In the course of the next eight weeks we will elect the 17th Lok Sabha that will constitute the government for the next five years.
Unemployment is at all time high – higher than ever before in nearly 50 years. The economy is not growing as fast as it should and certainly not as fast as the government says it is. Savings and investment are lower than they have been in the 10+ years. Agricultural prices are lower than 10 years ago but food prices continue to rise. Agricultural distress is unparalleled. Wages and workers earnings are down. This has brought untold misery to the urban and rural worker, to farmers and pushed millions of young, even educated, people into unemployment.
Attack on People
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to government primarily through the support of economically and socially more advantaged section of society. Having come to government, the BJP, its ideological principal the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh and their various offshoots have over these past five years intensified the attack on the poor and the disadvantaged especially Dalits and Adivasis. There has been an increase in the incidence of violent crimes against women.
There has been a particular targeting of religious minorities especially those of the Islamic faith. The targeted and orchestrated attack on Muslims is central to the BJP creating a hostile environment within the country by promoting an understanding of nation and nationalism that is rooted in the RSS’s conception of majoritarian Hindutva that is based on intolerance towards and prejudice and hatred for those who are considered the ‘other’.
Over the last five years there is a rising tide of hate crimes carried out by BJP-RSS vigilantes. Muslims alleged to be eating or trading in beef have been lynched at Dadri, Alwar, Latehar, Unna Guwahati, Bidar and elsewhere. Dalits have been attacked at Una and Bhima Koregoan. BJP legislators have been sworn in as ministers even after they provided protection to the confessed rapist and murderer of the little girl at Kathua. Murders of leading rationalists Dhabolkar, Pansare, Kulburgi and Lankesh walk free. In just about all these cases the leadership of the BJP, ministers and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi have remained silent. In many of these cases the leaders of the lynch mobs or gangs involved have proudly announced that their acts were aimed at teaching the community, be they Muslims, or Dalits or whoever else, a lesson.
With this have been attacks on universities and higher education. Student unions, students and teachers and academics have been punished for disagreeing with the BJP and even charged with sedition and other draconian laws.
Attack on Thought
Higher education, research and technology budgets have been reduced. Universities have been directed to promote government policy. There has been a sustained attack on those who advance ideas of social and scientific progress. The BJP government has speedily sought to rewrite history by locating all gains in society as a result of Hindutva. The BJP has tried to promote an alternative ‘reality’ and a new ‘truth’. Even statistics collected by robust agencies of government on economic growth and unemployment, that shows the true picture, has been supressed.
To establish a case for this new reality, the BJP government has pursued an orchestrated attack on Muslims through the beef ban, through the National Register of Citizens in Assam, the Citizenship Bill and the criminalisation of triple talaq.
Advancing majoritarian Hindutva has been at the source of the BJP government’s attack on the peoples of Kashmir. Holding Pakistan responsible for the situation in Kashmir fails to recognise the continuing atrocities and democrtic rights abuses on part of the government and the Indian army and paramilitaries that are the source of the alienation of the people of Kashmir. The BJP government has taken an inhumane position on the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and the BJP has sought to demonise Muslims as being anti-national. The unilateral air raids on Pakistan last month, following the undoubtedly condemnable terror attack at Pulwama, mark a shift in the so called National Security Doctrine in the direction of war and unilateral agression which will only hurt the working class.
The BJP government’s attack on Islam has been core to its foreign policy of courting the United States, in subordination to imperialism, while building a close and proximate relationship with Israel leaving the Palestine question to a bilateral issue between Israel and Palestine. This violates the basic principle of protecting the rights of nations and peoples in international relations. This mindlessly aggressive foreign policy has particularly led to souring of relations with other countries in the neighbourhood including Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka and stalled the possibility of resolving bilateral relations with China.
Attack on Freedom
Anyone who questions the BJP government’s actions both at home and abroad has been attacked by everyone in the BJP from Prime Minister Narendra Modi downwards as anti-national. Democratic rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, activists, especially Dalits and Muslim rights activists and student leaders have been put away in jails under anti-laws terror and sedition laws. The attack on the democratic rights is aimed at supressing the right to freedom of speech, the freedom to dissent and the freedom of right to association.
The BJP government have used the financial muscle of government advertising to disadvantage media organisations, both newspapers and television channels that have been critical, of the government. The BJP-RSS have used the social media to spread rumours, false and fake news in order to foment tensions between communities and peoples to spread prejudice and division in society.
Attack on the Economy: On Workers and Farmers
The BJP government has consciously and systematically undermined the institutions of democracy under the constitution. The BJP government has appropriated, to the executive, powers of parliament on important and critical matters such as on electoral financing which will have an affect on the future outcomes of elections and used the route of repeated ordinances when it has not been able to able to find a consensus within parliament to get legislation passed. It has undermined the judiciary by interfering in appointments and violating precedents of separation between the executive and judiciary. The BJP government has devalued the Election Commission and the Finance Commission, and effectively rendered defunct the SC Commission and the ST Commission. All these are defined autonomous intuitions of state as designated under our constitution.
Within days of coming to government in 2014 the BJP, through ordinance, diluted the universal reach and the right to informed consent while expanding the scope of executive mandate under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Act 2013.When the BJP government failed it pressed the provisions through states in which it enjoyed a majority does intensifying its attack on farmers and rural workers. It similarly has systematically sought to dilute the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 and squarely kept away from the conservationist’s case before the Supreme Court that now threatens the lives and livelihood of ten million of forest dwellers.
