Results of the election to five state assemblies held in the months of February and March have witnessed rising anger of the people against the Govts. in saddle in these provinces. While ruling parties in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab have received serious defeats, BJP ruling in Goa and Congress ruling in Manipur too faced electoral decline. BJP despite lagging behind Congress in both these provinces has resorted to rank opportunism and manipulation utilizing the offices of Governors to come to power, though BJP’s rejection by the electorate in these states was unmistakable. This has been an important aspect of the electoral verdict.
Corporate Media Helps Ruling Class Agenda
Elections in India have increasingly come to be dominated by money, media and muscle power. Election Commission guidelines have virtually eliminated inexpensive means of propaganda and the guidelines on permissible expenditure which has been raised very high, are seldom observed. EC does little to rein in blatant violation of the guidelines issued by it. Use of money and abuse of power, blatant whipping up of communal passions and parochial sentiments is done without restraint. Election Commission expresses eventual satisfaction for having conducted the election at all. Corporate media tried to marginalize the people’s issues, trivialize their concerns and focus the election on persons rather than policies. Corporate media energetically dished out propaganda of the ruling class parties eclipsing Goebellsian propaganda blitzkrieg. For example Modi and BJP made claims on the payment of dues of sugarcane peasants and loan waivers for peasantry if they were to come to power in the state while both these issues are under the domain of the Central Govt. where they had been in power for nearly three years. Real issues of the people particularly issues relating to policies being pursued by the ruling classes, even those on which people have been struggling, are treated as non-issues and just ignored. Neither the problems of the peasant masses including agricultural labourers, nor that of industrial workers particularly those of unorganized sectors which constitute the overwhelming work force of the country including these five states, nor deep crisis of agriculture or industry found any echo in the people’s concerns as articulated by the ruling class propaganda media. Question of land reforms and distribution of land among the landless poor peasants has any way disappeared from the agenda of the ruling classes.
Another important aspect of intervention of corporate media is complete marginalization of the parties other than those vying for power, the ruling class parties. It is reflected in increasing concentration of votes among main contenders for power. Both the issues focused and parties talked off, are those within the ambit of ruling class politics and continuous bombardment of propaganda is meant to force the people into making a choice between the main ruling class parties guaranteeing continuity of the policies serving the interests of the ruling classes and of the ruling class politicians who have proved their utility to the ruling classes. The biggest fall out of this has been steady decline of vote share of parties with smaller electoral base and independents, which means monopoly of the articulation of people’s concerns solely within the language and policies favoured by the ruling classes. It is this decline which contributes most to the so-called sweeps by a ruling class party or combination.
It is indeed the undemocratic character of our election system that a party getting less than two fifths of votes (like BJP in UP) gets nearly four fifth of seats. Similar is the pattern seen in Uttarakhand and Punjab where seats secured by winning parties are far in excess of the votes polled by them. Focus of the propaganda on seats won rather than votes polled is to hide the rejection of the party credited with having ‘swept’ the election by the majority of the electorate.
While results of these elections are being projected as Modi led BJP’s sweep, reality is more nuanced and reflects regional trends including anger of the people against ruling class parties.
RSS-BJP Victory in UP, Uttarakhand
BJP scored big victories in Hindi heartland, UP and Uttarakhand. In a way it broadly conformed to the pattern of parliamentary elections of 2014 with some decline in BJP vote share e.g. nearly 3% in UP and 9% in Uttarakhand. Like its 2014 campaign BJP conducted a sharp communally polarizing campaign. With the help of media BJP leaders led by Modi created a rhetoric of appeasement of Muslims, with such baseless vibes like “no shamshan in the villages while there are qabristans”, there being “uninterrupted power supply on Eid but not on Diwali”. That these allegations were freely circulated by the mainstream media showed how much ruling classes wanted to bring communal schism to the fore to sideline the real issues of the people. BJP buttressed its communal campaign with clever caste arithmetic trying to confine their rivals particularly SP and BSP to single castes. RSS-BJP had been trying for this pan-Hindu identity mobilizing non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits in UP. It has been on this job since decades but has succeeded in doing this recently. In Bihar this campaign had faced the combined might of RJD and JD(U) and could not emerge successful. Like Bihar, if the regional parties like SP and BSP would have come together, BJP might have faced the similar defeat. None of these challengers for power, as they have no positive programme for the people, could singly face the communally polarizing campaign of BJP in the changed situation post-2014.
