Indian Elections 2004: Beginning of the end?

The elections in India are a turning point in the class struggle in India and around the world. The Indian proletariat has time and time again shown its capacity, capability, will, and determination to transform society. The record support for the Communist Parties is a refelction of this fact. Lal Khan analyses the elections in India and the reasons behind Sonia Gandhi's refusal to accept the priemiership.

On the morning of May 13, as the results of the 14th Lok Sabha (lower house) polls had started to come in there was hush silence in the main hall of the 10 Janpat Road residence of the Congress leader. Sitting in the main lounge of this colonial era palatial mansion of the Nehru\Gandhi dynasty was Mrs. Sonia Gandhi with her staff. She was so terrified of the outcome of the elections that she had declined to switch on the television on which the results were being relayed. She was anticipating defeat. She was worried that it could be massive and humiliating. Only when the first phone calls of congratulations for her Congress victory started to come in, a flabbergasted Sonia Gandhi ordered the television to be switched on. If this were the mental state of the victor of these elections, what would have been the condition of the others?

The masses astonished India and the world. They had defied the political pundits; media barons, and the so-called opinion makers. Above all they smashed the crushing domination of the media over the masses. Not one of these media and political experts had predicted such a stunning defeat of the BJP. and the architect of "shining India" Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Along with these media manipulators the credibility of Indian astrologists, palmists, and black magicians has been severely damaged and eroded. Their predictions of electoral results have been proven to be utterly false and deceptive. Ajay Bahambi, the palmist and astrologist who became famous when Hillary Clinton had gone to him to show her hand, had predicted in a television interview a tally of 320 seats for BJP.

The shine has now worn off. The voters exposed the falsity and vulgarity of the propaganda of 'shining India" and the feel good factor. It was a sizzling rebuttal to the ironical claims of a booming economy when millions were suffering in poverty, misery and disease. It was precisely the economic growth the BJP was championing that led to its defeat.

The macro economic indicators were startling. Indian had a record $118bn of forex reserves; in the last two years the growth had averaged more than 8% per annum. In the last fiscal year India had attracted foreign investment of more than $5 billion. Vajpayee become a champion of Peace with Pakistan by his whimsical gestures of friendship. The Indian cricket team had won both the test and one-day series against Pakistan for the first time ever on Pakistani soil. Hence in this avalanche of propaganda even a number of left wing analysts, leaders and intellectuals also capitulated. But the feel good factor was only for the ruling classes and sections of the upper middle class. The story on the ground was totally different than the one conceived in the grandiose newspaper offices and the upper echelons of power.

The BJP lost in 24 out of the 28 states of India. Even in the holy sites of Hindu Pilgrimage like Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya\Faizabad the BJP was routed. The stalwarts of Hindu fundamentalism like Murli Munhor Joshi (who had tried to saffronize the education curriculum as a union minister) and Vinay Kathiar lost their seats in parliament. Even in Vajpayee's own constituency of Lukhnow voter turn out was one of the lowest, a meagre 35%. Similarly in the states of the so-called Hindu heartland of northern India like Jharkhand, Utterpardesh, Bihar and Uttranchal the Hindu nationalists were rejected.

In reality these electoral results do not depict a victory of the Congress but a defeat for the BJP and their policies, especially those of aggressive capitalism. In spite of intense geographical, cultural and social diversity of India, the anti-capitalist trend was clearly evident in these elections. The striking example is the electoral results in two key states, Andraparadesh and Karnataka. Their capitals, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Bangalore were the bastions of the IT sector and massive foreign investment. They were dubbed the "Silicon Valleys" of India. The chief minister of Andra, Chandra Babu Naidu, was hailed as a hero of the multinationals like Microsoft, IBM and Merryl Lynch. Similarly the chief minister of Karnataka, S.M. Krishna was portrayed as the shining example of "reformist" policies and economics by the IMF, the World Bank and other imperialist financial institutions.

