India: the impending catastrophe and perspectives for the labour movement

Even when the results of the exit polls of the 13th Lok Sabah (Lower house of the Parliament) were pouring in, the caretaker government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced a steep rise in prices of petroleum products. This was the first harsh blow showing what was in store for the impoverished masses of India under this reactionary NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime.

Even when the results of the exit polls of the 13th Lok Sabah (Lower house of the Parliament) were pouring in, the caretaker government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced a steep rise in prices of petroleum products. This was the first harsh blow showing what was in store for the impoverished masses of India under this reactionary NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime. It was a 15% hike specially in the price of high-speed diesel which is one of the main items in the running of the economy, industry and transportation in India. The price of diesel has gone up from Rs.10.35 to Rs.13.91 a litre in Delhi, from Rs.11.27 to Rs.15.24 a litre in Chennai (Madras), from Rs.10.52 to Rs14.20 a litre in Calcutta and from Rs.12.23 to Rs.16.54 a litre in Mumbai (Bombay).This also includes increases in the prices of Liquid petroleum gas of Rs.90 per 14.5kg cylinder and an increase of Rs.2 per litre of kerosene which are used for cooking for the majority of the population. Bus fares have already gone up in many cities and towns - in some places as much as by 100%. 2.2 million trucks went off the roads in protest and there is a widespread disgruntlement in society against these measures. These price increases will push up the bill on the railways by at least Rs.6780 million in the next quarter, inevitably raising fares and cargo transportation charges of the railways. The Indian Railway network is the second largest in the world, constantly carrying about a 100 million passengers on its trains. 

This price hike is to be followed by other IMF recipes like massive privatizations, downsizing and redundancies of about a million workers in the next few months. The combined central and state deficits have reached a staggering 9% of GDP. The trade deficit is $-9.5 bn and the foreign debt burden has soared to $89.9 bn eating up 25.1 % of India's total GDP of $358 bn. The average growth rate of the 90's has been around 5% as compared to about 8-10% in the 80's. These strains on the economy have created a social misery with about 55% of the population falling below the poverty line and further austerity measures by the BJP led coalition attacking the already pathetic living standards. The spending on health, education and other social services has fallen from 5.6% of the GDP in 1990-91 to less than 5.35% now. But a large amount of this official spending is squandered by the bureaucracy in these sectors. A further 5-7% of the GDP is disappears in the traditional bureaucratic corruption. Another 10% of GDP goes on "unguarded subsidies', which are in reality, the bribes for political power and privilege. The liberalization and lowering of tariffs has led to further erosion of customs duties resulting in depreciated state revenues. In a desperate move to avert bankruptcy of the state the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has announced a package of privatizations starting with the insurance and banking sector. His total target in this package is Rs. 100 bn. It wants to raise the growth to 7-8% and foreign direct investment from $3 bn dollars to about $10 bn. The attempted privatizations of these sectors led to a massive general strike which paralyzed about 9 states in October last year. This led to the defeat of the BJP government even when it had the support of Congress on this issue. 

Now already there are stirrings of the unions and workers in these sectors of the economy. This can provoke another mass movement, which can shake the foundations of the present regime. The government is banking on the present lull and a mood of passivity prevalent in society. This can change very rapidly. But even if the workers don¹t develop a resistance the crisis won't be solved by the proceeds of privatization. Firstly, the national and foreign investors won't buy anything unless they are offered throwaway prices. The desperate state of the economy and the regime gives the capitalists an advantage in bargaining. They will fully exploit this weakness of the government. For example quite recently the government sold a part of its holdings in Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. After long parleys the government had to give in and it had to sell them at a discounted price Rs.750 a share, when the prevailing market price was around Rs1100 a share. Similarly Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group has offered a miserable bid to buy Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum and IBP. This bid also demands the handing over of management of these companies to Reliance Petroleum Limited. This will mean large-scale redundancies and constriction of these companies. Along with that, with half of the world in recession and an impending slump, the chances of achieving the targets of foreign investment are bleak. Similarly with a constantly shrinking market (with orientation towards only 15 to 20% of the population) and the coming world slump, with a slowing down of the world economy the prospects of attaining a 7-8% growth rate are minimal. 