There are some important developments in ruling class politics in this regard. Decline of Congress is quite serious particularly in Hindi heartland. Congress has lost the support of upper castes, having lost support of Dalits and Muslims earlier. Congress tried to muster Brahmin support but abandoned the project due to feeble response. This paved the way for consolidation of upper castes in favour of BJP, a vote bank far more consolidated than the vote banks routinely talked of by the corporate media. One could find a number of studies about consolidation or division of Muslim, Dalit or OBC votes but rarely about Brahmin or upper caste votes. There is an undercurrent in ‘mainstream’ propaganda that upper castes represent nationalism while the rest of the communities represent sectarian interests. In UP upper castes constitute nearly 23% and with Jats included, are well more than one fourth of the electorate. This provided a solid vote base to BJP which was earlier divided mainly between Congress and BJP.
There is a second important aspect in the relative success of RSS-BJP plan of wooing sections of Dalits and OBCs for its pan-Hindu anti-Muslim mobilization. CC resolution after 2014 Lok Sabha elections had noted the decline of caste based regional parties and observed, “Caste mobilization of these parties was met by micromanagement of castes by BJP through so-called social engineering. Mobilization of caste groupings like backwards and dalits has been weakened by mobilization of individual member castes of these groupings for securing their share of power. While consolidating its upper caste votes, BJP split the votes of other castes by aligning with parties of numerically smaller castes among backwards and dalits.
In a way this election signifies the end of the era of caste based parties though not of caste based politics as major parties of the ruling classes move to further fragment the mobilization of castes by these parties. In fact, these parties have been born out of the mobilization of lower castes, dalits and backwards, against Brahmannical social order. When upper castes were politically ruling, these mobilizations signified mobilization of these social groups. However, when these parties came to power, these caste groupings were broken as these parties, wedded to the protection of the interests of ruling classes, did not do anything to address the root cause of caste oppression in society, particularly semifeudal agrarian relations. In fact these parties of ruling classes rely on elites of these social groups to harness their votes and only promote their interests, which are mostly at variance with that of the common people of these castes. On the other hand, their rule signified ascendency of a particular caste group thereby alienating the other castes of the same group. The rise of elite among these castes also intensified struggle among them for loaves of power, giving rise to emergence of several parties every one of them dominated by a particular caste group. It led to fragmentation of backwards and dalits among these parties.” (ND, June 2014)
BJP’s main rivals in UP, SP and BSP had failed to draw any lesson from 2014 and merely repeated their earlier election strategies. They failed to factor in 2014 and mechanically repeated the old formulae. In particular they did not gauge their isolation from the social groups they claim to represent. Taking this support as granted, they made a dash for Muslim votes believing that it would take them to victory. These parties have done little to undo the economic, social and political handicaps faced by Muslims. SP rule saw horrendous Muzaffarnagar killings of Muslims and forced migration from villages of over 50 thousand of Muslims. SP rule also saw a large number of incidents of anti-Muslim violence and leaders like Yogi Adityanath were allowed to threaten Muslims without hindrance. BSP rule too was characterized by large scale targeting of Muslim youth in terror-related cases and foisting of false cases against them. In 2007, Mayawati had come to power befriending Brahmins who constituted most of her cabinet and dictated the terror related narrative of Mayawati Govt. However, the way SP and BSP went about soliciting Muslim votes only helped communal polarization which was being carved out by BJP. SP and BSP fought these elections more against each other than against the BJP. SP struck alliance with Congress to consolidate Muslim votes, this alliance spurned RLD not to let BSP get more Muslim votes in Western UP. BSP gave tickets to a larger number of Muslims only to win them over from SP. In their drive to get to augment their “core” vote, they failed to address erosion of their “core” vote. Even otherwise they did not raise any issue pertaining to the problems being faced by the people. While Modi and BJP leaders were offensive, SP and BSP leaders were mainly defensive and complacent, not responding to their charges and not tearing their baseless rhetoric of Muslim appeasement.
In Uttarakhand too, BJP broadly repeated its 2014 performance albeit with reduced vote share capitalizing on the failures of the Congress Govt. Exposure of Harish Rawat in corruption and a large number of Congress leaders joining BJP had weakened the Congress. The real issues of the people, both in the hills as well as plains, found no mention in the campaign of these two parties.