In Andraparadesh Mr. Naidu was heading a government of the Telagu Desham Party (TDP) that was an important part of an alliance with BJP the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) that ruled the roost in Delhi. Such was his stature, built up by the financial oligarchy, that Vajpayee used to personally attend his phone calls and could not refuse much of what he asked for.

In the 2004 elections Naidu faced the worst of defeats. The TDP had 29 Lok Sabha seats in Andra but could retain only 5. In the Andra state elections it could only retain 45 out of the 180 seats in the state legislature. Its government fell and the policies of aggressive capitalist reforms resulted in a humiliating defeat and loss of power for Mr. Naidu. In contrast to the rising skyscrapers the lives of millions in the villages and urban shantytowns of Andra were dwindling into the morass of even more poverty and suffering. Such was the agony of the peasants that thousands have committed suicide under these reforms. Just in the small market town of Anantpur more than 2000 peasants committed suicide since 1997.

The other striking upset was in the state of Karnataka. Paradoxically the Congress Party, which was in opposition at the centre, formed the incumbent government. Here the Congress chief minister of Karnataka S.M. Krishna was also following Naidu in his aggressive policy of market reforms. The imperialists' showered wild praise on him but the masses suffered. Here the congress lost 10 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats it had in Karnataka. S.M Krishna had also to resign and the Congress state government fell.

These results graphically demonstrate that in spite of the absence of a clear revolutionary alternative, the masses rejected capitalist policies no matter which party was carrying them out while in power. These results shook the ruling class and the bosses of Indian and world capitalism. The forces of finance capital came out in full force after this result to ensure the continuation of these aggressive capitalist policies.

In its issue immediately after the election results the American Journal "News Week" wrote, "many fear that an inexperienced leader like Sonia will be all too tempted to make the kind of short term concessions that will soothe voters but cripple the economy in the long term." Here the economy clearly means the economy of profit and loot of the capitalists.

To start with the masses in India had no real choice in these elections. The communist leaders were harping on the issue of secularism and blowing it out of proportion. They ended up overtly and covertly supporting Sonia and the Congress. As always instead of offering a genuine communist programme their position on the real issues of poverty, unemployment etc, was more reformist than revolutionary. In this way they helped to create Sonia as the only "viable" alternative to Vajpayee. The press further perpetuated this conception and tried to impose it upon the masses.

But even when a majority of the masses expressed their opinion for Sonia to become the prime minister, the dominant sections of the ruling elite were feeling too insecure to trust Mrs Gandhi to carry out their demands with the zeal and fervour they wanted. Hence, in order to put pressure on the Congress leadership the speculators started to hack the stock market with ruthless savagery, in just a few hours 3000 billion rupees perished from the stocks and the market collapsed by 17 percentage points – the highest ever fall in India's financial history. Although the BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist allies had started a vicious smear campaign against Sonia Gandhi, the decisive factor on Mrs. Gandhi's renunciation of power was the ferocious pressure from the financial oligarchy.

If we look at the economic and financial history of post partition India we see an initial phase of so called "Nehruvian Socialism" that lasted for almost three decades. This had nothing to with socialism and it was in reality state capitalism. These semi-Keynesian policies were even adopted by most of the advanced capitalist states in the early periods of their economic development.

Nehru, being a western liberal at heart, tried to pursue these policies. Seventy four percent of the economy was nationalised and the state owned enterprises and infrastructure were provided at dismally low prices to the Indian capitalist class in order to boost their profits. High tariffs were installed to preserve markets and other measures were adopted to facilitate the India bourgeoisie in developing India into a modern capitalist state and economy.

