemingly the least contentious. The Babri Masjid was demolished, and a makeshift temple exists at Ayodhya. But if the Sangh Parivar tries to build a temple movement via a raucous agitation, by painting Muslims as villains, that will generate serious strife.

Article 370 will be internationally controversial, and risk reviving Kashmiri separatism in a more vigorous form, thus further militarising the Kashmir crisis. If a Uniform Civil Code is promoted, not as part of a universal gender justice agenda, but imposed as a parochial, selective demand on Muslims, it will violate minority rights and lead to bloodshed.

Second, the Sangh Parivar will soon begin its destructive “Long March” through India’s demo-cratic institutions, which are not strong enough or have the integrity to defend themselves against that onslaught. It will do its best to subvert the judiciary and institutions in education, culture, and Information and Broadcasting, thus further threatening secularism and pluralism.

We should expect major changes in the schooling system, universities, other specialised higher learning institutions like the Indian Councils of Social Science and Historical Research, and the Sahitya, Lalit-Kala and Sangeet-Natak Akademis.

The media too will be manipulated. The Parivar understands the media’s crucial propa-ganda value and its vulnerability to pressure from giant corporations, which increasingly drive its agendas. The damage would be far worse than in 1977-79 or 1998-2004 when the Jana Sangh/BJP was in power.

Third, hardline militaristic approaches, which the BJP favours, will be adopted against the Maoist movement. The BJP’s ultra-neoliberal policies will promote rampant extraction of natural resources, especially forests, coal, minerals and rivers, which lie in India’s Central and Eastern tribal belt.

As these resources are handed over to preda-tory corporations, fresh popular resistance is likely to erupt, which the BJP Government will tend to repress ferociously, by direct military/paramilitary means, and by reviving murderous militias like Salwa Judum. This will lead to untold violations of human rights and brutali-sation of some of the poorest people in Indian society.

Finally, there will be very little immediate resistance to the Hindutva-capitalist onslaught from the parliamentary parties, including much of the now-disoriented Left. That burden will fall on grassroots civil society movements and progressive activists, which stand for a demo-cratic-secular India. They must prepare for a long, hard, brutal War of Position.

(Mainstream, May 31, 2014)

Attacks on Activists speak of Pathological Intolerance

This article on the attack on CPI leader Govind Pansare appeared in DNA, Mumbai on February 19, 2015 [Pansare was shot in Kolhapur (Maharashtra) on February 16]. The Communist leader breathed his last in a Mumbai hospital late at night on February 20, 2015, that is, after the publication of the article.

It’s not easy being a public-spirited activist in India these days. If you’re a right-to-information campaigner, you run the risk of being physically eliminated, as has happened to more than 20 activists in recent years. If you’re a conscientious whistleblower, you could be victimised—like AIIMS vigilance officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi—or murdered, like Shanmugam Manjunath.

If you’re fighting to defend human life and the environment against hazardous nuclear power, it’s near-certain that you’ll have hundreds of cases of sedition and “waging war against the State” filed against you, as happened to activists like S.P. Udayakumar at Kudankulam. If you’re fighting dirty coal-mining and coal-based electricity, the greatest threat to the climate, there’s a good chance, as in the case of Priya Pillai, that you’ll be maligned as anti-national and taken off a flight to London, the headquarters of the mining company, where you’re going to brief elected MPs.

If you’ve been working to bring the perpetrators and abettors of the 2000 Gujarat carnage to justice, like Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, the state will spare no effort to frame you on fabricated charges of defalcation of funds, and deny you anticipatory bail.

An even crueller fate awaits rationalists and anti-superstition activists—themselves public intellectuals of stature—such as Narendra Dabholkar, gunned down in 2013 in Pune, and Govind Pansare, shot at on Monday (February 16, 2015) in Kolhapur, who’s now fighting for his life. Dabholkar was a lifelong Socialist and Pansare a Communist—ideologies that are anathema to Right-wing reactionaries, in particular Hindutva supporters.

To be fair, we don’t yet know who fired at Pansare and his wife, and why. Was it because he spoke out against blind faith for long years? Was it for his recent trenchant attack on the Sangh Parivar-style religious bigotry and the new cult of Nathuram Godse that’s being shamefully promoted by the Hindu Mahasabha? Was the motive to punish him because he recently organised a discussion on a book which suggests that Right-wing forces killed anti-terrorism squad policeman Hemant Karkare for being on their trail?

