By Sitaram Yechuri
THE country has entered into the electoral battle for the 17th general elections. This is not an ordinary election where the ruling party of the day is judged on the basis of its delivery of its promises made at the time of the last general elections alone. The balance sheet of its betrayals is often the main issue of electoral discourse.
These elections, however, are the most crucial one in the history of independent India. Why is it so? Because, what is at stake is the very future of the secular democratic republic, as enshrined in our constitution. The future is at stake, because, the BJP-led NDA government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has mounted an unprecedented assault on all constitutional authorities and institutions during these last five years. These attacks continue. The BJP’s continuation to head the central government is undermining the basic fundamental pillars of our constitution. Hence, the primary task before India’s electorate is to ensure the defeat of this government and give a mandate for the establishment of an alternative secular democratic government that must defend our constitutional republic and, then, proceed further to consolidate it. This can, however, succeed only if the policy direction adopted by the current Modi government is radically shifted in people’s favour. This, in turn, requires a stronger presence of the CPI(M) and the Left in the 17th Parliament of India.
The four fundamental pillars of our constitution – secular democracy; economic self-reliance; social justice; and federalism – have all been systematically weakened during the last five years.
Both secularism and democracy are being severely assaulted. The alarming growth of communal polarisation; the RSS-sponsored private armies mounting vicious attacks in the name of cow protection or in the name of moral policing are systematically targeting dalits and the Muslims. The sharpening of communal polarisation has created a pervasive atmosphere of hate and violence throughout the country. All public spaces are being communalised, leading to a severe destruction of the social harmony amongst our people.
All educational institutions, in fact the country’s educational system itself, is being communalised, particularly the institutes of higher learning and research bodies. Likewise, all the cultural bodies and academies in the country are being infiltrated with the appointment of RSS people with mediocre qualifications, in both educational institutions and cultural bodies. The effort has been to systematically replace the study of rich Indian syncretic history with Hindu mythology. Likewise, India’s rich philosophical traditions are sought to be straightjacketed into Hindu theology.
This eminently suites the advancing of the RSS ideological project of seeking to convert the secular democratic republic of India into a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’, as the RSS defines it. This undermines the very foundations of the Indian republic and spells insecurity for religious and other minorities apart from the brazen growing attacks on their livelihood. This is severely endangering the unity and integrity of our country.
Democratic rights considered inviolable by the Indian constitution are being severely eroded. The curtailment of democratic rights, in the name of “security concerns”, is on the rise. The fundamental right to privacy is being encroached upon. The rights of the working class, peasantry and other sections of the people for organising protests etc are being curtailed. Such are some of the attacks on the secular democratic foundations of independent India.
Regarding economic self-reliance, this Modi government has moved India much further away from achieving this objective. These five years have seen an unprecedented opening up of our economy for profit maximisation by international capital and domestic big business. The twin assaults of demonetisation and GST have ruined large sections of economy activity resulting in an economic slowdown. The GDP growth recorded during these five years, despite the data manipulation, has been the worst amongst decades. Unemployment levels have risen to their highest during the last five decades. Crores of people eking their livelihood from the informal economy have been ruined.
Agrarian distress continues to deepen with growing distress suicides by the farmers. All promises made to rural India and agricultural sector have been betrayed; the kisans betrayed on the promise of a remunerative minimum support price, which is one half more than production costs, for their produce; the destruction of the MNREGA has deprived rural jobs leading to a decline in the real earnings of people in the rural India. This is unprecedented. The overall slowdown of economic activity accompanied by rising prices of essential commodities has made the life of vast majority of Indians more miserable.
The aggressive pursuit of neoliberal economic policies and the ruination of the economy has resulted in an exponential rise in the growth of economic inequalities. Of all the additional wealth created in the country, 73 per cent is cornered by the top one per cent of our population.
Prime Minister Modi is practicing a new interpretation of self-reliance, meaning self and reliance. The levels of crony capitalism under this government have reached heights never seen before. Public and people’s money is allowed to be looted mercilessly by profligate clearance of loans to a chosen few who have taken humongous amounts and fled the country. One estimate of loans that are not being returned to the banks shows the amount to be over Rs 15 lakh crores. Favourite corporates of Modi are cornering deals leading to many scams like the Rafale fighter plane deal.
In order to not reveal to whom the benefits of such crony capitalism are reaching, the Modi government has legislated new laws for political funding. Amongst others, this allowed “electoral bonds” to come into existence. No one knows who has brought these bonds from the banks, to which political party they had given them, and who encashed these bonds for their party fund. By maintaining such secrecy, the Modi government hopes that the fallout of such crony capitalism will escape public scrutiny. Despite this, it has been revealed that in the first tranche of electoral bonds, 95 per cent has reached the BJP! Such is the legalisation of political corruption.