This phase lasted that long due to two reasons: firstly the world capitalist economy had the longest boom (1948-73) in its history. The spin off effects of this boom helped India sustain a relatively substantial growth rate in the 1950s and 1960s. Secondly during the period of the Cold War the Indian rulers were able to successfully manoeuvre between the Soviet Union and the West and gained significant concessions from both. But due to the belated entrance of the Indian ruling class into the arena of history they could not fulfil their historical task of completing the national democratic revolution in India. In spite of some of the most vigorous state protection policies and support and with the largest manpower in the capitalist world they still failed. They could not compete with the technological and financial supremacy of the western multinational corporations. The state was heavily indebted and was moving towards bankruptcy.

When Mrs. Gandhi returned to power in 1980 she stopped breathing populist fire, and sought instead to court corporate capital whose political backing she craved. The success of the 1980s was fitful and fragile. Until 1986 the growth rate was still slow; a late spurt of 7.6% in one year between 1988 and 1991 flattered the average. But that growth proved unsustainable, driven by a bout of fiscal profligacy that soon brought India to the edge of the abyss.

However the 1980's were an episode of "Keynesianism - run - amok". Under the Narasima Rao Congress Government, Manmohan Singh as the finance minister dismantled the state protectionism and opened up the Indian markets to the vultures of capitalism. Hence he has been dubbed the architect of the market reforms in India. This means the ruthless implementation of IMF policies. Under these policies there have been unprecedented concessions and privileges granted to the multinationals.

A more facilitating and viable atmosphere for attracting foreign investment means severe attacks on the working classes and cutting further the living conditions of the already impoverished millions in India.

This time yet again the imperialists were hell bent on bringing back their tried and trusted ex-employee Manmohan Singh to the helm for the continuation of these reforms. To add further to this reformist orgy, Manmohan Singh's finance minister was another ruthless capitalist reformer Palaniappan Chidambaram.

The irony of these election results is that they were a clear verdict of the masses against capitalism and market reforms. Yet the Prime Minister and Finance Minister are ardent reformers and staunch believers in the capitalist system. Savage market reforms form the core of their economic strategy. Above all this shows the hypocrisy and deceptive character of bourgeois democracy in India and elsewhere. It is the forces of capital rather that the masses that in the last analysis decide who shall rule the country in an economy and society dominated by the dictatorship of the financial oligarchy.

If we have an honest assessment of the historical development of Indian capitalism and the present situation the conclusion is that both Keynesian and Friedmanist (trickle down economics) methods of sustaining capitalism have drastically failed in India. This means that the continuation of these policies of market reforms shall only worsen the plight of the millions who voted on their feet to reject them.

The worsening crisis of Indian capitalism (and for that matter in most ex-colonial countries) creates a situation where economic growth rates don't translate into the social and human development of society. Paradoxically it often happens that the graphs of economic growth and those of social development start to diverge as capitalism drifts further into an ever-increasing tumult and mayhem.

The brilliant theory of combined and uneven development worked out by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky comes into play here. The economic growth and most advance technological investment by imperialism aggravates rather than solving the prevalent contradictions. Under the yoke of imperialist hegemony the pattern of socio-economic development is such that instead of obliterating primitiveness they exasperate the gap between it and modernity. This means greater convulsions, turbulence and instability in society. These historical distances cannot be diminished under capitalist evolution. Only a revolutionary leap can skip those intermittent stages of historical development. Hence in so many ways the historical primitiveness of these societies becomes their privilege, as they don't have to necessarily pass through those stages that the advance societies had to go through in their course of development.

With 17% of the world's population India has a share of 2% in world GDP and 1% in global trade. The aggressive policies of reforms has brought millions more below the poverty line. Officially 44 million people are registered unemployed. The much-hyped IT sector has only been able to give employment to 800,000 people. There is an increase of twenty million souls in India's population annually. This means that they will have to create 150 million new jobs in the next seven years. To sustain even the present state of affairs India needs a growth rate of 10% per year. During Vajpayee's last six-year regime the average annual growth was 5.7%. And this did not reach 70% of India's populace. All indications are that in a capitalist system these targets are impossible to achieve.