Was he targeted because he long ago wrote a critical appraisal of Shivaji, which opposes Hindutva’s jingoistic-communal interpretation of him? Or was the attack related to his work as an important trade unionist, and more recently, his campaign against private road tolls? (He believed all roads should belong to the public.)

No matter which of them is true, all these motives are thoroughly despicable and speak of a deep social pathology. They also show how far Maharashtra has travelled away from the glorious tradition of the social reform movement and the Shahu Maharaj-Phule-Ambedkar legacy of fighting superstition, casteism, male-supre-macism, parochialism, hierarchy and national-chauvinism.

Rationalism was part of that tradition, just as Sakshi Maharaj and Niranjan Jyoti, and Mohan Bhagwat and Amit Shah (who both justify ghar-wapsi and demand a ban on conversions) are integral to today’s Hindutva, with all its aggression against the religious minorities, scientific rationality, indeed moder-nity itself. There’s simply no doubt that in the present Hindutva-vitiated climate, intolerance has acquired a particularly toxic form, itself unbecoming of a half-way civilised society.

I interviewed Pansare last year for a book, and could not but admire his sharp intellect, political-moral passion and idealism. When he turned 75, his comrades and friends felicitated him with a fund. Instead of using the money for his old-age security, Pansare used it to publish a series of booklets on globalisation, the agrarian question, poorly-known Left activists’ biogra-phies, and workers’ and peasants’ struggle for emancipation. The contrast between Pansare and his attackers’ crass motives couldn’t have been starker.

(Courtesy: DNA, Mumbai, February 19, 2015)

Reimagining Strategy, Returning to Grassroots: Challenges before Yechury

The election of Sitaram Yechury as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist is noteworthy not least because the CPM, with one million members, is the world’s second largest Communist Party (after the Chinese), but also because it comes at a make-or-break moment in the nine decades-long history of the communist movement in India.

Whether and how ably Yechury is able to stem the decline of his crisis-ridden party and rejuvenate and energise it will greatly influence the fate of the Left in India, itself inseparable from the health of the country’s democracy.

Yechury (62), an articulate quick-witted leader, brilliant parliamentarian, and multi-lingual networker with contacts and accepta-bility across the political spectrum, was widely seen as the natural choice to succeed Prakash Karat, who has completed three terms as the CPM General Secretary, the maximum the party’s recently amended constitution permits (except in emergencies).

Yet, Yechury’s election became a battle of nerves with the relatively unknown S. Ramachandran Pillai (77), who enjoyed majority support (albeit thin) in the Polit-Bureau thanks to Karat and the party’s Kerala unit, especially its just-retired long-serving State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

Yechury, strongly backed by the West Bengal and Tripura party units, won by threatening a secret ballot in the new Central Committee which elects the General Secretary. His rivals didn’t want a ballot because it would probably have exposed divisions within the Kerala party, as well as between it and the West Bengal unit, much to Vijayan’s embarrassment.

Eventually, Yechury was elected “unani-mously”. But the episode showed the CPM’s internal differences and its leadership’s anxiety to appear united and cohesive. It also proved that the Communists have far more democratic organisational structures than most Indian parties.

Yechury takes the helm when the CPM’s Lok Sabha strength (nine seats) stands at its lowest since its formation in 1964. It was humiliatingly routed in West Bengal and lost power in Kerala in 2011. It now holds office only in tiny Tripura. In 2004, the CPM had legislators in 13 State Assemblies; today, it’s represented in just eight Assemblies, in four of them with one MLA each.

The CPM’s draft political-organisational report admits: “The party has been unable to advance... expand its political influence, increase its organisational strength and develop its mass base, especially among the basic classes.” It could only rally a small number of members, and didn’t make “enough effort” to reach out to “wider sections”.

About 40,000 members have quit the CPM in West Bengal since 2011. Party membership is ageing: one-half of it belongs to the 32-50 age-group; only 20 per cent is under 31; but 27 per cent is in the 50-70 group.

The CPM’s problems are part of the multiple crises that beset the Left as a whole: ideological, strategic, programmatic and organisational. The Left must address these candidly and in a self-critical spirit if it’s to stop its downward slide and regenerate itself as a force which stands for a clean, principled politics centred on the poor and underprivileged, who form a majority of India’s population, but whose interests are scarcely represented in the mainstream parties.