Federalism, which is a basic feature of our constitution, has come under severe attack. Apart from deteriorating centre-state relations, where there is brazen favouritism for the BJP state governments and hostility towards opposition state governments; the abolition of the Planning Commission has deprived the states to take up their issues and demands legitimately. They have now been reduced to be at the mercy of the central government’s largesse in getting funds to meet national disasters or specific projects to improve people’s livelihood. The National Development Council has ceased to exist. This deprives the state governments of any platform where the needs and necessities of the states can be articulated and adequate financial allocations obtained.
The GST has deprived the state governments of any source of revenue generation. The manner of implementation of the GST has led to the states losing a substantial part of their revenues, thereby crippling them from delivering to the people promises they have made and upon which they receive the mandate.
In sum, the BJP is moving towards the creation of a unitary State structure as opposed to the federal structure laid down by the constitution. This suits the RSS agenda for advancing its fascistic ideological project.
The constitution guarantees to deliver justice to the people – economic, social and political. These five years have seen the heaping of greater injustices on all these counts. The murderous attacks on the dalits and Muslims, the depriving of the entitlements to the tribals provided in the Forest Rights Act, are accompanied by a dilution of legal instruments aimed at ensuring social justice like the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the roster system for appointments of SC/STs in educational institutions etc. When the Scheduled Castes organised themselves to protect their rights, these protests are cracked down mercilessly and vicious attacks are mounted by private armies patronised by the RSS fraternity. The BJP state governments set the perpetrators of such crimes against Scheduled Castes free while slapping prosecution and false cases on the victims.
Women have borne the brunt of attack. The crimes against women and sexual assaults have alarmingly grown. De-humanisation of our society is being seen in the most gruesome brutal gang-rapes and murders of young girls, even children. Never before has India witnessed such large-scale expressions of de-humanisation.
The recent years have seen the upsurge of people’s struggles against this Modi government and its policies. Huge working class strike actions have taken place. The kisans, along with the agricultural labourers went on a war path in many parts of the country. The workers, kisans, agricultural labourers and other sections of the working people have come together under a single banner to protest these policies that are assaulting their livelihood and demanding alternate policies that are pro-people.
These growing protests are sought to be disrupted and diverted by rousing communal passions and other emotive issues aimed at hostile polarisation amongst the people.
During the course of these five years, the Modi government’s policies towards Jammu & Kashmir have further alienated the people of the state. The incidents of terror attacks have grown exponentially. Between 2009-14 and 2014-19, the number of terrorist attacks increased from 109 to 626; the number of security personnel martyred increased from 139 to 483; the number of civilians killed increased from 12 to 210 and the number of ceasefire violations increased from 563 to 5596. The Modi government’s Kashmir policy has resulted in the alarming rise of youth joining militant groups from 16 in 2014 to 191 in 2018. The promises made to the people of Kashmir of initiating a dialogue with all stakeholders and confidence building measures have been betrayed. Its policy towards talks with Pakistan was marked by pendulum swings. The post Uri terrorist attack surgical strike was projected to end this curse. But the terrorist strike continued with the killing of 44 CRPF personnel by suicide bomb at Pulwama. The Indian Air Force struck the terrorist targets inside Pakistan at Balakot. Terrorist attacks, however, continued with more security persons being martyred. The country as one rose to meet and defeat the terrorist challenge. However, this government and the BJP are politicising this issue which is posing a graver danger to our country’s unity and integrity.
It is clear that notwithstanding all efforts to divert the people’s attention away from the innumerable problems that they had faced during these five years, the people’s resolve in these elections would be to reject a government and forces who have ruined their livelihood. There are, of course, dangers of the RSS/BJP sharpening communal polarization and rousing jingoistic nationalism in order to escape from the fury of the people against the ruination of their lives. These efforts have to be defeated. For the dangers lurking in the future is that if these forces return to government, then whether this constitutional order will survive at all is the question.
As a prominent BJP leader and MP, now seeking re-election, Sakshi Maharaj, had infamously said recently that 2019 elections would be the last general election in India. This has not been contradicted by the BJP or PM Modi. The people must convert this forewarning into forearming to defeat these forces in order to save India today and change India for the better through a shift in the policy direction that will be people-oriented and oriented to strengthen India’s economic sovereignty and integrity.
The CPI(M) and the Left are committed to realize this objective in the forthcoming elections.
The article will appear in the forthcoming issue of People’s Democracy dated March 24, 2019. Its being published with the permission of author.