Punjab : Congress Comeback, AAP Stumbles
In Punjab, Congress swept back to power. While defeat of Akali-BJP combine was a foregone conclusion, AAP which was seen as the main contender for power has been relegated to distant second in a number of seats and third in the votes polled. Akali Dal had been ruling for last ten years, a period marked by sharp rise in drug menace and all round Mafia raj under the patronage of ruling Akalis- transport mafia, education mafia, sand mafia and of course drug mafia etc. Akalis imposed their dictatorial rule over the people paying no heed to the problems of the people. Coupled with the rising anger of the people on these basic issues, desecration of Sikh holy book and tardy response of Akali Govt. on that further enraged the people whose religious distress became a reflection of their real distress. Congress this time however accommodated more people from outside including likes of Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pragat Singh and curbed the royal behavior of its leader, Captain Amrinder Singh.
AAP had heralded its entry into the Punjab electoral scene with an impressive performance in 2014 parliamentary elections winning four seats. A year back, impressive crowds attracted by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal gave an impression of AAP sweeping to power. However, Arvind Kejriwal practiced a high command culture, for which they had been criticizing Congress. Kejriwal sidelined all recognized leaders from Punjab, practically everybody who had some base in Punjab. So intoxicated had AAP leader become by its social media campaign that he rode roughshod over all local leaders, which was utilized by other ruling class parties. Denuding the party of all leaders from Punjab, also made AAP prone to people’s doubt about safeguarding interests of Punjab by Harayanvi Kejriwal. Even the social media campaign launched by AAP became so arbitrary that it lost credibility. AAP was solely banking on the negative perception of Akalis and Congress among the people and had nothing positive to offer to the people on different issues faced by them.
AAP was the main beneficiary of the anger of the youth, particularly in rural areas. These sections have been hostile to Congress since Operation Blue Star and genocide of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere. These sections came to treat Akalis as betrayers and Akalis’ alliance with BJP became a further galvanizing point. These sentiments were widely shared by Sikh Diaspora who was vocal in their support for AAP. While utilizing this anger went well for AAP, its identification with Khalistani extremists, became a liability. Though centred on some token gestures, it distanced large sections of people from them. Even in Malwa, Congress was ahead both in terms of seats as well as votes polled. As AAP floundered with marginal decline in votes polled, the shift of Akali voters was to the Congress as compared to 2014. As compared to last Assembly elections held in 2012, AAP has drawn votes from Akalis-BJP and very small part from Congress.
In Goa, BJP which has been mired in corruption went down and finished lower than Congress. While Congress did improve its tally, anti-BJP votes were split among different forces stopping Congress short of majority. In Goa also AAP was expected to do well but failed to get a single seat with only 6% votes despite contesting all the seats.
In Manipur, Congress lost its majority though getting highest number of seats. In this state where Army is engaged in anti-insurgency operations and the state where AFSPA is in operation, BJP got a large number of seats while it did not have any earlier. There was expectation of BJP getting majority, but Congress played on Meiti-Naga discord to stem erosion of its base though it was not enough to get the majority. Irom Sharmila, known for her hunger strike against AFSPA in Manipur for nearly 16 years, received only 92 votes.
In brief, while people’s anger against performance of local Govts. have been used by Hindutva forces in Hindi heartland, the same was not the case in three other states.
No Ruling Class Party Made Demonetization an Issue
Demonetization had caused big hardship to the people, rendering millions of workers jobless, jeopardizing agricultural operations. More than a hundred people died standing in queues. However, it did not get reflected in anger against the BJP as all ruling class parties supported this measure against ‘black money’ only faulting its execution. Despite elections being quite near, none of them held any protest nor tried to build any movement. With all ruling class parties which were main players in this contest for power supporting the measure, the hardships caused by demonetization did not become an issue though it did contribute to anti-BJP anger where other factors were also in operation e.g. Punjab.
