The contemporaneity of present day politics in India, as far as both the government and the opposition is concerned, is characterized by an absence of any real difference of policy vision across the political spectrum. The trend actually has been of gradual diminishing of difference between various political parties. Defection from one party to the other has become a matter of common occurrence because ideology no longer remains the pivot around which most political parties and leaders revolve. The occupancy of power has come to solely depend upon the victory in elections. Events around elections are informed by changing coalitions and leaders defecting from their parent political parties. This trend has attained such a level of normalcy that no eyebrows are raised on it. It is not without reason. At the time when the Congress implemented the New Economic Policies in 1991, the senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that the Congress has now taken over the BJP’s task. Perhaps only then he had assessed that he could become the Prime Minister of the country in the near future. Otherwise it had been a general perception in the 80’s that Vajpayee, being associated with the RSS/Jana Sangh, could never become the Prime Minister of India despite his personal popularity. Vajpayee became prime minister of coalition governments – two times for a short term, and then for a full term. Now Narendra Modi is the prime minister of the country with BJP in absolute majority in the Lower House.
Since 1991, almost all mainstream political parties have acclimatized themselves in favor of New Economic Policies, a policy decision which was blatantly against the socialist ideology of country’s Constitution. As a result it has become an overt fact that corporate capitalism has been guiding the political parties and leaders of India for the last three decades. When the Directive Principles, as mentioned in the Constitution, were replaced by the dictates of the global institutions of the corporate capitalism such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, World Economic Forum etc. and domestic and foreign multinational companies/corporate houses, it became obvious that the basic values of the Constitution like socialism, secularism and democracy would face a crisis. We have almost lost socialism and secularism and do not even have a true regret for this loss/damage. Post 1991 generations in India were automatically habituated with this paradigm shift. The skeleton of democracy is still there. Until this skeleton will last, elections will continue to take place in the country.
In any country’s politics it would be considered a grave situation if the decision of a government or opposition relies solely on an immediate victory or defeat in the elections. Ideally a government or opposition should be tested on the basis of effective implementation of polices on the lines of the Constitutional principles and by better utilization and growth of the constitutional institutions. But political parties and leaders are not ready to commit to any ideology, regrettably not even to the ideology of the Constitution, other than the ideology of corporate capitalism. In such a situation voters are left with no real options. The Congress and the BJP are open advocates of neo-liberal policies which operate under the dicta of corporate capitalism. Apart from these two, the other big-small political parties, most intellectuals, civil society organizations and activists of the country also play their role in the realm of neo-liberal policies. The mainstream media is the product of this very milieu/environment and it incessantly serves the same to the people. Which is said to be the counterpart of the ‘godi media’, also appears to be working mostly within the purview of neo-liberalism. In the meantime, the icons of the Freedom Struggle are dragged into the cesspool of neo-liberalism by these leaders, on the other hand, apart from the dynastic political heirs, the new faces who come up in the power-politics, are marked by caste, religion and region.
Kishan Patnaik, in the 90s, had called this phenomenon the beginning of counter-revolution in India. Since the past two decades, the counter-revolution has matured. The maturity of counter-revolution is evidenced by the fact that some NGO activists, religious brokers, ex-government officials and professionals first create the anti-corruption agitation, and the country’s whole left-right intelligentsia and the media becomes united in its favor and propaganda. A new party of ‘aam admi‘ emerged from the ‘ashes’ of the movement, which brings the RSS/BJP and the socialists/communists together! This is corporate capitalism’s own political party which now flexes its muscles to put the Congress on knees! In such a situation, it is almost impossible to make way for the politics that directly opposes corporate capitalism, which is the second name of neo-imperialism, through elections.
But in spite of this reality seeped in pessimism, the election remains the only basis where the positive avenues for change can be explored. For this purpose, I wrote an essay titled ‘Lok Sabha Elections 2019 : A Perspective for Opposition Unity’ in June last year. In view of the formation of a formidable coalition of the opposition, the essay was written in some detail. In Hindi, it was published in the hastakshep.com and in English in the ‘CounterCurrents’, ‘Mainstream Weekly’, ‘Janata Weekly’ and in some other online and printed journals. While presenting the multi-dimensional role of elections in our democracy, mainly four suggestions were made in the essay : A national coalition, apart from BJP and Congress, comprising third force political parties and the Left parties should be formed under the name of National Front for Social Justice; One of the leaders of the opposition parties should lead that coalition at the national level; the Congress should support the National Front government, if formed, for five years from outside; and intellectuals of the country should play a proactive role in the formation, realization and success of the National Front. These four things could not be materialized. The Lok Sabha elections have been announced and the first phase voting will be held on 11 April 2019. In this case, the writing of the second part of the essay may not be justified. But in the context of the miscellaneous election-alliances and the strategies chalked out by the opposition, a little discussion can be followed.