The previous BJP led coalition government comprised of 13 parties. This new set-up of NDA comprises of 18 parties. This means even more problems. Dissent in the coalition had already opened up even before the formation of the 70 member cabinet. Ramakrisna Hegde a prominent leader from Karnatak was already left out. The Janata Dal (United) inspite of getting the maximum number of seats as a coalition partner is unhappy with the distribution. They have already expressed their resentment at the price hike, as there is mounting pressure from below. The BJP's coalition partner from Punjab, the Akali Dal, is fraught with severe internal fractional conflicts, which can damage the coalition. Just from one province, Tamil Nadu, there are six parties in the NDA. They are constantly squabbling amongst themselves unbalancing the ruling alliance. The leader of the Trinamul Congress from Bengal, Mamta Bannerjee, inspite of getting the pivotal Ministry of the Railways, is unhappy about the nomination of the new governor of West Bengal. So the story goes on in the coalition. With this totally opportunistic alliance of diverse political and economic ideologies and agendas, the long-term survival of this coalition would be no less than a miracle. There is no logical reason for its survival. Perhaps only black magic can hold it together, as Vajpayee himself seems to think as he spent long hours with his astrologer for consultations and tribulations about the day and timing of the oath taking ceremony! 

So it would seem that the most appropriate and sacrosanct moments would be selected in order to get the blessings and omens of the millions of ancient Hindu Gods and Goddesses to prolong this semi-fundamentalist reactionary rulership. Yet the biggest threat to this Hindu regime comes from the party of resurgent Hindu fundamentalism, the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP). Faced with the intense crisis of a decaying capitalist system and the priorities of a capitalist state the BJP regime had to radically alter its agenda. After its first stint in power it came to the conclusion that Radical Nationalism and Fundamentalist rhetoric were incompatible with the dictates of the crushing domination of the world market and the compulsions of governance through a bourgeois state. The conflicts between the so-called hard-liners and the so-called moderates are now surfacing with a bang. For once Vajpayee's astrologers failed. The government convened the winter session of the Parliament on 6th December 1999. This coincided with the date of the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhia (U.P.). There was such an outrage and furore in the parliament that the government was not able to present even a single point of its agenda. The members of the parliament were demanding the resignation of the two most senior ministers, whose names were in the list of 40 people involved in the conspiracy of the demolition of the Barb Mosque. This list was prepared by a government inquiry commission, which was set up after the demolition of the Mosque. They are the Home Minister, Lal Kishen Advani and education Minister, Murli Manhor Joshi, representing the BJP hard-liners. They presented their resignation behind the scenes, which Vajpayee "refused to accept". But this is just the tip of the iceberg, which can shipwreck the BJP. A more open revolt against Vajpayee has come from Kalyan Singh, the chief minister of India's largest state Uttar Pradesh. He was physically involved in the demolition of the mosque and was leading the movement to build a Ram Mandir (temple) in its place. He has covertly tried to get Vajpayee defeated in the electoral constituency in Lukhnow, which is the Capital of U.P. Vajpayee won only by a narrower margin. It has now been revealed that especially Advani was behind Kalyan Singh. This has led to the removal of Kalyan Singh from the party and the chief ministership. But the general notion portrayed by the bourgeois media, that Vajpayee is a "moderate" or a "softie", is also very deceptive. Vajpayee is as cunning as a fox. Originally he belonged to the RSS (Rashtrya Sevakseyam Sang)) the hard-line semi militaristic Hindu fundamentalist organisation, having many similarities with the Black Hundreds in Russia. Vajpayee in spite of this façade of being a soft-hearted poet and a chronic bachelor, has enormous skills in political intrigues and manoeuvrings. His main power base comes from the RSS, and most of the people he has installed in the government and party pivotal posts are from an RSS background. He has in a way outmanoeuvred Advani and other so-called noisy hard-liners. But Kalyan Singh is no sitting duck either. He combined Hindu Nationalism with the caste issues, in the absence of a movement based on class politics, to build up his base in U.P. He is certainly going to retaliate. He might team up with some other BJP stalwarts who have been left in a lurch either due to election defeats or through the manoeuvrings of the Vajpayee clique. BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Madan Lal Khurana (Both ex Delhi Chief ministers) and a number of others are licking their wounds. They would not hesitate to jump onto an anti-Vajpayee bandwagon as soon the cracks in the party explode into an open rebellion. Vajpayee is also using the NDA coalition as a lever in his internal party wranglings. How far he can use this balance in his manoeuvres is another question. But the probability being voiced by the Indian bourgeoisie of a stable and smooth running of the present regime and completion of its electoral term is nothing but sheer utopia. 

