India’s ‘strongman’ humbled as shock election result denies Modi a majority

The recent general elections in India have exposed the rottenness of the whole political edifice in the country. Almost all the parties involved have been revealed as bankrupt, with diminishing authority, and having nothing to offer the toiling masses. But Modi’s ruling BJP, which was once considered invincible, came out the biggest loser.

Exit polls in the corporate media predicted a clean sweep for the BJP, which was tipped to win 370 seats. Modi himself had bragged on the campaign trail that he would take over 400 seats. In the end, the BJP got only 240 seats, 63 less than in the last elections in 2019. Modi has lost his majority in parliament, and will have to rely on small parties in a coalition to form his government. 

Opposition parties in the utterly unprincipled, Congress-led INDIA alliance gained at the expense of the BJP, but this was only possible by forging an uncomfortable partnership for fear of being decimated. So-called Communist Parties supported ultra-right-wing parties, like a faction of the hardline Hindutva Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Rival bourgeois parties Congress and the Samajwadi Party SP were supporting each other in Uttar Pradesh, while Congress and the regional splinter party, TMC, supported each other in West Bengal. While the opposition alliance was a successful ploy in terms of seats won, it has also exposed these parties as having no fundamental ideological differences. 

The result confirms our general perspective that, despite the bitter tears of the liberals and reformists at Modi’s seemingly impregnable support in the past, he could not maintain his position forever. The Indian masses’ patience has run out, and despite lacking a real political alternative, they used these elections to give him a bloody nose. 

39820993982 bba0f324d2 kVoters used this election to give Modi a bloody nose / Image: WEF, Flickr

This setback has come at a bad time for the ruling class. A big factor in Modi’s popularity since 2014 has been continuous economic growth after years of grinding poverty and cuts under Congress governments.

He proclaimed the success of his ultraliberal ‘Gujarat’ model of selling off everything that was not nailed down. But with the public sector already stripped to the bone, this cannot go on. And yet, whilst India has registered impressive GDP growth figures until now, the vast majority of Indians feel like they have nothing to show for it. While fatcats like Adani and Ambani stuff their pockets, the situation is already unbearable for hundreds of millions of Indians. Inflation and unemployment have crept upwards.

What’s more, there is a general crisis of world capitalism: when it hits India in earnest, it will put huge class battles on the agenda. India’s parasitic capitalist class and the foreign multinationals behind them will enter this turbulent period without the strong government that they desperately need. Instead, they’ve got a fragile coalition government that might not even survive one term.

The underwhelming result for the BJP has also brought out tensions within the party, with Sakshi Maharaj, an MP from Uttar Pradesh, blaming “internal traitors”. The junior partners of Modi’s National Democratic Alliance are jostling to push their own interests. A full-blown crisis of the regime protends, which risks running headlong into an economic slump in the coming period. Unsurprisingly, the capitalists registered their panic at the surprise result on the stock market, with Indian shares falling to their lowest level since 2020.

Communal campaign backfires

India is often celebrated in the international press as a ‘success story’. It is heralded as the fastest-growing economy, having become the fifth-largest in the world, overtaking its old colonial master Britain. But the vast majority of Indians do not feel this growth. The accumulation of wealth by a tiny minority at one pole is accompanied by the extreme accumulation of poverty and misery by the vast majority at the other.

After 10 years of BJP rule, the Indian masses have endured economic hardship; skyrocketing inequality; disastrous policies like demonetisation and the introduction of a regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST) and fuel price hikes; as well as rising inflation and unemployment. The public sector has been decimated. And this is not to mention Modi’s catastrophic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in almost five million excess deaths across the country.

In the past, in addition to touting India’s economic performance, Modi has been able to retain support by stirring up communal chauvinism to divide and distract the masses from the real source of their woes: the rotten Indian capitalist system that he embodies. 