It is clear that neither the proposed ‘National Front for Social Judicial’ nor the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) exists in the field to fight the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Phrases like Maha Gathbandhan are heard, but in comparison to the NDA, the opposition, including the Congress, has formed only state-wise miscellaneous alliances. Whatever the strength and limitations of these alliances in the elections, speculations have started arising regarding their credibility and stability post the elections. It is believed that whatever the miscellaneous alliances have come into existence, their character is unreliable and will not endure. Some parties/leaders involved in these alliances may align with the NDA in the event of BJP’s edge in the elections. Modi, who runs an alliance of around 35 parties, calls opposition alliances – ‘Mahamilavata‘! The Congress also accuses the alliances other than its own, of creating a situation of instability.
However the situation could have been altogether different from the present one. The recent assembly elections of five states were termed as the semi-finals to the Lok Sabha elections. In those elections, the Congress formed governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh by defeating the BJP. It can be noted that this victory of the Congress happened due to the peasants’ agitation. On 5 June 2017, six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur town of Madhya Pradesh. The incident triggered a spontaneous peasants’ agitation in the state. All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti was formed to organize the movement. Aligning with the ongoing peasant movements in other states including Maharashtra, the movement triggered from Mandsaur incident, reached Delhi. The Congress did not have any role in that movement. But it reaped the benefits and won the election in three states.
After the BJP’s defeat in five states, it should have been obvious for the opposition to effectively sustain and maintain the movement till the Lok Sabha elections by linking the upsurge of the peasants’ movement with the labor movement, student-youth movement and the movement of the small traders. The truth of the Modi government’s anti-farmer-laborer-youth-small traders policies should have been constantly kept alive in the public domain. With this, the solid issues such as the decision of demonetization that broke the backbone of country’s economy, unprecedented inflation and unemployment, failure of law and order, loot by the monopoly houses, aiding economic offenders to flee the country, scam in the Rafale deal, selling of the public assets-institutions-units to the private hands, destroying the constitutional and democratic institutions should have been issues of persistent discussions. If this would have happened the BJP and Modi would have found it difficult to bounce back riding on emotional issues. But the opposition could not prepare its own pitch. They mostly played on Modi’s pitch. The Congress decided to legitimize RSS/BJP’s communal politics by deciding to itself do the politics of the caste and religion.
The opposition did not show maturity as far as the Lok Sabha elections are concerned. The communal fascism is at its peak in Modi-Shah rule; Amit Shah has declared that they are there to hold on power for the next 50 years. And after this Lok Sabha election, there will never be elections in the country as one of the BJP leaders has threatened. The possibility of no further election can arise only when the people of the country get totally disillusioned with the electoral process. Today’s RSS/BJP will like it to happen and will not leave any stone unturned in that direction. Therefore, preserving the sanctity and dignity of the election process becomes the sole responsibility of the opposition. But it seems that most of the opposition, including the Congress, has decided to demolish whatever dignity of elections is remained instead of taking the task seriously. The practice of procurement of tickets and launching of candidates from criminals to celebrities in the elections is going on rampantly. This whole corrupt practice is not hidden from the watchful eyes of the public. Of course, the opposition is not concerned about breaking the confidence of the public in the election process.
Let consider the role of intellectuals in this regard. The essay mentioned above ends with these lines: “The intellectuals and activists of the country, who are worried about the basic values of the Constitution – socialism, secularism and democracy – and the erosion of constitutional institutions, should play a positive role in the formation and acceptance of the National Front. In India, leaders have often inspired intellectuals and artists. Now it is a turn of the intellectuals, artists and conscious representatives of the civil society to extend their guidance and co-operation to the leaders in the times of crisis.” In spite of being the most vocal opponents of fascism, the intellectuals could not play a meaningful role in the direction of opposition unity. They are more interested in securing benefits in the non-BJP governments, but do not want to criticize the leaders in the interest of socialism, secularism and democracy. In common parlance, the (mis)use of religion for politics is called communalism. Such intellectuals have gone to the extent of describing and praising Rahul Gandhi’s politics of religion and brahmanatva to be different from the RSS/BJP. They even shamelessly argued that Rahul Gandhi’s politics of religion is good for the country. The remaining intellectuals found it prudent (for their self-interests) to observe silence on this matter. This is one example. Actually, the RSS/BJP’s Hindu-Rashtra is envisioned in the thieves’ market of secularism!
In conclusion, it can be said that in the present Lok Sabha elections there is ample discontent in the people against the Modi government, but even the opposition and the intellectual have grossly failed in fulfilling their responsibilities. Whatever the case, elections, like politics, are also a game of possibilities. It would be interesting to see if in spite of all the constraints of the corporate-communal nexus and media’s support to it, voters overthrow the existing anti-constitutional government. It may also happen that the fruits of defeat of the government are reaped by the third force, and not the Congress. In such a situation, the leaders of the third force should seriously consider their historic role in handling the country’s power for the next five years. If it doesn’t become a reality this time, then strong attempts towards its realization should be made for the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.
The preceding observations should not be taken to mean that the politics of opposing neo-liberal/neo-imperial forces should be stopped. Rather, it should persevere despite all the obstacles and it will go on to be realized one day. It would be akin to the Struggle for Independence, which despite all the repression by the colonialists and the complicity of some countrymen, inevitably went on and succeeded.
(The author teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party.)