In spite of the Kargill "victory" the blood shed in Kashmir continues and the Indian army is losing the morale as well as the war. No army has been able to put down a rising people for long. It is only the splits and fundamentalist intrigues of the Pakistani regime which are preventing the movement in Kashmir from developing into an Intifada. The separatist movements are on the rise in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Tamilnadu and several other states. The economy is in a shambles and the working masses are restive and seething with revolt. Turmoil is growing in every sector of the state and society. In the last five years there have been three elections (each costing the exchequer Rs. 20 bn) and five governments have changed hands. This 18 party coalition does not have much of a chance of surviving its term either. The spectre of unprecedented upheavals impends upon the political and social horizon of India. 


According to Purno Singma, the Speaker of the last parliament, "There is not a single issue on which the opposition can unite". Actually the largest opposition party, Congress, supports the IMF dictated agenda of "reforms" being pursued by the BJP regime. The congress itself started dismantling the Nehruvian "Socialism" in the 80's. By opening up India to the imperialist multinationals, instead of solving anything it aggravated the social and economic crisis which led to a rapid decline in the fortunes of the Congress. It has not recovered since then. In the 1999 Lok Sabah elections it got a further beating. The main issue being pursued by the opposition is the question of secularism. Parliament has been adjourned several times due to the rows and breakdown of order in the house proceedings. But the credentials of the Congress on the issue of secularism are also severely tainted. Operation "Blue Star" and the genocide of the Sikhs in the early 80's are a glaring example of the Hindu chauvinism of the Congress. The issue of secularism is being played up because the opposition has no real alternative programme to even address the real burning issues like poverty, unemployment, disease, illiteracy and generalised misery. 

The other main parties based on lower castes, farmers, peasant reform and petty bourgeois issues are part of the same array. But in reality the opposition is splintered and is acting like a rudderless ship with no real sense of direction or destination. It only adds to the chaos and anarchic shrill of the present day Indian politics. It competes with the government in having all sorts of criminals, corrupt politicians and fabulously rich lumpen elements, which are the only ones who can make it to the Parliament in this Indian bourgeois democracy dominated by the oligarchy of finance capital. The decline of the Congress and the failure of the left to emerge has further splintered Indian Bourgeois politics with all sorts of regional, nationalistic, religious, caste and ethnically based parties swarming the Parliament, pulling in all directions and further aggravating the mess of Indian politics. 


India is more of a subcontinent than a country. With already 26 states, 199 languages and dialects it is perhaps one of the most diverse countries in the world. Fifty two years after independence the whole dream of its founders lies in shambles. Having more industry and technocrats than France or Britain, not a single task of the national democratic revolution has been accomplished. The agrarian revolution is far from complete. Inspite of several efforts to carry through land reforms, feudalism along with serfdom and bonded labour persists in the countryside. The social relations in the mega cities with very modern industry and gadgets are marred by strong overtones of feudal ethics. The greatest misconception about the Indian ruling class and the state is the accusation of it being secular. One of the largest business houses of India, the Birlas, never entered the highly profitable hotel business because meat would have to be cooked in five star hotels. Religious minorities are repressed and intense religious prejudices are widespread in society. It's not just Hindu fundamentalism that has emerged in the last period, but Islamic, Christian and other religious fundamentalism have surged in a violent and bloody manner. It was surprising for some that during the Kargill conflict religious and social chauvinism was more pronounced in so-called secular India than in so-called theocratic Pakistan. The primitive nature of society can be gauged by the intense domination of casteism in politics, society and in all walks of life. The caste prejudices have ravaged the left parties also. In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and several other states casteism dominates the political life of society. Caste killings have emerged as a constant feature especially in rural India in the recent years. 

Black magic, mysticism, Sati (widow's self immolation on the death of her husband) and other prejudices of the past have re-emerged in a terrible way. One finds more and more men with red tilak on their foreheads as a growing sign of religious dependence due to the growing insecurity and deprivation. The onslaught of multinational corporations has struck Indian industry like a thunderbolt. Inspite of unprecedented support and protection from the state the Indian ruling class has failed the test of history. For almost 40 years under Nehruvian "Socialism" 75% of the economy was nationalised, mainly the infrastructural facilities were put at the service of the Indian capitalists. Through iron tariff barriers the largest capitalist market (population-wise) was handed over almost without foreign competition to this bourgeoisie. They were given extraordinary tax relief and several forms of subsidies. Yet they could not compete or resist the invasion of the corporations. Miles and miles of factories are standing idle and decaying. This has led to massive unemployment and a spate of suicides, domestic violence and crime. A large section of the upper layers of the Indian bourgeoisie are trying to cut deals with the multinational corporations. They try to merge with them or act as their brokers. The massive closures of industry have led to further contraction of the market and a major shift of economic reliance on the services sector. With a collapsing state health and educational sectors, these vital sectors of human existence are being exploited by the private entrepreneurs. Chains of private hospitals and educational institutions are emerging across India, fleecing those who can afford to go to these centres. 