Performance of Communist Revolutionaries
Our Party had fielded ten candidates in Punjab and one in UP. Where we had not fielded candidates our party campaigned for NOTA. Our campaign was built around real issues of the people and we tried to also give alternative policies on those issues. Our Party in Punjab particularly focused on the crisis of the imperialist sponsored model of ‘Green Revolution’ and struggle of Dalits for their share of Panchayat land. In UP we highlighted the issues of peasantry and labourers. We also campaigned for action against police and administrative officers as well as people’s representatives for their complicity in violence against minorities. Our campaign highlighted the bankruptcies of ruling class parties and their lack of real concern about the problems of the people. We also campaigned against undemocratic nature of electoral process and the role of money, media and muscle power in the elections which distort the real opinions of the people.
Though our comrades campaigned well and also received good response from the people, this support was not translated into votes polled by our candidates. Overall, votes polled by our candidates declined. This has to be seen in increasing polarization of votes among the main contenders of power. Identity based parties which raise the expectations of coming to power in alliance with others, also fare better without having any history of work through utilizing the caste based social structures. Predominance of economic struggles in our work also is an important factor in our polling small number of votes.
Elections are a political struggle though they cannot lead to any basic change in society. Elections are not even the most important legal struggle. But people continue to have illusions about them as reflected in growing percentage of votes cast. These illusions have both the aspects, lack of viable alternative with countrywide appeal as well as illusion of reforms from the ruling class parties particularly in the spheres of social and religious oppression. We have to analyze our experiences and experiences of the revolutionary movement to come up with better tactics of intervention during elections.
Increased Danger of Fascism
RSS-BJP represent the most reactionary section of the ruling classes and their sharp offensive against the people. As the economic and social crisis of the system is deepening, politics of the ruling classes is taking a rightward tilt. There has been increasing fascicization of state machinery and increasing offensive against the people. This offensive is couched in the rhetoric against immigrants in developed capitalist countries and against minorities in third world countries like India. Rise of RSS-BJP is neither accidental nor fortuitous development. It represents need of the ruling classes to intensify their attacks on the one hand and disrupt unity of the people to pre-empt struggle against the policy framework being imposed on the country by the ruling classes. Other representatives of the ruling classes, though having differences, compromise with this section, attempting to co-opt many of their policies. Though they project it as necessary to stem the tide of fascist forces, they lend more strength to the fascist offensive and disarm the people.
With increased strength in UP, RSS-BJP is expected to increase its strength in Rajya Sabha and will gain greater control over legislative agenda. They will also be in a position to get their nominee elected as President. These would mean that some institutional hurdles in imposing fascist dictatorship would be reduced. Danger of fascism has increased.
Modi led RSS-BJP victory will also mean greater efforts at anti-labour changes in the labour laws, more facilities to foreign capital even going beyond the existing ones. RSS-BJP nationalism’s hollowness is on open display by the quiet of their twitter happy PM and Foreign Minister over murderous attacks on Indians in USA. They have been able to thrust upon the people demonetization of 86% of the currency causing tremendous hardship, which will encourage them to launch bigger attacks against the people, particularly labouring masses. They will be more brazen in their attacks to displace peasants including tribals from their land. Further erosion of Govt. facilities in health and education, further impetus to corporatization of agriculture and retail trade, further trampling of democratic rights under the boots of security forces and further adoption of even more draconian laws are on the anvil. Even cruder attacks in the educational institutions, more brazen attacks against minorities and sharper offensive against communist revolutionaries including bigger ideological offensive against left forces are expected. Their offensive against minorities, particularly Muslims, will increase and so will the attacks on Dalits and other oppressed castes. The very issue of caste oppression is sought to be erased even as pliable leaders of these sections are projected as show pieces. Further curbs on women and slander of their struggles would be the order of the day. While RSS-BJP are sharpening their offensive, opposition sections of ruling classes are listless in their opposition even scared to raise the issues of people’s concern. Many of these parties do not hesitate to use the same draconian laws to suppress the people’s movements in the states ruled by them. While RSS-BJP ascendency increases the danger of fascism, unleashing of fascist repression is not limited to RSS-BJP but is a characteristic of the rule of ruling classes.
Communist Revolutionaries Should Unite to Face This Challenge
The situation calls for increasing initiative and action from the communist revolutionaries. CRs should come on one platform to fight this growing fascist offensive, for projecting a people’s alternative and for building struggles of the people on their issues and against the assault on democratic rights in different walks of life as well as attacks on minorities, dalits, women, tribals. CRs should join with other forces as well to face the attacks of the ruling dispensation where-ever necessary and possible. The situation calls for a determined and serious response.
March 15, 2017