Ayodhya Ram Mandir Inauguration Day Picture Image GODL IndiaModi hoped to run a Communalist campaign, kicking off with the opening of the Ram Temple, but it backfired / Image: GODL India

In these elections, Modi intensified these toxic methods, claiming that if the BJP lost the elections, Pakistan would celebrate, and the wealth of Hindus would be distributed to Muslims. He accused Congress’ manifesto of resembling that of the Muslim League. He supported bulldozing the homes of protestors against the discriminatory, anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and called for this policy to be rolled out against dissenters across the country. He dredged up as much divisive and sectarian filth as possible, appealing to the basest prejudices of Hindu voters.

But this all backfired, with the BJP losing some 63 seats compared to the last elections. There was a big upset in UP – a pivotal state that sends the highest number of seats (80) to India’s Central Government, and formerly a stronghold for Modi. The BJP lost half of its seats in UP to the Samajwadi Party and Congress. All five constituencies in Ayodhya, containing Modi’s Ram Temple (a sop to his Hindutva base that he promised for years), went to Congress, including one seat to a prominent Dalit leader. In a particular embarrassment, Modi lost votes in his own constituency of Varanasi. In the West of UP, where there were huge protests by farmers against Modi’s reactionary agricultural bill a few years ago, the BJP lost 13 seats. 

The BJP’s defeat in UP shows Modi’s policy of divide-and-rule has reached its limit. People are getting sick of all the poison being spewed by the BJP, while their lives continually get worse. There were particular indications of this. For instance, in the communally sensitive Muzaffarnagar, the BJP candidate was defeated by the Samajwadi Party with a narrow margin of 2,000 votes. In the North Eastern state of Manipur, which saw horrendous clashes between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups, instigated by the BJP, which led to many deaths and rapes, the party lost both its seats. 

In the Kashmir Valley, the situation remained tense during the elections given the horrendous repression in the last five years to crush the mass revolt that erupted during the Modi regime. This mood of resentment could be seen in the Baramulla constituency, where the ex-Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, lost to an independent candidate: the engineer Rashid, who fought the elections from jail having been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, belonging to the Mufti dynasty, also lost her seat.

Moreover, the impact of the victorious farmers’ protest against Modi’s pro-corporate agricultural bill, and for minimum support prices, was felt in many constituencies. The leading farmer activist Amraram was elected with a strong majority in Rajasthan. The opposition INDIA alliance was able to win seats everywhere the farmers’ movement was particularly strong, such as Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. In sum, anger and exhaustion at the horrors Modi has helped to stir up; coupled with general resentment at his reactionary policies, blunted the edge of his chauvinist demagogy. 

Opposition buoyant but hollow

Congress, with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi at its head, demagogically promised economic concessions to the poor in its manifesto, including a higher minimum wage; the reversal of some of Modi’s communal policies, such as restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir; and pledged more affirmative action for oppressed ethnic groups, castes and women. Despite these hollow promises, Congress couldn’t convince the masses decisively, as their long history has exposed their real character as the enemies of the people. 

Rahul gandhi Image CCOCongress was buoyant with the results, but they did not decisively connect with the masses / Image: CCO

On the surface, Congress benefitted the most at the expense of other parties, increasing from 52 seats to 99. This is still less than half the BJP’s tally, however, and far from regaining its position from a decade ago. Its weakness was exposed in some key locations, like in Karnataka, where Congress came to power after defeating BJP in state elections recently, having made similar pledges for reforms. But in the general elections, the BJP regained ground. Incredibly, the BJP actually outperformed Congress amongst women voters, despite the party’s oppressive policies and rhetoric.

While it did promise some economic and social concessions, the Congress-led INDIA alliance ran mainly on the lines of ‘saving the Indian constitution’ and rescuing ‘democracy’ from the BJP. In other words, it ran a very broad ‘anyone-but-Modi’ campaign. It won 234 seats in total, just six fewer than the BJP. While Congress congratulated itself on landing a “moral and political defeat” on Modi, support for INDIA was spread widely across the alliance’s various constituent parties, with none of its constituent parts connecting strongly with the masses.