But at the same time it is very doubtful that the IMF and the capitalist regime in India will be able to carry through the demands of privatisation, downsizing and liberalisation. Even the size of the state bureaucracy is so immense that it is almost impossible to cut it down. Furthermore the bureaucracy is already resisting these efforts as it hinges on its benefits, corruption, perks and privileges. This has brought about an open conflict between the process of a debilitated globalisation and the nationalist elements in a weak and decaying state. The nuclear explosions, missile tests and conflicts like Kargill are a manifestation of this contradiction. Initially some sections of the National bourgeoisie who supported the BJP had illusions of a reversal of the process of liberalisation and dreamt of a competition free protectionism. The BJP in power had to face a different music. It had to comply to the dictates of finance capital when it came to the helm of a bourgeois state. Now the chickens have come home to roost. The so-called progressive industrialists are either submitting to the multinationals or are forced into the position of mere retailer. Corruption is rampant and the ruling class has to seek greater and greater protection through state power to safeguard its ill-gotten wealth and hide their scandals. Hence the growing orgy of money-grabbing in parliamentary politics. This makes it more obnoxious and obscene for the masses. 

The oppressed working class has therefore become more and more alienated from the parliamentary/democratic farce of the Indian ruling class. Apart from the dictates of imperialism, against which the state has little room to manoeuvre, there are increasing pressures and stresses from within. The centrifugal and separatist forces raging in several of India's states are creating enormous tensions on the state apparatus itself. India is more disunited today than it was at the time of partition in 1947. This nationalistic and regional discord is another expression of the failure of the Indian ruling class to create a nation or a modern nation state. With further aggravation of the crisis India could enter into a process of balkanisation or bloody fragmentation. The spate of collapsing governments and failing economy and political superstructure again and again can lead the state structures to take drastic steps in desperation. Should this BJP government fall, in the ensuing political mess and chaos, a military intervention cannot be ruled out. Instead of bringing any stability such a military dictatorship, would further accelerate the processes of disintegration and discord. That has been one of the main reasons why the military has refrained from stepping in till now. Under capitalism all roads lead to disaster. The only hope for the 1/6 of mankind in India is a socialist transformation of society. 


There are two main tragedies with the left leadership and intelligentsia in India. The first one is the tragedy of adaptation of human psychology. India is an immense ocean of human pain and suffering. The problems are so severe and the misery is so flagrant that it needs no explaining. Yet there is inertness, a lack of urgency and an inept attitude towards the mass movement and the role of the Indian proletariat. From this exudes the other phenomena, of doom and gloom, a total lack of optimism about the future and a painful dearth of revolutionary perspective. This was clearly evident in the statement, published in The Statesman (Calcutta, 25 November), written by Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary of what is probably the largest Communist Party in the world (outside China), with its 2.2 million members, the CPI (M). The headline was "Revolution is impossible in India". 

All this is not accidental. The workers and youth in the Communist parties and the left movement have a history of enormous dedication, commitment and unprecedented sacrifices, but for what? Of course, they have made sacrifices for a Socialist Revolution. Then why have things come to such an impasse that the General Secretary of the CPI (M) could come out with such a blatant denial of a revolutionary perspective? The main cause of this degeneration is neither organisational, nor individual, nor tactical, but it stems from the ideological path on which the CPI was enforced to travel in the 30's and 40's. This ideology was based on the old Menshevik discourse of two stages. This theory was personified in the mid 20's by Martynov and others under Stalin. Through the authority of the Comintern and the Soviet Union it was imposed upon the CP's around the world. In India the adaptation of this theory by the CPI was one of the important factors which led to the disaster of partition. In the post-partition era this theory was pursued with even greater vigour. The main contention was that the character of the Indian revolution was National Democratic, and that Nehru and the ruling bourgeoisie were of a progressive and secular nature. This led to a policy of overt and covert support of the Indian bourgeoisie, even in the crimes it committed against the Indian working class. 