In the last three years where 450,000 jobs were shed from the state sector; in the private sector another 100,000 were made redundant. Hence this whole notion of generation of large-scale jobs by increased foreign\private investment is not only absurd but also cynical.

The new government will be under pressure to carry out even more privatisations and downsizing. Already the Indian state oil, airline, banking, airports and sea port sectors, as well as others are facing the sword of privatisation.

One of the macro economic figures that is not much talked about is the budget deficit. This is a huge 10% of the GDP. To fill this fiscal gap the Singh regime shall be pressurised to severely slash state subsidies on kerosene oil, fertilisers, rice, food grains and other basic needs. This would be a devastating blow for the impoverished.

Contrary to official and western propaganda the agricultural sector in India has rapidly deteriorated. Sixty percent of the employed work in agriculture. But its share in India's GDP is only 22%. Again the example of how the priorities of the profit system devastate societies can be seen in Andhrapradesh.

While all the investment was being directed to the IT industry, in spite of several rivers flowing through Andra, no investment was made in irrigation networks to get that water for cultivation. It was this lack of infrastructure that brought drought and crop failure.

State and private banks loans in India generally reach about 15 – 20% of peasants and small farmers. Hence they have to depend on the traditional moneylenders for agricultural loans. These usurers charge an annual interest of between 36% and 120%. And when the crops fail it is a catastrophe for these indebted farmers. After the intensification of the policy of market reforms investment in Indian agriculture had rapidly declined. Between 1980 and 2000 state spending on agriculture was slashed from 44% to 23% of the total expenditure. The worst affected has been irrigation infrastructure.

If we look at the result more closely we shall see that in the 1999 elections congress got 1.5% more votes but just 112 seats. In these elections it got 27% of the votes and received 145 seats. The other interesting point is that the new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never won a parliamentary election through a mass vote. The only time he contested was in 1999 when he was defeated in a Delhi constituency. He is a member of the Rajaeh Sabha (upper house) that is not elected by the people but nominated by the bosses. The new home minister Shivraj Patel actually lost the election. Similarly the foreign minister Natwar Singh is a non-elected bureaucrat. But the most startling outcome of this election was the unprecedented gains of the Communist Parties. They got 27.5 million votes and 63 seats, the highest ever in the history of India.

To be honest they were themselves not expecting this. They got these votes in spite and despite the policies of the octogenarian incumbent leaderships of these parties. From the mid to late 1920s the CP leadership started to degenerate on the lines of the Stalinist two stage theory. Due to this Menshevik ideology they not only lost the leadership of the national liberation struggle against the British but after 1947 their policies resulted in the loss of several opportunities to provide leadership to the mass workers revolutionary movements that could have carried out a successful socialist revolution.

This result shows that had the leaders of the CPs given a clear revolutionary programme and socialist alternative to this capitalist tyranny even in the electoral field they could have wiped out both the BJP and Congress. After all Congress is the traditional party of the Indian ruling elite and the BJP represents some of the most reactionary sections of the same class.

To support the Congress from outside and not to join the cabinet show the confusion and fear on the part of the leadership. They are preaching the reform of the present system and yet hesitate to do even that. On one hand they want to absolve themselves of the responsibility of the dreadful consequences that the economic policies of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) will inflict upon the Indian masses. While on the other hand they want to avoid the ferment, opposition, and even rebellious trends that will erupt from within the rank and file of the Communist Parties themselves. But they will not succeed on both accounts.

Of late these leaders have even abandoned the second stage of the Stalinist two-stage theory they have religiously followed - after the completion of the national revolution by the bourgeoisie the second stage will be that of a socialist revolution. In reality now they have simply a one-stage theory: reforming capitalism. Socialism seems to be so repugnant to them. They have become reformist parties treading on the lines of European social democracy and the Second International.