The Samajwadi Party gained more than Congress in UP, increasing its tally from five seats to 37. There was also relatively strong regional support for the Tamil nationalist DMK, which took 39 seats in Tamil Nadu; and the Bengali-focused breakaway faction Trinamool Congress, which won 29 seats in West Bengal. Already, the awkward alliance of convenience has started to fall apart, with the AAP declaring they will not run with other parties in the Delhi state legislative elections. 

Stalinists punished

While Congress and SP made gains, the Stalinist outfits who trailed behind them lost ground overall, with their combined tally reduced to eight seats. The ⁠CPI(M) and CPI retained their two seats each in Tamil Nadu. The CPI(ML) as part of a grand alliance managed to pick up two out of the three seats in Bihar, while the CPI in Begusarai and CPI(M) in Hajipur narrowly lost out.

However, a massive drop in the Stalinists’ vote was observed in rural constituencies, which should have been the bastion of the left. It was expected the BJP would lose in the southern parts of the country. But Modi actually made inroads in this region, winning a seat in the Left Democratic Front-run Kerala for the first time, while the CPI(M) did not make any new ground. 

These outcomes are the bitter fruit of the Stalinists’ false theory of stagism: the idea that India has yet to complete its democratic revolution, and therefore the duty of communists is to support ‘democratic’ capitalist parties like Congress. The consequence is the Stalinists turned themselves into nothing but a left cover for bourgeois parties, who mostly benefited at their expense.

On top of that, wherever they have been in charge at the local or state level, the Stalinists have carried out cuts and attacks on working people, and engaged in corruption just like the openly capitalist parties. Despite retaining millions of members, these parties have been justly punished by voters for these betrayals.

These elections have clearly exposed the vacuum for a real radical alternative, which hundreds of millions are yearning for in India. In a peculiar development, we saw social media activists stepping into this void, attacking the BJP on fundamental questions like price hikes and poverty, which had a major impact on the election results. Dhruv Rathee and many other YouTubers and social media activists duly get credit for this, though they couldn’t give a revolutionary alternative to these problems. Nevertheless, it shows the potential for class-based policies to connect.

The way forward

With Modi weakened, the coming period will see the political establishment become more fractured. Every opportunist will spot an opportunity to advance their position, with many small parties switching sides more frequently, and political horse-trading rising at unprecedented levels, further exposing the farce of bourgeois politics.

When the crisis of world capitalism truly comes to bear on India, the ruling class will demand further cuts and attacks to prop up their ailing system. Even if Congress or other opposition parties come to power in the future, they would dutifully carry out these reactionary policies in the name of so-called ‘secularism’, while Modi would do so under the name of Hindutva.

Indian farmers mobilise Image Kirti Kisan UnionIndian workers, farmers and youth must organise to finish off Modi! / Image: Kirti Kisan Union

In this situation, anyone with a clear revolutionary alternative can make a big impact. With all the rage directed towards Modi, the field is wide open. We have glimpsed in these elections, as well as struggles such as the tremendous farmers’ movement, and the massive general strikes that have rocked India in recent years, the real mood in society. A genuine communist party armed with a programme of bold transitional demands and a revolutionary perspective is desperately called for.

The Stalinist policy of tailing capitalist parties, and offering nothing but ‘democratic’ capitalism to the working class, offers no alternative. Real communists must organise on independent lines to finish off Modi, calling for a campaign of general strikes to bring him down once and for all. We must have no illusions in siren songs about ‘democratic’ institutions and India’s constitution. We must expose the bourgeois opposition for what they really are: representatives of the exact same system that Modi supports.

A serious organisation of Indian communists must combine these political demands against Modi with a revolutionary programme of expropriating the multinational corporations, banks, heavy industries, private hospitals and the education sector under the democratic control of the working class. What we need is not ‘democratic’ capitalism, but socialism! Despite the vast opportunities, there is no communist leadership in India worthy of the name. It must be built from the ground up. 

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