The contradictions emanating from the pursuance of this policy led to the split in the CPI, and thus the CPI (M) was formed against the official pro-Moscow party. But the 'new' theory of Peoples Democratic Revolution adopted by the CPI(M) leadership was the other side of the coin of the theory of the National Democratic Revolution. The only real difference was the characterisation of different sections of the Indian bourgeoisie as being progressive. In reality none of the sections of the Indian bourgeoisie had any progressive content whatsoever. Different bourgeois leaders masqueraded with socialism to gain popularity, as it was a compulsion of the epoch of the 50's, 60's and 70's, especially in the colonial world where a huge wave of mass upsurge was in full swing. Hence, in 1967 there was another split in the form of CPI (M-L), which took an ultra-left course and ended up in the blind alley of guerrillaism and individual terrorism. But the main stream CP's continued with the policy of finding a progressive bourgeoisie whom they could support to carry through the National/Peoples Democratic Revolution. They tried almost every thing. Yet all their experimentation of finding the progressive content in various factions of the Indian bourgeoisie failed miserably. But in this process they entangled themselves more and more deeply in the quagmire of bourgeois politics. They entrapped the activists and the workers in the fetters of the Nation State, Indian Nationalism and bourgeois democracy. 

The blind persistence with the theory of two stages led them to Popular Frontism, which in fact meant the subjugation of the working class to different types of the ruling class. On the other hand this policy inevitably led to the disease of Parliamentary cretinism. Till the 80's they had the authority of the growth and development in the USSR and China. They even were able to form Left Front governments in West Bengal, Tiripura and Kerala. They carried out land and other reforms on a capitalist basis and gained a certain social base. But in the meantime there were scores of movements of the Indian proletariat which went unabated and several possibilities of a Socialist Revolution in India were lost due to these reformist policies of the left leaders. A whole generation of communist workers who opted for a revolutionary alternative were either expelled or were burnt out in disgust. 

The results of the recent Lok Sabah elections have proved to be a setback for the left parties. They have lost 9 seats. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the degeneration in China has severely dented the authority of these leaders. They have failed to give an explanation of what happened in the Soviet Union and China. Disillusionment, dismay and demoralisation prevails amongst the leadership. Exhaustion and  offers of resignation on the part of these leaders are not accidental. Their policies have shattered in front of their eyes. At the same time there is a lot of questioning and ferment among the genuine activists and youth within the CP's. Still, the leadership asserts itself more through the bourgeois state power than any ideological or organisational basis of the party. In those states where they are in power most of the activists have become lumpenised through state perks, privileges and corruption. A large number of activists are disgruntled with the policies of the leadership. Hundreds and thousands of the left activists have perished in the filth and debris of the NGO's and other forms of reformism. 

In spite of, and despite, the role of the leadership the CPI (M) and to some extent the CPI remain the traditional parties of the Indian proletariat. This situation is not going to last forever. Paradoxically it is going to change very rapidly. The crisis of this regime and its attacks on the workers can provoke and can become the catalyst for a mass revolutionary upsurge. The intervention of the multinationals with modern and advanced technology has created a much more modern proletariat. Actually the uneven and the combined nature of development strengthened the Indian working class. The intensity of the crisis is hitting the middle classes even harder. If this continues they would soon be faced with a future of destitution. They will have no choice but to join the struggle of the proletariat to change society. The Congress is in an irreversible decline, the BJP is going to fall into pieces, and the reformist parties are in disarray and in utter confusion. 

The bourgeois democracy is not even capable of attaining the relative stability of the past. Not one regime has completed its term in the last decade or two. Its story is over. All middle of the road solutions are blocked forever. Reaction has peaked in India, now the pendulum has to swing back. Even the leadership of the CP's can feel that their journey on a bourgeois basis has ended. But they are too weak and demoralised to change course. It will be the movement of the working class itself which will first and foremost, not only transform, but even unite and give a mass base to its traditional parties - the CP's. Those will be testing times for Marxists in these parties. With a genuine revolutionary programme, correct perspectives and tactics, and the will and determination to carry them through, they will succeed. Whatever the sceptics and the prophets of doom and gloom might say the resurgence of the class struggle in India is inevitable. The workers, peasants, youth, the poor of the backward castes, the downtrodden of the oppressed nationalities and religious minorities, have waited too long. Generations have suffered under this vulgar orgy of bourgeois rule. They cant stand it any more. They will rise in a revolutionary class struggle which will not only lead to the socialist transformation of the Indian subcontinent but will inspire the oppressed peoples of Asia and the world to change society and take their destiny in their own hands.

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