Indian democracy desperately needs a force which advances an agenda of economic equality, expanded civic and political rights, and social emancipation across caste, gender and ethnic divisions. Only such an agenda can lead to a modern, pluralist, enlightened socialist order, which is ecologically sound and can ensure a life with human dignity for all—which capitalism can never do.

For long decades, the Left had such an enlightened vision and image which was way ahead of other parties. This attracted to it the most talented, intelligent and dedicated of scholars, creative artists, writers, and film and theatre people. It also allowed the Left to survive many crises, including some rooted in its own mistakes, like its opposition to the ‘Quit India’ movement, its denunciation of Independence as “fake”, and its plunge into armed struggle in 1948-50.

This unique attraction has recently faded. The Left, especially the CPM, has a lot of homework to do. It must ask what went wrong with its original strategic perspective of forming a Left and Democratic Front, and whether the programmes it championed were relevant to people’s needs and radical enough. A good beginning would be to ask why it lost power in West Bengal after an uninterrupted 34 years, itself a world record.

The answer doesn’t lie in Trinamul “terror”, loss of Muslim support after the Sachar report’s publication, nor even in Singur-Nandigram or “tactical” mistakes. The Left Front lost West Bengal because it wasn’t radical enough. Its modest land reform stopped at registering/protecting tenant-sharecroppers, and didn’t transfer titles to them. It compromised with rich and middle peasants and failed to organise landless agricultural workers.

The CPM deradicalised the trade unions and lost its prime working class cadres. It pioneered panchayati raj, but turned it into a patronage-based system. It politicised and degraded educational and cultural institutions. It created an urban nightmare out of Kolkata and around new townships like Rajarhat. It was gender- and caste-insensitive. It often practised violence against its opponents. It adopted elitist develop-ment approaches including “beautifying” cities by evicting hawkers.

In the 1990s, the CPM embraced industriali-sation-at-any-cost by appeasing Big Business and inviting predatory multinationals like Wal-Mart in the naïve belief that this would advance the “productive forces”. It forcibly acquired land, deeply antagonising peasants.

The Singur-Nandigram fiascos weren’t causes but effects/symptoms of a deeper malaise: pursuit of neoliberalism, which the party’s central leadership assails. The CPM, with a strongly upper-caste bhadralok leadership, failed to combat caste, gender and anti-Muslim discri-mination. It became a party of careerists bereft of imagination, yet complacent and arrogant towards its smaller partners.

In Kerala, the Left parties were always more deeply entrenched among the poor. Their base, although depleted somewhat thanks to Vijayan’s conservatism and to CPM factionalism, remains fairly solid. They adopted some imaginative programmes like the People’s Plan which allotted 40 per cent of the State budget to grassroots-driven development, but didn’t persist with them.

The Kerala Left recently suffered setbacks because of the CPM-instigated murder of political rival T.P. Chandrasekharan, neglect of social and gender issues, and outright opposition to Western Ghats conservation and support for encroachers. The Left can still make a comeback in Kerala if it mobilises people on radical agendas—unlike in Bengal where it seems to have lost that capacity under the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-Biman Bose leadership.

The lesson from all this is that the Left has still to fashion and refine its strategic line of march. Nationally, it didn’t develop a sharp analysis of capitalism or bourgeois democracy “with Indian characteristics”. It didn’t strategise a transition towards socialism; nor did it prudently combine parliamentary and militant non-parliamentary activity. It continued to make Third Front-style alliances even after their bankruptcy became evident in 2009.

In 2004, the Left with its 61 Lok Sabha seats had a huge advantage vis-à-vis the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. It could have formulated a radical common programme and driven a hard bargain with the UPA, but didn’t. It withdrew support to the UPA on a narrow, esoteric issue (the US-India nuclear deal) which had no popular resonance. It abjectly lost the 2008 confidence vote.

The Left must revisit the Soviet Union’s collapse, which stemmed from a lack of democracy, extreme bureaucratisation, and poor economic planning. It should draw the right lessons and abandon the flawed Soviet/Chinese model of socialism, and develop a new model based on radical democracy and a novel, transformed relationship between nature, production and consumption.

The Left must pay more attention to affirmative action on caste, gender and ethnic-linguistic issues without succumbing to identity politics. It would do well to stop seeing itself as the “natural” vanguard of the working class movement, and to build a balanced relationship with it, based on mutual learning. The CPM should stop playing Big Brother to other Left parties.