Jyoti Basu, the veteran ex-chief minister of Bengal clearly stated, "Reforms shall continue…" the CPM incumbent Chief Minister of Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has himself most ardently followed the policy of market reforms, inviting IT multinationals and giving them lavish perks and concessions in Calcutta.

Another senior CP leader Somnath Chatterjee remarked about Manmohan Singh, "He is not only a most decent person but he is our most knowledgeable economist". It doesn't even bother these 'communist' leaders that the economic policies Mr. Singh is striving to execute are those of the ruling class and the multinational corporations.

But the other side of the picture is that the CPs are the main traditional parties of the Indian proletariat and this inherent factor shall play a crucial role in the events and storms that loom on the horizon. Again the so-called experts and bourgeois political analysts are too elusive and obtuse to envisage the explosive dynamics of the class struggle in India.

In the next period the repercussions of these economic policies will be catastrophic. The trauma of these reforms will create enormous social unrest and turmoil. Any kind of stability is ruled out. There shall be massive swings from one side to the other. In such tumultuous conditions revolutionary and counter revolutionary currents shall emerge with renewed vigour and frequency.

The Hindu fundamentalists will try to build up hysteria and mass frenzy on the basis of black reaction. Already some of their leaders are making statements to that effect. Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal, the leaders of VHP (Vishva Hindu Prashed) called the defeat of the BJP the revenge of Hindutva for not carrying out its programme to the full.

The other Hindu chauvinist organisation, Sangh Parivar, the umbrella organisation of Hindu fundamentalist parties including the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and RSS (Rashtyria Sevaksawayan Sang) are already joining the fray. They will try to cash in on the crisis and rising discontent. They will try to use the primitive sections of society to prop up reaction and the dark forces of Hinduvata. But that may not be the most likely perspective.

Every election result is the expression of the mood and consciousness of the masses at a particular juncture of history. The participation and verdict of the masses in these elections is not the last but the first step in their new awakening. The failure of the UPA government to deliver, which is inevitable, can trigger a new wave of mass movements. This upsurge of the workers can radicalise and move rapidly towards the left. This shall put enormous pressure upon the leaders from the rank and file of the CPs. If the leaders again try to dissuade the movement and constrain it to the limits of capitalist shackles, there will be unprecedented upheavals with in this CPs themselves, which have more than 3 million members.

Already there is a lot of questioning and resentment towards the compromising policies of the CP leaders amongst the ordinary workers and activists of these parties. In the wake of a mass upsurge the quest for a revolutionary way out shall intensify. In such conditions the tendency of genuine Marxism and revolutionary socialism can gain a mass base within these CPs. Such a development can put these Communist Parties on the track of revolutionary communism once again. The historical knot that connects the origins of the CPI with the Bolsheviks shall be retied.

The history of last 57 years exhibits very clearly that in spite of the enormous riches and massive human resources of India, not a single question or problem has been solved under the present system. Rather the situation has deteriorated and society is in yet unforeseen fermentation, agony and conflagration. This year on February 24 more than 50 million workers in India went on a nationwide strike that paralysed several states and metropolitan centres of India. The media observed a conspiratorial silence and tried to kill the news. But how long can this last?

These elections are a turning point in the class struggle in India. They represent the turning of the tide in the class struggle on the world scale. The Indian proletariat has time and time again shown its capacity, capability, will, and determination to transform society. Nothing less than a socialist revolution can heal the festering wounds of India. Only through such an advanced system can India be brought out of this morass of misery, poverty, exploitation, unemployment, hunger, ignorance, disease and apathy. The masses are beginning to move again. And when one of the largest working classes on earth starts to gain momentum no force will be able stop it, and no obstacle can hinder its advance. With a Bolshevik - Leninist leadership and a correct Marxist perspective and strategy a socialist victory would not be far away. A socialist revolution in India would surge forward to create a voluntary socialist federation of the subcontinent. Such a development shall open up the road for the ultimate emancipation of mankind which is in the communist future of the human race.