The BJP government, with its emphasis on ‘ease of doing business’ by the private sector, by introducing self-certification rules has virtually suspended all health and safety laws in the workplace. The sheer numbers of fatal industrial and other workplace accidents we have witnessed these past five years are unparalleled. The BJP through its state governments has put factories with less than 100 workers outside the law. Above all the BJP government, bypassed parliament, to bring an end to the legal right to regular employment, just wages and acceptable working conditions through the system of fixed term employment by changing the central rules under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946. With the proposed ‘labour codes’ for industrial relations, wages, social security and health and safety: the BJP seeks to undermine protection for minimum wages, equal pay for equal work, equal pay for women, and working conditions, destroying existing provisions of social security, undermine the possibilities of collective bargaining and delegitimise trade unions.
All this has been done in the midst of an economic crisis. The crisis has been brought on by the BJP government that has drastically reduced government spending especially on social security and social protection, demobilising MGNREGA, curtailing the public distribution system and limiting the anganwadi programme. This reduction in government expenditure that has destroyed demand in the economy and therefore caused a fall in investment, a fall in employment and low rates of economic growth. The deepest onslaught of the BJP’s policies has been felt in rural areas. While food grain prices have continued to rise the prices of agricultural produce is lower than it was 10 years ago because the government has actively supressed the minimum support prices. What this means is that traders are making extraordinary profits while farmers are being pushed to immiserisation and as a result there is no work, or at the very least at ever lower wages, for the landless rural worker.
This situation has been made worse by the reckless and baseless Note-Ban that led to closure of scores of small businesses and the loss of 40 million jobs. The manner and lack of clarity of rates and procedures of the Goods and Service Tax further affected small business and destroyed more jobs. The Note-Ban and the GST together contributed to growing inequality by transferring both incomes and assets from the rich to the poor increasing the concentration of wealth. To add to this days after coming to government the BJP brought in the extremely conservative economic policy of inflation targeting that stifled economic growth and legislated the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code that not just pushed the public sector financial system to the brink but destroyed the credit and banking system.
With some of the most advanced industrial capabilities of the country still in the public sector – in avionics, electrical and power engineering, petroleum refining, railway equipment, shipbuilding and steel – the BJP government has undermined the public sector. In the name of fiscal restraint it has bleed and destabilised the public sector through excessive dividends and fund transfers while allowing multinational firms to walk away with major contracts and by increasing imports of manufactured goods. The much famed ‘Make in India’ programme was meant to create 100 million jobs over five years and expand the country’s industrial base so as to bring in economic sustainability. All that it has done is giving the government the power to distribute industrial contracts and manufacturing projects to the business houses of its choices.
An Act of Desperation
Fearing the people’s wrath the BJP, in the closing days of its government, rushed through reservation in education and public sector employment based on earning and asset criteria for such castes for whom there is as yet no reservation. In past year, the BJP government introduced Ayushman Bharat and stretched the limits of the executive’s mandate in the legislature one more time by using the interim budget to introduce the Pradhan Mantri Kissan Samman Nidhi Yojna and Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogimandhan Scheme. Apart from violating the core constitutional principle of positive discrimination to those historically discriminated and not on criteria, the reservations will only create more social strife unless the economy grows and can create new regular jobs at just wages. Both the health scheme and the pension scheme are driven by private insurance and are by no means universal while the pension is also contributory. Under the PMKSNY farmers will receive Rs. 16 per day while there is no provision for the landless. These are desperate measures by a desperate government.
We have no illusion that the Indian National Congress does not in any way represent the will of the working class and remains at the service of capital although it may advance a progressive social policy and for short periods when in government, in the past, it has recognised sections of the broad social coalition that brings it to government. We are also aware that regional parties are subject to an opportunism based on their narrow electoral bases and the needs of states to compete with one another and therefore of a politics that is at all times subordinate to capital. The politics of the left parties, sadly, are now mere positions as they have placed their primary existence on the vicissitudes of electoral outcomes.
Limited as the choices before us may be, we must recognise that even the BJP realises that the majoritarian, authoritarian and conservative actions of its government over the last five years have not served the peoples’ interest. The BJP knows that it has not delivered its promise of ‘Sab ka sath, sab ka vikas’ of the 2014 general election. Hence the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, has turned this election to one of extreme muscular nationalism, a nationalism that has only one enemy and that is Islam and its sole agent is Pakistan, to an understanding of the country which can only be defended by the BJP and an understanding of the government that can only be led by Narendra Modi. And who ever disagrees, opposes the BJP, stands up to it and questions Narendra Modi is an anti-national.
We are as a country home to the largest number of poor in the world. This has to change.
We are one of the most unequal societies in the world. This has to change too.
We are a country of perhaps the most diverse peoples on this planet. We must not let anyone change this.
We are also the country of people who speak the more languages than any other country in the world. We must not let anyone change this.
We have the largest variety of food eaten in any one country. We must not let anyone change this.
We are the one county in which, in significant numbers, we practice every religion possible on this planet. We must not let anyone change this.
We are a country of 1.3 billion peoples.
We are a plural democracy with all its problems and limitations. Democracy and pluralism is the only way to social progress, the only way we can grow our economy, the only way we can meet our basic need.
In this election above all we must preserve our pluralism and this democracy.