The Left must repudiate Democratic Centra-lism, the organisational doctrine that says members are free to debate views at party congresses, but must strictly abide by collective decisions, expressing no differences in public. The Left should permit formation of inner-party tendencies and free debate on strategy and tactics. Stifling debate in the name of unity only covers up and perpetuates mistakes.

 Above all, the Left must return to grassroots work on popular welfare agendas, including healthcare, food and water security, employ-ment, decent wages, common schools-based education, pro-poor housing, urban transport, police accountability, and so on. It must also learn to work on equal terms with autonomous people’s movements on land, forest and water issues.

If the Aam Aadmi Party could occupy a part of the space that exists for unconventional politics in India, so can the Left—even more radically. One can only hope that Yechury, despite his proximity to the West Bengal CPM and bias for parliamentary work, rises to the challenge.

(Mainstream, May 2, 2015)

Bengal Local Poll Results, Don’t Bode Well for the BJP, Left

The Trinamul Congress has pulled off a massive victory in West Bengal’s municipal elections by winning 71 of 92 civic bodies (up from 38 won in 2010). Its Kolkata win was even more crushing: 114 of 144 wards (95 in 2010). The entire Opposition accuses the TMC of rigging the elections—a charge that carries some credibility given the scale of the TMC’s victory, huge winning margins of some candidates (for example, 15,000-30,000 votes), and the party’s known reliance on muscle-power.

The TMC was probably anxious to show that scandals like Saradha haven’t seriously hurt its image; it’s set to win the 2016 Assembly elections. But even without rigging, the TMC would probably have won, albeit with thinner margins. This is a comment more on its opponents’ lack of appeal than on its own (limited) attraction to voters.

The elections’ biggest loser is clearly the BJP. Defeated in all the municipal boards, it won a minuscule four per cent of the State’s 2090 wards, and suffered a huge setback in Kolkata. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won a 17-per cent overall vote-share and two seats—the same as the CPM with its 23-per cent vote. It emerged as the Number Two party in Kolkata, winning in 26 wards with a 25-per cent vote-share. Now it has won just seven wards with an estimated 15-per cent share. Its appeal, always limited in Bengal, has faded as the Modi “novelty factor” has worn out. It’s unlikely to become the second largest party in 2016.

The Left has regained its Number Two status, and leads the BJP by a good 10 percentage-points in Kolkata. But the Left is also the elections’ second-greatest loser. Its tally of Kolkata wards has declined from 32 (2010) to 15. In the 91 civic bodies elsewhere, its score has fallen from 15 to five. The Left’s State-level vote-share has declined from 29.6 to an estimated 27 per cent, way behind the TMC’s 42 per cent.

The CPM has taken great consolation in winning the Siliguri Corporation, the second biggest municipality after Kolkata. But the victory there of Asok Bhattacharya, a former Minister and “development-friendly” neoliberal in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mould, is hardly a victory of the Left as an ideological-political force. It certainly doesn’t put the Left into revival mode.

In fact, it’s hard to see how the West Bengal Left, in particular the CPM, can revive itself given its dogged refusal to confront the causes of its 2011 rout after 34 uninterrupted years in power. Put simply, the Left lost because it wasn’t radical enough. Its land reform didn’t transfer titles to tenants. It didn’t organise landless workers. The CPM deradicalised trade unions. It pioneered panchayati raj, but turned it into a patronage-system. It degraded educati-onal institutions and allowed social-develop-ment indices to plummet. Its bhadralok leadership failed to combat caste, gender and anti-Muslim discrimination. It often practised violence against its political opponents.

In the 1990s, the CPM began inviting Big Business and predatory multinationals like Wal-Mart to develop the “productive forces”. It forcibly acquired land. The Singur-Nandigram fiascos weren’t causes but effects/symptoms of a deeper malaise: pursuit of neoliberalism.

The CPM’s State leadership denies all this and pays mere lip-service to organising mass struggles, which it hasn’t done despite the loss of 40,000 members. Nationally, the CPM must introspect honestly into the multiple crises besetting it: ideological, strategic, programmatic and organisational. The new party General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury, has been closely aligned with the Bengal leadership. He’d do well to distance himself from it if he wants to revive the Bengal party.

(Mainstream, May 9, 2015)